The Monarch Ultra: The Day the Nonconformist Became an Ambassador

I have always been a bit of a nonconformist, particularly when it comes to change. Maybe it is because I am a bit of a nostalgia buff, and just want to hang on to the past. Perhaps it was something my mom and dad instilled on me on our family farm. Or it could be a little bit of both.

What it sometimes seems or feels like being a non-conformist. 🙂 Image Source

I grew up in an age before credit cards and easy credit. My dad always talked about the dangers of being trapped with too much debt. With items that depreciate in value like a car or a television he lived by the adage “If you don’t have the money to buy something, you don’t buy it”. There is nothing like saving up for an item, and the satisfaction of buying it knowing it is all paid off. As much as I would love to have a brand new car, I know I never will. Although I have bought one car at five years old, another eight years old, every other car I have bought in my forty three years of driving has been at least ten years old. Most of the depreciation has already been written off of the car, and I was able to buy it with the money I had on hand.  I have just never conformed to that easy credit.


Excited with my “new” 2008 Prius I got late last fall after my previous car was totalled.

I also grew up before computers, mobile phones, text messages and e-mails. Communication was in person, by telephone or through a hand written letter. Our telephone on the farm was a rotary dial phone attached to the wall by a cord. We were on a party line, meaning for us we shared the phone line with three other neighbors. And we always had to check if the line was not busy before we make a phone call. When my dear wife of thirty years and I were engaged, we were seven months apart just before we got married. My fiancé was in her country of New Zealand. I was directing a wilderness youth camp in Alaska. There was no means for her to reach me by phone. Even if there was, she would be using it very rarely as long distance rate back then were $3.00 a minute. So we communicated by hand written letter. The letters would take seven to ten days to arrive at the nearest post office of Juneau, Alaska, which was forty miles away from my camp. These were picked up once a week and delivered to where I was at the camp.

A good portion of the courting relationship with my wife of 30+ years was by hand written letter. I arrived in New Zealand 2 weeks before my wedding. Computer e-mails just do not have the same personal touch as a hand written letter.

I miss those “good old days”, and still have those precious letters sent by my precious fiancé (now wife) over thirty years ago. So when computer technology became the societal norm I really did not want to conform. Checking an e-mail mailbox and finding an e-mail would never the same as walking to the mailbox and finding a hand written letter. I held out for years, and finally in 2008 at fifty years old I finally gave in and broke down and learned how to use a computer. This is also when I sent out my very first e-mail. I only decided to learn to use a computer because the factory I worked at had closed and relocated to Mexico. Out of work, I knew if I were to survive and provide for my family I had to conform and learn how to use a computer.

The computer I learned on was old and looked very similiar to this one. It was a used hand-me-down. Image Source

My decade of using a computer from 2008 to present time 2019 has been quite the journey. My wife set me up on Facebook, which I started to use reluctantly. I did find it really helped me keep in touch with my former co-workers, relatives and even re-connect with long lost friends. Went back to college for two years, and even took some on-line courses as part of the curriculum. When I started running, I started to write about my experiences on Facebook. A friend from college said I could do much more with having my own blog. I started my blog, and she became my first follower. It slowly grew to a handful of followers, to a few dozen to the present many hundreds all over the world. It blows me away that people actually want to read what I write.

Started to write about my running journey on Facebook to keep me accountable. I hated running at 1st. But I had registered for a half marathon in the fall, and did not want to fail. And I finished! 🙂

I set up a Twitter account way back in 2009, but it sat dormant for years.  I just couldn’t figure out how to use it. Every few months Twitter would send me an e-mail encouraging me to try out my account. About four years ago I actually decided to experiment with it and sent out my very first tweet. Nothing profound or exciting. Something about going out for a run. And I got a couple of followers. As I started to tweet more, it became a few dozen, to a few hundred, to the present several thousand followers. It is very humbling. I am really nothing special. Over a year ago I started writing articles for the company I work at. Writing is just one of several responsibilities for my job. I really love those precious minutes when I can get up to my work computer, and type out some personal thoughts about sustainability, the environment and our planet.

Always look forward to the times I can get up to my office space with my co-writers Mackenzie and Michelle.

It really has been quite the journey. There are a couple of things I am still holding out on and not conforming. I still don’t have media on my phone. I am always interested in others and learning about their life journey, and find it far more satisfying personally talking face to face.  But it really saddens me when I walk in a room and everyone is looking down at their devices. We are losing the art of good old fashioned conversation.

