“I didn’t grow up hiking or camping. The first time I slept outside, I was sandwiched between four friends in a Wal-mart tent in the foothills of Appalachia. The second time, I was in Colorado. There was something special about the public lands here. It was easy to fall in love with the grandeur of the granite, the shimmering spread of the night sky. The next day, I summited my first mountain and cried on the descent, scooting down the loose rock on my butt and swearing I would never do it again.
I’ve always struggled with my mental health, and over the next few years it seriously faltered. So I climbed another mountain. Then another. I began to live for the moments on the jagged ridges when I could look down and see the shapes of the world beneath me, and stake everything on my four trusty limbs gripping the rock. I flexed my courage like a muscle. I gathered strength and took it home with me, and slowly assembled the pieces of a happy life.
Public lands have taught me two things: how small and inconsequential I am in the context of the universe, and how significant I am to the world around me. I don’t know who I would be if I hadn’t found public lands. I think it would be harder to find pure unbridled joy, and harder to feel like myself.
Yet I know I wouldn’t have had these experiences if it weren’t for privileges I hold, such as owning a car. As every climate advocate knows, driving to the mountains on the weekends comes at a cost to our climate, and isn’t accessible for many people. As Transportation Advocate, my job is to figure out better ways to connect people to places, including our public lands. I work towards a Colorado where anyone can hop on a bus and roam our wild forests, where everyone has the opportunity to find the joy I discovered through public lands.”