Alice (Presley) Bodnar thought her path was laid out in front of her when she was studying chemistry at Missouri State.
Little did she know that path would eventually become a hiking trail.
Her career changes have taken her from the lab to the law — and now to the latest tech.
She is one of the founders of the first-ever long-distance trail app, FarOut by FarOut Guides.
It’s currently the Apple App Store’s most popular app for long-distance hiking.
Becoming a chemist in Temple Hall
Bodnar grew up in Fayetteville, Arkansas, and wanted to branch out to a college away from her hometown.
With aid of the Presidential Scholarship to entice her, she chose Missouri State University.
“It was 110 miles up the road from where I grew up,” Bodnar said. “I just wanted to get out of town, but Missouri State ended up meaning so much more to me.”
She earned her bachelor’s degree in chemistry with an emphasis in biochemistry. The fourth floor of Temple Hall holds fond memories for Bodnar — she spent hours studying there.
“One of my favorite classes at Missouri State was organic chemistry with Dr. Tamera Jahnke (dean of the College of Natural and Applied Sciences). She had an impact on my path after graduation, for the better.”
Jahnke remembers Bodnar as an outstanding student: “She excelled in the classroom and in the laboratory. I knew her future was bright, but I had no idea all of the adventures that were ahead of her.”
Going from test tubes, to torts, to trails
One summer, Bodnar completed an undergraduate fellowship at the University of California-Irvine. There, she met her college sweetheart.
“My now-husband, Paul, was a graduate student,” Bodnar said. “We decided to date long distance.”
After graduation, she attended UC Irvine for graduate studies in organic chemistry.
In the meantime, Paul graduated with his master’s degree and made the decision to solo-hike the 2,650-mile Pacific Crest Trail.
“That was the beginning of everything.”
Bodnar completed her master’s degree in 1998. She and Paul then moved to Kalamazoo, Michigan, to work as medicinal chemists for the pharmaceutical company Pfizer, then called Pharmacia & Upjohn. After six years, they had to make a tough decision when the company shut down its program in Kalamazoo.
“It ended up working out to leave Pfizer because I always wanted to be a lawyer, and Paul wanted to try his hand as an entrepreneur,” Bodnar said.
The couple took this time to have a whirlwind of an adventure: They dedicated an entire year to traveling the United States. They hiked through national parks, visited friends and lived out of their car.
In 2005, Alice got into law school. She and Paul moved back to the West Coast so she could attend the University of California, Berkeley, and study environmental law.
Bodner earned her Juris Doctor degree in 2008. She landed a job working on renewable energy projects.
“It was gratifying work, but incredibly stressful,” Bodnar said.
“After doing that for four years, I knew big law was not for me. So, I decided to rethink my career path.”
That spring, she and her husband hiked the Pacific Crest Trail from Mexico to Canada. It was her first time, and Paul’s third, on this journey.
In 2012, Paul and friend Ryan Linn put a tech spin on their passion for hiking: They developed and released the first app to function as a trail guide.
Writing an app that became a career
Shortly following the app’s release, Bodnar set her sights on developing it for the Android operating system.
She had no previous experience in doing this, and had to learn everything on her own.
“I got this monstrous 600-page book about how to write an Android app, and I just did the whole thing,” she said.
The process took her seven months and a lot of elbow grease.
In 2013, Bodnar published FarOut for Android.
“After that, I wasn’t sure what to do with my life,” she said. “I thought about going back to the world of law, but decided to work on this new app project.”
Now, 10 years later, she serves as general counsel and chief operating officer for FarOut Guides.
Growing the world of FarOut
The FarOut app can be used on long-distance trails around the world.
It contains data such as key waypoints and alternate routes. It uses your device’s internal GPS display to show your location on a map and guide you along the route.
It also informs users of water locations, trail junctions, railroad crossings and nearby towns. This is critical: Hikers must replenish supplies regularly.
The app has a community of users who let others know about trail conditions.
FarOut Guides gets larger each year. They now have roughly 10 employees and 30 partners who collaborate to produce guides for more than 150 trails. The business is frequently sought out by new trail organizations.
It has also expanded to include some guides for rafting, paddling and “bikepacking,” which is part backpacking and part all-terrain cycling.
“We’re basically involved in any and all long-distance adventures,” Bodnar said.
At first, the app included information based on the Bodnars’ personal experiences.
“Paul and I contributed knowledge for the Pacific Crest Trail and Ryan (Linn) hiked the Appalachian Trail. But now, we work with nonprofit partners, guidebook authors and publishers, and that takes a lot of work off our plate.”
The couple are starting to dream about having more time away from work. They have plans to sail and travel around the world.
“I love my job. I am looking forward to eventually winding down, but for now I’m happy to continue building this business,” she said. “It’s incredibly different from being a scientist or a lawyer.”
Applying lessons from all of her careers
Alice is grateful for the education she received at Missouri State. She was able to make lifelong friends and begin the first stretch of her three-career journey.
“Missouri State launched me on my career to become a chemist. The chemistry department was a fantastic program with a warm community of professors and students.”
Bodnar still makes use of her MSU knowledge.
“When I’m trying to go to sleep, I’ll sometimes do organic chemistry mechanisms in my head, so that I don’t forget,” she said.
Being a chemist provided problem-solving skills and taught her how to think things through.
Being a lawyer taught her to stand up for what she believes in.
“You never know what’s going to happen on any given day. I really like that about working at FarOut Guides. This is the longest I’ve ever stayed in a job — it’s been 10 years now. And I just love the ever-changing nature,” Bodnar said. “Without my previous job experiences, there’s no way I could do what I’m doing now.”