Outdoor Reading: The Adventure Gap by James Edward Mills

I had some basic plans for outings over the weekend. Nothing crazy, but I wanted to take advantage of the solid ice on top of ponds and rivers this endless, bitter Chicago winter has afforded me. That is until I came across this book on Saturday afternoon. Just a few pages in, I got so excited about the story of Expedition Denali, an African American team of climbers scaling North America's tallest mountain: Denali, that all other plans fell by the wayside and suddenly it was Monday morning and I was reading Mills' final words.

The outdoors are for everyone, of course. But the numbers of people of color -especially African Americans- in both attendance of the outdoors and representation in outdoor media are depressingly low. Mills refers to this as "the adventure gap," and its impact is two-fold. The lack of representation discourages people of color from engaging in outdoor activities, seeing them as stuff only white people do, and they're deprived of the amazing experiences like those I cherish and blog about here.

The other is something that may not occur to adults who currently enjoy access to wilderness and nature: in about 30 years America's population will be a majority minority (less than 50% of the population will be white) and what happens if that new majority thinks nature and the outdoors isn't for them? As Mills poignantly puts it, "environmental protection grounds must persuade a majority of voters to advocate for legislation and funding that supports environmental efforts. But if these groups' core constituency- affluent, well-educated white people- beings to shrink, so will their influence in the halls of Congress."

It's embarrassing how little I knew of the outdoor accomplishments of African Americans, prior to Expedition Denali, celebrated in this book. I'm not alone, as even Mills with his career in outdoors journalism hadn't come across some of these pinnacle adventurers before he started writing on the topic. I had read much on the amazing lives of the Buffalo Soldiers, without whom we wouldn't have parks like Yosemite, but his book enlightened me about the amazing life of Matthew Henson and him being (arguably, it turns out) the first person to reach the North Pole. Not to mention him being, then, the first African American man to do so as well, and how 98 years later Barbara Hillary would become the first African American woman, at 75 years old, there as well. While following the story of Expedition Denali, I also learn of the team's role models like the amazing mountaineers Sophia Danenberg and Charles Crenchaw, the first African American people up Everest and Denali, respectively.

I won't give away the entire book. Just know how inspired I am by the hard work of everyone involved, and how exciting the opportunities are for community-building an endeavor like this creates. While Everything Will Be Noble only started recently, reading stories like this keeps me driven to build an inclusive community and my perspective is broadened from getting to read the unique experiences of Expedition Denali's team members. This paperback book is the perfect companion on a train ride, not too bulky for a bike tour, and would a warming read by a campsite, or even in bed on a 0º winter morning. No matter what occasion, do yourself a favor and pick up a copy.