On the Dr. Laurie Marbas Podcast

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On the Dr. Laurie Marbas Podcast

I was honored to talk with Dr. Laurie Marbas on her latest podcast. Dr. Marbas is Board Certified in family medicine, a public speaker, author and the medical director at Dr. Furman's Health Oasis, a unique program combining nutritional care with innovative behavioral therapy to reverse illness. She is dedicated to making her patients healthy and curing disease not just treating symptoms.

Dr. Marbas has had big guests on her podcast like Dr. Joel Kahn, Andrew "Spud Fit" Taylor, Milan Ross, Josh LaJaunie and Dr. Robert Ostfeld to pick just a few. I am really appreciative that she asked me to join to talk about Running the Parks. 

We touched on how I came to the decision to start my project and how change is possible. We chatted about motivation and a little about our National Parks. We also talked about how I fuel myself when on the road. Sometimes simplicity is best. 

I really enjoyed our conversation. We ended up talking another hour after the podcast ended. I hope you enjoy as well. 

Listen via iTunes:
https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/dr-laurie-marbas-podcast/id1163569560

Or via Soundcloud:

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Vblog: First Loop at Dry Tortugas National Park

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Vblog: First Loop at Dry Tortugas National Park

Back on April 8th, 2017 to get my marathon distance I had to run 0.6 mile loops around Fort Jefferson at Dry Tortugas National Park. This was the first loop. I ran counterclockwise for 13 miles and then clockwise for 13 miles. I think 44 loops in all. I enjoyed it all. I wasn't loopy one bit. 

Here's a look at the first go-around. 

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The World is Supporting Me: Dry Tortugas National Park Logistics

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The World is Supporting Me: Dry Tortugas National Park Logistics

I knew Dry Tortugas was going to be logistically challenging. It involves a ferry ride from Key West to the island and then camping is limited by space. In addition, camping is fully rustic - you need to bring everything including your drinking water.

I may have been a little lax in researching the availability of the ferry and camp spaces. My friend contacted me and said he was going to be there in June and maybe our dates would overlap. Yea, exactly. How often do you know anyone visiting Dry Tortugas National Park much less close enough to the dates you are thinking of going there?

Unfortunately our dates are not going to overlap. By his date in June I will be all the way back to Colorado and approaching completion of the parks in the lower 48 states. But, he prompted me to call the concessionaire that runs the ferry and coordinates the campground for the National Park Service.

Here is an example of where the world is conspiring to help me. I would have likely waited for some other day. I might have even waited until I got to Florida and was running in Biscayne and Everglades to think about booking Dry Tortugas. But, my friend reached out and I am grateful.

When I called and told Val at the ferry service about my marathon project she was very enthusiastic and supportive but when I told her my dates of late April she said that the ferry and the campgrounds are booked until July. I thought a bit and I said I could be there as early as April 8th. It would just mean I would run Dry Tortugas first and then Everglades and Biscayne instead of the reverse.

She said, wait, we must have had a cancelation. I can get you to the island on April 8th for two nights of camping and the ferry returning to Key West on April 10th. She said, “that has your name written all over it”. So, that’s what I did. I wrote my name all over it (well, she did it over the phone and into her computer but you get the idea).

If you notice these events then you will see that the world is aligning to support you. But, if you only notice the challenges that life can bring then you will think the world is against you. This trip has really helped me see and believe that the world is out to support me. I just had to open my eyes to see it.

How about in your life? Are your eyes open to how the world and the people around you are supporting you?

Are you willing to connect a random instant message, call, conversation with a friend which was perfect timing?

Are you willing to make the effort to do what really feeds you and believe that the world will support you?

Because it does.

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On the Plant Trainers Podcast with Adam and Shoshana Chaim

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On the Plant Trainers Podcast with Adam and Shoshana Chaim

I was recently a guest on the Plant Trainers podcast with Adam and Shoshana Chaim (www.planttrainers.com). This was a huge honor for me. Their podcast is one of the leading sources of information for leading a healthy and active life through a plant based diet. Their past guests are educators, doctors, professional athletes and other leaders in the plant based community. They were gracious to invite me to talk about my project and how I'm keeping myself in shape to run a trail marathon a week on a plant based diet while living out of my car (Yes! It is possible!).

We touch on my decision to make a change, the mindset of possibility and of course what I eat. I enjoyed talking with Adam and Shoshana and I look forward to meeting them in person when we attend HealthFest in Marshall, Texas in March. 

Listen here on iTunes https://itunes.apple.com/ca/podcast/the-plant-trainers-podcast/id957883184?mt=2&ls=1

or on their web site at http://planttrainers.com/wordpress/169/

I would love to hear your comments. Thanks!

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On the Go Hunt Life Podcast with Todd Nevins

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On the Go Hunt Life Podcast with Todd Nevins

I was honored to be asked to join Todd Nevins (@todd_nevins on Twitter) on his excellent podcast Go Hunt Life (www.gohuntlife.com) He interviews people who "pull the ripcord" on life and make a big change. We discuss everything from how I felt before I made the change, how I've changed and what I still struggle with. We also touch on our fabulous National Parks and even running form. I hope you enjoy and would love to hear your comments. 

