Meet Ksenya Gusak, our DPMR Member Highlight for the month of August. Originally from Russia, Ksenya has recently found herself exploring and settling in Truckee with her boyfriend Drew. Our international trail sister has a Masters in Business, but it’s her Jedi Masters trail cred and skills that is something to take notice of. Having already explored and with current plans to navigate some of the most sacred and holy trails on this planet, it is no secret that Ksenya has what it takes to log countless miles on the trails.
Ksenya doesn’t limit herself to logging miles on dirt alone, she has crossed states on two wheels, and has coined the phrase, “Epic Urban Hikes” while living in San Francisco. A Product Manager for an online advertising company, Ksenya’s guilty pleasure is Justin’s Chocolate Hazelnut Butter, and parts of her life sound like the plot of a movie: floating in the Fjord’s of Norway, tramping in New Zealand (not that type of tramping, you dirty people) and being held up by political rebels just to name a few. As if trekking the worlds trails, bike touring, cross-country skiing, and being an international badass isn’t enough, Ksenya plans to pick up alpine skiing this coming winter and use her sewing machine a little bit more to prove she is just as mortal as the rest of us.
Read on to find out why Ksenya’s number should be the only one on your phone.
Where are you from and where do you live now?
I lived in Russia until I was 9, in Israel until I was 13, and since then bounced around the Bay Area, mostly back and forth between San Francisco and Berkeley (where I studied math as an undergrad and then returned for MBA grad school). This past November, my boyfriend Drew and I moved to Truckee full time.
When did you begin running and/or long-distance running, if that applies? Why?
In college one year I ran a very rainy and cold Bay 2 Breakers. Since then I’ve dabbled in a variety of relay races (a few Hood to Coasts in PDX, a few Calistoga to Santa Cruz), the weekly 4-mile bar sampler, and a couple of half marathons. I’m more of a long-distance walker. In fact, in this interview, I think I’ll replace all references to running with hiking.
Do you race? Does racing motivate you? if not racing, what motivates you?
I’ve worked and crewed at a bunch of late-in-the-race aid stations, and that motivates me not to sign up for any races. Getting out to see pretty nature away from the crowds motivates me.
I first heard of ultra-running about a dozen years ago, when I paced my then-roommate Flora the last dozen miles of the Miwok race. Back then, at 25, she was easily 10 to 40 years younger than most of her fellow racers. Now it’s cool to see people of all ages partaking. In the last few years, I’ve crewed for my boyfriend Drew at various 100s (Hardrock, IMTUF, and Pinhoti in Alabama – where all the aid stations are manned not by runners but by professional tailgaters – same skillset as working an aid station). I made a sweet planning spreadsheet I can repurpose for crewing any race; it has formulas for when it’s dark on the course and other fun tricks.
Do you have any dream races (either hoping to qualify for or get selected for)?
In 2018, I would like to run hike the Alta Via 1 and 2 in the Dolomites, which running folk may know better as the Tor de Géants.
Do you have a favorite on-trail food or nutrition strategy? Favorite post-run meal or beverage?
Justin’s chocolate hazelnut butter. When I backpack, I swear by plain oatmeal w/pb for breakfast, tortillas with salami and cheese for lunch, and dehydrated lentil soup with couscous for dinner – can do it for a week+ straight.
What was your favorite
running hiking experience this past year?
I backpacked the High Sierra Trail with a friend for 6 days in August. Was amazing to arrive at Kern hot springs at the midpoint, top out on Mt. Whitney at the end, meet interesting people on the trail, and dodge the JMT crowds (until the last day of trail overlap). We also managed to get there (to Sequoia NP) and back (from Lone Pine) exclusively via public transit from SF!
What was your most challenging/ character-building experience this past year?
Moving to Tahoe a week before it started dumping without having my winter game figured out, sharing only one car in our household, and having only like one and a half friends in town. This was after living in SF for 12 years where I knew tons of people and rode my bike everywhere. Learned how to self-entertain and how to classic cross country ski. Next year I’m learning downhill and making more use of my sewing machine.
What race PR are you most proud of?
Double Dipsea in 3 hours and 20 minutes. It is a handicap race, so I netted 3:06. I think I finished 491st 🙂 That’s about the only race I signed up for in the memorable past. It was my second ever trail run.
What are your upcoming racing/adventure plans?
In mid-August I’m hiking for a week from Chamonix to Zermatt in Switzerland, staying in mountain huts, and eating local cheese and bread and croissants and chocolate all day.
What do you do for a living? Is it hard to fit in time for training?
I am a Product Manager at an online advertising company in San Francisco — I herd cats Monday through Friday. While I mostly work from home, I also travel back to the Bay every 2-3 weeks. I try to get out most mornings at 6:30am if work doesn’t get in the way.
In San Francisco, where you mostly need to drive across a bridge to hit any length of dirt, a group of friends and I would do what we called “epic urban hikes”, where we would walk 20+ miles criss-crossing town connecting the natural/green spaces across the landscape, with routing themes of hitting as many parks or as many staircases as possible.
What led you to join the DPMR?
I’ve been on the Facebook group for a few years stalking trail conditions for weekend trip purposes, and we’ve meet a few members at small adventure races around NorCal. Once folks un-thawed from the winter, it seemed like a good way to meet people in town and find out about cool trails.
What has been your favorite DPMR experience so far?
Ultrarunners are very determined — I was impressed that even though on our way to volunteer at Cal 2 aid at Canyons (DPMR member) Naomi Plasterer and I wound up stranded (for the first 3 sun-scorching hours of our shift) on the Gold Run exit on Hwy 80, we ended up giving away Naomi’s old Subie to the junkyard and still showed up in the depth of the canyons for the rest of our shift, and the next shift, too (since we no longer had a car). The folks at the aid station made it a fun time.
Favorite local trail?
The PCT north from Barker Pass, and Eagle Lake to Middle Velma in Desolation.
What’s your typical weekly mileage these days?
20-25 miles on foot and same on bike.
What other outdoor or indoor interests do you have?
I really enjoy self-supported bike touring: I biked the West Coast from Canada to SF for 30 days, practiced my broken French on every stop of a 2-week tour in Quebec, and rode multi-day trips in WA, ID, MT, and OR. It’s a great way to travel. I’ve also done a bunch of backpacking around the West. I’ve been thinking more about trekking lighter, but don’t have my fastpacking gear dialed yet.
Any interesting facts about yourself you would like to share?
I’ve been to many places that look like the Sierras around the world. Spent several weeks tramping in New Zealand, floated the fjords of Norway, got held up by local political rebels in Chilean Patagonia’s Torres del Paine, withstood weather in Nepal, overdosed on fondue on the Tour du Mont Blanc in the French/Italian/Swiss Alps, and alternated v0 moves with walking along the GR20 in Corsica. Visiting all those incredibly beautiful places just reminded me how lucky we are to be living the dream right here in California.
Also, on April 1st, Drew and I adopted Ace, a 5 year old rescue border collie, thanks to (DPMR member) Joel Tebbutt, who was fostering Ace. Acey is a really good trail dog and can go 20 miles multiple days in a row, but can also chill and herd a ball for hours.