Meet the hikers who say the great outdoors is for everyone

·3 min read

When Biatris Lasu started hiking in Gatineau Park, she noticed something strange — nobody else on the trail looked like her.

"I'm very conscious of being the only Black hiker or only Black person rock climbing," said Lasu, who regularly does both, and posts about it on social media.

As a self-described "outside advocate," she believes BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of colour) have a role to play in changing the perception of who's outdoorsy and who's not, especially since they're often underrepresented in outdoor recreation advertisements.

"You have to stop saying things like, 'Black people don't go camping or hiking.' That's not true," Lasu said.

Giacomo Panico/CBC
Giacomo Panico/CBC

Hitting the trails

This past February, Lasu launched Women of Colour Remake Wellness, an online forum for women in the BIPOC community to talk health, wellness and the outdoors. This month, she's hosting a Zoom event called Diversity in the Outdoors.

Lasu is also a regular on community hikes run through a local exercise group called Ottawa Free Fitness.

This fall, the group launched a new event aimed at encouraging those in the BIPOC community to hit the trails.

"I'd been leading community hikes for about four years in Gatineau Park. I thought, why not have a specific event designed for the BIPOC community to increase their opportunities for wellness and for community?" said Stephen Biebrier, who has started several social media groups to motivate people to get fit and have fun outdoors.

He said after this summer's Black Lives Matter demonstrations, he noticed an an outpouring of interest in wellness activities, specifically among Ottawa's BIPOC community.

For this new monthly hike, Biebrier picks trails that are easily accessible by OC Transpo and offer free parking nearby. He selects terrain that's appropriate for people new to hiking and for families looking at getting out of the house together, especially as it's one of the few safe things to do during the pandemic.

Submitted by Stephen Bierbrier
Submitted by Stephen Bierbrier

"The roots of humanity are in nature, and we spend so little time having that opportunity to be quiet in it," said Biebrier.

Most of the hike is spent quietly immersed in the sounds of the forest, but at the end of the day hikers can share what they observed or talk about how they're feeling within the group.

"Having the chance to introduce or reintroduce people to this type of experience brings so much joy to me," said Biebrier, who said he's hoping to eventually hand the organizing over to a member of Ottawa's BIPOC community.

New to Canada, and to hiking

Hiking wasn't something Anmol Singh did growing up in New Delhi, India.

As a software engineer, Singh, who moved to Ottawa in 2019, spends a lot of the day inside, so he was looking for an opportunity to safely explore the region and meet new friends.

"Immigrants, we can get caught up in making ends meet and working all the time. If you see people like you doing these fun activities it gives you a little push to do them yourself," said Singh, who attended his first hike in October.

Submitted by Anmol Singh
Submitted by Anmol Singh

He said being surrounded by other BIPOC made him feel comfortable learning the basics.

"It was good to bond with other people of colour and talk about our shared experience in the city. It was good for mental health — being out in nature, breathing in fresh air and walking up and down the trails. Nature is really, really healing. I'm looking forward to going on the next hike."

The BIPOC hikes happen once a month and are always free. Because of COVID-19, numbers are limited. People can sign up online through the Ottawa Free Fitness Facebook page.

The next hike is scheduled for Sunday, Nov. 8, when the group will explore Pinhey Forest.