Chili with Mama T

The first day was absolutely beautiful. The weather was warm and moist from the rain. The air was clean and fragrant from the budding desert flowers.

Brendan and I walked together most of the day, meetin new faces that we knew we would get to know much more as we walked north.

The terrain changed significantly as we went along, and the excitement of a trail angel’s chili party 20 miles up from the border was definitely a motivator to make it back to Lake Morena that evening.




The sun went down just as I was finishing my last mile. As I made my way into the almost empty park that had been filled with tents just hours before, I saw the group of people at the Anderson’s camp site in the corner. As I approached with another hiker, someone yelled “hikers everyone!” Which started a slow clap that ushered us in to the party of about 60 people. As the clapping and whistling and drumming subsided, Mama T, or Terrie Anderson approached and have us both a big hug, obviously not caring that we were sweaty, smelly and dirty after a long day.

do you have a trail name yet? You will by the time you get to our place, Casa de Luna. Maybe “The Happiest Man on Earth”? You’ll have to see, the trail will give it to you.
-Mama T

It was an amazing and loving congratulations after a challenging first day. I ate more chili than I thought my stomach could hold, and promptly fell asleep despite the party that would continue into the night.

Step 1

Apparently an average person takes 40,000 steps to walk 20 miles. When I woke up on April 26th, this whole thing seemed a little daunting, but I couldn’t help but to feel so giddy and excited about beginning this walk that id thought about for so long.

Brendan and I greeted each other with smiles on our faces at sunrise, about 530 am. We were supposed to meet generous trail angel drivers in the parking lot who would take us to the the border for the start of our walk.

As we walked with our wet packs made heavy by the uncharacteristic rainstorm from the night before, we again ran into Dr. Sole while he cooked his breakfast of oatmeal. “I’ll drive you guys!” He replied happily.

He was so happy and excited for us to begin. It was a magical morning.



Meeting My First Trail Angels

I made my way around the ADZPCTKO, meeting tons of people, eating tacos provided by “Big Fig”, a trail angel who drove down to kickoff and also has a home on the trail up the way a bit that he welcomes hikers to, and going to events such as “Geology on the PCT”, which was hosted by one of the “Kelty Kids”, a group of three guys who hiked in 1977. Two of them would go on to become geologists after their experiences. The third I met outside the shelter after the talk. He told me about testing the first gore-tex equipment for Dick Kelty (which didn’t work), and about carrying 77lbs and averaging 17 miles a day! Not exactly the lightweight stuff that’s around today.

As I ate my tacos and drank beer by Big Fig’s tent, I met Dr. Sole, another trail angel whose son had hiked the trail a few years before. A former truck driver, we had been sucked in to the trail angel culture and developed a niche in washing, massaging, and repairing hikers feet along the trail. I watched as Dr. Sole tended to hikers who had just finished their first day on trail (20 miles from the border to lake Morena). A girl sat in a chair as Dr. Sole massaged her feet in a tub of warm soapy water.

I spent a good deal of time talking to him about best practices in foot care which includes letting your feet breathe periodically, washing your socks often to keep grit out that can act like sandpaper on your skin.

listen to your feet. Those puppies know what they want and need. If you feel a hot spot starting, stop and bandage it up! There’s no rush out here. You gotta take care of those puppies.
-Dr. Sole

ADZPCTKO (Annual Day Zero Pacific Crest Trail Kickoff)

Prior to coming to California, I signed up for an event called the ADZPCTKO, which was advertised as a gathering past, current, and future pct hikers, as well as anyone else interested in joining the festivities, to gather together at Lake Morena County Park at mile 20.

I arrived in style in my police escort, and although no one noticed me get out, I still felt pretty cool about myself. Tents and tarps were scattered between large campers all throughout the campgrounds. People of all ages in colorful outdoors gear and trail runner shoes mingled and strolled the grounds sipping beer and smoking joints.


I made my way to the check in tent where I received a name tag and a bandanna printed with “PCT class of 2015” as well as a message on either end in big yellow letters “Hiker to Town” and “Hiker to Trail” that we can use for hitchhiking along the way.