Listen Via iTunes - https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/go-hunt-life/id1130031805

or directly on the Go Hunt Life web site - http://gohuntlife.com/e037-lifestyle-reboot-running-59-marathons-all-us-national-parks-bill-sycalik/

 

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Vblog: Interview with George Rehmet after marathon run at Pinnacles National Park

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Vblog: Interview with George Rehmet after marathon run at Pinnacles National Park

Welcome to my vblog about my time at Pinnacles National Park. This video contains a lively chat with George Rehmet, Western Regional Director of the Road Runners Club of America (www.rrca.org) and photos and video of the park.

George joined me for the marathon to celebrate our National Parks and his last day in his 40s! We talk about beauty and challenge of running at Pinnacles and why more people should run at the parks. Watch out for the caves!

I hope you enjoy. I thoroughly did. 

Interview footage by Jennifer Weiss

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Vblog: Isle Royale National Park

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Vblog: Isle Royale National Park

I'm getting back to my videos. Here's a short one about my time way-back-when at Isle Royale National Park. It gives you an idea of what it is like on that old island. Trust me though, my photography and videography has improved since then. Keep watching.... and #runningtheparks.

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My Marathon Quest Podcast

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My Marathon Quest Podcast

I was honored to be invited by Juan and Stephanie Pena to be on their podcast, My Marathon Quest. I'm their third guest after duathlete Chris Mosier, the first known openly transgender athlete to earn a spot on a U.S. men's national team. You may have seen Chris in Nike's Unlimited Courage commercial. You can check it out on YouTube here. And Oscar Kemjika athlete and entrepreneur who is training for a spot on the 2020 Olympic Team in track. Then, little ol' me. 

In the podcast Juan, Stephanie and I talk about the genesis of my project and what it takes to be ready to run a marathon a week. We also discuss the mindset it takes to leave the city and a good job, living a minimalist lifestyle, learning about living an experiential live as well as some of the challenges of living on the road. And, in support of with the title of the podcast we talk about my tips for a novice or first time marathoner. 

Juan and Stephanie are wonderful and I enjoyed spending time with them. I hope you enjoy the discussion as well. 

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Finding My Way: Guadalupe Mountains National Park

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Finding My Way: Guadalupe Mountains National Park

The marathon run at Guadalupe Mountains National Park was hard. It was only four days after the run at Petrified Forest National Park. Unexpectedly, Guadalupe challenged me with the third most total elevation ascent of any park (6,080 feet) and several trails which just disappeared.

My original route started at the Pine Springs campground, and followed the Tejas Trail to the Marcus Trail. From there I would follow the Bush Mountain Trail back to the Tejas Trail, the Juniper Trail, Bear Canyon Trail, to the Frijole Trail and return to the campground. It was a nice loop which minimized overlap and was just a shade over 26.2 miles. Unfortunately, that is not what happened.

Marcus Trail Disappears!

The route to the intersection with the Marcus Trail was tough climbing but clear. About a half mile into the Marcus Trail it just vanished. It shows on the GPS results but I couldn’t find it. Rather than get lost I went back and reconnected with the Bush Mountain Trail which, while longer, would connect me back to the Tejas Trail.

Lost on the Bush Mountain Trail

After about five or six miles that trail also disappeared, this time into the Chihuahuan desert. Once again the trail shows on the map in the GPS results but it was not obvious to me. I was spending a lot of time route finding and not a lot of time running.

At that point I had completed about 12 miles. I decided to turn around and go back. I felt better, not about the upcoming climb out of the canyon, but that I knew my way back to the car. Between my fatigue and the challenge of the terrain I didn’t want to run any extra if I could help it.

Overall, despite being a bit sluggish, I felt good on the trail. The terrain made me pay attention and be in the moment. That concept is very popular right now; being in the moment.

On the Bush Mountain Trail: I see the cairn. Do you see the trail?

Even after seven months away from the big city and corporate life I often find myself fighting to focus on now. Sometimes when I’m running I’m thinking of taking photos, posting photos, editing photos, videos, writing and how I am “behind” with my blog. I still put a lot of pressure on myself to turn this project into something when I’m done; some sort of job, some sort of career. Should I even be doing that? Sometimes I ruminate on it so much that I fail to enjoy the project. Then I get mad at myself for failing to enjoy the project.

How do I stop the spiral? I try to be grateful. Cultivating the feeling takes work. I’m not the best at it but I am improving. When I get to spinning, I think about how grateful I am to have this opportunity. I am grateful for my education. I am grateful for my past employment which has allowed me the financial means to go on a trip like this. I am grateful for my supportive friends and family who don’t think I’m crazy. I’m grateful that we have these great National Parks set aside for our enjoyment. I am grateful for my health. I am grateful for many things big, small, those seemingly insignificant and those absolutely necessary. Usually a few minutes of focus brings me back around. You could call this a meditation if you want. I call it an admiration of life.

If you start to twist up just think about one thing you are grateful for. It could be a family member, the sky, your favorite tree, a warm breeze, the sacrifices of others for your benefit, your pet; it doesn’t matter. Just put that thought in your brain and focus for a few minutes. The feeling will grow. Other things you are grateful for will present themselves. It takes practice but as I have found, I think you too will realize how rich we are in life.

I was grateful the Carlsbad RV Park & Campground had this game room so I could do some e-work. I also played a few pinball games. I'm terrible. 

