We did it again, this time with a challenge…

By Alisha Pye, Los Angeles Outdoor Afro Leader
So we went hiking above the Mountain Gate Country Club again, but this time we decided to mix it up a bit. So we decided to go off the fire trail and hike the hills. This was a great hike although we had fewer people we had a very diverse group, ranging from a mom wearing her 6 month baby, to a 9 year old cross country runner.20130303-194553.jpg
This hike was particularly challenging for me because I’m very afraid of heights and cliffs, both of which we encountered. I would love to post pictures of the cliff but I was nearly paralyzed with fear. So here’s to embracing fear and moving forward! Because of the challenge that I experienced, I think I enjoyed the hike more.
Overall, we hiked 11.3 miles, every time I even thought about complaining about the distance I looked up and saw this mom wearing her baby, a 9 year old and a grandmother or two chugging along. The diversity in this group was motivating to say the least. We didn’t get a chance to stop and take a group picture, but we had a great time. The sun was shining, the sky was blue, the weather amazing and the scenery was breathtaking.


#DispatchesDNLee: Iringa Tanzania Offers Culture, Wildlife, and Outdoor Adventure

Danielle N. Lee is a member of the Outdoor Afro Leadership Team.  She is a Ph.D. Biologist currently in Tanzania doing a field study of African Pouched Rats.  She will be sharing her Adventures from Africa here on Outdoor Afro.  You can join her on her adventure at her blog The Urban Scientist at the Scientific American Network.
I took a weekend safari (journey/holiday) with other Ex-Pats to Iringa.  Iringa is near the central part of the country and is the launching pad for many other Tanzanian adventures.  Many people start their multi-park safaris from Iringa because of its vicinity to Ruaha, Udzungwa, and Mikumi National Parks.


On this visit, my friends and I visited Isimila Stone Age and Natural Pillars.  If you didn’t know Tanzania is the Cradle of Mankind.  The museum is modest, but the learning experience was one of a kind.  I only regret that the travel books don’t warn you of the hiking you will be doing while visiting the Early Human Stone Tool site and the trek to the Natural Pillars.  It was beautiful, but be mindful of your steps. There are no safety railings and walking trails and stairs are earth worn.  Sadly, this (and most of the natural beauties I have witnessed so far) could not be traversed by individuals with mobility/physical ability issues.

Beautiful views we witnessed on our hike

We did stay at a lovely campsite, Rivervalley Campsite.  The campsite offers Bandas (cabins), tented camps (with beds) and campgrounds if you want to pitch your own tents.  Bandas vary in size and can sleep 2 – 6+ people.  The five of us stayed in the larger banda that had its own bathroom plus 2 rooms – one with a double bed and the other with 2 sets of bunk beds.  We discovered, as we were checking out, that there was a loft and it had a padded pallet on the floor with room to spare for a sleeping bag.

There are plenty of clean external washrooms and toilets throughout the camp. Plus, there is dining hall also offering hot meals. Prices vary, with bandas being the most expensive and tented camps costing less (and depending on your command of Kiswahili). However, I was very impressed with the accommodations and amenities. We paid $60 USD for one night and that included a hot breakfast. We also had dinner, which cost less than $5 USD. The campsite is also home to a popular language school, so there are many expats around most of the time.

Tented camps seem to be very popular in Tanzania and they are very nice lodging options for the cost-conscious person concerned about comfort.  If you want to see and experience the culture, wildlife, nature, and beauty of Tanzania up close, then I definitely recommend this as a must-do adventure for Outdoor Afros.
Visit Tanzania.  It is beautiful here!

Dispatches from Tanzania
Official #DispatchesDNLee postcard
artwork by @LalSox

Outdoor Afros, want a post card from Tanzania?  I am here until September 23, 2012, so complete the Dispatches from Tanzania Postcard request form today.

Couples Camping and Roasting Marshmallows

Etiquette Tips For Camping with Friends and Family

Couples Camping

Couples Camping © Steve Prezant/Corbis

You can’t change your friends and family, but you can change the way you camp with them. Some moderate planning can make a big difference in your camping experience together. Here are some tips to help you get the most out of your camping trips with loved ones:
Shared Space
In some areas, the outdoors still has boundaries, and it’s important to honor both the environment and neighboring campers. If you are planning to visit a drive-up or RV campground, make sure you have reserved a site that can accommodate your entire group plus equipment, to avoid encroaching on neighboring sites. It’s also nice to offer neighbors a hand with tents or with getting a campfire lit. Good stewards leave no trace of trash, but leaving a bit of firewood for the next group in your spot is always a welcomed gesture.

