Mark J. Hainds trekked for three years to become the first documented person to walk the US-Mexico border.
Hainds, originally from Marceline, finally came home to tell the local community about his experience and shed light on the U.S. citizens living on the border.
Hainds is unassuming at first. If you assume he is unnaturally skinny, or has a long beard and scraggly hair, you are completely wrong. The man who just four months prior had finished making a three-year-long trek across deserts, mountain ranges and a Native American reservation looked very healthy, fit, totally beardless.
The trek, as Hainds refers to it, originally came to be as a way to reflect on his life. Prior to the trek, Hainds worked for many years with the Longleaf Alliance, a nonprofit dedicated to bringing back the Longleaf Pine tree. Just five years before retirement, Hainds left his job to begin walking the border. With growing pressure from work and feeling like there had to be a better way, Hainds began preparing for his journey.
“I felt like I was at a breaking point in my job,” Hainds said. “To regain my sanity I had to go on the trek.”
Hainds’ trek began in 2014, walking the Texas portion of the border. When he started, Hainds learned much more than he anticipated from the local people there. The people felt like what the government was doing with border did not take them into account. Miles of fencing being constructed and military-style border security changed the eb-and-flow of the environment. It was then Hainds dedicated his trek to the people that live along the U.S.-Mexico border.
“There are millions of Americans that live along the border,” Hainds said. “Our policies decide how we treat that border and affects those peoples’ lives.”
Hainds finished the Texas portion of the trek in 2015. The next trek, to complete the second half of the border, began December 2016. During this second trek, Hainds traveled across the New Mexico, Arizona and California portions of the border. Hainds finished the entire journey Nov. 24, 2017. Over the course of the entire walk, Hainds went through four pairs of military-style boots, two during the Texas portion and two more for the second portion.
What impacted Hainds the most over this period was not the unfamiliar terrain, or even the dangerous heat.
“The people were really, really good to me. It reaffirmed my belief in humanity,” Hainds said. “I was able to get away from everything and just see the good side of people.”
The trek was tough, but according to Hainds he loved it so much he didn’t want to quit.
“When I hit the Gulf of Mexico, then the Pacific Ocean, I wanted to keep going,” said Hainds. “I would definitely do it again.”
His next trek won’t be in the U.S.
“I really want to walk around Ireland,” Hainds said. “There’s a bookstore in just about every town. It’d be nice to go to each of them and talk to everyone there.”
Hainds came back to Marceline annually over the course of the trek. He came back at least once a year to plant trees on his family farm, as well as seeing relatives and friends.
Hainds was in Missouri near the end of March to talk to many media outlets and to present a documentary he was featured in, “La Frontera.” The documentary was shown and copies of Hainds’ book were signed at his Marceline visit last week at the Walsworth Community Center. Many citizens came out to talk to the first man to walk the U.S.-Mexico border. Sherry Vaughn was among the many who showed up to the event. Vaughn was Hainds’ neighbor when Hainds’ was much younger.
According to Vaughn, she thought Hainds could achieve something like this.
“He was never afraid to work for his dreams,” Vaughn said. “If he was ever in the box, he wanted to be outside of it.”
Currently, Hainds and his family live in Andalusia, Ala. Hainds works as an instructor at LBW Community College. Every Saturday the Hainds family can be found at the Andalusia Farmers’ Market selling smoking woods, foraged mushrooms and, of course, copies of Hainds’ books.