The idea. / by Wookie Kim

Everything starts with an idea. This spring, an idea was born: I would run America.

I didn't want so much to run continuously from one coast to the other. Rather, I wanted to visit by car the parts of America I hadn't yet visited, but stop along the way and run. Particularly, I wanted to run in our national parks. The hope was that I'd spend the summer learning--about those very parks, about the awesomeness of Nature, about living by myself, about myself. I wanted this to be a challenge, but a fun one still. And--no matter what--I wanted to be safe, and return home in one piece. That was the idea.

The idea came about naturally. It was really just a combination of things.

Last fall, I ran my first ultramarathon, a 50-mile trail race in western Maryland. In preparing for that race (the most challenging one of my life), I began spending more time on dirt trails and in parks, instead of on the paved city roads that I'd been so accustomed to.

At the same time, I discovered that, between the end of my current job and the start of my next job, I'd have almost two full months off. This was a substantial block of time all to myself--with no commitments, no burdens, nothing I needed to do. I needed to spend that time wisely.

I knew I'd spend part of that time traveling, but the question was where. The answer was obvious. Nine summers ago, I biked from one coast to the other. That was, without a doubt, the best summer of my life. I wanted to recreate the way I felt that summer. But I would do things a little differently: I would cover different ground, using a different mode of transportation. So, instead of biking east-to-west straight through the center of the country, I would hop in my car, hug the perimeter, and run when I could.

But this trip had to be a challenge. It couldn't be a run-of-the-mill road trip. I needed to be taking risks, testing limits, feeling uncomfortable. It's through challenges, after all, that we live. So I decided to set a goal of hitting as many national parks (and monuments and state parks) as I could. And, in each, I set out to do an epic run. I mapped a 45-day itinerary, and mapped out (almost) 45 runs. I decided I'd reach mountain summits (e.g. Yellowstone's Electric Peak, which tops out at 11,000 feet), and canyon valleys (e.g., the Grand Canyon Rim-to-Rim), and everything in between.

I also needed something to counterbalance the time that I'd spend speeding across the country in my Prius. I needed to leave time to take things easy. I'd do that by camping, on my own (for the first time ever), in the wild, with a great big valise full of books to read where it's peaceful. I figured I'd document things along the way. So that became part of the plan, too.

That was how the idea came about. On Friday, August 28, I leave Baltimore and the idea becomes real.

The route.