In 2016, I decided, since I had such an interesting time on the American Discovery Trail in 2015, I should start at the beginning of the trail on the Atlantic Ocean and take a hike west. So I did. Now, the ADT goes through both Annapolis and Washington DC as well as numerous smaller towns. It also goes along the C&O Canal for 156 miles and through some of the mountains of West Virginia. That was about 500 miles and I figured that was enough for a spring hike.
In my pre-trip research, I decided to use church connections going through Washington DC, as I do get a little nervous about big cities, and I did need a rest day and a place to send my food box. I sent a letter by email to a number of Washington DC/Georgetown Lutheran churches with an appeal for help and now I have friends in the DC area.
Annapolis didn’t look as big as DC, and I decided to wing it through there as usual. When I am planning my trips on the ADT, I have no real idea what an area is going to be like on this trail. I have what is called a Turn by Turn, which is a set of directions that say things like, “Turn right on x Street and go 3 miles; turn left on Y street and go 6 blocks to Z Park and take the trail west of the Parking lot to CR 346. Directions like that. I also read what journals I can find written by other hikers who have walked this trail, but there are not a lot of those and generally those hikers are much stronger hikers than I am, so they don’t always tell me what I need to know. I simply plan my hikes by how many miles I want to walk in a day. I am gradually planning less miles as I get older. But that year I think I was planning about 15 miles a day.
So, on a day in April, approaching Annapolis, I stopped at a little Deli for lunch. A couple there pegs me for a hiker since I am carrying a backpack, which is a little strange in the East unless you are on the Appalachian Trail. This couple struck up a conversation with me and I had a very pleasant lunch break.
As we talked, they looked at my maps and my plan for the day and suggested that where I was planning for the end of the day was not a good place to stop. They suggested I stop earlier but they didn’t really tell me why and I did not ask. I walked on to Annapolis and crossed the Severn River looking down on the Naval Academy on a beautiful day.
While I was walking, I was thinking about the conversation in the Deli. I wondered if their cautions to me were about race. Now, I don’t always take advice given. I didn’t want to cut my miles short as that would just mean somewhere I would have to increase my miles to keep to my schedule and hit my rest days and lodging arrangements and food drops farther on. And I thought to myself, I stand in the pulpit and preach that God loves all people, of all backgrounds and all races. And I believe that with all my heart. How can I justify stopping early to avoid people of color? I have to walk the walk I talk.
Well, yes, it did turn out to be a neighborhood that was obviously all black. It wasn’t a bad neighborhood. It was a lot of nice-looking rentals, quadplexes and such. Now rentals are not usually the best places to ask to stay, as people may be hesitant to agree when it is not their house. And every night I am a bit nervous as I wonder what will happen when I ask for a place to be. I was about to go past this neighborhood and be in a commercial area. That’s not a good place to be. So, I screwed up my courage, and at the last set of duplexes I knocked on the door.
Larissa met me at the door after a kid inside yelled, “Hey, there’s a white lady at the door.” Larissa was the Grandma and matriarch of the clan who lived there. “Yes”, she said, “Of course. We would be honored to have you stay in our back yard.” Honored? Wow. I hadn’t had anyone say that to me before. We chatted. (I figure I am the entertainment for anyone who offers me a place to stay. I always plan on spending a bit of time chatting about trails and such.) Then I put up my tent, had my dinner and they let me use their bathroom. Yay! And I crawled into my sleeping bag in my tent and went to sleep.
Sometime later, probably about 11:00 at night, I woke up with a start, sat up and grabbed my tent pole, because, as I sat up, the tent started to fall down around me. A man had been peering into the tent and as I suddenly sat up, he jumped back and had tripped over my center guyline that holds the tent up. It was a kind of scene that would have played well in a sitcom.
I doubt there had ever been a tent in any of that neighborhood. Carl was on his way to work at the local Target in the commercial area just ahead and I seemed to have put my tent in the short cut to that commercial area. He was curious what was in the neighborhood and had investigated. When this strange white lady suddenly sat up, I think I almost scarred him white.
He started babbling, “I’m sorry, lady. I’m sorry. I’m sorry I broke your tent. I’ll fix it. I can pay for it. I have a job. I have two jobs. I have three jobs. Here’s my card. I can pay for your tent. I’m sorry, lady. I’m sorry.”
I told him. “Hey, it’s OK. See that silver thing in the grass? Pick it up and give it to me.” He handed me my tent stake and I put it in the guyline loop and gave it to him as I said. “Pull it out as far as you can and stick it in the ground.” There. Tent fixed.”
Then Carl and I had an interesting conversation in the middle of the night about long- distance hiking and the American Discovery Trail. Before he went to work, he begged to take a selfie with me, as no one would ever believe why he would to be late to work. So, I too have a selfie of me and Carl Robinson. And if you need to have your car detailed in Annapolis, I have his card and I’ll recommend him.
And I learned what white privilege is. It’s when someone of another color is honored to have you stay in their yard and when someone of another color, who accidently kicks out your tent stake and sees you’re white, feels they have to justify themselves as being super responsible by saying they have three jobs.
Sometimes I get past fear by knowing I have an obligation rooted in my faith and my values demand it. I cannot preach of God’s love for all people without living that, even by knocking on someone’s door when they are different from me in color of skin. And then I learn so much.
Have you ever gone past your fear because your faith or your values demanded it?