She’s Conquering Trails While Living with a Rare Brain Disease (Crystal Gail Welcome, BIPOC and disabled thru-hiker)

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Crystal Gail Welcome Humans Outside

When the doctors told her she couldn’t do anything because of her rare brain disease, she decided to instead do everything. After all, if she was going to be working through its fallout, why not work through it outside?

Crystal Gail Welcome didn’t grow-up looking at nature as nature, per se. But after a grounding experience in a park with a friend, she made the dramatic decision to become a thru-hiker even though she had never hiked in her life and was dealing with her disability. The result is thousands of miles hiked and becoming the first known Black thru-hiker of the 1,500 mile Florida trail.

Hear Crystal’s incredible story and the inspiration she has for you on just getting out there to see where nature takes you in this episode of Humans Outside. Listen now.

Some of the good stuff:

[2:24] Crystal Gail Welcome’s favorite outdoor place
[4:06] Crystal’s outdoor story
[8:35] Why feeling disconnected from your body is relatable
[9:48] How many miles has Crystal hiked?
[11:14] How the rare brain disease impacts Crystal’s hikes
[14:11] How the death of George Floyd impacted Crystal
[19:36] Why the Florida Trail?
[23:31] Why the Florida Trail was the most challenging trail Crystal has ever done
[29:44] What Crystal has learned about people from her hike
[37:03] What Crystal hopes people will learn from her journey and experience
[38:55] Crystal’s favorite outdoor moment

Connect with this episode:

Listen to this episode on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, or wherever you find your favorite podcasts.

The following is an edited transcript of this episode of Humans Outside.

Amy Bushatz: No matter who you are or where you go, heading outside even for a few minutes is always worth it. I’m your host, Amy Bushatz, and here at Humans Outside, we’re using the Humans Outside 365 Challenge to build a life around spending time in nature while hearing from fascinating outdoor minded guests. As a journalist for 19 years, I’ve let curiosity be my guide. After my husband’s injuries from military service, we started looking for a better way to live. That’s why we moved sight unseen to Alaska to see if an outdoor focused life was the answer. Since September, 2017, I personally spend at least 20 consecutive minutes outside every single day no matter what to explore, how nature can change my life. Ready to hear from experts and outdoor lovers who make heading into nature just a part of who they are. While we work to do the same, let’s go.

One of the things I love most about nature is the many ways it can help us communicate the world of being human to both other humans and to ourselves. It gives us this perfect stage to connect with our own identity and being. And as we fill ourselves with that sense, we can turn and offer that experience to everyone else.

By doing big things for ourselves, we can demonstrate to others what is possible. And since there’s room for everyone outside, literally we can have the freedom to say, Hey, there’s space out here for you. Going outside could be a form of self-love, of community gathering, of protest, of healing, of taking a stand or whatever we need.

Those are just some of the messages today’s guest has explored during her own literal journey outside, originally from Florida, and now living in Minnesota when she’s not outside, tackling long hikes. Crystal Gale Welcome recently became the first known black person to through hike the Florida Trail, a designated National scenic trail that runs 1500 miles over Florida.

She’s also a disabled hiker with a neurological implant that manages the pain brought by a rare brain. The founder of Footprints for Change, a campaign to get historically excluded folks out into nature. Her story of hiking all around the US and the things that she has found is nothing short of inspiring. Today, Crystal is going tell us about her incredible adventures, the things she’s learned along the way, and how you can find those things for yourself too. Crystal, welcome to Humans Outside.

Crystal Gail Welcome: Thank you very much for having me. I appreciate it.

Amy Bushatz: Man. I am so excited to talk to you today. I’ve read your story. I’ve been listening to some podcasts you’ve been on. I’m inspired. I can’t wait to share that inspiration with other people. We start our episodes by imagining ourselves in our guests favorite outdoor space or an outdoor space that you just love. So if we were hanging outside with you somewhere today, where would we be with you?

Crystal Gail Welcome: I would take you to the Mojave Desert. I absolutely love it there um, especially on the PCT,. And so envision with me that we are, the sun is like beating down on us. It’s like an intense desert sun, but it doesn’t hurt. Like it’s not, it doesn’t, it just offers you warmth, not heat, just warm, so you feel good walking, you know?

