Day 6: Effigy Mounds National Monument, IA + Afton State Park, MN by Wookie Kim

I began the day with the luxury of being able to use a real kitchen. I was at my friend Laura's place in Chicago. I'd been on a streak of making Birch Benders pancakes, so why not extend that streak? And why not add in some Justin's almond butter? Laura, coincidentally, is from Vermont, so we had excellent maple syrup to round out our breakfast.

Today, I was headed for Effigy Mounds National Monument, just across the Wisconsin border in Iowa, on the same latitude as Madison. As I drove through Wisconsin, I thought about stopping to try cheese. I really didn't have time though. Instead, I compromised by stopping in Mt. Horeb, a town that appeared to be themed around trolls. I stopped in Grumpy Troll Brewing for some pre-run nutrition. This was, after all, my first real run since running the Twisted Branch 100K only a few days earlier. I needed all the fat, protein, and carbohydrates I could get.

I ordered a bunch of boneless wings, and a flight of beer.

I then consumed all of it.

I was fueled to run! A couple hours later, I'd arrived at the visitor center in Effigy Mounds. One of the rangers helped me figure out which trail to explore. He recommended the North Unit because it had more scenic views, though it had fewer effigy mounds to see.

What's an effigy mound, you ask? I had no idea what it was either, but now I know. It's a mound of earth shaped in the form of something else. Some mounds would be geometrical shapes, like cones and lines. Others would be in the form of animals including most notably, bears. Native Americans living in the area had built these mounds for religious regions. Effigy Mounds National Monument was unique because it contained a significant proportion of extant effigy mounds.

I began my run. The trail was soft--the perfect surface to run on after a hard ultramarathon.

The trail quickly turned into gradual switchbacks away from the visitor center. I walked these.

As I ascended, the forest would open up every now and then, and I could see some of the effigy mounds, even if they were hard to spot.

I reached the first lookout point. I could see the Mississippi River and, across from it, Wisconsin.

There was also a pretty humorous (and overly dramatic) warning sign.

Because there were no observation towers, it was actually quite hard to see the effigy mounds properly. After struggling to identify several mounds, I gave up. I decided to run to the vista at the end of the trail--Hanging Rock.

A couple miles later, I was there. It was cloudy out, so the view wasn't incredibly picturesque, but it was nice to see the grand Mississippi.

I knew I still had a long way to drive before getting to my campsite for the night. I was headed for Afton State Park in Minnesota, just east of the Twin Cities. I hustled back to the visitor center.

On the way up to Afton, I took US-61 along the banks of the Mississippi. It was a beautiful, windy drive. As the sun began to set, I couldn't resist pulling over and trying to capture it.

I ended up arriving at Afton long after the sun had set. I hadn't realized that my campsite was a remote backcountry hike-in site. It was over a mile from the nearest parking lot, and involved several hundred feet of elevation gain. Being the camping novice, I stupidly decided to bring practically everything in my car. Moreover, because it was dark, I couldn't tell exactly which trail I was supposed to follow (try telling me you can follow this ridiculous map!), so I ended up taking a wrong turn. As a result, I trudged an extra 1.5 miles with all of my unnecessary gear. It took me over an hour to get to my campsite. I was drenched in sweat, dotted with mosquito bites, and covered in red marks from all the straps on the bags I was carrying. I learned my lesson that night: when camping, pack light.

Fueling up. by Wookie Kim

My recurring nightmare has me twisting or spraining an ankle, but the bigger stressor--and the tougher day-to-day challenge--is ensuring that I eat well, and eat enough, throughout the trip. There's little left to do. I'm done packing. I'm done gearing up. All that's left, really, is gathering food.

