Balance Over Obstacles

On July 4, 2020, I began my 310-mile trek on the Superior Hiking Trail (SHT).

By hiking the SHT, I chose to speak out against racial injustice in the United States— brought to light by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. (Read more) 

I began my hike at the Wisconsin/Minnesota border and ended at the Canadian border. I completed my 310+ mile hike on July 28, 2020. (Read more).

The SHT is a rough trail with lots of roots, mud holes, and rocks, which I tripped over and stepped in many. I also slipped countless times. With each trip and fall, I was supported by my trekking poles. It was a reminder to get back up and to keep moving. For a lot of reasons, but one in particular, I was hiking the future generations.

For centuries, walking sticks have served many purposes: support for traveling on uneven ground, as a survival tool, a defensive weapon, and gradually a sign of power and authority.

Think of the wise mandrill monkey, Rafiki, in the Lion King. He carries around his staff—or a walking stick for for those wanting the correlation to hiking. Trekking poles are an extension of that staff.

As with Rafiki, the trekking poles allowed me to tune into nature and to connect meaningfully with my ancestors who walked the land before me. The Indigenous spirits paved a safe passage. The trekking poles allowed me to bushwhack through tall grass and determine the depth of the marshy ground.

On other hikes, I’ve often left my poles holstered, but for the majority of this hike, I kept them in hand. Trekking poles help maintain balance over obstacles. I can say that my own L.L. Bean Trekking Poles have prevented many sprained ankles and one potentially sprained knee.

In all the ways that my trekking poles protected me during my hike, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the joint-locks and takedowns when poles are used as weapons—snapshot glimpses of welts and bruises left on the backs of enslaved people. But that method of control isn’t only in the past, as the riot gear police have shown with their batons (aka “riot sticks”) at the recent BLM protests.

My partner met me at the Northern Terminus. We’d made plans to hike the summit overlook together (I’m told a lot of thru-hikers end their hike at the Northern Terminus trailhead, which is essentially a parking lot. I don’t know why they would).

When she arrived, she brought her two dogs and my dog Carma. Together, we all hiked the final mile to the overlook. As we hiked, the message of control and the treatment of enslaved people played in the back of my mind.

When we reached the summit, Carma wanted to be picked up. I jokingly started singing the Lion King intro song, while picking her up and holding her over the edge—back to Rafiki, the trekking poles, the bruises, the missed mishaps, the welts, and bruises inflicted upon Black flesh. The death of George Floyd, a Black man who died while being restrained by a white Minneapolis police officer.

George Floyd didn’t have trekking poles. George Floyd will never be able to summit the overlook and breathe in the air.

I hiked 310 miles in honor of George Floyd, yet at the end of 310 miles, my journey felt incomplete. Still in Minnesota, on July 30, I drove to the George Floyd memorial site at 38th Street and Chicago Avenue in Minneapolis. I was flooded with emotions rounding the corner where George Floyd took his last breath. I knelt because I truly could not stand, and I cried at the outline of his body.

In kneeling, it became clear that those poles were an agent of change, changing how we approach relationships, from combatants to allies, leads to more positive outcomes. And someone has to start by putting down their sticks. I left mine at the statue of the fist.

 

 

Hike end: July 30, George Floyd Memorial at 38th Street and Chicago Avenue in Minneapolis.

 

P/C: on trail @dkap09  (minus selfie)

P/C: memorial site @wanderingseagoat

 

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