And we’re walking together and it’s really like quiet. It’s very quiet. And in this section of the desert, you walk over an aqueduct, which is beautiful. So now imagine that you’re walking on water and the flora and the fauna, everything around you is just unique to that. But then also, too, know that we’re never gonna experience this moment, this feeling. Like even if you take another person out here, this is what we are going through right now. And this will always change. It’s always changing. You can hear the birds in the distance. The wind is blowing. It’s very beautiful. So we are in the Mojave right now on our little desert refuge here.

Amy Bushatz: Awesome. So why don’t you tell us how you became somebody who likes to go outside? What’s your story?

Crystal Gail Welcome: So my story is this. I recently I discovered the outdoors, like when I was younger, you know, you’d spend time just like your parents or my parents would say, Hey, go outside. Go play. Don’t come back until the street lights are on. That’s our thing. It’s what we do. And so we’d go outside, but it was never in nature like we would do, like we, we had two different neighborhoods. One was Tanglewood, one was Greenwood. And what separated it’s essentially like neighborhoods of who has and who doesn’t have. So it was like affluent and then not affluent, but what separated us was this undeveloped park. So it was just like land that now has been bought by houses, but it was a, like a foresty land. So we would have neighborhood versus neighborhood. We’d play manhunt, which is like I was on Team Tanglewood because that’s where I lived. So Tanglewood versus Greenwood, and you would play capture the flag in the woods. So that was my experience being outdoors. So it wasn’t exploration, it was more like trying not to get caught by the other team.

And so fast forward I’m an adult and I am diagnosed with a rare brain disease intracranial hypertension. My body thinks and acts like I have a brain tumor, but I don’t actually have one. And so I had to have a lot of surgeries to do, various implants, to try various various ways to fix this problem. And I would always still end up sick. And I got to the realization, like I would see my friends from high school or like see my friends from college. I would see everyone, this was when my, MySpace was cool. I would see everybody on MySpace sharing what they were doing. And I’m like, man, that’s really, I wanna do those things too.

And I was like, you know what? Why not? If the doctors are telling me that I’m gonna be sick, if I don’t do anything, then I might as well do something and then still be sick because at least I’m getting out there. And so I started going for walks and then eventually I started to run, which I was a runner in high school.

So I started to run again .And I was running my very first half marathon. And I had a friend who was really obsessed with the outdoors. And uh she was like, Hey, will you know, you should come and do your cool down here at this nature preserve. And I’m like, absolutely not. Why would I wanna do that? That doesn’t make sense. I just ran. I don’t wanna be outdoors.

And so, I finally allowed for her to take me to this nature preserve. And then when I was there, I like absolutely fell in love and felt connected to like my space. I actually felt connected to my body. Which is, which is something that I hadn’t always felt because with the rare brain disease, your body’s essentially like tricking you.

So I, I, I didn’t, I was always confused by my body. Like, Body, why are you doing this? So having that opportunity to be out there and like just feel grounded and just feel like, feel something, anything was like an eye-opening moment for me, and I fell in love with the tree. I love that tree. I should give it a name, but it never, I didn’t ask permission or anything. But I love that tree, and it was like that tree helped me to realize that, oh wow, there’s a space for me where everything makes sense and where I can totally be seen for who I am. And I love that.

And I told my friend, I was like, Hey, I’m gonna, I’m gonna go backpacking. And she was like, yeah. And I’m like, yeah, I heard about this trail. I think like somewhere out west, I’m just gonna go hike that. And I think that she might have thought I was just kidding. But then also too, everyone who knows me knows that if you tell me not to do something, then I’m gonna do it.

So you’re just like giving me fuel. And so no one ever, no one ever stopped me. Everyone was just like, yeah, I support you. I don’t know if that was just like, we’ll just tell her and then she won’t go. But yeah, so I hiked 600 miles on the PCT a few months after that encounter with the tree outdoors.

Amy Bushatz: That’s such a intense sudden relationship. Like you go from zero to 60 big time.

Crystal Gail Welcome: Yeah. Like when you fall in love with someone that you know that you’re meant to spend the rest of your life with. It’s like that.

