Keeping Stride with Morgan Sjogren

Once upon a time, Morgan Sjogren had roots. Efficient, highly-regimented roots. Living in Mammoth Lakes, CA she rose early every day to a text from her running coach asking her for her resting heart rate. After breakfast, she was off to morning training as a part of an elite competitive track running team. Mornings meant team meetings, stretching, weight training, and a lot of precise stopwatch action. 

After practice, she hit the showers, enjoyed another breakfast, and then sat down to get her second day started at her 9-5 marketing job. After work, it was time to head out to evening training. Then dinner, shower, sleep, repeat: another lap around the track. 

Morgan was living the dream. Or one version of it. Her cabin perched in the mountains was a cozy place to call home. And when she wasn’t there, her running career took her all over the world to compete. Her running kept her body and competitive nature chugging, and her day job kept her mind challenged and creative, too.

Photo credit: #2 photo Jay Kolsch Photos

Veering Off the Beaten Track 

Life was good until it wasn’t. Her marriage ended, and she found herself without much more than a Jeep to her name. It wasn’t an easy time. But one change led to another, and another, opening up a road to a different destination. A different way of life. A different dream. She pared down her life, culling it down to the essentials. If it didn’t fit in the Jeep, did she really need it? 

Feeling a new kind of freedom, she gassed up and headed south, looking for stories. 

“I asked myself, ‘what are you waiting for? Things aren't the same as they were before. That was the chapter of your life running laps around a track really fast. What’s this chapter going to be?’ So, I made another big leap toward another big dream. I left my marketing job to start freelance writing.” 

For the record, Morgan does not recommend quitting your job, ditching all your stuff, and leaving town to embark on a whole new life as suddenly as she did. For a while, things were pretty bleak. She got very good at the “dirt-bagging” lifestyle during this period. A lot of beans, nut butter, beer, and beef jerky were involved. She was broke. Dirt broke.

But she was sleeping in and running because she wanted to, not to train. Plus, she was not just visiting the magnificent landscapes of canyon country, but really growing to know them — running them, hiking them, photographing them, even writing the book on them. 

No more laps. No more track. No stopwatch required. 

Photo credit: #3 and #4 is Jay Kolsch Photos & photo #2 and #5 is Stephen Eginoire

Fueling the Epic 

After a few successful guide books, Morgan’s publisher asked if she had any book ideas. She told them a few of the stories behind the guides: the dirt-bagging life, the trail encounters, the survival tricks she’d learned, and the many outlandish adventures that came from her life while working on the guide books. The resulting project was Outlandish: Fuel Your Epic — part memoir, part overlanding adventure diary, and part cookbook for eating cheap (and well!) while living out on the trail. 

With Outlandish, I wanted to share that fueling yourself doesn’t have to be fancy to be nutritious. The book features mostly ingredients you could gather at a gas station, but still fuel yourself to run a marathon, go hiking, surfing, or anything.”

“Epic” is one of those ten-cent words that means something different to everyone. On the surface, the “fuel your epic” subtitle sounds like you’re embarking on enormous adventures. And that’s true. But, that’s not the full story for Morgan. 

“I’ve always loved the Odyssey and other literary “epic tales.” In those stories, epic-ing is when everything goes wrong, you barely made it, but somehow you survived to tell the tale. There were so many times during my guidebook work where I almost rolled my Jeep off a cliff, or I had to spend the night in a canyon with no food, water, or jacket and it was 19 degrees. Those days, I was definitely epic-ing. Maybe too much. But when I strung the stories together, my own Odyssey emerged.” 

With gas in her Jeep and gas station cuisine on her stove, Morgan fuels herself for not just the day but for the moment when the adventure goes awry and becomes an epic. But the epic fuels her, too, filling her life with stories and quenching her deep personal yearning to explore and protect the land.

Photo credit: #1 and #2 Jay Kolsch Photos

Down to the Essentials 

During these years epic-ing around southeast Utah and the Four Corners region, Morgan lived out of “Sunny,” her 2002 Jeep Wrangler. She built a sleeping platform in the back with some storage underneath it and fashioned a fold-down table surface from an old traffic sign on one of the doors. She had a single-burner camp stove, and eventually, she added a cooler. A set of 33-inch BFGoodrich® All-Terrain T/A® KO2 tires completed Sunny’s minimal setup. 

“Rebuilding my life in this way has certainly been challenging, but it has also forced me to look at what really matters and ask: ‘what do I need to survive?’ My tires are absolutely on that list. It's like having good running shoes. Even though I was broke, I still wore nice running shoes because there are certain things you can't cut corners on. I would say, running shoes, tires, and hiking boots — if you cut corners on those, you're going to pay the price.” 

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A New Path, A New Purpose 

With a stockpile of nutritious canned goods, hard-earned road wisdom, and gear to get her anywhere, Morgan is still living the ever-evolving dream. A dream that continues to be fueled by epic stories. Today, when she’s not running down remote canyon trails, you can find Morgan digging through historical archives and interviewing locals for her forthcoming book, Path of Light. For the project, Morgan is retracing the steps of the Bernheimer expeditions — a set of excursions completed throughout the 1920s — into the heart of Glen Canyon and Bears Ears National Monument. 

By hiking through the same desert terrain 100 years later, she comes face-to-face with new issues like climate change and “national monument” status, making the Bernheimer Expeditions objective of studying and protecting this landscape resonate as strongly as ever. By exploring the human rights and land management issues that surrounded early explorations, Morgan finds herself reflecting on the present day with an illuminated clarity and sense of personal responsibility. 

“These landscapes have given me so much. Learning and writing about them is how I can give back. This new book is painting some of my choices in a new light. My life on the road has taken on a whole new character and depth, and I can't wait to see where it goes.” 

After all the epic-ing around, exploring on purpose has Morgan Sjogren hitting her stride.

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Outlandish by Morgan Sjogren, The Running Bum

 

Photo credit: Jay Kolsch Photos 

To keep up with Morgan, you can follow her on Instagram or over on her blog, The Running Bum.

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