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Here’s an edited transcript of our conversation on The Humans Outside Podcast.
Listen to the episode on iTunes, Google Podcasts, or wherever you find your favorite podcasts.
Liz and Dan Pollock don’t claim to be anything super special, but the long term project they are tackling as a couple and the effort they’re making at this time of this recording, to hike all 165 miles of trails and highest Cuyahoga Valley National Park is special. That kind of task takes intentionality, something you’ve heard us talk about a lot here on Humans Outside. It also takes creating a specific goal, almost a goal within a goal. The Pollocks have a long term goal of not just visiting all 63 national parks, but actually experiencing them – a project they’ve dubbed Experience 62, which is a title they gave it when there were only 62 parks in the system. And that is something that changed in December of 2020. They point out that if the big 10 can have 14 schools, then Experience 62 can include 63 parks. And if that’s not some Ohio-related football logic, I don’t know what is. Joining us today as we continue our theme highlighting the national parks around National Park Week is Liz and Dan Pollock. Hey guys, welcome to Humans Outside.
Hello, thank you for having us.
I’m so excited to talk to you guys. You are in Ohio right now, my husband’s home state. I am not from Ohio. So I am, you know, but an observer to the Ohio football enthusiast ways, and all other Ohio things. So we start our episodes imagining ourselves in our guests’ favorite after space, just like we’re hanging out or whatever. So like I said,yYou are physically in Ohio. But where are we with you today in our imaginations?
We were actually just talking about that before we got on. And I said at the very top of a mountain with a nice cool breeze and the sun going down is where we would be.
That’s so nice. I like it. And I like that I like the night ideas where the sun’s going down. We’re outside and perhaps we are not in Alaska where I must wear many jackets to do that kind of thing right now.
Yeah, somewhere warm.
Perfect. I love it. Okay, so before we dive into your project and the national parks, can you both tell me, how did you guys become people who like to go outside?
So for me, I think it’s mostly just something that I’ve kind of always liked being outside. I mean, in the summer growing up, we would always pretty much just go spend all day outside running around and riding our bikes around the neighborhood or whatever. So I kind of always just enjoyed being outside and playing outdoor sports and I don’t know, everything outside.
What about you, Liz?
I would say the same thing. But like my family never really went camping or anything like that. And like knowing since Dan and I’ve been together we’ve just been I think his outdoors Enos rubbed off on me and I’ve just enjoyed it more and more now.
That’s a lot like my husband, Luke and I. Same kind of thing. Yeah, what’s with these outdoor dudes rubbing off on us?
Maybe there’s not much else to do in Ohio.
That’s a theory. I did grow up spending a lot of time on the beach in California. But I would never have considered myself outdoorsy, and I most certainly did not go camping. So like there’s a difference, though, between like — I go to the beach because it’s there and that would be a crying shame not to and being someone who likes to go outside in general, right? Like those are two different things.
So start by telling us why you want to visit all of the nation’s national parks. There are a lot of things to do in the world. Why that?
Um, so for me, it kind of just started as kind of a lofty goal. My family and I went out west when I was younger, I think probably around 10 or so when we went to the Grand Canyon, Bryce, and Zion and Yellowstone, and I just thought they were the coolest places I could imagine. And knowing that there’s 63 of them now, they’re pretty much the 63 most beautiful and coolest places in the United States. So it seemed like a good goal to do. And I know, it sounded kind of lofty at first, but I know there’s a lot of people that have done it. So it’s kind of lofty but attainable at the same time.
Yeah, yeah. What about you, Liz?
My goal was to go to all 50 states. So it kind of went hand in hand with Dan’s goal that I wanted to go to all the states, but then Dan wanted to go to all the national parks, so I just kind of thought it’d be really cool if like I was going to all the states, I might as well go somewhere unique and cool like a national park.
Yeah, absolutely. And there are national parks in all 50 states, right? That’s, I mean, not imagining that?
Yeah, I think so. There’s the National Park units. Yeah, they’re in all 50 states and the territories. I’m pretty sure they have them all, too.
Yeah.Maybe it seems lofty because some of them are so hard to get to.
