Pacific Crest Hiker’s Story Is Inspirational – Medford News, Weather, Sports, Breaking News

A July 10 front-page story introduced Mail Tribune readers to a remarkable hiker and activist.

Outdoor writer Mark Freeman and photo editor Jamie Lusch spent time with Crystal Gail Welcome, who left the Pacific Crest Trail near Ashland to take a break from her journey to the Canadian border. Welcome, who lives in Longville, Minn., isn’t just another hiker tackling PCT.

She is black, female, LGBTQ, and suffers from intracranial hypertension, a rare brain condition that requires internal battery-powered pumps. And she is doing her solo trip.

Welcome intends not only to complete the PCT, but also to complete the major sections of the Great Western Loop. The loop includes five National Scenic Trails and totals 6,875 miles.

Welcome makes these trips over several years, not just for herself but to make a statement. Her experience with a debilitating brain condition and her discovery of hiking led her to realise: ‘I felt like I belonged in nature,’ she told the Mail Tribune.

Welcome founded Footprints for Change, a movement dedicated to the proposition that nature belongs to everyone and should be accessible to everyone. She discovered along the trail that not everyone embraces that feeling.

She was criticized, treated as suspicious by other hikers, even reported to the police as a potential threat. After these initial encounters, she began emailing police departments in communities along the trail announcing her imminent arrival and assuring them that she was unarmed and unsafe.

That someone has to take such a step in 2022 just because she’s black may seem incomprehensible to those who aren’t. But that’s the reality Welcome faces, head-on.

The Pacific Crest Trail Association reports that 8,000 people set out to hike the full 2,640-mile trail each year, but only 15-20% actually hike it. An annual survey of hikers found only 0.4% of hikers identify as black.

Welcome is not discouraged by any of this.

“I’m here to be seen,” she says, “and I hope the cops don’t call me.”

What Welcome does takes determination, courage, and reservoirs of stamina that most of us can only imagine. His quest is to set an example for all those who face obstacles they deem insurmountable.

If she can accomplish what she’s already done despite her physical challenges and the outright hostility she’s endured, that’s a powerful message.

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