Thoughts on race and their relationship to the outdoors while hiking at Big Basin Redwoods State Park, California 

While hiking at the Big Basin Redwoods State Park, I noticed the demographics of the hikers were mostly 90% whites and 10% Asians. I remembered a podcast I listened to exploring the relationship of race and the outdoors. The National Park Service has reported the lack of diversity in hiking, and when breaking down the numbers, the demographics for their staff mirror the demographics of the visitors, as well as volunteers: 80% whites, 5-6% Hispanics and Blacks, and 2% Asians.

I haven’t worn my hiking boots in a long time. I think the last time I wore them was when I was back here in California hiking at Point Reyes National Seashore. I’m always excited to put them on, thinking of the good times I’ve had on the trails, and hoping for more memorable hiking adventures in the future. It’s a different kind of high when I wear my hiking gears—the joy I feel when I’m outdoors is unparalleled. Fashionistas may disagree but in my opinion, the best OOTD (outfit of the day) is always paired with hiking boots.

My cousin, who is my hiking buddy when I visit California, and I planned to go to Big Basin Redwoods State Park. We tried going there once before but it was closed due to constructions (or something like that) so we ended up hiking at Castle Rock. The drive to Big Basin made me queasy, zig-zagging the narrow two-lane road highway. We also didn’t anticipate a traffic jam on our way up and were surprised to find ourselves in a complete stop. The drivers of about a dozen cars ahead of us were getting out of their vehicles and we wondered why they were taking photos (and selfies) of each other. Then we quickly realized they were all driving high end sport cars (think: Porsches, Ferraris, Bentleys)! Wow what a bunch of spoiled young men in their hundred thousand dollar cars who held up traffic just so they can take selfies of themselves. 🙄

We arrived at the Big Basin later than we had planned. Finding for a parking space was horrendous (the park was really crowded with tourists and locals alike). I noticed that there were a lot of tables for day picnickers and campgrounds for families who want to escape from civilization for a night or two (the park has no internet service and nowadays it is truly a sacrifice not to be able to use the internet…😂).

Our goal was to see at least one waterfall. According to the information center, there are several waterfalls in the area but the best one was the farthest. Since my mom and my cousin’s husband came with us but do not hike, we didn’t want them waiting for us for a long time so we settled for the nearest waterfall.

It was a two mile hike to reach  Senpervirens Falls. While on the trail, I noticed the hikers were mostly Caucasians. I then remembered a podcast I listened to from Code Switch that my older son had shown me a couple of years ago regarding race and their relationship to the outdoors. (Code Switch Team is a team of journalists who mainly discuss race, ethnicity, and culture). According to the director of the NPS (National Park Service), there’s hardly any diversity in hiking, and when breaking down the numbers, the demographics for their staff mirror the demographics of the visitors, as well as volunteers: 80% whites, 5-6% Hispanics and Blacks, and 2% Asians.

The stereotype why black people do not hike traces back from slavery all the way to the Jim Crow period. Black people were forced to work outdoors, tending to fields and livestock. And if they ran away, the woods is where they were tracked down. They were lynched. They went missing. They were murdered. Thus the woods became associated with fear of white violence. And this all affects the way that some black people still think of the outdoors.

Korean-Americans defy the stereotype that only white people hike. In the mountains of Los Angeles, most of the hikers are Koreans, all decked-out with sun visors and, long sleeves (the adversity to the sun for the fear of getting a darker skin among Asians and brown people is a whole new topic). South Korea is a mountainous country, therefore, hiking is a big part of their culture, and has become their national pastime. So when South Koreans emigrated to the United States, they brought hiking with them making nature as their solace in their very different newly adopted country.

On the same day of our hike, white supremacists were protesting in Charlottesville, West Virginia. Many Americans are still shocked that in 2017, they are still dealing with this shit! Sadly, this country has been in denial about racism and now everyone’s so shocked to see a blatant racist occupying the White House. White supremacists have been silenced for decades and this newly elected president have given their voice back.  Americans must again face reality, a reality everyone has denied, buried, and stopped talking about. Unfortunately, racism still exists! How to deal with (or fix) it is a complicated story.

Less than an hour into the hike, we reached the Sempervirens Falls. The waterfall was underwhelming, and I would’ve preferred to hike farther to see a more exciting one, if only my mom and my cousin’s husband weren’t waiting. We watched a couple of guys swimming until someone told them a ranger was on his way and they quickly vacated the area and disappeared. We decided to head back where my cousin’s husband and my mom were patiently waiting for us and ended our hike with a sumptuous picnic.

San Francisco day trip: The historic Point Reyes National Seashore 

One of the most beautiful day trips you could take from San Francisco is to Point Reyes National Seashore. But if you have enough time to spare, I highly recommend to stay a night or two. My flight back to Texas was not until 5pm, therefore, I had enough time to do something in the morning. I was interested to see the Cypress Tree Tunnel ever since I saw it on Instagram. My cousin suggested we can stop there on our way to Point Reyes, then go to the Lighthouse, hoping we can get a glimpse of the whales.

The Cypress Tree tunnel is a row of Monterey Cypress trees that forms a tree tunnel. I expected it to be a long tunnel but it was actually pretty short. Nevertheless, it was still remarkable and awe-inspiring. There were several photographers capturing the beauty of the place especially with the morning rays but I was surprised to find hardly any crowd at all.