Amy Bushatz: Yes. Yeah, that’s, it’s like very intense, but I think it’s also relatable. And I love what you said about your feeling connected to your body because even though most people listening to this probably do not have a rare brain disease, it is very relatable to not feel connected to our bodies as I think as women, that’s especially true in a culture where we’re getting a lot of dissonance about our bodies and about how we’re supposed to look.

And all of that can lead to not feeling connected to your body for whatever reason. Right? Not liking your body, and not wanting your body to be how it is, not appreciating what your body can do. All of these sort of, this sort of noise and. When you go outside and you spend time there, it has a way of stripping some of that away or making it easier. I don’t know. I, that, that’s my experience.

Crystal Gail Welcome: Yeah, I totally agree with that. 100%. Yeah, I feel like it’s our, it’s our purest state is when we’re outdoors. I feel that way. I feel like we don’t have anything to prove to anyone. There’s nothing. We’re just ourselves. We’re just, it’s how we’re meant to be.

Amy Bushatz: So you hike 600 miles on the PCT. How long have you been hiking and do you know how many miles you’ve hiked now?

Crystal Gail Welcome: So, I have been hiking since that tree incident, which was in 2016. That’s when I became a, a backpacker. And I would say that, I have to be like maybe 6,000 miles, 7,000 miles.

It could be more. I’m the type of person where miles don’t mean much to me. It’s like I can’t, like people will talk to you and they’re like, Hey, you remember a miles so-and-so on this trail? And I’m like, no I don’t. But do you remember that beautiful like creek that, and people are like, no, I didn’t see that. And I’m like, it was right there. So I’m not one that obsesses over miles or like I, I’m more about experiences, that means more to me. I can tell you that I’ve had tons of amazing experiences all over the country on various trails, how many miles I did, who knows? But the experiences I can recall.

And so, I know a lot, within the backpacking community, within the hiking community, people are really into miles cuz it’s how we, it’s like a milestone or like a way that we can , have evidence that something occurred. But I don’t think that way and I don’t know, it’s not something that I, I’ve hiked a lot of miles.

Amy Bushatz: So we’ve talked a little bit about your rare brain disease. How does it impact your hiking? And would you tell us a little bit about the intersection of working through it and spending time outside?

Crystal Gail Welcome: Yeah. So one of the things that I have is a, it’s a neuromodulator. And so the best way that I can describe it to people, if you think about a pacemaker for your brain, and so that’s what I have.

But my system, it needs to be recharged. So I have internal batteries and then with the internal batteries, there’s also a charge system that you connect to. And that takes about I have two batteries on either side, and so that takes about, I don’t know, anywhere from eight hours. So that’s 16 hours cuz you have to be in a certain position or else it beeps and tells you. So it’s like when I’m hiking most of my hikes and they’re done as like through hikes or long distance hikes. And so I have to prepare and advance to know okay, my battery, my implants, if I don’t need to change the settings, which I have the ability to change the intensity of the stimulation. And so if I do not like, I have to calculate, okay, if I don’t need to change this and I stay pretty steady, then every 10 days I need to mail this recharge system to myself cuz it’s really heavy to carry. And I um, I’ve already broken my patient program or the setting things a few times. I feel like if I call Medtronic one more time and tell them I need to have a replacement, they’re gonna bring me in and tell me you can’t have this implant anymore.

I, when like, uh, I actually just got a replacement from the Florida Trail. I broke it. But yeah, so I have to plan in advance where I’m going to stop to recharge. I also have to consider that sometimes like I’m unaware of you can put an elevation gain on a map, right? Cause you can see it. But my body is always trying to adjust and it doesn’t adjust as quickly. And then sometimes too quickly. So if, if it’s going to pour down raining, like even if it’s two days from now, I start to feel it and I’m like, it’s gonna rain and I need to rest, I need to stop. So, I feel like I’m a, I, it impacts me and I have to pay more attention, but not only to like where I’m going, but then also you have to really, in, come in tune with your body. So you have to be able to pay attention. So that’s, I think that is what, like kind of why I don’t pay attention to miles is that I’m just paying attention to the way I feel versus it’s just a lot of just knowing, getting really getting to know yourself or yeah, I don’t, yeah.