 

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Campsite Wisdom: Love Yourself and Treat Yourself Well

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Campsite Wisdom: Love Yourself and Treat Yourself Well

My marathon run at Zion National Park was fabulous but my body took a pounding. I left my car at the park visitor center and took a private shuttle to the Hop Valley trailhead. I ran the Connector Trail to the Wildcat Canyon Trail to the West Rim Trail and down to the Grotto trailhead. From there I followed along the Virgin River until the trail ended on the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive. I ran on the road to shuttle stop three at Canyon Junction and took the bus back to the visitor center. Total distance was just under 27.5 miles and offered me the best views of Zion Canyon in the park.

It wasn’t the little extra distance that beat me up. First, I fell at only 0.7 miles into the run. I wasn’t paying attention on a nice flat section of single track trail and caught a toe. I landed on a rock which bruised my right hip. Luckily it wasn’t bad enough to make me stop. It did leave a nice bump and blue mark later. This is only the second time in 20 trail marathons that I’ve fallen.

Second, while the route had 2,913 feet of ascent which is modest, it had 5,233 feet of descent much of that at the end. All the breaking during steep downhill beat up my quads. I was sore.

Almost two solid hours of downhill running! Ouch!

After the run I was relaxing in the clubhouse at Willow Wind RV Park and Campground in Hurricane, Utah. I was icing my hip and watching World Series game five with two other guests, Jose and Frank.

In between innings we chatted about where we were from, what brought us to Utah and other similar topics. Frank is a retiree on his way to California from Montana to visit his daughter. He loves the Zion area and comes often to mountain bike.

Jose has been living at the RV park for almost four years. He is originally from Washington Heights in Manhattan. We chatted about NYC for a bit. He’s been gone from the City for close to 30 years and has no plans to go back. I also got the impression that he was retired.

Frank asked what I eat when doing all this running. This is a common question. I explained that I eat vegan – as much fresh produce as possible and a hearty amount of rice and beans.

Jose jumped in to say that he loves to cook: it is a passionate hobby. I mentioned to them that I believe eating simply is healthy but I also said that when back in NYC I didn’t prepare anything complex because I didn’t believe it was worth the effort for only one person.

Jose emphatically disagreed. He said that even though he lives alone, every day he prepares himself a fully cooked dinner, eaten on nice plates with a glass of wine. He said with full conviction: You need to love yourself and treat yourself well. If you don’t who will?

You could see that lived by his words. He was a very happy, laughing man. He loved himself. It didn’t matter what things he has or doesn’t have. It didn’t matter that he lives in an RV park. He didn’t care what other people thought.

Since then I’ve recounted his words many times.

I admit that I get caught up in using external comparisons to measure internal happiness and that makes me, not happy. I don’t always love who I am. I beat myself up for not earning more, moving up faster, having “nicer” things. I compare myself to my business school colleagues who are more “successful”. I still get caught up in the American cultural expectations for more, for bigger, faster, better, fancier, but funny enough, not happier.

I had started a physical and mental purging before I left New York City and I’ve continued it on my trip. Not being as worried about what people think is liberating. It is not an easy habit to break though. I often have panics that “I have nothing”. I don’t own a house. I’m not renting a nice apartment. I don’t even have a job. What the hell am I doing?

In comparison to some, I don’t have a lot. In comparison to many, many others here and around the world, I am very well off. So instead of continuing to beat myself up, I try to turn it around.

My abilities and prudent planning have allowed me to take a trip many only dream about. I am physically and mentally able to complete a marathon a week in the most beautiful places in our country. I am being very cautious about the money I spend on this trip (I’m typing this in the common area of an $11 per night hostel in Moab, Utah) but I try to make sure I treat myself well. I rarely eat at restaurants but I don’t scrimp on the quality of food I buy at grocery stores. I acquire solid gear when needed. I have an audible.com subscription (which is totally worth it for all the ass time I have in the car). I meditate at least 30 minutes every day. And, every time I enter a National Park, I am in awe.

This trip is treating myself well. This trip is showing self-love. This trip is expanding my belief in what is possible for me and for others. What I have or don’t have compared to the rest of the world is irrelevant.

I encourage everyone to periodically stop and check how they feel about themselves. How’s your self-love? Are those feelings genuine or contingent on some external measure?  Are you waiting to treat yourself well until you’ve bought, achieved, created, or earned just that bit more? Recognize if you are caught up in it. That little bit more won’t change things. You are worthy by being who you are not by what you have. Ask people who care for you. They will let you know.

Treating yourself well can take many forms. For Jose it was cooking for himself.  For me it is this trip. What is it for you?

GPS capture of the route - http://www.movescount.com/moves/move129908291
Photos from Zion - https://goo.gl/photos/PhA1XDYwhVgmNk9q6

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Hippie Shaken: A Missed Opportunity

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Hippie Shaken: A Missed Opportunity

I wanted to leave Arcata, CA.  I was uncomfortable there. I was staying in a hostel a few miles from Redwood National Park.

I have never seen more hippies in one place in my entire life. I felt uneasy talking to them. I feel more comfortable talking to the suits than I do hippies, especially young ones. I admit I come with preconceived notions. They are stoned all the time. They make no logical sense. They are physically dirty. They have no focus or purpose in life. They seem to care about the environment and the world but don’t seem to do anything productive to make it better. They talk a lot about preservation and conservation but spend a lot of time getting high. While in Arcata I saw hippies living in vans, cars, converted school busses and on the street. It was unsettling to me that in a project where I am trying to free myself from typical “corporate America” I couldn’t bring myself to talk much with those who claim to be most “free”.

