“Given a chance, people can be very generous”
Englishman Rob Pope ran across America 4 3/4 times, retracing Forrest Gump’s route. Here are a few highlights from his 15,000-mile jog.
When I reached the Woods Memorial Bridge in Beaufort, South Carolina, people from a local running club acted as extras to help recreate the scene from Forrest Gump, and a film crew came out to record it. By that time, my beard had grown out and I looked just like the character in the movie.
Finding a Friend
It was a lovely day, and I was running down a tree-lined road in Newhope, Arkansas. I saw something lying in the middle of the road just ahead of me. I thought it was a coyote or baby deer. Then, the thing got up and started wagging its tail and running toward me: It was a dog, most likely a cross between a shar-pei and a Labrador. Back home in Liverpool, I’m a vet and I could tell she was very thin and probably had mange. But she followed me on my run that day for another five or so miles. I called local animal agencies, but no one had reported her missing. I took her to a local vet, who treated her and gave her shots, and helped place her with a family in Massachusetts. I named her Hope, after the town.
Baseball, Beer and Turkey
I’m a Brit, and people were eager to share American traditions with me. In Chicago, I was taken to my first-ever baseball game: the Cubs against the Cardinals at Wrigley Field. Baseball seems like an excellent diversion to accompany drinking. A few months later, a fellow veterinarian flew me from St. Louis to Atlanta so I could experience my first Thanksgiving dinner with his family. It’s a brilliant American tradition, and I was able to take in my usual 5,000 to 6,000 calories that day—this time without being the only one! (I eat that much every day.) I flew straight back to St. Louis after skipping only two days of running and felt great.
Snow and Ice
I never skipped a run because of weather, but I had a few close calls. Last January, two inches of snow fell on me when I ran across Death Valley—one of the hottest places on Earth. It was pretty surreal, and I felt quite lucky to experience something so unusual. On the other end of the spectrum, summer in Alabama (where I started the run, like Forrest) was absolutely brutal. It was so hot I had to drink 10 liters of water a day.
Strangers I met came to my rescue more than once. Near St. Louis, the frame broke on the running stroller I pushed for most of the run. I used it to transport everything—clothes, sleeping kit, tent, food and water. And I had nowhere to stay that night in the freezing temps. But at the local restaurant, a guy I met fixed the frame and let me stay at his house. Given a chance, people can be very generous.
Rob Pope runs to raise money and awareness for Peace Direct and the World Wildlife Fund. He finishes his journey this spring; goingthedistancerun.com