Done and Dustin

Day 165

Mile 1350 to 1375, 25 miles
Total PCT miles, 2381
Well, it appears the trail crew was correct. There is a bunch of snow this morning. I slept pretty warmly though, so it’s not too bad. I take that back… The very first thing I have to do this morning is ford a river, and then walk through several inches of snow with my wet shoes and socks, yay.
Despite my freezing feet, the morning is gorgeous. Snow always transforms things so dramatically. Before too long though, I enter a long, flat, burn area. Even the snow can’t make this section pretty. That’s ok though, I’m on a mission speeding through the powder to my finish line.
I stop for a short lunch on a snowy log before finally starting my last descent. The snow, which has been coming and going all morning, turns to rain as I cruise down the mountainside. I keep waiting to be overwhelmed by feelings, but for most of the afternoon I just feel tired. Unexpectedly, as I’m crossing through an unlovely, soaked meadow, “The Sound of Silence” comes up on shuffle, and I start crying near hysterically in the rain. It’s not pretty or triumphant crying either. It’s like a faucet is turned on, and everything I thought I’d been processing jumbles out in a teary, snotty mess. Before I can begin to make sense of it, the feeling has passed. I’m still in the meadow with what I can only think of as WTF face. Is this the culmination of the last five and a half months, or just the beginning. What am I supposed to feel now anyway. I guess I’ll figure it out as I go along. That’s always been my strong suit anyway.
I arrive in Old Station, ready to sit down and wait for my family. After a minute I realize it looks different, and I’m actually still 3 miles from my destination. Damn it! Oh well, I put my pack back on and road walk the last 3 miles. After grabbing a couple snacks in a gas station station, I plop down on a picnic table to wait for my family. This doesn’t feel like the end at all. I’d blame it on the fact that I’m not finishing at a terminus, but I’ve read about other people having similar experiences regardless of where they finish. Things take time to process, and completing this trail is a lot to process.
A short while later my family arrives. My mom and sister are ecstatic, especially my mom. I’m self conscious about my level of filth and body odor for the first time in a long time, but they don’t care (too much). After some pictures, I’m in the car, and just like that, my long walk is actually over. I’m not exactly sure what comes next, but it will come whether I know what it is or not.
I just wanted to thank everyone who read along sharing this amazing, strange walk with me. You’ve seen my Disney princess self make a bizarre transformation into rugged hiker trash. Though this is my last blog detailing my day to day life on trail, I still have some writing left to do. Hopefully I’ll put together an artsy-fartsy post soon where I wax poetic about the whole experience. This has been the hardest and coolest thing I’ve ever done, and I’m glad I was able to share it all with you.
“Stand and be true.” -Stephen King


The Final Countdown 

Day 163 and 164
10-18-17 and 10-19-17

Mile 1311 to 1350, 39 miles
Total PCT miles, 2356 + 2 non-PCT mile
My stuffsack filled with dirty clothes is a lousy pillow. I can’t wait to sleep with a normal pillow. As it is I toss and turn a lot, not getting much quality rest. Today is another pretty monotonous day. I know I’m tired because even small climbs seem rough. I’m still here though, and I’m so freaking close.
Just before lunch I come to the halfway marker. It’s actually astonishing how huge California is. I wish I had been able to come to this spot in order. It doesn’t mean much right at the end, but it’s still cool to see it. I eat lunch nearby. I feel like taking a nap, I’m lagging pretty hard. Instead I press on. I find a good place to fill my water, and feel a lot better after this short break.
I cruise down a nice descent to where I could hitch into Chester. I have everything I need though, so I keep on hiking. This section of the trail is owned by a logging company, and its ugly. Felled trees and tangled undergrowth are everywhere, and many of the remaining trees have spray paint symbols on them. The ugly bit doesn’t last too long though, and after a bit of a climb I find a huge campsite. Unfortunately it’s very near several crisscrossing dirt roads. I’m the only one here, but camping near roads always creeps me out. I much prefer out of the way campsites that you wouldn’t just happen across. Oh well, it’s home for the night.
I know I’ve complained more than usual in these last few posts, but it kind of feels like working once you’ve already put in your 2 weeks notice. I’m so glad I did this though, even if the last part has been difficult, and a little boring for me. It’s not glamorous, but it’s part of the challenge. I know it will mean more to me once I finish because it was so difficult.
Waking up to the sound of saws at 4AM is creepy. There must be a lumber mill nearby. Once I establish there’s no chainsaw murderer in my immediate vicinity, I roll over and sleep a few more hours. When I get up I can see clouds racing across the sky. It looks like it could get a little wet today. Just as I’m having this this thought, it starts sprinkling on me.
I meet another hiker today named Monk. We are both surprised to see one another. He hasn’t seen anyone in Trail even longer than me. He tries to explain the route he’s taken, but either he’s lost or I’m confused because he says he’s finishing in Ashland (but he’s walking south).
Despite the light rain, today is way prettier than yesterday. Green shrubs and manzanita line the trail, and they look beautiful in the damp. I eat lunch on a rotting log near a stream, but don’t stay too long because it’s too wet to sit around. There’s a short trail leading down to the Terminal Geyser. There’s a lot of geothermal activity here in Lassen National Park. I follow the trail which takes me to a very large, steamy, smelly hole in the ground. It’s cooler than it sounds. After checking it out for a few minutes I head back the way I came to rejoin the PCT. Pretty soon I come across a trail maintenance team out here working in the rain. They tell me that the forecast is calling for snow tonight. It seems pretty warm to me, so I doubt it, but who knows.

