The Brothers of Strawberry Creek

An African-American owned, eco-friendly inn and boutique hotel?

After some recent Outdoor Afro Facebook fan chatter about Strawberry Creek, I decided to dig a little deeper and reach out to Rodney Williams, one of the property owners. Rodney was happy to shed light on how the B&B was created in the scenic San Jacinto mountains of Southern California. This thought provoking interview is not only about the inn, but also an opening discussion regarding what is possible to achieve in life in spite of odds or perceptions. Here is part one of our two-part interview:

What inspired you to become an inn keeper?
I was doing actuarial work for a large health insurance company, and just did not feel fulfilled or like I was contributing anything directly positive to the life of the average person. My first attempts at resolving this inner conflict involved looking for an art form outside of work that would hopefully fill in what was missing. That led me to a stint in culinary school in the evenings and on weekends (the art form I always gravitated towards, even before I considered it an art form). It was a blast, the most fun and passion I had experienced in my life so far, but the contrast between my daytime misery and night-time elation only highlighted the underlying issue.
On a last-minute soul-searching trip alone, I stayed in a B&B for the first time. The minute I walked in the skies opened, there was lightning, angels singing, light bulbs–all the ‘epiphany metaphors’ that come to mind. Without knowing anything about what it took, how profitable it might be, or what it was really like running a B&B, I knew it would bring me joy. Besides, I was already spending a good portion of my salary decorating my house, gardening, cooking, and throwing parties. ‘I might as well get paid for it’ was my thinking, I guess.
I spent the next six or so years trying to talk myself out of the idea, and having other people try even harder to talk me out of it. As luck would have it, I met Ian at a time when he was starting to re-evaluate his relationship with his pediatric nursing career. After years of caring for and getting close to kids with cancer and other life-threatening illnesses, the straw that broke the camel’s back was his niece’s cancer diagnosis. The already thin wall of separation between professional and personal, perhaps necessary for this kind of work, came crashing down. Now there were two people open to doing the unthinkable. And the rest, as they say, is history.
What is your connection to the Idyllwild area?

Originally, there was no connection to speak of. It seems funny to say that now because we feel so deeply connected to this community, and we very much think of it as home. At first, all we knew was that we wanted to purchase an existing inn with 8 to 12 rooms, close to pristine wilderness. Our preference was to stay in Southern California (for the weather), but we were quickly convinced by ‘knowledgeable experts’ that we needed to drop that from our list of requirements.
There simply weren’t enough B&Bs in Southern California to produce an inventory of properties available for purchase at any given time, and there were really no pockets of affordable real estate left in the region, much less affordable real estate near nature. We must have looked at 20 properties in Washington State and throughout Northern California, with none of them feeling exactly right. Actually, a few felt pretty close to right, but were either over-priced for the revenue they generated, saddled with legal or zoning issues, or in one case, snatched up by another buyer while we were deciding to make an offer on the plane ride home.

Owners take a break in Costa Rica

Finally our agent advised us that we had seen everything on the market that fit within our parameters (that must be an old realtor’s trick to pull out when you think you’ve got a commitment-phobic client, but he was probably close enough to being right). We chose and made an offer on what we thought was the best choice of what we had seen (in Sonoma County, on the Russian River), and pretty soon we had come to terms on a price, notice had been given at our respective jobs, and our houses were on the market and in escrow (this was 2004, so the Southern California housing market was close to the peak of its frenzy).
Although we both got mild stomach pains every time we drove up to what was about to be our new inn, neither of us brought it up, brushing it off as nerves related to the impending big change. On one level we were relieved when the inspection reports started coming in with details about past floods, termite issues, and badly needed roof work. The sellers were unwilling to re-negotiate the price or to fix anything, so we had no choice but to cancel the deal. The only small problem was that we would both very soon be jobless and homeless! I decided at that point to stop listening to ‘the experts’ and follow my own instincts more.
As part of our early research, I had acquired a book called ‘Great Towns of Southern California‘, by David Vokac (there’s a Northern California version too, as well as a ‘Great Towns of America’ version for your readers who like discovering great under-the-radar small towns). Idyllwild was the only one of the eighteen towns featured that we hadn’t been to or at least heard of. A little online research revealed that several inns had very recently been listed for sale. What did we have to lose? We hopped in the car, and after driving through majestic mountain scenery we thought you couldn’t find in Southern California, we reached the most charming village filled with artists, galleries, quaint shops, and nice people! To top it all off, there had been a light dusting of snow the night before. We were hooked. The rest is…well, you know…

What do you think people are most surprised by when they visit the property?

