All done!

Wet, tired, cold, happy

Yes, I’m thrilled to report that my Pacific Crest Trail hike is now complete, with every mile walked including fire closures, etc.! Whew! I’m now back home in Spokane with Wendy, setting up our new house. The movers literally dropped off our stuff the day before I arrived, so we’re still in that carboard box-maze phase, and I came home to unusual amounts of snow and cold for early November, but I’m just utterly grateful to be home with potable water from indoor faucets, sit-down, flush toilets, heat on demand, clean clothes, and any food my heart desires!

Days earlier: after two ice cold beers each- courtesy of the trail angel above- the elevation and desert sun left us feeling tipsy
the rest of the afternoon!
The “Triple Crown” trails of U.S. thru-hiking

A question nearly everyone asks after they’ve heard that this hike completed my “Triple Crown” (AT: 2015, CDT: 2019, PCT: 2022) is “So, which trail is [insert superlative: best, hardest, etc.]?” My rather unoriginal reply is that “…it depends.” But what I can say emphatically is that the PCT pushed me further and provided me the biggest dose of “the joy of hiking” among the three. Regarding the “pushed me further” challenges and setbacks, the following are some of the biggest I encountered on this hike, nearly all of which occured while I was hiking alone (exception: giardia).

  • starting off hiking on my post-surgery, not-quite-recovered left foot
  • self-arresting with my ice axe in a frightening incident near FireCreek Pass, Washington
  • hiking in thick smoke and dodging forest fire closures for two consecutive seasons
  • managing plantar fasciitis pain in my right foot for the bulk of California
  • being forced to suspend my hike in ’21 when California closed all national forests in the state
  • ruining my phone (the hiker’s lifeline) during a hail storm in northern California
  • having a bear run up to confront me on the trail and then walk me backwards 100 feet before losing interest and running off
  • undertaking the logistical puzzle of a 36 hour hitchhike-> bus -> train -> bus -> hitchhike journey from Ebbetts Pass, California to Santiam Pass, Oregon to complete the Lion’s Head fire closure after it re-opened
  • falling into an icy stream on a frigid morning in the Sierras
  • contracting giardia again
Checking the distance to the next reliable water source at a desert cache
Apparently my blue thrift store gym shorts have bleached purple in the sun
Always love seeing the trail winding ahead of me into the distance
MAV, Birdie and I landed a nice Airbnb in Julian on a very cold night
Chicken and waffles in Julian
50 miles and counting…
The hiker sitting next to me had just completed her thru-hike 30 minutes before this photo, waiting here for her ride.
Colorful sunsets: a daily occurence in southern California
Interesting wrinkles in all directions, I really ended up loving the California “desert” section
I finally have some pictures of me hiking the trail…hard to come by when you mostly hike solo.
Up and over another large blowdown

As I peruse that list, I’m amazed I made it back home in one piece. But as I said, in addition to the immense challenges encountered- and perhaps even due to them (?)- I experienced a far higher level of joy directly related to the act of hiking and backpacking than I had on the other trails. In the past, the hiking and pack-carrying always felt like hard labor. This time around I found myself experiencing the equivalent of “runners high” daily as I hiked and really enjoyed the physical exertion. I’ve made the following observation after each of my hikes, and the feeling has only increased over time: thru-hiking has grown on me to the point where I really crave it. When I returned from the AT it was years before I felt ready to approach another hike; after the CDT it was only months until I felt the same; and I sit here today less than a week since “tagging” the Mexican border, already scheming about what might come next.

Saw similar signage on the CDT
The color is accurate: the sky was pink
Was so excited to see this 21 mile sign that I didn’t notice MAV watering the grass in the background. Sorry brother.
I found the smooth, red-barked manzanita trees fascinating
As they say, “sh*t’s gettin’ real.”

Before wrapping up this final post, I also want to call out the following, who have provided invaluable support along the way. I am deeply in your debt and it’s no exaggeration to say I could never make the miles without your help! Thank you one and all.

