There aren’t many places in the world that in one photo you see citrus orange trees, palm trees, and picturesque snow-capped mountains. Bob Ross would be impressed. It’s a known fact, although I’ve yet to do it, that LA is one of those places where you can catch six-foot waves at sunrise in Malibu, order chicken and waffles in Pasadena for lunch, then a short 90min drive up the hill will take you to the lifts 7000 feet up the summit for some gnarly ski runs.
In LA– but, only if the universe and stars align– you can exit the happiest place on earth to take in an NBA, NFL & MLB game all on the same day. It could happen. I fact-checked it.
In late October.
Warning! Black Ice Ahead
It was winter break, kids were out of school and we were determined to make the 90-mile drive ahead of a storm expected to bring 12 inches or more of snow and icy road conditions. We didn’t own an all-wheel-drive vehicle or snow chains. Once again, we’d have to rent an SUV and scramble to locate and purchase the tire chains.
Definitely an added expense to an already expensive family trip.
This time last year, we went to Big Bear Lake. So this year, we chose Lake Arrowhead.
The weather forecast for both trips warned about unwelcome Black Ice on the two lane highway. I’ll get to the awesome times we had at both later in this story.
Traveling While Black
First up, an example of why – like me – many Blacks don’t often venture into the great outdoors or participate in many of the variety of extreme recreational activities.
Our last family forays into the great outdoors and backcountry had gaggles of too many American flags, pickup trucks, and entitled Wreck-it Ralph mofo’s that spoke with ”air quotes” about the times we’re living in.
This was in May of 2020. The world was only about less than four months into the COVID-19 pandemic.
My wife, by emergency order signed by herself, had deemed my mancave non-essential. She commandeered my mantuary and repurposed it as the Family Resource Center. A negotiated compromise instead of her proclaiming it as her she-shed.
Even for a family of four with just enough space in our home and a reasonably sized backyard, cabin fever was heating up and summer was approaching…
We desperately needed a different environment. Hotels weren’t an option. Their pools were closed. Most, if not all the other amenities and activities they usually offered were all shuttered.
The intersection of public health and public safety (specifically speaking of the safety of Black Americans) was on full display.
In case you were unaffected or unaware, three separate yet eerily similar events occurred around that time
The names of Taylor, Abery, and Floyd all became forever adjoined to one another following a global outcry about why Black Lives Matter.
I’m doing better. This time I packed my emotional intelligence and my tools of being centered in my mindfulness bag of tricks. All the things I needed to avoid paying the Black Tax at the resort.
Usually, when vacationing (while Black) with the family my spidey senses are hair-trigger ready — (wait for it) – for whiteness to show up and disrupt me from minding my own Black Business.
After three months under ‘safer at home orders’, we decided it was time to venture into the new world of COVID-19. With disinfectant wipes, hand sanitizer and masks, we headed to a campsite in – of all places – Menifee, CA. The well-known city in Riverside County has the sweetness and heartfelt quality of the Dixie South.
Living in Pasadena, I’m used to racists driving in hybrid environmentally green vehicles, where liberalism is the law of the land and yet the “Karen” and “Kyle” types, with an pistachio oak milk latte-in-hand, will run you down—then claim they felt threatened.
Back to the Campground
We met a guy my wife described as “Wreck-It Ralph.” Loud, obnoxious, and full of entitlement. He was the self-appointed campground president of the (un)welcoming committee.
I’m mindful of my 29-minute record and began to feel at ease. Kids were splashing in the pool, wife and I were lounging on the deck. I was in a state of relaxation–a fresh late spring breeze complimented the trees.
Exactly 33 minutes in (I know the time as I was texting someone to let them know we made it and how shocked I was to see three other Black families). We gave each other the nod — I see you, Black man. We each exhaled a sigh of relief knowing neither of us was a hostage in this sunken place.
I also almost broke my record of having to confront, mitigate, and socially distance my family from White Moments chauffeured into my space by White Privilege.
Our attempt at normalcy was interrupted by the village idiot.
‘Hey, are those your kids?’
‘It is unsafe and illegal for children under the age of 16 to be in the hot tub.’
Aware of the properties rules:
- No loud music.
- No alcohol.
- Only 10 people in the pool area and one person or family in the Jacuzzi.
This corn-fed redneck had already broken rules 1 and 2. Breaking rule 3 was a threat.
Ignoring recommended social distancing, Ralph decided it was ok for him to take a plunge into the whirlpool and settle himself unreasonably close to my kids.
He didn’t choose small talk or surface-level conversation with a then 5yr old boy or a 12 yr old adolescent girl.