My phone is old. I mean REALLY old, but it is all I need. And it takes pretty good pictures. It was made before selfies became popular. So for a selfie I face the phone towards me, blindly take a guess and press the shutter. As the saying goes, “Where there is a will, there is a way”. Then I upload the photo to my desktop computer if I decide to share on social media. BTW this “selfie photo” is the photo The Monarch Ultra used of me on their Ambassador page. 🙂

The other thing I have held out on and not conformed is becoming an ambassador in the running community. I love the running community so much. I love how running has changed me. It seems though, that most serious runners with an active social media are an ambassador for at least one company. And there is nothing wrong with that. Some runners find real purpose and connection as an ambassador. Which is wonderful. The runner also gets sweet discounts and free merchandise (and who doesn’t love free merchandise) if they talk about, mention, shoutout, brag and tag and hashtag the company and product they are ambassador for on their website and social media. Plus there is the opportunity to gain a lot more followers. But is just not for me. I get a lot of requests to promote items ranging from electrolytes, running gear to even (strangely enough) mattresses (and everything in between) if I would represent their company by being an ambassador.

I have always taken pride to keep my blogging website advertisement and endorsement free. And simply write about things I am so passionate about. Like running. And meeting legends like ultramarathon man Dean Karnazes. 🙂

My answer every time is “I am honoured, thank you, but I am going to say no”. The interesting thing is, some of these products I already use with my running. They are all great products. And there are some really highly respected running companies out there. But being an ambassador for a commercial company is simply a very subtle form of advertising. Companies know it works. Advertising is what prompts us to buy, buy, buy. Much of the woes of our planet today as we deal with pollution, climate change, habitat loss and plummeting animal species numbers can be traced partly to mass consumerism. Consumerism puts so much pressure on our earth’s resources.

Companies that target the running market really seem to have the edge with their ambassador programs. Recruiting highly enthusiastic runners plays a big part in their huge success. Image Source

So with this introduction it may come as a shock that I am announcing that after declining being an ambassador many times from various companies that are tied in with the running community over the past few years, I am now officially an ambassador. For the first time in my life. Just so you know, I will not be receiving any deep discounts or free swag (and who doesn’t love free swag). When I was asked, I did not even stop to think about it. I jumped at the opportunity. This project is something I am extremely passionate about. What I am ambassador for needs every little bit of help it can get.

It is my hope that my involvement in this project will benefit the survival of this beautiful little creature. Image Source

It all started from a tweet by one of my Twitter ultrarunner followers (who I have never met) named Clay Williams. He talked about this 4,300 kilometer relay run that starts this fall in Peterborough , Ontario. The relay follows the path of the Monarch Butterfly from Canada, through the continental United States and ends 47 days later at Cerro Pelon Mountain in the Sierra Madre Mountains of Central Mexico. This is the first of its kind. A run through these three countries like this has never been attempted before. The project is called The Monarch Ultra. I just had to know more. After contacting Clay I said “I really want to be one of those ultrarunners”. I now am excited to announce on September 22nd, I will be running a 100 kilometer section near London, Ontario. Although I have run 10 ultras in the past 3 years, I never yet run 100 kilometers in one day. It will be an incredibly massive challenge for my then to be 61 year old body. There are still openings in a few sections of Arkansas, Texas and Mexico. Make sure you claim your 100 kilometer spot in this monumental event.

Map of the relay. Image source Monarch Ultra website.

To introduce the people heading up this project, found on the “About Us” page on the Monarch Ultra website, Clay Williams is the run director and mapping expert. He was the one I registered with and is the mapmaker for the route. His route-finding and mapping is with upmost safety in mind for the ultrarunners. Pollinator advocate Carlotta James comes from Peterborough, Ontario (where the relay starts off), and is the project director and co-founder.  This relay has been a dream of hers for years. Carlotta was the person who contacted me asking if I would consider being an ambassador for the project. The project will also be made into a documentary film. The director and cinematographer for the project is runner and outdoor explorer Rodney Fuentes.

Monarch Ultra co-founders Carlotta James (left) and Clay Williams (right) with Ultrarunner Matt Flaherty (centre). Image source Monarch Ultra Website.

