Perry Gabbard lived a dream, found clarity on the Pacific Crest Trail

As Perry Gabbard passed the 55-year mark, he, like many others, began to wonder what life was all about.

Raised in California, he joined the military and eventually wound up in Missouri working as a logistics engineer for McDonnell Douglas and Boeing.

He spent seven years as an airframe and powerplant mechanic before entering what Perry called a supportability career. It was his job to analyze new aircraft designs and identify repair resources for U.S. Air Force field technicians prior to new systems being delivered to bases around the world.

“I worked directly for program management on advanced designs, which I found to be fulfilling. But, as my three boys got older and started their own lives, I wanted to do something different,” said Perry.

A devout Christian, he found a lot of fulfillment by working with young people through different activities in church and in the community.

“It was very important for me to meet those boys later in their lives and know that I played a small part by helping to strengthen their faith,” Perry explained.

Forming a ‘tramily’

When Perry was in college, he picked up a brochure about hiking along the Pacific Crest Trail. It’s a 2,650-mile border-to-border backpacking trail that follows a path from Mexico to Canada along the top of some very large mountains.

“I dreamed of doing that for 40 years. So, after I turned 57, I had an opportunity to backpack that trail over a period of four long summers,” he explained. “After completing the trail, I wrote a book to share my experience with others.”

Although two-thirds of his trip was completed in solitude, Perry occasionally joined up with small groups of other hikers along the way.

“The term for that is ‘tramily,’ which means trail family. It’s people who meet along the trail and decide to travel together,” he explained. “There is a lot of joy in meeting people from around the world.”

The groups often separate when one person has to leave the trail to get resupplied or has an injury.  

“Hikers have a phrase they like to say, which is HYOH, which means ‘hike your own hike,” said Perry. “You might get to a point where you have to say goodbye, but then you often meet up with some other folks later. There is an ebb and flow of relationships made along the trail.”

Unlike the Appalachian Trail, which is popular because its path goes through more towns, the Pacific Crest Trail is much more remote.

“That can be both good and bad,” said Perry. “You may have to travel an extra 7 to 12 miles to get to the nearest town. Although I had never hitchhiked a day in my life before I started this journey, I did a few times and was able to meet several complete strangers who were very nice and helpful.”

Nurturing a 40-year dream

Perry’s interest in long distance hiking started when he was a 16-year-old high school student taking day hikes while visiting Sequoia National Park. During the hikes, Perry saw signs for distant places, like the High Sierra Trail.

“I gathered some brochures and maps and learned that I could actually travel all the way up the highest mountain in the continental United States, which is Mount Whitney, without needing technical climbing equipment,” Perry explained.

“My 16-year-old brain was all excited about this, but my parents were a little leery,” he added. “I found a couple of back-country rangers who told them I would be safe if I took some precautions. That convinced them I might be able to do it someday.”

Perry planned to start the hike when he was still a teenager. But something happened to a friend of his on a different trip, which caused Perry’s parents to get cold feet and canceled his plans.

Yet, Perry continued to read stories about people completing long-distance solo hikes. Some of his favorite books were written by Colin Fletcher, who described his experiences as a solo hiker in the 1960s and early 1970s.

“He was the hiking authority at that time and wrote a popular book called ‘The Complete Walker: The Joys and Techniques of Hiking and Backpacking,'” Perry explained. “But it was his stories, ‘The Thousand Mile Summer‘ and ‘The Man Who Walked Through Time,’ which just fed my desire even more.

“Later, in the empty nest years, I rediscovered information about hiking the Pacific Crest Trail that I had filed away 40 years before while attending college. My dream of hiking this 2,650-mile trail was rekindled,” he added. “This trip would become not only an adventure for me, but kind of a pilgrimage, both spiritually and physically, to overcome some things that had taken control of my life.”

During his later years of life, Perry began to utilize alcohol as a way of managing stress. That use became a habit, and the habit a lifestyle. He was addicted.

“Hiking the PCT was a forcing function to get me to commit to overcoming my addiction,” he explained. “When I looked at pictures of the mountains and other hikers, I experienced such joy. I could experience freedom, or a new beginning, to turn the page on that chapter in my life.”

The perigee of a relationship

“There was a pull drawing me to the trail. It was like the way the Earth pulls at the moon from its perigee, or their closest points,” Perry explained. “My professional life was like the apogee, or the furthest point away from where I needed to be.

“I had pulled away from a close relationship with God, and it was time for me to draw near,” he added.

Perry adopted “Perigee” as his trail name to signify the process of drawing closer to his heavenly father. He even started a blog about his journey and subtitled it, “To return, retreat and renew along the Pacific Crest Trail.”

“That’s what it ended up being – a time to remember the call, return to those places where I began retreating to, and finding renewal there,” Perry explained. “Doing this didn’t just become an annual event. Now, throughout my day, I am pausing, stopping, regrouping, reconnecting and proceeding forward.”

Photo of Perry Gabbard crossing Forester Pass in Sequoia National Park.
Perry Gabbard crosses Forester Pass in Sequoia National Park.

