Our everyday lives went sideways in 2020. Where do we go from here?

This summer, writer and activist Jenny Bruso, creator of Unlikely Hikers, interviewed outdoor leaders who are creating a whole new outdoor culture from the ground up. Read about Jenny’s conversation with outdoor writer and advocate Amanda Jameson.

A person with short hair sitting in nature looking off to the side and smiling
AMANDA JAMESON | Photo Credit: Louisa Albanese
“We can be better than the systems that we grew up in, the systems that we inherited.”

Asking Amanda Jameson about thru-hiking is like hitching a ride to a place you didn’t know you needed to be until you get there.

“I like walking. Preferably, for long distances. Day hikes don’t really do it for me. I need at least a few days to really be able to settle into my body,” says Jameson, who uses the pronouns she, her, and hers. “Before the pandemic, I started climbing, but mostly, I just like walking and existing in nature and being reminded of how small I am.”

Jameson is a writer, a long-distance hiker (she got her “trail name,” Zuul, on the Pacific Crest Trail), and the former community relations director for Big City Mountaineers, a nonprofit providing free access to outdoor experiences for youth from disinvested communities. Her experience of walking over 3,500 miles on long trails has been just as formative as the degrees she’s received from Vassar and Oxford.

Each of these journeys has revealed what Jameson describes as “multiple ways of knowing … There are the things you have been taught, that you cerebrally know. You can know a statistic and you still don’t know what that means for the lived experience of someone.” Long-distance hiking, on the other hand, is Jameson’s source for an “embodied sense of knowledge about the world. About truth. About perspective. Long-distance hiking has shown me just how much our reality is socially constructed.”

Amanda Jameson

“Nature doesn’t discriminate in the ways that people do. We don’t have to be like this.”

While the outdoors is far from the apolitical space the culture has pushed for so long, Amanda believes in the power nature provides. “As a Black queer woman living in the U.S., it’s taught me that nature doesn’t discriminate in the ways that people do. We don’t have to be like this.” What she’s gained from hiking, along with her work with organizations like the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics and Camber Outdoors, has given her an advantage for translating deep experiences and passing on knowledge into her work with youth through Big City Mountaineers.

I asked her how outdoor culture, land management agencies, and parks can do better for youth. For starters, she urges decision-makers to just take them seriously. “Young people rise to the occasion when they’re asked to,” she says. “Not only is there a lot that young people can learn from older people, but there’s a lot that older people can learn from youth.”

COVID-19 has made it harder to support youth in the outdoors for the time being. Big City Mountaineers had to cancel their trips this summer. But they’re using this time to look inward. “We’ve committed the organization to being antiracist, which is a lot of work,” Jameson explains. “We’re not always going to get it right. It’s going to be three steps forward, four steps back.”

Jameson also says it’s past time for people in power to choose who they’re really serving: “If you are trying to cater to both people with marginalized identities and people who, whether knowingly or unknowingly, are a part of systems of oppression who aren’t actively working to break down those systems of oppression, what you’re going to be left with is the latter group,” she says. “The people that are oppressing people. The former group should not be expected to tolerate their own oppression.”

Read Amanda’s writing at browngirlonthenst.com and follower her on Instagram @browngirlonthenst.

Read more conversations in this series here.