Yes, especially the ones up in Alaska, if you don’t live there.
Yeah. So you’ve called your project Experience 62 because the experience part is important to you. Why is that a key to what you’re doing?
So I don’t know. It’s like, you can do anything, anything you do in your life, you can kind of just check it off and move on. Um, we didn’t really want that to be the case for this, we wanted to actually — not just have a checklist of things to do and then once we checked them off, we were done with it. We wanted to have it be basically like our, our life and then having it having felt like we accomplished something and actually, you know, felt something and learned something along the way and not just did it just to do it.
I have the perfect example of how Dan wants to experience something. So we went to Mammoth Cave probably a couple months ago. And the first time we went, it was a last minute decision. So we packed up our car, got in the car, and then we got to Mammoth Caves, and all their tickets were sold out. And everything was just like, falling through. We were failing left and right. And then we got home and I was like — I feel like he’s gonna say we are not allowed to check this off, because we did not experience it. And I asked him and he was like — yeah, we have to go back because we didn’t actually experience what we were supposed to experience about going into the caves.
Yeah. But like, okay, so a couple things on this. I’m wondering, first of all, who’s to say that what you did or did not experience — I mean, Mammoth Cave, I’ll give you that. Right, like, okay, but like, on the flip side, I’m just wondering, like, my experience in an outdoor space and somebody else’s experience in an outdoor space are not the same, right? And so even if I’m, you know, checking off the touristy stuff, or whatever, maybe I’m not having the experience I could be having by doing something that’s not the traditional lane. And so like, have you guys thought about that? And if so, how do you delineate?
Yeah, no, I completely agree. Having an experience in a place is completely an opinion. And it’s different for every person, two people could be in the same group or do the same thing, and one person could feel like they had some mind opening experience, and another person could think that, you know, it was a waste of time or something. So I think it’s definitely a personal thing. And that’s, I think, kind of what we want to promote is like, doing what you feel like is an experience. Whenever you go somewhere, don’t just go there and do whatever everyone else says to do. And just kind of try to figure out what you think you would enjoy the most and then if that’s not what you enjoy, maybe try something else and and kind of Just figure it out for yourself.
Yeah. How many parks have you guys been to?
I think we’re at 20 right now.
Okay. You’ve checked chipped away at those pretty good. I’d love to hear from each of you, which was your favorite so far.
Mine would have to be the Grand Canyon, or Saguaro National Park. I love all the cactuses. They always look like they’re dancing. So that’s why I always like looking at them.
That’s great. What about you, Dan?
I might have to say the Grand Canyon. I want to do the, like a rim to rim hike at the Grand Canyon. I think that’d be really cool. But just just seeing it’s impossible to like, look at it and just comprehend how, like how it got like that. And what, like, what’s even going on there? It’s just so yeah, so incredible.
I appreciate what you said about the experience part. If our listeners have heard the other podcasts that I’m doing around the national parks, they know how I feel about Hot Springs National Park already, but it’s not good. And I just like, I just don’t understand why it’s a national park. I don’t understand what I was supposed to experience there. You know, I just don’t get it. Um, and have you guys been there?
No, we actually considered it when we went to Mammoth Cave, we were pretty much halfway there. And when we realized we couldn’t get any tickets or anything, we almost just drove to Hot Springs instead, but decided not to.
Yeah, yeah. What you’re supposed to experience in Hot Springs is the hot springs baths, right? And then go to the spa or whatever, which just felt to me, like I was being fleeced for cash by the National Park vendor, for an experience that was no better or worse than what I had anywhere else, you know, with a spa, right? In fact, probably worse. Okay. It felt like a quote unquote, thing I was supposed to do there, but it didn’t feel worth it or that interesting to me. But then we did go on a hike. And you know, the views were pretty and I saw a part of Arkansas, and I’ve never been to Arkansas. But I had a great time on that hike. That hike was not what you were supposed to experience at Hot Springs National Park. And so I that what you said really resonates with me on that, because it’s just – you have to sit down and decide if you’re staying true to your own goals when you’re doing something like this.
