Outdoor Afro is a website community that reconnects African-Americans with natural spaces and one another through recreational activities such as camping, hiking, biking, boating, gardening, and skiing.Outdoor Afro uses social media to create interest communities, events, and to partner with regional and national organizations that support diverse participation in the Great Outdoors.

During her childhood, Rue Mapp split her time between urban Oakland, California and her families’ working ranch in the Northern woodlands, where she cultivated a passion for natural spaces, farming, and learned how to hunt and fish. As a youth, her participation in the Girl Scouts and Outward Bound broadened her outdoor experiences, such as camping,  mountaineering, rock climbing, and road bicycling. But Rue was troubled by the consistently low numbers of African Americans participating in these activities. So Rue became committed to using the internet as an important and practical tool to connect with people of color who shared her outdoor interests. Outdoor Afro emerged from that commitment.

Enjoy an interview with Rue as she shares an interesting story, insight and a fun new outdoor ritual.

How and where were you introduced to the outdoors?

I was actually raised by a couple with strong ties to the south — they were much older than the parents of my friends, so generationally speaking, they were more like grandparents. This meant that they had come directly from a solid tradition of living in close contact with the land and it was a part of who they remained. Even though they had a primary residence in Oakland, California they also had a farm about 100 miles north in Lake County, where we spent most weekends, holidays, and the summertime. There, I had the chance to roam and explore the land freely – on foot at the nearby creek or using my bike. We also slaughtered pigs and cows; I had an important part in preparing the meat for smoking and freezing. My folks also grew a terrific vegetable garden along with several fruit trees and grape vines. So early on, I understood the ties between people, land, and food. My parents also modeled for me how important it was to “get away from it all”, and find peace in the natural environment.

Back home in Oakland, I joined the Girl Scouts, which provided me with my first structured camping and hiking experiences. I loved camping from the start and I also journaled about those times in great detail then, just as I do now! Over the years I built on my experiences through my participation in Outward Bound, local activity clubs, and maintain a high priority for outdoor interaction in my own family.

What has been your favourite outdoor recreations area?

I actually enjoy now my local San Francisco Bay Trail and the Feather River Family Camp, located in Quincy, California.

Please share an outdoor story related to one of the above areas.

For my family, I need to go where there are a range of options for my entire crew to enjoy. I have been going to Feather River camp since I was a child, but now each year as an adult, I meet up with the self titled “Stumpers” and converge on the camp’s Folk Dance Week theme. We are notorious for our daily all-inclusive Happy Hour, around a big old stump that doubles as a lounge table. We even 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 we add a new, clever verse that summarizes the peculiarities of each year.

Have you ever experienced a wilderness medical emergency or been lost in the wilderness? If so please describe this adventure and any lessons learned.

I went for what I thought was a short hike while camping in my local regional park, and even though the plan was to go for just a short while, the trail was much hotter and longer than expected, and I did not bring any water. Needless to say, I was felt at once thirsty and foolish for leaving my water behind on an unfamiliar trail. So I learned never to go without water, even if only for a “short” hike, and that it’s always good to research your trail or have a map!

Can you share any unique encounters with wild animals?

Yes, while mountaineering in the Sequoyah National Forest, my group encountered a cub on the return to our campsite, and watched it try to figure out our “bear hang” of food. We remained several yards away, but were awestruck at the enormity and beauty of the creature. We were also quite aware that the mother might be nearby, so keeping our distance and silence was critical. The bear gave up eventually and left without incident or even noticing us.

If not previously mentioned, have you ever completed a thru-hike or multi-day backpacking trip and what nuggets of wisdom did you glean from it?

With Outward Bound, I was in the wilderness for about 2 weeks, and the first thing I learned was to let go of the need to control  my surroundings and to “trust my feet” to keep me on the path (or up the mountain), which was a profoundly experience for me.

What is your favourite outdoor website?

Outdoor Afro, our course!

What is your favourite outdoor hiking gear store?

The Wilderness Exchange, near my house in the San Francisco Bay Area for good gear at great prices, and my local REI that has all the outdoor eye-candy you could ever want!

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