Maybe they have a backup a plan. Maybe there is a hidden hippie support network they can tap into at any time. What I did see reinforced many of the stereotypes. At $40 per night the hostel in Arcata was for the slightly more well off hippies. Many were from outside the US. Regardless, there was a lot of pot smoking, random people sneaking in to sleep on the couch in the common area and scrounging of the shared kitchen for whatever has been abandoned. After some quick research I come to find out that Arcata is one of the top destinations for hippies in the U.S. (https://www.thrillist.com/travel/nation/the-most-hippie-towns-in-america)

However, I feel like I missed an opportunity to learn more about their lifestyle and values. I am all for minimalism, conservation, environmental stewardship, travel, life experiences and having a good time. It just seems unfocused. Maybe that’s the point?

As my trip continues I will not miss opportunities to learn again. I need to expand my comfort zone. Now time to learn from the everyone. We can all learn from each other.

Now, I’m sure many of my friends are thinking, Bill leaves his corporate job to visit our country’s most unspoiled natural locations and spend hours in the outdoors running long distances for no apparent reason. He lives in a tent on top of his Subaru. He sold or donated almost everything he has. He wears the same clothes for a week. He wears Birkenstock sandals, sometimes with socks. He spends his “free” time meditating, reading, writing and contemplating life and fate. I thought Bill was a hippie.

Wait, maybe I am.

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Mount Rainier National Park: Excited, Worried, Longing for Lodging, & Wonderrun

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Mount Rainier National Park: Excited, Worried, Longing for Lodging, & Wonderrun

Excited

I was excited for Mount Rainier National Park. I was meeting a group of runners and their “support crew” for a few days of camping and running. I connected with them through the Seven Hills Running Shop in Seattle. Dana, Jessie, and Tim were planning to run the entire 93 miles of the Wonderland Trail in three days starting on Friday. I was going to join them on the last leg which was around 29 miles for my park marathon. The rest of the time I was part of the crew consisting of Mark, Luke, Ryan and Andrea.

On the way to Mount Rainier I made a detour to Mount Townsend in the Buckhorn Wilderness of the Olympic National Forest, managed by the U.S. Forest Service, for an official photo shoot. Professional photographer Nick Danielson contacted me and offered to take some action photos and get in a trail run. We did a 10 mile run where he captured me on the trails with low clouds hanging close. The weather wasn’t the best for majestic mountain vistas but I really like the effect. For those who may be photographed running in the future Nick offered me some advice. Remember “high knees” when running (which is good advice regardless) because it makes for a more dramatic photo. Seemed to work.

First day of the three-day Wonderland Trail run started at the Cougar Rock Campground and went clockwise to Mowich Lake Campground. The second day was to go from Mowich Lake to the White River Campground and the leg I was running on the third day was from White River back to Cougar Rock. The support crew saw Dana, Jessie and Tim off on the first leg around 8am Friday morning. We packed up and headed to Mowich Lake. Mowich Lake is a “walk-in” campground. While I’m sure they exist at other parks this is the first one I’ve seen. Basically, there is a parking lot for your car but you have to carry all your camping gear a very short distance into a designated area for tents. You are not allowed to camp in the parking lot or sleep in your car. It was very clearly described in the posted campground rules. We will come back to this because many of you know I have a rooftop tent which is permanently affixed to my car. There is no walking it in.

Worried

Our ultrarunning trio expected the first leg to take them 10 to 12 hours. That would put them into Mowich Lake between 6:00 and 8:00pm. The support crew got the sites all set up and the food prepped. Mark left at around 5:00pm and ran the opposite way onto the trail. He was going to meet up with the group and run back with them. He returned around 8:00pm alone. It was getting very dark. At that point there was barely enough light to see your footing and we knew only one of the three had a headlamp. We were all a little surprised that they weren’t back yet knowing the strength of their running abilities.

As it got darker and colder we obviously started to worry that something went wrong. I was the only runner that remained in the group so I got out my pack and stuffed it full of emergency space blankets, water, headlamps, and other first aid items. I strapped on my headlamp and started down the trail at 8:45pm. We made an agreement that I would be gone three hours. Even in the pitch black I could cover a reasonable distance in that time which would hopefully let me meet up with them.

Luckily within only two miles I reached two of the runners. They had run on ahead to let the crew know what was happening. One of the runners was experiencing dehydration and stomach problems. The two were using the flashlights on their cell phones to see the trail as they ran. Our other friend was unable to keep anything down, even water. I gave the two their headlamps and they continued up toward camp. I went the other way toward the ailing runner. They were only another four-tenths of a mile down on the trail moving but very slowly. I offered water which was accepted but shortly thereafter spat up on the trail. We walked slowly together. I tried to offer words of encouragement without being overly exuberant. About 30 minutes later Ryan arrived. He supplied a pair of hiking poles which greatly assisted out friend’s ascent up to the campground. The last two miles, incorporating several stops to rest, took over two hours.  

