Surprisingly, my trek has gotten a lot of attention. Granted, I intended to speak out about injustice in light of the death of George Floyd by thru-hiking the SHT. I feel strongly that social justice and environmental justice are intrinsically linked.

 

I’ve encountered an array of people on my journey, including white people who seek me out for the following reasons: to talk about the ways they can eradicate racism, ask about ways to make ______ more inclusive, to take a picture with me (because they think I’m going to be famous), or they want to join the hike, to share they’ve helped a member of the BIPOC community and to prove they’re more “woke” than others (aka “performative activism”). 

 

These interactions have been anxiety-provoking. But then, there are the parents who see me out to say hi. Introduce me to their kids, either have me explain why I’m hiking or say things like, “She’s out here making a difference.” I enjoy those folks because they are encouraging and remind me why I’m out here hiking. All and all, I’ve not encountered anything too problematic until today.

 

Because of the folks generalized in paragraph two, I’ve been selective about who I share my location with to finish this hike. I’ve been in advance hiker mode, increasing my mileage daily. That’s uncommon along this trail (although thru-hiking in general is unusual).

 

I set out early on my 21st day of the trail, thinking of George Floyd and his legacy. I imagined what the world would look like when everyone had the opportunity and freedom to explore and engage with Nature. 

 

I envisioned the next generation who will follow in my footsteps. After hours of hiking, I had the option of stopping at a campsite at 16 miles or continuing to a small campsite directly off the trail, at 16.2 miles. I decided on the further one since I am trying to cover as much distance as possible.

 

When I arrived, a woman met me, who made it clear that she didn’t want me near her campsite. Although there was plenty of space for both of us (even with social distancing), she encouraged me to “keep trekking.” 

 

She informed me that a bigger campsite was just up the trail when I didn’t move. Referring to the one at 16.0 miles, I’d already passed since I was heading north.

 

The sun hadn’t been out all day but shined perfectly where I sat. I hung my wet tent on a tree and my socks on a nearby bench. The woman whispered something to her male companion, and away the two went. 

 

In all the annoyance I’ve experienced, I hadn’t yet felt unwelcome until I arrived at the North Bally Creek campsite. With a sense of entitlement, the white woman made my 16.2-day trek of dreams and hopes heavy. 

 

I am carrying the weight of my people, the fear and unwelcoming presence of those who think I don’t belong in outdoor spaces—those who believe that Nature isn’t for people that look like me. 

I felt unsafe at that campsite. Not physically, rather a sense that there was no peace for me in that space for that evening. I decided to backtrack after all, but I wrote a note to the woman first. On my way to the other campsite, she and her companion ran into me. They wanted to let me know that they checked the other campsite and had space.

Ultimately, I stayed at the campsite at mile 16. I met other friendly hikers. 

 

In a message to that woman and her partner, or anyone else who might need a reminder: NATURE IS FOR EVERYONE.

 

In 2016, planning for the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), my biggest pack weight dilemma was carrying my neurological recharge system. Fast forward to 2020, as I prepare for my Superior Hiking Trail (SHT) thru-hike, I’m facing yet another weight dilemma.

The reality of hiking in Northern Minnesota (in the US, for that matter) as a BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color). The additional “pack weight,” so to speak. In addition to traditional gear, I have to consider the weight of my skin.

As a Black woman solo hiking in Northern Minnesota, I can’t take for granted that Minnesotans will live up to the state motto: Minnesota Nice!

I’m not relying on it. I grappled with another weight-related decision. Do I alert local law enforcement of my presence on the trail or don’t? Sadly, we live in a time when an advance alert has to be issued. 

Here is an excerpt of the email I shared with the sheriff chief of all four counties along the SHT:

“A section of the SHT is located in the county you’ve been sworn to protect. As a law-abiding visitor, I expect the same level of protection and respect that is afforded to your residents. I understand that there is a great deal of racial tension in the US. I am aware that as a Black solo hiker, I might face adversity and possible prejudice on the trail. However, I do not anticipate threats or violence, and I’d ask that, if needed, you’d intervene promptly. I have attached a photo of myself in hiking gear and ask that if I am seen on the trail that you DO NOT shoot me. Aside from backpacking gear, I will be carrying the following items: bear spray, a pocket knife, and hiking poles. None of these items are “weapons.”

I’m sharing this because it’s the reality of being a Black hiker. 

PS Yes, I will post a gear list, trail information, and other “traditional” hiking-related things soon.

PSS. As of June 1, the SHTA recommends that hikers practice social distancing on the trail by limiting group sizes to 10 or less and that you stay home if you’re sick.