How this black woman evolved into an outdoor brand.
Okay before we settle into the deets (details) of this situation (how I evolved into an outdoor brand), let me give honor to Girl Scouts of the USA (and for those of pentecostal persuasion, you understand me) because this organization was the head of my life when I was a tween back in the late 1970s (and for those of you that don't know about that time period, please google it, lol!). When I look back with a boatload of nostalgia and a plethora of fond memories, I must confess that it was going on camping trips that filled me with the precious holy joy of being outdoors. So much so, there was one year when I sold the most girl scout cookies in the state of Michigan.
You're probably wondering about the link between cookies and girl scout camp and there is a connection. It all started when I sold a billion (okay not quite but almost) cookies because what had happened was, when I asked my troop leader how we can go on more camping trips, she said we would need to raise the money. I asked her how to go about doing that and she responded off the top of her head that the easiest way was to sell more cookies. Little did she know I would take that suggestion to heart because when a young black girl decides she wants to go on more camping trips, without even knowing, her black girl magic kicks in.
Now before this story can go forward, I must first apologize to my mother who was a trooper (no pun intended) during this time. I give mad props to her for dealing with my shenanigans. When you sell over a thousand boxes of girl scout cookies, those cookies not only have to be delivered to your house where they will be stored (imagine stacks and stacks of cookies throughout every inch of your entire house) but then you must deliver said cookies including collect all the money from the sales of those cookies, feel me? Long story short, that was no easy feat and once we were able to get all those cookies into the hands of all those girl scout cookie-loving fans, my mother looked over at me and said, don't do that again :). God had spoken and I listened.
What was it about camping trips that made me fall in love with the outdoors? Well for one, I recall feeling like the air was lighter and more refreshing. With arms stretched to the sky, I would take in the air and for some reason, I thought I had won the oxygen lottery. And before it was popular, I was one of those people who naturally gravitated to trees and would attempt to hug them until I felt at one with the life force inside those wooden beings. Trees were solid, predictable, and dependable at a time in my life where things were chaotic and ever-changing. I used to sit with my back against the apple tree in our back yard, I felt supported, sheltered, and at ease with trees.
Out of all the things that the outdoors has to offer, bodies of water have to be the best thing God has ever made and as an aquarian, water is my jam. Camping trips meant a variety of water sports and the ability to sneak away in the middle of the night to hang out at the lake. And as a tween with raging hormones, skinny dipping was the ultimate sin but felt oh-so-good. There is nothing like immersing yourself in water without any clothes on but something clearly magical about doing it in lakes and oceans, oh yeah.
Besides the air and water, the outdoors was full of new life which meant infinite learnings for a kid who was a lover of knowledge and always wanting to learn something new or make new discoveries. Whether it was stumbling on a new trail that took us to the other side of the lake or coming across a beautiful array of wildflowers that were oftentimes poisonous (oops!) or witnessing from a distance the way squirrels talked to each other, the outdoors provided plenty of drama and fanfare for my young mind. But most memorable was simply sitting on the ground at a campfire or for a gathering, I always felt one with mother earth which felt completely natural to me.
But what does that all have to do with starting an outdoor brand (Conscious Gear LLC)? When I embrace the truth of the matter, it has everything to do with why I have started an outdoor brand. Loving the outdoors so much as a kid that I would sell unfathomable amounts of cookies was in a metaphorical sense, the planting of seeds for an ultimate harvest, what we will call an outdoor enthusiast. The growing seasons weren't always favorable as I would learn to hide my love of the outdoors as a black person because no one else seemed to understand my fascination without going skiing, rock climbing, or even ultrarunning. There were some years when I wondered about real inclusion in the outdoor community because I never saw images of black women or girls in advertisements or other media. Luckily, none of that dissuaded me.
Yet, it was in the 48th mile of my first 50-mile ultramarathon (Woodstock Run) when it all became crystal clear. At 48 years young, I realized that I was going to finish my first ultramarathon. Confident because I was familiar with the last two miles of the race and knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that I could finish even if it meant crawling or limping my way across the finish line. More than that, I remember that moment vividly because I fell to the ground, balled up like a baby, and cried my eyes out. These were tears of joy because I realized as a bigger-bodied, black woman who just a few years before could only go for 2 minutes at 2 miles per hour on a treadmill, I was about to complete an ultra race. Not a marathon, not a half-marathon, not a 10k, or even a 5k (all of which I had done before) but 50 miles, God is good.
The best part of the experience was recalling all of those moments during that race when I thought about girl scout camp but even more precious was feeling the presence of the ancestors that I'm convinced that at times, these old souls in the beyond, carried me over miles when my feet were too tired to go on. I walk-limped across that finish line that day knowing several things: Girl scout camp laid the foundation for my love of the outdoors, I'm an outdoor enthusiast who happens to be black, I belong in the outdoors, and whatever I decide to do in the outdoors, I know the ancestors are with me, supporting me and giving me everything I need to be successful.