Morning Oatmeal: Dudley Edmonsdon

Morning Oatmeal: Dudley Edmonsdon

Plan your meals together at home and share the shopping tasks so there are no surprises. Meat eaters might eat vegetarian fare, but don’t expect your vegetarian friends and family members to eat the steak and bacon you brought, even if it is free range and hormone free! Decide on meal plans that accommodate everyone.

Marva and Daughter: Marva Cherry Flowers

Marva and Daughter: Marva Cherry Flowers

If you have kids, and are planning to camp with folks without children, discuss logistics, such as the possibility of hands-on help with recreation or watching over little ones. If everyone is bringing little ones, get a watch routine together, so all the adults can plan for breaks in the action.
If your camping mates are all persons of color, don’t assume folks want to hear Li’l Wayne on blast all weekend.   Bring acoustic instruments, like a hand drum or guitar that can be enjoyable and easy to play, even if you are not an expert. Singing or telling stories, while gathered around a campfire is classic, and timeless.
Some drink, others don’t; some like Bud Light, others like Grey Goose. Discuss and get clear regarding alcohol consumption preferences, and know your campground policy on alcohol in advance (see Nancy’s comment below!).
Above all…just chill
Camping trips are a time to let go, and go with the flow. You might stay up ’til the wee hours to stargaze; your kids might eat a ton of s’mores, and all of you might laugh louder than you ever would at home after a long day at work. Enjoy it all! The best part of my own camping plan is to leave the city constraints behind and have fun!
What are some of your tips and experiences when camping with friends and family?

Chillin': Dudley Edmondson

Chillin’: Dudley Edmondson

I Hate Camping!

Some of my best friends swear on a stack of <insert sacred item of choice> they hate camping, won’t ever go, and there is nothing I can do about it. But I know they could not possibly hate on the mobility of a car, the comforts of home, and the serenity of nature (from a distance) all rolled into one. Enter the Recreational Vehicle or trailer camping trip, an experience that can transform what most people imagine about camping.
I know some of my traceless camping folks probably want to throw a pointy carrot at me for the mere mention of this gas guzzling option, but there are many variations, such as using a hip trailer (see above) hitched to a sedan and you don’t have to drive far necessarily as there are hundreds of campgrounds dotted all over the US.
Who says you have to buy an RV? There are many great companies who rent you the whole outfit just like a rental car by the day or mileage, such as El Monte RV and Cruise America. Some campgrounds have trailers on site available for rent as well.
It’s still not too late to book for the upcoming Labor Day weekend and several campgrounds are running specials, that include theme dinners, live music, local excursions and programs for people of all ages.
If you’re not up for driving an RV, several campgrounds have cabins, such as the Albion River Campground, south of Mendocino, California, which is one of the many sites promoted by the California Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds. This campground has private cottages with wood-burning stoves for chilly nights, in addition to trailer rentals and campsites for folks who have their own “rig“. And there are plenty of boating, fishing and kayaking opportunities nearby.
Don’t think black people RV? BUZZZ! Check out NAARVA, the National African American RV Association, a club who puts together a slammin’ rally, regular educational tours, and social events for all levels of participants!
So if you hate camping, give RV and trailer options a long look, or even a try before summer ends. You might be pleasantly surprised by how much you enjoy yourself!
photo courtey of squob.com

Field Report: Our Feather River Camping Trip 2009

We just got back from 8 days of Northern California bliss with some of the most fun and fantastic Bay Area folks who all had the same vacation idea: Feather River Camp!

Each year, I meet up with the self titled “Stumpers”. We converge on the camp’s Folk Dance Week theme, and are notorious for our daily all-inclusive Happy Hour, around a big old stump that doubles as a lounge table. Evan and Willa, our resident bards, came up with a theme song some years back (“Here at Feather River!”) that celebrates the camp, our group, and the City of Oakland — and each year they add a new, clever verse that summarizes the peculiarities of each session.

I have to admit, Folk Dance Week at Feather River took this Oakland girl some getting used to years ago, but once I realized all the dances were some form or another of the “Electric Slide” and when they added the “Cupid Shuffle” to the mix in 2007, I was hooked!