Yeah, yeah. I think even like if we had gone to Mammoth Cave, and no, maybe we didn’t go down into the cave, but we, we camped, and it was, for whatever reason, it was just really, we got that feeling that it was kind of just special or it felt really cool in whatever way, maybe we could have counted that. Experience could be anything really, just sitting looking at a river. Anything that really gives you that feeling like it’s something special, I guess.
Yeah, I can understand that. So another place that I think is kind of odd is Cuyahoga Valley National Park, which I think is why it’s so interesting that you guys are really spending so much time there. For people who haven’t been there, it’s sort of odd, because it’s like tucked away between a few major cities and I do remember driving by on the highway after we’d been there and realize that we had driven by before and had no idea it’s like on the other side of a concrete wall. There’s a whole like thing going on over that wall – National Park.
Yeah, yeah, I can completely understand that. We’re from the Akron area, and we basically drive past it to get to Cleveland. So any one of our friends or anything from around here, you know, going up to Cleveland, whatever, for a Cavs game or something or anything. I mean, we had gone up and back from Cleveland, probably hundreds of times before we even realized there was a national park like, literally, yeah, 10 miles off the highway.
You and I described the fact that it’s off the highway, but if you could describe the actual park for us as well, that’d be great.
So, it is kind of a very odd V shaped park. It’s nestled kind of between Akron and Cleveland. And it goes around the Cuyahoga River. But there’s kind of weird sections on each side that is very weirdly shaped and the roads go weird directions. We’ve been there for what I think today was day 17. And we still like have to use Google Maps to figure out where we’re going. It’s very confusing. But yeah, so we went there once. I think we were in high school or just after graduating high school, and I don’t even think we realized it was a national park at that point. And we did a hike to Blue Hen Falls, which is where we ended up getting engaged. And we just, we just really liked it. It was a really, you know, cool place. We didn’t realize it was so close. But then we went back to Blue Hen Falls and we loved it. We probably do it once a summer since then, it seemed like the perfect place for me to propose and then all history from there.
Why? I mean, I know that you learned about another couple who had been hiking the trails there. They’re like, there are a lot of things to do in the world. So you’re, you’re visiting all the national parks, there are a lot of places to hike. So why why this project? Why do this?
So, we read that article. And figured, no, no offense to them. But if a 73 year old couple could hike all the trails, we figured we probably could, too. And it’s, you know, it’s right where we live, it’s close. And especially with COVID and everything, it’s still not necessarily recommended to travel and go to other national parks all that much. So we figured it’d be a good place that we could stay close and just try to do it now.
Unless, like, do you regret making this choice?
Um, it depends on the day really, like, when we first started, I was like — This is gonna be great. We’re gonna go every day. And then like, towards like the middle of it, Dan was like — well, you don’t have to go. And I was like — well, like, we decided to do this together. Like, I’m gonna stick it out. But it’s been really interesting, because we’ve been to P, but we haven’t done all the trails. So it’s very interesting to see like, how many trails there actually are.
How many trails? How many miles of trails are there? How many miles? I mean, you’re trying to do this in March, which is when we’re recording this. So how much do you have to hike each day? I’m gonna give us some details.
So I think it’s roughly like 120ish miles of actual trails. We got the information actually from the couple that was mentioned in the article that we read about. They basically said they had walked 165 miles. So that was kind of our benchmark. I think we’re around probably 110 or 120ish miles right now with what’s five more days, six more days.
How many have you been hiking each day? Like, do you try to divide it up over the month? What was your thought?
So we basically tried to make it about seven and a half miles a day, just based on their 165 miles and then, so I guess I didn’t really mention the other like, half of our challenge with doing it in 22 days. I don’t know if you were going to bring that up later or not, but I could talk about that. So we read the article, they mentioned meeting a veteran who has an organization that helps other veterans get outside and to, you know, help them with any troubles they might be going through. And so we reached out and contacted them and it turned out to be your husband, Luke.
Yeah, I know him.
