On the challenge. by Wookie Kim

Part of what makes this trip so thrilling for me is how logistically challenging it's been. Actually, to be entirely honest, I'm amazed that I've been able to do what I've done so far in this first full week.

Since hitting the road on my own on Monday, I've driven 2,202 miles. In that same time, I've also run over 43 hard trail miles. And I've also done a good bit of unplanned sightseeing along the way. You'd think that with all of this driving and running I've been doing, I'd have no time to relax, right?

Right. I've had basically no relaxation time. Each day, I'm up way before the sun rises, and I'm several hours into my drive when most people are still starting their morning routines. I then cruise into the national park visitor center around lunch time, talk to the rangers about what I need to know, and then set off on a trail. Between 3-7 hours later, I'm back, hurrying to set up camp before the sun sets, cooking dinner as fast as I can (my body needs substantial food immediately), cleaning up, and then trying to resort my car in preparation for the next day.

Looking back on my daily routine for the last 5 days, I chuckle every time I think of the valise stuffed with books that I brought along. I probably have 20-some books in there, several of which are over a thousand pages. I thought I'd knock off a book every 2-3 days. I'm now thinking I'd be lucky if I read 5. 

One might wonder why I'm in such a hurry--why, in God's name, I won't just take a chill pill, slow down, savor the moments that I have out here in the wild. This is an understandable criticism. Typically, one would hope that a person seeking to connect with nature would do exactly that--just be.

Unfortunately (or fortunately), this is not a typical trip. I have no qualms with rushing across the country at lightning speed. That's within the scope of what I'm trying to do--visit every single state I have yet to visit, run epic runs in as many national parks as I can along the way, and do all of this in a limited amount of time, Because I've chosen to prioritize the grand scale of my trip, I can't savor every moment. And I'm simply okay with that.

But getting back to the challenge. It has been an exhilarating 5 days on the road. Each day feels like the next stage in a multi-week adventure race. As soon as my alarm goes off at around 5:30 a.m., I'm immediately up and about, trying to accomplish all the tasks I need to get done before I can hit the road. 

My stopwatch has been a critical friend in this regard. I've begun to time all of my daily tasks, to figure out where I'm wasting and where I'm saving time. For example, I've slowly been whittling away the time it takes for me to: (1) set up my tent and sleeping arrangements, (2) get my Whisperlite stove up and running (the past two times I've been able to prime and light it with one try--my first time, it took me almost an hour to get the stove working!), (3) cook breakfast, and (4) break camp. If it's been only 5 nights and I'm already improving this much, I'm going to be an expert by the end of this summer.

Another aspect that I find rewarding is that I always have to think two steps ahead. Particularly when I'm doing this trip solo, and particularly when I've set out on an aggresive schedule, I really have no time to idle. In fact, I've realized that this trip will quickly grind to a halt if I focus only on the step immediately in front of me. (Interestingly, this same philosophy applies to my trail running: if I'm looking right down at my feet, I'm almost definitely going to misstep or hit something; if I'm scanning 20-30 yards ahead, I can plan for every obstacle as I approach each one.)

So I'm constantly thinking about ways to improve my routine--to set myself up for all the steps ahead of me, and not just the one immediately in front of me. What can I do each morning that will set me up better for what I do each evening? How can I arrange my campsite so that it is easiest to break down when I stumble around in the pre-dawn light?

The single biggest change in my routine over the last couple nights has been the amount of stuff I lug out of my car to my campsite. My first night, I practically unloaded my entire car. When morning came around, I had to lug everything back through the morning dew. It was such a waste of time! Now, I take the bare minimum. At my car, I measure out the food I want to cook, the things I'll need in my tent, and the other amenities of camp life. The rest stays in the car.

Interestingly, through this process, I've also learned that taking shortcuts can end up being a huge time waster. Taking the time to do things right the first time around generally leads to a better outcome than haphazardly rushing through a task. For example, I've tried to speed pack my sleeping pad and my tent. But when I've tried that, the items often aren't packed tight enough, so they don't fit into the stuff sacks or into my duffel bag. I have to start over again. That's more time wasted. 

