Mother Dearest


I wanted to talk to you about our recent phone conversation. Among the many things we chatted about – and agreed and disagreed on – concerning my upcoming Colorado Trail thruhike attempt, the thing you said that stuck with me the most was a simple, four word sentence:

“I can’t stop you.”

I think it was so potent because I’ve never heard you say anything like it. You’ve always been if not entirely enthusiastic, at least supportive of everything I’ve done. And it’s different and weird and I wanted to try to explain myself a little better.

I know having me as a daughter hasn’t been easy for you, in some ways. I’m always wanting to move, go to new places, see new things, not settle down. I’ve wandered quite a ways in 27 years – India, England, Hong Kong, all over the US – and you’ve been understanding, and supportive, but I know this is different. Those moves – for education, for work – those were understandable. But why on earth I’d want to try to walk nearly 500 miles in one go, living in a tent for a month with little more than mashed potatoes and mac and cheese to eat2 isn’t exactly the easiest concept for me to explain, especially since it flies in the face of conventional… anything and everything.

One of your concerns was how alone, how lonely I’ll be. Sure, I moved around a lot, but I was always with other people in those places; safety in a structured environment, in numbers, and the anonymity that provides. On the trail, there are fewer people, to be sure, but it’s not as deserted as you might think. I know of at least two people who are starting thruhikes the same day I am, which means there are probably more – not to mention the thruhikers starting after me, some of who’ll likely catch up, and the thruhikers coming northeast, who’ll be able to give me valuable information about the odds and ends of the trail ahead of me. And then there’s the section hikers, the day hikers, the mountain bikers, the equestrians… there’s an entire community built around this trail, and I’m about to become a part of that.

In your defense, this community is kind of located in the middle of nowhere. That seems to be your biggest concern, what with lions and tigers and bears and two-legged things that go bump in the night. No, I’m not going to carry a gun – my knowledge of firearms is entirely built on the constant critique of Hollywood by my gun-enthusiast friends3 – but I will carry bear spray, for you. It’s more effective than a gun anyway, and I’ll keep it attached to my hip, so that if a situation should arise I’ll (hopefully) be able to deploy it quickly. There’s also, perhaps, a greater risk for injury out there than there is living in the suburbs or driving a hundred miles in a day to tutor, but just as I have control over my driving skills, I also have control over the decisions I make while hiking – when and where to eat, to stop to rest or avoid weather, to set up camp. The concerns are different than those in the frontcountry, to be sure, but I’ve read a lot of books, attended a lot of workshops, hiked and backpacked a lot since I’ve lived in Colorado. I’m as prepared as I can be. But to make you feel better, I’m getting a personal locator beacon – so you’ll know where I am, and you’ll know, if I need it, help is a button-click away. I hope those concessions help assuage some of your fears.

Because I know you don’t want to say it – and I certainly dislike acknowledging its power – but being a Brown Girl trying to do something like this, at a moment in history like this one, has to add another level of terror for you. Within your lifetime, Black folks have been unwelcome in rural areas, been scapegoated, been killed for “impugning [someone’s] honor”, for sport. You remember the family reunions in Mississippi, where we always talked about the cousin firebombed by the KKK for registering Black folks to vote. You yourself have been subject to countless microaggressions, macroaggressions, people judging you unfairly because you were a woman, because you were Black. Nowadays, with the narrative around racial injustice in this country elevated by a media that seems intent to aggravate the issue, it seems like many of us Black folk are waiting, holding our breath, praying that there’ll be no more backlash but thinking that there has to be, somewhere, somehow. And for me to roll the dice with a trip like this probably seems, in many ways, irresponsible. Like I’m tempting fate.

Part of me wants to say something like “This is Colorado, not Ohio, not Mississippi”, but while I think there is a difference between those places and this one, those preconceptions that other people place on us, those happen anywhere and everywhere, those can escalate anywhere and everywhere. There is little comfort in that.

So I guess, all the comfort I have for you is just the comfort you gave me as a child. You always taught me that I could be anything I wanted, do anything I wanted, in spite of the opposition and the odds. To give up on something this monumental, this challenging, this life-affirming, just because I’m scared of what other people will think, how they’ll react to my presence – that’s a disservice to the way you raised me. And I know, in your heart of hearts, that you are supportive of this, of me, even though it scares – I scare – you sometimes.

So I will be as you raised me to be. I will eat lots of food, take vitamins, purify my water, and stretch to avoid injury. I will err on the side of caution when dealing with the weather, with my own exhaustion, with other people. I’ll carry the extra weight of the bear spray, the SPOT, for your comfort, and, honestly, for mine. And I hope, that after all the pictures and the SPOT check-ins and the stories of human kindness that I hear from the trail all the time, that your not being able to stop me turns, one day, into a “Go.”






[1] Not just *my* Momma but all my mommas everywhere.

[2] Okay, you might understand the food part. You have to admit, though, I’ve gotten a lot better about being a less-picky eater.

[3] Also an evening holding and up-close inspecting various types of firearms, and getting a more thorough rundown of their operation. Still, one evening neither an effective carrier nor utilizer makes.

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