I took my gear and headed to campsite 150 that I was assigned. When I arrived I was greeted by a group that had been picked up 100 miles up the trail by a young guy who lived out of his camper. The group consisted of two Australians, a guy named Wild Bill who already had his trail name from his Appalachian trail thru-hike, and a couple other Americans.

After chatting for a bit I went to find a grassy place to pitch my tarp. As I finished setting up, my neighbor walked up and we greeted each other. “Don’t I know you?” He asked “did you go to Michigan State?” I suddenly recognized Brendan as a classmate from East Lansing. As it turns out, we were two of the six Environmental Economics and Policy grads from the 2010 class!

This kind of stuff doesn’t even really surprise me anymore. The Universe works in crazy ways.

Toward the Border

With forty five miles left from El Cajon to the kickoff party, I decided to try my hand at hitchhiking. While I realize the inherent danger in doing so, I feel that hitchhiking responsibly (only during the day, in groups if possible, and trust your instincts) is comfortable for me.

So my first morning in CA I found what seemed to be the best location to get picked up to go to kickoff and started thumbing. After changing locations once, I finally got a car to stop…a police cruiser. Not exactly what I had pictured but I had nothing to hide.

“So let me get this straight…you’ve hitchiked from Mexico, and you’re going to Canada sir? Do your family and friends know where you are?” The police officer said to me. “Please keep your hands where I can see them.”

Though he initially thought I was disoriented or crazy, when I finally got through with the details about the PCT, etc. the two officers were happy to help. They directed me towards the best post, and wished me good luck.

After walking about 5 miles to my new location, I only sat for 10 minutes before Mark stopped and picked me up. He was only going 4 miles towards my destination, but by the time that four miles had gone, he decided to offer me a bit more help. Over the next 25 miles and lunch where we both had “the best fish and chips this side of the Mississippi”, Mark told me about his former heroin addiction, and the amazing feat of being 1.5 years sober. Currently he said he spends most of his free time participating in church activities. His faith and personal strength to overcome his drug use was really inspiring to me.

After lunch I caught a quick ride from a young man heading back home to Tecate, Mexico after a day a work in Sam Diego. He was very nice, and told me about his wife and baby daughter in Mexico, and how lucky he was to have work in the USA.

Where highway 94 to Campo diverted to Tecate, my friend let me out. I still had about 25 miles to go, and it seemed like all the traffic was headed in the direction of Tecate.

I stood and watched as dozens of border patrol SUV’s, and many people who looked to be of Mexican descent, made their way between San Diego and Tecate. The mountainous area was hot and dry, but absolutely spectacular in it’s natural beauty.


Finally after about 30 minutes of waiting with only about 3 cars passing my way, I watched as the local sheriff who had been sitting at the crossroads pulled out and drove to where I was standing. He asked where I was going, and knew all about the kickoff and the trail.

“Hop in the back, I cover this whole area so I’d be happy to drive you there.” It was a pleasant first ride for me in the back of a police vehicle.


From the City to the Country

After landing in California I took the public transit as far as it went out of San Diego, a little town surrounded by urban sprawl called El Cajon. I was so tired when I got there that I decided against hiring an Uber driver and camped in a park for the night.

I woke up to a light rain that quickly subsided. The air was clean and dry, despite the rain. I unzipped my damp sleeping bag and realized that I was surrounded by all types of beautiful flowering plants! In a nearby tree a red hummingbird sang and buzzed around. It was a beautiful welcome to a new place.

I got up and started walking towards the center of the town, which was a few miles away. The yards of the residences that I walked by were filled not with green grass, but a mix of sand or gravel, and all sorts of amazing plants that are not so common in MI. Lemons, and apricots hung from the branches of small fruit trees. Huge snails worked to cross the pavement that had been moistened by the morning rain. I couldn’t help but to move them back to the yard. It really felt like a whole new world.


A Wonderful Send Off

The day before leaving for California couldn’t have been any better! Not only did My sister Laura come home from school, but a big group of the Burger family, plus some of my closest friends got together for a gathering in downtown Plymouth! It was a wonderful cap to a week filled with goodbyes from many wonderful friends and family members.

I now sit in the SD airport with only 50 miles between here and the trailhead 🙂 if I only had a ride…I guess the adventure has begun!