On blogging. by Wookie Kim

Very quickly, blogging while on the road has become just as central a part of what I'm doing this summer. The response to my trip has been wonderful to see. 10 days in, and this site has had almost 10,000 page views from several thousand unique visitors. I'm encouraged that people are getting a glimpse into my journey, but, more importantly, I hope that what I document will help show just how magical our national parks are. They simply are not to be missed.

One question that might be on a reader's mind is how I actually go about blogging while on the road. I've literally found my first wifi hotspot on this entire trip (excluding my one night in Chicago at my friend's and my one night in a motel in Bismarck, ND). Early on, there were certainly plenty of Starbuckses, but I never had the time to stop and pull out my laptop. Daylight time is precious to me, so if I'm inside a coffee shop instead of out on the trails, I feel like I'm wasting time. So, how do I do it?

Here's my process. In the morning, I break camp and hit the road. While driving, I use a car power inverter to recharge anything that needs charging. I always prioritize my portable battery pack (made by Jackery), because this ensures that I can have 2-3 full charges of my iPhone. But I also charge my laptop, my Garmin GPS watch, and my spare camera battery. I often go through very extended portions of the day with absolutely no cell signal. The beauty of the iPhone is that it still tracks your blue dot through GPS. So if I've preloaded a map or route, I can roughly see where I am and where I should be headed.

When I arrive at a trailhead, I kind of put all of this to the side. I always bring my camera--a compact Canon SL1, with a very shallow 22mm prime lens. Because the body is already so small, this set-up is perfect for running. If I want to--and occasionally I do--I can actually run while holding the lightweight camera in one hand. It's just like holding a hand-held water bottle. For runs where I know I want some more camera firepower, I consider bringing my telephoto lens. This is how I've gotten such great close-ups of wildlife. But bringing that lens comes at the expense of a heavier pack. I need to have a pretty good reason to bring it.

To avoid feeling schizophrenic on the trails, I break up my run into chunks. I begin with the camera put away. I run as freely as I'd like, just getting a feel for the land, and soaking it all in. Eventually, when I reach my first picturesque segment, I pull out my camera and make frequent stops. Of course, magical things happen on each run. Even if I'm in a groove, I'll stop to take a photo. Interestingly, these photo breaks are very good short recovery periods from running.

After a day out on the trails, I'm usually making my way to a campsite, hopefully somewhere very nearby. Once I arrive, I set up camp, cook dinner, and relax for a bit. And it's after that period that I make the blogging magic happen. I begin by taking my SD card out of my camera and into my laptop. From my laptop, I can cull the photos that I want to include in the blog. But if I don't have wifi, how do I get those photos online? The answer is that I use my iPhone. Squarespace has a mobile app. It's pretty barebones, but allows you to post text and images. And that's really all that I need. To get the photos onto my iPhone, I use iTunes photo-syncing feature.

Once the photos are on my phone, I begin writing the blog post. You're probably wondering how I'm able to type such long posts using only my iPhone. Again, the reality is that I have technology on my side. I've always had a Bluetooth keyboard for my smaller devices. I brought that keyboard along with me now. I'm so glad I did. It is that keyboard that lets me type just as if I'm using a regular computer. So, I type up a post, add in some images (because words can do only so much), and prepare to post it. If I'm in an area with cell service, I'll publish it right then and there through my phone. If not, I'll wait until I reach a point the following day where I do have cell signal. (For instance, I'm actually at the Wind Cave Visitor Center right this moment, and I've found my first free wifi hotspot, so I'm actually using internet on my laptop.)

The Jackery iPhone battery pack, good for 2-3 charges, and a bunch of maps, good for the many places where I've had no cell service.

The Jackery iPhone battery pack, good for 2-3 charges, and a bunch of maps, good for the many places where I've had no cell service.

Why do I even bother? Well, I've realized that part of what makes this blog interesting is that it unfolds somewhat in real time. Many people have told me how they enjoy living vicariously through me and my blog. To make that vicarious experience as real as possible, I'm doing my best to share bits and pieces of my progress each day, while on the go, instead of waiting until I next hit a coffee shop (in this area of the country, potentially never), and dump everything at once.

I've already violated my principle and have spent 30 minutes here inside this air-conditioned visitor center in Wind Cave National Park. I just went on a cool tour of the cave system. It's now time to gear up and run some of the trails on the surface. And then I hit the road again, this time for Bighorn National Forest.

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.

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!