I run a lot. Running a lot is a requirement for running trail ultramarathons; being on vacation is no excuse not to run, but I’d do it even if I didn’t have a race the week after! Running - and especially trail running - is an incredible way to see a country or city. I ran a total of 76 miles during our vacation in Korea and Japan, most of it in the mountains. On almost all of my runs, regardless of where I am, I carry an iPhone X, which has really exceptional cameras. Here are a collection of photos from those runs on: Bukhansan, Ansan, Namsan, Han River, Achasan (Korea), and Inariyama, Kamo River (Kyoto).
Staying in Kyoto for our trip to Japan, we only took a quick day trip into Osaka to check it out. Osaka castle, as expected, was beautiful but intensely overrun with tourists (like us). As was pretty much everywhere else. But I caught three frames that I think showed three sides of Japan’s third-largest city: Feudal, traditionally old, and modern.
Although Korea is a second home, or even a second country for me and my wife, Japan is one of our all-time favorite places to visit. We’ve rarely gone to a country more than once, and typically only because we happen to know someone there. We returned to Japan because the holistic experience is off-the-charts good; the food, people, beauty… Almost nothing compares.
We decided to go to Gyeongju as part of our wedding anniversary/Return to Korea/Japan trip because we knew our friends Justin and Emma would appreciate the history of the place. An ancient seat of kings and home to many hill-like tombs, Gyeongju is full of culture, history, and these days, even craft beer!
My wife and I met in Korea 9 years ago; she was there teaching English and Chinese, and I was writing text books. I don’t want to speak for her, but it was a hugely formative period of my life, and I think it was close to being that big for her. Regardless, although I’d been back to Korea for a very short trip a few years ago, we hadn’t been back together since we left in 2011. We planned this, one of our longest vacations together, as a wedding anniversary present to ourselves. Along for and enhancing the ride were our two best travel buddies, Justin and Emma.
Ting and I traveled to Spartanburg, South Carolina, home of the Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine, Carolinas (VCOM) to watch and celebrate as Ting's brother, Matthew, and his girlfriend, Emily, graduated as Doctors of Osteopathic Medicine. Spartanburg was a charming little town!
Hong Kong describes itself as Asia's "World City." That may be true. Its unique blend of colonial Britain and China is unlike any other city I've visited, even vaunted, nearby Macao (which I found much less impressive). With off-the-charts density, amazing food, lively markets, and impressive hills, Hong Kong offers quite a lot to explore in such a small area. I'll be back.
Beijing was mostly what I had anticipated: Crowded, smoggy, and surprisingly capitalistic. My wife, having lived there for a year ten years ago, was disappointed with the changes rendering it near-unrecognizable to her. Gone were the dirt roads and half-completed subway lines, replaced with fancy cars, shops, and even more pollution, rendering the skies a permanent washed-out blue at best; a dim, orangey-brown at worst.
Even seeing wonders such as the Great Wall and Forbidden City were somewhat tainted. The portion of the Wall we visited was freely admitted to have been rebuilt in the '80s, with a (rather fun) toboggan ride from the top to the bottom of its hill; the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square completely overrun with tour groups and Starbucks.
It has been nearly four months since my last post - from my time at the Oregon Coast 30k, then the longest race I'd attempted - to now. Over 160 hours of training in the last year, roughly 1,200 miles run, and nearly 100,000 feet climbed in preparation for one thing; something I'd seen as impossible, despite so many idols and regular folks doing it time and time again: Run a 50km trail race. But not just any trail race - the vaunted Orcas Island 50k.
The race has between 8,000 and 9,000 feet of climbing and somewhere between 30 and 32 miles of travel throughout the eastern lobe of Orcas Island in the San Juans of Washington's Puget Sound. In the month of February, Orcas Island's Mounts Constitution and Pickett receive rainforest-levels of rain, sometimes even snow. It features three climbs up Mt. Constitution's slopes (including the infamous Powerline: 2 miles of pure hell straight up the mountain, covering nearly 2,500ft of elevation), a couple doozies up Mt. Pickett, and many more smaller inclines to burst runners' calves. This year, due to increased rainfall, it included a slightly longer starting section and dozens of deep puddles, including an example up to our knees and roughly 25' long.
My amazing wife arranged a group of friends to come stay in a cabin for the weekend. I ran with two of the primary men that introduced me to the sport of trail ultramarathoning. It was the most mentally and physically challenging event of my life; it was pure joy with deep chasms of misery and doubt; it was 6:45:50 of fortitude-testing highs and lows. Perhaps some new test will beat what I experienced this weekend, but it's hard to imagine such a thing.
I fell in love with trail running last year, but a late-season injury sidelined me until early 2017. After dozens of 30+ mile weeks and 5 races, I traveled to Yachats, Oregon, with my wife, my friend Mac (who convinced me to sign up for this race), and his wife, so I could race in the longest, most brutal race yet of my short career: The Oregon Coast 30k (which ended up being nearly 20 miles and over 4,000 feet of climbing). It was a beautiful, inspiring event. From simply walking around Yachats, to dinner with the race director, to meeting ultrarunning legends, to watching Mac complete his second 50k in as many weeks, to running with amazing people in primeval woods along roaring coastline, this weekend was the best.
My friend Eric and his new wife Felicity decided to host a "friendeymoon" - instead of a honeymoon - at a villa in Tuscany. Just our best friends, dozens of liters of wine, insanely good food, and Tuscan mountain towns for a week.