  • trail angels: There are way too many to name and thank individually, but between rides to and from trailheads, opening their homes as places to stay, impromptu gifts of food, water, soda, beer, etc. and various and sundry assistance in many other forms, I can only agree with Blanche’s famous line: “Whoever you are—I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.”
  • fellow hikers: more than on any other trail so far, I found myself the recipient of many acts of incredible kindness and generousity from other hikers like MAV, Birdie, Cougar, Northstar, Boop, Pololo, Little Mouse, Muggle, York and so many more.
  • colleagues, friends and family: While my primary motivation in maintaining this blog has always been to serve as a longterm memento of my hikes, along the way I’ve accumulated a small (and deeply disturbed?) following of loved ones who provide constant encouragement and moral support. I can say with sincerity that your well-wishes and kind words have meant the world to me and have made those tough times on the trail that much easier to manage. Again, there are too many to name, but my mom (Carole) may be the only person to have read every word of all of my hiking blogs! Love you mom!
  • our five adult children: I’m nearly 60 now and they’re all grown and scattered to the four winds, but our family has managed to maintain a close relationship despite distances and national borders. They probably have no idea how much time I spend thinking about each of them individually and their varied, interesting lives. “Bursting with pride” comes close to reflecting the sentiment I feel about each one of our great kids: Oliver, Jerry, Emily, Arthur and Charlie: I love to recite the list!
  • my wife and best friend: above everyone else, the peace of mind I carry during these long thru-hikes is directly attributable to Wendy, my partner and my pal. We’re certainly not the first couple to experience months apart and I won’t say it was easy working through it initially, but somehow we’ve managed to grow closer during the 8 years since I took up long distance hiking and we’ve found a way to incorporate it comfortably into the larger picture of our 32+ years of marriage. Thanks for being my everything Wend!
  • mother nature: there are many reasons why I tend to steer clear of conversations about god or faith, but I’m certain she’s out there and keeping a watchful eye on me.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this final post and pictures from the last 100 southbound miles on the Pacific Crest Trail. Don’t forget to check out my YouTube channel– especially the last three videos, in which you get to walk with me along the final 20 miles to the border. Love and peace until we meet again on another trail! Yours, Max

MAV at the “one mile-to-go” marker. The picture he’s holding is of a Coeur d’Alene, Idaho cancer patient friend who’s been “on the hike” too.
Mexican border in the rain

8 Responses to “All done!

  • Thanks……you do know me well. I am so happy you’re safely home for a while. Look forward to seeing you soon.

  • Job Well Done…looking forward to more adventures Maxheap. It has been a great 8 years.

    • Mav: it’s been a long road and we’ve had a chance to walk a lot of it together, for which I’m very grateful! See you on the next trail brother!

  • Skye Pauly
    2 years ago

    Congratulations on completion! What an impressive journey. Getting your note the other day put a big grin on my face. Thanks for sharing the news of your success!
    Happy trails!

    • Skye! So glad to hear from you and thanks for the reply! Sorry I missed you the other day, but you, Kirsten and the whole team at Therapeutic Associates in Liberty Lake played a critical role in preparing me for the hike so it’s just great to be able to share the completion with you! All the best! Max (Michael)

  • Christoph Koenig
    1 year ago

    Hi Maxheap,
    though we are very late we would like to send you our congratulations that you finished all three long distance trails. ! ! ! G r e a t ! ! !

    Dear Michael,
    we hope you’re spending pleasant Christmas Days! – We are lucky that our three sons are all with us at the moment; so we’re having a great time together.

    About one month ago, Stephan, our youngest son received his confirmation that he is allowed to start his PCT-hike (nobo) next year April, 11th… At the moment he is completing his gear piece by piece…

    Greetings to you an your family, have a good time and we wish you and your family all the best for 2023 !

    • Christoph: Thank you for the kind words and that’s great news about your son’s PCT permit for 2023! Please extend to him my sincere wishes for a rewarding and safe hike and let him know to feel free to reach out if he has any questions. I’m also planning on being on trail again starting in April. This time I’m planning on attempting a coast-to-coast walk from the Pike Place Market in Seattle, Washington to the Seven Presidents Oceanfront Park in New Jersey. This route will not be an isolated, mountain hike, but rather a walk along country lanes, local trails and the like. I’ll soon update my site with a 2023 hiking homepage so please follow along if interested. And if your son ends up doing on-line updates of his PCT hike, please share a link with me so I can follow his adventures as well! All the best for a great 2023 for your entire family! Max

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