We try to make sure there are as few surprises as possible when people arrive, through our website and our reservations process, but there aren’t a lot of pictures of us on our website (something we will definitely re-consider for the next website update). So some of our guests are surprised to be greeted by two young-ish (or so we like to think) African-American males. Most are pleasantly surprised, or at worst indifferent, but there is a small minority who are stricken with the compelling urge to write nasty reviews, letters to the editor, their congressmen, or whoever will listen about our obvious illegitimacy as a B&B and as innkeepers. Of course their complaints never specifically mention ethnicity or age or sexual orientation, and to be fair they probably really believe that what they say is bothering them is truly the underlying issue. They’re our version of ‘the birthers’. We deal with them the way our President does: overlook the ranting, address the issue about which they are explicitly complaining if it has any legitimacy at all, and then get back to work making sure we are helping to create memorable experiences for our guests.
Check back for the second part of our interview with Rodney. Meanwhile, take a peek at the Strawberry Creek website!

Part 2: Exercising Outdoors in the Winter Months

By Dudley Edmondson
Continued from Part 1
Now you need something for the head and hands. I usually wear a synthetic stocking cap. The word synthetic pops up a lot because it is the fabric most commonly used in designing “performance clothing” that is clothing specifically desinged to be used in a number of outdoor activities from climbing to cycling, running etc.
After a Run in 25 Below Zero Winds!
I think I own more performance wear than I do any thing else. A good fleece hat and they come in many weights can really help you regulate body heat. A good hat will be soaking wet at the tip top on the outside, leaving your head bone dry, that is the beauty of performance wear. The head, as you probably know, is like a chimney. Massive amounts of heat can easily be lost if it is left uncovered, so get a good fleece hat. Now you need gloves or mittens. My preference is mittens. Fingers together in a dark warm place are much warmer than gloves with fingers separated by fabric with cold spaces in between.
Footwear depends on what you plan to do outside. Don’t wear snow boots and go for a run. You will be sore and sorry you ever left the house! Blisters will do you in even before you get started. If you are going running, wear running shoes and wool socks. If you are going to hike, wear a boot that will give you full range of motion, that is not too heavy and won’t sweat your feet out causing more blisters. With skiing,  you  simply have to wear ski boots.
Now move your body! The trick here is slow and steady, slow and steady. When the temps are in the single digits or below zero you want to move just enough to get a work out in and just enough to heat the pockets of air between your skin and the clothing you have on. You will be amazed at how much heat you can produce running down a trail covered with snow in 20 below zero wind chills. Here in Northern Minnesota I will get in 20 to 25 miles of running a week on snowmobile trails through the woods in the dead of winter. I also cross-country ski most winters and find it a blast even when it is zero degrees out. I also bike all winter over snow packed country roads if conditions are not too bad. The same principals apply in all cases, dress in layers.
So if you’ve never tried exercising outdoors in the winter, treat yourself to a whole new world of fun. If you follow these tips you just might enjoy winter again, just like when you were a little kid.
Dudley Edmondson is the author of Black and Brown Faces in America’s Wild Places, and is available for speaking engagements.

Exercising Outdoors in the Winter Months

By Dudley Edmonsdon
Now let me start out by saying that what I do outdoors in the winter may seem extreme to many. I am not one to shy away from extreme cold or deep snow, I just do what I do and use it as a measuring stick for my next outdoor adventure. Having said that, I thought it would be helpful if I explain to folks the best way to be comfortable in cold, even sub-zero weather outdoors during the winter months.

First thing, no Cotton. I commonly refer to cotton as the “Death Fabric.” IF you want to freeze to death, then by all means wear it in winter to exercise. The search party cadaver dogs will find you contorted in a ball huddle up next to downed tree log with your lips frozen and blue as the blue man group.
Morbid kidding aside, cotton retains moisture close to the skin, and that is a very bad thing. Cotton can be the catalysts for hyperthermia. What happens is that your body, regardless of what you might think, will produce sweat even in sub- zero weather. Sweat is the body’s way of cooling itself down. A moving body burns calories, calories produce heat, heat produces sweat which as I said cools you down in warmer weather so you can continue exercising. In winter though the air around you will keep you plenty cool so instead you need to trap dry body heat so you can be outside as happy as a clam and comfortable for hours if you like.
Think layers, synthetic layers.  Things like spandex, polypropylene, nylon. These types of fabric move moisture away from the skin and that is a good thing. Ideally what you need to do is move moisture to the outer most layer of your clothing while keeping in the dry heat. You can start with a base layer perhaps a synthetic top and bottom. Then over that you need a warm layer like fleece or wool. These fabric trap heat but allow moisture to keep on moving away from the skin. Over the warm layer use what we call a shell layer that is usually a coat or jacket that is made of some type of synthetic material that will usually repel water and block wind but hold in your heat. I always prefer these types of layers with what are called “pit zips” that means you have zippers in your underarms that you can open and close so the moist heat in your armpits can escape. The beauty of the pit zip is you can open them as wide or narrow as you want to suit your comfort level. Would not buy a jacket without em! Now that you are all layered up you are just about ready to go.
to be continued in Part Two
Dudley Edmondson is the author of Black and Brown Faces in America’s Wild Places, and is available for speaking engagements.