I wrote an article for my work at Busch Systems that was published just over a month before I first heard about the Monarch Ultra called “Why Are Insects on the Decline?” When I was ten years old, as one of my chores fifty years ago my dad had me scrub off all the insects that had smeared onto the cars windshield. It was a weekly, or twice a week thing in the summer. I have not had to do that in decades, as insect numbers have declined that badly. Just like honeybees, monarch butterflies are pollinators. An article just published in the Miami Herald and shared on the Monarch Ultra Twitter states that twenty years ago there were as many as one billion migrating monarchs. Numbers plummeted to less than twenty million in 2013. With greater awareness there is hope. Though a long way from one billion monarchs, numbers are increasing. There could be as many as 100 million monarch’s in this spring’s northern migration. This is exciting news.

The milkweed is what the monarch caterpillar feeds exclusively off of. Despite being listed for decades as a noxious weed in my province of Ontario, for the sake of the Monarch I have “nonconformed” by not completely eradicating the plant off my property. For the past 28 years I have kept a small, tidy patch of milkweed. And the Monarchs visit it each year in huge numbers. This photo was taken in my milkweed patch last summer. Finally, on April, 11, 2014, milkweed was removed from the noxious weed list in Ontario. You can now legally plant milkweed in Ontario.

I am really excited to be both a runner and an ambassador in the Monarch Ultra. Through my on-line platforms it will give me opportunities to keep you all updated on the project. What I love most are going to be those “old fashioned” real person interactions. I am hoping this will give me the opportunity to talk in person to individuals and groups about the project and raise awareness about the monarchs and all pollinators. And encourage each person to make those small, yet important lifestyle changes to benefit our little winged friends.

Really hoping that my role of ambassador will give me the opportunity to speak to groups and individuals on the Monarch Ultra project and the plight of our Monarchs and all pollinating insects. Photo credit Ian McIntosh Photography

There are three carefully selected non-profit organizations that supports conservation efforts which the Monarch Ultra will be partnering with. One in in Canada, one in the United States and one in Mexico. I encourage you to check out these websites and read about the important work these agencies are doing. And if you feel prompted, please support them financially if you are able to. They are as follows:

Canada: Bee City Canada:
USA: Monarch City USA:
Mexico: Butterflies and Their People:

In my very detailed “Runners Participant Guide” sent to me by Clay Williams, he mentions that “part of the message of this event is unification during a time of great political division, so runners are encouraged when possible to run in a country other than their own”.  For safety and camaraderie we are being encouraged to run our relay segments in pairs. I will running my 100 kilometers in Canada with a runner named Julie (who I have not yet met or contacted). With sharing running and monarchs in common, I am very excited to be sharing these 100 kilometers with her.

Final destination for the Monarch is the Sierra Madras Mountains in Central Mexico. Image source is the teacher resource site Annenberg Learner.

In a December 1, 2018 Runners World article  on the Monarch Ultra it talks about project director Carlotta James and the purpose for the project, “For James, the run isn’t about PRs or competition—there’s no prize money and no winners. For her, the goal is to raise awareness about environmental issues, like the decline of pollinators, and instill hope across three countries and two international borders.”. The article concluded with a quote by Carlotta James,  “The monarch butterflies don’t see borders, they don’t see ethnicities, they don’t see political division, they don’t see religion—they just do this. So what can we learn from them as a symbol of unity?”

Please check out and follow The Monarch Ultra on Instagram, on Twitter and on Facebook.



Categories: Monarch UltraTags: , , , , ,


  1. Terrific, Carl! I’ll be making a donation to the butterflies 🦋 in honor of you and your great family! Can’t wait to hear more!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Good luck with the run. Sounds like fun.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This is so cool! I’ve never seen a monarch before, but have always been impressed by their migration and concerned about their decline. I look forward to following your journey on this ultra!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hoping sometime you get to see a Monarch Angie. They are magnificent, and the name is very fitting. Was never sure how far north they would migrate. There are far fewer numbers now from when I was a young boy. Hoping with greater awareness their numbers will increase.

      Thank you so much for reading and for taking the time to share! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Another great post. I enjoy the look back on how life was – and I appreciate the fact that although it’s great to look back – you are always moving forward.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Now the photographer focuses on capturing the intricate details of your wedding hence per wedding photo shoot gives you an idea of how good the photographeris.

    Liked by 1 person

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