Reaffirming My Values and Leaving the Trail

I decided to leave the trail for a multitude of reasons. Yes, my feet were trashed, yes, I was tired, and yes, the trail is hard. But none of those were the main reasons.

I learned so much in just under a month on trail and 300 miles-ish of hiking. Within the first three days I realized that my expectations of the experience were wildly different than the reality, despite my years of planning. I knew it would be hard, both physically and mentally. I knew it would be unlike anything I had ever gone through.

But one of the first things I learned was that I am indeed a social animal. I need people. I did not like hiking alone. I did not expect this and the amount of couples, partners, and groups I found that hiked together from the beginning was more than I thought. Solo hikers were fewer and further between. It’s easy to say people suck and that the world is a fucked up place, especially in today’s environment being bombarded by social media (if you let yourself), the internet, and the endless other connections available, but humans are capable of really kind and considerate behavior too.

One of the things I wanted to get out of the trail was a restoration of faith in humanity. I got that in a very short time with the people I met on trail and off. Interacting in a deeply personal way with people so dedicated to the same goal was such a rewarding experience. From Sticks and Clay to the Rocket Surgeons to Postmaster and 4Runner and everyone in between, they all gave me a deeper appreciation. Not to mention the trail angels. I know this would have continued on down the trail, but I will come back and experience it again later on.

Second, I reaffirmed something I really already knew and one of my bedrock, core values: I want to experience this world with my family. Courtney and my dogs are the most important things on this earth to me. I am 40 years old and have set up my life in a very specific way on purpose, with the intention of sharing our experiences together. Shit, it was in my wedding vows. I wanted to try this solo adventure and see how it went, but I quickly realized it wasn’t aligned with my values.

A thru hike is an amazing idea and accomplishment for people who are in certain circumstances. I will venture down the road of folly and say that a thru hike is more suited for people who have a very specific reason for staying on trail (Sticks) or those who have no reason to not leave the trail. I am not one of those people. And there is nothing wrong with either situation. It’s just not me.

There is a reason many people are section hikers, a class of which I now consider myself. You can hike parts of the trail whenever and wherever it pleases you. You can pick and choose sections during the most beautiful parts of the year for that area. You can stretch out the experience over multiple years or even decades, which actually sounds even more appealing and amazing to me than a thru hike. Most importantly, you can tailor your hikes to what fits with your lifestyle. Six months on one trail sounds great on paper, but in my reality, it’s much better broken up.

Sticks met a guy in Julian named Cheez It. He has hiked the trail 7 times and never finished. Every time he’s gotten to the point where he’s just done with it and wants to go home. To paraphrase him: Don’t make up an injury or something. Just admit you miss your family and you want to go home!

He’s not wrong.

What am I at? Third? I really got tired of the lifestyle. Living in the dirt is just…not that great. I love hiking. I love camping. But after two or three weeks, the minutiae of camp chores is just mentally exhausting. That said, I did learn to love the simplicity of it. I loved my little tent and the system I had down. Once I got everything done, I was damn comfy in there. But there were definitely times I was setting up and was like, “this is asinine”. Also, I got good at shitting in the woods, but I still vastly prefer a toilet.

Fourth, my feet are actually trashed. As of this writing, I can’t feel my left big toe, though it seems to be getting better. It also feels like there’s a hole boring into the ball of my right foot. Not super fun.

Another thing I want to make sure I say is that this adventure was something I wanted to do for my grandfathers. Moondad, my mother’s father, passed in 2006 and Granddad, my father’s father, passed just recently. Both of them were men who appreciated the outdoors and I feel like they would be proud of me for this. I am not a religious person, but I want to think there is something spiritual in this world and I like to think they were looking over me and would have been interested in this. They definitely were family men that also would have understood my reasons for putting family over trail. I loved both of them and am glad they were with me on this journey.

As I sit here writing this with my wife and my dogs next to me, I know I made the right choice for me. Biff just gave me a full on whine/groan for no reason. That’s what I love. They are my world.

I came back home and two days later, Court, Biff, Finn, and I set off on a road trip to one of our absolute favorite places: Telluride. We have spent so much time there in the past three years that it is starting to feel like a second home. So I’m already back on trail, just a different one!

I plan on going back out to trail this July to meet Sticks and Clay. I don’t know if I will hike a couple of weeks or maybe just do trail magic for hikers. Being out there is what matters. Not how long you are out there or how far you hike.

The producer of one of my favorite PCT documentaries told me to get out on trail for a week and it would change my life. He wasn’t wrong either.

I look forward to continuing the trail over the years and I’ll probably blog it here. I’m paying to keep this blog up, so I might as well use it.

