Day 38: Big Bend National Park, TX + Dallas, TX by Wookie Kim

At 6 a.m. this morning in Big Bend, I had to make a choice: (1) reach the Rio Grande in Big Bend but have a ridiculously long drive to Dallas afterwards and (2) head straight for Dallas and still having a long driving day. I chose the first option and couldn't be happier with that choice.

I had plans to stay with Bradshaw H., a high-school classmate, in Dallas this evening. No matter what I did, I'd be in for a long drive. From the park's exit, Dallas was about 550 miles away. But I was already over 30 miles inside the park. And I wanted to drive another 30 miles in the opposite direction on the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive to the Rio Grande. Specifically, I'd heard that Santa Elena Canyon was a must-see, so I decided to go there.

I broke camp quickly, and hit the road by 6:20 a.m. All was dark, and I felt at peace, just as I had on my pre-dawn cruise through West Texas the day before. The miles I slowly clocked on Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive felt weird; I was driving in the most amazing part of the park, but I couldn't see any of it yet. I knew I'd be retracing my route on the way out, but still.

All the light I had to guide me was on the front of my car. That small source of light was enough to show me the type of wildlife activity that goes on while we humans sleep. Every couple minutes while cruising at 45 miles per hour, I would see another animal. First, I saw a dozen or so rabbits. Here and there, I'd see roadrunners scampering across the road. I saw a white-tailed (?) fox using the human highway as his own highway (even though I rolled close to him, he continued trotting along the edge of the road as I passed him. And, magically, for the first time all trip, I saw, and almost collided with, a lumbering black bear (one of an estimated 50 black bears living in the park).

By 7:30 a.m., the sky was beginning to wake up. I could tell rain was on the agenda today, because the clouds looked dark and ominous. But that made for a more moody and grand landscape. I snapped some photos along the way.

By 8 a.m., I'd arrived at the trailhead to Santa Elena Canyon, which is in an incredibly remote part of an incredibly remote park. The canyon itself was carved out by the Rio Grande, the river that serves as the US-Mexico border in this part of the country. I was on the US side. But if I wanted to (and signs made clear that I shouldn't do this), I could simply hop into the river, swim the 25 yards across, and be on Mexican soil.

(Santa Elena Canyon might as well have been named Rabbit's Canyon because the desert cottontails were running wild here. Every 50 yards or so, I would see a new bunny, sometimes scurrying off the road into the grass, and sometimes just sitting still in the middle of the road as I rolled quietly by. I saw close to a hundred rabbits on my drive. There were lots of roadrunners, too.) 

Without any knowledge of the political history, I recognized that the landscape served as a perfect border between nations. The canyon was massive, and the high walls rose over a thousand vertical feet and extended for miles in both directions. It felt oddly reminiscent of the Great Wall in Game of Thrones. No border patrols would be needed here.

The hike to the vista in the canyon was supposed to be short, under 2 miles roundtrip. But it required crossing the Terlingua Creek, which is a tributary into the Rio Grande, and I couldn't find a place to cross the creek (without getting wet, that is). I ended up having to hike parallel to it. While standing on the creek's bank looking for a crossing point, I noticed a group of about six warthog-like animals. I'd never seen these creatures before, and didn't know their behavioral tendencies, so I shouted at them and stamped my feet. That apparently scared the crap out of them, because they scattered immediately. I got out my telephoto lens, but by the time I'd put it on, they'd already created a big gap. I later learned that these creatures were harmless javelinas.

I eventually found a drier part of the creek and crossed over towards the canyon. I hiked along the US side into the canyon. The sights were nothing short of breathtaking. This felt like the Zion Narrows on steroids. The water was a full river--a "Grand" river--and the canyon walls shot straight up into the sky.

Looking up, I could tell that the rain was going to pour at any minute. I was in awe looking at the contrast between the wisps of clouds that floated in the gap provided by the narrow canyon walls and the dark canyon walls themselves.