Longing for Lodging

I mentioned earlier that I was unable to use my rooftop tent at the walk-in campground. I had decided before all of the activity that once the runners arrived I would leave to find another campground or inexpensive motel. Some encouraged me to set up the tent in the parking lot and take a chance. I decided against it. It was a violation of the rules for that campsite and as a National Park advocate I want to follow the posted guidelines. I do believe that law enforcement rangers regularly patrol all the campsites. The last thing I wanted was a rap on the tent at 2:00am telling me to pack it up and leave.

Once everyone was safe and resting I left. It was around 11:30pm. I was feeling good and remarkably awake. Between Mowich Lake campground in the park and Enumclaw, WA, a one hour and twenty-minute drive, I saw little to no lodging. However, in Enumclaw there were a number of inexpensive options. I stopped at the Econolodge. I chatted with the front desk staff. The hotel and most in the area were booked. It seems there was a concert at the local casino. Damn you Hall and Oates! Failure #1.

I continued toward the White River Campground. I figured there had to be another motel along the way. Um, no, not really. The first thing I came to was the Alta Crystal Resort. Alright, I’m tired. It is after midnight. I’ll splurge. Well, at the Alta Crystal Resort there is no night desk or posted contact number I could find. Failure #2. 

At that point I was only about 20 minutes from White River so I figured I would just stay there. I arrived and did three loops of the grounds. Full. In the back of my mind I had a feeling that would be the case so I wasn’t completely surprised. Failure #3.

OK, now it is a game. And surprisingly enough, I wasn’t frustrated yet. 

Morning at the Dalles Campground

I remember passing the Crystal Mountain Ski resort which had several lodging options. I drove the 30 minutes from Mount Rainer National Park out and up the switchbacks to the resort. Now I was just being stubborn. I arrived to the same result as Alta Crystal which I really expected. No one was working the front desk even though I would bet they had lots of space available. I even rapped on the glass quite a bit. Failure #4.

On the road to White River there are three National Forest campgrounds. Silver Springs is the closest to Mount Rainier followed by Buck Creek Recreation and then The Dalles as you move away from the park. I headed to Silver Springs. I drove around the site twice. Full. Failure #5.

Now I’m a little more frustrated. And damn is it dark.  

I drove next to Buck Creek. When I turned in I couldn’t see the camp site within the first few hundred feet and I didn’t know how far back on the gravel road I would to have go to find it. I wasn’t in the mood for a long bumpy drive so I turned around. Failure #6. 

And, on to The Dalles campground in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest. Finally, space. I pull in and set up the tent after 2:30am. I found the slot to pay the $18.00 fee so the caretaker wouldn’t wake me up at 7:00am and went to sleep.

Wonderrun

When I arrived the next day at White River the group was already there and had scored two campsites next to each other. All the runners were fine and resting. They had made the decision to forgo the second leg of the Wonderland Trail run. Dana still planned to join me for the third leg the next morning. So we all relaxed and chatted like we’ve known each other for years. It was very comfortable. 

I made an upside-down campfire which I saw online. I told everyone it would either work or be a total disaster. Luckily it worked. In fact, several said that it was the best campfire they’ve ever had. Score one for the aspiring outdoorsman. It was still roaring at 9:30pm as I went to bed in order to be ready for the next day’s run.

At the s

Dana and I started on the Wonderland Trail at 7am on Sunday. Our route from White River back to Cougar Rock allowed us a touchpoint with the group around mile 18.

What an amazing run! We were wrapped by beautiful forests, wildflowers, glaciers, streams, snowpack, fog and sun. We ran through the meadows of Summerland and over Panhandle Gap the highest point on the Wonderland Trail. For those planning this trip please note, the National Park Service has done extensive work on the steep portions of the trail to mitigate erosion from the foot traffic and weather. The installation of logs created stairs which lead up and then down. Practice in your house, apartment building or office. There are a lot of stairs.

The natural beauty of Mount Rainier seemed to have no end. We admired the views but kept a nice solid pace. We both talked and talked and talked.  Dana acted as my PR rep promoting my project when we met hikers along the way. Pretty funny. This what it is all about - getting out in nature and enjoying it with others. I was lucky to have such a strong runner with me. At mile 18 Tim joined and got to listen to us playfully bitch about all the stairs for the next few hours. At mile 26 we met Jessie, Mark, Ryan and Andrea who ran the rest of the way with us.

At the trailhead near Cougar Rock we rested, took photos and prepared to leave. While Dana and I were out running the group planned to stop for dinner at the Copper Creek Inn & Restaurant right outside the park. In celebration of marathon #14 of my project they offered to buy me dinner. I was honestly touched. I just met these people three days ago and I can say with all conviction that they are now lifelong friends.

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North Cascades National Park: Welcome, Press, Energy

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North Cascades National Park: Welcome, Press, Energy

Welcome

It was time to move on to the next park. I left Glacier feeling much more upbeat after the run. Your mood is always better after exercise. This is a huge reason to get out and move regularly. And imagine how good your mood is after you run in the beauty of a National Park!

I knew nothing about North Cascades except for the little I read in my National Geographic Guide to National Parks of the United States, 8th Edition. This is a must have introduction to all the parks.

I stayed at the North Cascades Mountain Hostel in Winthrop, WA. Winthrop is a western themed tourist focused town which serves those coming to hike, mountain bike and in the winter, cross-country ski in the Methow Valley. The Methow Valley boasts the largest number of groomed Nordic ski trails in the country. In the summer they double as hiking and running trails. 

