Heading north from Springer Mountain in Georgia, the Appalachian Trail class would have to walk 670 miles before reaching the first county that did not vote for Donald Trump. The average percentage of voters who did vote for Trump—a xenophobic candidate who was supported by David Duke—in those miles? Seventy-six. Approximately 30 miles farther away, they’d come to a hiker hostel that proudly flies a Confederate flag.
Later they would reach the Lewis Mountain campground in Shenandoah National Park—created in Virginia in 1935, during the Jim Crow era—and read plaques acknowledging its former history as the segregated Lewis Mountain Negro Area. The campground was swarming with RVs flying Confederate flags. This flag would haunt the hikers all the way to Mount Katahdin, the trail’s end point, in northern Maine. They would see it in every state, feeling the tendrils of hatred that rooted it to the land they walked upon.
AT hikers are unaware of the clear division that exists between what hikers of color experience on the trail (generally positive) and in town (not so much). While fellow through-hikers and trail angels are some of the kindest and most generous people you’ll ever encounter, many trail towns have no idea what to make of people who look different. They say they don’t see much of “your kind” around here and leave the rest hanging in the air.
The rule is you don’t talk about politics on the trail. The truth is you can’t talk about diversity in the outdoors without talking about politics, since politics is a big reason why the outdoors look the way they do.
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