Retiring to hike

When his employer offered a severance package to higher-paid employees, Perry retired to start his hike rather than waiting until he left his job to begin planning. Since his wife worked as a teacher and didn’t desire early retirement, it worked out to be a good time for Perry to start hiking.

After many of his friends, relatives and former coworkers expressed interest in following his journey, Perry’s blog outlined the steps he took to prepare for the hike. Then, after starting, he relayed near-daily activities from his trek.

“I found out people really enjoy following me vicariously and reading my trail journals to see where I was at the time,” he explained. “They wanted to know what was happening on the trail and wondered if I was going to make it. After a few years, they really wondered if we was ever going to finish the hike.”

Perry’s book, “Stepping Out on an Adventure of Faith: What I Learned About Trusting God While Hiking the PCT,” was more of a memoir than a how-to book about completing a hike.

“I wanted people to understand all the ups and downs, discouragement, disillusionment, joy, excitement and frightening encounters I experienced at different points along the way,” said Perry. “I describe the beauty in relationships and kindness of people I met.”

Three messages from God

Although Perry did not hear an audible voice on his trip, he still felt God was sending him three distinct messages:

  • Finish the work
  • Share the joy
  • Remove the barriers

“Finish the work was a reference to my recovery as an alcoholic because I had not fully completed The 12 Steps,” said Perry. “Because I had been stretching the hike over several years, finish the work also applied to completing the trail.

“I shared my joy of hiking and the reasons why the experience was so joyful,” he added. “I also started hearing from people who read my blog who suggested I needed to write a book. So, after hearing that advice for the third or fourth time, I figured there was something to the message.”

Writing his book

Perry used material from his blogs to create an outline for the book. He divided it into four main sections. The first described work he did to get ready for the trip.

“I talk about the changes God was bringing about in my life to prepare me for the journey,” he explained. “I am very honest about my challenges with recovery.”

The next section talked about challenges Perry faced on the trail itself. He developed some injuries the first year that only allowed him to complete 1,076 miles before coming off the trail.

“I wanted to convey a message to readers that they should not give up,” said Perry. “Just because I didn’t complete my goal the first time, that did not define failure for me.

“Returning year after year to finish the hike was very much like my experience in recovery,” he added. “Recovery is never a straight path. I wanted my journey to be a source of encouragement to others who were struggling to climb a mountain or achieve a big goal.”

When Perry talks to people about his book and hiking experiences, the discussion often turns to the idea of persistence, especially with groups of men. 

“We end up having some personal discussions, which opens the door for people to be transparent about their own challenges,” said Perry. “It’s like poker. As soon as one person antes up, pretty soon other people start contributing, too.”

Because men, in particular, have such a hard time opening up about personal challenges, Perry now sees a greater sense of purpose in helping others overcome their obstacles.

“Every time I share my story, I have to believe it’s being used for a higher purpose,” he explained.

Supporting youth

Perry pledged all profits from his book to support a Christian youth adventure organization called Step Out Mo.

“That references MO, as in our state of Missouri, but also the need we have for more adventure, more growth, and more service to others,” he explained. “We are really looking forward to making some big trips next year.”

There are already 26 young men and fathers involved with the organization, and an even greater push for membership will take place at the end of summer.

“This speaks to my assignment to share joy through speaking, writing and participating in these events to help others experience what I’ve enjoyed,” said Perry. “I don’t want people to think they have to do an extreme, crazy, 3,000-mile hike like I did. That was my thing.

“However, everyone has an opportunity to step out of their door to attempt something that brings them inspiration. Too many young people are living insulated lives inside their homes,” he added.

Connected isolation

Every time Perry went on the trail, he experienced periods of intense isolation. However, he did have GPS technology to send preset messages to family members to let them know he was still okay. When people received the text message, they could click on a link that opened a topographic map to see precisely where he was at that moment.

“Occasionally, I had cell coverage on the trail so I could call home,” he explained. “I would tend to get a lot accomplished when I was in town and had good cell phone reception. I could also write and upload my latest blog entries.”

Perry was able to send instructions to have new equipment, more food or other supplies shipped to the next community he would visit. There were a few times when his wife and friends decided to greet him along the trail.

“For many people, being alone like that sounds frightening. But there are many devices on the market today that enable two-way text messages through satellites,” he said.

Yet, there were plenty of discouraging moments and disillusionment, especially when he came home for a year before continuing his trek.

“Eventually, I just had the desire to go back and finish the trail. The loneliness, for me, was an opportunity to draw nearer to God,” said Perry.

“I’m not a super-spiritual person, but my time alone did give me an opportunity to learn to trust God and simply have faith,” he explained. “I reflected on Psalm 91, which is often called the ‘warrior Psalm’ because it talks about God’s presence and assuring you that he’s right by your tent, keeping bad things at bay.

“It was certainly reassuring to know God was with me and that I wasn’t truly alone,” said Perry. “God was stretching my faith muscle.”

During his second time out on the trail, Perry became disillusioned with the experience and some of the people he met. Some circumstances pertaining to the hike weren’t helping to lighten his mood either.