In short, let's just say I had far too rosy of a picture of how leisurely life on the road would be.

I'm sure there are many people out there--one might call them camping or outdoors "purists"--who look down on what I'm doing. My response? I really don't care. So far, this trip has been an incredible experience--one that has challenged me in so many ways, and taught me so much. Despite the speed with which I'm covering all these distances, I can say for a fact that I've been communing with the wild and feeling an almost otherworldly sensation on each run. In fact, if the trip were to end tomorrow, I'd still walk away convinced that setting out on this crazy adventure was one of the best decisions of my life.

Despite my love for the challenges that each new day presents, I'm happy to report that tonight I can and will idle. Tonight is the first night that I've actually cooked and eaten dinner, cleaned and packed everything away before the sun has completely disappeared. It's now just after 9 p.m. here inside Badlands National Park, and all I can see when I look up are the stars illuminating the night sky. With that, I'm going to go savor the moment while I can. Because tomorrow, I'm back at it again.

On solo camping by Wookie Kim

As excited as I am by all the running I'm about to do, there's another aspect of the trip that I'm eager to experience: solo camping.

Indeed, this trip is as much about immersing myself in the natural world as it is about traveling and running the country. I explicitly chose to avoid traditional lodging because I want to be, by night, where I'll be by day--in the wild. Also, the idea of going it alone seemed attractive, not because it would prove that I can, in fact, manage it, but rather because I anticipate learning things that one can learn only when alone in Nature. Having space to myself to reflect, and to take everything in, just seems incredibly appealing.

While I've gone camping a good number of times in my life, I've always done that as part of a group. That has also always meant that I could free-ride on the expertise and labor of others. Sure, I'd pitch in, but I never took the lead on anything. So I never really "learned" all that one would need to know to camp--let alone camp solo. Over the course of this trip, I hope to overcome that deficit. As with everything I'm doing on this trip, I'm taking things in steps.

The first step is to acquire the gear. I've done that. After talking things over with several experienced outdoorspeople (thanks Victoria B., Garrett M., and Lucas M-B!), and after several REI visits, I finally bought everything I needed (note: it wasn't cheap).

The next step is to familiarize myself with that gear in a controlled environment. Even if I theoretically have everything I need, I may not know whether I can "work" with what I have. Can I properly set up my tent by myself? Do I know how the ResQLink system works? Etc. I'm still 2 days away from hitting the road, but I've at least answered the first question. Yes I can.

Experienced and non-experienced campers alike may laugh at the above. How hard can it be to set up a tent? The answer? Really not that hard. But until I've done it with my own two hands, I can't be certain. And if I'm not certain, well, that means I'm taking another risk that probably need not be taken. 

Next, I'll take this into a semi-controlled environment. In advance of the Twisted Branch 100K, I'll be camping with Jeremy L. and Lisa P. at a county park near Naples, NY. There, I'll be outdoors, in a campsite, with all my gear. I'll truly be able to test out, in the elements, my home for the next 45 days. I'll also be able to try my hand at cooking food using my Whisperlite camp stove--another essential skill. If something goes wrong, I'll let Jeremy or Lisa (help me) figure things out. And then I'll keep practicing until I reach mastery. Again, the tasks I intend to be able to complete are easy in the grand scheme of things. But I won't leave upstate New York until I feel confident that I know the very basics of setting up camp.

From there, I'll gradually add layers of complexity as the trip progresses. On my first day alone, for instance, I'll be at a "backcountry" site in the very tame Cuyahoga Valley National Park. I'll be relatively close to a major road, but I'll have none of the amenities that proximity to civilization usually provides (i.e., no water, no electricity, etc.). Moreover, I'll have to "leave no trace." And so on. The hope is that, by the end of the trip, I'll be comfortable setting up camp anywhere and in any conditions.

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With just over 50 hours to go until the start of the most epic race of my life, I'm continuing to taper. I'm running almost nothing (I've run <10 miles this week), eating like a pig, drinking water like a camel, and, most importantly, resting like a sloth. It's all a little uncomfortable, but that's part of the process. On that note, it's time to test out my sleeping arrangements in a very-controlled, air-conditioned, environment. Goodnight!