Photo: 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.
Photo: 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.
Photo: 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.
Photo: 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.
Photo: 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.
Photo: 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
Check out my book: The Summit Seeker