This Archie Bunker character-type decided to ‘White-splain‘ female reproductive health to my daughter, letting her know that it is unsafe and against the law for children under 16 to be in the hot tub.
Too close to the Sunken Place.
Patriotism seemed to be a common theme in the RV lifestyles. Old Glory and flocks of Canadian geese were as ubiquitous as the F150 blaring Lady Antebellum.
Why don’t Black People Camp?
Although we weren’t at Yosemite or the Redwood Forest or at many of the other numerous National Parks–it’s important to point out some themes and widely accepted perceptions of visiting our country’s treasured and protected outdoors.
The most recent National Park Service survey found that 6% of National Park visitors are Black, while 77% are white.
It’s likely there aren’t enough Ranger Smiths. Seriously speaking, not another US Park Ranger Betty Reid Soskin. America’s oldest park ranger retired this month at age 100.
This sentiment isn’t limited to the American Black experience. Anti-Blackness shows up in other parts of the world. A 2010 article from The Guardian held a fireside chat on this matter.
For Amal, who grew up in Somalia, it’s the fear of the countryside. “I feel London is my comfort zone,” she tells me. Like many people, she is nervous about what Trevor Phillips once called the “passive apartheid” of the countryside – the fact that rural areas have such a low ethnic-minority population. “I worry that people will be mean or unfriendly with me,” Amal says. “I’m worried they will be racist.”
Why didn’t I know about a sista named Rue Mapp?
In 2009, Mapp ventured off the trail of graduate school, pioneering into what has now become the nation’s leading, cutting-edge network that celebrates and inspires Black connections and leadership with nature.
Mapp told NPR her story resonated with a lot of other African-Americans who would write to her to say that they too were tired of being the “only one.”
A mere two weeks after her mentor asked that one simple question, Mapp started Outdoor Afro, launching into opening spaces where Black people and nature meet.
A decade later, Outdoor Afro is in 56 cities around the country connecting thousands of people to nature experiences and it is changing the face of conservation.
More About the Cost of Outdoor Adventures
Country roads have never taken me home to a place where I belong. Not West Virginia, and certainly not in Big Bear Lake, California.
Cougars–not the pawed wild ones–the older white women that might be seeking and stalking this Buck that’s already frozen by the white headlights.
Besides cougars, not animal-kind, I’ve managed to overcome my fear of bears since one wandered into my urban-foothill adjacent neighborhood. But it’s the grizzly-looking mountain men to me that are just the same as the boogieman.
Crazy needs to be recognizable. In an urban setting, I know how to read all the signs. I’m an urban survivalist. I know what backstreets provide the best passages.
Camp Crystal Lake gave me an imagined lens on why not to trespass on to Jason’s backyard.
My friend has tried for years to get me and my son to go camping with him and his boy.
Each time I decline. Two primary reasons: I don’t want to place myself in a situation where my presence makes someone uncomfortable. And I don’t want to put my friend in a situation where he has to make me comfortable with my presence making “Mountain Mike” uncomfortable.
Are you still here?
I wandered off course. I’m supposed to be guiding your trips to Big Bear and Lake Arrowhead.
Noon Lodge at Mallard Bay – the boutique lodge is located on a quiet residential street just 1.3 miles from Big Bear Lake village center’s restaurants, shops, and activities.
It’s as perfect and understated as its website describes.
For me, Noon Lodge strikes that perfect balance between smart, clean design and rustic outdoor charm. This endearing getaway harkens back to a bygone era of exploring mountain trails, making cannonballs into a lake, laughing around a campfire and gazing at stars.
We roasted marshmallows. Froze outside in front of the fire as fresh snow blanketed the mountains.
We took ski lessons and within just a few hours, the whole family was making solo runs on the bunny slope.
As I mentioned earlier in this story, this was now our third trip up the hill within the span of a year.
This time we chose Lake Arrowhead Resort. This place is by every definition a five-star property.
It’s nestled in the center of outlet shops and well-traveled hiking trails.
This last trip, the snowstorm was so heavy it forced many of the area amenities to close.
Here are the moments of joy. Army crawling in the snow with my son. Seeing my wife and daughter skiing together while I was up on the lift with my two adaptive recreation instructors made the hot cocoa taste even sweeter. The love of my family had me warm.
So those country roads did bring me to these new experiences and those moments of joy with family. These same country roads will take me home–to the place where I belong.
Ok Siri, play “Take Me Home, Country Roads.” Not John Denver, I need some soul from Toots and The Maytals.