Jesse Bader, a well-known bartender at Mackinac Island’s Grand Hotel, is hiking the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) from Mexico to Canada to benefit St. Jude Children’s Hospital this summer. So far, he’s raised nearly $12,000 in donations and hopes to be done with the trek mid-September. We caught up with Jesse while he was at a motel in California to see how he’s doing.

Jesse Bader is a Northern Michigan Red Hot Best Bartender/Mixologist! The talented drink slinger placed among the top three bartenders in 2017, 2016, 2015, 2013 and 2012.

Jesse Bader (far right)

Where are you now on the trail?
I am technically in Weed, California, taking a few days off the trail (not for that reason) to heal some wounds at the townhouse motel. I left the trail at mile marker 1500.7 in Castella, California. I have officially walked 1049.4 miles on the PCT. My feet really hurt!!!! I’m starting back on the trail at mile marker 1715.2 in Ashland, Oregon to avoid the dangers of the Marble Mountains at this time. Those that have gone through have been very adamant with me about avoiding the few peaks involved in that particular section. Oregon tomorrow! (Location as of Wednesday, June 21.)

What has been your biggest challenge, maybe that you weren’t expecting, on the trail?
SNOW. Why is there so much snow?! It’s almost July!! Some spots have upward of 20 feet. 20 feet!!! 70 to 80-degree mountain switchbacks with absolutely no sign of a trail. GPS in one hand, trekking poles in the other and a 3,000-foot slide down to death if I slip on the snow and ice.

PAIN. Oh my goodness, pain. Crushing, crippling, I-want-to-lie-down-in-the-fetal-position pain. Back and foot pain never leave. It is always playing back-seat driver, ready to shout at you any time the inner-mind volume goes down.

MOSQUITOES. They are hands-down the worst part of my days on the trail. The vicious little devils will get through anything! When the sun is just about to go down and you’re lying in your tent, it sounds like a freeway outside with hundreds of mosquitoes with their vulture wings batting at 376 miles an hour. It literally gives me the chills thinking about it.

What have friends and family thought/said about this trip?
I honestly believed I needed something new and fresh to revitalize my existence, and the people closest to me were very excited, worried, happy, supportive and anxious for me to embark on my adventure. God bless all those who allowed me to yak their ears off about how I was about to do this for the last 2 years. Without the support of the people I love and adore, I would have never started/hiked this far.

When did you decide that you were going to help raise money for St. Jude Children’s Hospital? Why hiking?
My girlfriend’s sister (Sarah Hogue) has been doing a ‘Saddle up for St Jude’ horse riding event just outside of McMillan, Michigan annually for many, many years. Quite a few years ago I started raising money for said event on Mackinac Island. It has basically become an obsession of mine to help St Jude Children’s Hospital and what they represent to the families and children involved. Could you imagine having a child that had a life threatening illness and you had no way to provide the care they needed financially? What St Jude does for the families is beyond words. I guess I ask the question, WHY NOT St Jude? What other organization can you help that is so amazing and has such a dramatic impact on the future of all of us?

The PCT thing was an awesome way to escape my life and everything I hold dear to enjoy a whole new experience. To step away from everything I know and at the same time help the ridiculously cool organization I’ve been raising money for for years anyway, has been a win-win for both sides, I believe. God bless all those who have donated already and also to all those who have shared my story to help others. My heart is overflowing with gratitude and love.
Can your fans expect to see you back at the Grand Hotel after this journey?

Provided that I make it out of this trip alive, I will be back at the Gatehouse Restaurant/Cawthorne’s Village Inn/Sushi Grand and of course, the amazing Grand Hotel by mid to end of September. My employers have been so gracious to allow me to achieve this dream of completing a thru-hike and giving me the ability to come back to my position afterward. They are the absolute best employers I have ever had the opportunity of working for. Not even because of this hike but the last 7 years have been the best years of my professional career because of how they operate as a business. I am truly blessed to be a part of such a stellar team and very much look forward to returning to my home on Mackinac and Grand Hotel.

Besides, anyone who has ever been on the island for our Halloween party knows that you don’t want to miss such an excellent event. See y’all behind the bars in our downtown locations in October!

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Photo(s) by Jesse Bader