I'd never been to Mexico, and this was literally as close as I could get without being there (in another region of this gigantic park, there is a ferry that takes you into the Mexican town of Boquillas--passport required, if you want to return, that is).

It was also awesome to see the rest of Big Bend looking out from inside the canyon. I could even see some of the javelinas from afar.

Right as I got off the trail, the skies opened up. I was thankful that I was back in my car and on the road again, this time headed for Dallas. On the way out, I saw the landscape that I'd missed on the drive in. I saw the famous "Mule Ears", and more of the traditional Big Bend landscape.

And then I was off for Dallas. I had roughly 600 miles to go from this point. On open highway, this might take under 10 hours. But the first 60-70 miles would be inside the park, on 45 mph roads, and there would be other smaller highways I'd be jumping on and off of. I had a long day ahead of me in the driver's seat.

I-40 is not the most scenic of interstates. But, as I leapfrogged from one oil town to the next, the relentless rain clouds created an eerie and mesmerizing landscape in which to drive.

I didn't drive nonstop to Dallas. In Midland, I linked up with my friend, Lowell R., who'd had to bail yesterday on our plan to meet in Big Bend. We ate delicious Mexican food and posed by a photo of President Bush.

The rest of the day was utterly boring. The Central Texas landscape is uninspiring. Just about the only thing I saw besides the flat, barren land were oil rigs and machinery. This was obviously oil country.

I arrived in Dallas after 8 p.m. I was staying with my high school classmate, Bradshaw H., and his family.

I felt a little bit like an awkward intruder because Bradshaw's wife, Charity, was due to give birth in 36 hours (as of this writing, the family now includes a fourth kid, Blythe--congrats!). But they welcomed me anyways. While Charity put the kids to bed, Bradshaw and I caught up over TexMex.

I'd been up since before 6 a.m., and had driven 12 hours, so was utterly exhausted by the time we got home. But I knew that, the moment I'd left Big Bend, I'd ended the most epic segment of my trip. From here on out, I had exactly a week to go, and only two national parks left. My pace would slow down. I reflected on the the segment I'd just finished (which had included my Rim-to-Rim run of the Grand Canyon) and thought how much I'd done in so little time. I felt proud of the logistical feats I'd pulled off during that time to make everything happen--and without hitches!

Before I knew it, I was very sleepy. I hadn't showered or slept in a bed since four days earlier in Arizona. I'd gotten used to that state of affairs, but taking a shower and sleeping in a bed (Bradshaw and Charity were kind enough to let me sleep in their eldest daughter's bed that night) made me realize that I'd missed out on some of the better luxuries of modern life. That night, I fell asleep instantly.

Day 28: Idyllwild, CA by Wookie Kim

I felt like I was in a joyous summer camp. That's because I was.

After having an excellent brisket breakfast burrito from Coffee Commissary with Caitlin, I'd made it to the San Jacinto Mountains just 90 minutes east of Los Angeles, where I'd be staying with Kyle S., another good friend, this time from my Baltimore running days. Kyle was an instructor at Astrocamp, one of the country's best outdoor science camps. I'd be spending the day at camp, and in the San Jacintos. I arrived right at 12:30 p.m. Kyle was waiting for me. All around me, I could hear the shouting and laughter of rapturous young children on three- to five-day excursions here.

The staff had recently turned an ugly rock pile into a human foosball field. Naturally, this seemed to be the most popular area of the camp.

After lunch and a quick tour of the camp (and after wishing I was a middle schooler again, just so that I could come here one summer), Kyle took me through several of the classrooms and walked me through the demonstrations that he would normally use to teach students science.

In the atmosphere room, we played around with air pressure. Kyle used a vacuum to suck out the air in a chamber that had a beaker filled with water. By doing that, the water began boiling at room temperature. I hadn't realized (or had forgotten) that "boiling" doesn't imply being hot.

Kyle also poured out some liquid nitrogen, which was impressively cold, and impressively cool to see. 

