Moisturize Your Penis and Other Extreme C-C-Cold Weather Running Tips You Won’t Find in Runner’s World

Yes, we went there.

Learn how to keep your arse cheeks from freezing, how to prevent your iPhone battery from going south, and what to do with that muffin top. Hey, we can’t all be Runner’s World models.

Listen in as Heather “I Can’t Put My Arms Down!” Wiatrowski lets us in on the nitty gritty details of her recent winter 50-miler (Beast of Burden) through Lockport, New York’s bitter temps.

Our podcast interview yesterday was recorded live from my igloo and full of awesomeness. Have a listen: Running in Extreme Cold Weather

natural running networkBelow are three of my personal bonus tips we didn’t get around to mentioning:


I love these things for cold weather–I use one as a scarf, one to cover my head, and an extra one tied to my pack as a snot rag. Just don’t mix up the one for your snot with the one for your head….

2. Sunglasses

You wouldn’t think it, but these are invaluable in the cold weather if you don’t want the snow and its reflections to cause you permanent (ok, temporary) blindness.

3. Lip balm

If you forget it, you’ll regret it. Also works great as emergency lube for any type of chaffing.

And a couple things on my “To Try” list courtesy of Runner’s World (see, no hard feelings):

“When it’s raining, I slip my stocking feet into plastic baggies, then put on my running shoes,” says Darryl Dalcerri of Lompoc, California. “The baggies keep my feet dry even when I run through puddles.” Most Port City Pacers rotate pairs of shoes. If you have to dry shoes overnight, crumple up newspaper and cram it tightly into your shoes, with the insoles removed. The newspaper soaks up the moisture. (Source)

I loved this circuit workout from Jenny Hadfield. It says indoors, but I’m thinking it would be killer in deep snow:

  • Warm up walking for 3 minutes and running easy for 10 minutes
  • Repeat: 4-5 times
  •  5 minutes at tempo effort
  •  60 Seconds of slow-motion squats
  •  60 seconds of alternating lunges
  •  60 seconds of wall chair sit (exactly how it sounds)
  • Cool down with 10 minutes of easy-effort running and 3 minutes walking.


Jenny Hadfield came to my house once:

jennyABOVE ALL….

Be kind to yourself in this polar vortex, folks. Everything feels harder because it IS harder.

According to a recent article in the Globe and Mail (eh?): “For every calorie of energy your muscles burn, only a quarter is translated in motion, while three-quarters is emitted as heat.”

Read the rest of the article to learn what the Olympians do to stay warm outdoors.

If you don’t have goosebumps yet, check out this cool (haha… “cool”) Newsweek link about the badass Yukon Arctic Ultra.

I wish you the joys of frosty eyelashes and frozen beard hair!

Here is a full video tour of my igloo:

Direct YouTube Link HERE

And to all our friends in sunny California: You bastards….

caliYou May Also Enjoy:

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Life, Death, and a Goat Having a Seizure

This is not the post I was planning to write. These thoughts have not been processed or made into perfect sense. I like my writing to be witty and wrapped up tight with a clever little bow. This is not that.

Yesterday I stroked little Lola’s face minutes before her death and minutes after last seizure. I told her how sorry I was for her discomfort and how much we all loved her. She looked back at me until I faltered and dropped my gaze. Lola was a goat and also part of The Wolfestead family.

I was going to type “poor Lola” just now, but Lola was not poor. Her meat will be put to good use, her pelt will live longer that I will, and she was deeply loved.

No, it is we who are poor today. Poor because we miss her and because we knew her potential. Lola’s purpose here wasn’t fulfilled. She was going to be bred this month. She was going to give us lots of babies. She was going to live out her life on the farm.

Last Thanksgiving when I butchered my first chicken, it felt different. The chicken had been picked for that specific reason. It had lived a good life and fulfilled its purpose. Its death was planned, not unexpected. We didn’t nurse it for days and invest in its recovery.

A friend recently wrote to us about the possibility of coming to The Wolfestead to heal from a deep loss. Some might wonder why anyone would want to come to a place where things die to get over loss, but that’s exactly the point. This is the perfect place. The farm is where we learn about life and death, loss and healing.

As feral farmer Nate Wolfe wrote yesterday, “I am unsure one can be intimate with life if they don’t also make love with death.”

