As a Force of Nature, who Inspired You?

By: Laura Torres, Social Media Contributor, Los Angeles California
E-mail: laura@latinooutdoors.org

When I think of who I am today, I am thankful for all the amazing people whom I have met and connected with throughout my life. I consider myself a resilient person and I learned primarily from the strong, loving, self-reliant women in my life. First and foremost my inspiration comes from my mother. She has overcame many obstacles in life, as an orphan, an immigrant and a single parent. My mother taught me by example to forge my own path, to be self-sufficient and to move forward even when I am filled with fear. My mother did not encourage me to be outdoorsy or even involved in sports. Growing up I knew my mother’s lack of interest in having me in sports was connected to a lack of resources. My own development into a force of nature stems both out of my mother’s guidance and a need to rebel and push back; a need to set my own path.

My mama on the right and her sister on the left, walking in their hometown in Oaxaca, México.

 

 

During high school, I joined the cross country team. This experience left a deep impact in my life, it taught me to focus and tune out troubles in my life, to push myself and reignited my connection with the nature. Through cross country met my high school best friend Yessica. Yessica made me feel completely comfortable in asking questions as a new person on the team, so I stuck around. Yessica shared her own insecurities, which helped me feel like I was not alone. When I felt like giving up on those 12 mile runs I remember her saying,   “You are an athlete, you need to convince yourself you can finish.” As I got better. I found it gratifying to feel the power of my own body. I went from having negative thoughts like “Am I fat?” to having positive thoughts like “I will practice until I can run up that hill” or “I will improve my mile time” etc.  Yessica was an inspiring Force of Nature because she was by my side both on the course and as I navigated planning my next step in life. Cross country was also a great opportunity to bond with other women. I loved the focus on teamwork and celebrating each other’s victories. While my mom wasn’t the biggest fan of having me arrive home late from practice and spending Saturdays in the forest,  My mother  knew running gave much more than an extracurricular for my college application.

Roosevelt High school Cross Country Team. 2002

 

Laura Torres  & Yessica senior year of high school.

As an adult challenging times have lead to growth. When I was in graduate school, I worked during the day and took classes in the evening/night. There was very little time for anything else outside of pursuing my degree. To save money I began to ride my bike home after class. To be honest, this was a bit scary at first. I was a young woman alone and at the time there were no bike lanes on my route. I had seen my mother do things that terrified her because she had a vision of a better life for me. It was my turn, I had to finish up my degree and continue moving towards not only being  self-reliant but also a support system for her. Over time these night rides became my favorite time of day. My fears diminished and I fell in love with night rides. My rides became longer and a time to bond with friends.  Social rides became a test to my will power, self-love and an opportunity to challenge outdated ideas of what others expected of me because I was a woman.  My mother made it clear she hated my night bike rides.  As a young woman she felt it was inappropriate for me to ride around the street of LA late into the night with a bunch of men. At this point in life my mother and I had many disagreements on the path I was forging for myself. I had learned my mother’s lessons on standing her ground so I choose to move out for the sake of our relationship.

Picture: ( top left) Laura riding along the 4th street bridge in Boyle Heights. 2010 (top right)  A “Spoke N Words” ride around downtown LA .  2011 (bottom left) Exploring the industrial parts of Boyle Heights with friends. 2010 (bottom right) Taking a moment to watch traffic and time the lights changes, to be able to ride down the hill on Grand past 5th in downtown LA without getting a red light.

 

In 2010, I volunteered at day labor center because they had a bike kitchen and I could get a free bike if I volunteered enough hours. (Did I mention I was hit and my bike did not survive? I was fine just had a small scratch on my arm.) While Volunteering, I met Brenda. It was the first time I got to know another woman who not only rode a bike, but was a bike mechanic. I was in awe of Brenda’s  knowledge of bikes. As we got to know each other, Brenda inspired me in multiple ways.  Brenda  is such a badass woman. Women who inspire me are like my mother self-reliant, and courageous. One reason Brenda is my shero is her participation in a mostly female bike ride from Los Angeles, California  to San Andres Iztapa, Guatemala. Let that sink in over two thousand miles, an international bike ride! They were not held back by not having the right gear or even a crystal clear day-to-day plan. When she arrived to Guatemala she spent some time there to reconnect with her Guatemalan roots. I could go on with reasons why Brenda is a Force of Nature that inspires me.

