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Alabama man walking the U.S.-Mexico border

Posted at 10:30 PM, Mar 29, 2017
and last updated 2017-03-30 17:41:45-04

SASABE, Ariz. (KGUN9-TV) Somewhere between Sasabe and Three Points along Highway 286, Mark Hainds is on a mission.

"What I try to do is to take the trail or the road that it is the closest to the border. Last night I slept about 300 or 400 yards from the border," Hainds said.

With 50 pounds of survival gear on his back and blisters on his feet, Hainds wants to walk the length of the U.S.-Mexico border. That's roughly 2,000 miles.

Hainds walks up to 25 miles a day but often slows down to meet people in towns along the way.

The border walk, Hainds says, is not an attempt to make a political statement.

"You could probably attribute it to a midlife crisis," Hainds said. "I was with Auburn University for two decades, I had a very good job. But I started getting overwhelmed and I decided I want to get away from everything for awhile."

"I looked at maps of cell phone coverage and west Texas was a big hole," Hainds said.

Hainds isn't walking the entire route in one trip. Instead he's broken up the journey over the years. In 2014 after he resigned from his position at Auburn it took him seven weeks to walk more than 1,000 miles through Texas. 

"It was the most amazing thing I've ever done," Hainds said. "Originally I only planned to walk across Texas. I didn't think anybody had done that before."

Not many thought Hainds could make the trip, even his wife and two kids.

"They don't like it to be honest. It really scared them because everybody thought I was going to die," Hainds said. "They just said, 'you're not going to be able to do this.'"

The walk isn't dangerous in the ways he thought it might be, Hainds said. He worries about getting hit by cars and running out of water.

"I've almost gotten run over several times. I've had to dive for a ditch," Hainds said.

Hainds also had a run-in with suspected drug runners in the Lower Rio Grande Valley in Texas. 

"They were moving a bunch of drugs across," he said. "We saw each other and they let me go."

Border security issues may have taken center stage in Washington, D.C., but Hainds feels far away from that world. People in other parts of the country may have a different idea of what border towns are really like, he said.

As he's traveling through small towns like Sasabe, Hainds says the people have been generous and inviting.

On Wednesday Hainds met with children at the San Fernando Elementary School in Sasabe where he was treated to lunch including peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Before that he made stops in Arivaca and Nogales. 

"For me that's the best thing about this walk," Hainds said. "I'm going to be able to tell their stories of these little communities, some of which may be on their last generation."

In more populated areas Hainds says he runs into U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents at least once an hour. They are often curious about what he's doing and offer him food and water.

"Sometimes they're pretty amazed that I've come through certain roads because they are sometimes major smuggling corridors," Hainds said. "But most of the time they are very supportive."

Hainds grew up on a farm and has a bachelor's and master's degree in forestry, so he feels comfortable outdoors.

"I have a lot more confidence in myself," he said. "I think I'm a lot more relaxed."

"You pretty much gotta learn how to go with the flow when you're in this type of environment," Hainds said.

Hainds is hoping to make it to Yuma by next week and will finish the final leg of his trip through California at the end of this year when he is on winter break. He currently teaches at a community college in Alabama.

A documentary was made about Hainds' trip in Texas.