Rue Mckenrick is unlike any distance backpacker I’ve ever met. As The creator of the American Perimeter Trail (APT), he’s been forging his way around the perimeter of the U.S. hoping to connect the land, resources, people, and communities. For more information, you can read about the project here.

Photo credit

Rue’s APT journey brought him along the North Country Trail, which is located a few miles from my new home in Longville, Minnesota. Arrangements had been made for Rue to stay with me and my partner, Demi. On my way home from work Friday afternoon, I recall thinking, “I’m finally going to be a trail angel!”

Demi had plans to pick him up later that evening, but as most hikers know, it’s hard to keep a schedule. I found Rue trying to hitch a ride into town and picked him up. I’m not sure what he thought – a Black woman picking him up in the middle of nowhere. Undoubtedly he’d been passed by many whites and had likely not seen a Black person in several days.

I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Rue. His energetic spirit, kindhearted nature, and his passion for the APT project were apparent. He shared various highlights of his journey, and we played “Roll It’ (I won, beating him, and Demi!). We discussed gear. Demi and I tried desperately to convince him that Darn Tough socks were the best. He disagreed. I conceded this dude has been hiking 14 months non-stop, he knows his socks!

Photo credit

Of course, in sharing trail stories, I shared my most recent trek on the Superior Hiking Trail. For a 310-mile journey, as a Black person, I had to forewarn locals about my presence on the trail. I can’t take for granted that I’d been seen as a hiker, an explorer, and a lover of nature. I talked to Rue about his privilege during his journey.

Early explorers exploited people of color, destroyed the land, came in and brought diseases, and killed generations of Indigenous people. Obviously, Rue was not passing out smallpox blankets or killing Indigenous people, but the institutionalized racism in our country could have still pushed him in the direction of the exploitation of people of color. However, Rue’s mission is solid.

The journeys of white men carving out space in the landscape of this continent are part of the foundation of the U.S. Regardless of his intentions, as a white man, he is part of that cultural landscape. In the backpacking community (like society in general), privilege is being able to hike without thinking, “I should avoid this resupply stop or bypass this section of the trail because I don’t want to deal with racists or the police.” He, and other white hikers, do not have to ask themselves, “Will I be safe hiking through a klan town”?

As a Black person in the outdoors, you don’t get to go out and explore “unannounced” or “uninvited” without making an effort for people to know “who you are” and “why you are there”…, and that has to change.

In reading this, some people might misinterpret this and read that I’m saying Rue’s a bad person or that he shouldn’t be creating this trail. I’m NOT! Rue’s a solid guy with an infectious laugh and deep gratitude for the opportunity he’s been given. His actions are noble.

In this reflection, I’m hoping that folks will consider and perhaps acknowledge the struggles that BIPOC face in the outdoors. My hope upon completion of his project would be that Rue would reach out to communities of color and find out how he can connect with trail communities to make our trails more accessible and safe for all people.

The Trek

The Trek

so·lo ˈsōlō

noun

 1. a thing done by one person unaccompanied, in particular.

SOLO sōlō

noun

2. Stonehearth Open Learning Opportunities 

If you’ve been curious about my absence during October, I spent the month enrolled in SOLO’s Wilderness Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) program in Conway, New Hampshire.

Overall, the course was intense, nearly a semester’s worth of work in four weeks. I completed the intensive training. The office staff and support staff were phenomenal.

Sadly, I faced opposition from my cohorts, which began the moment we all congregated. The course aids and prepares students to work in Wilderness Emergency Medicine.

Despite the numerous dangers in the wild, it seems that an educated Black woman was the most significant threat for my cohort. Initially, I felt comfortable sharing my health-related experiences. This knowledge, along with my ideas were not welcomed.

As the sole Black woman, I faced the harsh realization that people of color, even with shared passions, aren’t an acceptable feature in the outdoors. It’s disheartening and not based on logic.

The ostracism I endured throughout the course was an irrational dislike of the hues in my skin — the only differential factor. One might argue economic status, but we all paid the same amount to partake in the class, and finances weren’t a topic.

The course required hands-on experience for real-life situations and the practical exam. Seldom would I find someone to work with, and it was never for long when I did.

As the weeks unfolded, so did animosity and ignorance. I spent countless hours working independently on mannequins, studying vast quantities of new information alone. In real-life, a dummy won’t require life-saving skills.

I didn’t participate in the collaborative efforts of my cohort. Life has taught me that a significant part of the learning experience is the knowledge gained from others. At SOLO, my experience was, at best, frustrating. 

A few students physically pushed me aside during my attempts to perform knowledge-based tasks. My insights were often dismissed. In some cases, the same points I voiced were later echoed by others and taken as excellent ideas.

I witnessed the forming of bonds and the group’s closeness as a whole. I was never respected or accepted as a member of my alleged team.

Most of my classmates made attempts to insert a false sense of dominance over me, with the entitled belief that a Black woman had nothing to offer and, therefore, wasn’t worthy of respect. 

My cohort created a prejudicial distinction over me. As a person of color, I realize that I, and others who look like me, will have to work twice as hard to connect with the outdoors.

Due to my limited hands-on experience, I will need to retake the WEMT practical exam. Thankfully, my goal is to receive my Masters’s in Adventure-Based Therapy. I don’t foresee a future in emergency medicine. I believe in an emergency; I will perform adequately. 

What angers me most is the person of color who aspires to become a WEMT. That individual will likely face a great deal of adversity and unnecessary hardship at SOLO. 

I am only accounting for my personal experiences; however, I am connected enough to People of the Global Majority in outdoor spaces who have echoed similar negative experiences.