The coolest part of the atmosphere room was burning hydrogen-filled balloons. Kyle filled a balloon with hydrogen gas, while I held a huge 3-foot-long lighter and popped the balloon. This would lead to a mini-explosion (we wore giant face masks). The second time around, Kyle filled the balloon with cupric chloride, which is what is used in fireworks. I decided I'd try to capture the explosion on film. Amazingly, I caught the green fireball cloud in the split-second that it appeared.

Then we went into the light classroom. I got a primer on the electromagnetic spectrum and he went through a variety of demonstrations that taught kids (and me) about light.

There was a phosphorescent wall (AKA a glow-in-the-dark wall) on which we shined both UV and infrared light. Because UV light is higher energy, the wall absorbed that light, whereas the infrared light didn't leave any mark. Here is my UV artwork (which looks like the northern lights, right?).

We also played with an infrared camera. He showed me how infrared would penetrate objects that visible light could not, and vice versa. I mostly just enjoyed seeing the heat the various parts of our bodies emitted on camera.

We made our way out to the "Lunar Lander" area. Basically, this is the egg drop for space nerds. Instead of dropping an egg from a given height, students dropped a water balloon off of the second floor onto scale landscapes that simulate Mars' terrain. This brought back memories of my egg drop days. I miss them.

Kyle showed me a bunch of other cool demonstrations--really, too many to even remember!--but I could quickly understand why kids would love this place.

But I ultimately wasn't here to learn astronomy. We set out to run in the San Jacinto Wilderness. Kyle wanted to show me some great views of the region, so we decided to do the South Ridge Trail, which takes you up to a peak at almost 9,000 feet above sea level.

We took the bumpiest dirt road I've ever been on. I felt like I was playing that minigame in The Oregon Trail where you have to navigate your floating wagon down a river while avoiding obstacles. The cracks were so deep that it looked like we were driving over scale models of the Grand Canyon. I bumped the bottom of my Prius several times. I winced each time, and visions of my car breaking down in the southwest deserts flashed before my eyes.

We made it to the trailhead, and I took the obligatory trailhead sign. And then we were off!

The trail was 4.1 miles one-way to the summit of Tahquitz Peak, and involved 2,000 feet of elevation gain. Because the Rim-to-Rim run was apporaching, I didn't want to burn my legs too much. So we only want just under 3 miles and 1,600 feet up. Along the way, Kyle led me to some really great viewing spots, some of which required rock scrambling to reach.

We reached another vista from which we could see Tahquitz Rock. This rock is special to rock climbers. It was the climbing rock that was used to create the Yosemite Decimal System, the primary method used to classify the difficulty of climbs.

We took some goofy photos from this vista. The views were great, except for the haze in the distance.

We were now at the bottom of the set of switchbacks leading to the very top. I didn't want to risk burning my legs. Kyle also noted how hazy the sky was--we wouldn't really get a better view 500 feet higher. So we instead turned around and bombed the descent. We zigzagged in combination, kind of like synchronized slalom skiiers. 

It was now 5:30 p.m., and dinner would end in 30 minutes. We carefully made our way back down the dirt road to Astrocamp, and chowed down on standard camp fare, which, for me, was like a 5-star hotel buffet. It turned out that that night, an astronomer from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory was giving a talk to the camp about recent news regarding Pluto. We sat in on that presentation. I felt a little lost, because the speaker clearly assumed that the audience had deep knowledge on astronomy and recent developments with Pluto. But it was still fun nonetheless. I could see and feel the space nerdery all around me (I've never seen people so excited to go pick up stickers of the New Horizons space probe).

After the presentation, we showered and kicked back until it got dark. Tonight was space night, which meant that instructors would be showing the night sky to students. We came on the later end, and Kyle showed me a variety of objects, including the moon, Saturn, and several galaxies and nebulae.

