Never Alone

When I first started this blog in the fall of 2014, planning to hike the PCT in the spring of 2015, I did so partly because I love to write and my mother I wanted a place where I could prove I hadn’t been eaten by a bear share my experiences, being human and a woman and brown and hiking.

I also did so partly after having inquired around the PCT community and scouted around and done quite a bit of Googling, finding that there seemed to be no place, no person that would tell me, as a black woman, about what to expect re: socio-racial relations on the trail. At least, not that I could find.

I mean, I’d been to the Annual Day Zero Pacific Crest Trail Kickoff at that point, and the members of the trail community I met there gave a seeming zero fucks about my skin color, but I was concerned about the isolation of the trail towns – having grown up in the Midwest, where sundown towns1 were a thing that had still existed within my lifetime, said isolation of said trail towns left me with concerns about not only dealing with resupplying and showering and making it to the post office before it closed, but also having to deal with racism, subtle or overt, to boot. I didn’t think I was going to have any trouble, but I wanted to be as prepared as I could be – just in case2.

Eventually, after playing Six Degrees of Black Lady Hikers, I was referred to the one black lady PCT hiker that anyone could think of – whom I asked, maybe too bluntly, about race relations on trail and in towns. Whether she didn’t feel like responding or forgot to respond or the message is still loitering unread in her “other” inbox, I never got a response3.

Still, I knew I clearly wasn’t the first black person who’d wanted to do something like this, and I clearly couldn’t be the only one wondering about this kind of stuff. There absolutely were more black folk, more brown folk, outdoors doing cool stuff. I knew there were, even if I couldn’t find them.

And I don’t know if it’s just the difference a year and a half makes or getting to know more outdoorsy brown folk who know other outdoorsy brown folk or what, but I’m learning more and more about amazing hikers and outdoorsfolk, awesome communities of color focused on outdoor pursuits, and even scholars talking about communities of color being outdoors and doing awesome things, people like:

Elise “Chardonnay” Walker, who hiked the PCT last year and is on the AT at present;

Miguel “VirGo” Aguilar, a filmmaker working on a documentary about the Trail Angels on the PCT who’s a CDT and two-time PCT hiker;

Elizabeth “Snorkel” Thomas, a Triple Crowner and former AT unsupported speed record holder;

Eddy Harris, most famous for canoeing the length of the Mississippi in the 1980s(!) and again in 2014 for a film project;

Shelton Johnson, a National Park Ranger, author, and award-winning advocate for getting people of color into National Parks;

Trail Posse, a website connecting people of color to National Parks and outdoor pursuits,

Outdoor Afro, an organization dedicated to getting African American folks and families outside.

Carolyn Finney, professor, scholar, author of Black Faces, White Spaces, and activist for the representation of people of color in outdoor organizations;

…And I know there have to be many, many more4.

Not all of them make reference to their brownness, but then, they shouldn’t have to; of all people, I know that color doesn’t matter, people are people are people. Still, it’s telling to me that I’m not at all fazed by the prospect of hiking 2,650 miles by myself with 3000+ other people, but the prospect of being one of the only folk of color5 on trail has, at times, given me pause.

TL;DR6 I am so, so, glad I’m not alone.

 


 

[1] I actually went to high school in a town that, not two decades prior, had been a sundown town. I lost count of the racially-motivated fights at school.

[2] Everyone gets prepared for snakes and bears and lightning and snow in the Sierra and how to resupply and and and – to me, this was just another part of being prepared. Any such reports weren’t going to stop me, but knowledge would certainly be power, in such a case.

[3] I love seeing the cool stuff she does outside, though – we’re still friends on Facebook.

[4] If anyone knows someone who blogs/writes/films/teaches/advocates/et al., I’d love to hear about them!

[5] Let alone women of color.

[6] Too long; didn’t read.

10 thoughts on “Never Alone

  1. mountaintraveller says:

    Can I suggest you stop using footnotes? Often the footnotes are important to read in the context of the post, yet scrolling down to get to them disrupts the flow of the post. This is especially true on my phone.

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    • Brown Girl says:

      You can actually click on the footnotes to go down to read them, and then click the number to go back to where you were (even on your phone). Let me know if that doesn’t work.

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      • mountaintraveller says:

        Cool. I knew you could click to go down, just not back up. I’d still suggest dropping them as it disrupts the flow of what I consider a very well written post (and most can be integrated into the regular flow), but at least this saves me some of the 5 second disruption. 😉

        Good luck on the PCT.

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      • Brown Girl says:

        Thanks! I’ll consider it for the duration of the hike – the code required takes a fair bit of time to type and/or copy/paste from other posts. I just feel like a lot of them are the asides of my rambling brain, and I don’t want them to distract too much from the post. Good to know you feel like they’re (usually?) worth integrating.

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      • mountaintraveller says:

        For me the stream of consciousness/rambling is part of the post and a part of what makes your posts interesting. Most aren’t even that rambling to me. I say they are usually worth integrating…only number three in this post is even within consideration of a footnote (versus body) and I’d include even it. My advice as a great “reader of blogs” is if its worth including put it in the body, if not, cut it out. I’ve followed you for a while and recently subscribed to save me the effort of checking your blog once every few weeks, so I will be reading regardless. I just thought I’d throw that unasked for advice out there. Keep it up. Maybe we will run into each other in CO some day.

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  2. Jenny Bruso says:

    Hey, Thank you for this incredible post! I am actually reading Black Faces, White Spaces right now. Also, please keep using footnotes. I appreciate them, and those who care about the meat of what you are saying do, too.

    Like

  3. Jaron Latona says:

    I actually love the footnotes. But then again, I’m a historian, so go figure. (I guess consider me a “keep using ’em” vote). I was surprised that you weren’t hiking the PCT this year, but put it down to maybe work schedule, permits, or something else among the thousands of reasons. So I’m super happy for you that you DO actually get to go this year! Best of luck and happy trails! Will definitely be following along.

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  4. TeachRunEat says:

    You should also check out James Mills! He wrote “Adventure Gap” and does a lot of advocacy work about getting people of color outdoors. http://joytripproject.com/

    p.s. I also love the footnotes because they are often hilarious/enlightening, but would support your decision if you decided to add them in the form of parentheses or something instead

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  5. jimfetig says:

    I regularly ask brown faces on the AT about their human experience, after appropriate introduction and enough conversation so that they understand why I’m asking.

    To a person, no one (not that there are that many) has offered up a negative experienced rooted in race – even in the deep south. This is surprising. I base my surprise on this: On my AT thru hike I heard the President of the United states referred to by the “N” word in all 14 states. Upon reflection, I only heard that in town and from locals, not hikers.

    These observations may have something to do with the fact that dirty, grubby hikers occupy a lot of common ground. They are not innocent, but they don’t talk politics much. Moreover, a lot of social conventions fall by the way once everyone is equalized by the common experience of battling weather, mountains, rocks and all the rest. That’s not to say that there aren’t issues in the background, I’ve just been happy to learn that the AT environment is more welcoming than I would have expected.

    Can’t wait to follow your adventure. Sisu

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  6. Crabby Punk Rock Lady says:

    Use the footnotes. Or don’t. Or write in free verse. I hate that the first goddamn comment on this piece is some dude telling you HOW TO FORMAT YOUR POSTS to make HIS life better.

    Like

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