So we’re trying to figure out if there’s something we could do, to kind of connect to the whole, you know, helping veterans and CVNP. And we finally remembered the 22 push ups in 22 Days Challenge that was pretty popular on Facebook, like over the summer mostly. Um, and so the idea is that there’s this statistic that 22 veterans commit suicide every day. So we were thinking about doing the challenge over about a month, and figured if we could do it in a month, we could do it in 22 days. So yeah, that’s how we got to the 22 days, we just took 165 divided by 22. And tried to average about seven and a half miles.
Well, thank you so much for doing that. And, you know, we actually have not had Luke on the podcast before to talk about his organization, which is cool. I know, I know. Remedy Alpine is an organization up here in Alaska that does exactly what you said. And they take veterans into the back country for single day hikes and overnight stuff. Alaska based veterans. And yeah, you can see more about that on remedyalpine.org. In fact, they’re going out just this coming weekend, as of now we’re recording this in March, there’s a lot of snow here, that’s really important to know, and they’re going on a snow thing. And I’m like — goodbye, have fun, because I do not, I cannot camp around in the snow. And I realize I’m having one of these moments where you say things and you watch the words come out of your mouth. And then you’re like, no, because at this point, now that I’ve said that I’m pretty famous for making my sweeping generalizations about things I will never do. Now that I’ve said that I will be doing that next year, you’ll see pictures. So worse, by far is the fact that inevitably, I like whatever it is that I said I was not going to do and definitely would not like.
So far, I have not yet been confronted with the need to like Hot Springs National Park. So that’s going good, but I’m sort of infamous for eating my words. What can I say?
Okay, so um, is the thing like this, like this hiking all of the miles, hiking all the trails – is this an experience that you’ll think about replicating elsewhere? I’m thinking like state parks or anything like that. And what have you learned from doing that? I mean, that’s a lot of time on the trail. What have you learned?
So to answer the first part of the question, I guess, well, so I’ve thought about maybe doing it at different parks. I don’t know. It’s, it’s kind of a lot. I think it’s easy with us living nearby and we can just drive there every day. So I think especially other national parks, I don’t know, it might be kind of tricky with just being somewhere for enough days to do it. But yeah, I’ve definitely thought about it. We’ve had a lot of time to think.
I understand. I run and there’s a lot of thinking when you run. So much thinking. Liz, you said that and then a couple minutes ago that you know, in the middle of it, you’re like — well, I mean, I’ve made this commitment, I’m going. So clearly you’ve had moments where you wish you weren’t doing this. What have you learned by doing this?
Mentally it’s been a lot and physically it’s been a lot.
Why mentally and then why physically?
We’re going so many miles and I’ve never walked these like that many miles in a day and in 22 days, right? But it’s just been a lot andI I just think a lot. And I think sometimes I just get too much in my head and then like, then I just don’t enjoy like being outside as much. And I think it just has really taught me to just like, relax and just like, collect my thoughts. A lot of times on our hiking days, like when we’re on the trail, there’s times that Dan and I will go like an hour or a half hour – like it is just quiet. We don’t say anything. And it’s just, it’s very interesting, because I’m like — oh, like, I know, he’s thinking like, What is he thinking about? And like, I’ll ask him, and then he doesn’t know. I’m like — oh, okay.
I’m sorry. That’s such a man thing to say about anything. But you’re right. Like, that’s the push pull of doing miles. You know, I haven’t hiked that far. But I’ve run, right. And so when you run, you have the same thing, right? And one minute will be like — oh, everything’s great. I’m doing great. This is so much fun. I’m happy, like I’m just in the Zen place. And then within five seconds, you’re like — Oh, I don’t know what to do. I hate this, you know. And I think anybody who has spent time outside doing something physically challenging, whether that be biking or hiking, or running or whatever, right, over a long period of time, has experienced that moment, where you’re just almost in a conversation, like this push pull with your own psyche. It’s not even a conversation. It’s like this back and forth with something inside of you that is coming a little unhinged sometimes.
