At Treeline with The Black Foxes
The Black Foxes is a collective of Black cyclists and outdoors people who are reclaiming authority of narratives within the outdoor industry in order to make such spaces more inclusive and equitable. Alexa Everson and Jalen Bazile detail the first in-person meeting of The Black Foxes late last fall.
Thirty minutes of driving through the still night came to an end as we pulled off the rocky forest service road and cut the engines. One by one, our sleepy bodies emerged from the vehicles toting daypacks and water bottles. Each of us had prepared snacks and warm layers the night before in order to be ready for an alpine start, meaning before dawn. There were mumbly groans circulating through the group while Emoji, our canine companion, ran circles around us in anticipation. It was early, but we had arrived at the trailhead right on time.
We really wanted to see a Black fox while we were out. The Black or melanated fox is our symbol and logo and few know about the Black fox’s journey. It’s one of captivity and forced breeding in order to fuel an economic market for the elite social class. Seeing one in nature would be a kind of reflection and affirmation for us.
Each of us come from various backgrounds in the world of outdoor recreation and have been virtual friends, but this was the first time we were all meeting up in person. Our varying levels of experience ranged from doing multi-day backpacking trips to taking the occasional neighborhood walk. To limit the strain on the less endurable knees, we planned a five-mile backcountry hike that was nestled in the south-western corner of Colorado on the ancestral lands of the Ute and Mountain Ute tribes. The trail skirted in and out of the treeline and dropped into a major drainage of the mountain. Our time spent together provided each of us with a sense of belonging in the outdoors.
We started hiking below a deep navy sky with only the first signs of morning showing. There was some anxiety about performance and ability that murmured through the group. Hiking in the subalpine of Southern Colorado meant starting at almost ten thousand feet of elevation, a first time at high-altitude for some of us. Nikki recalls, “I was anxious at first, because of my asthma and being in the high altitude…plus the cold temperatures trigger my asthma. I didn’t want to slow down the group or get left behind.” To set the group up for success, Jalen introduced a helpful tactic – Red, Yellow, Green Light. It’s a way for anyone in the group to advocate for themselves or another person in order to keep everyone together. Red means stop, yellow means slow down, and green means go. Nikki expressed, “It’s nice to be around a group of folks that understand your health conditions and take them into consideration. There’s no judgement.” Rather than judgement, there was an intentionality and sense of care that put the group over the individual.
The timing of our meetup also gave us a bit of concern. It fell on the opening day of bowhunting for Colorado. There has always been a tug-of-war relationship between hunters and outdoor recreators, and, as a group of Black hikers, we were especially nervous. In a way, it felt like the possibility of seeing hunters undermined the feeling of safety we were aiming for. At least in the U.S., Black people have a complex history and relationship with the outdoors that is rooted in historical trauma from centuries of being denied access to natural spaces. We’re firm believers that a bad experience outdoors is worse than no experience, so we kept our optimism high and eyes peeled for bow-toting outdoors people. Luckily, rather than seeing hillsides speckled with orange vests, our anxieties were put at ease by the serene solitude of the morning. There ended up not being another person on the trail the entire hike.
Throughout our nature walk, we took advantage of several teachable moments to learn about the land around us. Marty’s curiosity was piqued by the remote terrain as it was his first proper hike aside from occasionally walking in the woods near home. Alexa, with a background in geology, spoke to the nuances of identifying the cascading piles of igneous rock as scree or talus. Nikki and Raequan had a hair-braiding session at one of our breaks. Another opportunity to learn arose when Raequan needed to go “boo-boo” halfway through the hike. We found surprisingly soft and natural materials such as the Blue Spruce cone to use while out in nature, and the importance of personal hygiene on the trail.
Jalen, our trail guide of the group, led us along the forested switchbacks and across flowing streams while sharing his knowledge of the land. Ayesha’s occasional singsong pleasantly echoed through the forest. The sun finally rose and the sky put on a show for us. A creamy rose-gold hue brightened the forest and illuminated the mountains behind us. We all paused, soaking up the warmth that poked through the treeline. At that time we all embraced the much-needed moment of relief and calm. We carried on and accommodated individual needs such as pacing, breaks and photography moments. We rejoiced and laughed until we cried, and sang songs together. The joy was infectious. As Alexa said, “I just want to hike with Black people more. There is an unspoken bond when recreating with folks of the same identity.”
With several miles traversed and the warm sun finally shining on our crowns, it was time to retreat to basecamp and recover. The head-bobbing and cheeky faces were a sign of a good time. Even the pup was tuckered out. Amidst a year of tumultuous events and particularly trying times for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC), this meeting felt like a ray of light coming through a dark tunnel. We were able to show up and hold space for one another, a feeling we went without for so long this year. Together, we dealt with physical limitations like asthma and shaky joints, as well as how to support one another when duty calls while on the trail. There wasn’t an issue that any of us were unwilling to aid in or compromise for. The backcountry offered us a space to heal and come together in a way that was unforgettable.
Meet The Black Foxes
To start, Ayesha McGowan (@ayesuppose). She has been an inspiration for the rest of us in becoming the first Black female pro cyclist. She loves riding and fixing bikes and cycling has taken her all over the world.
Will Loyd (@bossmeem) is by far one of the most stylish cyclists out on the road and trails. He is from Hollis, Queens, and got into cycling by riding around New York City.
Shequaya Bailey (@deucedimples) is from Pittsburgh and runs the Pittsburgh Major Taylor Cycling Club. She started out commuting and is now racing at a local level.
Raequan Wilson, (@raequan_veganthighs) is a plant-based multi-disciplined athlete from Minneapolis, MN. His passion for the outdoors started at a young age and has grown into a mission of creating safe spaces for people of color within cycling.
Alexa Everson, (@rockcognoscente) a SoCal girl living in Utah works as an outdoor youth educator. She has a background in geology and loves sharing her knowledge of cycling and the Earth with the groups she leads.
Marty Merritt, (@martymartinho), is in Spain and brings energy to any room he is in! He is a competitive cyclist and motivated to make the cycling industry a more inclusive space.
Jalen Bazile, (@jalenbazile), is an outdoorsman and ultra-athlete in Colorado. He shares his knowledge of the outdoors while leading BIPOC groups throughout the year.
Shanika “Nikki” Nicole, (@shanika_nicole), is an inspiring downhill mountain biker also living in Colorado. She helps to encourage others to get out and try things they didn’t think were possible.