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Pacific Crest hiker’s story is inspirational

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

Outdoor writer Mark Freeman and Photo Editor Jamie Lusch spent some time with Crystal Gail Welcome, who stepped off the Pacific Crest Trail near Ashland for a break from her trek to the Canadian border. Welcome, who lives in Longville, Minnesota, isn’t just another hiker tackling the PCT.

She is Black, female, LGBTQ, and she has intracranial hypertension, a rare brain disease that requires internal pumps run by batteries. And she’s making her journey solo.

Welcome intends not only to finish the PCT but to complete major sections of the Great Western Loop as well. The loop comprises Five National Scenic Trails and totals 6,875 miles.

Welcome is making these journeys over several years, not only for herself but to make a statement. Her experience with a disabling brain disease and her discovery of hiking led her to a realization: “I felt like I belonged in the outdoors,” 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 has found along the trail that not everyone embraces that sentiment.

She has been criticized, treated as suspicious by other hikers, even reported to police as a potential threat. After those early encounters, she began emailing police agencies in communities along the trail to announce her impending arrival and assure them that she is not armed or dangerous.

That anyone should need to take such a step in 2022 simply because she is Black may seem incomprehensible to those who are not. But it is the reality Welcome is confronting, 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% to 20% complete it. One annual survey of thru-hikers found that only 0.4% of them identify as Black.

Welcome is not deterred by any of that.

“I’m here to be visible,” she declares, “and hopefully not getting the cops called on me.”

What Welcome is doing requires determination, courage and reservoirs of stamina that most of us can only imagine. Her quest is setting an example for anyone who faces obstacles they think are insurmountable.

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