Whitney Weekend Run Report: High on Life

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Summit: Sunday, July 27, 2014

Elevation: 14,505 feet (highest point in the lower 48)

Distance: 22 miles

Time: 12 hours

Summit Buddy: Robert Shackelford

Prep and Training

A few months ago our friends the Hassetts secured a few Mount Whitney permits and invited us to summit with them along with 20 other friends. We immediately accepted and began doing training climbs. We spent a week at Mount Baldy doing repeat summits, one Mount Gorgonio summit, and another week or so going up and down Noble Canyon. My first few peaks felt sluggish and I wasn’t sure I would be ready by the end of July. As time progressed, I grew more confident and our last summit of Mount Gorgonio the week before Whitney left me feeling strong and excited.

In retrospect, although those other summits were fun, they did very little to actually prepare for Whitney. Life above 12,000 feet is a completely different experience and until you climb that high, you really don’t know how your body will react. All those other summits were like running a bunch of 5Ks to train for a marathon. Of course, that’s the best training most of us have in the SoCal area.

I attribute some valuable conditioning to switching to a standing desk. I do a lot of writing and I work from a laptop. For the past several months I have done all my work with my laptop sitting on a box on our tiny RV cupboard. Between writing and running, I was on my feet sometimes for 12 hours a day. I felt a huge physical change. It was challenging the first week (my legs felt wiped out, as if I had raced a marathon), and then I got used to it. Now I only sit while driving or eating. I truly believe this helped immensely on Mt. Whitney where I was on my feet for 12 hours.

Before Whitney, I had only been above 12,000 feet once: at Hope’s Pass in Colorado as part of Transrockies 2012. I didn’t have any elevation issues and other than a slow climb, I felt wonderful. I was able to bomb the downhill although I was gasping for breath at the exertion.

For Whitney, I planned to take it a little easier, but I still wanted to test my limits and do my best.

Friday

On Friday morning we dropped Ginger off at the doggie kennel, a sad event we must endure if Shacky and I ever want to run together. (She had surgery a few months ago to repair a torn CCL ligament and she can’t run until October.) Ginger was distraught and so was I, but I knew it would be worth this epic weekend. Shacky later told me that sometimes people got in trouble for tying their dogs up at the top of the 99 Whitney switchbacks (at the National Park border) and continuing to summit Whitney without them (dogs are not allowed in the final 2 miles). WTF?? That’s a terrible place for a dog with very volatile weather that can change fast. Disgusting.

Mama Kitty stayed in the RV as a bear-guard (or was it bear-bait??). In any case, she made the trip with us. Mama Cat sat by the window and enjoyed the views all the way up to Horseshoe Meadows where we camped on Friday night. It was a long and hot road, and we had to stop a few times to let the RV cool. Much like Shacky, our little Rialta doesn’t do well in extremely hot temps like, say… around Death Valley in July. We had to drive most of the climb without any AC to keep the RV as cool as possible and we were all glad to finally see Paul Hassett waving us down at the Horseshoe Meadows campground.

We hung out with our friends for a bit while they set up camp. We went for a short walk, played some cribbage, then shared a dinner of hot dogs and salad and cherries. After that we played some Cards Against Humanity and went to bed.

We were camping and sleeping at about 10,000 feet to help us acclimate and I found that the elevation didn’t seem to really bother me. I attributed it to spending time on Gorgonio just a few days ago. I could jog normally on anything flat or downhill, though uphills still left me winded.

Poor kitty didn’t know what was going on. She continued her regularly scheduled exercise regimen of running insanely fast laps around the RV and over our sleeping bodies at around 2am, but after one lap she would have to stop and gasp for breath for a few minutes. When she recovered, she’d start again. Run, gasp. Run, gasp. It was a good demonstration of what we would be doing on Sunday.

Saturday

The next morning, we drove to Whitney Portal bright and early to try and get a walk-in campground at the Family Camp. We ran into the camp host Lee at around 8am and he was extremely helpful and accommodating. We had about 15 people and one RV (ours), and we wanted to camp together if possible. Lee somehow worked his magic and we ended up sharing a site with Bill and Christine.

As soon as we got settled, Shacky and I emptied all our food into the bear locker, which was quite a feat since the RV is our home and we carry a lot more food than normal camping folk. We had dog food, cat food, cat litter, a million little scented things… We almost took up an entire enormous bear locker. On the bright side, it was a great inventory of what we had and we ended up giving away a lot of edibles we didn’t really need.

I was still really nervous about bears because I was sure there was still some sort of scent in the RV. Kitty bats her food around all over the place and there’s always some crumb. I cleaned up as best I could and crossed my fingers

As soon as the food was up, Shacky and I jogged / hiked to Lone Pine Lake. The views were so spectacular I got caught up in taking photos and running and aweing at everything. I was having a blast. The lake was breathtaking (literally). The hike did a great job of testing my lungs. I jogged some uphill, let myself get winded, and pushed my elevation potential to get an idea of what my limits were. I got back from the hike wanting more and I was confident I could do well on Sunday.

We went to bed right after an awesome group dinner of carne asada tacos. I filled my belly knowing I wouldn’t be hungry at our 2:30am wake-up and went to sleep with the sun.

Sunday (Summit Day!)

Many in our group had trouble sleeping at elevation but I had zero issues. I fell asleep quickly and on Whitney-eve I got a solid six hours. I shot up when the alarm went off at 2:30 am, excited to start the day.

After getting dressed, I emptied the kitty’s cat bowl while she slept. She would have to make do with no food until we were finished hiking (I couldn’t leave any cat food in the RV due to bear break-ins). It would be a long day and she’s not used to waiting for her meals, so I was a little worried about what she’d do when I failed to feed her in a timely manner.

Our friends were slow getting around, so we waited for them and got to the Whitney trailhead at around 3:30am. Our entire group except for three people had already left. I was with Shacky and our friend Jon. After they used the bathroom, we began a steady climb in the pitch dark.

I decided not to force myself to eat or poop in the morning, which is the opposite of what most people do. I knew I wouldn’t be at all hungry or needing to go that early and I really wanted to eat by feel. I had no idea how my body would react up there, but if I tried to stuff myself with food, I knew it for sure it wouldn’t do well.

Not pooping in the morning was a bit of a risk since Whitney has a pack-it-out rule. If I got the urge to poop on the trail, I would have to carry my poop with me the entire day in a special poop-bag. My hope was that I just wouldn’t feel like pooping at all.

About a mile into the trail, my handheld light started going dim. I had forgotten to swap out the batteries. I fell into pace in between Shacky and Jon who both had really strong headlamps and mooched off their light. Soon we passed Bill and Christine, then sometime later Rachel and the rest of the girls. Elizabeth was with them and she hopped on to our train. We hiked along with Elizabeth, Jon, Shacky and myself. Paul and Allen stayed ahead of us.