Amy Bushatz: Your hikes have been about increasing visibility for historically excluded people in trail mentioned this in the introduction, Footprints for Change,, and that includes disabled hikers, black hikers, female identifying hikers, LGBTQ hikers. But after George Floyd, you made this into Footprints for Change, if I understand your background correctly. So can you tell us a little bit about that journey to that point?

Crystal Gail Welcome: Yeah. George Floyd I had just moved to Minnesota at the time, and I live in a very small town. There’s 156 people in this town. And it’s a very, it’s a very conservative area. And so when everything was going down with George Floyd, we had like certain days where we would go into town, to like go grocery shopping, or like to pick up mail and stuff. And so when everything was going down the George Floyd, I would hear the people in town talk about it and do so negatively. And I was like, that seems a bit odd. And so you would see on the news how what we were seeing was just like, we saw the worst of things, but they weren’t highlighting like okay, here’s a community that’s hurting. Here’s why the community’s hurting. They like, the news was just giving you what they wanted to hear. And that was really frustrating me. And I was just graduating from Prescott College in 2020. And I just, that disconnect between reality and then everything that I it was just a large nonsense of things of. Of like, this is what people are telling me. This is what people are saying things are. But I know that’s not true. And the one place where I know where things make sense and everything is true, is in nature, is in the outdoors. And so the Superior hiking trail here in Minnesota, the blaze that marks the trail is blue.

And I think of like police officers, the boys in blue. And I think how many times police officers have let not only like Black communities down but have let communities down and I’m like, nature would never do that. The boys in blue like sure, they might not be the best of, some of them might not be good, but like nature won’t let us down.

Like these blue blaze that ,marked this beautiful trail. Like nature is not going to let us down. And so I was like, I’m gonna go hike this trail and, you know, pay tribute to George Floyd. And when I reached the terminus, that didn’t feel complete to me. I was like, I did all of this, like I did this and yes, it feels good. Yes, my message got out. But I still don’t, I feel like something’s missing. And the memorial site where George Floyd was actually held down that site was still open. And so there they had the outline of his body, like the, it was one of the most humbling experiences. But going to that site where George Floyd, where the incident took place, like going there I brought like my backpack, my tracking poles.

I didn’t know what I was gonna do with any of it, but I know that I had been carrying it and I was like, I need to leave these trekking poles cuz they were something, Minnesota has a lot of roots and a lot of trees and rocks and it’s you’re doing a lot and trekking poles I felt were needed, they caught me a few times when I was hiking, so I saw them as a stabling point, like this is something that keeps me stable on this journey.

And so I left my treking poles there at the memorial site because I felt like change would happen and I knew that I could make the change, even though in that moment I didn’t know how or what that would look like.

But when I left the trekking poles, I started to think about what does what does stability look like? And I think that looks like more people getting outdoors, more people having that experience. Because in the three weeks that I was out on the Superior Hiking Trail, I didn’t follow the news. I didn’t know what was happening anymore because my entire world was just trees and bugs.

But for me, that was, that was beautiful. Like I had, you know, and I wanted everybody to have that break to have that respite where it’s here’s a place where I can go and not be overwhelmed with everything that’s coming at me. And so yeah, I got on the Superior Trail and then that actually kickstarted the Footprints for Change, where I knew that I wanted to continue to get more people to have that same experience, if not greater when they are outdoors.

Amy Bushatz: Hey humans, just a quick break to remind you that if you wanna build your own outdoor habit, the Humans Outside 365 Challenge is a great way to get started. Cool and exclusive Challenge swag, including a finisher, metal, and decal is waiting for you. All you need to do is visit Don’t get left out. Go to to learn more now. Okay, back to the.

Amy Bushatz: So you recently became the first black person to through hike the Florida Trail. Why did you decide to take that trail?

