The Ultimate Outsider Challenge: Our South Carolina State Park Quest

It wouldn’t be a typical Heather blog if I didn’t start off with a little story telling (if you’ve ever wondered, I talk this much in real life as well…). And before I explain why I (we) decided to tackle the South Carolina State Park’s Ultimate Outsider Challenge, I’ve got to share an anecdote from my childhood.


Join us on our quest to visit all 47 South Carolina State Parks, as we attempt to complete the Ultimate Outsider Challenge.

If it’s Not Fun…

The kitchen in the house I grew up featured a very large, very prominent hutch. This piece of furniture was almost the length of the entire room, and made of beautiful hardwood. You couldn’t miss it. The hutch came with the house when we moved in, so I’m not certain if it was handmade or installed after the fact. It’s where we housed Mom’s good China, silver, and glassware, as one does. But it was also home to the liquor cabinet, the extra tablecloths and place mats, and last but certainly not least: the family junk drawer (every family has one!)

In the middle of the hutch was a large mirror. I never understood why a kitchen needed a mirror, and I suppose my father didn’t either. Because right smack in the middle of the mirror, Dad had taped a bumper sticker that said “If It’s Not Fun, Why Do It?”. It was only fitting that a kitchen in the middle of Vermont would proudly display a quote from Jerry Greenfield, co-founder of Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream.

(and, this likely explains where my stickers-on-everything-I-own habit stems from.)

If It's Not Fun, Why Do It? bumper sticker
I’m not sure if this is *the* actual sticker that was on the mirror. When Dad passed, we found he had multiple. I took this one, and stuck it on my car.

I’ve often thought of and lived by that quote. Of course, there are things I don’t find fun, but that I do anyway, because as a functioning member of society you’ve got to sometimes do the things you don’t want to do. Pay taxes, show up for jury duty, wait in line at the DMV…you get the idea. But when it comes to my free time, I prefer to spend it doing the things that I find fun.

Chasing Shiny Things

For the most part, I am a very intrinsically motivated person when it comes to the things that bring me joy. It’s why I’m able to run for hours – and even days – on end. Spending time doing things that fill my heart and soul with happiness is truly all the motivation I need to get out there.

Conquer the Rock 50K
Conquer the Rock 50K (Table Rock State Park)

That said… I also love a good challenge. I’m a tad bit (OK, super) competitive at times. And lastly, there is nothing like a little incentive theory to give you a little extra push to do the things you may have been putting off. Glorious, gaudy belt buckles for finishing 100 miles. Patches for completing crazy challenges that your friends made up (I’m looking at you, PoofH3). There’s always something fun about “swag” that you can’t simply purchase, you have to earn. It can be addicting. I had a coach who once called this “chasing shiny things”, an ode to the shiny belt buckles and finishers medals you get for completing races.

Enter: the “Ultimate Outsider” challenge.

What is the Ultimate Outsider Challenge?

In 2015, South Carolina Department of Parks, Recreation & Tourism started the Ultimate Outsider challenge, to encourage people to visit all 47 of South Carolina’s State Parks. To officially complete the challenge, you must first obtain an official South Carolina State Parks guidebook. Then, when you visit each park, you locate the Ultimate Outsider stamp, and stamp your book. Once you collect all 47 stamps, you have a Ranger verify you’ve completed the challenge. They fill out some forms, and then you receive a t-shirt, and bragging rights as an official “Ultimate Outsider”.

The Official Guide to South Carolina State Parks

Two summers ago, in 2017, Geoff and I decided to buy a South Carolina State Park Passport. We had discovered that the public beaches in Myrtle Beach were sub-par to Huntington Beach State Park, at best. Plus, $16 for our family per visit adds up fast, when you try to visit the beach as much as possible over the summer months (and spring, fall, and winter, if we’re being honest). We were so thrilled with our purchase that I did what any good civillian of the digital age does…

I posted about it on Facebook.

And that’s when a friend told me about the Ultimate Outsider challenge. Challenge? SWAG? Count. Me. IN.

