The Trail of Wonders circumnavigates Mount Tahoma (Rainier) in Washington state over 93 scenic miles and 24,000 feet of elevation. The wind spreads through evergreen forests, across enormous glacial basins, and over raging rivers. Calling it playable would be a bit generous — the ups and downs never end.
Early one Sunday morning in August, my sister and I stood in the parking lot at Longmire, ready to start our clocks for a short anticlockwise ride around the 14,441-foot summit. The mountain is huge, and imagining using our legs to move around it was daunting. She’s ran 100 miles before, but was in a race with auxiliary stations that put in every half a dozen miles. This was different.
Fortunately, we’ve enlisted our dear friend Alex Borsuk (who conveniently carries an unsupported FKT on the road) to help. We divided the route into sections, and arranged to have Alex meet us every 26 miles for help.
Such major efforts require training, yes, but any number of variables—pain, injury, illness—can quickly leave you feeling drained by distance. As it turns out, this was one of those days. I achieved 80 miles and 22,000 feet of elevation before I called it a stop to avoid a new case of patellar tendinitis (like mine does).
However: until I got this far, I gained a new appreciation for the gear that carried me for those 30 hours (including an entire night’s walk). Here are my favorites, from energy gel to puffy.
Kogalla RA Adventure Light ($180)
From past experiences, I’ve learned that dim lighting on dark paths can exacerbate drowsiness and nausea. A flickering, flickering headlight beam is a quick ticket to shedding precious calories, tripping over an obstacle, hallucinating, or all three. During eight hours of total darkness on the road, I chose the 3.6-ounce RA Adventure Light, which I wore around my waist.
Its five 800-lumen lights flooded the driveway evenly and stayed steady as I went. The RA runs on a 4.6-ounce battery pack, which I put in a pocket in my hydration pack. I carried a spare battery pack, but I never needed it. By running after my sister, who was wearing a headlight, I was able to light the way well for both of us. I’m now switching to both RA, and waist lights in general.
Garmin InReach Mini ($350)
Most people already know that InReach is an invaluable tool while traveling in the back country. It’s a 3.5 ounce lifeline that can call to the rescue from just about anywhere, even when there’s no service. I always carry one in the back country, but I’ve upped my plan all the way ($49 a month) for unlimited messaging. First, I set up live tracking so family and friends can watch our dot slowly move around the mountain. Since Alex also had InReach, we were able to keep in touch through InReach-to-InReach messages to give her the estimated time to reach out and tell her our cravings for the next meetup. One downside: The InReach mini usually needs about 12 hours of charge on an adventure, so you’ll need to bring a battery pack. It still works while charging.
Science In Sport Isotonic Energy Gels ($65 for 30)
My friend and super runner, Claire Gallagher, recommended these particular gels to me a few weeks ago from Wonderland. But in order to get 250 to 300 calories on board, you have to eat them almost constantly. She texted me a few days before we left: “Non-negotiable. Repeat after me. I will take the gel every 30 minutes.” If you’ve ever tried to eat a jelly every 30 minutes over a 100-mile span, you’ll likely have an idea of how the stomach will respond—anything from general malaise to complete annihilation. Gel brands are a personal choice, but for anyone with a sensitive stomach, I recommend trying them. Each contains 90 calories and 22 grams of carbohydrates, and is designed to be consumed without water. The consistency is similar to watery Jell-O, but as if it was marketed, it is easy to digest. I ate probably 45 of these and never had stomach issues (for the first time!).
Swiss Safe Emergency Blanket ($20 for $10)
I once had to share an unplanned open marquee with three friends in 45-degree weather with only one emergency blanket between us. Despite the comfort, it worked out so well that I always carry my own blanket with me. Weighing only an ounce, they are windproof, waterproof and retain up to 90 percent of your body heat. And yes, it works really well. You can use them for a number of things: tent footprint, poncho, shelter, sleeping bag liner. My sister and I used it for a 15 minute 3 am nap when I started falling asleep while walking. When we first lay down, she started shivering. We wrapped ourselves in the blanket and got ready right away. Had we not set the alarm, we would have slept for hours in the dirt.
Katadyn BeFree Filter ($50)
In my opinion, there is no better on-the-go water filter than BeFree. The collapsible one-liter flask and compact filter weigh just 2.3 ounces, barely noticeable in the package. By gently pressing the flask, it can filter up to two liters of water per minute. Compared to other filters that can take a full snack break to filter out this much, it’s fast. After dark we stopped at a table to refill. The temperatures were dropping and the wind was blowing. We wanted to get moving again quickly and BeFree made our water stop with incredible efficiency: Scoop the water into the BeFree, turn it upside down, and tap to fill all four 500ml flasks in no time.
Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer UL Puffy ($400)
With temperatures dropping into the low 40s at night and no chance of rain, I knew it would be worth packing a warm layer to stave off the cold and prevent hail. When I picked up this six-ounce bouffant with 1,000 fills, the highest insulation rating possible for a jacket, it felt almost nonexistent in my hand—perfect for a light, fast ride. It has a stellar heat-to-weight ratio and builds up small, but I put it on the second the sun went down and didn’t take it off until morning. While I mostly hike and jog, the Ghost Whisperer was comfortable to move around and kept me warm without breaking a sweat.