Crystal Gail Welcome: Okay, so, I am I’m writing a novel and the novel itself has to do with backpacking and my backpacking journeys, but I realized I have never backpacked at my home. I grew up in Florida. And so, I went to go visit my dad during this past Thanksgiving and it was the week after Thanksgiving, and he works at a school. And so my dad was like bragging. He was like, this is my daughter. She hikes all over, blah, blah, blah. And there was a little kid who , my dad was like ask any questions, so there was a little kid and she came up to me and she was like, Hey, I wanna do that too. And I’m like, absolutely, you totally can. And she was like, but my, my grandma won’t let me and I can’t go anywhere. And I was like, yo, there’s a trail here in Florida. You could go be on that. It’s really close by. And she was like, have you been on the trail? And I’m like, you are absolutely right. I’m like, not yet, but I’m gonna make it. I’m gonna get on it, I’m gonna do it.

And so, it’s actually this little girl is the one that played my hand where she was like, if you’re a hiker and that trail is really here, then why don’t you hike it? And I was like, oh. So I started researching it and then I live in Minnesota, so it’s winter, so I was like, oh, yep, perfect time to hike it. And so, um, so yeah I, I felt like I needed to hike the Florida Trail that’s my home and I needed to have that experience, just coming back. And so, yeah I needed to do that one because I know a lot of BIPOC folks in Florida so, and I know that, I know that I’m in a position where like people, I don’t wanna say look up to me, cuz that feels weird to me, but I know that people look up to me and that if I say something then, like, they tend to believe me. So I wanted to hike this trail just so that I can say, Hey, I did it. Like you can do it too. And I went back after I finished just before they, the kids were going on Spring Break. I wasn’t I, I had went and I was like, where is the little girl? I have to find her. And I was like, I did it and I think you’d like this part. And she was like, you did it? And I’m like, well, you told me to. She seemed like so unfazed. She was just like, Yeah.

Amy Bushatz: Kids are great. Yeah. And at least she didn’t end up being a, like a part of your imagination.

Crystal Gail Welcome: I would be crazy.

Amy Bushatz: I imagined this kid, and and your dad’s like that girl, that didn’t happen. That happened. What?Yeah. Yeah. It’s like that’s what needs to be in the novel. It’s just an idea for you,

Crystal Gail Welcome: Ill just throw her in.

Amy Bushatz: So, there is a veteran program called Warrior Expeditions that sends veterans to through hike their homes, essentially as a part of coming home. And what you’re describing is a lot like that. This, the idea is you’re coming home from whatever, from your military service. But I think there’s something to be said for coming home from anything and connecting with your home, coming home from trauma, coming home from whatever, right. And connecting with where you’re from, even if you have no intention of living there full-time again. And so this program sent my, it’s called Warrior Expeditions. It sent my husband to hike, thru hike the Ohio Buckeye Trail, which circumnavigates Ohio, and it has sent veterans to hike the Florida Trail. And the reason I bring this up is because the feedback that I’ve heard from that program is that it is an extremely difficult hike in Florida. And you said the same thing. I saw you say that on your Instagram.

And so I’m wondering if you could tell us a little bit about why this is the most challenging hike you’ve ever done. Why do people say that? And it’s not just you. Other people say that too.

Crystal Gail Welcome: I think, okay, so I started south and went west. So I started at the southern terminus and you hike from the Southern Terminus touchpoint, you go two and a half miles and then you’re straight up in the swamp.

So it’s like, I swear those first, that first day is just meant to break you. It’s just like, if you can make it through, then you got a good shot of continuing. But I think for me, what was, what I found difficult, it was, what I’ve found was on every other trail I’ve ever been on, there’s been plenty of people, even though I tend to go in the opposite direction.

So when people are going northbound, I’m going southbound. So I still encounter people. But like on the Florida Trail, there was a guy who I told everyone, I was like, I do not want to go through the swamp by myself. I was petrified of this. And so there was a guy, like there was a big kickoff that takes place in the Florida, but it was snowing here, so there was a blizzard. So I couldn’t make my plane, so I didn’t get to go. And I was afraid that I would start this trail and end up dying in the swamp. That was my, I was gonna get eaten by gators. I was gonna die in the swamp. And so there was a guy who stayed when everybody else left, he stayed to wait for me. And we were together for throughout the swamp. And so you go from the swamp, and then after that it’s like you go on roads. So it’s swamps, roads, like highways. It’s just a lot of intensity and a lot of challenge because you’re primarily alone because you’ll see like you need to find friends. Like this is one trail where I advocate for you not doing it by yourself. This is not a solo journey in my opinion. If it wasn’t for the folks that I connected with, I would not have finished that trail cuz it was like every day it was just like something new, something I’d never seen. You never knew when you were gonna go from like actual trail to being submerged in water at any time.