At Lone Pine Lake I started getting hungry and Shacky wanted to eat as well, so we stopped and I pulled out my sandwich. I was sad we were missing so many awesome views in the dark, but I knew we’d catch them on the way down. I ate my sandwich plus a Salted Caramel gel and felt much better. I was carrying a 3L Camelback bladder in my UltrAspire Omega pack as well as an extra handheld stuffed in my bag. I was drinking a lot of water, to thirst.

I didn’t hydrate well the night before. I meant to, but then I had a Lime-arita instead. When I peed in the morning, it wasn’t that clear. It was pretty warm in the morning as well, so I expected it would be a scorching day. I was drinking like crazy.

After our snack stop, we continued into uncharted territory. Everything after this, you needed a permit to hike. We all had our permits on our packs and we could vaguely start making out the outlines of the rocks and lakes as it got lighter and lighter. The sun never fully came out. It got light, but overcast. I was glad for the cloud cover.

The views, as we started to see them, were amazing. We weren’t stopping much to rest either, keeping a steady pace uphill, sometimes chatting and sometimes just walking. We passed several hiking groups and I was really pleased with our progress. Jon and Elizabeth were awesome company and all was fun and games until we got to the Trail Camp right at the foot of the 99 switchbacks.

I had never been to Whitney before, but I had heard of the 99 switchbacks. At first, I was confused about why people would count 99 switchbacks on one particular spot, when there were clearly switchbacks before and after as well. It was more obvious when I saw what they looked like: just one relentless straight-up climb.

Elizabeth started counting the switchbacks, which was helpful because I didn’t want to count them myself, but I wanted to know where we were. A few of the turns were tricky and it was hard to tell what counted as a switchback. Elizabeth kept us motivated to calling out the milestone crossings.

“30 switchbacks! … 50 switchbacks!”

We had to stop twice on the way up to catch our breath and drink water (it was hard to swallow and breathe at the same time). I was the only one with a GPS so I watched our elevation climb and called out our milestones.

“Twelve thousand feet! … Thirteen thousand feet!”

I later learned that the elevation was hitting Shacky hard and he was struggling not to doze off. He got really sleepy and said later it helped him that Jon was leading.

Jon did a great job. He was walking slowly which was about as fast as we could handle, stopped for two short breaks, and then pushed on ahead. Elizabeth called 95 switchbacks and I thought, “OK! We got this! Only four more!”

Except that 96th switchback felt about a mile long, and it started getting steeper. We stopped for the third time after only about five minutes of walking, recovered, then found the trail crest. We had made it!

We had miscounted the switchbacks: we were already at the end of them. What a pleasant surprise! I was hoping if we had miscounted it would end up this way instead of the other way around: counting to 99, then realizing you still had a few more to go.

At the trail crest we saw the sign for Sequoia National Park and it was mostly a scramble after that. We were near-bouldering up and down rocks until we got to the 1.9-mile sign. Less than two miles to go!

I knew those last two miles would take us about an hour, but I didn’t expect them to be the hardest two miles of the day. There was no real trail – it was mostly a bed of loose rocks strewn with larger boulders. We scrambled and climbed and scrambled and climbed. So near yet so far….

We stopped a lot to wait for Jon and Elizabeth to catch up. They both had their cameras and were taking some awesome shots. Our camera had broken in the first mile, but we were planning to steal their photos so we were glad to wait for them. We kept seeing people way off in the distance and it felt like we would never get there… until all of a sudden I spotted the cabin. We made it!!

We found Paul and Allen waiting at the top. They had been waiting for two hours and Paul would wait until Rachel and the girls made it to the top.

The summit was windy and cold, but when you lay on the rocks and the sun peeked out, it was glorious. Lots of photos were taken and we took our time to chat and eat. We saw Carlos and Leslie summit, then Bill and Christine.

Finally, we decided it was time to head back down. Jon and Elizabeth followed us on the gnarly descent. We ran into Rachel and the other ladies. They looked the way that we had felt going up, but we assured them they didn’t have far to go.

I was in great spirits on the descent. Finally some downhill! After we left the girls, it started to hail. At first it was just a little bit and it didn’t bother us at all. Then it got harder and harder until it was just pelting us. I put my hand up to my face to stop the hail from slapping my cheek and that’s when I spotted Deborah. She was the last in our group still heading for the summit, and she had been waiting for the storm to pass, trying to decide whether or not to push on. It was tough to chat with the hail-attack, so she hoped behind Shacky and I and started following us down.

The hail seemed to get worse. I wrapped my extra buff around my face and turned off the trial to try and find shelter. There was none. Shacky got in front of me and we both knew our only choice was to haul ass (safely) downhill. We got to the 99 switchbacks and the hail was still pelting. It stung my skin as it hit my wet jacket and it now covered the trail like fresh snowfall, only it was mostly ice-slush.

The wet rocks were extremely slick and soon the switchbacks had turned into a mini-river. Snow, water, and hail were gushing and flowing down the trail, racing us down. I was uncomfortable, but not particularly cold. As long as I kept moving, my core temps stayed high and the adrenaline kept me descending fast. We passed almost everyone we saw, even managing to run on some of the less-slippery spots.

We lost Jon and Elizabeth somewhere, but didn’t want to wait in the hailstorm. It turned out they had hung back with Deb and descended together.

Shacky and I forged on past the trail camp and over more rocks. We were doing the fastest hike/jog we dared on the slippery, soaking trail. Although we each slipped a few times, no falls were had and I was impressed with our descent considering the weather. Shacky had never run in hail before as it doesn’t rain much in San Diego, but he stuck right by me. I had experience with both and I actually preferred this to the boiling heat I had been expecting.

It was awesome to take in the views we had missed in the dark and my spirits were high. I stopped to eat, but the hail forced me to keep moving. Thankfully, I found my ability to chew and breathe at the same time had greatly improved. I ate an avocado and turkey sandwich as well as a pack of shot blocks while ooh-ing and ahh-ing at the views. I was so thankful for the downhill. It felt like gravity was doing all the work while we just cruised.

The hail turned into rain and then just a drizzle. While a lot of hikers were still trying to keep their feet dry, we charged through the creek crossings and soaked ourselves to the bone. As long as we were pushing the pace, I stayed warm. I was having a blast.

Before we knew it, we were at Lone Pine Lake again. My legs were starting to get tired, but it was only 2.5 miles to the finish. We started talking about what we would eat at the Whitney Portal Store (they serve awesome burgers and a kickass breakfast). Shacky decided he’d have a burger and I wanted an ice cream bar. We chatted and jog / hiked all the way down. I was high from this awesome experience, absolutely in the zone. I was so proud of us.

A few yards from the finish we saw a couple walking two dogs and I stopped to pet them. They had questions about the summit, so we chatted with them for a bit. We started seeing people with zero supplies just going for a stroll, so we knew we were super close. And then we were done!

Big high five! We weighed our packs at the finish. I had started with 13lbs and I was down to six. I didn’t finish all the water I had brought, though I did eat most of my food.

(Thanks to Jon and Elizabeth for all the following photos!)

