The Adventure Gap by James Edward Mills has been on my reading list for a while. It follows the journey of the first predominantly African American team on their ascent of Denali (the highest peak in the US).
Its aim is to tell the stories of individuals that would not necessarily be associated with the outdoor and adventure communities. However, it is first and foremost the story of ascending a mountain. The stories in the book give information about the individuals and their relationship with the outdoors before Denali, as well as tracking their climb. It touches on the many different barriers to increasing African American participation in the outdoors – perceived and actual – as well as highlighting the importance of diversity for long-term environmental protection.
I have read a lot of adventure books and a fair number of books about race, but this is the first book I've read specifically mixing the two. I wasn't sure what to expect when I chose it, but I'm very glad I did.
Individual experiences with the outdoors
I found it to be very well written and well thought out. I often talk about how all the individuals within what the British government has termed 'BAME' are such a broad segment of society with different backgrounds, it's one million and one categories smushed into one. Well, the African Americans represented in this book show some of the broad spectrum of experiences that can be found within their communities in the US, too.
Some of the participants had spent time in the outdoors as children with their parents, while others had started their experiences through sports or through community outreach programmes. There were individuals in the group who felt passionate about their role of introducing and communicating the outdoors to a wider segment of community, and some who just wanted to be recognised as an individual, apart from race, for their achievements. Some were relatively new to the outdoors and just beginning their adventure journey, while others brought years of experience with them to the mountain. The team included men and women.
There are POC in the outdoors
It's nice to read a piece of writing that highlights that, although it seems like people of colour are not spending time outdoors, we are out there. And not only that, we are achieving and have many different motivations to be out there doing it... you know, just like everyone does.
I have become tired of the rhetoric that POC have no interest in the outdoors or if they do, it is almost always framed within a (urban) rags to (outdoor) riches story. This does represent the reality of some experiences (and we should be telling them), but they are not the only stories. It is a simplification of the myriad of challenges faced that cause underrepresentation and ignores a segment of the outdoor world that is smaller than it should be, but is there. (Hello outdoor media and brands – let's look at your role in this perception.) The Adventure Gap does a great job of sharing a range of stories and giving them equal weight, while suggesting the ways that you might be able to overcome barriers you face through real-life examples of people who have scaled them.
The story of a mountain ascent
It's also honest. It's the story of a group climbing a mountain – that is the focus of the trip and is also the focus of the book. Climbing a mountain is difficult, fraught with challenging decisions and mistakes will be made – it doesn't gloss over that. This isn't a shiny, polished, propaganda story – this is the story of attempting to summit Denali and all that that entails. James does not shy away from telling the truth in a world where everyone likes to judge and I think a different writer may have chosen to soften some of the edges. Honesty makes for a richer story and it does the entire team justice.
What stuck with me?
There is a section in this book about the role of African American troops in creating and safeguarding national parks in the US. These spaces were quite literally shaped by people of colour. I honestly believe that sharing stories like these will open up the possibilities to a broader segment of society when it comes to feelings of belonging and connection with these outdoor spaces.
Why should you read it?
Fun fact: In early September this year, six years after he wrote this book, James received his first royalty cheque which means that enough copies of the book had finally been sold for him to have earned his advance.
If you want to receive my blog updates on nature, sustainability, travel, diversity and more directly to your inbox, you can subscribe using the box below. If you have found my content useful and want to support my writing, you can buy me a coffee here.
This blog uses affiliate links: that means that if you buy a book through the links on this page, I may receive a small percentage of the sale at no additional cost to you. This helps me to continue providing content for free.
We just sent you an email. Please click the link in the email to confirm your subscription!