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These Eight Conversations Explore The Intersection Of Race, Environment, And The Outdoors

The Trail Ahead Podcast is hosted by Faith Briggs and Addie Thompson, and they are sharing their favorite interviews with trail runners who are changing the game. 

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How do we honor the land beneath our feet? What does it feel like to be the only Black runner at a trail race? How do we learn to recognize our privilege and ease into the discomfort of that process? How do we get past guilt and move instead to action? What does it mean to participate in a sport that often includes long hours alone in the woods, when you also fear for your safety? 

On The Trail Ahead Podcast, hosted by myself, Faith E. Briggs, and fellow trail runner Addie Thompson, we hear from outdoor athletes, advocates, scientists and artists, who share insights at the intersection of environment, race, history and culture. 

Our friendship solidified on the trails. The long car rides to and from our favorite trailheads created a space for introspection and deep investigation of how we can diversify the outdoors, protect the places we love, and share our love with others in a way that leads to further protection of public lands.

Along the way, we learned that without an acknowledgment of history, harm, and exclusion, we couldn’t really talk about the outdoors. So we started the podcast to learn more about ourselves, to showcase how to engage in cross-racial dialogue about difficult topics, and to talk to some of the coolest, wisest people we’ve ever met.

As our 25th episode aired last week, we want to share some of what we’ve learned from our incredible guests. While we aren’t sure you can really ever walk in someone else’s shoes, they have allowed us to walk alongside them. We hope you enjoy their thoughts as much as we have.

Adam Merry

(Photo: Abigail LaFleur)

Our most recent episode (see the video above) features trail runner Adam Merry. He runs in Boulder, Colorado. In one poignant part of the conversation, he speaks about running in environments that feel hostile, and not because of the landscape.

Adam specifically talks about running the Bandera Endurance Trail Race 100K, in 2022, and what it feels like to pass by confederate flags on your way to the starting line. While he plans to run the race again, next time he will stay in nearby San Antonio, rather than staying closer in town and having to deal with the additional pressure and tension that has nothing to do with the race itself.

 

I have yet to, and I hope I get to, change this someday, but I’ve yet to share a podium with another Black runner.”

 

In our episode debrief, we discuss the strangeness of still having to strive for, and also have the pressure of, being the “first” as BIPOC people in so many environments.

Adam Merry runs on Cheyenne, Ute, and Arapaho lands in Boulder, Colorado.

José González

José reflects after a run on Nisenan and Miwok homelands on the Sacramento River Trail. (Photo: Fred Goris)

The conversation we have with José González, founder of Latino Outdoors, led us to discuss what it means to have white guilt get in the way of becoming a true ally or co-conspirator. How do we acknowledge our privilege and use it as a responsibility to share power and open doors to the places we do have access?

 

“What power are you willing to give up? Sometimes it’s a very big, broad, heavy kind of question in terms of institutional power. And sometimes the power you have to give up is your own narrow view of the world.” 

 

José runs on Nisenan and Miwok homelands on the Sacramento River Trail.

Erin McGrady

(Photo: Caroline Whatley)

As a transracial adoptee, Erin has reckoned with various aspects of her identity throughout her life. As a queer woman living in the South, in a climate of rising hatred and violence against those in the Asian American, Pacific Islander, and Native Hawaiian communities, she shares how running alone is often tense and uncomfortable. She also shares her beautiful love story, which fills this episode with so much joy.

 

I don’t know how to explain that, my own loss of innocence. Now when I go outdoors or outside, I’m constantly, like, my head’s on a swivel. You know, like am I safe to be out here? I just didn’t have any of those feelings when I was small.

 

Erin runs outside of Savannah, Georgia on Muscogee, Guale, Yamasee, and Seminole homelands. 

Gabe Vasquez 

Runner, hunter, politician, and more, Gabe is a first-generation American who was born and raised in the borderlands of New Mexico. He is the co-founder of Nuestra Tierra, an organization focused on supporting and creating thriving border communities via outdoor engagement. Gabe has served his community as a Las Cruces City Councilor, a staff member for U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich, and by helping to protect New Mexico’s environment and public lands.

 

The way that my grandpa Javier Bañuelos taught me about conservation was that you use the resources, but you make sure that they’re there for the next generation. So your son can do the same thing, or your grandson can do the same thing, or his grandson can do the same thing. That, to me, is conservation.”