I've talked about how this trip has been entirely humbling because it has forced me to grapple with the vastness of our natural world. But thinking in more depth about our universe is even more mindbogglingly humbling. For instance, Kyle mentioned how if the sun was the size of a period, our Milky Way Galaxy would be the size of the continental United States. As another example, Kyle noted that if two galaxies--each of which might contain 200-400 billion stars--were to come together, the probability that any two of those stars would collide would still be close to zero. That's how far apart the stars in those galaxies are. Think about that for a second. It's truly incredible to think about. We are way, way, way smaller than specks!

Day 27: Los Angeles, CA by Wookie Kim

The weather in southern California has been incredibly hot recently. I was planning to attempt the Rim-to-Rim Run in the Grand Canyon on Tuesday, so I decided I'd take today as easy as possible, and maybe even forego running altogether.

In the morning, Molly took me to a delicious breakfast spot, where I nommed on a huge breakfast sandwich and we sipped our refreshing Vietnamese iced coffees. I couldn't keep her all day, so she went her way and I went mine.

And my way today would be the Hollywood sign. I mean, why not, right? I'd looked up the various routes up to the sign and determined that I wanted to do the shortest distance, even if that meant the steepest climb. Given that the temps were hovering in the mid-90s, I simply wanted to reduce the time I spent outside baking in the sun. I opted for the trail to the Wisdom Tree and Cahuenga Peak.

I drove up into a posh hillside neighborhood in search of the trailhead. I got lost and had to ask a group of babysitters where I was supposed to go. They redirected me. Interestingly, this route has been known to disappoint. The trail goes up and above the Hollywood sign, but it only lets you see it from behind. There was ample warning of this at the trailhead (and ample graffiti).

As I was getting ready to start, I noticed another runner getting ready to go, too. I decided to ask her for advice on the trail. I learned that Maria was recovering from a hip injury, and that the incline of this hike was good for that. At this point, it was scorching, and I hadn't properly rehydrated from the day before (beer generally doesn't help). I made the decision not to run today. I'd just hike. It was fun chatting with Maria, so we hiked together.

The hike was surprisingly rugged and steep. The first 3/4 of a mile had the majority of the ascent. I think it was somewhere close to 800 vertical feet in that span. A mile or so in, we made it to the Wisdom Tree, which has become somewhat of an icon in the region for being the only tree to survive a 2007 wildfire. Hikers leave all kinds of cairns and notes with wishes and hopes and dreams. There is also a geocaching box in which people write messages as well. And, of course, there's free wifi at the top.

After a brief water break, Maria and I continued. Maria hadn't made it to the Hollywood sign since her injury, and she was determined to make it today. I gave her my trekking poles, telling her that they were tremendously helpful in maintaining balance and redistributing weight as needed. Ahead was Cahuenga Peak and, slightly below the communications tower, the back-side of the Hollywood sign.

On the final half-mile along the ridgeline, Maria pointed out a few landmarks. To our left, there was a cemetery where a lot of celebrities were buried.

The hike had started out really hot. But up here, the wind kept us cool. We finally reached the top and got our first close-up of the sign--from behind.

The day was hazy, so you couldn't really see that far. But it was still great to see the scale of L.A.--this is a huge city!

Hikers can't really get any closer to the sign than this. There's a fence and excessive signage that makes this clear. There are security cameras all over the mountain, and even on the letters. Trespassing is an easy way to send a police helicopter your way. As much as I wanted to go see the sign up close, I wasn't about to tick anyone off.

We turned around and carefully descended back to the trailhead and our cars. I'd enjoyed having Maria for company, and I learned more about what she did in the area. Turns out she was an actress, comedian, and improv artist.

It was now late afternoon, and I had a couple hours to kill before meeting my next friend for dinner. I decided I'd drive around in the hills and see if I could catch a glimpse of the sign from the front. I drove slowly through Hollywoodland and finally caught it through some palm trees.

I continued and eventually found myself in Lake Hollywood Park. There were a ton of tourists here, and I looked behind and immediately knew why. There was a great unobstructed view of the sign.

