I’ll carry the weight

The PCTA is sponsoring Crystal’s Footprints for Change Hike for Justice this summer on the Pacific Crest Trail portion of the Great Western Loop. Crystal is sharing her experience to encourage members of the PCT community to become more aware and more mindful of ourselves. We hope that you respect the story that Crystal is sharing with you. Crystal’s experiences are not open for debate. We stand behind her and as a result, we will not allow commenting for this post on social media out of respect for her experiences.

Crystal Gail Welcome on day one of her PCT journey.

In 2016, the trail name “The Giver” was bestowed upon me. A trail name is a nickname, typically given by a fellow hiker, as a defining attribute of a characteristic or action committed by the namee.

“The Giver” is also a young adult novel by Lois Lowery. In the novel, the Giver was a unique member of society: the holder of memories and pain. He also held wisdom and sought to change his society for the better. As I’ve been thinking of my namesake, I’ve imagined the magnitude of what I’m undertaking—one person hoping to change the narrative of what it means to be an explorer of our outdoors—and it fills me with anxiety.

I was given my trail name after a few random acts of kindness (being myself, but being recognized for it). One of those defining events was when I postponed my start time one morning at Mount Laguna to aid a handful of hikers in shipping packages from the post office which didn’t open until noon.

I believe my anticipation to begin my Footprints for Change Hike surpassed the point of eagerness while waiting to board the plane in Minneapolis. In an effort to recenter, I decided to put in earbuds and set my music playlist on shuffle. Neo soul artist Erykah Badu’s lyrics, “Bag lady, You gone hurt your back, Draggin’ all them bags like that” played. The words foreshadowed my journey as a Black woman on a solo trek and served as a reminder of the weight of Black womanhood. I know this undertaking won’t be easy.

Women carry heavy loads, and we do so with the fullness of our bodies. One’s home life, work life, other family commitments, and all the accompanying societal pressures/stereotypes manifest viscerally. By virtue of skin tone, these loads are exponentially increased for Black women.

Historically, Black women have carried more weight than anyone should. Their bodies were possessions to be violated by white slave owners. They breasted babies they didn’t birth and cared for children that would grow to become their masters. They’ve been the help, the individuals looked over in crowded spaces, the rarity in the backcountry. In various spaces, particularly in the outdoors, their passions are seen as anger and confrontational.

Including medically necessary items, my base weight is currently 14 pounds. For ultralight backpackers, who are mostly white males, base weight is often sub-10 pounds. When I attempted my PCT thru-hike in 2016, my pack was heavily weighed down by things I didn’t necessarily need or by items I needed but couldn’t afford the lightweight alternative. For this trek, most of my gear is provided by lightweight gear companies. I think of the folks that still have to carry essential, less expensive but heavier gear. I think of my matriarchal lineage who had to endure the mental and emotional weight given to them by circumstance or taken up by choice.

Crystal on the Pacific Crest Trail in Northern California.

Knowing the weight carried by the Black women who came before me has made my load feel significantly heavier. As I pondered all this, Erykah Badu continued: “Backpack on ya back, bag lady bet ya love could make it better,” inviting me to embrace my load with love and gratitude.

And for those Black women who through circumstance, ability, fear, or inexperience haven’t yet ventured out on a trail: know that while there isn’t a lot of space in my pack, in my heart, I’ll carry the weight for you.

Author: Crystal Gail Welcome

After a lengthy battle with a rare brain disease, Crystal Gail Welcome came to recognize the healing power of nature. She now uses her experience to break down barriers so more people can access the outdoors. Crystal is an experiential educator, author, storyteller, activist, backpacker, and Black outdoor leader. She chooses to speak out against racial injustice in the United States by hiking and giving voice to her experiences.