We must be free not because we claim freedom, but because we practice it.
The redbirds jump from branch to branch in the back yard as the snow seems to lay a blanket on the ground in slow motion. The sky is grey. The trees are grey. I haven’t yet had my morning coffee. My eyes are puffy and bloodshot; my hair a curly unruly mess atop my head as I blankly stare out the window until I hear the kettle whistle. It’s officially winter in Ohio. I’m the most exhausted I’ve ever been and I can’t think of anything else I’d rather be doing.
Belief is a powerful force. Against so many odds, in 2016 I chose to believe that planning and executing an impossible expedition– running ultra-marathons on every continent was possible. None of my circumstances–except maybe the fact that I’m a runner–told me this was a goal within reach. When we started the year, Chris and I did not have the time or means to take off work for such an extended period of time. We did not make enough money or have enough saved. We had no experience planning the logistics of an adventure this vast. And we have never run back-to-back ultra-marathons for weeks at a time. But we made concrete mini-goals, a solid checklist of how to make it come to life (original post here), and we got to work.
So many times this past year the rational side of my brain said, “Susie, there is no way this is going to happen by next February. You have bitten off more than you chew on this one.” But my deeper self persisted and asked that I focus on just one step at a time. To be completely transparent, this year was filled with more lows than highs as we fought and endured toward this outlandish dream. As the lows rolled in, I continued to check in and to ask myself, “Is this still important to you? What are you willing to give up to make it happen?” Every time I asked, I still wanted it badly enough and it was still important enough to dig deeper, to go to brand new places of sacrifice and alternative choice-making.
On January 16th of last year we publicly aired out our big plan and put the following goals in writing:
- 6-9 weeks, 6-7 countries/continents, 6 self-routed/ self-supported ultra-marathons (30-50 miles in each location)
- proposed trip departure mid-Feb 2017
- raise & save $20,000 by February 1, 2017
We are challenging ourselves to eat 99% of our meals at home, spend $0 on personal items (except for groceries, toiletries, house repairs, emergency expenses) as well as find alternative means of entertainment. Our first goal is to make it six months on this plan.
- rent out our house by late summer 2016 to save $ and to practice simplicity
- complete the four-page list of home improvement tasks (the Mike Tyson of “punch lists”) one month prior to rental
- rent house for 6 months to 1year & co-habitat with local parents
- initial cost, ticketing research and short list of locations
- secure final locations/ hosts by end of March 2016
- proposals to potential sponsors by early summer 2016
- purchase flights by late summer/ early fall 2016
- finalize running routes, cultural missions, & travel details by late winter 2016
- smuggle across the oceans the un-exchangeable, un-obtainable cultural recipes for ALIVENESS
- identify and train surrogate puppy and cat parents to foster our babies while we’re gone
- oh … and train for the ultra-marathons
With three days to go until our departure I really can’t believe we crossed off almost every single one of these. (We only fell short of our fundraising goal–we knew it was an aggressive target!). We certainly haven’t arrived to this place only by our own will or work. Our “village” is the one helping us to set sail this Wednesday. We are knee-deep, relishing in our indebtedness to others and we keep saying that we can’t wait to get back home again and start repaying all of the help that’s been given to us. But, don’t worry, we plan on soaking up EVERY SINGLE SECOND of this expedition.
So here’s the rundown of the final plan: 7.5 weeks (2/1–3/24), 6 ultra-marathons (35-60 miles each), 5 continents.
–Stop #1 Chile/Argentina–Patagonia region (Puerto Natales, Torres del Paine, El Calafate & El Chalten)
2/1–2/12, planned ultra-marathon 2/4
This will be logistically our toughest location for our ultra-marathon of about 40-60 miles. We will be doing the “Circuit” Loop within the Torres del Paine National Park. We will complete the first half of the loop for our ultra–in a single day–and then spend another two days hiking to complete the second half. In total, we will be out on the mountainous trails for three days carrying most of our gear, including tent, sleeping bags and calories for that time period. We will be camping as well as spending some nights in the refugios along the trail. We cannot wait to experience the stars in this part of the world and to see the Southern Cross – the southern hemisphere’s equivalent to our North Star.
–Stop #2 New Zealand--North Island in The Bay of Plenty + South Island via Queenstown + surrounding area
2/13–2/22, official ultra-marathon on 2/18
Queenstown, New Zealand, dubbed the “adventure capital of the world”, will be the only location where we will participate in an official race. We will be running the Shotover Moonlight Marathon and adding on probably about ten miles to this already spectacular course to make it an ultra. We will be running through waterfalls, beech forest, on mountain bluffs and ridge lines in what is supposed to have some of the most raw natural beauty this planet has to offer.
–Stop #3 Australia–Melbourne + surrounding area
2/23–2/28, planned ultra-marathon 2/26
From our host destination of Melbourne, we will drive two and half hours to the southern-most tip of the continent. We will camp the night before our ultra-marathon in Wilson’s Promontory National Park which contains a mix of marsh, secluded mountains and beaches that lead into the Tasman Sea.
–Stop #4 Hong Kong
3/1–3/7, planned ultra-marathon 3/4
Hong Kong will likely be our most unique stop on the itinerary. We will island hop westward to Lantau island where we will trace an existing ultra-route called TransLantau. Depending on how our bodies are holding up we will do the 50k or 100k loop in the mountains overlooking South China next to the famous Big Buddha.
-Stop #5 :South Africa–Cape Town + surrounding area
3/8–3/15, planned ultra-marathon 3/12
From the moment we knew anything about Table Mountain in Cape Town it jumped to the top of our ultra-marathon list. Here we will also be borrowing portions of an existing route (65k) from a race called Ultra-trail Cape Town. We will start and end running along the beach and ascend Table Mountain for one of our toughest ultra climbs with the most spectacular view of the city. We may have to re-route a bit, since there have been forest fires in the park.
-Stop #6: Ireland & Northern Ireland–Dublin, County Donegal + Northern Coast
3/16–3/24, ultra-marathon date TBD depending on how we feel
In Northern Ireland we will spend multiple days exploring the International Appalachian Trail on the northern-most coast. Yes, you read that right. There is a shared mountain range that is a geological remnant of when the North American continent and the European continent were co-joined hundreds of millions of years ago. These mountain cliff trails will be rugged, dramatic and likely stormy in this isolated part of N. Ireland.
You must face annihilation over and over again to find what is indestructible in yourself.