Featured Outdoor Afro: Robert Alexander

Robert Alexander became passionate about the outdoors during his youth in Oakland, California. Outdoor Afro recently spoke with Robert  to discuss his evolving commitment to outdoor recreation.

Robert and fellow diver

Tell us more about how your participation in outdoor activities began?
I have an affinity for water. I jumped into a pool of water at age two with all my clothes on, and my mother had to jump in and save my life! She got me into swimming lessons that same summer, and I was swimming laps by the age of five. I became a lifeguard when I was eighteen and worked for various local pools, and eventually became an Aquatics Director for an organization. To this day,  I thank my mother for exposing me to many different activities during my youth. She made sure I was an active member within the Oakland Parks and Recreation scene, and I was involved with the local Arts Center where we did things like act in plays, make ceramics, cook, and do carpentry and photography.

What is your favorite outdoor recreation activity?

My favorite outdoor activity is camping because I love to breathe clean fresh air. I also love wildlife and hiking. I like the camaraderie you build when you are on a camping trip with others — from pitching a tent, to cooking food and starting a fire. These are essentially team building experiences that effortlessly create a bond, and I love it!

Do your friends and family join you in your outdoor pursuits?

My friends and I recently took a trip to Lake Tahoe, Nevada. It took a lot of convincing for some folks because many of them had never even seen snow before! Outdoor activities like water rafting I have tried with some friends, but not all as many cannot swim.

If you had one recommendation for someone who wanted to start participating in outdoor recreation as an adult, what is the most important advice you have for them?
The advice I would give them is to take the chance because you never know — you might fall in love with a particular activity. Most people don’t try things because of fear or they think they might be unsuccessful. I tell those people, “you never know until you try!” Another thing I might tell someone, which I know sounds cliché, is: “you only live once!” But seriously, do not wait until you are 90 years old and talk about what you COULD HAVE DONE. Live life NOW!

We know you recently received your SCUBA certification, what is the next outdoor milestone you hope to reach?
I want to become a better skier. I love the snow but it can be expensive. I am a beginner, but every time I go I improve, and this motivates me. I want to try as many things as I can because I have no limits. Sky diving will definitely be something I try in the future, but one thing at a time!

Matthew Reese: Snowboarder

Matthew Reese of Seattle, Washington might have gone his entire life without laying a foot on a snowboard. In a recent phone interview, Reese said he used to think: black people don’t ski, snow is too cold, and snow sports conflict with basketball season! But earlier this year, at age 30, his snowboarding co-workers finally convinced him to trek up to the slopes with them on a trip that changed his perspective regarding what was possible through the experience of snowboarding.

Sitting down at mammoth: Matthew Reese

Sitting down at Mammoth: Matthew Reese

As a long time athlete, he felt confident he could take on a challenging run his first time out, but the mountain humbled him. Reese frankly calls that first time as “pretty horrible” and he even called it quits early in the day to tend to his battered limbs. However Reese was undeterred by the initial bruises, and was determined to try again a couple weeks later with an Urban League group for a Valentine’s Day event. The trip had a good mix people with varying skill levels and was where he found his snow groove that launched a new obsession for the rush, challenge, and excitement of snowboarding.
As an African-American male, I asked if he ever felt discriminated against while participating in the sport: “not at all,” says Reese. He finds that snowboarders are passionate about the sport and welcoming to anyone who feels the same way. The slopes are a great equalizer, however he does admit that it’s hard to be taken seriously in the board stores. Reese humorously recalls shop visits where employees learn after he starts talking, how knowledgeable he is about the sport and quickly change their customer service tune!
Reese is not playing around when it comes to snowboarding — in just this year, he has traveled to five different mountains and now skis every weekend. A favorite is his local Stevens Pass, but he also enjoys traveling to surrounding states to experience new challenges. For Reese, snowboarding has opened up a whole new path of fun, travel, and networking and he hopes others give snow sports a try as one way to discover new things about themselves, and the world around them.

Matthew Reese

Matthew Reese

Matthew Reese’s tips for Outdoor Afros who want to get started snowboarding:

  • If you are not certain about the sport, renting gear initially is fine
  • As soon as you know you want to continue with the sport, buy your gear as you’ll save money over time
  • It may be a big initial investment, but if you shop around, you’ll find many deals

Still not convinced black people and the snow mix? Do you have other ideas and tips to share? Comment about it!