And it’s like, it’s like hard on your psyche because you’re like, I wanna stop and change my socks. And then you do that and then you go, and then you’re going through more water. So it was just like constant, it’s brutal on your feet. There’s a lot of road walks. And by road walks, I mean like actual you are walking on highways and stuff.

And so on this trail people will say oh my God, you’re not an official through hiker because any opportunity I had or someone was like, I will slack pack you, I will carry your bag. I’m like, yo, I am okay with that. Like as a black woman, I carry a lot. And if you wanna lighten my burden, I am down with that.

So, but there was one time where I was really concerned about me saying yes, there was a woman she was passing by and she was like, do you wanna ride? And I’m like, no, I’m hiking the Florida Trail. And she was like, well, what can I do for you? And I jokingly was like, oh, hehe you can just take my backpack and drop it off.

And she was like, oh yeah, I live up the road. Like I live up the road, you’ll pass by. I’ll leave it out for you. And I’m like, okay, cool. And so she left and I’m like, oh crap. I have no idea who this woman is with my stuff, and I likely am going to die. But it was really nice. So, I did the, it was about 20 miles on the road to get to her house, and when I got there, she had a cooler out and she stopped and she was like what can I do for you? What do you need? I feel like I wanna be part of this. And I’m like, aw, thank you. So I had a lot of moments like that. People have complained and said that Floridians are really mad to them or yell at ’em and things like this. And I’m like, my entire trail, I had one negative experience in one town and it was brief. But every person I encountered was just like, I’m like, oh, this is like home. Like the nicest people I have ever met hiking is in the flor, or was on the Florida Trial. I think a lot of that had to do with it going through towns. So it went through a lot of towns, so you had a lot of opportunity to engage with people.

It’s the trail solitude that was plays my, and I listened to way too many crime junkies. I actually started the trail with an episode where there was like a seaman or some military dude, his wife had dumped his body in the swamp. And I was like, I can’t do this. So I couldn’t listen to crime anymore, it was messing with me. I was like, but a lot of people are like afraid of the alligators. They do not care about us. They do not care. As long as we don’t bother them, as long as we’re not messing with them, they’re cool. I like to think that the Gators are just like, people don’t mess with me. I won’t mess with you.

It’s the snakes, like the water, snakes. Like you can’t, like I can connect with an animal, like I can connect with a bear and like just look at it, let it know Hey, I’m cool. I just wanna walk through it like you can do. With snakes, you cannot do that. You cannot make eye contact. You cannot let them know that you’re not a threat. And they just come. And that’s how I was gonna die. I was definitely gonna die by the snakes eating me in the water. But it’s more of a mental challenge, right? Physical too, but yeah. It’s not.

Amy Bushatz: But I think when non hiker, when people who don’t backpack think about trails, they think about it- it’s just like we think about quote unquote wilderness or being outside like you picture a certain thing. And that’s great. And that’s probably realistic in many ways of some things, but it’s not realistic of everything. And hiking includes pavement, includes city, roads, it in. It can include all those things. It doesn’t always, but it can.

And also, I think there’s a reason, I think there’s a reason that the snake was chosen as the symbol, whether you think it’s symbolic or literal in the Bible because, hello. So there’s reason it wasn’t a bear up in that tree, is what I’m trying to say know what I mean.

Crystal Gail Welcome: Wouldn’t make sense.

Amy Bushatz: Yeah, exactly. You mentioned the kindness of people that you encountered. What have you learned about other humans during your other hikes and this one. What have you learned about people?

Crystal Gail Welcome: I, one thing that I’ve learned is that people will not change who they are, like, like at their, like their beliefs. You don’t I, I’ve written this before, like you don’t magically drop your beliefs and trade them for trekking poles. The trail is not like a magical portal that you go to and it changes everybody’s mind. So some of the people in their ideals that you experience in the front country, you will experience that in the back country.

