A Thousand Miles (DCA)

Washington, DC to Worcester, (pronounced WOOSTAH) Massachusetts is approximately 398 miles. Do that twice and you’ve got 796 miles on your hand. Do that in a conversion van you can’t take on an expressway and you’re looking at basically 1,000 miles (hat-tip Vanessa Carlton). We drove that. Correction, Steve and Jason Ornelis drove that, over the course of 21+ hours. We asked the Van Gang to provide their thoughts, feedback, peaches + pits, and overall feelings now that they’ve had a few days to decompress from the #NP_VAN experience. Here’s what they had to say: 

DC–>WOO–>Wachusett trails–>DC

Ingaborg Broskas: How do you measure the #van_life experience in less than 200 characters? Not easily. When I found out Steve was planning a road trip up to Boston, I knew I was I in. No questions asked. My flight plans were changed. This was going to be epic and I was not interested in FOMO.

Although I knew most of my tribe mates joining, I was not expecting how close we would be by the end. From making Maria guess our phone numbers by song selections to Heads Up, and quizzing Steve on National Parks we were creating a friendship deeper than The North Face or NP could have imagined. These humans then went one step further, they were there to see me off on my 31 miles and cheer me in for the last. They had brought cake and a cactus candle and at midnight rang in a birthday I will never forget(I may have wished that Steve would get lost again driving home and extend our journey together). We spent 3,547 minutes together. We laughed. We cried. We held our bladders. We shared gummies. We threw grapes. We made connections. And we would all do it over again.

Casey Forgey: “I refuse to summit that mountain again.” “I hated that mountain.” “I am never going back to ECSMA again.” “The summit was killer.” “Have fun spending 6 hours running a relay and waiting for your team.” “Why would you want to spend that much time in a van?!?!” “Half our team got lost last year.” All variations of things I heard upon telling other tribe members I signed up for ECSMA and planned to join the #NP_VAN for a roughly 16 hour round trip ride to Wachusett Mountain in Massachusetts.

A few thoughts on the above. Yes, at times I hated that mountain. Mostly because everyone at the top of the summit lied, “It’s all downhill from here!” Rude awakening when I found out it was NOT all downhill from there. Yes, the summit was killer. Yes, most of us got lost. And yes, it’s Monday morning and I can’t walk or feel my legs and my arms hurt like hell from rock climbing halfway through the race. And that roughly 16 hour round trip ride turned out to be more like 22 hours (no thanks to Steve’s driving and Maria sleeping on the job).

Pits aside, nothing beats dressing up like idiots, encouraging others, challenging yourself, spending quality time with down to earth, awesome people and watching your badass tribe overcome obstacles. From Justin (uh I mean Jason) getting lost, adding three miles to his route, wanting to quit, then finishing the marathon, to Alex running the 50K, hurting his knee, then deciding to run the 5K the next day and placing 6th, to a Dallas newbie joining a van and team of strangers and absolutely crushing the relay, to team ABCs having the best costumes, to meeting Inga at mile 30 and watching her cross the finish line all smiles after DNFing last year’s 50K. I am coming away from this weekend humbled and grateful for a tribe that continues to kick ass, provide endless love, support, encouragement, jokes, and laughs.

@annelieseornelis, guess I’m also coming away with a long run training buddy?  #VERBAL FOR MARINE CORPS MARATHON.

Much love to my #NP_VAN.

Alex Peterson: I’m not someone who might be confused for the NP DC Social Chair. Living in Falls Church, it’s tough to make it all the way to DC for workouts, let alone other fun events. At the same time, while I’m a very competitive guy who loves being pushed by folks every week, I have always, always found the best part of NP to be the people. So when the idea was floated to take a road trip to run a tough race with friends, I jumped at it.

The races themselves were a blast – 50k of rocky, rooty, rollin’ terrain on Saturday, and a 5k on Sunday on some of the same trails (although the hills seemed much smaller at the end of three miles as opposed to thirty-one). I’m also lucky to be a bit older, so while I got a top-ten finish in both races, I actually won my age group. In other words … ego sufficiently stoked for one weekend.