After taking several pictures (although I couldn’t really capture the beauty of the tree tunnel through photos since I only use iPhone for photography…maybe someday I’ll use one of those professional cameras lol), we proceeded to the Lighthouse.

But we were met by a ranger and informed us the only access to the Lighthouse is by taking the shuttle bus. The month of March was the best month for whale watching and the Lighthouse offers the best place to do so. We opted not to see the whales at this time since I was concerned with the timing, worried we may not have enough time to travel back to San Francisco to catch my flight.

Point Reyes National Seashore includes coastal beaches and hilly lands. At different vantage points, the view could look as if you’re in Switzerland or New Zealand (depends on your interpretation). We spent a good portion exploring Drakes Beach.

For hiking, you can start from Bear Valley Trail, starting from the visitor’s center (you may do this before or after Drakes Beach and Cypress Tree Tunnel). Across the parking lot at the Visitor’s Center is the Earthquake Trail that runs directly over the San Andreas Fault. I was hoping there won’t be an earthquake that day. 😜

We left the area in the early afternoon, giving us enough time for the Bay Area traffic and also to grab lunch. A half a day was not enough to explore everything there is to see, but the good news is there is always a next time.

Hiking in Northern California: Castle Rock

California never ceases to amaze me. It’s  ranked as the #1 state in terms of beauty and for the lovers of the outdoors, it is a mecca for hiking. I wish I never left California but because of the housing boom and the incredibly high prices, my husband and I chose to live in Texas after our six-year expat stint in Japan—a decision we made 15 years ago I now regret. My family first migrated to a suburb in Los Angeles when I was fifteen years old. I loved the racial and cultural diversity of SoCal (Southern California) that makes the city more colorful, vibrant, and exciting. LA is made up of several ethnic enclaves such as K-town (Korean), J-town (Japanese), Filipinotown, Little Saigon, little Armenian, Little Ethiopia, Thaitown, and more—an example of its multicultural character. Something I’ve been missing out living in Texas. 

Lombard Street in San Francisco
Northern California is just as beautiful and as culturally refined. If SoCal has LA, the beaches and Hollywood, NorCal has San Francisco, the winery, and Silicon Valley. The weather in the south is similar to a mediterranean climate whereas it is much colder in the north. I have always preferred Southern California over Northern California during my younger years but since hiking became a big part of my life, I discovered the northern side is abundant in natural beauty and great for outdoor pursuits.

the views from our drive to Big Basin
the route to Big Basin was a zig zag two-lane road with great scenery
 My cousin and I  originally planned to hike Mission Peak. But because of the unusually hot weather that day in the Bay Area, we ditched that idea since Mission Peak’s trails do not provide shade (unfortunately due to the over cutting of trees). We drove to Big Basin Redwoods but the usual route was closed for traffic and the reroute would add an extra 30 minutes to our drive. Thus we decided to hike at Castle Rock.

We weren’t disappointed because Castle Rock, located in the Santa Cruz mountains, is abundant in solitude and wilderness. Not to mention the high cliffs and sweeping vistas where visitors enjoy a panoramic views of Monterey Bay. 

The hike can be tailored to one’s ability. There are different options to choose from on a day hike: 1, 3, 5, 6 mile loops or a 9.3 miles to Waterman Gap Trail Camp (which is 5 hours one way). The trails connect to nearby state parks and open preserves, allowing visitor travel from skyline to the sea. I met a young man who will backpack the 30-mile Skyline-to-the-Sea Trail, which will take him from Castle Rock State Park to Big Basin to Waddel Beach. I asked where he would be spending nights, he said he will sleep on the beach. I wished him luck and watched him leave for his adventure. 

We met a volunteer who accompanied us in the first hour of our hike (she later proceeded to Goat Trail, a 5-mile loop). We were pressed with time so we just wanted to do the 3-mile loop. I haven’t gone on long walks for probably over a month now (since I found out I couldn’t go to Nepal, my motivation wore off). My cousin and I were panting in the beginning of the hike since the trail was an uphill climb. The volunteer was wondering why we were short of breath “at a young age” (she assumed we were college-aged women)! We laughed and told her we weren’t as young as she thought we were. That made our day and inspired us to walk faster! 😄

The volunteer left the two of us us to navigate on our own. We realized it’s easy to get lost in the wilderness because the directions in the trails weren’t as clearly marked. We suspected we were lost when we couldn’t locate the waterfalls but found the rock where we can take photos of the stunning view. The park ranger warned us in the beginning to be careful when taking our pictures on the rock since it is a thousand foot down if we fell. My cousin and I were laughing while taking our pictures and joked that if we fell, it would be an embarrassing news of how we died: taking a selfie!

My cousin
On our way back, we saw a family of reindeers but they stopped moving when they heard us coming. We also paused to listen to the woodpeckers.

Witnessing the reindeers and listening to the the woodpeckers were a great way to end our hike. Although, while on the trail, I started to feel sad thinking about all the trips I want to take in my life. Nepal, Patagonia, Machu Picchu, Camino de Santiago, Bhutan, Cuba, Morocco, and the Middle East (especially Iran)….not too long ago those trips didn’t seem impossible but now I’m afraid they only belong in my dreams.