Aspen runner Rickey Gates runs every street in San Francisco in latest project
His home on and off for six years, Rickey Gates believed he knew San Francisco well. But as he started to run its streets, he found out he was clearly mistaken.
“I thought I had run quite a bit of it before,” Gates said, “but lo and behold I would say I had actually only run 3 or 4 percent of the city. And that’s pretty astounding to me.”
All this meant was he had plenty of exploring to do, and explore he did. Gates, who grew up in Aspen, was determined to run every single street in his adopted home. That was actually the name of his most recent project: “Every Single Street.”
When it comes to running, the 37-year-old Gates is no stranger to the bizarre. He’s run all over the world and his name will occasionally pop up in a major magazine or two. His previous “Transamericana” project saw him run across the rural South, starting in South Carolina and finishing five months later in, of all places, San Francisco. He completed that 3,600-mile journey in August 2017.
A noted trail runner, Gates decided to take his most recent project to the urban jungle.
“I thought it would be a good opportunity for me to check out urban America, kind of in the same manner,” Gates said, comparing his two recent projects. “It was cool. I visited neighborhoods I didn’t even know existed before. I visited neighborhoods I knew existed but had thought nothing of. And then I visited neighborhoods I had been to several times with a fresh pair of eyes.”
Gates said it took him 47 days — beginning Nov. 1 and ending Dec. 17 — to run every street in San Francisco. He tallied 1,300 miles on foot with almost 150,000 vertical feet of climbing. Like his previous project, which was as much about exploring the South’s culture as running, Gates wanted to experience the city as much as travel down each and every street.
“It was definitely an athletic endeavor to match the anthropological side of it,” Gates said. “On the map it’s almost a perfect square: seven miles by seven miles. The actual mileage of streets is about 1,100, and then redundancy accounts for the additional 200-plus miles — dead ends and invariably needing to do streets twice.”
Gates said he would run about 30 miles per day, which took anywhere from 10 to 12 hours. He only took two days off during that stretch, one being Thanksgiving. To save time, he would sleep in his van five nights a week to avoid the commute to and from home.
He even brought in a childhood friend, Michael Otte, another Aspen High School graduate, to help. Otte, an assistant professor for the Department of Aerospace Engineering at the University of Maryland, wrote a computer program for Gates to help determine the most efficient route through San Francisco’s streets.
“He got really excited about it, which should have been the dead giveaway that I was encountering a very challenging math problem,” Gates joked. “The logistics were definitely the most challenging part of it — figuring out how to get all of the streets done as efficiently as possible. It’s kind of funny that I hadn’t really realized how challenging that was going to be before I started, but I learned on Day 1 that it was actually very challenging.”
Gates had a more public and ceremonial finish Dec. 16, but counts the following day as his official end. This is because he still had a little bit of running to take care of.
“I knew full well that there was about two miles of random blocks throughout the city that I had missed,” Gates said. “I had to drive around to about eight different locations and go for a half-mile run or one-mile run just to clear that up.”
Having finally explored the urban environment, Gates is now itching to get back onto the trails. He plans to travel with his girlfriend to Mexico for the next few months, where he is even guiding a running expedition in Oaxaca.
When he returns, he plans to make headway on his next project, which tentatively includes running 50 “classic trails” in North America.
“It will probably take a couple of years to complete. I’m kind of organizing and pulling together both from my experience and the experience of all the other runners that I know around the country and North America,” Gates said. “It’s going to require, of course, running all of them and running quite a few more to compare and contrast.”
For more on Gates and his adventures, visit his website at http://www.rickeygates.com.
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