On Tuesday, Crystal Gail Welcome completed her 310-mile thru-hike at the northern end of the Superior Hiking Trail. But she said her trek truly finished when she visited the memorial site for George Floyd, a Black man who died in police custody in Minneapolis.
Welcome, a writer and activist from Atlanta, set out July 4 to honor Floyd’s life and bring attention to racial injustice through different means. She said it was at the end of the hike when the idea struck to drive hundreds of miles south. The night was beautiful pinks and blues. She signed the logbook and took a photo, and her partner, Demi Kapler, handed Welcome her diploma from Prescott College in Arizona.
“You did all these miles, and that’s your finish,” she said of her thoughts. “That’s where you need to go.”
Welcome, 39, recounted many encounters along the trail — almost too many at times, she said — with people who wanted to meet and talk, or tell her about their activism. “I had a lot of positive interactions,” she said. She especially relished a final night at the on-trail Hazel campsite where she encountered a group of high school girls and a separate high school boy out hiking, too. The conversations were light, hitting on gear and gap years. But they were serious, too, digging into issues about racism and barriers for people of color like Welcome, who is Black.
On Thursday, Welcome met a friend she’d made on her thru-hike, and they headed to the site of Floyd’s death at 38th Street and Chicago Avenue. Welcome had learned, too, of the death of U.S. Rep. John Lewis, a champion of civil rights.
Welcome started crying as she walked to the intersection and carried that grief to the Cup Foods storefront. “It was just so much,” she said.
Later, Welcome left her hiking hat, trekking poles and jottings about her mission and message at the memorial. A thought echoed in her, she said: “This is where this hike ends, but not where the fight ends.”