I pass Boiling Springs Lake, which as you have guessed is actually boiling. There are sign warning you not to get too close (not that I’d want to), but it looks pretty cool from a distance. I pass more signs warning me to stay on the path or risk breaking through the earth into geothermal activity. That’s not terrifying or anything. A short while later I pass Drakesbad Guest Ranch, the last place I could possibly stop to shower, but it looks closed, and I think I’m just going to push through anyway. My poor family is going to have to deal with my stench tomorrow. Hopefully they’ll be so happy to have me back that they won’t mind too much.
Just a mile before my campsite I manage to take the wrong trail somehow. I walk quite a long way in the wrong direction, and even make a semi-sketchy river crossing before I realize my mistake. I backtrack, and eventually see where I went wrong. Usually the trail is incredibly easy to follow, so I’m a little surprised I took a detour. I must be pretty out of it. I decide to camp beside the river. While I’m setting up camp, I realize that this is my last night on trail. I try to really be in the moment while I set up my tent and cook dinner for the last time on the PCT. Just as I finish dinner, it starts pouring. I hope it doesn’t last too long. My tent is pretty sturdy, but too much rain always makes things uncomfortable by morning. Also, its loud enough to keep me awake, so I have to stick my earplugs in. Soon I’m bundled up, and ready for my last night of weird dreams on the trail. I’m so ready to be finished, but damn I’m going to miss this…
“Another turning point, a fork stuck in the road. Time grabs you by the wrist, directs you where to go. So make the best of this test and don’t ask why. It’s not a question but a lesson learned in time. It’s something unpredictable, but in the end it’s right. I hope you had the time of your life.” -Green Day, “Good Riddance”

Some Days the Miles Come Easy

Day 162

Mile 1290 to 1311, 21 miles + 1 non-PCT mile
Total PCT miles, 2317
Today is not one of those days. My plan to wake up early fails as it usually does. While I’m getting everything packed up, I manage to rip a huge scab off the back of my hand. I don’t have anything particularly clean, and don’t want to look like an axe murderer, so I wipe the excess blood on the underside of my shorts. When it scabs again, I give it a good squirt of antibacterial gel. Ah yes, hygiene… By the time I’m up and heading out of camp it’s nearly 8:30, and I’ve got a big climb ahead of me. There’s nothing for it but to start climbing. My morning seems to take as long as entire normal day. My thighs, which almost never bother me, are burning while I climb. Normally I snack on the go, but this morning I stop every hour and a half or so to sit down and enjoy a snack and water. I do a few easy stretches, and then move on. Several times this morning I think I’d like to just sit down and be done. That’s not an option though, and sometimes the only way out is through. Sometimes you just have to embrace the suck. Even though I only have about 8 miles of climbing left this morning, I don’t get to the top of the damn hill until around 12:30. I let out the loudest “whew whoo” that I can, and start down the other side.
I initially thought that once I started downhill that I’d be much faster. My muscles have different ideas, and it takes them a bit to adjust. It’s about time for lunch anyway, so I stop to fill my water at Frog Spring. After my water is filtering, I eat lunch quickly. I need to go 20 or more miles each day between now and my finish in Old Station, or I won’t make it in time. 20 mile days are usually no problem, but this morning’s climb has slowed me down considerably.
I wish I had nicer things to say about the afternoon, but it is pretty boring. I am under the heavy canopy of trees, and everything seems very brown. There’s lots of dead underbrush, and not much scenery. I push through remembering that not every day can be amazing. I like to think that this is making me more patient and aware, I sure hope it is.
When I finally get to my campsite, I still have about a mile round trip to a spring that’s not actually on trail. It’s very steep, but when you need water, you need water. I get back to camp, set up my tent, and cook dinner. When I start eating, I realize that I’m seeing one of the most beautiful sunsets I’ve witnessed on trail so far (I know it’s the smoke from all the fires, but still). I also realize that as ready as I am to be done hiking, I’m really going to miss this. That it’s really coming to an end soon is becoming a reality, and sometimes I shocked at how it catches me. My emotions are all over the place. I imagine that will continue once I’m off trail as well. Once the sun sets completely I finish getting ready for bed, and try to get comfortable. My body is probably the strongest it’s ever been (well my legs anyway), but it’s also very sore and very tired.
“We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.” -Oscar Wilde