It was now almost 5 p.m., and I didn't want to take any chances with rush-hour traffic, so I headed towards Mohawk Bend, the evening's dinner spot. I met Caitlin H., a great friend from law school who was out here for the year clerking for a judge, and caught up with her. After dinner, we decided to head up towards Griffith Observatory, which is known for its panoramic views of the city.

The views were great. I love seeing cityscapes at night. You really get a sense not only of a city's scale, but also its activity (measured by the intensity of light in various regions).

It was a clear night, and the moon was particularly easy to see. I managed to hold my camera steady (it helps to have a built-in image stabilizer) and capture a few clear shots.

We didn't realize that the observatory itself was much more like a museum. There were exhibits on the universe, space, the solar system, and everything else related to astronomy. By the way, it was 9:30 p.m. on a Wednesday night and it was absolutely packed.

The best views were on the viewing terrace. Everyone was taking photos there. Caitlin and I asked a tourist with less-than-steady hands to take a photo of us before we headed back to her place in Burbank.

My first full day in Los Angeles involved no running, but it was a refreshing break--one sorely needed especially as I head into what I believe will be my most epic 10-day block yet.

Day 26: Channel Islands National Park, CA by Wookie Kim

We were pulling away from the mainland. It was a strange feeling. When I think of "national parks" I don't think of islands. But I was en route to Channel Islands National Park, one of our island-based parks.

The Channel Islands are a set of eight islands off the coast of southern California, of which five constitute Channel Islands National Park. The only way to get to the park is by ferries that leave from the coastal cities of Oxnard or Ventura, or plane. I'd decided to take the ferry to Santa Cruz, the largest island. As we were leaving the pier, we came across a buoy and saw several resting seals (sea lions?).

The sky was overcast, so I was a little wary of my day out on the island. But as we progressed away from the mainland, the sky cleared up, and the water turned bluer. It was turning out to be a nice day, albeit a hot one.

Finally, after just over an hour, we arrived at Scorpion Beach on Santa Cruz. The water was crystal clear. (I would later find out that it was crystal clean, too.)

I began in the visitor center, and looked at the scale model of the island. My plan was to ascend out of the beach and descend back over the other side of the ridge into Smugglers Cove. I heard the beach there was beautiful--a perfect place to touch the Pacific Ocean for the first time on this trip. The route was supposed to be 7 miles out and back. Given that it was 11 a.m., and the boat back to the mainland departed at 4 p.m., every day-tripper on my boat decided to go on a shorter hike, on the other side of the beach. Alone, I began heading up the dirt road towards Smugglers Cove.

Within 15 minutes, I was up on top of the small ridge. I could see the ocean, as well as Anacapa Island, also a part of the park.

From there, I turned inland, following a dirt road. I was a bit surprised; I'd not expected the island to look this barren.

Eventually, I made it over the ridge and found myself looking into Smugglers Canyon. I'd now descend to Smugglers Cove, which was at the bottom of the v-shaped notch on the right edge below.

I love fast descents. This one was fast. The decline was relatively modest, but still steep enough to fly. The trail was mostly dirt, with very few obstacles. I cruised down into the cove. A few seniors from the University of Santa Barbara were there, playing in the surf. I'd seen the Pacific almost a week ago, but hadn't yet touched the ocean, so I decided it would be a great opportunity to swim (and cool off--it had been an incredibly hot traverse). I was a bit worried about swimming in the ocean, because the salt and sand greatly increases the risk of chafing. Ironically, that aspect of the dip turned out to be fine. Stupidly, in hopping on some of the sharp rocks, I split open the skin on the bottom of my foot on one rock. Thankfully, it was pretty shallow. I cleaned the sand out from under my skin, and hoped that nothing worse would come of that misstep. The water was refreshing.