47 Parks in 2020?

Of course, when I had first heard about the Ultimate Outsider challenge, I wanted to tackle it right then. We’ve already established that I’m an all – or – nothing kind of gal. Alas, the past two years have been chock full of training for and racing ultras all over the place. At times, it would feel like every other weekend was spent traveling to another race. Add in starting our own business, and raising two pre-teens, and well…the challenge was quickly forgotten about.

Then 2020 showed up, and quickly reminded me of that expression about “best laid plans”. My racing schedule has been put on hold until further notice, while I’m benched from running with a medical condition. This is not the first time that I’ve been completely taken out of running while dealing with a body that temporarily chooses to not cooperate (I’m becoming a hernia surgery expert). And if I’ve learned anything – it’s that pouting and feeling sorry for yourself only makes the time pass even slower.

Plus it makes you a pretty miserable person to be around.

So, with the help of my youngest (and by help I mean he enthusiastically said “YEAH LET’S DO THIS!” without any grasp of how much this entails, logistically…) I’ve decided to tackle as much of the Ultimate Outsider Challenge as I can in the 366 days (leap year bonus!) that I possibly can.

Collecting our Ultimate Outsider Challenge stamp at Woods Bay state park
Collecting our Ultimate Outsider stamp at Woods Bay State Park

And when I say “I”, of course I mean “we” because I will certainly be dragging my family along. Though seeing how enthusiastically my husband booked a campsite to Lake Wateree last night when I mentioned it to him, I’m pretty sure no one in the family is complaining.

Plan? What Plan?

Naturally, we live in the corner of the state that seemingly has the least number of parks. But hey, the two we have (Myrtle Beach State Park and Huntington Beach State Park) are absolutely breathtaking. I am NOT complaining.

But, this certainly makes the logistics of the 47 park challenge a bit more involved. Coming from New England, I’m still always shocked at how BIG South Carolina truly is. It takes us nearly 6 hours to get from Myrtle Beach to the Northwest corner of the Upstate (where MANY of the parks are located).

So, as of the date of publishing this post (January 11th) we don’t really have a firm plan. Likely, we’ll make day trips out of the parks that are within 2 hours. Those that are further away will require a campsite reservation, and we’ll try to hit multiple parks at once during those trips.

It’s Not Really About the Shirt…

Today, as we drove to our third park, Woods Bay, we headed 63 miles down a road in a direction we have never been, despite our years of living here in South Carolina. I said to Geoff that I realized one very cool and very positive outcome of tackling this challenge was not simply seeing all of the beautiful parks South Carolina has to offer, but rather, seeing parts of the state itself that we may have otherwise missed.

It’s important to me that my children learn about nature, history, and wildlife in more than just the classroom setting. And I love to see them growing into their own appreciation for the great outdoors. This challenge gives our family so many more opportunities for structured – and unstructured – outdoor experiences, rather than simply saying “go outside and play”. Which, unfortunately, doesn’t happen as often as I wish it could, due to apartment dwelling life.

Sifting through the sand for hidden treasures at Myrtle Beach State Park
My boys, participating in one of the amazing educational programs at Myrtle Beach State Park

We don’t plan to live here forever (sorry South Carolina, it’s not you, it’s me…) and when the time comes to move on, I’d love to know that we didn’t spend our years here confined to the Grand Strand. I’d love to feel as though I didn’t miss out on anything, and truly took the time to appreciate all that South Carolina has to offer, besides the coastline.

Follow Our Adventure

Whew. If you actually made it through my 1,200 word rambling about why we are tackling the Ultimate Outsider Challenge, YOU deserve a t-shirt for your accomplishment. (But I don’t have one for you, sorry.) You can follow along with our adventure my subscribing to this blog, or checking out the “Ultimate Outsider” tab on the main menu (or, just click HERE).

I can’t wait to see where 2020 takes us. Well, besides the obvious answer, “South Carolina”…

About Heather

Hi. I'm Heather. Exercise physiologist by day, adventure seeker...also by day, and sometimes night. I like: mountains, running long distances, rabbits, sleeping in tents, poking at campfires with a stick, and Gordon Lightfoot. I dislike: peanut butter, bent tent poles, sitting still for too long, and writing "about me" sections.