What Being in the Mountains for Three Days Taught Me About My Health
I went nearly 72 hours without witnessing anti-Blackness, or feeling the anxiety that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought.
I could hear the rhythmic sliding of my splitboard (in ski mode at the time) as it crunched and glided across the snow. Will I ever make it to the clearing we were headed for? It was the last day of a three-day mountain safety and splitboard event in the Alberta backcountry hosted by two Eddie Bauer ambassadors, and as a newbie, I was utterly exhausted. It took everything in me to keep pushing up the mountain; I was more looking forward to flying down, letting the wind bite my face.
Looking back at that moment now, I realize that it had been the first time in a long time that I had gone nearly 72 straight hours without reading about or seeing violence, witnessing anti-Blackness, or feeling the very real anxiety that the COVID-19 pandemic has placed on so many of us and our communities. Simply put, I felt really happy.
I was tucked away in the Rocky Mountains with a crew of other women — some who were seasoned veterans and other newbies like me — and our amazing guide. We had learned about all of the different types of snow, how to anticipate an avalanche based on different environmental factors, dug out test pits, and my personal favourite, took turns hiding and finding avalanche beacons.
When the opportunity presented itself, I couldn’t say no. The idea of doing something outside of my comfort zone was energizing and I was eager to do something different during a year where one day seemed to melt into the next.
It was just what I needed. Researchers have noted that people who had recently experienced stressful or traumatic life events (ahem – all of us right now!) saw the biggest mental health gains from spending time outside in nature with a group. Not to mention the pure exhaustion that I felt from all of the physical activity made it a lot easier to wind down each evening.
This isn’t to say that ignoring society’s issues leads to happiness. Quite frankly, I’ve found that it leads to the opposite. But there certainly is a balance we can strike. Feeling general sadness right now makes sense. We’re a year into the pandemic, it’s cold outside and we’ve all got our individual struggles on top of the collective ones. There were many days where Netflix, a cup of tea and my couch seemed much more appealing than layering up for an outdoor adventure. On top of that, in Canada there are valid concerns about spending time outside while Black, and a lack of representation of people of colour in the outdoors.
But I wasn’t always so weary or disinterested. When I was younger, I was an avid snowboarder. It was my favourite thing to do, and despite the lack of diversity at my local hill in Calgary, AB, I had a tight knit crew of friends that I would meet up with to socialize and throw down tricks until the final call at the lift.
I felt the same way then as I did those three days in the mountains — it was so freeing to fall and laugh about it, it felt empowering to learn and trust my body to get the job done. How had I forgotten that feeling?
(Related: 3 Ways to Beat the Winter (Pandemic) Blues)
As we closed in on the completion of our ascension up the mountain, I took it all in. It was biting cold, but my lungs reveled in the fresh air. Now, how am I going to get down this thing? On the second day of the trip I had ridden through some deep, fluffy powder on the way down the mountain and it had thrown me off since I was never much of a powder fan, even when I snowboarded regularly. Today, we were skiing down a bit, and then clipping our boards together to snowboard down a tight, winding trail.
By the time we made it to the start of the trail I was nervous. “Don’t follow too close behind me!” I warned. But with each sharp turn and brush of a tree branch I gained confidence — I felt like a snowboarder again! It was something I hadn’t felt in a long time. By the time I made it back to the car, I knew I wanted to do it again, and again, in 2021.
The feeling was almost intoxicating — the adrenaline pumping through my veins, the mental clarity, the physical exhaustion and the celebration upon completion. It became even more clear to me how powerful being outside in nature can be, especially during hard times.
I hope more Black folks can find safe people, places and communities that empower them to get outdoors. You don’t need to head to the backcountry and climb mountains. You can take a walk, you can go camping or you can have a picnic in the park. Do it for your mental health. Do it because it’s radical. Do it because we all deserve the opportunity to explore.