And I thought, maybe I could hike this trail one day.
February 4, 2017 12:04 AM   Subscribe

 
She wrote a piece focusing on the books she carried.
posted by edeezy at 1:10 AM on February 4 [10 favorites]


"If there exists one stereotype about the Appalachian Trail among minorities — and, on a larger scale, hiking in the United States in general — it concerns its undeniable (but, it is important to note, not entirely unapologetic) whiteness. The whiteness in and of itself is not a bad thing. The AT is without question the kindest, most welcoming, least aggressively homogeneous space I’m likely to encounter in America in the next four years."

I'm a mixture of sad and glad about her views on that (the quote is from edeezy's link). It also probably says a lot that someone with that amount of positive experiences still doesn't want to do it again in this year's political climate, but I feel really heavily like I don't get to comment on this as someone who's neither a PoC or woman. The very quiet thread makes me wonder if MeFi is itself that diverse.
posted by jaduncan at 2:57 AM on February 4 [5 favorites]


I did post it at midnight Friday night US time so hopefully that's why the thread is quiet.
posted by ellieBOA at 3:19 AM on February 4 [3 favorites]


The very quiet thread makes me wonder if MeFi is itself that diverse.

Wait till the sun rises on the USA's eastern seaboard. Commenting will pick up.
posted by Mister Bijou at 3:22 AM on February 4 [2 favorites]


There's also the possibility we read the whole article, loved it, and don't really have anything to contribute to the discussion. Don't try to project too much into the silence. It's a great story.
posted by oheso at 3:43 AM on February 4 [54 favorites]


I enjoyed reading this. Thanks.

Like many white men, I fear walking the AT (at least the Southern end) because I watched Deliverance at an impressionable age. I imagine, were I determined, I could easily overcome that fear. Just a movie after all. For the author, who had to stare-down the specter of real historical events in her imagination, it must have taken a shit-ton of courage! On top of the normal grit required to hike the AT. Respect.
posted by a_curious_koala at 4:37 AM on February 4 [13 favorites]


I'm a southern white woman who long dreamed of thru-hiking the AT. Ultimately, finances and logistics got in the way in my 20s, and now at 40 there's no way my health would allow it. I used to camp alone a fair bit, and I still hike alone some, but the reality of being a woman alone anywhere in this world is rough. I am also acutely aware of the difference between being a white woman in this world and being a black woman in this world. I really really admire her for just doing it anyway. And I really appreciate her coming back and telling her story after it was done.

I especially love her books by black authors mission. I have a particular attachment to the southern Appalachians, but I also remember chaperoning a field trip of black and Latino middle schoolers from Durham to Asheville, which they summed up as "This is a really nice place. Why is everybody white?"
posted by hydropsyche at 4:58 AM on February 4 [26 favorites]


After reading the interview and the article, I feel inspired to do some solo hiking. I have so many fears as a woman and a person of predominantly African descent of people being unkind to me that I have probably deprived myself of truly meaningful experiences. Time for me to get out of my comfort zone. Thank you for posting this and thank you, Rahawa Haile, for acting and writing and being.
posted by Mickiann at 5:22 AM on February 4 [27 favorites]


What a lovely, thoughtful young woman (and I sound like my grandmother when I say that).
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 5:24 AM on February 4 [5 favorites]


Loved this article. Still digesting it and refusing to comment further for fear of sounding obtuse.
posted by tully_monster at 5:33 AM on February 4 [2 favorites]


I should be clear that the trail itself was the kindest and most generous white space imaginable in America. I have nothing but good things to say about the thru-hiking community. It’s incredibly warm. I don’t know if I’ll ever experience something like that again.

Well at least it's a nice white place.
posted by sammyo at 5:54 AM on February 4 [1 favorite]


I have a clinical psychologist coworker who is going to be hiking the AT for her sabbatical next year, and collecting data to look at the impact on mental health. Sending this along to her.
posted by bizzyb at 5:54 AM on February 4 [2 favorites]


I did post it at midnight Friday night US time so hopefully that's why the thread is quiet.

