Aspen runner Rickey Gates completes his Transamericana journey
For the past five months, Aspen native Rickey Gates has had one singular purpose, a lone objective to accomplish any given day, and that was to carry on. There was simplicity to life on the road, the trivialities of life in the civilized world a universe away.
Now, as Gates hangs out in San Francisco trying to re-adjust to normal life, he finds himself looking back on all that happened, just as he did every day along the way.
“I’m trying to figure out how to process this trip,” Gates said in a phone interview with The Aspen Times earlier this week. “At the end of every day, I looked back on where I started that day and all the people I met and the things I saw and my lows and my highs, so every single day is packed with adventure and you have a pretty clear purpose.”
Gates, 36, began his odyssey on March 1 in South Carolina. The idea behind his “Transamericana” trip, as he labeled it, was to explore parts of the United States he’s never visited, and do it on foot and as cheaply as possible. Gates is an accomplished professional runner and has seen much of the world because of the sport, but felt he didn’t know his own country as well as he should.
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So, five months ago, he set off in exploration of his own backyard. He made his way through parts of the South, across the plains, and eventually had a short pit stop at home in Aspen the first week of June.
That’s when things really became difficult, as between him and his finish line in California were the vast deserts of Utah and Nevada.
“It was pretty brutal. To be honest, I didn’t give it much thought going into the desert, like what I was going to have to deal with,” Gates said. “If I had given it a lot of thought, I may have worried about it a whole lot more. But I figured it out. It was pretty great. I had to carry three gallons of water with me.”
For a long stretch from Moab to Hanksville, Utah, Gates used a golf pushcart to carry the water. Then, thanks to a friend many states away, acquired a “baby jogger” stroller, which he used for roughly the next 600 miles, until he was able to shed the unwanted baggage when he entered the Sierra Nevada mountains.
“So much of the trip was about meeting people. I was definitely meeting people in the desert, but it was much more of an internal dialogue going on there,” Gates said. “That third little bit going into that fourth bit, you are exhausted and worn down. For all of those reasons, it was pretty amazing.”
The trip officially ended Aug. 1 in San Francisco, exactly five months to the day from the start. Gates said the journey totaled roughly 3,600 miles.
Was it worth it? Totally, said Gates.
“I wanted to meet as many people as possible around the United States. I wanted to do all these really cool trails,” he said. “For whatever strange reason, I wanted to do it in five months. I wanted to do it on a limited budget, and yeah, I accomplished all of these things. So I’m super psyched with how everything worked out. I was really happy with the following it got along the way.”
Gates wanted his “Transamericana” adventure to be something any average person could replicate, saying there was nothing “super human” about what he did. He will briefly return to Aspen in a few weeks, where he will guide a few hut-to-hut running trips in September. Then, it’s back to San Francisco in search of his next step in life.
“I’d love to put some sort of media out there for it, ideally in printed form. Just working on this,” Gates said of his short-term goals. “We’ll see what’s next. I think maybe I’ll get into swimming here in San Francisco. I think that’s a pretty good edge of the world activity to do.”
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Herman is the freestyle skiing winner of the Summit Daily’s Peak Performers project, which honors the greatest athletes and most influential figures in Summit county ski and snowboard history.