I snapped this photo of Rickey Gates about halfway across the Golden Gate Bridge last Tuesday as the 36-year-old runner was finishing up his “Transamericana” run across the country. I think it’s an accurate depiction of how he was feeling in that moment: tired and a bit tattered, but grateful and full of joy.
After covering over 3,600 miles in the preceding five months, Rickey was a man of relatively few words when prompted with questions about his journey. His body was thrashed, he admitted. His left ankle was injured. He was ready for a break. Nevada was the most difficult stretch. It was hot, remote and he had to carry gallons of water along with him so that he didn’t die. His diet, for the most part, was crap, but it was good enough to keep him going day after day. Chocolate milk was a staple. So were Pop Tarts. And candy, lots of candy. Most nights, he slept outside, falling asleep when he was tired and awakening when the sun came up. He thought he would write more, he told me, but he was usually too exhausted to get any words down when he was done running for the day. He ran mostly on the roads, but estimates he covered about a thousand miles worth of trail. His pack weighed roughly 12 pounds. He talked to his mom a lot and picked up care packages at “random post offices in remote places.” A big day was close to 50 miles, “shorter” ones closer to 20. “Transamericana pace” was around 11 minutes a mile, he explained—this, just mere moments before ripping a couple hundred meters at close to a 5-minute-per-mile pace when members of the West Valley Track Club rolled up on him in Golden Gate Park with a little over a mile to go.
The brevity of Rickey’s answers might come off as cagey, but it became clear to me after spending a few miles running alongside him that he was just in a weird place with it all: exhausted and ecstatic. Stoic but emotional. After over a hundred days alone on the open road, accompanied by little more than his own thoughts, he was now surrounded by family, friends and fans, many of which he’d never met prior to last week, everyone eager to know how he was feeling and what was going through his head in that very moment.
His journey was impressive and inspiring, epic by any standard. But it was also deeply personal, challenging and complicated in various ways. He’d need some time to download the past five months of cross-country travel, he said, but he was looking forward to taking the next few weeks to put his experiences into words. Those words haven’t been posted anywhere yet, but he did share a few stories on this week’s episode of Ginger Runner Live, which I recommend checking out.
As Rickey made his way toward the Pacific Ocean last Tuesday night, one could only begin to try and understand the impact it had on him—heck, he was only just beginning to process the enormity of it all himself as the sun started to set off in the distance.
“It’s going to be weeks, months and possibly years before I’m able to fully absorb what a journey like this means, what it’s done to me, what I’ve learned,” he wrote on Instagram. “But for the moment, those few seconds beneath the water will have to suffice as a distilled version of the 3657 miles behind me. It is the kindness of hundreds of people. It is suffering, fatigue, joy, pleasure, understanding, confusion and just a moment – nothing more, nothing less.”
A version of this post first appeared in the morning shakeout, my weekly email newsletter covering running, writing, media and other topics that interest me. If you’d like for it to land in your inbox first thing on Tuesday mornings, subscribe here.