For the novice camper, this is your kind of place. You don’t have to bring a tent because you can choose from a sturdy canvas covered tent like this:

–or a wooden cabin with electricity!

I attempted to pen down some highlights while I was at camp, but whenever I tried to sit down and write, I was either whisked away for the next dance or was too zoned out in a wilderness induced stupor. But there are some moments I’ll never forget:
— Playing Disco B-I-N-G-O with my youngest. In our camp’s version, each time your number is called, you have to get up and do a 70’s jig, like “The Hustle” or “The Bump“!
Look at mama work it!

–Meeting new families; learning and laughing about how much we had in common with one another

— The whole dining hall singling Happy Birthday to my little guy and how proud he looked to be turning 6
— Watching my kids play with friends old and new in the freedom and dirt of the outdoors

— Tubing with my 7 year-old daughter down a gentle river, surrounded by austere forests on a gorgeous Sunday afternoon

— Having a late night heart-to-heart chat with my 12-year old by lamplight — and he was actually listening!
It has taken me a few days to get on track with the Bay Area schedule, but I am still basking in the rewards of our time away that was a gift that keeps promoting peace, connectedness, and love for my family and community through nature.

Photos Courtesy of Jon Borchardt
…who also makes terrific Margaritas!

Field Report: Denene Millner of My Brown Baby Goes Camping

By Denene Millner of My Brown Baby

Yup—I did it. Two days and two nights, deep in the woods of North Georgia. And despite my initial protestations (and the tolerance of threats from my resident Go Green enthusiast/sister-in-law Angelou and much pleading from Mari and Lila), I have to say it wasn’t half bad. And maybe—just maybe—I’m willing to admit that I had some fun. Here, our journey in pictures and in words: We stayed in Ft. Yargo, a state-run park in Winder, GA. It’s only about 40 minutes from our home, but the massive lake, pristinely-maintained forest, and primitive living made it feel like we were 400 light years away from Atlanta. And yes, that’s Angelou, acting like she’s about to check into The Ritz. Signs welcomed our families—the Chileses, the Ezeiloes, and the Gees—to our campsite, located on small peninsula off a small corner of the lake. We dropped our stuff and got busy getting settled—setting up tents, unpacking sleeping bags and lights (all graciously provided by REI, the campground superstore). You know I was scoping out what mattered most: the bathroom (a two-minute walk from our tent site, it had running water and toilets, but lots of bugs, which meant I was going to do the drop and run; showers up in there were not optional), the cooking facilities (a rock pit with a sturdy grill) and an exit strategy (you know, in case a chick had to make a quick getaway). All in all, it was all quite nice… for the outdoors. The kids got a kick out of the idea of sleeping on the ground, surrounded by the lake. They skipped rocks over the water, tossed around the football, danced to the Black Eyed Peas, Earth Wind & Fire, and Nice & Smooth, tooled around on their scooters, and, on many occasions, were caught looking reflectively out over all that God made. (A big highlight for Mari was being allowed to brush her teeth in the woods and spit on the ground. It’s the little things, y’all. The little things.) During the day, we mostly chilled—went for a leisurely hike through the woods, took a dip in the man-made beach, talked, and read (Mazi got wrapped up in the latest Dan Brown novel, “Angels and Demons,” while Nick and I shared Nathan McCall’s incredible novel, “Them.” We got our New York Times fix on our Blackberries (reception was crystal clear). When the dark settled in, we whipped up dinner (grilled veggies, salmon, chicken, and potatoes the first night; hamburgers, hot dogs, chicken sausage, and grilled corn the second) on the campfires, and then watched the kids gorge on S’mores while we played “When I Go to the Moon.” We followed that up with a raucous round of campfire singing, black people style, which means we were crooning Teena Marie, Chaka Khan, Rick James, Run DMC, and Sugar Hill Gang songs at the top of our lungs (the volume of said sing-alongs was wholly controlled by various adult elixirs). The trickiest part? Sleeping on the ground, in the pitch black, in the middle of the Georgia woods. This truly is something that freaked me out, not a little, but a lot. I’m no fan of bugs or critters (though REI’s Jungle Juice, a bug repellant, is the truth, the light, and the way, for real!), but it wasn’t the creepy crawlies that bothered me. It was the noises. And the darkness. And the fear of what was lurking—the unknown. The first night wasn’t so bad, but the second night, Lila woke me out of a dead sleep, shivering, talking about how she heard noises and footsteps. I heard them, too, and felt powerless to do anything about it but cuddle Lila and try to be brave while she settled back to sleep. All the while, all I could think was, “Damn, James has the knife in is tent—how am I going to stab a mofo if I don’t have the regulator?!” I spent the rest of the night staring at the stars and waiting for Jason/Freddie Krueger/The Blair Witch/a group of guys in white robes to slice through the tent. Needless to say, sunlight couldn’t come fast enough for me. When morning finally came, we made quick work of breaking down the tents, gathering up our things, and getting in our last looks at nature. I have to admit that it was quite a lovely experience, sleeping out in the open and waking up to such beauty. I’m not planning on becoming a camping enthusiast, that much I know (though REI has some pretty spectacular gear that did wonders for keeping us comfortable—from the tents to the lanterns to the coffee percolator to the backpacks, kids’ toys, and the Jungle Juice). But I wouldn’t be against going again… one of these days. (The picture below is of me and Mazi—proof that I was, indeed, there!) A special thanks to REI for making this, my first camping trip, a comfortable, special experience; the tents were incredible, the lanterns lit the way, the
percolator made great java, the sleeping bags were quite cozy, the portable stove made perfect Jiffy Pop Popcorn, and not one of us got bit by a bug thanks to your fantastic Jungle Juice (I’m SO buying stock in the JJ!)

