While a lot of us were stuck in the house, cautious of rising COVID-19 infections, or protesting in the global movement for Black lives, Patricia Cameron was marching in the great outdoors, signing “BLM” on trailhead stands. Cameron is the founder and CEO of Blackpackers, a Colorado-based nonprofit that provides gear, outdoor excursions and outdoor education for free or at a subsidized cost. Eight weeks ago, she embarked on a 485-mile hike from Denver to Durango on the Colorado Trail.
Cameron, a Southeast Colorado Springs resident and the primary caretaker of her son, wanted to choose a nearby trail for her seven-week hike, as well as one she knew she could safely trek. She broke up the distance by thru-hiking — taking a series of week-long trips between supply stops — which required her to carry a week’s worth of supplies at a time. At its heaviest, her bag weighed 30 pounds. Once, while hiking a pass coming out of Copper Mountain, she was caught in a thunderstorm and, to avoid lightning, she camped below timberline, losing 8 miles that day.
Unplanned events like this upset the course. “The last three days, I was out of food,” says Cameron. Feeling isolated, Cameron says at times her emotions were all over the place, but she didn’t dismiss them. “I cried a lot, but I honored every emotion I had,” she says.
She also rolled her ankle a number of times while on the trail, and only after her adrenaline wore off and the pain drove her to the doctor a week later did she find she had actually fractured it.
Cameron, a fierce advocate for the outdoors, appreciates the attention media brought to her hike, but says her reasons for the trek are what are most important. Living in Colorado, outdoor culture is huge; it’s one of our biggest draws. However, the reality is not everyone has the resources required to access it in the same way — or at all. There are communities of Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) who, even living close to the great outdoors, do not have the economic mobility to afford the gear or supplies needed for outdoor recreation. Blackpackers is making the love of the outdoors more accessible — and statewide.
In February, Cameron and her crew took 47 Black and Indigenous campers to Camp Shadybrook, where they did axe-throwing, archery and yoga, and Ashley Cornelius with Poetry 719 came out to host a healing poetry event. And although COVID-19 canceled Blackpackers’ planned skiing trips, the adventures will go on when there are safe opportunities. For instance, before the summer is over, the group plans to do a fishing trip near Fort Collins, led by board member Rickey Frierson, director of diversity and inclusion at the Colorado State University Warner College of Natural Resources in Fort Collins.
Cameron is also forming a partnership with Colorado Parks and Wildlife to provide internships for Blackpackers. “We want to work on a pipeline for people,” she says. “Those working in outdoor spaces, whether in nonprofits or retail, are not diverse. We need to build up leaders volunteering with Blackpackers and partners so we can get people into jobs and working with CSU. We are also hoping to get people into degrees that will hopefully change the face of how it looks in leadership roles.”
Cameron took her time on the journey because she wanted to share her passion and experience through trail diaries published by Blackpackers. She even paused to work with Denver Public Schools to host The Black Nature Book Club, where participants were able to meet online to discuss their readings and attend kayak and paddleboard events at Barr Lake State Park.
At the height of the protests following the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police, Cameron was on the Colorado Trail. She says the anger over the events propelled her. “I have been involved in a variety of protest, [but hiking this trail, this time] was my form of protest,” she says.