It was now past noon. After snacking on some food I'd brought (Channel Islands is unique in that you have to bring everything you'll need--aside from a couple pit toilets and a water spigot, there are no facilities on the island), I decided I was going to try and reach Montanon Ridge, one of the high points of the island, and the perfect place to see 360-degree views. It was a hot, sunny day, so I decided I'd run the rest of the day without my shirt. Shirtless, I began the ascent out of Smugglers Cove and continued up the ridge. The ascent was not insanely steep, but it got more taxing the closer I got to the ridgeline. 

I finally reached the ridge. On the other side of the ridge was fog and clouds. I loved being high up and seeing the mist flow over the top of the mountain and dissipate on my side of the island. I looked back to where I'd come from.

It was now getting really hot, and I was also out of water. So I decided I'd head back towards the beach, rehydrate, and also spend the hour before the ferry left cooling off at Scorpion Beach. On the way back, I saw a couple island foxes foraging for food. They were super cute, and didn't really mind my presence.

I made it back to the beach and found that most everyone was gathered there. People were chilling on the shore, splashing around in the water, snorkeling, kayaking, or stand-up paddleboarding. My core body temperature had risen--I could really feel the blood pulsing through my veins--and I used this time as an opportunity for a cool bath in the ocean. It was the perfect end to a great day on the island.

We loaded up and left promptly at 4 p.m. The return voyage included a special surprise. The captain had mentioned he had seen a pod of dolphins on the way over here. We would try and catch them on the way back to the mainland.

Not 10 minutes into our trip, we spotted our first dolphins. I scrambled to catch a glimpse, thinking that it would be hard to see them. I slightly regretted not bringing any other lens but my 24mm prime lens, which is meant for landscapes and has no zoom. 

What I didn't realize was that we eventually swam right over the pod--and that the pod included roughly 1,000 dolphins! They were like a swarm around our boat. Seeing all these dolphins frolicking in the ocean around us really brought a smile to my face.

Things only got better. The captain said he would create a wake, and that the dolphins would surf in that wake. Sure enough, as the captain sped up, we could see the more athletic dolphins surfing the wake created by the ferry. They jumped in and out, in and out. Again, I was smiling.

2015-09-22 17.17.00.jpg

I love moments like these. The ones that are so memorable but were completely spontaneous and unplanned. I'd had absolutely no expectations that I'd see any marine animals on the boat ride. And I'd gone whale watching and whatnot before. But seeing the thousand-strong pod was one of the coolest things I'd seen while on a boat.

We eventually docked in Ventura just past 5 p.m. I got into my car and booked it into Los Angeles. I was heading in to the city to stay with my friend, Molly Mitchell (of @meandmyboifriend fame). The traffic was wretched. I realized that L.A. was not the city for me. It was so spread out, and so car-filled, that I felt lost the entire time I was driving into the city. I was thankful for Google Maps.

After showering at Molly's (and realizing that running shirtless was a bad idea!), we headed out on Sunset Boulevard for burgers and, most importantly, churro ice cream sandwiches from Churro Borough. They were incredible.

It was another fulfilling day, this time in L.A. (rhyme intended!).

Day 24: San Francisco, CA by Wookie Kim

I woke up in a sketchy RV park. I was in no mood to hang out and cook pancakes. So I decided to hit the road and hope that something was open in Mendocino at 7 a.m. this Sunday. I found a family-run grocery store that had a breakfast bar--except everything was still cold or frozen. Turns out I needed to pick my food, pay for it, and then cook it using the microwave at the front of the store. It wasn't the tastiest meal, but it got the fueling job done.

And with that, I was off for San Francisco. The city has a weird place in my heart. I've spent most of my life living in, or being around, the east coast. That has meant that I've grown to become a person with a certain personality and vibe. At the same time, every visit I've made to the Bay Area has made me rethink whether I shouldn't just pick up and move west (actually, I've had similar feelings with respect to Portland and Denver). There's just something about the west coast lifestyle that I think matches my personality and passions. Most apparently, west coasters seem to weave outdoorsy things into their daily lives in a way that east coasters don't (or can't) do. And leading a healthy, balanced life appears to be more of a priority. The grass is always greener on the other side, though, so I have no real way of knowing whether this is just something that I'm sensing as an outsider.