It’s a quiet day on The Wolfestead today. We are hurting, but we are also healing. Goodbye, sweet Lola.

2Lay me out
and take my skin
bleach my bones for jewelry
take my flesh and use it again
in ways that have purpose
think of me every day
you wear my pelt against your heart
or head
or feet
or legs
depending on your desire
as you work me into leather
that will far outlast even your life
then let me fall
to your sons and daughters
and then to theirs
as an item loved and cherished long
after we are both gone

- Nathaniel Wolfe


Related Links:

Winter Life on a Homestead (Photo Essay)

Killing my Thanksgiving Dinner and a Lesson in Gratitude (Explicit Photos)


Check out my book: The Summit Seeker

My New Podcast Co-Hosting Gig


A year ago when Caity of The Caity McCardell Show (also the sultry voice behind The Summit Seeker’s audiobook) suggested I get into podcasting, I told her it wasn’t really my thing. I had always been the tortured writer–surely nobody wanted to hear my whiny voice. However, these last few months I have been a heavy podcast consumer–listening to anything of quality and everything I could find about running–and I realized that I actually have a lot to add.

My perspective is representative of runners you don’t normally hear from on podcasts: female + trail + ultra + nomadic running bum + middle/back of pack + younger generation.

I don’t have the race wins or stats under my belt (yet?) but I think this only strengthens my viewpoint. I know and love the spirit of running and I’m passionate about the outdoors. I’m mesmerized by the history as well as the growth of trail and ultrarunning. As a newer generation, I want to adopt and preserve the sport as well as improve on it.

A few weeks ago I noticed that Coach Richard Diaz of the Natural Running Network was looking for a co-host. I sent him an email introducing myself and yada yada yada… I’m the new co-host for the Natural Running Network podcast. We are live every Friday!

I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to jump on board this already-successful broadcast. It basically means I get to gab without all the technical logistics of podcasting or audience-building.

Here are my first three episodes:

Running Obsession with Charlie Engle and Dr. Michelle Cleere

Are you obsessed with running? What constitutes a running obsession? Is it healthy?









How to Run 100 Miles… or More with Marshall Ulrich

What does it take to go long? How much time and training is required? Learn about hydration, nutrition, and mental endurance.









How to Run Faster

How can proper running form improve your speed without any additional conditioning? Dissect the mechanics of running with a scientific approach.











Follow the Natural Running Network on Blog Talk Radio.

Be sure to check out the archived episodes as well–some great stuff there for running nerds like me!

Remember, you can call in to each show with your live questions or comments.

LISTEN MORE! Other Podcasts I’ve Been On:


Trail Runner Nation: Vanessa Runs – Everywhere

Tri Swim Coach: Interview with Vanessa Runs

Supercharge Your Life: Stanley Bronstein Interviews Vanessa Runs

Barefoot Bushcraft Radio: Featuring Vanessa Runs

The Partnerunning Show: Vanessa Runs

Run Barefoot Girl: Micah True and Volunteerism

The Labyrinth: Vanessa Rodriguez

Happy listening!


Check out my book: The Summit Seeker

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


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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2013: Stats From a Year of Travel Blogging

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The Louvre Museum has 8.5 million visitors per year. This blog was viewed about 310,000 times in 2013. If it were an exhibit at the Louvre Museum, it would take about 13 days for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

redwoods national park

Being silly in beautiful places = what we did in 2013. Same plan for 2014.

Happy new year, dear readers!

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Why We Need Nomads

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Seeking Dispensers: A Call to Embrace a Wild Life


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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.


Direct YouTube Link HERE

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Check out my book: The Summit Seeker

Winter Life on a Homestead (Photo Essay)

SONY DSCLife at the Wolfestead has brought me back to a time when people didn’t exert energy for the sake of exercise. They moved their bodies to play or to work, and often because they needed to survive. The winter has introduced a dimension of discomfort but also a satisfying sense of reward when work is finished.

I came to the Wolfestead with a long distance trail running background and found farm chores more difficult than training for a 100-mile race. Also, farm chores offer no rest days. I have found this exertion to be functional, simple, and in many ways more rewarding than an endurance event.

I am still challenging my body, except now I have something to show for it: logs for the winter and fresh eggs for breakfast. These things I can savor more than a medal. The end result is more modest than crossing a finish line, but it feels pure.

