After graduating I moved back to my parents’ house in Colorado Springs, lived in the basement, set a world record for Cheeto consumption, played so many videogames that my thumbs ballooned to the size of Kielbasa sausages, and lost all my friends.
(Hint: that’s not actually true, but I just wanted to throw off the Illuminati a little bit)
I actually did go back to Colorado Springs, but I started working landscaping and a ton of odd jobs, because I was going to Ecuador in August and couldn’t start a real job. More on that later. I also was running big miles in the wonderful world of Colorado Springs, getting ready for Black Hills 100.
I dropped out of Black Hills 100 at the 50 mile mark because I suck at running in the heat, and I peed blood.
I also realized that a ton of aimless miles at easy effort is kind of useless. So then I started running more workouts, especially tempo runs. What occurred was a drastic performance improvement that not even my local palm reader could’ve predicted. I ran Barr Trail Mountain Race and the U.S. USATF 30k Trail Championships in July, where I ran super well and super fast and it was great. And then I ran Pikes Peak Marathon in 3:47, which was a 20 minute PR! Hooray. All was great.
By then I had scraped up enough money to go to Ecuador.
Living/Traveling in Ecuador
After I read some travel blogs, I was all ready to “explore the far corners of the world and learn about my inner soul.” Ok girls, first of all, the Earth is round and doesn’t have corners. Second of all, changing geographic coordinates don’t provide a gateway into the soul.
I had been wanting to go to Ecuador for quite a while, and now worked out pretty well. My girlfriend was studying there, I had graduated and had no responsibilities yet, and I had gotten a tan and learned some Spanish during the summer. My reasons were: see some sick mountains, see my friends Felipe and Paul, spend time with Adrienne, and see some animals before they all went extinct. Also to see a new culture and figure out how the world works.
It was a rather reckless choice, because besides getting a visa and having a homestay to stay with Adrienne, I did no planning and definitely didn’t have enough money to make it the whole four months. On top of that, there was no way to get a job without changing my visa to a work visa, and there was no way to get a work visa without having a job fill out a ton of papers for me. Imagine a bird migrating with only
Somehow I got an online job writing Earth Science lessons for an online school from the U.S. Despite being decidedly stupid and reckless, everything worked out fine, which is what this blog is about.
At first, I struggled like a sea lion walking on land. I spoke Spanish like a parrot who had only heard phrases from his owner and was simply repeating them. Busses were impossible to figure out because they went in random directions everywhere without a schedule. But then I made some more friends, figured out busses, and kind of learned Spanish. I figured out where to buy food and how the culture worked and what to do about going out in Quito. There was one place called Bungalow and it was crazy and fun on Wednesdays.
Basically, my weeks went like this: run in the morning, go to Adrienne’s University, where I was allowed in because I’m white and college aged and why else would I be there? I stole wifi to do my job, I went home and ate and learned more Spanish, and then on Fridays Adrienne and I hastily made plans for traveling on the weekend. We somehow did them, figuring out all the million busses we had to take. And every single time, everything worked out. We were never robbed, even though I saw a few robberies, we found our way, met amazing people, saw amazing stuff, and never died.
Here’s some highlights from these amazing adventures.
Otavalo: We got to go to a super traditional, humongous artisan market that was super cool, went on a boat on a huge lake, and saw some volcanoes.
Banos: awesome town, awesome rivers, big volcano, mad views, trails everywhere
Quilotoa: We hiked from far away for 2 days, saw awesome mountains and landslides and then a lake in a volcano that made us stare at it for 4 hours.
Pyramide de Punay: We camped on top of a pre-Incan pyramid and saw a mind-melting sunset.
Tena: at the edge of the rainforest, rafted a huge river, learned how to make chocolate.
Papallacta: camped really high and saw awesome volcanoes, bathed in hot springs that were heated from underground magma.
Illiniza Norte: hiked with an awesome group of friends, got to the summit at almost 17,000 ft. Crazy awesome.
Mompiche: Awesome beach town with untouched coastline and big waves.
Amazon: took a tour way deep in the Amazon. Saw some crazy bugs, freshwater dolphins, monkeys, learned all about the interdependent animal relationships in the jungle.
Galapagos: Insanely awesome, so much wildlife and untouched nature and ocean.
That’s because Ecuador isn’t a rich country, it has a lot of natural disasters, and political corruption means that the rich can stomp on the poor, take their land and traditions, and send them who knows where. There’s not enough infrastructure to take care of trash, and no money to regulate car emissions to fix air quality. The president has been president for 11 years and is by far the richest man in the country. It’s also small, and for people to make a living, they have to cut down forests to make space for a farm. It’s an environment vs. people thing. And it’s impossible to think of a solution. Do the people die, or do the forests? If the forests all die, all the people eventually will too. Should we care about the animals?
The only places that had enough regulations to prevent this kind of stuff were in really rich areas, like the Galapagos. And it was frustrating to see that the people who lived in the poor areas didn’t have enough education to take care of the environment, and had the corrupt government let companies spill oil into their land. There was nothing I could do, either, because I’m not an Ecuadorian citizen and I have no money or power in any communities there.
That’s what I think the point of traveling is: to see what’s happening in the world so you can make a difference in the things that you learn matter, and figure out what you think matters instead of having everyone tell you what does. I think preservation matters, health matters (more on that later), friends matter, and freedom matters. By that I mean people should be able to do what they want as long as it doesn’t hurt everyone else.
