Sep. 28, 2021

By Leilah Grace

I am a mother, a physical therapist, a runner, a hiker, a backpacker, and an adventurer; each of these roles inhabits a different community. There is often overlap within these communities for membership. One of my friends is also a single mother, runner, and adventurer, and while we belong to these same communities you are most likely to find the two of us uniting over our single mother status and adventuring lifestyle, yet it was running that brought us together. The communities in which we belong, and those to which we do not belong, shape and influence our lives. Four years ago I abruptly transitioned from the wife and partner community to that of a single mother. While I still resided in the same location my surrounding community changed, and I found myself with a loss of access to people and activities to which I was previously welcomed. With that change in community I rediscovered my love of hiking and adventuring; then I was introduced to backpacking, and found the communities within each of these welcoming.

In my newfound communities I found myself usually greeted with a smile and eye contact; simple things not always found within society. The difference I found within the outdoors community was it often traveled beyond a smile and eye contact, to include a simple statement of “happy trails” or “happy hiking” to full conversations while both parties rested or enjoyed a view. In my years of running and racing there would be little conversation, unless it was a specifically planned run with particular individuals, otherwise passing runners might give a smile, a grunt, or a head bob. At races clusters of groups gathered pre-race and post-race, exclusive to those part of the group, outsiders not discouraged, but certainly not welcomed. As a solo racer typically I longed to have that connection, that community in which to share my experience.  While hiking and backpacking I have yet to arrive at a viewpoint or shelter and not been met with smiles and conversation, welcoming me to the space. While I know not everyone in the hiking and backpacking community have been welcomed as I have been, it has been my experience. I extend that welcome to all people, having spent enough time in other communities on the edges wishing to be invited in.

It is here in the backpacking community that I find my home, find myself, am allowed to be the most authentic version of me; carrying with me only what I need, both physically and spiritually. Along the trail each step bringing clarity, acceptance, and a cognizance that nature should welcome all. Each step a homecoming. I strive to bring that energy to the APT community, to create a home for the wanderers.

Within the APT community I have a home that I cannot replicate within my own physical community. There is acceptance, welcoming, joy, and an abundance of love. The days in which I struggle with acceptance, welcoming, and find myself dancing on the edges, wishing for community and connection I recall the people of the APT and can find a moment of peace and joy amidst the pain of not belonging. Sitting in my living room with tears in my eyes at yet another rejection from my neighborhood I only have to look up to see a stack of boxes in the corner that are a physical manifestation of the love of the APT community. A turn of my head in my bedroom and I view the boxes containing the APT merchandise and find the beauty that exists in these creations when the darkness of a lonely night threatens. With a walk into my garage I am greeted with bins of supplies all sent with love, and sending that energy forth into my home. The APT infuses my home with love and infuses me as well. I give thanks to Rue for the gift of welcome to be a part of this beautiful community, and to lead it as well.

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