Down to Belden

Day 161

Mile 1269 to 1290, 21 miles
Total PCT miles, 2296
It’s another warm morning, and once I get moving I’m moving quickly. Yet another hunter passes my campsite while I’m packing up. He walks by without seeing me at all. How in the world do they ever find their prey?
I start off with a short climb which eventually levels out. I’m kind of spaced out and enjoying the fall colors when I notice a sobo hiker walking towards me. I haven’t seen a sobo in days! She a 60 something year old lady from Alaska named Thumbs Up. She’s super chatty, but it’s nice change. We probably spend 20 minutes telling our stories and what to expect in the directions we are headed. I finally wish her well, and we are both off again.
I eat lunch around 1, just before my huge descent into Belden. I eat quickly hoping to make it to Belden in time for an early dinner. The descent is super steep and seems to go on forever. In reality it only takes about 2 hours. I probably could have done it more quickly, but I keep stopping to take pictures of the turning leaves. I find myself in Belden earlier than planned. No worries. This is my last spot to use wifi, so I finalize my pickup in Old Station 4 days from now with my mom. I mess around online a bit, chat with a friend coming to visit in the beginning of November, and eat an enormous patty melt. I’m so spoiled, 2 town meals in 2 days! I debate whether I should shower or not and decide against it. I’m going to be pretty gross when I finish, sorry in advance Mom and sis.
Around 5, I pay my tab and hit the trail again. I’m sort of dreading this next section. It climbs from 2200 feet to 7100 over the course of 14 miles. That’s a whole lot of climbing. My goal this evening is to get about 6 of those miles out of the way so that it’s not such a challenge in the morning. To accomplish this, I need to night hike which I just find creepy. I play music out loud on my phone, and sing along loudly while smacking my trekking poles on everything in sight. Finally I find my campsite, and hastily put up my tent. I’m going to try to get up a little bit earlier tomorrow so that I can tackle this big climb in the very cool morning hours.
“We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.” -Oscar Wilde

The Randomness of Hitchhiking

Day 159 and 160
10-14-17 to 10-15-17

Mile 1232 to 1268, 36 Miles
Total PCT miles, 2275
This morning the wind wakes me up again. The tent is shaking so badly that I have to put my bear canister between the wall of my tent and my head, so that I don’t get smacked around. I finally start getting ready. It doesn’t seem that cold, but every time the wind blows it makes me shiver.
For most of the day I hike downhill. The morning goes by so quickly, I can hardly remember anything about it. The only other human I’ve seen today was yet another hunter. He looked annoyed that I was making so much noise as I walked by. Before I know it, it’s afternoon and time to eat. I take a quick break because it’s too chilly to sit around for very long.
Late in the afternoon I come to the middle fork of the Feather River. There’s a footbridge high over the water, but I have to scramble down a field of boulders to collect water. Water isn’t as scarce as in the desert or parts of Oregon, but it’s strange to have to think about it so much again. People are not usually in this part of the trail at this time of year, so it’s difficult to get up to date information about viable water sources.
After the Feather River I start climbing in earnest. I’m irritated by the swarms of gnats hovering around my face for no particular reason. Eventually a come to Bear Creek which has some of the most beautiful fall colors I’ve come across yet. While climbing from here to my campsite I feel a little hot and dizzy. I remember I haven’t smacked at all during the afternoon. I eat a bar, drink some water, and soon feel a bit better. A mile or 2 later I set up camp. It’s really early, but the next campsite is several miles away, and up a huge climb. I’d rather do it in the morning.
I hate to say it, but I have a terrible night of sleep. My tooth and back are both throbbing as soon as I climb into bed. I take some Ibuprofen, but it takes forever to kick in. It is also much warmer than it has been, so I’m constantly stripping off layers. My plan was to get up early this morning so that I can get into Quincy at a reasonable time, but I have a hard time getting myself out of bed. Once I’m finally up though, I make incredibly good time.
The morning starts with a big climb, but I tackle it with the energy I only have available to me early in the day. Near the top of my climb I spot a solo hunter. Once again, this is the only other person I see on the trail all day. Once I’m at the top I cruise through the morning, pausing only to strip of my jacket and rain pants when I get too warm.
Just before 1, I make it to Bucks Lake Road where I need to hitch into Quincy. The traffic headed in the right direction is scarce, but after about 45 minutes, a young couple from the University of Nevada stop to pick me up. The young lady works at REI, so she knows exactly what I’m doing. They kindly drop me off at the shopping center in town, and I head directly to Pizza Hut. A very important lesson I’ve learned is to never go shopping for your resupply while you’re hungry. I down an entire Hawaiian pizza and a couple of sodas by myself while I look at all my lovely birthday messages and post some blogs.
After pizza I go shopping. There are other places I could stop to by food on the trail, but I’d like this to be my last resupply shopping spree. I buy enough food for my last 5 days (mainly just dinners), and then head outside to organize everything. My bag is heavy again, but not nearly as ridiculous as it was last time after resupplying. 
After everything is packed away, I make a small sign on cardboard that says PCT. Before I even put out my thumb a Jeep pulls over. The kid that picks me up is 21, and has lived here for 17 years. He is originally from Russia, has dyed bubble gum pink hair, works for a logging company, enjoys stock car racing, and is colorblind.
Hitchhiking, even more than hiking and traveling, has let me to meet some truly interesting people that I never would have otherwise. He makes a stop to buy something to drink. I offer to get it for him, but he insists on buying me a Snapple instead. The world is a strange and beautiful place sometimes.