It’s unfortunate when you do. But by and large, my experiences with people in the back country has been amazing. I have been out of food and water and people will come to me, I’m like, I’m dying. I’m thirsty. You know, no one wants me to die out there. People are so kind. They’re so nice. And that’s, those moments are what I want everyone to experience.

Um I got, I got lost. My cell phone died and it was raining and my maps have gotten wet and so I’m trying to find my bearing, but then I’m like, wait, if I’m hiking south, shouldn’t I be going south? But really, the compass was telling me to go north and I’m like, this doesn’t make sense. I’m gonna die here.

So I literally just set up camp where I was and because I had blocked the trail, I didn’t know that I had blocked the trail because how would I know this? I was lost because I had blocked the trail. This guy, he was like Hey, hey. And I’m like, hi. And he was like, are you okay? And I’m like, Nope, I’m actually really lost. And he was like, you’re on the trail. And I’m like, I know, but what trail? And I had gotten way off trail. I was on like one of those, it was called Trout, trout River. It’s on the p c. But I was like in Trout Lake or something and he was just like, you know what I have this map. I’m just gonna give you this map. Can you read a map? And I’m like, I can see why you’re saying that. I can see why you’re asking.

Amy Bushatz: Don’t wanna make any assumptions. You know what I mean?

Crystal Gail Welcome: Yeah. But he was really nice. He showed me where I was on the map and he showed me, he was like, this is where your, because the trail closed and I couldn’t be, and this was last, the season before the Forest Service, because of the fires, they closed the trail. So I was trying to get off the trail and so I had taken the side route, but, life happened. And so he was nice enough to show me, here’s where you are, here’s where you need to be. This is the quickest way for you to get there. This is the way that you would go if you don’t wanna get lost, but know that it’s longer. And he was like, this has a water source. So my man essentially mapped out the, I still have the map cuz he had written on it. So cute. But um, he had mapped out and told me where water sources were, where they weren’t on the map. I was like, who does this? And he wasn’t like a ranger or anything, he was just some random guy that was out there also not abiding by the, the rules of leaving, but I was happy to see him. And he even gave me food cuz I told him I was like, I, the day before I had met like, this is random, I had met this hiker, this this woman who wanted to hike the JMT. But she fell and ended up hurting herself. So, and her Garmin didn’t work so I stayed with her, with the Garmin. And so having like having this guy, I had given her my food because she was waiting for, she was waiting for someone to come and get her. She was injured in the sense that she could still walk and didn’t need me to hold her hand and didn’t need me to stay there. But I had given her all my food because according to my map, I would’ve been out the next day. I didn’t get out the next day and he gave me his food and I was like, why? Why is this happening this beautiful, reciprocity is taking place in real life. And it was, I was really grateful to have that dude.

I was also grateful that I had given the woman my food and because my Garmin worked and hers didn’t, I end up messaging her son for her to let him know that she was okay. And then two weeks later, he sent me a message too, thanking me, letting me know that she was fine and she started a blog. I was like.

Amy Bushatz: That is random. Y ou mentioned earlier how being outside strips away the noise and it, it stripped away the noise for you in those days after George Floyd. But what you’re describing with your interactions with other people is I think maybe what we see about other people around us when the noise is stripped away. That there isn’t this chaos of the world around us and all of the feedback we’re constantly receiving in modern life, telling us that we should feel this way or we should feel that way, and we have the opportunity to just be who we are. Even though that could mean we don’t change, right? Like who you fundamentally are, as you said, is the same on the trail. But sometimes the noise clouds what we’re able to put out about ourselves. And maybe when we’re in nature, maybe when we’re on the trail and we have a chance to be whoever we really are and have that shown through, we have a chance to see a better version of ourselves and have these connections with other humans and be somebody who gives their food to somebody else. Just, you gave your food to her, someone else gave their food to you. And appreciate the human condition, which sometimes is what you’re describing the state of being, of being powerfully confused. So

Crystal Gail Welcome: Yeah I like that. That’s beautiful. Well said.

