The Black Paddle Expedition

Every year, Outdoor Afro Volunteer Leaders from across the country come together to embark on incredible journeys where they engage in fellowship, explore connections to Black history, and celebrate Black joy in nature. In previous years, leaders have organized summits of Mt. Whitney and Mt. Kilimanjaro, Blackpacking through national forests, statewide campouts, ski trips, and more!

In September 2021, fifteen of those leaders from across the nation joined each other in Hermann, MO to paddle over 100 miles down the Missouri and into the Mississippi River. Fifth-year St. Louis, MO network Leader and Expedition River Captain Anthony Beasley recounted his experiences of celebrating Black Joy down by the riverside. 

“Chaya Harris, the Outdoor Afro National Program Director, saw that I had participated in the Stream Teams United Paddle MO fundraiser and how much I enjoyed it. Considering the substantial Black history of the river, this would be a great opportunity to celebrate and commemorate folks like York, Mary Meachum, and enslaved peoples who used this path on the Underground Railroad.”

The Missouri and Mississippi Rivers are teeming with Black history: from the initial American survey to its role in the Underground Railroad to how these trade routes helped Black Meccas thrive, these rivers carry our stories.

Defeated by General Toussaint L'Ouverture in Haiti, Napoleon pivoted away from his goal of re-establishing a French colonial empire in North America to focus on the impending war with the United Kingdom in 1800. Within this space was an opportunity for then, President Thomas Jefferson to double the size of the fledgling United States of America and push out competing French and Spanish interests. In 1803, Congress ratified the Louisiana Purchase, and the next year President Jefferson tasked Meriweather Lewis and William Clark with surveying the newly acquired territory. 

“Initially, I was hesitant,” says Beasley about the paddle. “I had only participated in the Stream Teams trip; I didn't organize the event. It was just a 25-mile float. We didn’t camp every night along the river. We were shuttled back and forth to our boats at the end of the day.”

This expedition was going to be a little different. Leaders were going to set up camp at the end of each day on the river and travel four times as far. “I didn’t think I could lead a group 100 miles down the Missouri, but I knew that my Outdoor Afro community had my back. Chaya helped me scout the area, research Black History on the Missouri, and make a plan for a successful paddle.” 

York at the Lincoln Memorial

William Clark felt similar trepidation but would need to build his own support. In preparing for the survey, he assembled a “Corps of Volunteers for the Northwest Discovery” and forced an enslaved man, York, to serve in it. 

“As an enslaved man, York was considered less than human, so not much was recorded about him other than what they [Lewis and Clark] thought to write in their journals,” says Beasley. “He was the only unpaid [initial] member of the expedition but was pivotal to its success.”  

As an enslaved man, York was treated poorly by members of the Corps, who would pick fights with and use him to scout ahead the most dangerous areas. Most of the Indigenous people and immigrants they encountered had never seen a person with Black skin. As they traveled up the Missouri, word spread about the expedition and the “extraordinary” York. The Nez Perce had designs to kill the Corps, but upon seeing York backed off from fear of his retaliation. Because the expedition needed to trade and barter with different tribes along the River, York was presented to them as a novelty and to gain trust. 


At over 2,300 miles, the Missouri River is the longest river in North America and is 300 feet across at its widest. This would be Beasley’s first time being on a major river that size. “I’ve been on a few float trips but on smaller rivers. I had never been on a major river like that before, and, I’ll be honest with you, I was terrified.” Thankfully, Anthony had the love and support his team to help him overcome any reservations. For leaders, Outdoor Afro is where they create bonds, build leadership, and find family. “This was my first time paddling with 15 Black folks. When we were out there, just to look back and see all that brown on the river, it was breathtaking.”

Only recently has York been able to receive the recognition he’s deserved as an integral part of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. The journey was treacherous and not at all rewarding. Despite him being one of the keystones to the western expansion of the United States, York returned to Washington, DC in 1806 and remained Clark’s slave, ultimately being sold out to a farm in Louisville, KY and becoming lost to history.

