My Haus is Buddha

By Lil’ Buddha (he/him)

There’s a scene in “Paris is Burning”, the documentary chronicalling the lives of New York house-ballroom subculture by Black, Latino, gay, transgender and the queer community, where the iconic Willi Ninja introduces the House of Ninja. Willi explains how queer youth are often cast out of their “biological family”, and how “houses” (chosen family) are formed to fill this void. He chooses the title of “House Motha” because mothers are the backbone of the family. It’s a defining moment in the film that speaks to the importance of chosen family.  

As queer people, especially for BIPOC, we are fortunate in that we are able to choose our family. Our chosen family is often our most authentic connection with our “people”. Sometimes our chosen family is the only family we have. Our relationship with our “family of origin” is tattered or irreparably damaged because of rejection based on cultural values, expectation and heterosexism.

Growing up as a Hmong immigrant in my small Midwestern town I often faced multiple minority stressors. It’s undoubtedly one reason I felt “at home” outdoors high up in the Rocky Mountains. We were never wealthy, but somehow each summer my parents saved enough for vacation. For one or two weeks I’d spend warm summer days exploring mountain ridges, swimming in alpine lakes and gazing up at stars against the blackest of night sky. It was during these trips I learned wilderness skills that I still use today, and found sanctuary and refuge outdoors. The wilderness–I learned–welcomed and never once judged me. 

Years later I would leave the midwest for New York, where by chance I met Willi Ninja outside Club Escuelita. Willi was a respected leader by all houses, and a welcoming presence in nightlife. Eventually, I would join the House of Avon. On one occasion I ended up taking several members of my house on their first backpacking trip, north of Manhattan, to the Appalachian Trail. How absolutely fabulous we must have looked–our black and brown bodies taking up space outdoors–voguing, “walking” and kiki’n while white thru-hikers looked on in shocked silence. 

Thru-hikers use the term “tramily”, an apt portmanteau to describe our trail families. Instead of tramily I refer to my chosen trail family as my Haus, because my intention is to honor the iconic voguing houses that embraced me when I first arrived in New York. It’s these friendships, and being painfully aware that my childhood experiences are privileged, often not accessible to many immigrant and BIPOC communities, that I’ve dedicated myself to advocating for and mentoring Hmong and BIPOC adventurers. It’s the reason I formed Haus Buddha. Our Haus is a collection of thru-hikers, backpackers, writers and other creatives that support and uplift each other and our work.  

I’m Lil’ Buddha, and I’m the Father of Haus Buddha.

Now walk for me!

Follow Lil’ Buddha’s adventures on Instagram at lilbuddhahikes.

A Change in Perspective at Stone Mountain

By Courtney Coleman (she/her)

One of the most popular parks in Atlanta is Stone Mountain Park. Despite growing up camping and hiking all around West Michigan, my first hike at Stone Mountain had me thinking, “this is more Black people hiking than I’ve ever seen in my life.” It wasn’t only Black people on the trail, there were people of all races, ages and backgrounds. It’s ironic that Stone Mountain would be the most diverse trail I had ever been on because it’s also the largest confederate monument in the U.S. Despite it’s racist symbolism, Stone Mountain is the place I never have to think twice about hiking as a queer Black woman.

My first experience at Stone Mountain had a big impact on me, changing the way I thought about hiking and the outdoors. I no longer thought hiking was for a certain type of person. I finally saw myself in the outdoors and knew there was a place for me. I hope that sharing my experience, both with QPOCHikers and on my own page, eases some fears or hesitations about getting outdoors.

Follow Courtney’s adventures on Instagram at capturedxcourt_outside.

How It Started, How It’s Going

By Jasmine Maisonet

Here’s to 2 years of QPOC Hikers being in existence! In all reality, we have always existed. I started this group in 2019 as a way to not only form community, but also increase visibility, representation, and awareness. Queer People of Color have always been part of the outdoors but we have not always been represented in mainstream media. This group aims to change that.

