Local black hiking organizations take advantage of LA’s outdoor terrain.
By Jason Lewis
Los Angeles is a huge concrete jungle, and many people get their fitness needs met in the city’s confined structures. But getting off the beaten path and getting into the great outdoors is a big change of pace. Many locals incorporate hiking into their exercise regimen.
“My wife loves the outdoors a lot and she got me into hiking,” said Jelani Nattey, founder of Black Men Hike. “I’ve always been a guy who’s been in the gym and on treadmills. But she wanted to take me out of nature. When I started hiking with her I started getting excited about it and realized I was starting to feel better. It was not only physically better, but I felt like I was recharged. And I felt less stressed. In 2019, I was in a place where I felt overwhelmed and stressed. I used hiking as an outlet.
Nattey reached out to black men in his network and they formed Black Men Hike. The group meets the first Saturday of the month and they have organized joint hikes with Black Girls Hike LA and Black Girls Trekkin.
In many black neighborhoods it is common to see people walking down the street for exercise. The hike is similar, but there is an added degree of difficulty that can enhance the workout.
“Hiking challenges your body in a different way,” Nattey said. “Elevation helps with your wind. The diversity of terrain helps those secondary muscles when you’re climbing mountains or descending a hill. It’s just another way to achieve your physical goals. I think the best way to have holistic health is to continually change it.
The hike can be very challenging, but Nattey said they choose moderate trails so people of varying fitness levels can participate. Most of their hikes are done within three hours.
Apart from the physical benefits of hiking, the stunning visuals also make this activity appealing.
“Nature is simply inspiring,” Nattey said. “We live in a society that we have built. We have houses, concrete roads, etc. We almost forget that we are part of this great thing called Earth. When you go out into the wild and see these landmarks that have not been touched by humans, and you see a massive mountain, a waterfall, a valley, or a path surrounded by trees, it just gives you another aspect of life. It sort of disconnects you from the day-to-day society that we are used to.
There are hiking trails throughout Los Angeles County and surrounding areas, so hiking groups can explore different areas on each hike.
“I didn’t realize how many hiking trails there are in Southern California and Los Angeles,” Nattey said. “It’s over 1,000 I believe. We hiked to Rancho Cucamonga, south to Laguna Beach, north to Vasquez Rocks. We try to change it every month just to give a different experience every month.
Black Men Hike is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization and they have created programs for young people. Their Youth Summer Hiking Experience takes the Watts kids on various hiking trails.
“We want to show them that they have access to nature,” Nattey said. “It gives them the opportunity to get out and see what beauty is. It’s an opportunity to give some young people who haven’t been out in kind a first taste of what there is to offer. And it gives them the opportunity to disconnect from social media and focus on their mental and spiritual well-being.
This program is sponsored in part by Aqua Equity, which is a black-owned water bottle company that uses foil-wrapped cans that are recycled at a rate more than 20 times higher than plastic bottles. A portion of Aqua Equity’s revenue is donated to community service organizations in Watts.