I grew up with the myth that manual labor is something people do when they can’t go to college to escape the rigors of a menial, repetitive life. In reality, working with my hands has been one of the most mentally stimulating and creative things I have ever done–more so than higher-paying office work complete with brainstorming innovation meetings. These photos are a product of that inspiration.

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The chore of felling trees, cutting up logs, hauling them down off the mountain, and chopping them into firewood is never-ending. We use the wood to burn a fire and heat the house. In exceptionally cold weather, the fire burns all night.

“An authentic life will be built, at least in part, of ordinary verbs: wake, plant, dig, mend, walk, lift, listen, season, note, bake, chop, store, stack, harvest, give, stretch, measure, wash, help, haul, sleep. And verbs bring nouns, what doing requires: shovel, needle, basket, axe, seed, pencil, boots, match, handle, bucket, knife, ear, saw, tape, bowl, barrow, boat, level, soil, wedge, hand.” - Christine Byl, Dirt Work: An Education in the Woods


About This Photo:

Each bale of hay weights around 50 lbs. A few days after we arrived, we restocked five bales and 300 lbs of chicken feed. It would have taken me all day just to move this stuff, but with Nate’s help it only took a few minutes. The hay is fed to the goats and the leftovers are raked into the chicken coops. Once the chickens have soiled it, it goes into the compost to feed the garden.

“I was headed away from physical work, toward the education meant to save me from it… Boys took shop. Smart kids went to college… Sports after homework is done… Exercise must fit into the workday. Nature is where we go to escape our ordinary lives… until we start to wonder, Who would I be if I chose the opposite?… Can’t our work bring us pleasure?… What if manual tasks are mentally rewarding?” – Christine Byl, Dirt Work: An Education in the Woods

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Chicken feed bags weight 50 lbs each. Every night we scoop out a daily ration of food and the chickens come charging. Evening feeds ensure that the chickens come back to the coops for the night, since they forage all day. As the temperatures drop, a roaming chicken might not survive the night.

“I’ve been working at farms the last two years and everyday at the end of the day I felt like I’d run a 50-mile race. I thought it was just me being weak. There’s no way farm work could be that hard, right? Well… farm work is hardcore. I verify it and have been verified by this. I also have always prescribed to the Teddy Roosevelt philosophy of leading a strenuous life.” – Sarah Willis, farm crew at Trogg’s Hollow

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There are four female goats on The Wolfestead: Lola, Dora, Hilda, and Tasha. Their offspring will be used for food, but these four will live out their lives on the farm. The goats do an amazing job of keeping the property clear through foraging. Sometimes goat owners hire out their animals to walk trails like the Appalachian and eat down the overgrowth to keep the paths clear. If there is a better job than taking a goat on a long trail hike with unlimited snack breaks, I don’t know what it is. Their favorite food? Poison ivy.

“Most of us are raised with preconceived notions of the choices we’re supposed to make. We waste so much time making decisions based on someone else’s idea of our happiness–what will make you a good citizen or a good wife or daughter or actress. Nobody says, ‘Just be happy. Go be a cobbler or go live with goats.’” – Sandra Bullock, actress

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Pip is the resident poodle puppy. He is the most thorough face-licker I have ever met, even taking his time to stick his tongue up each nostril (it’s the details). Pip is full of life and enthusiastically horny. He always wears a bow tie because bow ties are cool. Here he is after a romp in the snow.

“There is no psychiatrist in the world like a puppy licking your face.” – Bernard Williams, philosopher

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Eido is the old resident husky full of wisdom and patience. If an animal is dying anywhere on the property, Eido finds it and drags it over to us. He is a fan of playing in the snow and howling with his daddy Nate. Most mornings he sighs patiently while Pip humps his leg.

“Dogs come into our lives to teach us about love. They depart to teach us about loss. A new dog never replaces an old dog; it merely expands the heart. If you have loved many dogs, your heart is very big.” – Erica Jong, author

SONY DSCAbout This Photo:

One of our daily chores is to start a fire. I was surprised at how fast the wood stove heats up the house. On cold days, we run in here between chores to warm up before heading out again.