It’s funny about running too, because we were just talking about that today. We are thinking about, well, so runners, a couple of my brothers are runners, too. And like, it’s a different, it’s a different feeling, I guess, when you’re just going for a run. I don’t know, just to train or to feel good or be healthier, whatever, versus doing a race. And I don’t know, maybe I’m wrong on this, because I don’t like running that much. But I’m guessing when my brothers are doing races, you know, they’re not thinking — Wow, this is great. I love running. They’re thinking — No, I have to push myself and then you know, right at the end of it, I’ll feel good about how hard I pushed myself and accomplishing something. Yeah. And I think that’s kind of the stage we’re in for this challenge. It’s kind of just partly just to push ourselves and to see, no, maybe it’s not enjoyable all the time. But it’s, you know, at the end of it, we will have accomplished something. And and that’s, I think, a big part of it, too.
What a great lesson that isn’t just exclusive to hiking or running. Right. Like, I think that’s true of any challenge. And I think that’s true of any challenge inside and outside. How often am I in the middle of some creative project or you know, even, you know, some sort of home improvement thing, right, where you’re like — well, this sucks, why did we do this? You know, and building that muscle, it’s almost like a grit to be able to push through something unpleasant so that you have that reward is something that you practice, right, and you’re practicing it on the trail. And for something that’s recreational. And if I’m doing it, if I’m inside doing my, let’s say, job, the thing for which I am paid, right, I don’t really have the option to just be like — well, this is stupid. I’m not doing this right now. I have to push through and I’d much rather practice being able to do that and build that muscle by doing something cool and brag – like hiking all the miles in Cuyahoga Valley National Park or running all the miles, you know, in the local trail or whatever – than I would buy slaving over my desk, you know. Not fun.
So at the core of what you’re doing is intentionality. We talked about that just sort of in passing earlier. And you said on your website – I read you said that that’s really what this is all about. So planning to be intentional is one thing and being intentional is something else. What have you learned about intentionality since starting? And I’m wondering if COVID had a role in teaching you that because, you know, like, big old pause in anyone’s plans in the world? COVID, you know?
Yeah. Yeah, I think so. The intentionality part of it kind of started, I don’t know, a few months ago. Well, we were living in Indianapolis. And so Liz’s whole family is here in the Akron area, and my parents are here still. And we’re living in Indianapolis, and I was working a lot, and weird hours. So we weren’t spending all that much time together. And we were both just stressed out and kind of seemed like for no reason, really, other than just to have money.
And so we, we basically talked about what was really important to us and what actually makes us happy, because it’s not worth being miserable just to have a job and have money. So yeah, we decided, you know, family was important and being able to spend time outside and so we decided to move back here to the Akron area and are still working on just like you said, the planning for it. And actually, living intentionally is very different. So I think we’re working on the actually living intentionally part.
How does that play out? What does that look like? Is that like getting up in the morning and maybe hiking a bajillion miles in Cuyahoga national park? Like, I don’t know. Is that part of it?
Yeah, for me, at least I don’t know if Liz necessarily is the same or not. But yeah, I think that’s definitely part of it. Just trying, kind of almost testing out, like a lifestyle or something really, of being able to do what we enjoy, and seeing if we could basically make something of it.
I would have to agree. I think at first he came to me with this and he was passionate about it. And I was very hesitant at first, because I just didn’t know where. And I’m still trying to figure out where it’s going to take us.
So what I hear you saying is that the journey, just not to be like, too cheesy, but the journey is the journey. You know, that we’re learning about going as we go. And that that is part of what makes this you know, worth doing? You know, figuring it out while we’re doing it.
Yeah, yeah, I think that that’s exactly right.
And, did COVID specifically have anything to do with that, figuring out process?
A little bit, just because we were in Indianapolis, and we had just moved there didn’t really know anybody or have any friends. And it was hard to make friends. We couldn’t really go do any activities or so I guess it played a little bit of a role in just us not being happy in Indianapolis.
Maybe having that time to pause and think about your choices.
Yeah, it made us think about what, basically why we were doing what we’re doing and not just doing it, because that’s what seemed like we were supposed to do.
So intentionality, of course, isn’t just an outdoor or indoor thing. And kind of like what we were talking about earlier with grit, right. I’m wondering if spending time outside has taught you anything about intentionality that you don’t think you could have learned inside?
