“You do know there are mountain lions, right?” the ranger asked, her question more of a warning. I gave a slight laugh. It was a better response than the normal “You’re crazy” I usually get when I tell people where I’m running to with my Five Finger shoes. Thirty kilometers to the snow line and back through the rain forest with a seven kilogram photopack was not what most everyday visitors plan. As a matter of fact, the ranger was pretty sure I was the first.
My trip started off with a 7K run up the Hot Springs Trail through the snow in the morning, a 20K run on the Mount Olympus Trail around noon, and ended the day with a 7K run on Ruby Beach. It made for a spectacular first stop in Olympic National Park.
From there my route took me to Yosemite, where I ran Yosemite Falls Trail, a little over a 5K run with a 1000m gain. It was easily the toughest start to a run I have ever had: the temperature was 85ºF, the snow was deep, and the rock was slick. For the first time all season, I broke a sweat and I got sunburned. I can’t remember the last time either one of those two things happened. Yosemite, however, presented another difficult obstacle, and that was how to photograph it. Although it is beautiful in all it’s grandeur, capturing the park the way I saw it with my own eyes eluded me as soon as I picked up the camera.
But there was no time to brood over lost photo opportunities, I had to be back on the road: on to the hot heat and dry sand of Death Valley where I tramped through a swamp forest, went cliff jumping from a Darwin Falls, and was barred from running Telescope peak because it was under snow. Eventually though, I found the sand and the heat of 105ºF around Badwater.
I followed the heat across the Southwest through Joshua Tree where I climbed the Orc Wall and the Glad Heap. From there, I passed through the deserts and moved over to Saguaro to hike the Bajada Wash. I unfortunately missed all three deserts during their prime nightlife, but I found an abundance of tracks to lead me back to the right spots for future visits. The unfortunate part of running in the desert is that I found myself watching the trail a lot more often to watch out for small cactus buds and seed pouches that litter the trail and easily puncture shoes and feet.
After the rain forest, the mountains, and the desert I took a change of pace and moved underground into Carlsbad Caverns. After the absence of people on many of the trails I had run, the Caverns felt largely like a city subway, complete with lights and lit up signs, a cafeteria underground, and an elevator (which I convinced the park rangers I did not need to take out despite their persistence). Once you got passed all that, however, It was a gorgeous cave despite the odd contrast from the sparsely populated areas I had visited on the rest of the trip.
My final park stop ended with the Great Smoky Mountains. The oasis in the urban sprawl of the East is the most visited national park in the United States with 9.4 million visitors last year. Just to put that in perspective, the Grand Canyon comes in a far second with 4.4 million visitors, followed by Yosemite with 2.8 million. The Great Smokies are home to a thick forest of over 100 native species of trees and a temperate rainforest in the higher elevations. It made for a hot humid run to the top of Mount Le Conte and around a couple waterfalls to make up a 30K for the day.
When I tell people about my adventures (after they say how crazy I am), they often try to tell me how much I am missing and that perhaps I should slow down and enjoy the scenery or take time to appreciate the things around me. Not only do I hate the term ‘scenery’ but I hear relatively few reprimands for not having walked to the park from Montana. Although I would rather spend months or years in the places I visit, I rarely have that luxury, and time is short, so I make the most of it. I appreciate things at light speed. I smell every scent, take every fork in the trail, and keep my eyes up off the trail. All that is really beside the point though. When it comes right down to it, the reason I run is to feel alive!