When Mark Hainds set off to walk the length of the Texas-Mexico border two years ago, it wasn’t to make a political statement. Mainly, he just wanted an escape.
Hainds, a forestry expert in his mid-40s, was feeling overwhelmed by dual positions as a researcher at Auburn University and the Longleaf Alliance, an Alabama-based nonprofit organization dedicated to studying and preserving the longleaf pine ecosystem. So he left, to “get away from the modern world” for a while.
He began the trip in El Paso on October 27, 2014, and hiked 1,010 miles of Texas borderlands over a seven-week period (including a one-week hiatus to return to Alabama, where he wrapped up some teaching duties). During his trek, he encountered a group of recent border-crossers, drug smugglers, cowboys, a few other hikers, and a daily dose of Border Patrol and law enforcement agents.
The journey, chronicled by documentary filmmaker Rex Jones, will appear in an hour-long documentary La Frontera, which will be available online beginning October 7. But Hainds’s journey doesn’t end there: On December 21, he intends to walk the remaining length of the border from New Mexico to California. Hainds believes he’ll be the first person to walk the entire length of the southern border.
We connected with Hainds ahead of the release of La Frontera to hear about the first border walk and what he expects when he hits the trail again at the end of the year.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.