Everything was wet back at camp. Shacky and I had been trying to outrun the rainy spots, assuming it was due to elevation, but it had apparently rained everywhere.

Shacky got a burger and a beer at the camp store, and I got ice cream with an iced tea. After enjoying our food, we made the half-mile trail trek back to the campground and Shacky went right to sleep.

The first thing I did was feed kitty. She was indignant, but didn’t appear to have visibly lost any weight.

I peeled off my wet clothes, gave myself my regular hobo bath (full body cleaning with no running water), and then ate some watermelon. I felt refreshed and energized. I couldn’t settle down. If someone had offered to take me for another run, I would have gone in a heartbeat. I was buzzed from our summit and I couldn’t wait for the others to finish. What an epic day. I was completely in my element. I always knew I preferred mountains and elevation, but this really sealed the deal for me.

Other than feeling breathless when I tried to run / speed hike uphill (which happens even in non-elevation), I had zero issues. No headaches, no nausea, no sickness of any kind. At one point I felt a slight throbbing my temples, like feeling your heartbeat in your head, but it didn’t hurt or bother me.

I can’t take credit for any of this—I didn’t do anything special as far as training or acclimation. I feel like I’m built to be in the mountains. My body wants to play there, forever scrambling summits at altitude. I’m learning that it’s a big part of who I am and where I belong, not just what I can do.

Monday

Recovery was flawless. I slept well, ate well, and my hydration levels are back to where they should be. I am so, so thankful for this body, not forgetting for one second how blessed I am to enjoy these physical freedoms and what feels like limitless potential.

I weighed myself today and I only lost one pound. That makes me confident that my decision to eat by feel was a good one. I ate much less on this summit than I normally do in a 12-hour stretch, but it felt right, and I’m glad I went with my “gut” (haha). I didn’t end up pooping on the trail, but all is back to normal on that front as well.

We left camp early to have breakfast and pick up Ginger as soon as possible. She was thrilled to see us, but she had a cut on her nose from constantly nudging her food away. Ugh. We both get separation anxiety…

I had to scold the cat today who had come to believe that Ginger’s bed now belonged to her, so therefore it was okay to attack Ginger upon her return. She’s sitting in her box right now, sulking at this unforeseen turn of events.

Next Up

We’re driving to Huntington Beach today to pick up our friend Pat Sweeney and his beer. Then we’re taking all of us to Colorado where I plan to get my butt on more mountains. The plan is… no real plan at all, except to thru-hike the 93-mile Wonderland Trail around Mount Rainier in Washington at the end of this August.

Sometimes I wonder if I’ll just wake up one morning and my whole body will have gone to shit and I won’t be able to do any of this awesome stuff anymore. But it appears that today is not that day… so I might as well go climb something.

Happy trails!

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Caballo Blanco Documentary Run Free: A Call for Support

A documentary about Caballo Blanco, his race, and his legend is in the works. We now have a chance to be a part of it.

This is a story about the Copper Canyon Ultramarathon race through the eyes of its founder Micah True (Caballo Blanco). Because Micah has since passed, this is the only footage of Micah telling his own story in his own words. The footage has been filmed over the course of five years, but we need help finishing it.

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Reading to Cats, Playing the Ukulele, and Turning 32

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A few weeks ago someone asked me what my long-term life goals were. In the past, I have been vocal about not really setting any, about the value of spontaneity and adventure, and the importance of getting lost sometimes.

Still, I thought seriously about the question and it took me a few minutes to realize that all of my “wildest dream” goals, I have already accomplished. I always dreamed about writing a book and running 100 miles. I wanted to travel and live off my art.

I am 32 today and I am so proud of the way my life has turned out. In the past 12 months, I have traveled more places than my first 31 years combined. I’m thrilled to be doing exactly what I want, exactly how I want it.

It’s time to set some new ambitions and explore new limits. How exciting!

Here are some “lifetime” goals I came up with in answer to my friend’s question. They seem far off and distant right now, but who knows… maybe in a few years I’ll be checking this list off and adding more?

MY LIFETIME GOALS

  • write more books, maybe 10-15+
  • set some OKTs (Only Known Times… being the first to do crazy stuff)
  • remain nomadic (as long as I care to)
  • remain independent (not in a position of needing to rely financially on another)
  • travel internationally
  • learn to play 5+ instruments over my lifetime + sing
  • at some point, travel alone and get comfortable with it
  • thru hike the Colorado Trail. Pacific Crest Trail, Arizona Trail, Colorado Trail, John Muir Trail, among others
  • train for and finish the Mogollon Monster 100
  • learn a martial art
  • read at least 100 books/year every year
  • play every day of my life (never all work)
  • Run Across El Salvador
  • learn one new word every day (vocab)
  • learn the art of farming
  • recite various poetry/song/stories from memory
  • learn 5+ languages in my lifetime
  • volunteer everywhere and all the time
  • continue to maintain and develop relationships with my family

In the immediate future:

  1. We will be working at a turkey farm in Colorado this August.
  2. We will be setting a date for a Run Across El Savador in the next couple of weeks. The plans have been in the works for most of this year and we’re looking at February 2015. It’s about 160 miles across the country! It will be a stage race.
  3. Traveling into Mexico next year (Copper Canyons, here we come!)
  4. 20 hours of volunteer work this month so far (at races). I tried a gig volunteering at an animal shelter and it was terrible because I wasn’t allowed to adopt every single thing. I heard there was a position for reading to cats though… To Kill a Mockingbird, anyone?
  5. I am on my four chapter of my next book. It’s about females and endurance. I’ll do a post about this later – there’s too much to tell. I also plan on writing something about all our travels (book #3?).
  6. I am learning the ukulele (banjo next).
  7. I am practicing and improving my Spanish (French next).
  8. I am READING ALL THE THINGS!

Thank you all for your birthday wishes and THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU for being part of my life. You are all so special to me.

This is gonna be a good year.

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Must Have Been Another Earthquake, Kids by Jason Robillard (Book Review)

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The first “real life” RVer we ever met and our earliest inspiration for hitting the road was Jason Robillard and his family. We tracked him as he and his wife Shelly quit their jobs in Michigan, moved into an RV with their three young kids, and hit the road full-time.

They made us think that we could do it too–frankly, because we figured: If they can do it with three kids, imagine how much easier it would be for our childless selves!

We were right–it was easier. Over the next three years we eased right into a simplified childless existence. We camped off-the-grid, chased adventures, visited breweries, and wondered how in the hell the Robillard’s were doing it with all those kids…

This book answers all those questions.

If you’re a curious parent who wants to give your children a healthy worldview, you’ll appreciate Jason’s insights. If you’re seriously thinking of taking your family on the road, you’ll pour over Jason’s detailed logistical tips.

What makes this book completely different from all the RV-info books already out there is the rare fact that Jason does NOT in any way sugar-coat the lifestyle. He is brutally honest about the pros and Every. Single. Con.