Paul and Audrey run an exquisitely well maintained, friendly and perfectly located hostel one block from the main road through town. It is easy to walk to bars, restaurants and shopping. It was a perfect location for me having come off a more remote experience at Glacier. The guests were varied. Many were through hikers on the 1,200 mile Pacific Northwest Trail which goes from the Continental Divide in Montana in Glacier National Park to the Pacific coast in Olympic National Park. There were also individuals and families there to kayak the local rivers, day hike and see the National Park.

People who live in Winthrop are very welcoming and proud of their town. They are enthusiastic proponents of the Methow Valley. On more than one occasion in hearing about my project and future plans to settle in Colorado, people from the area they asked me why I don’t move to Winthrop instead. In contrast to those who want to “keep it to themselves”, the people I met there want to share the Methow Valley with everyone. It was a really refreshing attitude. If it wasn’t so cold in the winter and they had a baseball team I would consider it.

Press

On August 25th, the 100th birthday of the National Park Service, NBC News launched their final piece in their series about the National Parks. It was about me and my marathons!

Badlands and Beyond: Marathoner Charts Course Through Every National Park

I mentioned in an earlier blog that NBC News had sent a reporter to cover me when running at Badlands National Park in South Dakota (special thanks to Jennifer Weiss for not making me look like a moron). The story was on the front page of NBCnews.com and featured on their official Instagram and Twitter accounts. It has helped me connect with people to run with and help support my project.

I am very grateful that they picked up the story. I hope it will lead to more people realizing that taking a break from corporate or professional life is possible and that the National Parks are meant to be experienced not just photographed from a car window. Get out and move!

The story was also picked up by the Today Show web site at today.com. However, the angle was a little different. The premise was that I’m also looking to meet new people and hopefully find love on the trail. I think that’s great. Hell, I’ll take any help I can get. So far it hasn’t worked but I’m not giving up hope. Any outdoorsy gals (as they put it) out there?

Energy

In talking with the locals and rangers I learned that North Cascades is a “backcountry” park. There is no loop road. In fact, there is no road through the park at all. The only way to get to a park boundary in a car is via the 23-mile Cascade River Road which dead-ends at the Cascade Pass Trailhead.

The last thirteen miles of the road are not paved and have narrow switchbacks as you climb from several hundred feet to over 3,500. Otherwise to access the National Park you have to hike in via a trailhead that starts in a National Forest, National Wilderness Area or National Recreational Area.

Working with the rangers at the visitor center they suggested to experience the pure beauty and power of the Cascade mountains and the lush beauty of the Stehekin valley I run a 13.1 mile out and back on the Cascade Pass Trail and the Upper Stehekin Valley Trail. This also allowed me to start and end in the park and not have to add extra distance in one of the surrounding areas.

For this run, I had energy, lots. It was partly because of the good interactions with people at the hostel over the week. It was partly because the news article had me feeling all semi-famous. It was partly because the today.com article would help me find true love (right?). And it was partly because North Cascade National Park fed me. The mountain scenes impressed me as much as anything I’ve seen to date. North Cascades National Park has the most glaciers (over 300) of any U.S. park outside Alaska and a third of all the glaciers in the lower 48 states are located in the park. They were visible all around.

The climb to Cascade Pass was slightly under 2,000 feet in the first 3.5 miles and then the decline was down 3,000 feet for the next 10 miles. Of course, what goes down must go up especially if you want to get back to your car. So, I turned around down in the Stehekin Valley and started the climb back up. It was a gradual climb but I thought it was going to feel more difficult. I felt consistently good the entire time.

Despite it threatening I only got a couple of instances of a fine mist in the valley. I find out after talking to some climbers at the parking lot that it was windy and rained so heavily at the pass it turned them back from even starting their climb. One said, “it was raining in my ear”. By the time I reached the pass on the way back from the valley the rain had ended. I must admit I was lucky. At the pass the temperature was in the low 40s, high 30s. While I had my rain shell I would have been miserably cold had I got caught in the rain.

That evening after the run I attended the Winthrop screening of the Telluride Mountain Film Festival. The North Cascades Mountain Hostel was the producer and main sponsor. To sit outside and watch a series of excellent short films under the stars in a park in idyllic little mountain town after a run through the Cascades couldn’t have capped the weekend off any better. Now on to Olympic National Park…

GPS capture of the route: http://www.movescount.com/moves/move120306830
Photos from North Cascades: https://goo.gl/photos/qVeUUAsHMb56n5QK6

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Glacier National Park: Birthday, Solitude, People

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Glacier National Park: Birthday, Solitude, People

Following a really fun and challenging run at Yellowstone I rolled into Glacier National Park excited to experience it. I’ve been wanting for a long time to try the Crown of the Continent on for size (Ha! Yes, I know that’s terrible. Insert groan here…).

When visiting Yellowstone, I stayed at the Rustic Wagon Campground in West Yellowstone, Montana. West Yellowstone is a great base for exploring the park and Rustic Wagon is nicely quiet but still only a few blocks from the tourist shops and restaurants. It was a perfect place to base my run. The campsites turned over quickly so I only had a few passing conversations with people. I also wasn’t able to get anyone to join me on the run. So while full of anticipation I still arrived in Glacier a bit lonely.