I'd last been to the Bay Area in October. I was ready to be back. And I was ready to run in the Marin Headlands, a part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. When I visited last fall, I had the chance to run with Larisa Dannis, a high school classmate of mine who has been tearing up the ultra running scene lately. She had shown me a few of her favorite trails. I wanted to be back to explore more of them. Larisa was unable to join me on my run, primarily because of the intense mid-day heat. But I arrived at the Tennessee Valley trailhead and decided to set out for Muir Beach via the Coastal Trail.

I begin by descending the Tennessee Valley Trail towards Tennessee Cove. I didn't quite reach the beach, but it looked beautiful as I turned off on the Coastal Trail.

2015-09-20 12.39.29.jpg

Unsurprisingly, the Coastal Trail eventually took me out to the coast. It was a hot day, but the sky was remarkably clear.

I'd planned for today to be a rest day, but I knew that the heat and the hills would prevent that from happening. Still, I kept my pace as easy as I could under the circumstances. Soon, I made it to Pirates Cove, which was just over the first major hill.

I continued and made it to the hill that overlooked Muir Beach. Behind me was the beautiful beach at Pirates Cove. Looking forward, I could see plenty of people taking advantage of a perfect beach day at Muir Beach.

I decided not to descend into Muir Beach. It was hot, and that would add both time and effort, things I didn't not want to expend at this point. I had things to do, people to see! So I backtracked to the Tennessee Valley trailhead, toweled off the dirt caked onto my sweat and sunscreen, and made my way into San Francisco. A few miles into my drive, I'd passed through a tunnel and had my first view of the Golden Gate Bridge.

Each time I cross the Golden Gate Bridge, I'm reminded of the summer of 2006--the summer I biked 4,400 miles from New Haven to San Francisco. It was the best summer of my life, and the partial inspiration behind this summer's trip. I've compared that trip to this trip several times now, and I've realized that they are distinct in a variety of ways.

I made it into San Francisco, and immediately began meeting up with family and friends. I stopped to see my cousins and Abby, their new baby. I met up with other friends for afternoon beers at the Crafty Fox Ale House. I had dinner with more friends at Thep Phanom. And then I ended the day by cooling off with more beers at Toronado.

And just like that, the day was gone.

Day 5: Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, IN + Chicago, IL by Wookie Kim

I'm a day behind, but better late than never.

Tuesday morning was a little rushed, because I knew I had a lot to cover: I needed to drive 310 miles to Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore; explore the dunes; drive another 60 miles into Chicago; and meet my friend for a night out on the town.

I was able to break camp quickly and efficiently, but the part that took longer than I imagined was walking back with my gear to the parking lot, which was almost a mile away. I ended up leaving just before 8:30, which ultimately wasn't too late.  The morning drive was, all in all, pleasant. By 11:30, I'd entered Indiana. And, by 1:30, I was at the visitor center.

A caterpillar greeted me at the visitor center. 

A caterpillar greeted me at the visitor center. 

Naturally, I spoke to a ranger first. She talked me into doing two things: complete the 3-dune challenge, and hike to the Beach House Blowout. Normally, the 4-5 miles involved would've been a breeze. But I had to deal with two obstacles: the sand, and my lingering fatigue from the 100K. I simply didn't want to overstress my body by running again too soon. And tractionless sand wouldn't be a good running surface anyways.

I first set out for the 3-dune challenge. This was a 1.5-mile loop that ascended 3 sand dune "mountains." Quotation marks are necessary because the maximum elevation was something like 190 feet above sea level--not entirely deserving of mountain status.

Trailhead for the 3-dune challenge. 

Trailhead for the 3-dune challenge. 

But this hike was no breeze (moreover, there was no breeze on this hike, and it was insanely hot). What made it challenging was the sand. It was hard to gain traction as I was ascending the dune slopes, some of which were quite steep.

Ascending a dune.

Ascending a dune.