Although we’ve had a very different experience in our smaller, child-free ride, I found myself nodding in agreement at his candid advice. His personal anecdotes are unique and entertaining.

And if you haven’t had the honor of experiencing Jason’s masterful graphs, you’re in for a treat:

toastAnother favorite is the Q&A section near the end where Jason fields questions from real-life friends and acquaintances.

Check out the Table of Contents HERE.

See the book on Amazon HERE.

And the Kindle version is HERE.

I found this photo in the dictionary under “Accomplished Author”:

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Happy reading and don’t forget to leave an Amazon review!

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How Taking a GPS is Like Taking a Lover

mount baldy

In my mind, I am running fast and free in my short-shorts, thunder thighs and glorious glutes. My dreads are flowing behind me in the crisp mountain air and my mind is free of mileage estimations.

I am rocking California’s Mount Baldy summit, a favorite of Southern California’s elite trail runners and the grandest summit of the San Gabriel Mountains. Old Baldy (10,064 ft) stands as the third highest massif in SoCal, behind San Gorgonio Mountain (11,499 ft) and Mount San Jacinto (10,804 ft).

Dr. B.H. Fairchild and Fred Dell built this particular trail in 1889. The men had visions of a great observatory at the summit—a dream that never materialized. The Devil’s Backbone Trail came along later in 1935 and took its well-earned place as the main route to the summit.

In my mind, this is child’s play—a jungle gym of sweeping vistas and stunning rock formations. The smells of oak, bay, fir, cedar, and pine are intoxicatingly inspiring.

In reality, I am slogging, hands-on-knees, and yelling up ahead for my boyfriend to tell me how much further we have to go. He’s the one wearing the GPS and I desperately need him to feed me some data. And how is he walking so damn fast??

baldy summit

Technology is complicated. So is love. I don’t claim to fully understand either, but after thousands of trail running miles all across North America, I’ve collected some general guidelines about each. They are surprisingly similar.

Taking a tech device out on the trial is similar to taking a lover: The idea seems great in theory but there’s a chance you’ll end up miserable.

A good GPS is like a good romance: reliable but not promoting obsession, motivating but not overly demanding, and consistent while still allowing for spontaneity.

A bad tech device is a bad lover: screaming at random times for no particular reason, making you feel terrible about yourself and your abilities, and confusing you with incomprehensible buttons and triggers.

As enamored as we are with the ideal image of that powerful and gadget-less trail runner bounding nearly-nude over mountains with his beard flowing three feet behind him, chances are we have more in common with the huffing mid-packer trying to decide which hills to walk and glancing nervously at his beeping GPS while he scarfs down yet another gel.

A tech device can only take away from our transcendent trail experiences if we allow it to. Our tools should propel us forward, not hold us back.

Running technology should worry about the details so we don’t have to, clearing our minds to drink in the scenery and stay in the moment. It should help us share a particularly beautiful route with friends and help us plot our next adventure together. It should teach us to be more aware of our bodies and motivate us to do our best.

If your tech device does none of these things, it’s time to consider a new relationship. Kick it to the curb and run away without ever looking back.

If you are lucky enough to have a healthy relationship…. err, GPS…. then you already understand that these things are not surgically attached to you. Every once in a while, let out your hair and go alone. Take a day where adventure trumps athleticism and speed bows to solitude.

I don’t care what your projected pace is—there’s always a day to watch the sunrise, turn over a rock, and forget what time it is.

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This article was selected as Editor’s Choice for the February 2014 Trail Runner Blog Symposium. You can view it HERE at trailrunnermag.com.

This month’s topic was: Are tech gadgets more help or hindrance on the trail?

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We’re Not in Niagara Falls Anymore: A Photo Essay About Water

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Whitehorse, Yukon, Canada

If you happen to be growing up in a poor family in Toronto, Canada, and if you happen to be Hispanic, chances are you do the following three things: shop at Goodwill during the week, go to church on the weekends, and visit Niagara Falls on every holiday outing.

Chances are you walk the same half-mile section of pavement near the Falls, eating the sandwiches your parents brought from home and watching the ferry rides from a safe distance.

At Niagara Falls, I learned that nature was dangerous, full of caution signs, and could really only be enjoyed by the rich. I soon came to dread every long weekend at the Falls.

It wasn’t until we drove across North America last year that I was able to re-connect my soul to nature and specifically to water. It was my first time seeing a waterfall I was allowed to play in.

In many ways, our travels can be seen as a water pilgrimage, hugging the coast on the west and again on the east.

I have struggled to describe with words our human connection to water. It’s a primal and ancient relationship. Quite simply, water completes us.

“Take a course in good water and air; and in the eternal youth of Nature you may renew your own. Go quietly alone; no harm will befall you.” – John Muir

Below is a photo essay of my favorite waters across Canada and the USA.

Full collection of my water photos in this video:

Direct YouTube Link HERE

There is a pleasure in the pathless woods,
There is a rapture on the lonely shore,
There is society, where none intrudes,
By the deep sea, and music in its roar:
I love not man the less, but Nature more.

- George Gordon, Lord Byron, Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage

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Check out my book: The Summit Seeker

2013: A Year of Travel Across North America

2013 vanessaruns
“Life is full of beauty. Notice it. Notice the bumble bee, the small child, and the smiling faces. Smell the rain, and feel the wind. Live your life to the fullest potential, and fight for your dreams.” – Ashley Smith

What could you do in one year if nothing were holding you back?

This is the question I asked myself at the beginning of 2013. My quest to answer it has taken us 40,000 miles across the continent. We began in California and drove north to Alaska. In the fall, we drove across Canada, then dropped into Pennsylvania for the winter at The Wolfestead. We have explored 2,000+ miles of trails and there is an urgency I feel when I tell people to stop putting off their ambitions. There is nothing holding us back.

2013: A VIDEO YEAR IN REVIEW

Direct YouTube Link HERE

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Ontario, Canada: Finding Home Right Where it Always Was

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Check out my book: The Summit Seeker

Ontario, Canada: Finding Home Right Where it Always Was

Ontario

“Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.” – Terry Pratchett, A Hat Full of Sky

The first time I held a living monarch in my cupped hands was in a eucalyptus grove in Oceano. By California standards, the morning was chilly even though the sun was out on this late January morning.

The grove, owned by the nearby city of Halcyon, was believed to be land on which Native Americans thrived. I walked in awe under the towering trees with my friends Pat, Caity, and Colin. The dogs, Nigel and Ginger, ran circles at our heels.

I spotted the monarch lying motionless on the ground. Fearing it was dead, I picked it up and squealed with delight when it twitched against my fingers. Then I spotted another one nearby. And another. I looked up and noticed the eucalyptus above me was covered in butterflies, but they were barely moving.

When monarchs get cold, they lose the ability to fly. They rely on the sun to warm their flight muscles and give them mobility. Most monarchs can crawl at temperatures of 41 degrees Fahrenheit, but need a temperature of 55 degrees to fly. These orange and black beauties were chilly.