My friend Justin and I arrived early on Saturday in the rain - the rain stopped right after we got our tents up, allowing us one glorious day to explore unmarked trails up Rampart Ridge. Then, that night, a gnarly storm rolled through. Of that, I have no pictures, so shots of Rampart Lakes, Rampart Ridge, and Lila Lake must suffice.
Lima is a sprawling city showcasing Peru's poverty and wealth. Our friend, Juan Carlos, told us of Peru's historically massive economic divide and currently growing middle class - both were evident as we drove through the streets of Callao, explored near the city's old center, and toured wealthier areas such as Miraflores and Barranco.
Our time in Lima was really defined by the food we ate. Having sampled famed Peruvian chef Gastón Acurio's work at Chicha in Cusco, we went to his La Mar cevicheria in Miraflores and had one of the best dining experiences any of us could remember. No fewer than three and as many as five waiters attended to us - everything from empanada and ceviche starters to whole grilled fish to dessert was out-of-this-world good. We spent at least three hours there.
Barranco, I think, was the visual gem for us. Vibrant buildings, parading groups from far-flung reaches of Peru; Barranco felt like the welcoming, energetic, Latin locale grey-skied northerners like us would crave.
Only a couple of years ago, very few people knew about Vinicunca, the so-called Rainbow Mountain of Peru. I don't just mean tourists - the locals of Cusco, only three-or-so hours away, didn't market tours to Vinicunca and, if you'd ask them about it, wouldn't have known what it was. That all changed when a then-coworker of my wife and her friend (both of whom are coworkers still and were with me on this trip) somehow came across the hike, published a blog post about it, and started a company to lead tours there. Now you can't throw a rock in Cusco without hitting an ad for Rainbow Mountain hikes.
FlashPacker Connect, the aforementioned company, found Quechua partners for both guiding parties up the mountain and cooking breakfast and post-hike meals for their hikers. The day for us started at 2am when we were picked up - three hours of driving took us to 14,000 feet and a small house in which a Quechua man cooked us omelettes and quinoa drinks. A 20-minute drive past that and the fun began.
The hike is only around nine miles round trip, but with over 2,000 feet of elevation gain along that length, breathing - and therefore life in general (for us sea-level-dwellers) - becomes quite difficult. Justin and I were quite tired, but our Quechua guide (an incredibly interesting man with whom I spoke as much as possible when my lungs allowed it) was not - our wives, on the other hand, were suffering badly and elected to turn back before the top. A wise move, as the elevation gain only increased and we passed into rain, heavy rain, and then snow approaching blizzard conditions. Still, we reached the top (ultimately 16,273ft), and although Vinicunca's folded, metal ore strata were not brilliant, the alpine view was breathtaking (both literally and figuratively).
Being the only non-natives on the mountain, an elderly Quechua woman chatted us up near the top before bounding away with light-footed grace, making us look like the stumbling, oxygen-deprived oafs we were. I'll never forget it.
As a little kid, I was obsessed with Machu Picchu for a while. My school had large, glossy, color picture books of Incan ruins, and something about the way the city looked like a castle or its unlikely perch on top of a mountain ridge captured my imagination. Brushing against the stones of this ancient place and gazing down into multi-thousand-foot valleys from precipices delivered deep joy.
The town of Aguas Calientes at the foot of Machu Picchu, despite clearly being the result of the booming tourist economy, had a few gems. First, traveling to the town is only possible by train - my favorite mode of transportation. The tracks cut right through one axis of the town. There were also a couple of very nice beer joints, including one at which we quickly became favored clients, knowing a thing or two about good beer and staying long hours to play cards and eat guinea pig pizza. We only stayed two nights, and despite the general touristy tone of town, Aguas Calientes had its own charm and didn't lack surprises.
Although we spent one night in Lima, it was a very short sleep before heading back to the airport to fly to Cusco. The city sits near 11,000ft high in the Andes; airport billboards warn travelers (with images of puking gringos) to beware of altitude sickness. Coca tea, which is supposed to help, is abundant. None of us fell ill with altitude sickness, but we were all exhausted from travel, the lack of oxygen, and general excitement.
We left Cusco after one night to explore Machu Picchu and returned; we left again for a day to climb Vinicunca and returned to stay again. While in Cusco, though, we ate amazing food (Gaston's Chicha is fantastic; Bodega 138 has the best pizza; you can get street food - risky, I know - for 3 soles) and found the good beer spots (Cholo's is tucked away up a hill and has quiet, courtyard seating). We even found delicious breakfast (The Meeting Place - a Christian mission-based, not-for-profit, volunteer-run organization) with kittehs.
Having just returned from a mind-bending trip to Peru, many dozens of photos await editing. I began processing shots haphazardly, jumping from day to day, style to style - until I started on some stark, haunting images from Machu Picchu, a few days into our adventure. The first half of the day was still, quiet, and more intimate; tourist count was low, and although views were obscured, I think we saw a side of the ruins about which people don't normally gush. Although I'm excited to finish the rest of my frames from this trip, I decided to begin with these.
My wife and I celebrated our first wedding anniversary by getting out of the city for a weekend and going to Langley on Whidbey Island. It was lovely; we ate delicious food and stayed in a quaint cabin. Our excitement came from a ferry that sprung a leak, caught fire, and required our evacuation.
I traveled with my wife and two best friends to meet two more best friends - Aussies - with whom we trekked up and down the east coast of Australia. Hundreds of frames later, here are some of my favorites:
My wife and I were married 10/10/2015, but with the stress of buying a house, then getting married shortly thereafter, we held off on the honeymoon. Why Sweden in the winter? Why not? We don't mind the cold. Here are some frames from the trip.