I was literally going to post this article today! I also wanted to add on this podcast episode of Louisville's Strange Fruit, in which Gerry James talks about his own experiences being an outdoorsy black man.
posted by Greg Nog at 6:12 AM on February 4 [4 favorites]


That was a fabulous article and a great way to start my day. Thanks for posting.
posted by COD at 6:13 AM on February 4 [1 favorite]


The amount of courage this took... I am humbled and inspired by this woman.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 6:14 AM on February 4 [1 favorite]


Very nice read, thank you for posting it.
posted by james33 at 6:44 AM on February 4


The BuzzFeed post linked in the first comment is also excellent - don't miss it.
posted by lazaruslong at 6:50 AM on February 4 [1 favorite]


That was a great read and thought-provoking. Thank you for posting it.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:53 AM on February 4 [1 favorite]


This was great. Also this quote: "A low day? All of Pennsylvania was a low day. They call it Rocksylvania." makes me really miss the central Pennsylvania trails I used to run. Seriously getting a little teary-eyed over it. So brutal, so beautiful.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 7:05 AM on February 4 [1 favorite]


I have some association with the long distance hiking community and a lot of what she writes about rings true to me. I've seen people get (textually) attacked in hiking forums, literally called "racist," (*) for saying that we should be welcoming and encouraging to minorities. There are closed forums for female hikers, largely because too many men won't stop giving them shit.

Hiking a great thing, and trails go through amazing places, but the bad parts of the world don't go completely away.

(*) "I don't think that word means what you think it means."
posted by LastOfHisKind at 7:37 AM on February 4 [9 favorites]


I've seen people get (textually) attacked in hiking forums, literally called "racist," (*) for saying that we should be welcoming and encouraging to minorities.

I used to be very active in my local chapter of the Appalachian Mountain Club. I led hiking and backpacking trips, was a member of various planning committees and ran the email list for the local hiking/backpacking trip leaders.

The group was, unsurprisingly, filled almost entirely with left-leaning white people.

One day, a very popular trip leader, a well-respected older Asian man, emailed the list saying that he wanted to encourage more people of color to become trip leaders. He asked all us leaders to consider actively recruiting POC to sign up for the leadership training program. His reasoning was that if there were POC leading trips, they would be role models and would attract more POC to sign up for trips, making our club more diverse.

His plea was much more elegant than I am capable of explaining here. It was a perfectly reasonable, logical request.

Long story short, the backlash from "liberal" white people drove him and some of the very few POC away from the leadership group, resulting in the exact opposite of what he set out to accomplish. It was a damn shame.

This was back in the mid-90s and I'm no longer active in that club, so maybe things have improved some, I dunno.
posted by bondcliff at 8:09 AM on February 4 [28 favorites]


What a great piece. It really makes me want to go and do some distance hiking, but seeing as I call it a day after a 4mile hike around Forbidden Drive, it may take me some time to work up to it.
posted by Suffocating Kitty at 8:18 AM on February 4 [2 favorites]


I need to track down some of Rahawa Haile's writing because she told her story so well that I want to hear her tell more.
posted by crush-onastick at 8:18 AM on February 4 [5 favorites]


She's wearing Hoka One One Challengers, noticed the running nerd.
posted by lagomorphius at 8:22 AM on February 4


Lovely essay, thanks for posting. What a genius idea, to leave books by black authors along the trail! I'll have to look for more of her writing.
posted by Quietgal at 8:43 AM on February 4 [2 favorites]


I loved reading this. Yay her!

I had been a cub/boy scout as a kid, and although I had to quit when I was 12 because I wouldn't just pretend to not be athiest, it remains one of the key experiences of my childhood. It brought me here I live now in Nowhere Colorado, and informs my work as a trail maintenance volunteer with the BLM and NFS and also SAR volunteer. I recall one multiweek trip we took to the BWCA that was one of the best experiences of my life. It pains me that more minority kids miss out on those experiences.

I spend a lot of time thinking about how we (more I, but yeah) could get more POC out on these trails and campgrounds here. But she is absolutely right - I don't have either the experience or knowledge of being a minority in America to really understand what the true barriers are. And it's arrogant of me to think I have the resources to overcome them in any meaningful way. But I do think about it; this is their land, too.

And hopefully, if Trump doesn't fuck the economy too badly, in ~10 years, I can take my early partial retirement and hike the AT. I shoulda done it in my twenties, but she's right about the kids/mortgage/career dilemma.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 8:46 AM on February 4 [3 favorites]


Holy shit, it hurt. It hurt so much. There were several Triple Crowners on the trail. They had hiked the Pacific Crest Trail and the Continental Divide Trail, and they were doing the AT to get their Triple Crown. They were pissed. They were like, you don’t have switchbacks. We come from the land of happy switchbacks. On the East Coast, the trails just go straight up. You frequently have, in New Hampshire and Maine, more than 1,000 feet of elevation gain in less than a mile.