Later that year in October, I was on the other side of the continent. It was a lovely day by Canadian standards in Cobourg, Ontario, even though I was shivering. The wind off the water whipped sharply against my skin, but the monarchs didn’t seem to mind. They fluttered playfully with the wind, weaving their fragile bodies in figure eights across the shore.

What are they still doing here? I wondered. Shouldn’t they be heading south?

Two years ago, local resident Sue Hedgedus carried out her vision of a monarch way station in Cobourg. With the help of volunteers from the Cobourg Ecology Garden, Sue built the monarchs a safe place to lay their eggs.

Could I really blame them for lingering? After all, I was also clinging to my northern home past the shorts-and-t-shirt season. I was here to celebrate Canadian Thanksgiving with my family. It had been two years and 40,000 miles since I had last seen them.

Cobourg Ecology Garden

Thanksgiving was better than expected. The affectionate welcome from my family and the joy of reuniting with my sisters made me wonder why I had been in such a rush to leave.

Two years ago, I boarded a plane at Toronto’s Pearson airport with a dismissive wave and a “good riddance”. I was floundering in a dead-end relationship, overwhelmed by family drama, and frustrated with a lack of trail races. I needed space to breathe. Physical space. I needed mountains and single track and solitude. I needed to be miles away.

In San Diego, I found a surrogate family of trail and ultrarunning friends. I immersed myself in the outdoors. The mountains were a salve for my soul.

I disassociated myself with everything I had left behind in Toronto, and I lost touch. Canada had left a bitter taste in my mouth. I had only seen a sliver of it—a city where I didn’t fit in, and for two years I rolled my eyes at the thought of ever returning.

From San Diego, I had followed the west coast to Alaska. Then last September I asked Shacky if we could drive across Canada. Part of me hoped that it would be wonderful. Another part of me hoped it would be terrible—to prove that I had been right to leave.

Then Alberta happened. The Columbia Icefields, Jasper National Park, and Banff happened. My jaw dropped at snow-peaked mountains and crystal-clear waters and wildlife that didn’t know how to be afraid.

In Canada, we traveled through some of the most spectacular scenery my nomadic eyes had ever seen. More scenic still than the Alaska highway, the Columbia Gorge, or the lush trails of Oregon—especially beautiful to me, because it was home. This was a country I had always known, yet never known at all.

I discovered friends in Manitoba, enjoyed the hospitality of strangers in Prince Edward Island, and was humbled by the dramatic tides of the Bay of Fundy. Small towns warmed my soul and my heart began to swell with the pride of being a Canadian.

A few months earlier I had been nodding my head at Mark Twain’s account in Roughing It (1872). He, too, had moved to California in 1864 as a journalist, and was inspired by travel.

I posted the following Twain quote on my Facebook wall:

 “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”

The first to reply was Michael Sean Comerford, a hitchhiker we had picked up in the Yukon. Michael had been on his way to Anchorage to work at a carnival, but he was a journalist by trade. For one year, he was traveling as a nomadic carny and surviving on carny wages. He was blogging from the road and gathering experiences for a book. Michael carried a tiny notepad where he carefully wrote down our names, and we have been friends ever since.

Expecting Michael’s comment to be pro-travel, I was surprised to read what he actually typed. He said:

“Twain simply did not meet all people or travel to all ‘little corners’ of the earth when he wrote this. I’ve met extraordinary people who’ve never traveled. And what does it mean that he traveled and yet became a misanthrope toward the end of his life.”

Michael’s reply made me pause and think of all the wonderful people we have encountered on our journeys. They were not nomadic. Many of them were 9-5’ers. They had families. They had communities. They had homes.

They offered us food and hot showers and hospitality, opening their lives and sharing everything they had. Far from narrow-minded, they have helped us reconsider our own prejudices and assumptions.

They are trees and we are butterflies. They are less mobile, but no less important, and it is lucky for us that they are rooted to the ground—a safe place to land.

I understand this now.

Our pilgrimage to Alaska is one that many people associate with Christopher McCandless’ journey described in Into the Wild. When Outside magazine posted an article about McCandless’ death, the comments lit up in heated debate between two distinct positions: those who supported McCandless and those who were disgusted by him.

McCandless’ supporters described him as someone who was really living and never hurt anyone. They attacked naysayers with the disturbing implication that people who hold steady jobs and stay close to their families are somehow not fully living.

The opposition identified McCandless’ travels as selfish and indulgent.  They insisted that he did indeed cause much pain to his family.

These days, I am forced to pause and re-examine my day-to-day.

Has my life become so much about mountains, trails, and summits, that I am neglecting the relationships that matter the most? Have I called my mom? Have I written to my sister? Have I Skyped with my friends?

In the end we are influenced—not by those who have seen the best views—but by those who have spent the most time with us, thought about us, and shared in our milestones.

CobourgPlaying on the shores of Cobourg, Ontario

Earlier this month I received an email from a lady named Camille who wanted to profile me for a feature she was writing. The topic was the evolution of the American Dream as it passed from parents to children. What did the American Dream mean to me, and what had it meant to my parents?

This was a topic I had been churning in my brain for some time. Over Skype, I told Camille about my dad’s immigration to Canada, his struggle to provide stability for me, and his quest to accumulate the possessions I grew to shun: a house, a car, and all the amenities of a comfortable life.

At times, I’ve felt guilty about my choice to abandon all the things my parents worked so hard to give me. I reconcile those feelings by reminding myself that my parents didn’t struggle to give me a physical house, but rather freedom—the freedom to educate myself, to write exactly what I think, and to take the unpopular route. I am free to define success on my own terms.

Still, I feel a pull when I am away from my family, and I attribute that to a newfound sense of maturity. It’s that moment when you’ve wandered enough miles to know where your family lives and why it’s important that they know where you are.

After Thanksgiving dinner, it’s already dark outside. I button up my winter coat and follow my family out to the car to say our goodbyes. After hugs and promises to stay in touch, my sisters pack into my mom’s green mini van and make themselves comfortable in the backseat for the long drive back to Toronto.

Kayla, my ten-year-old baby sister, is squashed in the back corner of the van. I can barely see her little limbs as she wiggles herself back outside at the last second. She races toward me and throws her arms around my neck for one last hug. She sobs into my shoulder while my family waits in the car.

I smooth her hair and hug her tight. I tell her how much I love her and how beautiful and strong she is. She can barely catch her breath between her tears.

Kayla’s outpour surprises me. I am as surprised as McCandless might have been to learn that his parents loved him deeply—except I have lived to see that affection firsthand.

I am more than a nomad, a trail runner, and a mountain bum. I am the big sister who sends postcards but rarely calls. And Kayla is the ten-year-old who misses me so very much.

And that’s when it clicks. I know now why the monarchs have not migrated.

Their loved ones are rooted to the earth, and they must linger until the last possible second before flying away.