Field Report: Tales of a Novice Camper

Guest Blogger
Shalonda Anderson
Oakland, California
I actually went camping once when I was in the 4th grade — it was one of the best and worst experiences of my life. My class won a trip to Malakoff Diggins to live like miners of the Gold Rush. I recall my excitement to camp outside, make food from scratch, and mine for gold. Daytime was fantastic, but this sheltered city kid didn’t count on the dark nights and the bugs! At night I was afraid for my life and was kicked out of every tent in the campsite for my hysterics. And because of that experience, I decided camping was not for me.
But after hearing about the good experiences of others recently, I decided to give camping another try as an adult. A friend of my family hosts an annual camping trip at Lake Don Pedro in California, so I decided to come along, and knew this trip would decide the fate of my camping future! However, I vowed it would not be like last time. Luckily, I was going with experienced campers, and I told myself to get used to the idea that I would see some bugs!

The lake was simply breathtaking. And our campsite was nice, clean, and inviting. Our set-up crew consisted of my husband, best friend, nephew and God son. We let the boys put up the tents. It was their first time and we were pleasantly surprised by the excellent job they did…but camping did give us a few challenges. Our first night we realized we forgot our Tiki torches. We had just a few citronella candles, which did little to light our site and deter the bugs that get fierce at night!
Another moment of discomfort came when a fellow seasoned camper warned us not to turn over any rocks or step in any holes.
“Why?” I asked.
“Because of rattle snakes,” he calmly stated.
“Excuse me?!” I screamed. “Are there really snakes here?”
“Yes,” he said. I turned to my husband shrieking “You didn’t tell me I’d have to deal with snakes!”
“I didn’t want to you to be afraid,” he shrugged.
Right then, I wanted to pack up my family and run like hell! But I quickly calmed down, and resolved to be extra careful.
On a brighter note, the showers and restrooms were very clean and close by, which was a plus. And without the torches, we noticed how absolutely beautiful the night sky was. We could see stars for miles, although it was still a challenge to keep our millennium children entertained without TV and video games. The constant question from them was, “Now what?” But we assured them we would go swimming the next day and they settled for the night in anticipation.
The next morning we got up early, cooked breakfast, and set off on the day’s journey. We enjoyed a day full of swimming and boating in Lake Don Pedro in 103 degree weather. The children did back flips off of the boat into the cool lake, which was a big hit. Our day ended with a delicious BBQ and sound sleep. We rose early the next morning, packed up and headed back home.
Overall, did I enjoy camping this time? Absolutely. Will I ever camp again? Yes I would. It was a great experience and a fun way to bond with my family — and my husband and I have decided to make this a tradition for our family for years to come.