Picture: (Top) Brenda taking a break with bikepacking gear (bottom left) Brenda engaging with local communities, this time about reproductive rights (bottom left) Brena using her bike as a multitool, including to make smoothies and run some errands.

 

Currently, I am grateful for the opportunity to work in engaging communities to conservation and specifically to advocate for our National Parks. As the Los Angeles Field Representative for the National Parks Conservation Association, I have a responsibility to connect communities to our public lands. As an advocacy organization, this is done with a mix of outreach, presentations, workshops like our “Civic Voice Lessons”, partnering with other great organizations to have community events, among other wonderful opportunities. The days I come home with the most energy, are days that spent with young people who love nature and are becoming more confident in using their own voice to push for environmental rights, access and adventure. Seeing women in my age range and younger inspires me to dream that we can make our communities and our world better.

Picture: NPCA volunteers Lizbeth, Rebecca & Jenny provide outreach support during the 626 Golden Streets event in March 2017. Laura holding a plush P 22.

 

Of course, the women of Latinos Outdoors inspire me. I have the privilege of  getting to know them little by little and  beyond what you see on social media; they are all amazing. They are resilient, courageous and loving enough to volunteer time to support others in getting outdoors and connecting with nature. To me being a Force of Nature is using one’s personal adventure and accomplishments as a form to inspire and support other women in becoming a Force of Nature for their communities.” As women, we are underrepresented in the outdoors. As a woman of color, my peers are my inspirations, I still do not see many women of color in mainstream outdoors media. My younger nieces and cousins are my motivation. I hope my actions and my guidance will help my nieces  forge their own path with less push back from societal norms, cultural expectations, and even the remaining outdated family ideas of what a “good woman” is. Most of us have struggles, fears, and things beyond our control, yet as we nourish each other’s growth more of us will see ourselves as a Force of Nature.

Picture: Overnight camping trip in Malibu Creek State Park , lead by Los Angeles Coordinator Maricela Rosales.

 


Latino Outdoors Leadership Campout 2016

Malibu Creek State Park
April 1st – April 3rd

Latino Outdoors hosted it’s first Leadership Campout, Sembrando Semillas, this spring. Thirty-five outdoor leaders from across the country, and a few family members, came together to learn, teach, build community, and share space together in a beautiful natural setting. Below is a narrative from one of the attendees as well as a photo gallery from the weekend.

 

A Chicano’s Experience Outdoors

By Efraín Delgado

I traveled down California in a black, rented, soccer team van with six people I had only ever previously met through emails. We were on our way to the first ever Latino Outdoors Leadership Campout, which was being hosted at Malibu Creek State Park.

With the van’s windows down we drove into the parking lot just outside of our campsite with La Chona by Los Tucanes de Tijuana playing. The fatigue in our bodies was replaced with nostalgia and excitement as the fast-paced accordion, the slightly funky bass line, and the flashback-inducing chorus shook the cheap plastic interior of the van. For a nature loving Chicano this was a rare moment where two parts of my identity were able to transcend the border that regularly divides them.

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At the campout I saw people wearing huaraches, people’s skin tones matched my own, and I heard conversations conducted in colloquial Spanglish. We shared stories of being the lone person of color in our professional settings while we mulled ideas on how to reconnect the Latinx community to the outdoors. José González, the Founder of Latino Outdoors, wore a faded black shirt with Tierra y Libertad, a slogan from the Mexican Revolution that translates to Land and Liberty, printed across the front in an old English font.

Latino Outdoors provided validation of my Chicano identity.

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“The Bioblitz Dance” is a celebration of the outdoors, human diversity and biodiversity, and national parks. It was created for National Geographic’s Bioblitz Event, but should be done outside and often. #BioBlitzDance

 

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My First 3,000 Feet! ~ By Frank Barragan

Sandstone Peak Hike Morning

I don’t make it a habit to wake up at 6 am on the weekends. Especially Sunday! I mean, who does that?? Crazy people! That’s who!!

But this Sunday would be unique. It would be something really special; an exhausting, exhilarating, challenging adventure.

As I lay in bed, rudely awakened by my iPhone alarm, I had to decide if I was going to do this or not. I was supposed to go with a group, but in the end. I would be taking on this adventure, all by myself!

I was actually a little nervous that morning. Sure, I’d been on hikes before, but hikes I knew, and typically no more than a couple of miles. This would be a 6 mile trail with a pretty solid incline.

