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
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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