Amy Bushatz: But I mean, who among us has not been powerfully confused? It is a very relatable situation, and it’s a very human situation. And to be able to have the I don’t know self-awareness to, to relate to that, you know, is not something- you know, I go into the grocery store and someone’s powerfully confused there, and maybe I am short-tempered because I’m in a hurry and I’ve got the whole world around me going on. But when I encounter someone on the trail I hope that I am a kinder version of myself there because I don’t have the noise. You know what I mean?

Crystal Gail Welcome: Yeah, yeah, Yeah. And for the most part, that is true. Most people are, you know, less confused or less in that state when they’re outdoors. And that’s what I appreciate seeing humans at like seeing them like you’re dirty. You’re like, just seeing you as who you are, your authentic self is generally how people show up. And so I like that about being outdoors. I like seeing that in people, the way that feels within me. Some of my closest friends have come as a result of being on trail.

Amy Bushatz: Hmm, Same. Yep, same. And I don’t, I’m not a regular backpacker, but running trail running does accomplishes very similar, similar thing and yeah. The time and attention, and having, just the ability to be who you are without the noise. Just like we’ve been saying, you know.

What do you hope people take away from your story? What inspiration do you wanna leave?

Crystal Gail Welcome: I mostly just want, I would like for everyone to just go outside and hug a tree. And then see what comes from that. I want people to feel like, especially within my various intersecting identities, for them to know that being outdoors is healing. It is a safe space. Or it can be a safe space. And we need that, we need to take a pause from what’s happening in our lives and just spend some time outdoors. Let the sun heal us, let, breathe the oxygen alongside the tree. Know that’s where the, that’s where our oxygen is coming from, you know. Spend some time next to your body of water. You know, even going to the beach is like sort of hiking. I did it on the Florida Trail as part of the hike, but it’s like, even that is even that is healing. So it doesn’t take, you know, you don’t have to strap on a backpack, go for months at a time. Like nature is outdoors, you know, you can walk places just to go out and not let anyone’s thoughts, ideas of you prevent you from, you know, experiencing that love, experiencing that piece of being outdoors. And so that’s what I hope people will take away from this. That they will, you know, see oh, I can go outdoors. Like even if I am sick, there are ways that I can still, participate outdoors, even if it’s just going for a walk around your neighborhood. Just being outdoors, separating yourself from all the chaos. Just spending time outdoors.

Amy Bushatz: As a final thing, would you mind walking us out with a favorite outdoor moment of yours that just describes something that you love to go back to, and when you close your eyes, maybe that’s where you are. What’s a moment?

Crystal Gail Welcome: Yeah, so it, it would actually be the Florida Trail on the beach. Just before you finish, We spent three days three, we spent three days, two nights on the beach and we went to cowboy camping on the beach. One night it was all I could hear was just like the waves breaking against, like where we were sleeping, and it was so rhythmic and like, It felt so good. You could feel the ocean breeze, you could smell the salt. You could hear the seagulls in the morning and even with sand, it’s like where we set up our sites even we kind of shifted and I thought that was beautiful. Because the three of us, we had shifted where we were I wasn’t even where I, like my bag was somewhere else. And I was just like, this is so beautiful that I moved, everything moved, life continued even when I was asleep. And so like that, that’s true. Always, life continues when we were asleep. But I got to witness it. I got to feel it having like sand on your feet and just just the. Oh, just the smell of this is gonna sound weird in the morning, the smell of the sun is just so beautiful when you see that reflected on the ocean. That is my favorite trail. That’s what I go back to now. That’s what I go back to, that feeling, that smell, that like connectedness of everything. Yeah.

Amy Bushatz: Yeah. Crystal, thank you so much for joining us on Humans Outside today. I appreciate your story and your inspiration and, and um, the connection that you’ve brought us today.

Crystal Gail Welcome: Thank you so much. Thank you for having me. I appreciate you as a trail runner, but yes, thank you so much for having me on the show. It’s been great talking to you.

Amy Bushatz: Thanks so much for listening to this week’s episode of Humans Outside. Help me out by leaving a five star rating or review wherever you get your podcasts. It really does help other listeners find the podcast too. Now go get outside. Until next time, we’ll see you out there.

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