An Epic Running Road Trip Through 26 National Parks

Guillaume Arthus is planning to run in 26 National Parks across the American West in 50 days. Photo: Allison Pattillo

A French grad student has embarked on the ultimate running road trip.

Road trips and national park visits are a summertime right of passage, but French runner Guillaume Arthus is taking the concept to a new level by planning to run in 26 U.S. National Parks across the American West in 50 days. After planning, pouring over maps and selecting must-do runs, all while completing his MBA at Illinois State University, Arthus set off on his grand tour last week. To document his adventure, he’s filming as he runs and plans to create a short video of the scenery and trails from each park.

“With the videos, people can experience these beautiful places and almost feel the magic of the moment,” says Arthus, 23, who created custom GoPro camera mounts on his trekking poles and running pack. (He explains his trekking pole camera set-up in this video.) “It began with me wanting to show my parents what I see—I want others to understand what it looks like to run on amazing trails.”

Arthus, a 3:10 marathoner who has run the Sinister 7 Ultra in Canada and qualified for the 2014 Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc, only began running when he was 19. He plans to average 10-13 miles of running per park, with some days slated as shorter recovery and discovery runs and others designated for epic adventures—like a rim-to-rim-to-rim double-crossing of the Grand Canyon and running part of the Wonderland Trail in Mount Rainier National Park.

RELATED: A Runner’s Guide To The Grand Canyon

So far he has visited four National Parks venues in Colorado: Rocky Mountain National Park (check out the video), Black Canyon of the Gunnison, Mesa Verde and Pikes Peak (the latter of which is classified as a National Historic Landmark). The 12.8-mile run to the 14,110-foot summit of Pikes Peak was especially grueling due to snow, Arthus says.

“Yes, it was awful at times, but it was also awesome and so much fun,” Arthus says. “The view was so worth it. I just stood at the top and enjoyed it.”

RELATED: Trail Running in National Parks

Team Running Road Trip is a two-person operation consisting of Arthus, who grew up just outside of Paris, and Rachel Wrzeck, 21, a friend from grad school. They are traveling as frugally as possible and working out systems and logistics as they go. Their plan is to camp in the parks, shower when possible and look for laundromats when needed, with a hotel booked for roughly every 10 days as a break.

A typical day on the road starts early and includes eating dry cereal for breakfast, breaking down camp, preparing run gear and cameras and getting to the trailhead. Wake-up time to actual running takes about an hour. Once Arthus is running, the team checks in via cell phone and radio, so Wrzeck knows if the day is going according to schedule and can plan when to be at the rendezvous point. Post-run, the duo sits down for a hot meal, stops at a grocery store to buy food for dinner and drives to the next destination, charging cameras and computers as they go. A new destination means setting up camp, uploading and editing pictures and videos, writing blogs, looking at the running route and driving directions for the next day and sleep.

Arthus admits that the sheer size of the mostly self-funded project has made it hard. But says since the trip is underway, “it’s like I had a child and now I’m in awe as a I watch it grow.” With close to 10,000 miles of driving planned, enjoying the road trip has been a welcome discovery.

“The views and variety on the drives have been gorgeous,” the Frenchman says. “Seeing the Rocky Mountains for the first time, perfect snow lines against bright green, watching the clouds and the sun move across the sky, these are all impossible images that don’t look real.”

While much of his running will be solo, Arthus has arranged to connect with local runners along the way. Whether to learn about the best routes, discuss trail running or for the company, he’s looking forward to meeting others as he goes.

“So far, people I’ve encountered on the trail have been nice and helpful, especially the park rangers,” Arthus says. “The rangers in France aren’t so friendly!”

To learn more about Arthus, read updates, see the videos and follow progress, go to runningroadtrip.com.

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