Anthony and the BlackPaddle crew used their time on the river to celebrate and give honor to people like York, Mary Meachum, and more who carved out spaces where we can feel free in Nature.

“I think about York traveling the opposite way on this river on the journey out west. It just gives me a sense of ownership on this river. I belong here.” 

We’ve been here and will always be here, celebrating Black Joy and Black Leadership in Nature.  


From Savory to Sweet: Outdoor Afro’s Favorite Camping Foods

Fall can make for excellent camping experiences all across the country. Up north, you can set up camp surrounded by the changing colors of deciduous trees, and, in the south, it’s finally cool enough to sleep in a tent. Monsoon season is over in the west, and, in the east, your risk of encountering ticks is greatly reduced. No matter where you live, one of the things key to a successful trip is making a camp menu that fuels your group and gets you excited about starting up that cooking fire. Ready to plan a weekend in the woods? Check out camping food recipes from several current and former volunteer Outdoor Afro leaders. 



Some camp chefs love to build on their repertoire of camp cooking by mixing it up a bit with a challenge. Antonio’s Dutch Oven Campfire Stew recipe is perfect for car or RV camping. You can prepare some things at home or pack a cutting board with you to chop up the fresh veggies at your campsite.   

Leader: Antonio Simmons

Network: Washington, DC


Dutch Oven Campfire Stew 

  • 1/4 lb. shaved ribeye (substitute mushrooms for a vegetarian option)
  • 3/4-1 lb. boneless short rib cut in bite-size pieces (substitute beans for a vegetarian option)
  • 1 chopped red onion 
  • 2 diced garlic cloves
  • 1 jalapeño pepper
  • 1 chopped yellow and red pepper
  • 1 chopped medium-sized zucchini, yellow squash
  • 1 cup of baby carrots
  • 1/2 lb. of halved brussel sprouts
  • 1 stalk of chopped celery
  • 1/4 teaspoon of cracked pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon of sage, basil, curry, oregano, paprika, and salt of your choice
  • 1 teaspoon of Complete Seasoning and Oregano
  • 1 cup of half-cooked rice (you can add more if you would like)
  • 1 26 oz. can of diced tomatoes
  • 1 can of drained chickpeas
  • 1/2 teaspoon of olive oil



Now that your ingredients are prepped, it’s time to get your 8-quart Dutch oven ready. 

  1.  Place Dutch oven over coals or flames to get it hot.
  2.  Sauté shaved ribeye, onions, garlic, peppers, and seasonings.
  3.  Add short rib, and cook until pieces start to turn brown.
  4.  Add remaining ingredients, and cook covered for 20 minutes while stirring occasionally.

Imagine a hot bowl of this stew waiting for you after exploring the trails! Cooking with Dutch ovens can add a rustic feel to your adventures as well as help you scale recipes for larger groups. Check out this next delicious crowd pleaser.

Former Leader: Wandi Stew

Network: Atlanta, GA

Dutch Oven Campfire Lasagna 

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 30 minutes

Total Time: 40 minutes

Makes: 4 servings

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 1/2 cups pasta sauce (a 24 or 25 ounce jar is perfect)
  • 12 oz. FRESH lasagna noodles divided into 4 sets (thawed if frozen)
  • 3 cups fresh baby spinach
  • 1 1/2 cup shredded mozzarella or a blend of Italian-style cheeses
  • 1 tablespoon Italian seasoning
  • Instructions

    PREHEAT: If cooking over a campfire, get your coals ready. You'll need 25 total. If cooking at home, preheat your oven to 400 degrees.

    ASSEMBLE THE LASAGNA: Start by coating the bottom of a 10" Dutch oven with the olive oil to help prevent the bottom layer from sticking. Add 1/2 cup pasta sauce and spread evenly over the bottom of the Dutch oven. Use the first set of noodles to create the base of the lasagna. Layer 1/2 cup sauce, 1 cup baby spinach, and 1/3 cup cheese. Repeat (one set noodles, 1/2 cup sauce, 1 cup baby spinach, 1/3 cup cheese) two more times. For the final layer, use the last set of noodles, 1/2 cup sauce, and 1/2 cup cheese. Sprinkle the Italian seasoning over the top.