“I met a man from Australia on the trail that year. When I told him I was about to celebrate my 39th wedding anniversary, he asked me, ‘What are you doing here, mate?'” said Perry. “That question kept echoing in my head for the rest of the week. I started asking myself what I was doing here, and I wondered if the hike was all about me.”

Preparing for contingencies

With a career in integrated logistics support, it required a lot of planning for Perry’s projects to succeed. As the day for launching his journey approached, he went into hyperdrive with planning. He would take a week just to examine alternatives for a tent he would use or a backpack he would buy.

“I continued to consume all kinds of information from books, forums and hiking groups – anything that made it easier to plan,” Perry explained. “I had to retool my hiking and backpacking equipment completely. Almost all of my old gear was jettisoned.”

One movie about the PCT is Wild, starring Reese Witherspoon. It’s a tale of a young woman who hikes the Pacific Crest Trail in an attempt to learn more about herself and come to grips with years of reckless, destructive behavior.

“It’s a redemption story. You see her starting off with this monster pack, but she is forced to make a lot of changes along the way. All thru-hikers (going from start to finish) say the trail will school you, and I certainly found that to be true,” said Perry.

To physically prepare for the hike, he established a training regiment that took Perry on longer and longer distances as he slowly added more weight to his pack.

“My body was like an old car. The engine was strong, but there were a few squeaks in the chassis with some of my tendons and muscles,” he noted.

Perry had to prepare resupply packages for his family to ship to various points along the route. He also had to call ahead to make sure those were still viable resupply points. His goal was to ensure he would have five to six days of supplies waiting for him when he arrived in a particular town.

“I also had to learn where water sources were located along the route because it was an all-consuming thing during the first 700 miles when I was walking through the deserts of California,” he said.

Perry relied on a crowd-sourced Water Report, where hikers would tell others about available water at specific locations on a certain day.

Counting the cost

Perry estimates he spent about $800 on hiking and backpacking gear. He often opted to spend more to get lighter equipment. When staying in communities, he would pay for a hotel or hostel. His food supplies and travel costs, such as airline tickets, brought the total for the journey to about $3,000.

“Honestly, I had the privilege of being retired with a pension, which meant I could afford some things younger hikers could not,” he explained.

Perhaps Perry’s biggest costs were mental and physical. His four biggest challenges formed the acronym HALT, which stood for hungry, angry, lonely and tired.

“I was always hungry a lot, lonely a lot and tired a lot,” he said. “I realized I needed a bit more self-care in those areas.”

Biggest rewards

Besides completing a 40-year dream that seemed so distant for so long, one of Perry’s biggest rewards came from the encouragement he received along the way.

“It was fulfilling to know how much encouragement I was providing to others,” he explained.

However, his greatest reward was the stories he heard along the way and the ones he can share with people today.

Psalm 19:1-2 says, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day, they pour forth speech; night after night, they reveal knowledge.”

“As I walked, I became very aware that I could talk to God and ask for wisdom,” said Perry. “I would look at examples from nature, such as ants and the birds of the sky. Jesus himself explained that God takes care of all his creation; therefore, we shouldn’t worry.

“There were word pictures and things that happened in nature which caused me to realize they were meant as lessons for me,” he added. “I share many of the lessons I learned in my book. Simply learning to trust and grow in my personal faith was probably my biggest reward.”

The hike worked to remove some faith barriers which stood in Perry’s way from having a closer relationship with God. Today, he’s committed to sharing those lessons with others.

Photo of Perry Gabbard celebrating the completion of hiking the Pacific Crest Trail.
Perry Gabbard celebrates his completion of hiking the Pacific Crest Trail.

Take the next step

Perry encourages others to take the next step toward their dreams. They don’t have to be something grand, like hiking a 2,800-mile trail. But, most people have some goal they suppressed for years. He encourages them to latch on to that goal and see it through.

“We have lost a generation of kids to video games and cell phones, but there are many adults who are lost in that as well,” said Perry.

“There was a post-pandemic boom where people craved being outdoors and active. I see more people on hiking trails today than ever,” he added. “There is a new awareness of the benefits of nature. I want to help others appreciate that.”

Don’t ‘should’ on yourself

It would be easy for Perry to look back on his life with lots of regret for the years he wasted mired in alcoholism. But he knows those years were not really wasted because they led him to a point where he knew he needed God to get back on track.

“I tell people all the time they shouldn’t ‘should’ on themselves because to dwell on the woulda, shoulda, couldas of life is unproductive,” he explained. “I believe things unfolded exactly the way they should have. I made many mistakes, but somehow, together, my choices and God’s purpose, will and sovereign power came together to redeem those wasted years.

“I have enough life ahead of me that I can use my time to help other people in some way,” he added.

“There is a quote by C.S. Lewis that has become my favorite. He said, ‘You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream,'” Perry explained. “Someone once asked Clint Eastwood, who is 93, what keeps him going at that age. Clint replied, ‘Every day, I get up, and I don’t let the old man in.’ With that attitude, there are still plenty of things you can do to make a difference in your life and the lives of others.”

To connect with Perry, email him at or visit, where you can also download a free copy of his ebook, “Kickstarting Your Journey to a Greater Connection to God.”

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