Thanks to those who followed me on this abbreviated journey and I hope perhaps it was inspiring or at least entertaining.

Hike on and, most importantly, hike your own hike.

Jud Wiebe trail – Telluride – May 24, 2023

Last Day on Trail and McDonald’s!

Thursday, May 18, 2023

13.6 miles

Yes, you read that right. Today was my last day on trail…for now. I’ll explain more in the next post.

Beth drove us back to the trail after her amazing generosity and hospitality. She made us avocado toast for breakfast, which is a great pre-hike meal.

13.6 to I-15 and McDonald’s

Thirty seconds after she dropped us off, we saw two hikers coming up the trail. Postmaster and 4Runner! Two of the very first people I met on trail after my difficult first day. They really helped get me on my trail feet after Lake Morena and it was so perfect that the trail brought us back together on my last day. There’s something truly cosmic going on out here.

Sticks, Postmaster, and 4Runner

We hiked together for the morning, climbing up the ridge above the lake.

Top of the ridge

We hiked on through relatively flat terrain as we got closer to Cajon Pass and I-15.

First view of Cajon Pass
Epic views

We wound down the trail into the valley.


It was a really nice hike and I was happy to spend my last day on trail with a great friend I had made. Sticks is continuing on with his hike as a tribute to his late son. He’s a great guy.

The last bit of trail went through a beautiful canyon. This was an unexpected and lovely way to end my hike and Section C of the PCT.

End of hike

This is also part of the old Route 66.

Hikers leaving McDonald’s after attempting the 4000 calorie challenge. I did not attempt this.
There it is!
So terrible, yet so good.

One more post coming to explain why I left the trail and what the future holds. I’ll try and get it up later today or tomorrow.


Wednesday, May 17, 2023

13 miles

I woke up in the dusty side lot of the Joshua Inn and had to decide what to do.

My feet were absolutely destroyed the day before. They had been getting worse and worse, ever since Big Bear, despite my zeroes in Idyllwild and Palm Springs. I think the main culprit was the late creek crossing a few days ago and my feet never really recovered.

New blisters, old blisters festering, and now ankle pain, on top of the numbness spreading in my left foot. That said, a good night’s sleep at the Joshua Inn revived me enough to decide to continue hiking with Sticks until at least Cajon Pass, 26 miles further on.

We woke up and were in no rush, since we were only going 13 miles to Silverwood Lake.

Alan gave us a ride back to trail in his electric Nissan Leaf with a trailer for our packs.

We hiked up into the hills, but mainly stayed on the flanks of them overlooking the valley with views of Mt. Baldy in the distance.

Mt Baldy with snow

We had one tricky creek crossing where Sticks tried to rock hop, but slipped and fell in, losing a hiking pole in the process.


We came to the dam that creates Silverwood Lake and the California Water Authority equipment depot at its base.

Approaching the dam

We hiked up a steep hill and were greeted at the top by great views of the lake and an amazing breeze. We then hiked a few more hot miles around the lake to the far side, where we had an amazing swim and rest at some picnic tables in the shade.

Water felt amazing, but my feet were not happy.

We weren’t technically allowed to camp at the lake, so the plan was to hang out until evening and “stealth camp” (usually cowboy camping – no tent – in an inconspicuous place) to avoid detection and get out early the next morning.

But the trail provides. Sticks got a text that a friend of a friend (another firefighter) who lived 20 minutes from the lake had offered to let us stay with her that night and was going to pick us up! Trail Angels rock!

Beth picked us up in her RAV4 and drove us up the windy mountain road to the small town of Crestline. First stop: FOOD!

Me, Beth, and Sticks devouring Mexican food

She then took us to her house where we showered, did laundry, and slept in real beds! She even gave me a robe.

Thanks Beth!

Bugs and Blisters

Tuesday, May 16, 2023

19 miles

Today sucked. Every step was a new nightmare (Tyler and Ike should get that reference).

The flies and gnats were relentless all morning and we had 19 miles to make today, all on the banks of the canyon formed by Deep Creek. It was so hot. I’ll let videos do most of the talking.

300 miles

We made it to the hot springs where I had to sit in the shade and eat to get some calories so I could keep going. The hot springs were…underwhelming.

Lots of naked locals and not in a good way. Apparently we just caught it on a bad day, as other hikers would later tell us they had a great time and were surrounded by mostly other PCT hikers, but for us it was just sketchy and weird. Homeless people, lots of fat, old white guys, and just generally a methy vibe. Oh well.

So we skipped the soak, refueled and hiked on. We crossed the rainbow bridge (another PCT landmark I had been wanting to see).

Six hard miles later, made it to the highway where we called Alan, a trail angel who shuttles hikers to the Joshua Inn.