    BAKE: Use 8 coals to create a bed to set your Dutch oven on. Place the Dutch oven on top of the coals. Cover the oven with the lid, and place the remaining 17 coals on top of the lid. If cooking at home, simply cover your Dutch oven, and stick it in your preheated oven. Bake for 30 minutes until the noodles are tender and cooked through and the cheese has melted.

    SERVE: Take the Dutch oven off the heat. Carefully remove the lid and set aside. Cut the lasagna into 4 wedges, plate, and enjoy!

Looking for something a bit lighter for backcountry adventures? Check out this recipe for backpackers. You’ll need a saucepan and heavy-duty tin foil for this easy camp food recipe.


Leader: China Walker

Network: Washington, DC


Caramel Apple Cake 

  • 1 cup of granulated sugar
  • 6 tablespoons of unsalted butter cut into pieces
  • 1 large Granny Smith apple
  • 1 cup of mixed vanilla cake batter or plain pancake batter   

Cook butter and sugar on low, until a caramel is made. Then, add slices of Granny Smith apples on top of the caramel. Next, add vanilla cake batter (or plain pancake batter left over from breakfast). The next trick is to try to cook on low and not on directly on fire, as this will scorch the bottom of the cake. (We put the pan on embers, and then surrounded the pan and lid with the sticks/embers. )

Here are must haves from our volunteer Outdoor Afro Area leaders for easy backpacking meals:

-Minute rice + pouch of salmon

-Ramen + fresh carrots and broccoli + Field Roast vegan sausage + parsley

-Frozen cooked chicken + pesto + frozen bell peppers and onions (defrosts while you hike so you can just heat and eat)

If you are looking for ways to make sure you stay fueled in the backcountry, check out this recipe from our friends at REI for jerky. No dehydrator required! 


Homemade Jerky 

  • 2.5 lbs thinly-sliced meat (lean meat works best)
  • 3 cloves garlic (minced)
  • 1 jalapeño pepper
  • ½ tbsp. onion powder
  • ½ tbsp. black pepper
  • ½ tbsp. liquid smoke
  • 1 tbsp. red pepper flakes
  • 1 tbsp. honey
  • ½ cups water
  • 1 cup soy sauce
  • Toothpicks 

In a large bowl, combine garlic, jalapeño pepper, onion powder, black pepper, liquid smoke, red pepper flakes, honey, water, and soy sauce

Add meat to marinade, and refrigerate overnight.

Preheat the oven to 175 degrees.

Line the bottom shelf of the oven with baking sheets and aluminum foil.

Place marinated meat in the oven to dry for 2-4 hours. (Lay directly on the oven shelf or hang from the shelf using toothpicks.)

Part of planning a camp menu is doing your best to make sure that nothing goes to waste. When a camper brought an extra dozen donuts to breakfast, volunteer Outdoor Afro leader Beky Branagan knew exactly what to do with the leftovers. Introducing the easiest camp dessert ever made: the Bull’s Eye! If you aren’t counting calories, this is a fun way to get rid of all of that leftover holiday candy.

Former Leader: Beky Branagan

Network: Raleigh-Durham, NC

Bull’s Eye

Take 1 donut, place a marshmallow in the hole, and add as much or as little candy, nuts, chocolate, or bananas or other types of fruit as you’d like! 

Wrap with foil & bake!

No matter what is on the menu for your next camping trip, we encourage you to challenge yourself! You can explore with different tools like Dutch ovens or backpacking camp stoves as well as with recipes that stretch your abilities a bit.    

Outdoor Afro x Nissan

Watch Outdoor Afro channel the tenacious spirit of York of the Lewis and Clark Expedition as we return to rugged and kayak 100 miles on the Missouri River in partnership with Nissan.