I stayed on the west side of Glacier at the North Fork Hostel in Polebridge, MT. Polebridge is just outside of the park boundary, has no cell coverage, and no electricity except solar and generator. Located there is the Polebridge Mercantile, a great bakery and general store since 1914 and the Northern Lights Saloon & Café, a place to wet your whistle and watch occasional live music.

The North Fork Hostel is clean, well maintained, and remote. You get one hour of electricity and internet a day from 7-8pm, the restroom is outside (remember your flashlight!), and the interior lights are propane. You fire them with a match old-school-style. The simplicity is what drew me to the place.

While I was there many of the guests were through hikers dropping off the Pacific Northwest Trail (PNT) or visitors to the west side of the park, both types usually staying only a night or two. I was there a week. While I had some enjoyable conversations with my fellow guests most were short chats during meals or in the early evening before the dark settled in.

As an aside, I now have very high respect for through hikers. Covering 20 to 40 miles a day and sleeping along the trail is very impressive to me. Anyone who attempts, much less completes a trek like the PNT, Appalachian Trail (AT) or Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) has my admiration.

I rested on Monday and Tuesday. I read a bit and explored the area around the hostel. The North Fork of the Flathead River is close enough to hear. It was very gentle and relaxing.

Wednesday August 17 was my 45th birthday. I decided that would be my “tourist day”. I drove the Going to the Sun road from the west to east side and came back via the roads that cut through the Blackfeet Indian Reservation, Lewis and Clark National Forest and the Flathead National Forest. I took many photos. With so much beauty sometimes it was hard to stop shooting. 

But being alone on my birthday threw me into a bit of a funk. When I had coverage I received many digital good wishes. I am grateful for the beautiful people in my life but nothing replaces true interpersonal interaction. The remote area was regenerative and isolating at the same time. I was missing family and friends.

The next day I did a further exploration of the west side and a little hiking to kick myself back into the groove. I drove out to Bowman Lake. Remote and spectacular! I also explored the Inside North Fork Road until I came to the tree down across the road. That was the sign to get out and walk around. The area was recovering from a fire from a recent year past. Even though there wasn’t anyone around for miles and no animals I could see I felt like I was being watched. Eerie but made me feel alive.

I started to feel better as I approached the run date. I worked with the rangers and developed an east side loop route starting near the Many Glacier Hotel (where the bellmen wear lederhosen and the waitresses Swiss peasant dresses). The plan was to take the Ptarmigan Trail to the Redgap Pass Trail back around to the hotel. This route would take me through the famous Ptarmigan Tunnel and around Apikuni Mountain.  

Unfortunately, when I arrived the Ptarmigan Trail was closed due to bear activity. I had not contemplated a second option. Interestingly I was not annoyed or angry in any way. Here was something to figure out. I was there to run. Figure out a way to run.

I found a ranger station near the Many Glacier Campground. One of the rangers was a runner and suggested doing an out and back of the Swiftcurrent Trail. It was a beautiful trail and would have some climbing. Perfect.

In less than a mile from the start my fellow hikers and I were stopped due to a bear on the trail. He/she was not in any hurry to go anywhere. We kept a distance until it finally veered off into Redrock Lake for a swim. From there I only saw one other animal, a moose in the middle of Fishercap Lake chomping away and minding its own business.

I climbed the Swiftcurrent Trail up 2,300 feet to the Granite Park Chalet (elevation 6,693 ft.). The Chalet was built by the Great Northern Railway in 1914 and is a National Historic Landmark. Today it is an overnight stop for hikers and backpackers with a communal kitchen and dorm-style accommodations.

From there I ran back down and onto the Grinnell Glacier Trail. When I hit my mileage target I headed back toward Many Glacier around the backside of Swiftcurrent Lake. While not the course I originally planned it was still stunning. I’m not sure there is any part of Glacier that would have disappointed.

A week after my run the rangers closed the Swiftcurrent Trail because an off-duty National Park Service (NPS) employee off trail picking berries surprised a bear and was scratched up a fair bit. She had bear spray but the attack happened so fast she didn’t get a chance to use it.

If you are planning a trip to Glacier and considering where to stay here are my recommendations. Unless you are planning to fight for an NPS campground (they were filling up by 7am, really) I would stay on the west side if you want a remote location with quiet and solitude. Polebridge is a highlight. If you are looking to do more running/hiking and have easy access to a vast trail system, I would suggest the east side of the park specifically near Many Glacier. That’s where I will stay the next time I come back.

This trip continues to reinforce that my personal balance is best when mixing people and nature. I enjoy and need solitude and reflective time but I also crave camaraderie and engagement. While planning the logistics of sleeping, eating, exploring, writing, traveling and running I need to also, as silly as it may sound, plan the logistics of engaging with people. And that does not mean via a computer or phone. I was doing better since Badlands but I think my birthday wrinkled the paper. For this trip to be successful and enjoyable all sides of me need to be nurtured, explored, and fed. It is a continuous process that takes work. 

