By Julie Pendray
IDYLLWILD, Calif. — Scaring off a bear and doing a long distance hike of Pacific Crest Trail are just a few more accomplishments for former Marine and Idyllwild resident Dominic Surina. He received a hero’s welcome this week when he came off the trail — after completing about 2,500 miles of it — to celebrate Thanksgiving with family and friends. Idyllwild is at mile 179 of the PCT. Surina set off from the Canadian border in July with the goal of ending at Campo, at the Mexican border. He says he may hike down to Tecate, Mexico before returning to work here at Mountain High Escrow.
“I’m one proud uncle,” said John Graham this week. He and wife, JoAnn, owners of the escrow business, were all smiles at a gathering at Idyology Restaurant to celebrate Surina’s stopover. Months ago, the restaurant owner Windean Dahleen — Surina’s girlfriend –added a huge PCT map to the dining room wall, so staff and guests could follow her boyfriend’s progress. She said she connected with him at a few places along the way — “at Lake Tahoe, Big Bear and under a billboard on the side of the 10 to take him to get four triple In and Out burgers, only to drop him and his buddies back off that same evening with a beer for each of them on a super moon at the bottom of Snow Creek. A day and a half later they were in Idyllwild. I’m super jealous of his trip.”
Surina, a former Marine contract infantry assault man from Southern California, was stationed at Twenty-Nine Palms before coming to Idyllwild to be near family. He was given a meritorious promotion to sergeant and accomplished two tours in southern Afghanistan. “I went into the service at 25, older than most,” he said. Surina jokes that the PCT was his “civilian deployment.” He and a friend from military days started at Hart’s Pass in Washington state, hiked to the northern PCT terminus at the Canadian border, then began the southbound hike. “It added about 30 miles to the trail,” he said.
Surina is the only Idyllwild resident among PCT thru hikers this year, as far as the PCT community here knows. There are about a dozen more southbound hikers behind him, he said.
Asked about his biggest challenges, Surina said, calmly, “Finishing. I haven’t done that yet. And the mountains. You respect them more after you do this.” The 31-year-old had lived in Idyllwild for a year before deciding to do the PCT. “Working on North Circle, I’ve seen a lot of hikers go by (on their way to re-connect with the trail),” he said.
From the Canadian border, he and friend Ben from Portland, Oregon, averaged 30 miles a day to get into the Sierras. Surina will stay for the rest of Thanksgiving weekend, then he plans to “take it easy” between here and the Mexican border. He said, “It’s interesting what my body is capable of and what that has done to my mind. All you’re doing is walking and sleeping. Time seems longer and shorter simultaneously. You’re doing something so primal by carrying everything on your back. You measure everything in footsteps. There’s a lot of time to think. I have so many notes in my phone. You go into a rabbit hole and emerge 10 miles later.” Surina had company for camping along two-thirds of the trail, though he and his friends sometimes walked alone during the day. One camping buddy, “Strings,” acquired his nickname because he carried a small carbon fiber guitar, foot tambourine and harmonica. “We’d be hiking down switchbacks and he’d be playing and singing,” Surina said.
Surina’s favorite area on this trip was the Sierra mountain range. In Yosemite, however, he was awakened by a black bear when he was cowboy camping. “The bear’s face was just a couple of feet away when I opened my eyes,” he said. “He was sniffing around the picnic table. I threw a beer can at him and he left.”
Food was his walking meditation. “You’re thinking about how much you’re going to eat and how far you’ll walk,” he said. He began the hike at 187 lbs and got down to 155 lbs on the trail, sparking Dahleen to fear potential “emaciation” of his 5′ 11″ frame. Surina’s now at 166.
His dream food for the end of the journey?
“Good sushi is hard to come by on trail, so ending up in a cool little sushi spot in San Diego would be pretty rad.”
In addition to sushi dreams, Surina also has an affinity for espresso, hence his trail name “Double Shot.”
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