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.