Missy Wilson has frequently referred to her love of the outdoors. She braved the outdoors and went on her first camping trip with her aunt, a camp counselor, when she was only around five years old. She tells Shape, “That was my first exposure to nature and just being outside.” Since then, I’ve simply been in love with it. She later discovered canoeing while attending a summer camp, and nearly two decades ago, she discovered kayaking. Even at that young age, she says, “I really enjoyed being out on the sea.”
Wilson recounts that when she got older, she missed the uplifting social side of outdoor activities and that her mother wasn’t too happy on her perilous solo forays into the sea. Wilson opted to fill in the blank in 2021 by conducting a fast Google search for “Black ladies who kayak.” The first outcome that appears? a link to Black Women Who Kayak , a Texas-based nonprofit organization whose mission is to empower women of color to experience the outdoors and remove obstacles that stop them from participating in outdoor activities like kayaking.
Wilson drove from her home in Houston to Austin just a few days after learning about the group in order to attend a paddleboarding event at Lady Bird Lake hosted by Black Women Who Kayak. Wilson remembers that it “changed my life.” “There was just such a contagious sense of optimism. It felt like we had known one other for a very long time despite the fact that we were all strangers who had come together as a community.”
This neighborhood is open to everyone, not just seasoned water-sports competitors. According to Wilson, who is currently the chapter administrator for the nonprofit’s Houston chapter, Black Women Who Kayak has conducted caving excursions, camping trips, kayaking tours, obstacle course events, hikes, and more for people of all experience levels. Many of our members arrive having never participated in such a “activity,” she continues. “Educating and empowering them so they can try something new is one of our key goals,”
Wilson has been a member for a while, but she’s still benefiting from the organization’s confidence-boosting qualities. Wilson and Kim Fields, both of Black Women Who Kayak, set out earlier this month on an all-female, seven-day trekking expedition through Alaska’s Talkeetna Mountains. For years, Wilson had fantasized about going on this trip, but she says she was prevented from going because of a lack of money and, well, guts. Thankfully, during the past year, Black Women Who Kayak had grown more confident. Grape-Nuts cereal contributed $12,500 to help Wilson’s expedition, covering the cost of tuition, travel, hotel, and equipment, in celebration of its 125th anniversary. (Grape-Nuts also paid Fields’ extra costs; she had received a scholarship from NOLS to pay for her trip’s tuition.) To be clear, this piece is not sponsored by any particular company.
Wilson traveled an average of five to eight miles each day in the shiver-inducing cold and rain during the expedition with eight other female hikers, two instructors, and other companions. She claims that they trekked through bear country, descended slippery, rocky drainages, and huddled around hot water-filled Nalgene bottles at night to remain warm. They also all grew good friends along the road, she continues. “You’re probably familiar with the tiny chart at the doctor’s office that asks, “Are you feeling happy? Do you feel sad? Are you eager? During the week, I felt each and every one of those feelings “She quips.
Wilson claims that by the end of the walk, she felt “invincible.” Wilson adds, “I realized that fear and uncertainty are such powerful forces in our lives, and even though there were times when I felt they would, I didn’t let them prevail on this trip.” (ICYWW, the climb into bear country and the descent through the treacherous valley were two of those occasions.) “But when you take a glance back, you realize how much ground you’ve traveled, and you’re left wondering, “I did that?!” Outside of giving birth to my kid, this was perhaps one of the most difficult experiences I’ve ever had, but it was also the most amazing and magnificent.”
WILSON, MISSY Outside of giving birth to my kid, this was definitely one of the most difficult experiences I’ve ever had, but it was also the most amazing and magnificent.
Jessica Wilson In addition, Wilson acquired necessary skills that she will impart to other Black Women Who Kayak members, such as how to tie knots, read a topographic map, pack a backpack, and cook in the bush. Wilson says she hopes to take a first aid course before guiding any backpacking novices, so don’t expect her to lead a group into the woods just yet.
Wilson hopes that when word of her accomplishment spreads, it will encourage other people of color to give backpacking a try and, in time, assist in removing obstacles to outdoor recreation for the following generation. When she was younger, she recalls, “I know that watching grownups do various things encouraged me and empowered me to know that I could do it too. “The most important thing is to spread this knowledge to others, and I believe that with all the work we’re doing now, it will be simpler for the next generation to do so. There won’t be a problem if my son and his friends want to go trekking or camping because everyone can enjoy the outdoors.”