Because all who are reading this live in or are otherwise connected to Three Rivers or the nearby Sierra, it’s probable that every reader can relate to Bill Sycalik’s story of big-city burnout. Bill, 45, was living the dream in New York City while working there as a successful management consultant.
But he began to feel as though he was living in a cage. No matter how hard he tried, there was no easy escape to nature.
“You can only run so many times in Central Park,” he explained.
This led to a restlessness that he soon couldn’t ignore. Instead he acted on it.
Without any job prospects, he followed what his heart was telling him, which basically meant he put his finger on a map and selected an urban area within proximity to big mountains to be his next home. Thus sprouted the idea to up and move to Denver, Colo.
In early 2016, as he prepared for this move halfway across the country, he realized there was an epic road trip waiting to happen. As he researched visiting some national parks along the route, he discovered that the National Park Service was celebrating its centennial.
That road trip instead became an adventure that would include visiting all 59 national parks in the United States. But just stopping in at a visitor center and hitting the highlights of each spectacular destination only skims the surface of what these five dozen gems have to offer. Bill realized that he wanted to dive deep into each park, 26.2 miles deep.
And, thus, commenced a journey in the NPS’s centennial year by one man that would include running a marathon in every U.S. national park. On June 18, 2016, Bill embarked on marathon number one in Maine’s Acadia National Park.
Since then he’s run a marathon in a national park on average every eight days for just over a year. But a marathon isn’t the only thing he does during his visits.
Along the way Bill has been educating himself on the natural and cultural history of each place. He has become a steadfast steward of the parks, using his social media presence to tell all who are following along why each place is worthy of preservation.
He will also speak up if someone is not showing the respect owed to these cherished lands. While on Moro Rock in Sequoia National Park last week, he shared the summit with a group flying a drone.
That is a national park no-no, Bill knew it, and he told them. They were defiant and ignored him, but at least he tried, an effort appreciated by other visitors.
Kings Canyon National Park was number 46 for Bill. He enlisted the help of the professionals to assist with his route planning. Rangers pointed him in the direction of Paradise Valley.
On Saturday, June 17, on the 365th day of this marathon project, Bill took off from Roads End and ran his marathon on the Paradise Valley trail. He ran the 13-plus miles to Upper Paradise Valley and turned around where the bridge is washed out over the South Fork of the Kings River.
The rangers steered him right. He had wet feet for some of the miles due to the unavoidable water crossings, but that didn’t deter Bill from attaining his 26.2-mile goal or from appreciating his surroundings. He was impressed by the trail and all of Kings Canyon.
“Kings Canyon is my favorite park and run so far,” Bill reflected.
This is coming from someone who knows national parks. After all, he’s run 26.2 miles in every national park in the continental U.S. (and the U.S. Virgin Islands) except for Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park (Colorado), which is on the calendar for this Sunday, July 2.
Let’s see if Kings Canyon can hold the top spot after Bill parks his car and hops on a plane to run Hawaii (2 parks), American Samoa (1) and, in summer 2018, the eight national parks in Alaska.
Sequoia National Park
Bill camped at Lodgepole in his 2008 Subaru Impreza, which has almost 40,000 more miles on it than when he started this exploit. When camping, he sleeps in a Tepui roof-top tent that is attached to his car’s roof rack.
When Bill inquired as to where to get his Sequoia miles, rangers came to the rescue once again by assisting him with logistics and informing him of the High Sierra Trail.
“The rangers helped me be able to see the mountains as well as get some distance in the Giant Forest,” Bill explained. “My normal process is to look on the map myself and then take that into the rangers to see what they have to say. Often they make adjustments so I can see something amazing or avoid a trail that is closed.”
During his Sequoia run on Friday, June 23, he ran the out-and-back to Bearpaw High Sierra Camp (23 miles) and tallied the rest of the miles on the network of trails that meanders through the giant sequoias in the Crescent Meadow area.
“I thought the High Sierra Trail was in good shape,” Bill reported. “Some trees down and two of the creek crossings were tough but not impassable. Bearpaw Camp is just open. Bought brownies and got water.”
This was Bill’s second attempt to run in Kings Canyon and Sequoia. His first attempt was in November 2016 but he was thwarted by snow.
On Saturday, June 24, Bill departed Sequoia, making a stop in Auburn to cheer for runners at the finish line of the 44th running of the Western States 100-mile Endurance Run. Then he visited a friend on the Mendocino Coast before turning east and heading back to Colorado for his 48th marathon since June 2016.
While his Subaru may be racking up the miles, so is he. At the conclusion of this feat, he will have run 1,545.8 miles of marathons, and that doesn’t include his hikes and shorter runs.
AN INCREDIBLE JOURNEY: NATIONAL PARKS MARATHON PROJECT
—Bill’s preference is to run on trails, but he has been relegated to some road running. All parks are different, varied in terrain, and preserve and protect different resources, so a long trail is not always feasible or available.
—Bill eats a completely plant-based diet, meaning no meat, dairy, or eggs. He says this way of eating provides a marked improvement in the recovery of his muscles after a long run, so he’s ready to run again when it’s time, usually within a few days.
—Bill has been mostly solo on his runs, but he’s had friends, old and new, join him for all or part of some of the excursions, and even a ranger.
—Bill is single with no children.
—Bill is accomplishing his running goal by living frugally on his savings.
—In Dry Tortugas (Florida), he ran 45 laps around the fort to log 26.2 miles, half of it clockwise then, for some variety, he switched to counter-clockwise. It might sound monotonous, but there were lots of positives: (1) He didn’t have to self-support, instead he passed his refueling/water station 45 times; (2) it was his fastest marathon of the 38 he’d done; and (3) “I swear, the water looked different every time. Talk about inspiration!” he said in an Instagram post.
—He’s run in the rainforest of Olympic National Park (Washington); the deserts of Utah, Arizona, and Death Valley; the mountains of Colorado and California; and the beach of Virgin Islands National Park. He’s shared the trail with bison in North Dakota, alligators in the Everglades, and a bear in Kings Canyon, among many other experiences.
—In regards to his message to those who are following along on this journey, when all is said and done, Bill would like to motivate others to hit the road and visit a national park (or 59). But he also has two words of inspiration to convey to those who want to say goodbye to an unfulfilling job and strike out on a more creative path: “It’s possible,” he said. And he’s proof.
—Bill won’t be returning to New York. He still plans on settling in Denver, and when he’s ready, he’ll look for a job in the outdoor industry.
—Follow Bill online at www.runningtheparks.com
. He can also be found on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook at Running the Parks.