1383794_10151627805596922_1817614738_nFrom L to R: My sisters Eli, Naty, Emma, Kayla, and me

“What is that feeling when you’re driving away from people and they recede on the plain till you see their specks dispersing? It’s the too-huge world vaulting us, and it’s good-bye. But we lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies.” – Jack Kerouac, On the Road

 BUILD YOUR OWN MONARCH WAY STATION

Monarch populations have been receding at an alarming rate due to the disappearance of the milkweed they depend on. Please consider planting a simple monarch way station in your own garden. Here’s how.

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Vulnerability and Catcalling in Bear Country

vulnerable

“Hey! What’s a pretty girl like you doing back here?”

I jerked my head to spot the shabby homeless man. I had walked right past him and hadn’t noticed. He sat on a park bench with an old green grocery bag leaning on his side like a dirty man-purse.

He looked weathered and tired, but his expression betrayed amusement at my unexpected presence. His black hair was disheveled and he refused to drop the piercing gaze of his black eyes.

He appeared to be in his mid-50s, but could have been much younger. I couldn’t tell if his dark skin was his natural hue, or if he was just really dirty. I could smell him.

He had the features of a Native American, and he wore three layers of tattered clothing, even though it was fairly warm outside: a black shirt, a black sweater, and a stained, brown jacket. I was wearing my short pink running skirt and a light green tank top.

I felt naked as he leered at me, waiting for my response.

“Um… hi,” was all I could manage.

He caught me off guard. I had jogged there from the park where we were playing ball with Ginger, off to the left of the Fairbanks visitor’s centre in Alaska. This was our first big Alaskan town and we were kicking off a much-anticipated summer of exploring Alaska’s trails.

I was heading to the visitor’s center to check the movie times for a documentary film I wanted to see on the Aurora Borealis. Instead of walking to the front door, I thought I could get in through the back. I didn’t know anyone was there.

He continued to pursue conversation and my discomfort grew. I was sharply aware of his intruding eyes on my body. My heart rate began to instinctively rise and I felt a warm wave of anger wash away the smile I was wearing. I responded with more mumbling and walked away. No way was I going to let him see me run.

Once I was safely out of his line of vision, I walked dejectedly to the front door. I didn’t care about the movie anymore. I was mad.

I was mad that I couldn’t jog away from my boyfriend for two minutes without being the recipient of unwanted attention. I was mad that I was minutes into my epic Alaskan adventure, smiley and excited, and this guy ruined it. But most of all, I was mad that my first reaction had been to deflate and flee the scene.

I saw flashbacks of myself years ago—in my 20s, and in my teens—being called at, leered at, and yelled at by strange men on the street of Toronto. I felt that same old wave of fear and panic I had always felt, not knowing whether those men carried weapons, whether they would follow me home (some did), or get angry if I didn’t respond.

I live a different life now. I have grown stronger and wiser, and most importantly I have gotten away from those shitty neighborhoods.

I have struggled to educate myself. I was the first in my family to graduate from University. I have finished 100-mile races and uncovered new strengths in both my body and my mind. I have written a book and traveled to the most remote state I could think of… yet none of that mattered.

Here on the edge of the world, there was still anger and fear and poverty, and an old man on a bench in his shit-stained coat could still make me feel like a nobody.

Why wasn’t I stronger, I raged to myself as I stormed into the visitor’s center.

Later that morning, an older man stood in the park and watched me do yoga. Under normal circumstances I would have thought nothing of it, but now my senses were on high alert.

Shacky sat nearby with Ginger, but that didn’t matter. I could feel the man’s eyes watching me.

Downward dog….

Now plank…

Every alert system blared in my head as I shifted positions. My skin crept with that instinctive itch all women experience when they know they are being sexualized.

I WILL NOT LET YOU STOP ME FROM DOING MY YOGA!! I screamed at him in my head. This time I would be strong.

Every position was now a rebellion, shooting defiance and indignation in his direction.

Keep your face calm, I told myself. Don’t let him see that it bothers you.

Warrior 1…..

Warrior 2…..

GO AWAY GO AWAY GO AWAY GO AWAY!!!!

I finished my yoga and stomped off.

Less than an hour later, I had to use the bathroom but there was a man lying on the sidewalk, blocking my path. I didn’t want to walk past him, so I asked Shacky for the key to pee in the RV.

“He’s fine,” Shacky assured me. “He’s here with his family. He’s not homeless. His kids were just here.”

Really? Were my instincts off? Was I being oversensitive and paranoid?

I headed toward the bathroom. As I passed, the harmless guy stretched himself across the floor of the sidewalk to look up my skirt. I rushed into the bathroom and peed, seething on the toilet seat.

I was helpless and weak, hiding in the girl’s bathroom just like I did on the first day of middle school when I couldn’t find my computer classroom. Then again at lunch when nobody would sit with me.

I tried to brush it off. Certainly, I had endured much worse. Still, I couldn’t shake my disappointment in myself. How could men I didn’t even know still have the power to make me feel frightened and objectified? I hadn’t changed at all.

I was off my game for days. Nothing noticeable, but subtle frowns mixed with streaks of paranoia. When a man approached us to ask about Ginger a few days later, I tensed up. The little things made me feel a lack of control.

Fairbanks wasn’t what I had hoped. An unexpected heat wave forced us to keep the dog in the RV with the A/C running. When we tried to explore the trails, starving herds of mosquitoes bombed us repeatedly like angry wasps.

Unprepared, we had no bug spray. Our dog would run back to the RV after only a few minutes outside, covered in red welts. She’d nip at the air and swat her own face until we finally had the sense to leave town. Unreasonably, I blamed those men. They had ruined the entire city. Fuck them.

A few days later, the beautiful town of Anchorage lifted my spirits and I decided to approach this issue the same way I always handle things that trouble me: I research them.

I wanted to understand why men acted this way. Did they want attention? Did they genuinely believe this was an effective way of finding a mate? Did they think women enjoyed it?

And what was the most effective way to react? Ignore them? Humor them? Shout at them? Out-creep them? I didn’t want to give them the satisfaction of reacting exactly the way they wanted. I didn’t want them to know they had gotten a rise out of me.

Most of what I found online was directed at men—a lot of “Stop it, guys!” and little analysis. Then I stumbled on an essay in The Atlantic by Ta-Nehisi Coates examining manhood. Coates argues that men street harass women as a means to feel more powerful. They are not terrible people, but simply powerless men who lack opportunities to display dominance in other areas of life.

Men who are validated and respected do not need to catcall. Men who are trampled, disrespected, and overlooked get a rise out of making a woman squirm. When the powerless man watches a woman drop her eyes or shuffle away in embarrassment at his call, he feels powerful. She has noticed him.

Alyssa Royse offers another perspective. She believes the unfortunate cause is society’s habit of demonizing male sexuality. “It starts young,” she writes. “Girls are told that boys are predatory and somehow out of control. The corollary there is that boys are told they are predators, and out of control. Therefore, not a desirable thing, but a thing to defend against. From the get-go, we are teaching our kids to fear male sexuality, and to repress female sexuality… It’s sad. It’s insulting. And it’s damaging…This way of looking at male sexuality conflates sexuality with predation.”