This one drew an audible laugh from me. Just moved to New England from the Midwest, with my Midwestern husband, and we did some hikes in the Whites this summer. We did an "easy" hike, which involved, yup, about 1,000 feet of elevation gain in about a mile, including one bit where someone went ahead and stuck a ladder on the rocks since they were going straight up.

I was happily reliving memories of childhood hikes and the husband was...not happy.
posted by damayanti at 9:35 AM on February 4 [10 favorites]


That was great. It shows you can still be a trailblazer even if you're walking on the same path others have taken before.
posted by peeedro at 9:43 AM on February 4 [13 favorites]


This one drew an audible laugh from me. Just moved to New England from the Midwest, with my Midwestern husband, and we did some hikes in the Whites this summer. We did an "easy" hike, which involved, yup, about 1,000 feet of elevation gain in about a mile, including one bit where someone went ahead and stuck a ladder on the rocks since they were going straight up.

I thought that was funny too. The first hike I tried when I moved here from the Mid-waste was this one - 2000+ gain in ~2 miles. But, you start at 4900 feet, and it's front loaded. You'll do 1500 feet in the first mile or so. I damn near fell off the mountain from hypoxia. We routinely have SAR callouts on that trail because if you thought going up was hard, try going down. They aren't kidding about how hard it is. And it's a wild horse range, so there are many horse trails to get turned around on.

I do that hike every couple of months - I love it because it's short and strenuous and the views can't be beat. In April, I'll be lugging two cases of beer up there for a race that goes up and back down. It's a requirement to shotgun a beer at the summit before descending, and I'm working that aid station.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 10:16 AM on February 4 [1 favorite]


The east coast/midwest thing - yeah. I've known trail runners from out here who've taken a try at Laurel Highlands and never want to talk about it again, except to say, "rocks." And, I've talked to runners from the east who've come out to do things like Kettle Moraine and never want to talk about it again. "Rolling hills??? All the damn thing does is go up and down up and down forever!"
posted by lagomorphius at 10:31 AM on February 4


Hurray for her! A friend belongs to a hiking/camping group that has a number of women who are POC. They don't seem to know each other prior to participating but there's clearly some kind of unofficial sharing of which groups are better to join and how to interact within that group. He's been told that he's approved as safe to carpool with, for instance. He got really quiet when I said I wished I had their confidence as I took into my bones at a formative age that it would be all my fault if I ever went into the wilderness by myself or with a group of men and something "bad" happened. Not that I'm terribly interested in hiking/camping per se, but I hope that someday my refusal to go will be solely due to my lack of interest rather than inability to get past my safety concerns.
posted by beaning at 11:33 AM on February 4 [3 favorites]


What a badass lady- thank you so much for the post. I have been playing with the idea of doing at least some part of the PCT - but as a woman getting older was getting a little fraidy cat about it. If she can confront her discomforts and fears and get all the way through not only a physically but emotionally demanding 6 month hike- I can too.
posted by LuckyMonkey21 at 12:06 PM on February 4 [1 favorite]


I hiked the AT in 1996, at the age of 17, as a northbounder (the direction most people hike). Because of my young age, and I guess my generally cheery/welcoming/non-threatening demeanor, I often hiked with women. The whole time, I met (and heard of) exactly one black thru-hiker on the trail that year. We met in Virginia, and again in New Hampshire. I tried to act as a booster of the guy, wanting him to finish, and wanting people to be nice to him, because I knew how hard it was to be a POC on the AT. It wasn't until New Hampshire that one of the women I hiked with informed me that the guy was a total creeper. He'd aggressively propositioned dozens of women, which is a scary thing to have somebody do when it's just you two in a shelter in the woods in the middle of nowhere. I had been so eager to promote a POC on the trail that I had completely ignored what must have been pretty obvious body language from the women to whom I was talking him up. "Woke AF," as the kids say.

Twenty years later, this was my sole personal context for POC on the AT. I've been to Appalachian Long-Distance Hikers Association "Gatherings," I've gone back to Trail Days celebrations, and it's just a bunch of my fellow white people. When I heard last year that Haile had finished the AT, I realized that I finally had a POC thru-hiking hero, somebody to whom I could point to and say "see, she did it, and others can, too." But now that I read this article, I see that her Blackness is proudly a core of her identity, and that she didn't just hike the AT as a black woman, she evangelized black culture while doing so. That's even more impressive.

Also, fuck Pennsylvania, fuck Duncannon, and fuck their rocks.
posted by waldo at 12:16 PM on February 4 [1 favorite]


She wrote a piece focusing on the books she carried.