While I have a decent amount of food stockpiled, and have a rough food plan set out, there are still too many unknowns such that predicting my food needs has been quite difficult. For one, I don't know how many miles I'll actually be running each day. I've picked tentative trails and routes for each park, but I don't yet know whether the mileage I'm setting for myself (15-35 miles of trails per day) is sustainable. Even if it is sustainable for a few days, can I do it for a few weeks? I also don't know how much of a "setback" the 100K trail race will be. I'll need at least a few days of recovery after that race, but how much, exactly, will I need? These are all things I'll have to play by ear. Depending on how these all play out, I'll have to adapt my diet and caloric intake accordingly.

Luckily, I have help when it comes to fueling. Three absolutely wonderful companies are supporting me with food. Here's a little bit about each, and why I think these foods will contribute greatly to the success of this trip.

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First is Birch Benders Micro-Pancakery. They make out-of-control, bonkers-delicious organic pancakes. They sent me a case each of six different flavors: original, six grain cinnamon, chocolate chip, gluten free, paleo, and protein. Unlike other companies, Birch Benders makes flavors that actually taste substantially different and use varying ingredients. No two pancakes are the same.

All the tools one needs to make these pancakes (measuring cup optional).

All the delicious flavors Birch Benders sent me.

Birch Benders pancakes are going to be the core of my on-the-road breakfast routine. Each morning, the first thing I'm going to do is make these pancakes (and then, of course, a cup of coffee). What makes Birch Benders so amazing is that, to get your pancake mix ready, all you have to do is add water and stir it up. A few minutes on the pan, and you have mouthwatering-ly good pancakes. Stacks on stacks of them. These pancakes are super quick, nutritious, and hearty--everything I need to start my day. I trust in Birch Benders to fuel me up strong.

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Second is KIND Snacks. They make similarly out-of-control, bonkers-delicious bars and granola. What makes KIND stand out is the quality of their ingredients. This is top-notch stuff that's inside each of these bars. Moreover, the flavors are as varied as they are delicious. Dark chocolate almond mocha, roasted jalapeno, Thai sweet chili. It's almost overwhelming. KIND was kind enough to send me three boxes of bars--a bunch of standard bars, strong & kind bars, and healthy grains bars and clusters--as well as some #swag.

KIND Snacks galore! (I was too lazy to take this out of the car.)

I see KIND as the core mid-run and mid-day snack. Not only are these things delicious, but they go down easily while on the run. The varied flavors add just enough "spice" to make fueling on the go fun. I also can't complain about the food composition--it's got a very even balance of carbs, fats, and protein. Perfect for long slow distance. I can't wait to be nomming on these soon.

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Third, and certainly not least, is Justin's. Not many people immediately recognize the company when you first ask "do you know Justin's?" But once you mention "nut butter" or "almond butter", that initial look of confusion transforms to true understanding. The name recognition might not be there, but Justin's makes, hands down, the best nut butter products on the market. I've always loved their maple almond and honey almond butters. They've sent me 3 cases (3 appears to be a special number today) of delicious fatty nut butter goodness. (I don't yet have them--they're actually sending them to my first friend-stop in Chicago.)

I didn't take this photo, but this packaging is reason enough to go out and get some.

I couldn't think of a better-tasting way to up my fat, protein, and overall caloric intake. Nut butter is always a great healthy complement to many foods. But to have the option of eating nut butter that tastes heavenly is a real privilege. Moreover, I'm receiving their nut butter in the form of 1.15oz squeeze packs. These will be incredibly convenient to eat and use while on the run. I won't have to stop, pull out a jar, unscrew that jar, pull out my knife, scoop some nut butter, etc.--I'll simply tear and squeeze.

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I'm really thankful for the support Birch Benders, KIND, and Justin's are providing. As an added bonus, these are companies with incredible origin stories, values, and people (thanks Matt L., Lizzi A., Christina B., and Garrison J.!).

I'll end by noting that I was not asked by anyone to make any sort of plug for any of these foods. Everything above is my honest, unfiltered opinion. As the summer progresses, I'll be providing updates on how these foods stand the test of time. Until then, I'll be nomming away!