Here’s how it started, way before it started. I grew up on Long Island, New York and hiking was not a regular occurrence for me. My family took annual trips to the Poconos in Pennsylvania, and in addition to being raised in a time where kids played outside, that was where I developed my sense of nature. We stayed in these very basic, rustic townhouses that still have not been updated since their inception in the 1980s; and they are perfect. I remember the smell of the enclosed wooden porch; hearing the loud sounds of cicadas in the daytime and the chirping of crickets at night; watching the fireflies dance around in the night and with my sister, trying to catch them in our hands. We got our flashlights out as it approached night and headed out to the end of the row of townhouses with our dad. This is where our nature walk began. Looking back, it was probably a very short trail that led up to the main road, which now could be seen as sketchy and the start of a horror film; but as children, we were in our glee and out there for the adventure.

Fast-forward to adult life. I studied Visual Media at Rochester Institute of Technology. Post-graduation, a friend, and former classmate, invited me to join her on her family’s annual week-long camping trip to Yosemite National Park. I had never visited California, let alone camped other than in my grandma’s backyard. This was all new territory for me and I was so excited. With my carry-on packed and my giant 1990s rolled sleeping bag in both hands, I headed for California! I remember waking up the next morning in my friend’s apartment, hearing birds that I didn’t recognize, and sitting with that unknowing feeling. No idea what to expect on the trip but again, so excited for the adventure. We arrived at the campground that afternoon and I watched as my friend and her boyfriend set up their tent. Then, I set up the one they let me borrow. I was very grateful for the air mattress as well. We were camping in style. I was awake at 6 AM every morning thanks to my body being on east coast time. I grabbed my camera and tripod and went for walks while the valley slept. It was like being a kid in a candy shop. The super moon was still out, the first light was just starting to hit the surrounding mountains, and all was well. On one of my walks I saw a few deer by the river. They thought another photographer’s camera bag was a lunch bag and tried to take it. Those animals out there are fearless when you step into their home. With my friend’s family and their friends, we hiked, we rock scrambled to the waterfalls, we biked, and we drove all over Yosemite Valley and I now call it my nature home. There was a sense of belonging there that I’ll never forget and I am so thankful I was able to go on that trip.

Four years later, I moved to sunny San Diego. I downloaded an app to make friends and it worked! I met a whole group of friends that later became some of my family. I joined a then recently formed hiking group and then joined another one after that. I realized with the temperate weather, it was the perfect place to take on the 52 Hike Challenge. Plus, being new, it made sense to want to explore the area. These adventures that I took every weekend reminded me of my Nature Photography class that I opted to take at RIT, only this time without my camera and tripod. I enjoyed looking up places to hike every weekend or joining one of the group hikes and spending a couple of hours out on the trail connecting with nature. San Diego is a magical, paradisiacal place that I encourage everyone to visit. Drive an hour east from the coast and you’re in the mountains. Keep going and you’ll hit the desert. There is so much to explore.

This brings us to present day. I moved to the great PNW and wanted to continue going out on group hikes, but I didn’t see a hiking group comprised of people like me. So, I made it and within one year we had 10 group hikes, one being a collaborative hike with Latino Outdoors, and more than 17k followers on Instagram and Facebook. This idea, this want, this need to create community took off and it fills me with joy to see the connections that are being made and to feel part of something greater. To have a feeling of purpose is very fulfilling. Now it’s time to spread the message and make QPOC Hikers even greater; for the visibility, representation, and awareness of all queer people of color who enjoy or want to enjoy the outdoors.

Growing My Roots in Nature

By Tatiana Q (she/her)

My appreciation for the natural world really grew when my mom decided to move our family from New Jersey to North Carolina when I was in grade school. This was the first time in my life that I experienced a huge life transition like this – moving away from our family and our support system – to start fresh in a different region of the country. As a child, I remember the cultural shock of leaving the city and trading that in for red clay dirt trails, brown muddy creeks full of crawfish, and muggy pine forests of central North Carolina. Looking back, the transition was huge! Suddenly it was safe to play outdoors all evening after school and even to leave the door unlocked! Although that is never a habit I got used to (even today), I recall feeling freer than I ever felt living up north and my world was able to expand in so many ways.