As far as street harassment prevention, many women on online forums seem to embrace a concept known as “bitch face”. They brag that the reason they are not harassed more often is because they go through life wearing a “default bitch face”.

Here is the scholarly definition according to Urban Dictionary:

bitchface

I am horrified by this concept. I worry that if I wear a bitch face all day, I will soon become a bitch in real life. I need my default face to be a happy one. I need to smile until I have a good reason not to.

In my world, defaulting to a bitch face would allow random men to hold me prisoner to my own fear and skepticism. It would ruin not only the days they call to me, but also the days they don’t. They would sentence me to walk through life with my guard up, a burden I cannot accept.

I may not be able to control the comments of every man on the street, but I can protect my instinct to smile. No matter how often I am made to feel uncomfortable or self-conscious, I can preserve my faith in the inherent goodness of humanity and tear through every corner, laughing and running in a short skirt as though nothing unpleasant has ever surprised me. I can choose to stay vulnerable—on purpose.

Brené Brown recently intrigued me with her TED Talk on the path to vulnerability. She stumbled on the concept of vulnerability in her research on connection and shame, and like many of us, she was terrified by it. “In order for connection to happen,” she says, “we need to be seen—really seen.”

After six years of deep research that included hundreds of interviews and thousands of stories, Brown isolated a breed of people that she describes as “whole hearted”. These people had found connection, love, and belonging. They were living to the fullest.

Brown took a magnifying glass to their lives and found two common threads:

1. They were courageous.

There is a difference between bravery and courage, Brown stresses. Courage, from the Latin word cor (meaning heart), was originally defined as telling the story of who you are with your whole heart. “They were willing to let go of who they thought they should be in order to be who they were,” Brown says.

2. They were vulnerable.

Not only where these people vulnerable, but they embraced vulnerability. It was important to them, and they believed it made them beautiful. They talked about vulnerability as something that was important, not excruciating. They were willing to say, “I love you” first, and they were willing to invest in relationships that might not work out.

This data started Brown down a long and difficult path of learning how to implement vulnerability into her life. She came to an important conclusion that perfectly describes why bitch face is so tragic.

“You cannot selectively numb,” Brown says. When we try to stifle feelings of anger, grief, and despair, we numb everything. “We numb joy, we numb gratitude, we numb happiness.”

Bitch face is a numbing. It’s an armor shielding against unwanted attention, but also against anything good that may cross our paths that day. It protects us from catcalling, but it also protects us from unexpected kindness, motivational encouragement, and spontaneous hospitality.

I spent the rest of the summer practicing vulnerability in Alaska. This mostly manifested itself in me being a nerdy goof (read: being myself), talking to strangers, and singing to the bears. I took more chances than usual and climbed steeper hills.

I learned to approach each new experience with a fresh expectation of success, though yesterday may have ended in disaster. And every new man gets a clean slate.

Brown’s TED Talk on the Power of Vulnerability

Direct TED link HERE

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Q&A Uncensored: Answers to Your Questions

VanessaRunsPhoto: Denali National Park in Healy, Alaska

In my previous post I presented an open invitation for anyone to ask me anything—no topic was too taboo or too personal. Here are the questions I received, and their answers:

Do you and Shacky ever fight? You are living in a very small confined space and have to be totally flexible with your lifestyle, so when and if issues/disagreements come up, how do you resolve them? You really do seem like a love conquers all couple (I know that sounds corny). – Corina Smith

It sounds crazy, but we have never fought. Both of us have a very similar temperament: laid-back, calm, and low maintenance. We also both love this lifestyle and we don’t have the typical stressors that other couples balance: debt, work, time management, children.

Many of our challenges involve working as a team (e.g. researching places to go, organizing travel details, navigating new terrain). This has produced an “us against the world” mindset that motivates us to cooperate and compromise.

I attribute the peace in our relationship to simple living combined with compatibility. That said, things like hunger and heat can make us both very grumpy. Although we may experience a moody discomfort, we tend to be angry at our circumstances or other people (bad drivers, etc) rather than each other.

I recently read a great quote from Gunter Holtorf, a 75-year-old world traveler who has driven his car (and lived in it) for more than 820,000 kilometres all over the world. He traveled with his wife until she passed away. He writes:

“When you live in a car for nearly 20 years, it’s not a normal situation of a couple living in a home. Living in the car, and doing all that travel over all those years is like living as Siamese twins. When you travel like that, you can’t say, ‘I’m going to go read a book in the garden.’ You are stuck together, 24 hours a day. The only splits would be if one of us went shopping, or if you go behind a tree to use a toilet. You are bound to be together.”

What do you think about the competition element of ultramarathons? – Katie

I strongly support competition.

Back in San Diego, I volunteered for an organization called Girls on the Run. They do a lot of great things, but this was one topic of disagreement I had with them.

I was a volunteer running coach for a group of middle school girls. They were at that age where socializing and boys were more important than physical activity, and they were reluctant to participate. We coaches brainstormed about how to motivate them.

We agreed on the idea of introducing a sense of friendly competition and felt confident that this was the missing spark. Our idea was squashed by the higher-ups. We were told the organization didn’t believe in competition because it might lead to some girls feeling excluded. Although their arguments sounded great on paper, I knew the girls were being cheated.

One of the worst things we can do is to teach our young girls to associate a strong and healthy competitive drive with negativity, exclusion, and/or bullying. On the contrary, competition brings out the best in us. This is true not only in running but in life.

Competition is that fire in our bellies and that extra push in our legs. It teaches us to handle both victory and defeat, and sets us up–not for always winning–but for trying our best every single time.

VanessaRuns2Photo: Battery Point trailhead in Haines, Alaska

Did you know that your writing career would flourish when you started to do it for yourself, or is this a happy side-effect of your lifestyle, and having more time to follow your passions?  Was spending more time writing one of your goals? – Katie

I did expect that my writing would flourish. I believed in myself wholeheartedly and in the full potential of my talents. Embracing that type of confidence is the only way I was able to survive the insurmountable negativity of my past. I am still my own #1 cheerleader.

Sometimes people confuse a lack of confidence with humility, or confuse self-love with narcissism. I believe you have to love yourself fully in order to love others well. George Sheehan once wrote, “I have met my hero, and he is me.” Be a person you can be proud. Be your own hero.

Why IS everyone going to work all their lives and missing all this wonder and beauty in the world?! – Katie

I don’t think working necessarily means you will miss all the wonder and beauty in the world. “Work” can be seen as a dirty word in nomadic circles, but that is a mistake. In reality, I work much harder now than I ever did for an employer, because I am more motivated and passionate about what I do. My paycheck just isn’t as large or as steady.

I love this quote by Howard Thurman: “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

If you find what makes you come alive, your world will always be filled with wonder and beauty, regardless of employment.