How did an Oakland girl like me come to love getting her camp on anyway? Pt. 3

After getting married and starting a family of my own, camping took on a new meaning. For just a short drive and little money, I found camping was one of the most economical ways my new family could take a vacation. During these years I collected essential camping gear, like our first family-sized tent and propane stove from local garage sales and eBay — my family still uses these items today.
But as my family grew, so did the effort of camping. Thus the city of Oakland’s Feather River family camp, situated about two- hundred miles north, became a very attractive option for us. For about $75 per day back then, our family could camp at their beautiful developed site where: three delicious meals a day were prepared (and announced with the toll of a bell), a kind nurse dispensed an endless supply of band-aids, platform tents and cots were already set up, and a refreshingly cool swimming hole was observed by attentive lifeguards. Another bonus of family camp, were the many fun, organized activities and special relationships we developed with the other Oakland families we joined each summer.
Now my children (ages 12, 7, and 6) love the outdoors and every February they begin humming camp songs around the house and double check with me to make sure we are registered for the upcoming summer season!
Aside from our annual Family Camp, we also venture out on local hikes or family bike rides at least monthly. My eldest son is a Boy Scout and he is now developing outdoor skills and going on camping trips with his peers just as I did at his age. I recognize that the fun my kids have now in the natural world is the foundation for a love and engagement with nature that lasts a lifetime and is likely to be shared with their own children.
I still do enjoy tent camping sometimes, but I find that as I approach the big Four-O, I more frequently choose to balance comfort with my outdoor fun — nights of sleeping on just a tarp under the stars have passed me by. I now fantasize often about a future of creeping along the highways in a well-equipped RV, enjoying each state of the Americas, one campground at a time.
Catch-up!: Part 1, Part 2

Easy Tent Camping Sites for Everyone!

Now is the time for Outdoor Afros to plan a summer camping trip! While some popular sites may have been booked up since last winter, it’s never too late to secure a spot at a scenic developed site. One local favorite of my family is the Samuel Taylor Park, which fills up quickly during the peak season!
You can drive right up to your camping area in the developed sites, which are either privately owned or a part of a regional parks system. In either case, you’ll find showers, some electricity or lit areas, occasionally platform tents, easy hikes nearby, and common space for campfire shows or outdoor movies.
Developed sites are ideal for families, occasional campers, or those new to camping because they not only provide some of the basic amenities, but also are a ready-made social environment. Hundreds of families pour into these camps in peak months, so there is always a playmate, or someone to lend a hand to pitch a tent. State Park Rangers or campground managers often provide an evening program that provides both entertainment and outdoor education.
To browse the many developed campsites in California, check out their website here
Next: Your List of Tent Camping Essentials

Photo: Samuel Taylor Park campsite, Courtesy of

5 Concerns That Keep Black Folks Out of the Woods

Photo Courtesy of LWA-Sharie Kennedy

When I mention to some people that I go camping…

it’s not uncommon to hear why others won’t do it themselves. Here is a list of the most frequently heard excuses for not heading out to the woods, along with some real facts to consider:

1. Sleeping in a tent is an elaborate form of back torture

Fact: Just because you sleep in a tent doesn’t mean you have to sleep on the ground. REI portable cots and mats are the way I go nowadays because comfort is important. Sure, a cot won’t feel like a Sealy Posturepedic, but it’s not the ground either. Tip: be sure to get a tent that is sized for one person more than your party to allow more space for comfy sleeping gear.

2. No showers

Fact: Family campgrounds DO have hot showers, and the availability of this amenity is no shocker if you do a little homework on your selected campsite in advance. In fact, the outdoor camp showers are some of the best I have had as some are opened on top for a terrific view of the sky or stars.

3. No Music, TV, or Video Games

Fact: These days wireless is becoming more common for family camp sites, but the point of camp is to connect with the environment or with those in your group. Play a board game, tell funny family stories, go for a walk – it’s these activities that are the source of great memories to last a lifetime.

4. Animals and Bugs

Fact: Yes, wonderful wildlife is a reality in the outdoors, but critters don’t have to ruin your trip. Use bug repellent (or swallow a clove of raw garlic, I am told) for the worst flying offenders. Keep food and other smellables away from where you sleep. You actually have a much greater chance of being hurt by a domestic dog than by a bear!

5. It’s dirty

Ok, let’s make a distinction between soil and filth. Campgrounds are not the place to wear new Air Force Ones. Dirt is inevitable, but filth you won’t find at a developed camp site nor at the more “primitive” areas. Developed camps are maintained to ensure sustainability and safety for all creatures who inhabit them — even the temporary ones!

Bottom line: abandon the scary, non-factual ideas about camping and give it a try!

Got more reasons why you don’t camp? Post them here!