I would highly recommend the race to anyone looking to push themselves. I would highly, highly, highly recommend anyone to take a van ride with any of the nine amazing people who let me join them. There is a level of camaraderie that comes only with time.  A weekend on a mountain sandwiched between 20+ hours in a van really allows one the time and space to let down their guard, and for others to do the same. Everyone had their individual paths that led to this race, and by the end I think we all knew the journeys the others had taken. It was a privilege to race, laugh, and sing with everyone (side note: it seems Steve and I have the same favorite pump you up song … “I’ll Cover You – Reprise” from Rent. #Besties). It was also an honor to cheer for, and stand in awe of, everyone for accomplishing all they took on this weekend. Perhaps it’s time for me to get into DC more often – either that, or we need more frequent #NP_Van trips.

Spencer Boyd: Let’s f*cking compete. I continued to say this in my head as I stood waiting for the changeover from leg 3 of my relay team. My goal was to enjoy the suffering and run my race this weekend. I ended up doing much more than that. Just a week before we left for MA, I had my first NP workout in DC and the feeling of inclusivity was instant. When I found out that there was an open seat in the van at the end of the workout, I didn’t hesitate to lock it in. I came in knowing no one, and left genuinely caring about nine DC tribe members. I came in allowing myself to be me. To be vulnerable and roll with whatever came my way. This is why I love NP. You take open-minded people that want to challenge themselves both physically and socially. Allow them to come together and be themselves, and you create some of the best memories of all time.

Jason Ornelis: Hey all, Justin here. When Steve and Maria asked if I wanted to pile into a van with people, drive 11 hours with traffic, they said ‘it will be fun!’ Well, it was exactly what they said, FUN! I am so glad that Anne and I joined everyone for the NP fill the van ride to ECSMA. Even though I was not training and the course was tough, the time spent with new friends was worth it. You really get to know people when you spend a weekend with them, especially when 20 hours plus of this is in a van. I had not done anything like this before and I was kind of bummed when the weekend came to an end! Since we have moved from San Antonio and grabbed ahold of NP, there has not been any regrets and everything we have done has been an excellent time. I am glad to add this to the list and it was great feeling to fit in and have fun with our van group. Somewhere along the way my name got changed to Justin, I listened to numerous sing-a-longs and only got lost because my co-pilot fell asleep. All in all, A+ weekend. Would definitely do it again.

Blake Statham: This shit is good. These folks deliver. Other people can wax poetically about van life. This is my peach. As I came down the mountain, I passed some bystanders who asked what I got at the end of it. A beer of course. It’s a good question though. Skipping down the trail, footing slipping from one gnarly rock to another, I realized that I was getting a lot more. It occurred to me that at that moment there was nowhere I’d rather be. Nothing I’d rather be doing. Here, cruising down this trail in the midst of this trip with these people. These people are good. I hope the chance comes around again soon and when it does, I hope each and every one of you jumps on it. Like I said, this shit is good.

Annelise Ornelis: Here’s a little story about how I threw my excuses out the window and joined the #NPVan on an epic road trip to Wachusett, MA to run up a mountain. It wouldn’t have been possible without Steve putting the bug in our ear about the possibility of said trip and then Maria twisting my arm with a FB call out and follow up message.  Then there was Casey with a relay team; and #Alex with a solution to every issue and thank goodness Rachel made sure our communication stayed on task. Inga was going to have her birthday party in the van, Blake came through with epic costumes for Pacman, and Spencer joined in on the fun last minute because WHY THE HECK NOT?! Oh yeah, I had reasons/excuses that held me back initially; what with an exam and lack of a pup sitter…but man I am glad I just said YES. (Don’t worry, Sarabi had a wonderful friend for the weekend, thanks Katherine!) I’d never done anything like get in van and drive 11 hours to go run trails on a mountain; especially when I had only heard about how incredibly tough the course was. I’m really glad I did though, it was definitely a fantastic weekend full of laughter, miles and friendship! So, moral of the story, saying YES is a damn good idea! I have so much more to say but like our fearless leaders put time-limits on our bathroom breaks, they’ve limited me to a paragraph.  Now, go say ‘YES’ to new adventures tribe, because there’s no day like today.

