…a 2,190 mile walk on the Appalachian Trail, that is. The need for “wilderness” adventure kind of snuck up on me about 7 months ago when I had lunch with 38,000-mile AT hiker Warren Doyle. That plus the imminent anxiety of the end of my 3-year job at a documentary film company in New Hampshire in December 2018. More on why I want to hike in my next post.
I’d like to take a moment here to acknowledge the amount of privilege I have to take a 6-month walk in the woods. I am an American, white, able-bodied, middle class, educated, young (ish?) person with minimal responsibilities and with enough time and resources to attempt this “break” from my routine. Not everyone has access to a thru-hiking experience because people with different identities face different barriers (see: classism, ableism, body-shaming, racism, heterosexism, and cissexism).
The outdoor industry historically has promoted images of white, cisgender, slender, able-bodied, and assumed straight men as the people who enjoy the outdoors. In a 2018 survey by thetrek.co, 54 % of hikers identified as men, 44 % as women, and 1.6 % identified as non-binary. I see folks making efforts toward more inclusiveness on the trail, though (see these organizations: Outdoor Afro, Fat Girls Hiking, Latino Outdoors, The Venture Out Project, Indigenous Women Hike, Brothers of Climbing).
I also acknowledge the land I will be walking on is stolen from indigenous people by white European settlers. I am conscious that in some ways outdoor recreation is another form of colonialism. It’s important to me to to try to use my privilege responsibly and that starts with being aware of it.
I must now acknowledge the region in which I will be traveling through: Appalachia. I’m not from Appalachia but I have become deeply connected to it through its people, landscape, music, and dance. Appalachia has endured generations of exploitation by outsiders looking for profits in extractive industries. TV, movies, and books continue to perpetuate stereotypes that “other” the life and people of Appalachia. As a banjo player, I have felt those stereotypes and it feels pretty disrespectful. If I had a nickel for every time somebody said to me, “paddle faster…”
I entered close study of Appalachia through its music in grad school and I’m excited that my hike will be a different way of exploring and learning about the region all the while respecting the fact that I am a guest in someone else’s house. My understanding of Appalachia is ever evolving and I invite you to think deeper about about the region by reading books other than “Hillbilly Elegy.” Books like “What You’re Getting Wrong About Appalachia” or watching this documentary titled “hillbilly” or any film by Appalshop.
This concludes the mini-thesis about some of the systems of oppression I see and experience…whew. Now, to the trail.