I think, probably mostly just what we talked about before, like, I think pushing yourself physically is a big part of that and being able to know your limits, and be able to do something that sucks. So you know, to know what you enjoyed in that are, you know, if you want to do something else or not. I’m sure there’s things you can do inside for that, but I think it’s probably, the things that come to mind like running or hiking or, you know, biking. Just really kind of pushing yourself physically, mostly our outdoor activities.
I think that what you guys are doing is super cool. I just really enjoy hearing about these different adventures that people do. You know, we have a lot of folks here on Humans Outside who are really doing really big things or they train really hard or they make this their life’s work right. But I really enjoy talking to folks who make going outside and doing the kind of stuff that you’re doing fit into the rest of their life. You know, you talked about how you shifted your life to allow for that more. We moved here to Alaska for the same kind of thing, to allow for us to have a more nature focused life even while not having it be our whole life. But, you know, it’s cool to hear that you can do that if you’re intentional and you have a plan. And that it works for you. So that’s so cool, guys.
Okay, so at the end of our podcast episodes, we do like a little leftovers round, where we talk through some stuff that people love. You know, their most essential gear or whatever. So, I’d love to hear about this stuff. I’ve gotten so many great ideas of just gear or how to use gear I already have from this question. So if you guys want to tell me your maybe your favorite outdoor gear, like what’s something that you just love, you know, maybe for your national parks adventures or hiking or whatever.
I think mine would have to be my hiking boots. I have had them I think for two years and I think I’m gonna have to get a new pair because they are just ripping at the seam and I’m kind of sad about it. Yeah.
What kind are they?
I think they are Keen. They are awesome. Today we were out in the rain, and they were so waterproof, but I can just tell they’re just slowly going.
What about you, Dan, what do you love?
Mine might be a little weird, but a pair of Columbia pants that are the most amazing pants I’ve ever worn. They are like a stretchy kind of material. But they’re kind of thick. They’re like, joggers, kind of, but they’re super stretchy and super, like loose and comfortable. But they’re also warm. Today, it was raining all day. And they kept me pretty dry and pretty warm. I don’t know, they’re super durable. I like hiking them even though they’re kind of like a, I don’t know, like a wicking material or whatever you might call that. Yeah. But yeah, they’re starting to come apart at the seams a little bit and I haven’t been able to find them. So I don’t know if I’m gonna be able to get another pair or not.
Man, bummer. Well, when you use your stuff, you know you gotta love it and then you got to figure out a way to replace it when it breaks into tiny little disintegrated pieces or whatever. Do you guys have a piece of gear that’s super essential? Like it’s not your favorite but if you didn’t have it that would sort of be the end of that.
I would have to say my CamelBak. I got one a little bit ago and I could just put my camera in there. Water, definitely. But snacks. Dan will attest to this, if I don’t have snacks, we will not be making it through the trail.
Sounds like maybe your most essential is your snacks. Just a thought.
Yeah, that’s I think that’s my most essential.
In our very first episode on Humans Outside we had a couple who hiked the Appalachian Trail and that was a similar response they gave because, as he said — someone on our hike tends to not pack enough food. That’s episode one. You are not alone – major theme.
Okay, so finally, if you close your eyes and imagine yourself in your favorite outdoor space, something that just gives you joy and peace – walk us out with that. Where are you guys and what are you doing?
I didn’t think this would ever be my favorite outdoor moment but I would have to say – we went to Shenandoah National Park and we went whitewater rafting. And that will probably be my favorite outdoor moment, just because I was on edge the whole time but I enjoyed every moment of it.
I would say anywhere with water. I love the water. So I was picturing like waking up in a tent and opening the tent and just being right by like a big blue lake in the mountains, just a lake. Maybe there’s some snow, but not too much because then it would be too cold. But just a nice tent by a lake. Yeah, sounds really nice to me.
Love it. Well, thanks, guys for being on humans outside today. Appreciate you.
Thank you. Thanks for having us.
Yeah, thanks for having us.