• Mary Anderson

Summits in Solidarity, or Hiking for Racial Justice

Mary reports that there are more hikers on the Continental Divide Trail this year than last, and camping permits in Glacier National Park are limited and hard to come by. Result: Hikers are teaming up at the permit offices and sharing the few available permits. This means hiking in pods, and Mary is used to hiking alone, but overall she enjoyed the camaraderie. (She is now hiking alone again and finding the isolation difficult—more on that later.) She met Chim, a young hiker of Asian descent, in East Glacier Park Village and was moved by his story. Mary rarely writes about other hikers in much detail. It goes without saying that this young man, who is hiking for a cause, impressed her. For anyone who is just discovering Mary's blog: At 64, Mary is a veteran hiker (over 15,000 miles) who has set herself a goal of completing the extremely rugged CDT this year. She is now in the Bob Marshall Wilderness of Montana. She is working on a book about hiking and healing from trauma. Working title: Becoming Mary Badass. —ST


By Mary Anderson

The colors I see in nature on the trail are diverse and stunning. Daily I am in awe of the multitude of pinks and oranges in the sunrise, the myriad shades of blue in the noontime sky, the shades of white and gray in the clouds, the full spectrum of colors in the rocks and flora, and the purples of the mountains in the gloaming light. But when it comes to people I see on the trails, color is much less diverse.

Like skiing in Vermont, hiking is mostly a white person’s sport. I seldom see a person of color on the trail. Last year, in 1,550 miles of hiking, I saw only four people of color. Even though the trails pass over native people’s land, I have yet to see a native backpacker. I occasionally see someone of Asian descent and very occasionally someone of hispanic origins.

Something is very wrong with this picture.

I had the privilege of spending the last few days with Chim, a young man of color. He is hiking the trail spreading information about Summits in Solidarity, a group committed to supporting racial justice and equity in the outdoors. Chim pointed out that there are few people of color hiking any of the eleven national scenic trails in the U.S. and only one who has finished the triple crown.

Chim, whose mother fled the genocide of the Khmer Rouge, told me that he is often shunned by hikers on the trail. He blames some of this on the outdoors industry, which still shows mostly white people in ads for outdoor equipment or recreational places.

I witnessed firsthand the prejudice when Chim was talking with a man who was standing by his car. They seemed to be having an amicable conversation. When Chim walked away for a few moments, the man turned to me and said, “My father fought the war to defend us from the Chinks.” I was horrified and momentarily stunned into inaction. But then Chim arrived back on the scene. I turned to this man and told him quite forcibly, “That young man is my friend.”

Although I tried to silence that man, I left feeling like I had done a very inadequate job. Chim was unaware of what had happened, and I never did tell him. Unfortunately, I know he is not a stranger to these kinds of interactions. And he may well find out about this one by reading this blog. It makes me want to rant and cry. No one deserves to be treated this way, especially not Chim, who is one of the kindest hikers I have met on the trail. The world and the trail need a lot more Chims.

It reminds me that the one time I was stopped by a cop while driving in Vermont, I had a biracial boy sitting in the passenger seat next to me. After walking around my car, the cop informed me that she stopped me because my registration was about to expire. I doubt I would have been stopped if I had not had a person of color in my car.

Chim knows he will have more difficulty catching a ride into town to resupply. I know when hitching I have white-old-lady privilege. So when six of us hikers set out yesterday to hitch to a place from where we would slackpack back to East Glacier, I suggested Chim pair up with me, as my white-old-lady privilege might help counteract the prejudice he would get as a man of color. Luckily, we were picked up by a lovely older couple from Arkansas, who let us all climb into the back of their pickup truck. But I couldn't help wonder if they would have done it for Chim had he been alone.

Chim told me how tired he gets of having to explain white privilege to white people. I assume there are still plenty of places where I hold internalized prejudices without being completely aware of them. I keep working to root them out. I try not to use the word black to imply something sinister. I remind myself of my white privilege, and I express gratitude to the people of color who are out here blazing a path for others to follow. It feels so inadequate. The trail would be an even more beautiful place with yet more color on it.

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