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Dzil Ta’ah Adventure’s Navajo Youth Bike Pack Series: Coffee Filters and Hair Ties

Words by: Jon Yazzie

Pictures by: Jon Yazzie and Nadine Johnson

Traditional Navajo philosophy is deeply rooted in the matriarchal structure. Females were responsible for birth, family names, blood lines and given the most crucial roles in important ceremonies. They also owned all the land and homestead. All were responsible for decision making for their family and in politics. Around the 1860’s, as new laws and Indian policies were enacted, the traditional role of women soon declined as Navajo societies started to become more masculine.

Navajo culture characterizes all beings as male and female; always with a delicate balance between both. Examples are: The right side of our body is male and left side female, masculine rain is thunderous and heavy and female rain is delicate and light, earth is mother and sky is father. This worldview ensured sensible spiritual rationale in all living things.

Since I started bikepacking some years ago, I recall during the first half of my progression always being accompanied by my male friends. Then, the latter and most recent half, has been more inclusive of women including Nadine and other female friends. In my entire bikepacking experience, I have come to the conclusion that I enjoy the hell out of both. It would take an elaborate Venn diagram to explain the differences and similarities, but right down the middle the most common thing is: I always have a great time. This most recent trip was another example of that.

Our Youth Bikepacking series starts at the end of this September and finishes in October with the finale being a bike and packrafting trip with Four Corners Guides. Early on in the planning stages one of the questions that surfaced was, “what if some girls sign up?” Nadine and I both have background clearances and are licensed teachers in the state of Arizona. If any girls signed up, Nadine would have to join us as a chaperone. Without knowing what that would be like, and to help her better plan for that scenario, we thought It would be an excellent idea to reach out to two girls who expressed interest in our series early on and their brother for an overnighter on Comb Ridge.

In the week leading up to this trip, we dug out all of our equipment and resurrected some old sleep kits until we had enough for us two and three extra riders. Thankfully, one of the girls was Nadine’s height and the other my towering 5’7 frame, so it wouldn’t be a big deal to tune our spare single speeds, add flat pedals and make some minor adjustments to our loaner bikes and gear. The boy already had a bike, so a seat bag, a handlebar harness, plus my old sleeping bag and pad would make do. The kids arrived at our house that evening anxious and ready. After an hour packing up our bikes, Voile strapping down our gear, and a quick briefing, we were on our way.

It didn’t take us long to reach our destination as these kids took charge of the pace. One was a back-to-back cross country state champion in middle school and the other an avid horseback rider. The boy was no slouch in his high school athletic abilities either. The evening agenda would be to set up camp and go for a sunset ride on the trail we were camped next to. Then we would hit the sack for more of the same the next day.

The tent process took a little longer as this was our first time using shelters, donated to us by Six Moon Designs, to help sustain trips like this one. Part of the prep in the week leading up to this trip included practice setting them up on our lawn to learn what it would take to teach future adventurers on best practices for these light weight designs. At home, we used stakes in our grass and on the trail had to overcome the challenge setting them up on slick rock. Luckily we had an idea and it worked well.

In my family, our matriarch always instilled in us to greet each morning before dawn, offering a pinch of corn pollen to the sun with our prayers, humility and thankfulness for a new day. After this ritual, coffee always tastes the best. Everyone in camp around me started to wake up as soon as I loudly fumbled and dug through all my bags looking for our pour over filter. Over and over again. The same bags. I can’t find it, so I sat there disappointed looking at my burner, grounds, coffee filter and cup thinking about a desperate attempt at cowboy coffee.

Nadine replies out of semi-darkness, “here, use my hair tie.” Confused by what she meant, because I didn’t know if I expressed my debacle out loud or she could read my mind. But, I wished I had a bread bag tie. I saw a professional dirtbag years ago make coffee every morning on a four-day bikepack trip from Kayenta to Southern Utah using the same handkerchief. I was going to try and recreate the same method but these filters were too small. Using Nadine’s hair tie, I bound the end and made a coffee filter steep and proceeded to enjoy two cups of java as sun rays found their way to our camp. Yay - bikepacking with girls for the win!

Dzil ta’ah Adventures believes whole-heartily in inclusion and more female representation in the backcountry. Our hope is that more youth girls will sign up for our future series and continue to push their limits in male-dominated outdoor sports. We are also in full support of a paradigm shift, challenging the girls on Navajo land to pursue careers in governmental positions and leadership roles as there should be a more delicate balance of male and female perspectives on future tribal policies. It is also our goal to continue to mentor these two young ladies as they have expressed interest in joining us for more rides and finding their places in outdoor recreation.

@fourcornersguides @voilestraps @ovejanegrabikepacking @sixmoondesigns

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Debra Ackley
Debra Ackley

If you are ever in need of a chaperone, I would gladly volunteer my time and energy! My mission is to share the gift of riding to any and all, especially those who endure more challenges in their lives. In the twilight of my life the blessing is to have the time and resources to pursue this passion.

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