The possibility of taking a 23-day NOLS course this fall is the first thing to excite me in years. I’m responsible for at least 50 visits to the NOLS website over the last few weeks. I’m not really worried (maybe a little) about my mental capacity to handle the backpacking. I’ve hiked from 2-14 miles in a day in the past and handled it well. I’m used to spending time in the backcountry for long periods while covering long distances and tackling rolling terrain. This is not to say that I’m under some foolish impression that any part of my NOLS course will be easy. It won’t be. Many of the difficulties I may have I cannot prepare myself for.
What I can do is address the physical aspect to being on course. I started jogging again when I was in Georgia and the weather was nice. I tried to keep it up when I got to Chicago, but couldn’t. The temperatures aggravated my asthma and I was a complete shit show. I don’t have insurance so me going to the emergency room isn’t something I can afford. So, I started with P90X again and get outside when I can. Additionally, I started another fast. I’m on Day 4/Day 2 (depends on who you ask) and I feel great. I’ve been moderately active and I haven’t been able to complete my P90X workouts. I also haven’t forced myself to, either. This fast is about resetting my system and trying to reprogram old habits.
I have a pretty fucked up relationship with food at times. Before you start thinking I eat 4 supersized meals and a small kitten for breakfast, that’s not the case. I love vegetables and the cooking kale for breakfast is a common occurrence. I was a vegetarian for almost a decade then I started adding fish to my diet. In fact, I’m more vegetarian than pescetarian. Soda is rarely my go to beverage and hasn’t been for about 2 years. I make fresh juices with my juicer and drink homemade teas and lemonade flavored with stevia when I have a hankering for something sweet. My problem isn’t often with food choices. Mostly it’s about quantity. When it isn’t about quantity it’s about choice in a big way. Go big or go home, right? *She shakes her head* I’ve used food as a coping mechanism for a long time. Probably ever since I was able to control what I ate which hasn’t been long. Let me explain.
My parents divorced when I was five and we didn’t have much. My mother did what she could, but I spent a lot of time feeling hungry. She was from the islands and fed us the rural island version of cuisine. Well, at least what was available here in the states. That was probably fine, but we were in America and when my brother and I hung out with friends, McDonald’s was a go to. She worked something like 4 jobs and we were left to our own devices often. We’d steal money from her coin jar and go to the baseball field, or corner store and buy candy until our faces exploded. Fast forward six years and I was sent to a boarding school for financially needy and social orphans called Milton Hershey School (MHS). At The Milt, we had access to plenty of food, but I’ll be damned if it was good for us. We’re talking Pennsylvania Dutch style cooking. We ate casseroles, potatoes, cream chipped beef, bullseyes (the breakfast egg dish not the seeing orb of a bull), sugar coated french toast, and their nutritionally deficient cousins. Everything came in the big box truck known as the meal bus. Not only was the food for shit (props to the ladies in the Central Kitchen even though it was nutritional shit is was pretty tasty… those birthday cakes and cookies?! I still dream about those) it was also controlled by someone who wasn’t me. I did not grow up learning about the food around me. I just remember we had to set the tables with meat first, starch second, and then the vegetables. Our portions were controlled. If we wanted more it was kinda a no go. If we wanted less, or none we couldn’t. We had one “No Eat” food and that was it. Because my mom didn’t want me eating pork, that was my “No Eat” food. Everything else, I had to ingest.
That was middle school. High school was a bit different, but not much. The atmosphere of the school changed and we started shopping more often at the local Giant Food store. Nonetheless, my education did not include food.
In college, I became a vegetarian. I don’t remember when or why, I just did. The cessation of meat consumption didn’t really, at least I don’t think, come with knowledge about healthy eating. It wasn’t until I went to work for Milton Hershey School full-time at Springboard Academy that I began to teach myself about nutrition. I’d began some studying in Chicago, but I made pennies and couldn’t afford healthy shit anyway. When I got to Springboard I made enough money that I could live alone AND afford healthy food items. Hell. Yes. When I learned about quinoa I damn near lost my shit. Stevia? Hell, that knowledge pretty much gave me an aneurysm. Even then, I was in a SUPER toxic relationship with someone who had CF. You may not know, but people with CF need to consume large amounts of fat. People with ADPKD like I have don’t. So with this toxic relationship not only was I not strong enough to set healthy boundaries for myself, the person I was with had the exact opposite dietary needs as I had.
Moving to Seattle is what did it for me. I was working as an Outdoor Educator and physical activity was my life. When I started with Seattle Public Schools, I had enough money, again, to afford the food we all deserve. My apartment was across the street from a Jewel Osco, and few blocks from Trader Joe’s, and the Central Co-o: Madison Market — my favorite place in Seattle. I spent so much time at the co-op learning about vegetables, buying fresh breads and cheeses, selecting kombucha, and focusing on my overall well-being. This was two years ago. I’m twenty-nine years old and my healthy relationship with food and nutrition just started. I’m still a baby.
My hope is that my fast will tune my brain and my heart to the key of my stomach. I don’t want to eat when I’m not hungry. I want to remember what hunger feels like and associate that with goodness. Like it’s a message from my body that reads,
“Hey, thanks so much for that last meal. We’ve sent it on to do great things and are looking forward to more. ”
“Holy shit we’re hungry. We’re hungry. Fuck, when’re we going to eat again? Are we going to eat again? Who remembers how to make biscuits?! Flour’s cheap. We can use water instead of milk. That’ll keep us from dying, right?! Right?!”
Two very different messages. I’m tired of teaching my body that panic is a good way to approach meeting its needs.
This NOLS course will test me physically, mentally, emotionally, and professionally. I’m worried about meeting my cohort and being the only Brown person. Worse yet, would be finding out I’m the only Brown person with no White allies. My standard for interacting with Whiteness is pretty concrete. I’m not going to sacrifice my wellness because of ignorance. I will not allow someone to learn off of my back. My story is not a novelty it’s my life. I don’t know how I can/would/should respond to racist shit that occurs Outside in this situation. Actually, I don’t want to deal with it all I just want to fucking play outside because it’s my favorite thing to do.
What I can do is prepare (as much as possible) my body for the physical challenges that are certain. Cause NOLS is hard, y’all. I can sharpen my mind and clear out space for frequent visits. Other than that, I can only rely on the me that’s been alive this long and has not gone to prison for reacting to hate — purposeful, or accidental.