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Grand Teton National Park: Welcome, Run, Inspire

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Grand Teton National Park: Welcome, Run, Inspire

Welcome

I was looking forward to returning to Grand Teton National Park. It is one of the few National Parks I’ve visited as an adult. Sixteen years ago, in the summer between our first and second years of the MBA program at the NYU Stern School of Business, my good friend Derek Henwood and I decided to take a slightly-longer-than-weeklong vacation out west. While we spent most of our time in Grand Teton National Park we also saw Yellowstone, Devils Tower, and Mount Rushmore. While a bit hurried I think Derek would agree that it was one of the best vacations we’ve ever had.

So I arrived with positive memories of good friends and magnificent scenery. Once again, the Tetons did not disappoint. Through Facebook I reached out to the local trail running club in Jackson – the Teton Trail Runners. David Reus responded that he and his wife Lauren and their son John would be willing to put me up for a few days. While they didn’t have an extra bedroom I could put up the rooftop tent in the yard and have access to the bathroom and kitchen. It worked out spectacularly. This was a gracious offer to which I am very thankful. I made three lifelong friends in David, Lauren and John. We enjoyed dinner together just about every night with conversation never failing to be positive and engaging. David was also able to adjust his work schedule in order to join me for half of my marathon.

As an aside David works for the National Park Service in park administration managing the logistics of the services provided to guests throughout the park. He and his family live in the NPS housing complex near the visitor center. I must admit that they won the view lottery. This is what they see out their front window every single day.

 

I arrived in Jackson on Tuesday August 2nd. The Teton Trail Runners have a regular group run on Tuesdays and David asked if I would be interested in joining. What he failed to tell me, unintentionally, is that they were going to be running the first four miles of the Rendezvous Mountain Hillclimb, a 6.1 mile race they were holding on Saturday. The first four miles have almost 3,000 feet of climbing from the base of Teton Village ski area. If I knew that ahead of time I might have wimped out since I was going to run my marathon on Thursday August 4th and I had just run a marathon at Wind Cave three days prior on Saturday. Once I was there and got introduced to everyone I had no opportunity to back out. I met a lot of really exceptional people and damn strong runners.

Route

In working with the rangers and David we developed a marathon course that hit many of the highlights of the park but didn’t involve ridiculous climbing. David would join me to do a loop of Jenny Lake and String Lake and then I would continue down the Valley Trail to Teton Village. We woke up early, dropped my car off at Teton Village and drove to the start at the trailhead near the Jenny Lake boat launch. The entire course had over 3,500 feet of elevation gain and over 4,000 feet of descent. We grabbed our bear spray, mine a gracious gift from David, and started a little before 8am.

Photo by David Reus

Within 50 feet of the parking lot David and I encountered a black bear sow and two cubs on the trail. We gave them wide berth (as you should!) and continued. Only short distance after that David noticed that someone had accidentally dropped an apple core on the asphalt path near the trail. He picked it up and took a detour to find a bear-proof trash can. He mentioned that something as simple as an apple core can cause a bear to become more aggressive toward humans and their food. In that case the bear is often put down before it harms someone. Bear safety and livelihood is very important and everyone there takes it seriously.

The trail around Jenny and String Lakes covers some of the most popular sites in the park. Because we started early the area wasn’t too busy with tourists. We breathed in the morning and magnificence with every step. Or, maybe that was just me huffing because almost the entire run would be above 6,700 feet. David got a great photo of a marmot who was posing like it was his job. After our loop of the lake I left David at his car and continued. For close to 20 miles, the Valley Trail presented me with challenging singletrack, invigorating natural beauty and few people. A passing hiker pointed out a black bear in the distance but I saw no other animals besides chipmunkey-munkeys, squirrels and birds. It was a perfect day and place for running.

Inspire

2000 and 2016

I took Friday off to rest and do some sightseeing but I had an itching to climb to a 9,000-foot point before I left. When I was at Grand Teton National Park the first time I climbed to Holly Lake (9,416 ft.) and remember it being difficult but fulfilling.

Amphitheater Lake

On Saturday afternoon I started from the Lupine Meadows trailhead toward two highlights of the park: Surprise (9,580 ft.) and Amphitheater (9,698 ft.) Lakes. My back was aching a bit from the Tuesday climb and the Thursday marathon but I didn’t feel it was bad enough hold me back. I took my time hiking up and was rewarded. Surprise and Amphitheater are quiet, powerful alpine lakes. From Surprise Lake you get dramatic views of the 13,770-foot peak of Grand Teton and at the smaller Amphitheater Lake you are almost encircled by mountains. There, faced with this imposition, I felt both appreciative and insignificant.

I decided to mostly run on the way back down. At some point I slowed to a walk and was passed by another runner. Since he was the first runner I had seen either during my marathon or that day I decided to drop in behind him for as long as I could. We struck up a conversation. Jake Urban is the co-founder of the Jackson Hole Outdoor Leadership Institute. He and his team teach avalanche awareness and wilderness medicine to individuals and first responders.

During our conversation we realize we are both from small towns in Pennsylvania not far from each other and we are about the same age. In the not too distant past he made a life decision to step away from a successful career in academia to live somewhere he wanted to live and do something he wanted to do. He is an example of possibility. Possibility to step away, possibility to change, possibility to do meaningful work, possibility make a difference, make a living and enjoy your life all at the same time. He was just coming down from summiting the Grand Teton. He said that I pushed him toward the end. Hell, I was just trying to keep up.

I left Grand Teton National Park with warmth of new friends, examples of possibility and images of mountains pointing up – the only way to go.

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