The Joshua Inn is really just a bar that lets hikers camp out in their huge dirt side lot, but it was a good hang out and they had beers and good food, which is what we hikers care about.

Bar and the backyard with tables

We paid $5 to camp and another $5 for a cold shower. My feet were absolutely fried and I had a lot of thinking to do this night.

Big Bear Ridge Hiking

Monday, May 15, 2023

18 miles

Woke up and hiked. More of the same, but with great views in the morning!


We created the ridge and went down the back side to a nice spot for lunch where we decided our packs were too damn heavy with 4 days worth of food. So a big lunch was the only answer.

Tortillas, salami, cheese, Cheetos, and whatever else

Towards the end of this long day we were greeted with a couple of creek crossings where we had no choice, but to get wet. Always fun right before camp so you have to let your shoes dry out all night. Oh well.

Deeper than it looks

We finally got to camp, set up all of our wet shoes and socks to dry, and were treated to another beautiful sunset. The bugs would also come out, but they weren’t too much of a problem until the morning.

A few zeroes and then back on at Big Bear

Sunday, May 14, 2023

10 miles

I went back to Idyllwild after coming down off San Jacinto at I-10 and hung out for a couple of days while I waited for Court to fly into Palm Springs to meet up.

I became very familiar with all the local shops and restaurants, having nothing to really do for a couple of days, which is a very weird feeling after getting up and hiking all the time.

When Court flew into Palm Springs, she grabbed a rental car and headed up to Idyllwild to get me. We went to the brewery for lunch and then a little Italian bar for a glass of wine, while we waited for the mayor and his deputy to show up and greet visitors on the town square.

L to R: Mayor Max III and Deputy Meadow

Idyllwild is a really cool town and I think we will definitely be back.

We headed down to our rental in Palm Springs, which was great. Guest house with a private pool. Very plush.

We enjoyed our time there, but honestly, Idyllwild is more our speed. Anyway, I decided to skip a little bit of trail so I could meet back up with my hiking partner John, since he was now going solo (Clay went home for work and family until July).

Court drove me the hour and a half through the bizarre desert and up the mountain to Big Bear where we met John at the highway 18 intersection with the trail. We made a quick jaunt into town, dropped another hiker off at the store, then got a fast food breakfast (sorry Court) and zoomed back up to the trail where I said goodbye and headed into the mountains.

New bag of Fritos in tow

We only did about 10 miles to ease me back on the trail a bit before setting up camp at a nice spot early and watched the sunset through the trees.

Cool lichen
Mine on the left, John on the right – no fires allowed

Up and Down the Mountain in Two Days

Sunday, May 7 – Monday, May 8, 2023

31 miles

We woke up early, packed up, and walked a mile up the road out of town to the Deer Springs Trailhead. This would start our ascent up Mt San Jacinto, the second tallest peak in Southern California and highest on the PCT before the Sierra.

This trail went up 4.1 miles to Strawberry Junction at 8000 feet where it met with the PCT.

We turned left on the PCT to continue northbound and soon the snow started to be more frequent. The water was flowing great with all the snow melt, so we never carried more than a couple of liters.


Soon it was time to put on the Microspikes to help us get some traction. Later, the ice axes would come out.


We trekked on until we came to Fuller Ridge. This is notoriously difficult in snow and I am definitely glad we had ice axes. We would not have attempted it otherwise. There were a couple of younger hikers doing it with just poles, but that is not advised.

Ice axe would come in handy

I don’t have much from the hard parts, as you had to be completely focused and in the moment every step of the way. If we fell, we wouldn’t have died, but definitely could have gotten hurt in some parts. I self arrested with my axe twice and Chainsaw (John) did three times. It took us about 2-3 hours to get fully done with the ridge.

Here’s a fun glissade (sliding down on our butts) though.

Chainsaw with proper ice axe technique (axe on the uphill side)

We finally got to the other side of the mountain and started descending. We had some amazing views of Mt San Antonio (aka Mt Baldy) and Mt San Gorgonio in the clouds on the way down. These mountains are part of the horizontal range above Los Angeles.

Mt San Gorgonio
Cool clouds

We got to camp at a lovely sheltered spot next to a creek below snow line. There was no wind and the sound of the babbling brook was nice to fall asleep to. This would not last.

The next morning, after the wind decided to rage starting at about 1am, we got a slightly late start on the remaining 16 mile hike down the mountain to Interstate 10. This is a huge 7000 foot drop to the valley floor and the second lowest spot on the PCT.

The rate of descent is actually very gradual and the trail winds around the mountain faces FOREVER. We would also pass the 200 mile mark.

Looking back from whence we came. Chainsaw is just visible at the bottom of the pic.