I went up and down, up and down, and then up one last time to the last sand dune's summit. From there, an easy exit appeared: 

Sand-less stairway. 

Sand-less stairway. 

Given that I have many epic runs ahead of me, I didn't want to burn any more energy while still recovering from Twisted Branch. I opted for the stairs. 

Having completed the 3-dune challenge, I turned to the next trail leading to the sand dune "blowout". I don't know how to describe what a blowout is, but it's kind of what you'd expect. My friend likened it to a "bowl" on a ski mountain--a wide open area that leads to a ridge.

Little did I know that the trail leading to the blowout would have so many trees. In fact, I learned that the region is home to one of the few remaining oak tree savannas in the country. I was impressed by the sheer size of some of these trees.

A big oak. 

A big oak. 

As impressive was the depth of the savanna--the trees seemed to extend endlessly into the distance. I tried to capture that depth on camera. 

The deep oak savanna. 

The deep oak savanna. 

But more than anything, it was just really pretty in the savanna--the trees were beautiful to see.

Oaks in the oak savanna. 

Oaks in the oak savanna. 

Interestingly, the density of the trees varied as I walked. And a higher density altered the feel of the savanna--everything just felt darker.

Denser, darker oak savanna. 

Denser, darker oak savanna. 

Thankfully, the footing here was better. Instead of soft sand, the trail was harder-packed, but still not entirely firm, sand. But the trek was worth it, because after about 30 minutes, and after one dune ascent out of the forest, I made it to the blowout.

The view from the top of the Beach House Blowout. 

The view from the top of the Beach House Blowout. 

The color of Lake Michigan was spectacular. I never wouldn't imagined that a lake could have that hue of blue. It was almost tropical-looking. Part of me wanted to trek down to the water for a dip. Another part of me knew that I would hate myself on the hike back up--and through sand. I opted to skip the descent. This was a good call. 

On the way back to the visitor center, I took out my telephoto lens and focused on finding critters. The only thing I saw was a squirrel, scampering around in the low brush.

Squirrel friend in the forest. 

Squirrel friend in the forest. 

But that was literally all the wildlife I saw on the hike. Actually, I didn't even see a single human while hiking, either, which made for a peaceful walk. 

Eventually I saw a bunch of birds. 

Bird one. (I know very little about birds.) 

Bird one. (I know very little about birds.) 

Bird two. 

Bird two. 

Bird three. 

Bird three. 

The kicker is that I took these photos by the nature center, which puts out food to attract the birds, squirrels, and chipmunks. I'd like to think I spotted them in the wild on my own.

By now, it was 4 p.m. and I was ready to head into Chicago. I arrived just after 5:30, parked my car near my friend Laura P.'s house, and then went to meet her at Millenium Park for the final Summer Film Series screening.  The movie? The Breakfast Club (which I had no idea was older than I am!).

The crowds at the Pritzker Pavilion. 

The crowds at the Pritzker Pavilion. 

Before the movie began, though, I had to take the obligatory photo in front of the "bean"--Anish Kapoor's Cloud Gate. 

Melding parts of the Chicago skyline. 

Melding parts of the Chicago skyline. 

I've seen Kapoor's works in other modern art museums (including one in Seoul), and I always come away impressed by his creativity. 

Anyways, Laura and I caught up while watching bits and pieces of the movie and chatting with some of her coworkers. The movie was a hoot, and we certainly saw it in a different light. I guess the passage of time helps see old things differently.

Before we knew it, the movie was over. 

The end of the movie. 

The end of the movie. 

Before heading back to Laura's, I had the chance to visit her office in the Prudential Building. Seeing the city from above at night gave me a good sense of the scale of this city--it is massive. 

Chicago's grid. 

Chicago's grid. 

Tomorrow (Day 7) is a driving day. I'm currently in my 7th state (Minnesota), but I need to make it as far into North Dakota as possible tomorrow because Friday is when I run Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Here's to a good night's rest for a good day of driving.