I appreciate the thing about leaving them along the way for other travelers and I admire the decision to add something worthwhile to break up the furious stream of undiluted Harry Potter. but my god, there are times and places in this world where a woman needs a Kindle.

(don't tell me there are no outlets in the trees along the trail, this is the modern world)
posted by queenofbithynia at 12:33 PM on February 4 [2 favorites]



I used to be very active in my local chapter of the Appalachian Mountain Club. I led hiking and backpacking trips, was a member of various planning committees and ran the email list for the local hiking/backpacking trip leaders.

The group was, unsurprisingly, filled almost entirely with left-leaning white people.

One day, a very popular trip leader, a well-respected older Asian man, emailed the list saying that he wanted to encourage more people of color to become trip leaders. He asked all us leaders to consider actively recruiting POC to sign up for the leadership training program. His reasoning was that if there were POC leading trips, they would be role models and would attract more POC to sign up for trips, making our club more diverse.

His plea was much more elegant than I am capable of explaining here. It was a perfectly reasonable, logical request.

Long story short, the backlash from "liberal" white people drove him and some of the very few POC away from the leadership group, resulting in the exact opposite of what he set out to accomplish. It was a damn shame.


Wait, what? How did they frame the argument of their backlash (if there was one)?
posted by a_curious_koala at 1:28 PM on February 4 [1 favorite]


An e-ink device needs charging like once a month.
they’d be hanging out with their friends, three white guys and a black guy. And people would stop and would say, “We’ll take those three, but we won’t let you in our car.”
More than once. What the smeg is the matter with people.
posted by Mitheral at 1:28 PM on February 4 [2 favorites]


Wait, what? How did they frame the argument of their backlash

Stuff like "we already don't exclude. If they want to hike, they can hike" and basically denying that maybe when every single trip leader and almost all the participants are white people it can feel intimidating for a POC to join the group.

Just a bunch of white people saying everything is fine, nothing to see here, move along.
posted by bondcliff at 1:49 PM on February 4 [4 favorites]


Someone told me once that one of the reasons it's so hard to address inequality is that first you have to admit that inequality exists now and has existed for a long time, and we are complicit. People have a hard time with that.

Really a very lovely story, I had no idea a thru hike would take that long. I know the AT is huge but I didn't really consider it might be march-to-october huge. I guess I'd like to do something like that some day, but like she says, it would probably be at 30 or 60, and I'm past 60. Maybe when the boy is old enough we can try something like that together.

Maybe I should find a way to let POC I know that I'd be happy to accompany them to places they might not feel they would be safe on their own. It's not something I'd ever considered. I do a lot of bike riding, and I know that there are very few black men who ride and I've met only a few black women. I *know* that but it didn't occur to me that they wouldn't do it because they don't think they'd be safe.
posted by RustyBrooks at 2:23 PM on February 4 [1 favorite]


Great post. I've never done more than snippets of the AT, but I love hiking, and national parks in general. In 30 years of hiking all across the country, I can recall exactly one instance where we saw another Indian family on the trail (The Needles, Canyonlands, March 2012). We're talking low-stakes, kid-friendly hikes that take a couple hours, not nearly to the level of commitment than the AT or the PCT require. So given that people of color are underrepresented at the baby-hike level, it's not surprising that they would be vanishingly rare among thru-hikers.
posted by basalganglia at 3:20 PM on February 4 [2 favorites]


I had completely ignored what must have been pretty obvious body language from the women to whom I was talking him up. "Woke AF," as the kids say.
Maybe. Or maybe they deliberately didn't react because perhaps you think his behaviour is just fine (or at least no big deal), and aren't willing to open themselves up to the hassle (or worse) that comes from going down that path.
To be clear: I'm not saying this was what you were thinking, just that the women you spoke to had no way to know what you were thinking, so might reasonably choose to be cautious.
posted by une_heure_pleine at 6:29 PM on February 4 [1 favorite]


The load she carried was heavier than most people have to haul.
I admire how she carried it with grace.
posted by BlueHorse at 10:22 PM on February 4 [2 favorites]


I did not meet a single black thru-hiker on the PCT last spring and summer, and fewer than five black hikers of any sort-I can only think of two off hand.
posted by Kwine at 11:37 PM on February 4


She was not just a woman hiking the AT alone (something I'd be scared to do), but a Black woman hiking it alone.

I wonder, though, if the experience is different for Black men...the creeper story aside (creepy guys come in all colors, I know)...from the frustrating anecdote she related, it sounds as if Black male thru-hikers are perceived as more of a threat, even when they're with white companions.