Rachel Storey: I’ve pretty much only had not-great experiences in vans that contain a lot of people, so when Steve asked if 15 of us wanted to pile into a van and drive 10+ hours to Massachusetts, obviously my answer was yes. Logical, I know. (And thankfully, there were only ten of us.) And while I still have a Wachusett-sized knot in my lower back from so much vannage and needed three full days of alone time to recover (I’m an introvert BELIEVE IT OR NOT), I’d 100% do it again. The race was super cool and all (my favorite part was when Alex crushed the 50k then THE NEXT DAY got 6th place in the 5K… but turned around before the finish line to go BACK INTO THE WOODS TO RUN MORE, much to the finish line announcer’s befuddlement), but forreal the best part was sitting in a van for a total of 21 hours with nine other people I sorta knew (except Spencer, he was a stranger). But now, after spending all that van time doing rapid-fire Q&A with each other, listening to Steve and Alex belt out every Rent lyric with 100% precision, and anointing my new friend Spencer as “Fartfeet,” I think I know them all a little more than “sorta.” Here’s something I learned in the van about each person:

Dazzo- A really great co-pilot who definitely didn’t fall asleep, and definitely didn’t cause us to miss an exit. (Thank god for Steve’s inclination for backseat driving.) Claims to have a “very strong neck,” useful for the car naps she didn’t take.

Steve- I used to be a little intimidated by Steve, but actually he’s kind of weird and goofy and not intimidating at all. He farts when he’s stressed.

Alex- I’ve actually known Alex for like five years, but what I somehow didn’t know was that he’s an excellent singer and I’m pretty sure knows the words to every musical that’s ever existed. Also great at spontaneously busting out weird jigs (technically not something I learned ~in the van~ but 100% worth mentioning).

Inga- First I’d like to point out that instead of flying from CA directly to MA, Inga re-routed her flights to/from DC for the sole purpose of sitting in a van with all of us (ON HER BIRTHDAY). I actually can’t think of anything about Inga that was new information to me, but as always her generosity, thoughtfulness, and caring-about-othersness was full throttle the entire van ride. Except for when she was asleep during her own van birthday party…

Blake- Very skilled in many ways, but mostly in 1- duping Maria via anonymous song requests (it’s complicated to explain but just know… he’s a master) and 2-somehow capable of tuning out nine laughing, chattering, singing humans in a van, while staying focused on a book for many, many hours. #goals

Spencer (Fartfeet)- I mean, I didn’t even know Spencer before Friday at 10:30a. He came from Dallas but only went to NP there like once, but he’s clearly full-on chugging that #NP_DC special sauce. He’s pretty cool.

Jason- Also goes by Justin (what a jerk), Jacob, Jonathan, or really whatever you feel like calling him. Allows passengers bathroom and snack breaks, unlike Steve.

Anneliese- Hilarious, and embraced all of her husband’s new names with open arms. She is also a master curator of car playlists (though not great at the technology required to play said playlists).

Casey- Honestly the most important things I learned about Casey are that she’s a snack GODDESS and that her spirit animal is a golden retriever puppy, which is actually the most accurate self-proclaimed spirit animal I’ve ever heard of.

As you can probably tell (do you have #FOMO yet?), it was obviously a fun time all-around. I’m so glad that I decided to do something that I thought would be a little weird and uncomfortable—that’s what NP is all about, right? Stepping outside your comfort zone for the sake of new experiences, closer friendships, and a stronger community. I left the van (and my sweater) exhausted but fulfilled, and I can’t wait to do it again! #NP_VAN

There you go. Next time the opportunity presents itself to take a road trip with total strangers, #justshowup. 

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