“From my first day on the job, tools have met me as a student and made me into a learner. Axes, saws, rock bars, and sledges taught my body how to swing and sharpen and carry and stow, and they taught my mind that over time, in a place you open yourself to, competence will come” - Christine Byl, Dirt Work: An Education in the Woods

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Average temperatures have been hovering just above the freezing mark, but we did have a cold spell and a power outage. Colder weather means going out more often to break up the water for the animals to prevent it from freezing solid.

There is a privacy about it which no other season gives you…. In spring, summer and fall people sort of have an open season on each other; only in the winter, in the country, can you have longer, quiet stretches when you can savor belonging to yourself.” – Ruth Stout, author

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This young hen didn’t survive an opossum attack. We arrived (at Eido’s prompts) to see it still kicking and struggling for breath. “Quick, message Nate!” I yelled to Shacky, half expecting to receive some elaborate chicken surgery instructions for a last-minute, life-saving procedure. Of course, that’s not the way things work on the farm. Although I had braced myself for killing hens for food, I hadn’t considered accidental loss of life. My past winters have been filled with flurries and snowballs and hot chocolate, but I am slowly adjusting to a new winter experience: Death.

“Death is a fact of life; it is a necessary fact of life. Death is not evil. Death is unavoidable. Death is actually quite fantastic when you think about it: it is the mechanism for new life. It is simply the cessation of a life for the continuation of life.  Every time you wash your hands, take a shower, or brush your teeth, you are massacring millions of micro organisms. If you drive a car, you are killing insects every day, squirrels and birds likely often, and if you live where I do, probably a few opossums… Of course I feel bad when I kill things accidentally. I would much rather my killing be fully intentional.” – Nathaniel Wolfe, homesteader

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As common as death is on the farm, the miracle of life is also everywhere. This is a litter of newborn bunnies born during our stay. While not all are likely to survive, the awesomeness of watching their tiny lives unfold is an experience I will not soon forget. PS – The bunnies are named after Dr. Who characters.

“In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life: it goes on.” – Robert Frost, poet

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From my viewpoint last winter as a vegan jogging on the beaches of California, I imagined that those who killed livestock and hunted game probably had less of a love for animals. After all, how could you kill something that you love?

Now that I have spent time on this farm, I have come to understand how much these homesteaders not only depend on animals, but deeply love them. Chuck the Duck is a waddling example.

Chuck is tenderly cared for. He is fussed over and sleeps with his owners even though ducks will be eaten here (don’t worry, NOT Chuck). Similarly, Gnome the Chicken wanders indoors and nuzzles into the sofa where he is affectionately received, even though chickens are killed here. Abandoned cats and bunnies find their homes. Some animals live out their lives while others become food.

“Be like a duck. Calm on the surface, but always paddling like the dickens underneath.” – Michael Caine, actor

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Barefoot living is a huge part of the Wolfestead lifestyle. Even through winter, Nate does his chores barefoot–adapting and building a resistance to the cold weather over time. For his day job of teaching yoga and kung-fu, he is always barefoot.

“The truth is, no one can live on the land without touching the land. And touching land requires old, unglamorous, sometimes artful, sometimes boring, dirty work.” - Christine Byl, Dirt Work: An Education in the Woods

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Homesteaders not only work hard, but they also rest hard. Hours off are spent drinking, talking, laughing, and playing all night long.

“I think most people are willing to and want to work hard. But when you work on a farm you are very connected to the fruits of your labor and see a direct correlation between effort and reward, therefore it is motivating and feels good to accomplish something. Too many people in too many jobs are completely disconnected from the effort/reward equation. They get paid no matter what. Even if they work super hard it is rarely appreciated or rewarded, thus they tend to act in ways that are perceived as lazy. It is straight behavioral ecology from a biologist’s view. Effort is expensive and if there is no reward there will be no effort.” – Mike Miller, ultrarunner and traveler

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Thanksgiving dinner was prepared by hand and from scratch. We cooked two of the chickens that were born here, and the vegetables were canned in advance.