Being overweight doesn’t help. Having shortness of breath due to mild asthma doesn’t help either. And having flat arches is the worse, especially when you’re packing extra weight. When your feet get tired you get these extremely sharp pains right in the middle of your arch that feels like you’re being stabbed right in the middle of your foot!!  But when you’re determined to do something, you find a way to do it, no matter how much your body fights you!

So I got up, packed some snacks, a large water bottle, my sunscreen and off I went. I would have to drive deep into one of the mountains to access the trailhead. As I drove out there, finding the location pointed to by my iPhone’s GPS, it seemed like a dead end, not a trail head. I was about to turn back around and go home gleefully! But, I’m a MexiCAN, not a MexiCAN’t. So I drove about 500 feet and finally ran into the trail head.

I removed all my valuables from my car, as the warning sign stated, locked my car and off I went. I wasn’t sure just where i was going, but the entrance to the trail was well marked.

My nerves were a lot calmer now and I was taking in the beauty that is the Santa Monica Mountains. A breathtaking, 7am view due East.

I wasn’t actually sure if the trail was 6 miles in and 6 miles out, or 6 miles altogether. But by that time it didn’t really matter. Time to keep on keepin on!

Sandstone Peak Hike Hill I trekked for what seem to be an eternity. I looked at my watch, and it had only been an hour. At that pace, I figured it would take me at least 2 more hours to get to the top of this beautiful hike.

I pressed on, little by little, taking breaks often to let my flat feet and my weak lungs a rest. Lucky for me there was plenty of shade along the way because this was a HOT day!

California had been having these ridiculously global warmed days this summer that were blistering with a smoldering of humidity!

I must have reached several plateaus on the way up and every time I thought, am I there yet? Am I there yet??  My feet aching, my lungs burning, and my water running out. I knew I should have brought 2 bottles! Nonetheless, I couldn’t give up. I had to push myself.

I saw the signs, stating the peak was about 2 more miles. I cringed, but I collected myself and moved forward. The scenery was beautiful. The stillness of the air, exquisite. Nature, I felt, could cure almost anything!

I finally made it to the top, out of breath and nearly out of water, but I made it!! And it was all worth it.

If i had to do it all over again, I would do it.

I climbed onto the precarious large set of rocks at the top, managed to perch myself into a spot and took in the beauty of looking down at the Conejo Valley from 3000 feet above ground. Spectacular doesn’t even seem like a justified word to use; magnificent maybe.

I would use extraordinary, but I think that word has lost it’s meaning from overuse. Whatever it was, it was one of those once in a lifetime moments where you feel like you’re on top of the world and you kind of sort of are!

Time slows down up there. You take it all in, relax, and sit still with your thoughts and feelings. You let go of everything. This is the place of where epiphanies happen.

There were others there, but less than a handful at a time. I made some small talk before signing the Sandstone Peak log book. After about an hour of calmly relaxing with the wind at my back, the Pacific Ocean at my fingertips and dozens of mountains across the  way, I was ready to descend.

I had ran out of water by this time, and the weather was starting to get a little brutal. The way down proved to have no shade and was steeper, with a lot of loose gravel. It was challenging heading down. I had to watch every step carefully all while trying to maintain my thirst at bay.

Fortunately the way down was shorter, because it was steeper.

Frank BarraganAlthough I didn’t feel ill, I kept kicking myself for not bringing sufficient water and becoming parched most of the way down the hill.

After what seemed like an eternity (a different eternity), I saw the parking lot within site. I sprinted down the trail and tried reaching my car as fast as possible. I had to get to it, and head somewhere to buy some water. I had none left in my car.

I finally arrived at my visor-less protected car, relieved, exhausted, uber-parched. Yeah, but did you die??? No, not really!

I headed off to the nearest gas station 10 miles away. Grabbed multiple cans of various non-carbonated drinks, and proceeded to pound them like a college student at Oktoberfest.

My legs were weak, my body tight, my feet exhausted. But my mind was operating at 100%.

There’s nothing like the feeling of overcoming something you thought you couldn’t. It’s empowering. I believe it increases your willpower and your intestinal fortitude to pursue what most people won’t. I prove to myself once again, that I’m not a quitter. I prove to myself that I CAN do it, and that in the end, it is ALL worth it!

Sandstone Peak Overlook

Frank Barragan has been hiking on and off for about 5 years. He lives in the San Fernando Valley (Los Angeles) where he owns a small Web Design business. He loves to hike, meet new people, and volunteer his time to various non-profit organizations. Frank is also a member of Toastmasters where he has honed his public speaking skills and is working towards becoming a professional speaker.