Tag Archives: 700 mile border hike

700 Mile Border Hike


SDUT

Mark Hainds put the toes of his hiking boots into the Pacific Ocean Thursday with the U.S.-Mexico border just off to his left — where it has been during his entire 700-mile journey.

“I dunno,” Hainds said, his clothes covered in dust and his face well-tanned and garnished with a scruffy beard. “It’s a weird thing. I should be feeling celebratory, but I haven’t figured it out.”

Since December, Hainds has hiked in two-week clips from El Paso, Texas, to Friendship Park at the southwestern edge of San Diego County. It was the culmination of a trip he started three years ago, also from El Paso, but headed east, along the Rio Grande to Brownsville, Texas, where the river flows into the Gulf of Mexico. He finished the first leg on Dec. 21, 2014, and started the second jaunt exactly two years later.

He’s one of the few people to hike the United States’ border with Mexico, and between the two legs of his trip, the views of that geopolitical boundary have shifted dramatically and promise to change the relationship between the two countries. On the campaign trail and now as president, Donald Trump pledged to build a wall along the border to prevent unauthorized immigration, hire 5,000 border patrol officers, and cancel or dramatically change the North American Free Trade Agreement, a deal that made it easier for cross-border business.

Hainds, who is 48 and from Alabama, said the change in politics was apparent when he talked to people along the way, many of them strangers who gave him food, took him in and gave him a place to rest for the night and tend to his feet.

“I guess the big thing was that nobody was talking too much about Trump, and nobody was talking about a wall in 2014,” he said. “And now, I think people have cordoned off more into camps. And still, the majority of people I meet are still against the wall, and further militarization of the border.”

Regardless of the thoughts of the people Hainds met as he hiked, for many miles of the trip, through all sorts of terrain and vegetation, was a wall. While the president has pledged to erect an extended partition between the United States and Mexico, for decades there has been some sort of barrier along portions of the border.

Hainds walked into Friendship Park with his wife and two children, who supported him along portions of the hike. As they reflected on the journey’s terminus, on the other side of a tall brown fence that extends into the Pacific, sunbathers sprawled out on a Tijuana beach as others played in the surf with their dog. All the while a Customs and Border Patrol officer sitting in an SUV kept watch from a nearby hill.

This might be the last of Hainds’ big adventures.

“Momma says no,” he said.

Momma is Katia Cabides, his wife. She and their two young children helped start him off in the mornings during parts of the trip, and met him when he was done for the day.

“I’m ready go back home,” Katia Cabides said. It was hard to be apart while he was on the trail, and she worried about her husband’s safety and health but was happy that he was doing something he thought was important. Still, it was difficult, she said.

“For me, I have to learn do to things by myself,” she said. “And suddenly, I was alone. What if something happened to him? Then I’m going to be a single mother.”

And then she pointed to her belly — they have a third child on the way.

“Now, I’m happy. I’m finally finished and we can go home,” she said.

Hainds has two books in the works — the first is about his walk that ended in 2014 and is currently with his publisher. The second, which will be based on his latest hike, will be about the people he encountered along the border, their lives and their stories living at the edge of the country. He kept a journal along the way.

“I think they feel ignored by the rest of the country, that they’re overlooked. I’m going to give them a voice,” he said.

They feel like they are misunderstood, and that a lot of the country incorrectly believes that they live in a war zone, he said. Parts of the border, particularly near big cities, seemed better off than many other parts of the country.

“I’ve walked through these big cities, and I feel much safer than I do in some of the Midwest,” he said.

He started the trip for a simple reason: to get away from the daily grind. He had had enough of his routine as a college forestry professor and working at a nonprofit organization, and all the emails, phone calls and text messages he was getting. He still works but planned his trip around his professional obligations.

“I just kind of reached a breaking point where I couldn’t stick with it any longer,” he said.

Sometimes that will encourage people to start a new career, or pick up a new hobby. When Hainds got that feeling, he retreated to the wilds of the Amazon, or the Pantanal in Brazil. But this time when the urge struck, he was reading Cormac McCarthy, a novelist whose stories are often set in west Texas.

“I think that inspired my imagination,” he said. “Another part — might sound kind of silly — I was kind of overwhelmed with people, with all these emails and faxes. And I looked at cell phone coverage in west Texas, and it was one of the biggest holes in the United States. They can’t get me there.”

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