I’m wondering what you eat and if it’s changed a lot since being on the road. – Tam

We’ve experimented with everything from paleo to vegan. I felt best eating mostly raw vegan, but I’m not strict about it. I try to fully experience the places we travel to, and that includes local foods. For example, on the West coast we ate a lot of fresh seafood, and in Alaska we ate wild game.

Food for me is highly social and I believe in long lunches, lots of sharing, and homemade meals with good friends.

What has traveling taught you? – Kristin

It has connected me to who I am and what I love to do. It has also reignited my faith in humanity. There is still so much goodness and generosity in the world. Once we get away from our digital screens and start talking to real people, it’s easy to see that the good far outweighs the evil out there.

If you had to run one 10-mile portion of trail for the rest of your life, where would it be? – Scott W. Kummer

The Los Pinos hill climb of the Los Pinos 50K course. This was the first stretch of trail that broke me, and I didn’t meet the cutoff at the top of the hill. It’s a brutal, exposed hill.

After it defeated me that first time, I went back and completed it three more times. The weather is always extreme and unpredictable. It’s a real challenge to carry enough food and water, and a real danger if you run out.

The original race director, Keira Henninger, gave it up because she didn’t feel she could keep runners safe on this climb. My friend Carlos Quinto, with Keira’s blessing, has recently resurrected the event. The first time we took Carlos out there, he had to beg some bikers for spare food and water. It’s a glorious challenge.

HERE is my first race report at Los Pinos.

VanessaRuns3Photo: Flattop Mountain in Anchorage, Alaska

How do you deal with others judgment of you and your decisions? I grew up in a people-pleasing environment and this is something I struggle with. It seems like you are very strong in your decisions and beliefs. – Alena

I used to be surrounded by naysayers and it took a lot of courage to separate myself from them. I have deleted online friends, broken off in-person friendships, and even cut contact with certain family members. The transition was difficult and awkward, but since then my life has evolved so much faster and my confidence has soared. I strongly support a ruthless purging like this for everyone.

Of course, this doesn’t mean you disassociate with people who don’t agree with you, but rather say goodbye to people who wish you ill and poison your life with their misery. Life is to short for negativity and toxic relationships.

People still make judgments of course, mostly online (you will never escape that), but now they are not people who are close to me. I can review their points, and if there is no validity there, I can easily shake them off.

What do you miss about having a fixed address and “regular” job? (I’m sure the answer is NOT “nothing” — every living situation has its good and bad features, even if it’s just the great Mexican restaurant down the road from your old house.) – Robyn

I really miss the familiarity of running the same trails over a period of months. Familiarity makes it easier to note physical improvements, and to mentally push myself to do better over time, especially with something like hill repeats (it helps to have the same hill!). It’s also lovely to watch one trail change with the seasons—I miss that. Finally, I miss going out for breakfast or coffee with old friends.

If you could change ONE thing about yourself as a person, what would it be? – Jen S.

I would give myself a better sense of direction. I am constantly getting lost while others seem to have a natural compass in their brains. I’d love to be able to go somewhere and automatically know how to go there again on my own, instead of having to look it up. I’m getting better, but it’s definitely challenging since we are constantly visiting new places.

What advice or tips would you give to someone who was considering giving it all up in order to live a more simple, nomadic life? – Katie

 Don’t wait to simplify your life—do it now. There are many ways you can start downgrading to make the transition easier. This can include giving stuff away, selling things, or cutting out non-essential expenses. We waited until the last minute, and it became overwhelming to get rid of so many things. In retrospect, we should have started much sooner.

What’s the weirdest sexual act Shacky has requested since hitting the road? – Jason

Our sex life isn’t that weird, sorry to disappoint! I feel like we’ve both had enough experiences to know what we like, and we pretty much stick to our favorite acts, which happen to be fairly standard.

While “What’s the weirdest sexual act Shacky has requested since hitting the road?” is hilarious, dare I add… Where?! – Jen S.

Always in the RV, everywhere from San Diego to Alaska to Toronto! Sometimes beautiful locations like mountains or glaciers, and other times just Home Depot parking lots. The RV has great cover so our biggest challenge is to not kick the pets.

vanessarunsPhoto: On the ferry from Haines to Skagway, Alaska

Do you make any money directly out of your running—through sponsorships or any other way? 
Or do you just run for the love of it? – myrunspiration

I don’t make money directly from running, but sometimes I get free race entries. I also get a small income from blog ads (WordAds via WordPress) and income from my book, The Summit Seeker. I will sometimes get free gear, like clothes or shoes in exchange for blog reviews.

I’m not fast enough to win races and even if I were, ultrarunning is not very lucrative. I definitely run for the love of it and usually pay to do so. I don’t keep my medals or race swag since space in the RV is limited. I give everything away to volunteers who were exceptional that day.

Do you worry about health insurance or medical costs? – Anj

Not as much as I should. I do have coverage in Canada (I’m Canadian), but that doesn’t necessarily help me outside the country. We’ve been looking into a few options and I’ve been scolded about not making it more of a priority.

How many states have you visited since you took off? How long have you been on the road now? Can you tell me the month and year you left for this trip? Any idea how many different trails you’ve explored or run during this trip? – Kristin

We have been on the road for one year (since August 2012). We’ve explored countless trails and run 2,000 miles, driven 30,000 miles, and visited 17 national parks (2 Canadian, the rest American).

Does the RV ever smell due to lack of showering? – Jakehat

Not from our bodies (we can keep up pretty good with at least a wet wipe), but sometimes if the dirty laundry piles up, it will smell like… dirty laundry. Also, when the cat takes a poop, we all smell it for a few glorious seconds until she covers it up.

If we don’t clean and put away our gear after a long run, a running funk will develop. I’m in charge of cleaning and I normally stay on top of it, although it’s surprisingly difficult to sort, clean and store all your gear immediately after a 100-mile race. In those cases, we surrender to the funk for a day or two.

vanessarunsPhoto: Spending the night just outside of Whitehorse, Yukon, Canada

What do you feed ginger on your long runs together? I’m training with my dog and figure if I am eating something, she should be too. – Dustin Heath

We will carry any of her favorite foods. She loves hot dogs, jerky, and peanut butter. She seems to enjoy burritos as well. When she ran a 50K with me she enjoyed potatoes from the aid station. Almost anything she is willing to eat, we will feed her. She is a picky eater so we trust her instincts.

Do you ever listen to the weakerthans? – Jakehat

I had never heard of them, but just checked them out online. Not bad! I’ll get Shacky to download more of them. We’re currently on a Johnny Cash binge.

When can we all go for a run on Brown Mountain?! – Rob G.

Not sure where that is? :)

I always picture you and Shacky driving around singing Queens Bohemian Raphsody. What are the lyrics to that song? – Istomsl

Shacky prefers this version.

vanessarunsPhoto: Kathleen Lake in Yukon, Canada

You May Also Enjoy:

Why We Need Nomads

Answering the Call of the North

The Pacific Northwest: Finding Humility at the Waterfall

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Check out my book: The Summit Seeker

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