As I transitioned into college and other aspects of adulthood, accessing outdoor spaces wasn’t completely inaccessible, but it was difficult to find friends and mentors who wanted to take me under their wing. I saw that it was so easy for white folks, particularly ones with thin body privilege, to easily find people who identified with them and befriend them and join the informal mentorship community that exists in white outdoor communities. That simply didn’t exist nor feel accessible to me as a queer, fat, Puerto Rican woman. It took me the next 10 years to slowly accumulate new friendships, experience, and expertise to help me feel confident enough to then lead others in the backcountry.

I worked as an outdoor expedition leader for a state-run program in Connecticut for 7 years where I would lead 5 to 20-day multi-phase expeditions seasonally. I have been certified with a whole host of skills that are required of an outdoor guide such as Wilderness First Responder, navigation, Top rope rock climbing and belaying, and other activity-specific certifications that gave me the practical experience and confidence to help teach and lead folks safely in the wilderness.

I have since switched careers in order to be able to financially navigate this capitalistic society and plan for my future. Unlike many folks I know who are “dirtbags” or transient by choice, I don’t have parents who will leave me with an inheritance or a house or any financial resource in their absence that I could count on later in life. So these days I balance working my 9-5 job to pay the bills and finance my future, with weekend warrior outdoor adventures and aspirations. I am looking to be mentored and to mentor others everywhere from the crags to the trails to water sports, and more.

These days you will find me hiking in the foothills of the cascades, exploring a national park or forest searching for fungi, snowshoeing up near Snoqualmie Pass on days when the avalanche danger is mitigable, or taking a relaxing walk at one of the many oceanside parks anywhere along the Puget Sound south of Seattle. In 2021 I am setting my sights on scaling some of the beginner mountaineering objectives in the region. I have been taking courses like AIARE 1, wilderness navigation, and a scrambling clinic so I can reconnect with skills I have learned in the past, learn new skills, and have grand experiences in the backcountry.

Quick Hiking Tips

By Brianna Cunningham

Hello! My name is Brianna (she/her) and I absolutely love the outdoors. I’ve been hiking and camping since grade school but only recently started calling myself a “hiker”. Each year I challenge myself to hike as many new trails as I can; some of my favorite California hikes are Big Pine Lakes, Bridge to Nowhere, and Muir Woods. Before any new adventure, I do my research on both trail conditions and road conditions leading to the trailhead. Over the years I’ve researched as much as I can to educate myself on the outdoor world. I’ve read online outdoor blogs, Instagram posts, AllTrails reviews, watched YouTube videos, and chatted with other explorers both online and in person. Not only is my adventure bucket list never-ending, but I also feel like I learn a new outdoor tip each week and I absolutely love it. 

For any new hikers out there, below is a list of quick tips for your next day adventure:

  1. Navigation: AllTrails is my main go-to for navigating a new trail. This app tracks you during your hike and will notify you if you are off-trail/lost
  2. First aid: Amazon as first aid kits filled with everything needed, these packs are small enough to fit in your daypack (and car). I would suggest adding a knife, a headlamp, sunscreen, and bug repellent.
  3. Extra food: So many snacks in every pocket of my day back. I tend to pack very random snacks from apples to sour patches, to pickles. I never know what I’m going to want so I like to keep my pack FULL with everything for me and my friends.
  4. Extra water: No matter how short the hike may be, a minimum of 2 liters of water is a must for me. If I end up hiking more than planned or need to share water with someone else I know I have enough without panicking. 
  5. Extra clothes: Extra socks are extremely important for water crossing hikes to prevent blisters. An extra shirt/pants are nice for those bush-covered trails that may rip/tear clothes. 
  6. Communication: If you’re a solo hiker, please let someone know what trail you’ll be on, along with your start time and approximate end time. When on the trail, I suggest talking to others about trail conditions to make sure you don’t run into any unsafe areas or surprises.

Overall, know your body and research trails before you go out and explore.