It’s 2:15 a.m. My wife’s portable alarm clock sounds. The noise is like a submarine dive alarm. I am awake. I am drinking coffee made from the hotel coffee maker which tastes like boiled jockstrap water. We are doing the Trailblaze Challenge hike today.

I keep telling myself, “We’re doing this for C.C.”

3:03 a.m.—We are in a van with 13 other half-asleep Trailblazer hikers. We are driving to the trailhead where we will walk for 26.3 miles for the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Alabama, an organization that changes the lives of kids with critical illnesses.

My friend C.C. received a wish when he was a kid. He met Peyton Manning. His sister and caregiver is Paige, and she is our dear friend. They are why I’m here.

Namely, because I am not an athlete. I am more of a Little Debbie enthusiast.

4:49 a.m.—Now we’re at the trailhead. “Yay! We’re here!” shouts one perky hiker. It’s early. Many of the other hikers want to punch this hiker in the mouth.

5:12 a.m.—Rational people are at home right now, nestled in their feather beds. We are now hiking the far flung Pinhoti Trail, miles from human civilization. You could die from an infected blood blister out here.

“This is for C.C.,” my wife keeps saying with each step. “For C.C.”

5:31 a.m.—Our hiking pace is akin to refugees marching to a Russian gulag to be executed. It’s tar black outside, we’re wearing coal-miner headlamps. Someone in our group starts singing to lighten the mood. This person will never be seen or heard from again.

6:45 a.m.—We are not 3 miles in. We still have 23 miles to go. Sunrise on the mountain is nothing short of heaven-like. There is a hiker pooping just off the trail. I can see the perpetual whiteness of this hiker’s cheeks.

“This is for C.C.”

7:33 a.m.—I’m talking with a hiker who knows a kid who had a wish granted. The boy was a very sick child. The child is deceased now. Make-A-Wish made his greatest dream happen before his end.

“If you ever meet a kid who has a wish granted, it will really do something to you.”

8:21 a.m.—I’m ready for breakfast.

9:42 a.m.—Very ready.

10:06 a.m.—Doesn’t anyone in this godforsaken backcountry eat breakfast? Are we supposed to eat on our feet? We have 20 miles left to hike. Why wasn’t this catered by Waffle House?

11:27 a.m.—The first thing you realize when you go hiking is that it’s a mistake. You’re not actually going anywhere.

This is for C.C.

12:09 p.m.—We are at the aid station. We have hiked 14.6 miles. My blisters have blisters. They are serving Jersey Mike’s sandwiches. My wife informs me that she is quitting because of ankle joint issues. I am so glad to hear this. I tell her I am going to quit too.

“No, hell no, you can’t quit,” says my wife. “You’re doing this for C.C.”

1:36 p.m.—Now I am hiking alone on the Pinhoti. I have not passed another hiker for an hour. I have 10 miles left to go. I have never felt so alone.

2:41 p.m.—A big hill. I am ready to meet Jesus.

2:56 p.m.—No. Seriously. I want to meet Jesus.

2:59 p.m.—Now.

3:03 p.m.—My whole body is drenched in perspiration. People are asking me if I’ve been swimming in the river. But no, it’s just sweat. I am dying.

I have met many people out here who have had children with terminal illnesses that have received wishes.

One man has a child who received a wish. He starts crying about it. I start crying too. Not only because I am touched, but because I know, without a shadow of a doubt, I will not survive this hike. Somehow I find energy to keep going.

3:11 p.m.—Hill.

3:20 p.m.—Another hill. I hate my life.

3:23 p.m.—Shoot me.

3:42 p.m.—I am not going to make it out of this forest alive.

3:44 p.m.—A group of energetic teenagers passes me. I am not proud of this, but I secretly pray for them to suffer debilitating sprained ankles

3:46 p.m.—I am crossing the finish line. There are people ringing cowbells and cheering me on. My wife is here. I am limping. And crying. Thinking of Paige and C.C., and how much I admire them. And how this little hike is nothing compared to what they deal with every day.

3:50 p.m.—My wife kisses my lips. She has tears in her eyes. She says, “This is for C.C.”

It certainly was.

And so was this column.


  1. stephenpe - May 7, 2023 12:42 pm

    Thank you again, Sean. My morning is complete.

  2. Eva Marie Everson - May 7, 2023 2:20 pm

    I walked 10 miles once (once!) For March of Dimes. I was in my 30s at the time, so we’re talking 30 years ago. I can still remember how my feet hurt as we crossed the finish line. I can still remember the moan that escaped as I eased into a tub filled with hot water and Epson Salts a couple of hours later. And I still remember being unable to move the following day. Treat yourself well! You deserve it … and CC is blessed to have you.

  3. Dee Thompson - May 7, 2023 4:46 pm

    I did a St. Jude’s walkathon as a teenager but didn’t complete it. I made it about 13 miles before ducking into a store to call my dad to come and get me out of there! I was in good shape but after walking all those miles on city streets I wanted to die, my feet hurt so bad. In my old age I have discovered the joy of soaking my feet in warm water with Epsom salts. I try to do it weekly. I suggest you try it! / The fact you completed the hike is really admirable and impressive. Congratulations!

  4. Terrie Runnels - May 8, 2023 3:28 am

    Listening to Will the Circle Be Unbroken and just found this column! Love it and can’t wait to hear more from you.

  5. Cindy Anderson - May 8, 2023 4:16 am

    This was so good. “Little Debbie enthusiast” – I really did lol!! C.C. is blessed to have you in his/her life.

  6. Sarah Z. - May 10, 2023 7:11 pm

    I did the Make-A-Wish Oregon Trailblaze challenge. I felt every line of your 2:00 p.m. and 3:00 p.m. hours. My inspiration was a sweet little girl named Olivia who wished for a Rainbow Playhouse. She greeted us at the finish line with rainbow hair and it was one of my proudest moments. Thank you so much for hiking and moving the mission forward!


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