 

He continues to pursue a political career, currently running for congress, and digs in with us on how the work being done in New Mexico is setting the tone for outdoor equity legislation across the country.

Gabe Vasquez runs in the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument on Piro, Manso, Tiwa, and Mescalero Apache homelands. 

Peyton Thomas

(Photo: Abigail LaFleur-Shaffer)

In Peyton’s episode, we hear about her work as a fish biologist, her experience running in the Olympic trials for the marathon, and her transition to ultra and trail running. For the debrief, we’re joined by Natalie Mebane of the Wilderness Society to ask critical questions about the Inflation Reduction Act.

 

I think just the oceans are extremely critical, and we really just don’t know that much about them. I think the best way to learn about it is to immerse yourself in that environment, if you have the opportunity to, at any point in your life. And anyone who can have that sort of experience is helpful for everyone, I think, to fully understand the scope of change that’s happening.” 

 

Peyton runs on Cheyenne, Ute, and Arapaho lands in Boulder, Colorado.

Lydia Jennings

(Photo: Fred Goris)

Soil health, Indigenous sovereignty, environmental remediation, Indigenous science, mining policy, and environmental data ownership by tribal nations intersects with running when we speak to Dr. Lydia Jennings who is Huichol (Wixáritari) and Pascua Yaqui (Yoeme).

 

If we are supporters of biodiversity, I think a really important part of that is also supporting Indigenous sovereignty, the ability to allow access of Native people to continue those practices, before those traditions get lost, of protecting their own homelands.” 

 

Lydia runs on O’odham and Yaqui lands in Tucson, Arizona.

Jordan Marie-Daniel

Video by Devin Whetstone

A runner and activist with a heart for the people, Jordan is the founder of Rising Hearts, an Indigenous-led grassroots group that advocates for justice and creates incredible educational resources. Jordan raises awareness by running in prayer with a red hand print painted across her face, to honor the cause of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls, and 2-Spirit People (MMIW + MMIWG2S). The hand print symbolizes the voices that have been silenced by the violence of this crisis.

 

It all comes down to the non-Native person listener being able to have an open heart and an open mind and being ready to listen, because that’s what it comes down to – listening.” 

 

We speak with Jordan about her journey to use her whole body to raise awareness and her hopes to unite people across differences.

Jordan runs on Chumash and Tongva lands in Los Angeles, California. 

Clare Gallagher

As someone who grew up in a family that spent time outside, professional trail runner Clare Gallagher asks important questions about how to extend a love of wild places and increase your own awareness about access and privilege. She talks about representation in running, beginning to understand her own whiteness, and the joys and heartbreak of running as a lifestyle.

 

The first step is showing up, and I’m fortunate that I don’t have any problems showing up. It’s my personality. It’s easy for me to show up in groups. Often in the groups, it’s people who look like me. And I’ve thought a lot about the trail running groups I run with, whether it’s in Boulder or other places. What are we doing to make sure that people feel comfortable here?

 

Clare runs on Cheyenne, Ute, and Arapaho lands in Boulder, Colorado.

Sergio Avila

(Photo: Fred Goris)

We actually recorded our episode with Sergio Avila entirely in Spanish. Despite his position as a leading wildlife biologist with a specialty in jaguars, Sergio has refocused to teach youth and increase representation in science.

 

“Creo que por ejemplo, el término tierras públicas “public lands” es un término que podemos utilizar en ciertas esferas y es un término que es ofensivo en otras esferas. Entonces no cambia. Nada cambia, excepto mi disposición a utilizar términos que son respetuosos para otras personas.” 

“Think for example of the term “Public Lands.” It’s a term that we can use in certain circles and yet it’s offensive in others. So nothing changes. Nothing changes except my disposition to use terms that are respectful to various people.” 

 

He talks about how to translate environmental language, as well as how the border wall and other political choices have been complicating wildlife corridors in and around where he lives and works in Tucson, Arizona. 

Sergio runs on O’odham and Yaqui lands near Tucson, Arizona.

 

The Trail Ahead is created with support from Merrell, Patagonia Trail Running, and The Redford Center. For more gems, visit trailaheadpodcast.com and listen to The Trail Ahead wherever you find your favorite podcasts.