Hiking with a Purpose
Kalon, a Gen7er, and two of her friends embarked on an epic Rocky Mountain adventure on the Colorado Trail last summer! But to these outstanding young people, it was important to tie it in with a higher purpose. Kalon, a recent graduate from the Rocky Mountain School of Expeditionary Learning, had just completed her senior thesis on “Equity and Inclusion in the Outdoor Industry” and, as you’ll see in her piece below, this perspective helped her maintain an appreciation for the original inhabitants of the land she was hiking on. But the group wanted the hike to have more tangible meaning as well, Kalon reflected that they “saw it as an opportunity to make it about more than us”. Having visited Pine Ridge Indian Reservation and connecting with the Lakota people, they determined that they would use the Hike-a-Thon model and prior to pulling on their hiking boots to hit the trail, they solicited sponsors per mile. Kalon shares; “sending weekly email updates to our sponsors was challenging - but such an important element to keep them engaged.” Seven weeks later, the group raised nearly $4,000 and completed 486 miles, averaging 16 miles per day with only a few rest days along the way. Kalon shares her reflections from the adventure below:
“When I found myself sitting on a mountain at eleven thousand feet in the pouring rain under a tent that I had sewn and waterproofed myself, hearing lightning strikes all around, preparing for bed because I had seven passes to hike the next day, I thought I had gone crazy. I thought my two best friends were crazy too. What did we think we were doing?
The Colorado Trail is a 486-mile trail that weaves through the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. During the summer of 2020, craziest of them all, Lucy Weyer, Gabriela Pisano and I, laced up our hiking boots, filled our backpacks and started walking. While I wish it had been as simple as that to get started, as 2020 highschool grads, our parents each had something to say.
Though we had been backpacking since the 9th grade, our parents were still unsure that three 17 and 18 year old girls should be backpacking across the state for two months. So naturally, we created a slideshow complete with hors d’oeuvres and all our gear, to make them feel more comforted about our trek. We were quite lucky to have friends scattered all over the state to help deliver us food and give us places to rest and shower along the way. With our parents’ blessing we hit the trail at the beginning of July.
As we kicked off our journey, we reflected on the month of preparation and planning that we had done. We were thoroughly reminded of our privileges as we prepared for a thru hike in the midst of a global pandemic and major social rifts within our country. The discussions surrounding race in America are an important factor when discussing hiking and outdoor recreation. We constantly reminded ourselves that with every step that we took, we were in fact walking on stolen land with hundreds of years of utterly horrific history. We reminded ourselves that we live in a country that operates to hold back those whose land we have stolen. We reminded ourselves of the warm houses that we have to go back to after this trek. We reminded ourselves of the blessings of time and resources that have enabled us to hike such a magnificent trail. We reminded ourselves that for the purpose of this trip, we are more than just hikers; we are echoes of the voices in our country that have been silenced and forgotten.
The purpose of this trip for “The Warden”, “Chipmunk”, and “Zinc” (our respective trail names) went beyond our personal desires for self growth and challenge. During our trip we were each in a constant state of awe. We often wondered what it must’ve been like for the first peoples who ran into the Rocky Mountains. Our amazing community came together around the CT hike to support The Tipi Raisers in their efforts at Pine Ridge Reservation.
Since then we have been incredibly grateful to learn more about the history of indiginous peoples, and to spend time on Pine Ridge. This trip was truly a life changing experience unlike anything else I have ever done. I am also grateful to now be a Gen7 youth ambassador which is also proving to be an incredible experience”.
What I do and Why I do it - Reflections from our Volunteer Coordinator, Maria Wischmeyer
In the simplest of terms, my job with The Tipi Raisers is to seek out donations. Some might say that I navigate the system by re-distributing excess product to those who have dramatically less material wealth. And that would be accurate, too. But that dry description doesn’t come close to capturing the magic that sparks when we exist in relationships.
Donations have always relied upon the generosity of others. This work moves within a gift economy where the rewards of sharing one’s abundance doesn’t rely on monetary exchange but with more intangible benefits like the sense of contribution, nurturing a community or creating opportunities to connect.
These exchanges often happen on a porch, in a driveway or online where supporters from all walks of life bring more than just their donation. Some come curious, others with deep empathy. Some are quiet while others feel called to discuss at length the ongoing obstacles facing indigenous people. I never know who I will be meeting for the first time.
But what all of these beautiful people consistently bring to the table is solidarity and a deep mutual longing to change our narrative with Native Americans. And although there is no rewriting of the past, there is a sincere desire to nurture a bond that enhances the well-being of our friends on Pine Ridge. We share an emotional dependency where no one feels more comfortable than the least comfortable neighbor. It is in this common humanity that we are connected and where the magic happens. I seek out donations, for sure. But, I also like to think that I extend an invitation and foster those who respond with a sense of belonging and oneness.
To express their solidarity, supporters offer a variety of gifts. From appliances to diapers or boots to blankets, they are all rather like the casserole that is lovingly made and offered in times of struggle for those we care about. It’s humble but sincere. The gift brings us together to engage in difficult conversations where the universe hears our regrets, hopes and cries for a future that is more generous and ethical. It’s not about perfection. It’s about the effort. So we oppose injustice by creating communities because transformation requires our participation.
It would be naïve to not recognize the bigger work that needs doing. Service alone isn’t enough. And hopefully, one day, my job will be obsolete. But grassroot organizations like The Tipi Raisers rely on the cultivation of relationships where we are asked to slow down, actively listen, earn trust and engage in meaningful dialogue. It requires courage, grace and reciprocity. And there will always be a space for that.
We exist simultaneously in both the physical and spiritual and the nourishing of our well-being and achievements relies on all of us. The Lakota have a mantra, “Mitakuye Oyasin.” It means, “We are all related.” When we move through the world with that in mind, we move in magic.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.
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