“Our culture is at once almost totally disconnected from the rhythms and limits of nature, yet obsessed with what is ‘natural.’ Some of the thinking about this is deep and critical: what should we eat? Where should it come from? What are things made of ? Who makes them? How do our actions affect this planet? How should the planet affect our actions? Other riffs on the nature theme are purely commercial: lanky magazine models loll in grassy fields with wicker picnic baskets. Log homes are status symbols, the ‘rustic look’ perfectly orchestrated by an interior designer. ‘Mama grizzlies’ are leashed for political fund-raising.” - Christine Byl, Dirt Work: An Education in the Woods

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Gnome the Chicken is the only hen allowed indoors. She is genetically inferior to the others, so she gets perks and is kept more as a pet. Every morning when I open the front door, she is waiting to dash inside and peck at the cat food.

“This experience is what we’re attempting to get with our gym workouts and organized races… a real struggle to acquire resources. The more primal the activity, the more fulfilling.” – Jason Robillard, ultrarunner and author

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R2 and his brother D2 are the kittens of the house. They are curious and playful, sometimes to their own detriment. A few days ago R2 jumped on to the wood stove and immediately realized his mistake.

“The kittens will make your sad go away.” – David Wong, John Dies at the End

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Cinder is one of the oldest family cats. She hangs out on the kitchen counter and sleeps in an egg carton box. The family has a total of six cats.

“There are two means of refuge from the miseries of life: music and cats.” – Albert Schweitzer, philosopher

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The living room is my favorite spot. It’s a cozy, communal place kept warm by a raging fire. Animals are scattered all over the floor and furniture while goats and chickens gather at the door.

“Farm work beats all. It creates a strong mind, strong body, and happens for the greater purpose of survival.” - Margaret Schlachter, professional athlete and obstacle racer


This is a small family homestead in Landisburg, Pennsylvania (The Wolfestead). The land is owned and run by Nathaniel and Melanie Wolfe. Nate also works as a yoga and martial arts instructor. Melanie is a full-time nurse. They own and manage 8 acres of land and 100+ animals. Our chores for the winter include felling trees and gathering wood, setting up a hydroponics system, starting a greenhouse, and feeding/raising/processing the animals. Follow Nate’s blog at Shifting Strands.


Direct YouTube Link HERE

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Killing my Thanksgiving Dinner and a Lesson in Gratitude (Explicit Photos)

SONY DSCI believe that everyone who chooses to eat meat should have the experience of raising, killing, and preparing their own meal. This is a process we need to understand.

I believe in eating as locally as possible, regardless of your dietary choices (vegan, paleo, vegetarian, etc).

This is how I learned to humanely kill a chicken. The photos are explicit, but I hope they will inspire you to a deeper sense of awareness and appreciation for your meal.

These birds were fertilized, hatched, raised, cared for, and loved at The Wolfestead.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The step-by-step process we used to kill our chickens:

Direct YouTube link HERE.

“There is no difference to me in the killing of bacteria that is out of balance in my body causing my system to be ill, than to kill a chicken to sustain healthy life. Also, when I am done with my body, or my body is done with me, I would wish, if possible, for the atoms of my body, my flesh, to be able to be dismantled by animals and organisms for their benefit and life. Feel free to feed me back to my chickens, they are canabilistic little bastards.”Nathaniel Wolfe

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Ontario, Canada: Finding Home Right Where it Always Was


“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


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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Why We Need Nomads

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Check out my book: The Summit Seeker

Spartan Race Entry Giveaway


This giveaway is to celebrate the upcoming December 7th airing of the World Championship Spartan Race on NBC Sports.

In this 90-minute special, NBC follows eight professional athletes and four everyday Spartans at the Spartan Race World Championships in Killington, Vermont.


This race entry is valid for any open heat in any 2013-2104 Spartan Race in the Continental US. Check out the Spartan schedule for a race near you.

To win, simply leave a comment on this post answering the question:

“What personal or athletic advances have you made in the past 12 months?”

If you share this giveaway on Facebook, Twitter, your blog, or any other form of social media, you get an additional entry. For example, if you share on Facebook AND Twitter, that’s two extra entries. (Leave a separate comment telling me where you shared.)

You can also use this URL to generate a 15% off code for any Spartan race:

The winner will be chosen randomly on November 25th, 2013 and contacted directly.

Don’t forget to watch on December 7th and good luck!


Direct YouTube link HERE

You May Also Enjoy:

Spartan Obstacle Race Report

10 Overlooked Rights Worth Fighting For

The Burpee Challenge: 3 Things I Learned and 2 Surprises


Check out my book: The Summit Seeker


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