Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Serendipity and the life-long impact of the outdoors.

There are many organizations of which I support their intentions in my mind but very few in which I choose to donate my time and energy. I'm sure you all know, there just ain't enough time in the day.

It was a last minute decision to speak at the event. I had only briefly mentioned to Ivan the possibility of speaking about the Appalachian Trail as I had in past events at REI. Tell stories about the trail, show photos, geek out and use Google Earth - that kind of thing. But somehow in one of his conversations with Big City Mountaineers he mentioned my name and surprisingly, they knew who I was. Apparently they were intrigued by me, having seen the spread in BACKPACKER magazine, because I am somewhat of a rare breed in the industry. An asian-american who is a somewhat serious outdoorsman.

A testament to how much a minority I am can be seen in any gear catalog as well as on the AT. In 2006, I met a good portion of the thru-hikers (one of the benefits of being slow) and met only one other asian. ONE other. This is among hundreds of long distance hikers. Ironically, we had both chosen trail names that played upon this, hers being Feng Shui and mine representing Balance and Peace. There were two black people and one hispanic on the trail that year. And that's it. Everyone else was caucasion.

In light of this, BCM was interested in me speaking to this fact. The tricky part is that I didn't know what to say about it. I am asian, yes. But do I usually refence myself as asian? No, not really. With that I spent the entire two weeks leading up to the event reflecting on my life and polling friends and particularly minority outdoorsmen/women on their experiences in the outdoors. It all led up to me completing my speech at 4 in the morning the day of the event.

It was a beautiful venue and a great opportunity for me to reflect on how fortunate I am to have the outdoors as a core part of my life. We had attendance of over 40 people from the Denver-metro area, some of who donated items ranging from water bottles to custom skis. Good food, live music, and open bar gave it that extra touch.

So why is getting kids into the outdoors important to me? And why is it also very important for you and our future? Read excerpts of the speech below:

I AM a writer and a photographer and a digital cartographer. I am a teacher and a student. I am a builder and a connector. A scientist and an artist. I am even a day trader and consultant. But of all the things I do the most unlikely thing is that I am a hiker. A professional hiker at that.

For the past two years nearly every story I tell has revolved around the Appalachian Trail. But tonight instead of stories of the trail I will tell you the story I haven't told. Because I was never the most likely person to get into the outdoors. I was never the most likely person to run an outdoor club. To work for Backpacker magazine, nor the most likely to hike 2175 miles of the Appalachian Trail.
I am where I am today because of sheer, absolutely, nutty, crazy luck. Sheer serendipity.
As minorities become the majority here in America. As we all become to consider ourselves global citizens in addition to our country affiliations. We need our future generations of all creed and color to recognize the importance of the natural world. Our physical, mental and spiritual health depends on it. MacKaye had the great wisdom to see the possibilities for health and recuperation. He says, "The oxygen in the mountain air along the Appalachian skyline is a natural resource (and a national resource) that radiates to the heavens its enormous health-giving powers with only a fraction of a percent utilized for human rehabilitation. Here is a resource that could save thousands of lives. The sufferers of tuberculosis, anemia and insanity go through the whole strata of human society."
Complete transcript can be read here: In Their Footsteps & Big City Mountaineers Fundraiser Keynote


JasonP said...

No Indians? Hmm, maybe it's time for someone like me to step up and represent! ;)

Jeff Chow said...

I think it is. Probably less Indians backpacking than Asian people.