Walking Towards the Past: My Healing Journey on the AT
The most defining moment of my young adult life was learning about El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz. Although many may not recognize this name, you all most likely know who this is. He was a man more recognized as Malcolm X. When I learned the true narrative of Malcolm’s life I was changed as a person, forever, but this is not the beginning of my Appalachian Trail journey.
The Real Beginning of my AT Journey
My name is Unmai, I was born in a small town called Lumberton, which is in the swamps of southeast North Carolina. This place is home to the Lumbee nation, who so named themselves after the Lumber river that flows through it. My Indigenous identity will come into play later, but my first calling to the AT was my love for nature. As most people on this website might recollect for themselves, I, too, was always drawn to nature as a child and spent a lot of time running around in the woods, watching Animal Planet/Discovery Channel and climbing trees like it was my job. Learning anything I could about the natural world fascinated me beyond belief. So, I jumped at the first opportunity I had to go camping, which was a weekend trip in the Grayson Highlands when I was 14. As I had expected, it was the best weekend of my life. The peace I felt in nature was incomparable to anything I had felt before and it was almost unfathomable to be immersed in what I see as the real world. I felt connected to nature in a way that is not possible to replicate in society and was something I longed for as a child in ways I couldn’t understand or explain. This was when I learned about the once-in-a-lifetime experience of thru hiking the AT. I could barely process the weekend I had let alone the idea of backpacking in the woods for four to seven months, but I was overwhelmed with a feeling of excited anticipation: I KNEW it was something I would experience one day, but I come from a financial background that made me feel as though this was nearly impossible. It quickly turned into an unspoken dream until November of 2020 when I finally realized how important it was for me to walk this trail.
So Dreams Really Can Come True?
In November 2020, I was driving through the Appalachians in North Carolina with my fiance when a conversation struck up about the future. I was a year and a half out of college and was no closer to knowing what I wanted to do to start the rest of my life. In fact, I felt further from having it figured out than I did when I left high school. That’s when my fiance brought up the AT and it seemed that everything fell into place. At first I wanted to hike it because I wanted to finally see the east coast the way I wanted to see it, which was the land. I also wanted to do it because I want to move from North Carolina soon and I don’t want to leave before I have this experience. It also felt like a beautiful way to celebrate living 25 years of life! Eventually, I came to the real reason why I needed to hike this trail though. When I was growing up, I was very disconnected from my Indigenous roots and up to the last couple of years, I knew little to nothing about the Indigenous nations of Turtle Island (This is the name of Canada, the US and Mexico from an Indigenous Confederacy from the northeast US). So, I realized that I wanted to be able to experience the land in a way exclusive to the AT because it is a trail that leads through areas that my ancestors were a part of. I want to walk the AT to reconnect with the indigeneity I was not afforded thus far in my life because I feel like establishing this connection will help me heal as a person. I eagerly began my research not only about thruhiking the AT, but also about the history of the Indigenous people of Turtle Island.
This All Lead Me Here
Through this highly unique time of COVID, I’m sure I speak for everyone in saying I have been through a lot in the past year. I could write another post’s worth of an update on that, but in lieu of boring you, I will abstract it this. My AT journey so far has been ups and down and I don’t expect that to change once I’m on trail. All I can say for myself in the present is that this is where I am at: I am still trying and I am still excited. That’s all I can do to get to Katahdin. I don’t see anything (barring injuries) getting the way of me forging my own path to reconstruct a more authentic identity for myself. Having learned so much (but also so little) in the last year, I just can’t believe I am so close to realizing the walking part of my AT journey. I am grateful for everything I have learned and the resources I have access to. As the months turn into weeks and eventually mere days until launch, I feel more and more fear and excitement as I finish up my spreadsheets, gear lists and preparations for what I hope can serve as the most meaningful and healing months of my life to date. I plan to achieve these goals and use them for the good of others by any means necessary.
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