Once I get back to the trail, I only walk a few miles. If I average 20s for the next 5 days I should be done by Friday the 20th. I have one HUGE climb between here and my finish line, but I’m not too worried. If I can keep my tooth and back in check for the next few days everything should be fine.
“Well I never seem to do it like anybody else. Maybe someday I’m going to settle down. If you ever want to find me I can still be found taking the long way round.” -The Long Way Around

Trail Birthday

Day 158

Mile 1209 to 1232, 23 miles + 1 non-PCT mile
Total PCT miles, 2239
I wake up feeling a bit silly about how scared I was last night. I wonder what it was that was creeping me out so much last night when most nights I don’t bat an eye at the dark. I see I should have been more worried about how much cow crap there is in my campsite. Seriously, it looks like some demented rancher gave his herd laxatives and then stampeded them around the woods.
While I’m packing up my campsite, I realize it’s my birthday. I’m 38 today, holy crap! I also realize that it’s Friday the 13th which has always sort of been a lucky day for me. Normally I’m pretty social, and I definitely be meeting up with friends for my birthday, but today I’ll just have to entertain myself. Hopefully I’ll be reuniting with friends and family about a week from now and we can have a belated celebration (hint hint).
I race through the morning, attempting to make it 12 miles before I stop for lunch. I don’t see any hikers at all, but I do come across 2 hunters. They seem to have no idea I’m there, so I make a little extra noise. I have no intention of scaring people with huge guns. They ask if I’ve seen any wildlife today, and neither of them seems amused when I tell them that I’ve seen at least a dozen chipmunks. 
I finally make it to my lunch spot and eat quickly. I decide I need to do something to mark my birthday, so I find a stick and coat the tip with pitch. I then stick it in a Little Debbie cosmic brownie and light it. Instant birthday cake, taa-daa!
The afternoon is a long slog mostly uphill, but it’s not going to hike itself. When I finally get near my campsite, I see another hunter and his dog standing under a “No Hunting” sign. Classy. I set up my tent and start making dinner. I feel way more comfortable tonight then I did last night, despite the fact that there are strange men with guns nearby.
I wanted to share insight and wisdom with you on my birthday, but I think I’ll save the waxing poetic until I finish my hike. I will share with you though why my blog is called “The Five Winds.” There’s 3 reasons actually. I have the serious reason, the funny reason, and the corny reason. The serious reason is that we acknowledge there are forces pushing us from all directions, but we also have our own power and will. That is what I think of as the fifth wind. The funny reason is that that fifth wind that comes from within is just gas (I fart a lot, especially on trail). The corny reason is that my name is Dustin, and “All we are is dust in the wind.” (Look Mom, I’m quoting Kansas again!). Now you know.