Also, the people she met ON the trail weren't the problem...it was the towns hikers pass through regularly, where they stock up, get a hot meal, a shower, mail, etc. The same towns that, you may recall, gave aid and comfort to domestic terrorist and murderer Eric Rudolph back in the 1990s when he was hiding out in the Smokies and the Blue Ridge. (I was in the park the day he shot two rangers, just coming down to the trailhead from Mt. Leconte. Saw the flashing lights speeding past, heard the sirens dopplering. Fucker.)

That was the sense I was getting from this article loud and clear...it's not enough for white hikers to welcome and encourage more hikers/backpackers of color on long distance trails...people need to feel safe both on and off the trails, something I (mostly, but not always) take for granted as a white hiker. Confederate flags all over a hostel or diner would make me supremely uncomfortable, but they wouldn't make me feel personally threatened.

How do we help with that? Is it possible?
posted by tully_monster at 12:27 AM on February 5 [8 favorites]


This is lovely and encouraging to hear about. There's always been a tension between Black Americans and the outdoors. Like, on the one hand, plenty of Black people have relatives or ancestry who grew up in the deep country and knowing how to hunt and fish and navigate the wilderness was integral to their way of life. But on the other hand, being alone in the wilderness is also associated with being disappeared and other monstrous acts of racist violence.* The various factors that keep POC away from trails can create a self-perpetuating cycle since it reinforces the idea that these outdoor spaces are for White people.

From the essays I've read by Black outdoorspeople, going hiking by oneself and then encountering a group of strange White people on the trail in some remote area can be as unnerving an experience as it is for any woman to encounter a group of men in the same situation. So to be a Black woman . . . I applaud Laskow, because that must've taken a lot of courage. Like, damn, even though hikers on these big thru trails tend to be pretty cool, it doesn't change the fact that she's got to march off the trail into some unknown all-white rural town to resupply.

tully_monster, I imagine taking down the Confederate flags, or establishing hostels that lack Confederate flags would be a good start. Which is kind of a flip answer, yeah, but also a real one.



*And this is wholly separate from the fact that a disproportionate number of poor kids who grow up in city centers are Black, and growing up poor and within a city provides a whole host of economic barriers to growing up with nature.
posted by schroedinger at 2:04 AM on February 5 [2 favorites]


As someone who grew up on the East Coast, I always mused that if I had to hike a major trail in the US, it would be the AT. After reading that article, it doesn't seem like the walk in the woods that it's been made out to be.
posted by Pocahontas at 7:29 AM on February 5 [1 favorite]


I'm a white woman who has found solo backpacking away from crowds to be a life-changing experience. Time alone in the woods, away from the sexist expectations of society, has made a huge difference in how I'm able to fight those expectations in my normal life off the trail. I'm always amazed how good it feels to be somewhere that I don't need to be skinny or pretty, don't have to hide my intelligence to avoid threatening anyone, don't have to wonder what anyone is thinking about me. With my backpack in the wilderness I can just be a human: walking, carrying, surviving. It feels amazing. And when I get back to my usual life, I can remember that no matter what society tries to tell me, I don't actually have to live up to any of those expectations in the city either. Real solitude has helped me understand on the deepest level that I'm already enough, just how I am. And it has given me strength to stand up against sexism when other people try to impose it on me.

My usual trail (the Superior Hiking Trail in northern Minnesota) has gotten a lot more crowded in the last 5 years. It used to be I could go a whole weekend and only see 1 or 2 other people, and I would get that experience of escaping the weight of society. But when I went last summer, I ran into other hikers several times each hour. I was still out in nature, still experiencing beautiful scenery, still covering miles under the power of my own body, still enjoying that incredible feeling of self-sufficiency from carrying everything I needed on my back. But there wasn't enough solitude for me to get a break from society, and I missed the experience dearly. Hiking a crowded trail is better than nothing, but it's not the same as really getting away.

Unfortunately the AT is fairly crowded, and it's necessarily entwined with trail towns for resupply and breaks. It's not really away from society, so I'm not suprised to read that racism is still a part of the experience. I hope that Haile gets a chance someday, if she wants it, to hike somewhere that's truly away from everyone and everything. The pervasive, constant stresses faced by people of color in America are more than I can imagine. I like to think that some of that weight could lift in the solitude of true wilderness. In the meantime I hope all of us who enjoy the outdoors can work to make it a more welcoming place for people of color.
posted by vytae at 4:36 PM on February 5 [6 favorites]


Wonderful article. Thank you for posting.
posted by merriment at 7:21 PM on February 5 [1 favorite]


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