Ecuador is awesome, Ecuador has problems just like everywhere else, Ecuador helped me realize how lucky I am. I super duper appreciate being able to travel in the first place, share the experiences with Adrienne whom I love and be able to go back to the US where I am a citizen and can work/make programs to help stuff.
Running in Ecuador
What a challenge. In so many ways.
In Quito, road running is impossible. There’s cars everywhere, and there’s no regulations on refining gasoline, so the exhaust from every car gives you lung disease immediately. I don’t think having altitude training helps if the air quality’s not great. Night running is impossible, because without a big group, danger lurks. Not like nocturnal animals. Like nocturnal people that want my watch and my shoes and my scalp.
Pretty much, I’m a gangster now.
So, I had to figure out when and where to run. At first, I took random busses towards mountains, got off on a stop that looked the closest, then went up and somehow found my way up and down to another bus stop. Strava stalking also helped me find some places.
Pichincha was a 15,000 ft peak west of Quito that has awesome routes, incredible views, and really nice trails.
Parque Metropolitano has the only marked trails (besides National Parks) that are in Ecuador. Super nice place with actual forest.
Lumbisi has a bunch of steep mountain bike trails and a fire road, and a nice forest with no people.
Ilalo has big steep climbs, trails everywhere, and a ton of farms plus sweet views all around.
Chaquinan is a really really long, hilly gravel bike path right next to the university.
I had to take busses to every one of these places except Chaquinan. The trails of Ilalo were full of ravenous protective farm dogs. Pichincha was awesome but far away.
For the sake of ease, time, and laziness, I reverted to running almost all of my miles on the Chaquinan.
A lot of times, I bonked and got really sick after running. I went to the doctor, they thought I had a parasite, then I didn’t, then it was because I was super malnourished. Not to be racist or anything, but Ecuadoreans don’t eat anything. Lunch at places, which at first I was excited because a whole meal was only 2.50!!, consisted of soup, rice, and some meat. Soup and rice fill you up, but give you nothing. I lost 10 pounds in Ecuador, which is horrible, and had no energy.
Por eso, I got really out of shape at climbing and descending. I also barely ran any miles anyways, because traveling to mountains to hike and see stuff on the weekends took priority. I’ll just call it an extended off season.
While I was in South America, I ran two races. Here’s some abbreviated race reports because this blog post is hella long already.
SkyRunning Ecuador 32k
Mi amigo Paul Riera directed this race. What a doozy! It packed over 8,000 ft of gain in under 20 miles, was super hot and exposed the whole time, and was at pretty high altitude. I went out really hard and blew up but won by an hour and it felt like a lot longer than 20 miles. Also, Adrienne toughed out the course and got 3rd female! BTW, it’s really hard for girls to run here because they can’t run alone really. Props.
Del Mar a la Cima 80k, Colombia
Me and Adrienne got entries into this race from SkyRunning, and since we wanted to see some of Colombia anyways, we went. Long story short, it was crazy. It started at 2 am and went through the city of Santa Marta before heading up into the mountains. I started overheating in the humidity even at that hour, and on the first downhill I knew I was in for a crazy day. It was a “trocha,” or Spanish for shortcut, which meant it was just flags through the woods. I fell like 10 times on that 2 mile downhill. Then it went to an extended climb, which I like, and I felt good and passed a bunch of people, and started running with a cool dude from Colombia. The Colombian accent is a lot different than Ecuadorean, so I didn’t really know what we were talking about, but that’s fine. Pretty soon, we were following flags that weren’t reflective anymore. Maybe they ran out of reflective ones? We didn’t know. So we kept going like idiots. We were crossing a huge river, of which there were plenty in the Colombian rainforest, when the cool dude fell and literally got swept down the river in the dark probably 50 meters. He lost his headlamp and somehow got out. At that point we turned around, and encountered a huge group that took the same wrong turn we did. I thought maybe I could catch up to the lead, so I blasted all the way up the climb, feeling good and having three farm dogs start running with me around mile 20. I went through the crazy course, following the flags through more trochas, which were just machete’d paths through the jungle. At the top, I completely blew up, probably because the only thing I had to eat was sugary stuff at the aid stations. They just had sugar water and fruit at the majority of them. Also because I was woefully out of shape, and I suck at the heat. The rest of the day I struggled downhill with my three trusty dog companions, dying more and more. The last 4 miles were on the beach in 95 degree heat. I walked and got passed by old ladies that were doing the marathon. My dogs followed me, and only one made it to the finish because it was so hot.
14 hours. So slow. So crazy. Whoa.
Running in Ecuador in general reminded me that the mountains are king. Exploring them is king. Conquering mountains doesn’t happen, just surviving them and having fun while doing it does. The point of running mountains is to see everything and maybe die a little bit. The mountains here are so big and unconquerable that life seems little in comparison.
Training hard and having good nutrition is something that I love to do. That means I’m gonna do it. I’m moving to Santa Fe, New Mexico in the spring, working and running and not wasting my talent on running. I’m eating a ton, running a billion (quality) miles, and helping the community and working on helping the environment before the mountains are gone and replaced with robots.
On an unrelated note, human saliva has a boiling point three times that of regular water.