Los Angeles, California
Trail name: Mountain Mic
Founder of TrapHike, DestinationHL and Occupy: Hike
The first time that Chris Grays hit the trail to begin shedding the 60 pounds he had packed on while at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), he brought a lifetime of loss and trauma along for the hike. Chris was only two years old when his father was murdered, and as a teenager—while navigating a growing attraction to both boys and girls—he was repeatedly sexually abused by a trusted church choir director. Believing that his emotional maturity and early physical development during puberty were responsible for the abuse, Chris turned to overeating at UCLA as a way to make himself as unattractive and undesirable as possible. Now he was on a mission to not only get fit and get back at those who bullied him about his weight, but to create a new life in the outdoors that would awaken what he called his “new superpower”—the power of vulnerability.
Charlotte, North Carolina
Trail Name: The Blackalachian
2017 Appalachian Trail Thru-Hiker
Daniel White—trail name Blackalachian—had completed nearly half of his Appalachian Trail thru-hike when he stopped to camp overnight with a fellow hiker at Pen Mar Park, just south of the Maryland-Pennsylvania border. As darkness fell, a group of white men who were uncharacteristically quiet and unfriendly considering their proximity to the trail left the pavilion—only to return on bicycles with blinding spotlights before being joined by some friends with large dogs. When the intimidating group began howling like wolves, Daniel knew it was time to pack up their gear and hike off into the night. They were less than a mile from the Mason-Dixon Line, the unofficial cultural demarcation between the North and the South of the United States. During the entire seven-month trek, Daniel encountered only one other Black thru-hiker.
Lake Tahoe, California
Trail Name: Chardonnay
First African American Woman to Complete Hiking’s Triple Crown
Elsye Walker had completed more than two-thirds of the Appalachian Trail when she decided that making it all the way from Georgia to Massachusetts would have to be enough. She wasn’t having fun and lacked the determination that drove her to conquer the even longer Pacific Crest Trail from Mexico to Canada a year earlier. Elsye wasn’t the only African American on the AT in 2016. Writer Rahawa Haile finished and became one of the few Black women to cover the entire 2,190 miles. Despite her setback, Elsye’s place in history would not be denied. After hiking the Continental Divide Trail in 2017, she returned to the AT the following year to take on the remaining trek from Massachusetts to Maine. When Elsye, dressed in a pink tutu, reached the Mount Katahdin summit and completed all three major long-distance trails, she became the first African American woman to capture hiking’s Triple Crown.
Growing up in Baltimore, Justin Tucker’s indoctrination into outdoor recreation amounted to playing in a travel baseball league and skiing in the Poconos one weekend every other year. Not exactly the foundations to become the next John Muir, but in hindsight he knows that he was more fortunate than many in his hometown.
New York City
Trail Name: School
Elected to the Explorers Club in 1993
The day after graduating from college in 1966, James Robert “J.R.” Harris loaded up his secondhand VW Beetle and headed 4,400 miles toward Circle, Alaska, at the time the northernmost point to which you could drive in the Western Hemisphere. The 22-year-old had roughly $150 he had saved, a “care package” prepared by his mother and what he recalled as a “sudden, urgent need to get away for a while, to do something different, something adventurous.” It was the beginning of more than a half-century of expeditions to the farthest reaches of the planet that have earned him admiration as one of the planet’s foremost African American explorers.
Asheville, North Carolina
Trail Name: Mr. Fabulous
2012 Appalachian Trail Thru-Hiker
Derick Lugo was in New Hampshire, only a few hundred miles short of completing his 2012 thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail (AT), when a hiker he had never met shouted through the downpour of rain, “Are you Mr. Fabulous?” Derick affirmed the trail name bestowed by his fellow hikers and asked curiously, “How did you know?” The man yelled matter-of-factly, “Because you’re the only Black guy on the trail.”
These are difficult times. Like many people, I have struggled over the last couple of weeks about how to best support my loved ones, colleagues and complete strangers in the fight for visibility, dignity and equality. For me, my passion for hiking, advocacy for diversity on the trail, and respect for my hiking community provide a platform for me to share their voices in solidarity. I hope you take the time to learn more about these trailblazing BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) individuals as I roll out their stories beginning later this week.