In 2016, Rahawa Haile thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail. In a powerful recent essay, she wrote, “Few nonessentials are carried on this trail, and when they are—an enormous childhood teddy bear, a father’s bulky camera—it means one thing: The weight of this item is worth considerably more than the weight of its absence.

“Everyone had something out here. The love I carried was books. Exceptional books. Books by black authors, their photos often the only black faces I would talk to for weeks. These were writers who had endured more than I’d ever been asked to, whose strength gave me strength in turn.”

I talked with Haile, an Eritrean-American writer living in Oakland, California, about her northbound thru-hike for my podcast, She Explores. Haile believes that if you have the inclination and the time to do a thru hike, you should hit the trail. And as one of the few black women to thru-hike in 2016, she talks about how her experience is different than the “typical” hiker. She explains that despite popular belief and best intentions, the Appalachian Trail isn’t a great equalizer. She also discusses the small beauties she found along the trail, be it snow on a branch or the kindness of the hiking community.

Some Books Haile Carried on the AT

I Love Myself When I am Laughing…And Then Again When I Am Looking Mean and Impressive, by Zora Neale Hurston

Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self, by Daniele Evans

Homegoing, by Yaa Gyasi

Prelude to Bruise, by Saeed Jones

Find Haile on Twitter and Instagram.

Note: Haile actually saw at least 10 black people hiking on the Appalachian Trail, not one. The error is the host’s.

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