We finally got to the famous high pressure water faucet at the bottom several hours later and refilled water and soaked our hats for the remaining 3 mile flat walk to the I-10 underpass, which marks the end of PCT Section B. This was actually just as brutal as the descent. The wind was relentless and we had to trudge through a dry, sandy riverbed that was reminiscent of walking on Mars.

Snow Creek water fountain
Brutal ending
San Jac peak (center) and Fuller Ridge (right)

But we eventually made it and we’re greeted with trail magic of cold Rolling Rocks to end the day!

Cold beers after a very long day. Thank you trail angels!

The guys got picked up by their wives at the underpass to go stay in Palm Springs for a couple of days and I miraculously got an Uber back to Idyllwild (45 min drive back up the mountain). I will have another couple of zeroes there while I wait for Court to meet me and then have a long Palm Springs weekend of our own.

Zero in Idyllwild

Saturday, May 6, 2023

A zero day (zero miles hiked) in Idyllwild was definitely the right choice, especially with what was coming next.

Idyllwild is a great little mountain town
Town monument
Court’s dream truck to putt about town
Town square

After I checked in to my room on Friday, I went out and did some town chores. I got some resupply food and first aid stuff, got an amazing pizza for dinner, and went back to the room for an Epsom salt bath and bed.

The next morning I went out and got breakfast. Hiker hunger is starting to kick in!

Chicken fried steak with gravy, eggs, and home fries

Then it was time for the most important chore: new shoes. I love my La Sportivas, but my feet, specifically my toes have swollen and I need something with a bigger toe box. So I took the Altra plunge, as many hikers tend to do these days.

Old – La Sportiva Ultra Raptor 2
New – Altra Olympus 5

Swollen hiker feet

They didn’t have exactly the size I needed (14), so I went with a 13, which still gave me a little room to grow, but not much. I’m sending my La Sportivas home because when I’m done hiking here, I still want them for day hikes. Love those shoes.

John and Clay had bailed on the second part of the 32 mile stretch they were doing to come and get a nearo (near zero miles) in town before we ascended Mt San Jacinto the next day. I met them up in the afternoon for a glass of wine and some live music and then we all crashed at the house.

L to R: John (Chainsaw), Clay (MacGyver), and me (Hummingbird)

Paradise Valley Cafe and Idyllwild (Part 1?)

Friday, May 5, 2023

The three of us woke up early and hit the trail, as John and Clay’s wives were meeting them at the highway 74 junction to take them to breakfast at Paradise Valley Cafe, a mile up the road. I was the lucky recipient of that ride as well. Thanks y’all!

Though the forecast said no rain, we awoke around 6 to that horrifying pitter patter on our rain flies. Noooooooooo.

I took full blame for the inaccurate forecast (wtf Garmin?) and we again packed up wet gear. Luckily, it was really more fog than rain, and it cleared pretty quickly.

Pea soup
That’s better

We had good conversation about our hometowns (John is a retired firefighter from San Diego, Clay is a musician who grew up in Kentucky and Telluride (!), then moved to San Diego) along the trail. I got to regale them with Dazed and Confused factoids from Austin.

We got to the highway and the wives were there to take us and our stink to the cafe for breakfast. It was so good.

Clay on the left, John on the right. John’s wife Christy in the middle (quickly becoming my own personal trail angel with rides)
Loading up
Bacon, jalapeño, and cheese omelet with avocado, hash browns, toast, and coffee. Ate ALL of it.
But we’ve been in the woods without service for three days!

John and Clay are going to continue on trail today, while I go into Idyllwild (amazing town!) for an unplanned zero day. My feet need some work and I need a rest. I’m going shoe shopping tomorrow to maybe try out the Altra Olympus or Lone Peaks, which are made specifically for thru hikers whose feet have swollen and have a larger toe box. I really wanted my La Sportivas to last, but I think they are just too narrow for 15-20 mile hiking, day after day.

My amazing wife got me two nights at the Idyllwild Inn and the only cabin they had was a three bedroom. I’ll live like a king tonight! Clay and John are going to hike down from the mountain and stay with me tomorrow night and then we are all three going to tackle the hardest part of the San Jacinto PCT trail on Sunday: Fuller Ridge. With the snow this year, it’s not something I want to do alone.

I’m WAY ahead of schedule, as Court is meeting me on the other side of the mountain in 6 days. So I’m going to spend the next couple of days resting and figuring out logistics. I may hitch back to Idyllwild after the mountain to tackle the 28 mile section I’m missing, or I may just take almost a full week off trail! I’m no longer a trail purist. You have to adjust.

We will see. For now, I’m waiting for my room to be ready and having a few pints at the local brewery. Can’t wait for shower and laundry!!!