On The Road

I’m currently a few days into what will end up being about a three-week road trip around western North America. I moved out of my place in Colorado on May 15 and have a place lined up to move into in Alaska on June 5. In that time I will travel through a dozen or more states and provinces. I have no real agenda. The only certainty is that I will end up in Alaska sometime on or around this move-in date. Traveling is always exciting and satisfying, but traveling with a lack of schedule and agenda is a whole other pleasure. There’s something terribly exciting about not knowing where you are going to lay down to sleep on a given night or what random places you may pass through in a day.

Pool of water in slickrock

All photos: Geoff Roes

To me this is not that different from the excitement of running a trail for the first time. There is always an excitement on a new running route of not knowing what is around the next corner or what you might find if you just keep going for several miles. I couldn’t begin to guess how many times in my life I’ve run way further than intended because I wanted to see what was around the next corner, over the next ridge, or beyond the next valley. I feel this way, in a much more general sense, every time I travel in a new place with no agenda. Because of this, I am very excited for the next few weeks of aimless travel, not knowing exactly when and where I’ll be each day.

Furthermore, as an avid runner, one of my favorite joys of aimless travel is knowing that each and every day I will have the opportunity to run somewhere completely new and unknown to me. Combining the excitement of running in a new place with the excitement of traveling to new places is one of the biggest joys of being a runner, and one of the things which makes traveling so exciting and worthwhile.

I have begun my current journey with a visit to the always-magnificent southern Utah. My wife and stepdaughter are with me for the first several days, and we headed off into the desert just as soon as we were packed and ready to move out last week. A few days ago we drove off into a remote part of the San Rafael Swell, which in and of itself is one of the most remote parts of North America. We weren’t sure where we were going, only that we wanted to go somewhere none of us had ever been. Luckily we even found somewhere with just enough phone service that I will be able to submit this article without needing to leave the wonderful campsite we have established as our temporary home. As we’ve spent this time here, getting to know our surroundings, I have been amazed at how many interesting things there are within such a short distance from our campsite. Running has been the tool I have used to discover most of these things.

Wild burros in Utah

Our first day here I headed down the shallow canyon that sits directly to the east of us. Unassuming and without a name, I wasn’t expecting to find much as I ventured down canyon. Initially I was surprised to find a faint trail in the bottom of the canyon, but I quickly discovered hoof marks instead of shoe prints. This trail has been made and is used primarily by herds of wild burros that populate this part of Utah. We have seen several herds of these animals over the last few days and they are surprisingly wild. They act skittish, like deer, nothing like the domesticated donkeys that they look so similar to. When they get startled and run away, they have the energy of a herd of elk or caribou, much more determined and purposeful than their domestic counterparts.

Narrow Utah canyonAs I ran slowly and quietly down the animal trail, the canyon suddenly narrowed and deepened, almost so soon that I didn’t notice this until suddenly there were a series of crystal-clear pools of water trapped in the deep and narrow canyon. The first two were quite shallow, but then came several that were at least a few feet deep, even a few that were probably as deep as I am tall. I made a mental note of which one looked best to take a dip in on the way back, and then made my way further down canyon, becoming more and more excited with every stride. In just a matter of minutes this run had gone from simply heading out to get a bit of exercise to wanting to push on further and further to see as much of this landscape as possible. Unfortunately I couldn’t explore for too long, as I had told my family that I would return in about an hour and I didn’t want them to worry. I knew I had at least 90 or 120 minutes before they would be too worried. (I come home later than intended from nearly every run I ever go on so my wife knows that when I say an hour it typically means somewhere closer to two hours.)

I began to move quicker, trying to maximize the amount of adventure I could have before I needed to turn back. I was so motivated to get as far as possible down canyon that I hardly flinched when I came to a dead burro on the canyon floor. Certainly not something you see every day, but if I wasted time checking it out I might not make it as far down canyon as desired. I took a quick photo and headed on my way. By this point the canyon had become one of the most spectacular I have ever seen. Suddenly I came to a series of pour overs, too steep to navigate down. In the distance below, I could see a series of huge pools of water that eventually led to another canyon below that was much deeper, more narrow, and lined with giant cottonwood and box-elder trees. With a little exploring, I quickly determined that there was no way to safely climb down into this canyon. Reluctantly, but also satisfied with everything I had seen in those few short miles, I turned back, already devising plans to access this canyon from below on another outing.

Campsite along a riverThese types of runs, in which you are bounding around every corner, so excited to see what lies ahead, are really only possible when you are running somewhere that you have never been. I’ve had two more runs like this in the past two days, and the reality that every run I do in the next few weeks will be somewhere I’ve never run before is terribly exciting to me right now. As excited as I am to see where my travels take me in these coming days, I’m even more excited to see where my runs take me. Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, Montana, Alberta, British Columbia, Yukon, and Alaska are the likely places in which I will spend time in the next 20 days, but exactly where I will go within these places and what I will see depends mostly on random chance, and on just how much time I set aside to get out and go for a run each day. Running isn’t the only way to explore our surroundings when we travel, but it might just be the most effective.

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • When you’re on the road for work or play, how do you go about choosing your runs?
  • Do you look forward to the sense of exploration that comes out of a simple daily run in unfamiliar territory?

There are 6 comments

  1. Sarah

    hey Geoff, if you're in Southern Utah a few more days and traveling with your stepdaughter, I recommend a detour to Kanab and tour of the Best Friends Animal Sanctuary. It's an incredible, one-of-a-kind animal rescue and rehab operation. We took our kids there, and we all found the tour worthwhile and enlightening. Nearby is the Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park, a beautiful place to hike and explore, especially at sunset. The visitor center there loans out dune boards so she could try boarding down the dunes. And of course there are gorgeous slot canyons nearby too. I love that region! Enjoy the travels. You make me nostalgic for the nomadic existence our family lived five years ago, with no set itinerary. You're doing the best kind of travel.

  2. @shaunkjar

    I'm in Central Utah if you need a place to stay with your family for a bit. From my house, there are some fantastic hills and trails where you're unlikely to see another person for hours. I'm sure I'm not the only person who would love to show you around their home trails and would like to try and keep up with you for a few minutes on a run!

  3. dennisdschaefer

    This is the second summer my Cupcake and I have wandered from May 15th until September 15th. For the other eight months of the year we rent a place on the beach in North Carolina- summer is too expensive. Last summer we covered 13,000 miles through New England, Eastern Canada and circumnavigated Lake Superior. I ran ultras in New York and Wisconsin, ran up Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park and part of the Cabot Trail in Cape Breton. This summer we are headed west. Bon Voyage my friend…see you on the trails.

  4. Aaron

    I’m learning certain things about running on road trips the hard way. Skunk encounters for instance require a stock of items that I’d never before considered packing, namely hydrogen peroxide, baking soda, and a bucket.

  5. @jmaytum13

    I love running in new places. Doesn't necessarily have to be some place exotic or even a traditional outdoor location. Oftentimes I'm limited to running from the hotel but almost always try to find some nice urban trails, or just wandering around cities exploring what they have to offer. The exploration is half the fun…you just have to have a pretty decent sense of direction…or a phone with GPS!

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