Where the Black Anglers Are

ifbba logo w flags

Outdoor Afro just received a note from Arthur Bronson, President of the International Federation of Black Bass Anglers (IFBBA) to let us know what his organization has been frying up these days. The IFBBA’s members are comprised primarily of people of color and its membership and outreach spans the globe. The organization also targets and mentors urban kids of color to participate in various fishing derbies and clinics.

Arthur Bronson and IFBBA members Ed Hasse and Reynaldo Anderson

Arthur Bronson and IFBBA members Ed Hasse and Reynaldo Anderson

Mr. Bronson says that fishing for African Americans is not new, “we have always fished for food first and recreation second. Our families came out of the South where we fished the river, creeks, and lakes for crappie, bass, and catfish.”

Two Toads

Two Toads

He is so right. And for those of us who don’t fish regularly now, most have memories. I recall catching my first crappy at age three in Clear Lake, California, along side my southern Daddy. As legend has it, once I had the fish on my line, I exclaimed, “Look daddy, the fish is laughing!”
Kudos to the IFBBA for doing its part to make fishing a more visible tradition and to create more memories — and delicious fish frys for a new generation!
Please click their logo up top to learn more!

Photographer Captures African-American Connections to the Natural World – Dudley Edmondson

Dudley Edmondson, Outdoor Afro guest blogger, photographer, and author of Black and Brown Faces in America’s Wild Places, goes on in this second part to share how he came to photograph African Americans in the outdoors.
Read Part 1
In the four-year process of doing Black and Brown Faces in America’s Wild Places, I have met some pretty cool people who understand what I am talking about. It has clearly changed the direction of my photographic work. I find myself not just interested in the plants and animals that live on the land but the people who sometimes share those environments with them.
People like Steven Shobe and Elliott Boston, two World Class climbers and mountaineers. These two men have climb on nearly every continent on earth in places like Russia, France, Germany and the continents of South America and Africa. They’ve seen a lot of places, a lot of people, and a lot of the natural world. I became interested in their stories after finding Elliott and getting him to agree to be featured in my book.
I was fascinated by mountains and mountaineers after reading Jon Krakauer’s “Into thin Air” and people who risk their lives climbing them intrigued me. In order to photograph climbers I learned you also have to climb as well. That did not sit well with me at first and still bothers me a bit. I wanted to watch them do what they do but not do it myself. Needless to say hanging out with these two I have now climbed in the Ozark Mountains, climbed halfway up Devil’s Tower in Wyoming and ice climbed in Ouray, Colorado. It is something I don’t think I will ever get use to but would jump at the chance to work with Steven and Elliott wherever they find themselves in the world. Working in the open voids of mountain gorges, ravines and peaks does give you a view of the world most people will never see and I am glad I have had the experience and as long as Steven and Elliott are there it will be memorable.
I believe focusing my lens on people like Steven and Elliott will help paint a more complete picture of what African Americans and other people of color are doing. It shows the world that there is diversity among ethnically diverse people and we are capable of so much more than the narrow scoped, negative images the media shows us. I believe in this so much that I have staked my photographic future on it and I very comfortable with that.
Photo: Dudley Edmondson on the shores of Lake Superior near Silver Bay, MN by Nancy Latour-Edmondson

Photographer Captures African-American Connections to the Natural World

Dudley Edmondson

Introducing guest blogger Dudley Edmondson, an African American photographer who shares how he came to photograph African Americans in the outdoors. This is the first of 2 parts:
You know photography has been a part of my life so long it is difficult to remember when it all started. It began as a way to document my bird sightings as a birder way back when I was a freshman in college. Then the idea of it becoming a potential career became a reality when I decided to move from Ohio to Minnesota. I decided Minnesota had everything I needed to be a successful nature photographer so I put down roots in Duluth the gateway to the great north woods full of eagles, wolves and many other exciting species not found in Ohio.
Things all came together after several years and after a very successful career as a nature photographer I decided to challenge myself again and become an author. The subject matter would be very different from what I had done as a photographer. This time I wanted to tell the story of people like me, African Americans who had a deep and unwavering connection to the earth and nature. The book project became “Black and Brown Faces in Americas Wild Places”
These people I felt could help black folks from coast to coast find their way back to the natural world their African ancestors once knew as well as they now know their own backyards. I am certain that as humans our mental and physical being is inexplicably tied to the natural world around us. People who submerge themselves in nature both physically and mentally our simply healthier people. That is the message I have tried to convey with my book. Trying to get people to understand that is not always easy. If you tell someone that the health of the ecosystem not only effects their health but that it is actually more important than anything else going on in their lives right now, few would be able to grasp that concept. Without your mental and physical health what do you really have? Without clean water and clean air what good really is anything else you might posses?