“I hope in this year to come that you make mistakes. Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re doing something.” “Neil Gaiman

Comfy Night and Creepy Night

Day 156 and 157
10-11-17 and 10-12-17

Mile 1179 to 1209, 30 miles plus 6 non-PCT miles
Total PCT miles, 2216
I think I’m exhausted, but I’m not able to go to sleep until very late. In the early hours I wake often because of the gusts of wind that jostle my tent. When my alarm goes off at 7, I turn it off. I finally get moving at 8, which is the latest I’ve gotten up on trail. I’m not too worried about time though, The trail is mostly downhill today. Also, it’s a town day, and I always seem to move faster on town days. Today is no exception. This is probably the fastest that I’ve hiked so far. I stop for a short 20 minute lunch, but otherwise I’m really moving. It’s hard to see anything today, a thick layer of smoke seems to have settled, and it’s thicker than it was in Oregon or Washington. I literally can’t see the other side of the canyon part of the day.
Once I reach Highway 49 I walk down to Sierra City, which is smaller than I anticipated. I find a guest house called River Haven. No one is around, but the note on the door says to come in, pick a room, and make myself comfortable, so I do. It feels a bit like I’m skulking about in someone else’s house (which I am), but I take a shower, and then chill out on a huge upstairs bed. It feels wonderful.
Around 4:30 I start getting hungry, so I head over to the general store to pick up my resupply package along with a hot pastrami sandwich and a quart of ice cream. I take them back to the guest house to devour. While I’m finishing off the ice cream, I look through the guest book. I many names I recognize, and it looks like Sleepy and Zen were here yesterday. Susan, the woman who owns the place arrives a short bit later. She’s a very energetic woman who’s been out hiking today herself. She’s very sweet and chatty, but pretty soon it’s time sort my resupply box and head to bed.
My resupply box is a hot damn mess. There is way too much food. If I could comfortably carry all of it, it wouldn’t have to resupply at all before I finish, but I really can’t carry all of it. I still pack way more of it than I should because I hate to waste it, and put the rest into the hiker box. I climb back onto the huge, four poster bed, climb under the quilts, and I’m out…
Susan asks if she can hug me when I check out, and of course I say “yes.” I love hugs. I’ve missed hugs. There’s not much hugging in Japan. While disposing of my resupply box in the recycling bin after checking out, Susan trots across the street with one of my socks. Thanks Susan! I decide to go to the “Red Moose” for breakfast. It is inhabited completely by locals sitting at the bar, watching news, and chatting about all the wildfires. Everyone is quite friendly, and my breakfast and coffee are delicious.
After fueling myself up for the long climb out of Sierra City, I head over to the store. Tomorrow is my birthday, and I want to buy a cookie, or Hostess Snack or something out of the normal to celebrate with. The store is supposed to open at 10. When it still hasn’t opened by 10:30, I decide a birthday treat isn’t that important, and get moving. 
I hike back up along Highway 49 to the trailhead where I meet I interesting section hiker named Jack. He seems to be in his 60s, but he’s flying up the switchbacks. I have a difficult time keeping up, but manage. It seems he’s an ultra marathoner, and also works with search and rescue. He’s got some very interesting search and rescue stories which I’m sure will give me nightmares later. Hiking with him, I manage the climb much faster than I would have on my own. We have lunch together near the top. He continues on to climb the buttes, and I continue along the trail. His company today was much appreciated. It’s been a little lonely lately.
Shortly after Jack and I part ways, a newly opened section of trail begins. I have a map, which is sort of helpful. It would be a lot more helpful though if the new trail was marked like the old trail (emblems on trees every once in awhile), and the emblems removed from the old trail. For the most part the new trail is very well manicured, but there are a few areas where I wonder if I’m going the right way. It seems I am, as I eventually make it to my campsite at Summit Lake. The new trail seems to climb a lot more than the old trail though, and my back is sore from the stupid amount of food I’m carrying. I’m also pretty sure that it’s a couple miles longer than that original section of trail.
I arrive at camp after full dark, and for some reason the forest seems extremely sinister tonight. I’m pretty comfortable in the great outdoors these days, but tonight I’ve got the creeps. I leave my campsite in search of Summit Lake, which is a boggy pond. I cringe at the amount of noise I’m making getting to the water, and finding my way back to camp. I turn on some music while I cook dinner to try to cheer myself up, but the atmosphere is still creepy AF. Every time I look around I expect to see some hideous creature lurking, or a man standing with an axe. The more I think about it, the worse I make myself feel. Finally I finish my dinner, and sequester myself in my tent. I feel about a million times better once I’m bundled into my sleep clothes and mummy bag.
“We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.” -Oscar Wilde