Outside Magazine recently featured a wonderful essay by the writer Rahawa Haile. This young woman from Miami, Florida had successfully through-hiked the Appalachian Trail. Walking solo, she made the journey of 2,179 miles from Georgia to Maine under the power of her own two feet over several months in 2016. In her fascinating story, one passage in particular stood out.
“Throughout my youth, my grandmother and I took walks in Miami, where I’d hear her say the words tuum nifas,” Haile wrote. “It meant a delicious wind, a nourishing wind. These experiences shaped how I viewed movement throughout the natural world. How I view it still. The elements, I thought, could end my hunger.”
Transformational experiences in nature are perhaps the single most compelling reason that anyone would devote months of their lives and thousands of miles walking the great National Scenic trails of North America. Every year trails like the Appalachian, the Continental Divide or the Pacific Crestdraw hikers from across the country and around the world to sample the delicious, nourishing winds of the world outside. Many spend these long hikes in quiet reflection of their lives, while others use this time to heal the emotional wounds of their past. In that regard Rahawa Haile was no different. But during the intensely divisive and politically polarizing climate of the 2016 Presidential election she felt the added burdens of race and gender identity in a natural environment populated predominantly by white men.
The disparities of participation among those who spend time in nature and those who don’t still fall dramatically along the same distinctions of race, gender and class that divide much of our country today. But on her long journey Haile was pleased to discover that she was welcomed and encouraged to become part of the Appalachian Trail community despite hiking while bisexual, female and black.
This interview with writer and Appalachian Trail through-hiker Rahawa Haile was recorded in a coffee shop in Oakland, California. Sorry about all the ambient noise, but this conversation was definitely worth sharing. Look for a feature story on Haile and the delicious winds of the outdoors in the next issue of the journal Appalachia.