With momentous experiences there are often elements of planning, execution and reflection. When that experience entails something epic like running more than 3,600 miles across the country, alone, as Rickey Gates did for his five-month “Transamericana” journey, planning is essential, execution becomes your sole purpose and reflections last a lifetime. We sat down with Gates on the final day of his run across America to begin to put the trip into perspective.
Looking back at your journey, would you do anything differently?
“Not really. I was curious about the route and the people the entire time. I enjoyed going through Colorado because it’s my home. I wanted to finish in California, but I was pretty familiar with everything here. I would like to have explored more, but I feel like I did a good job with the timeline. It was hot in the desert, but it was going to be hot somewhere. Running in 105-degree temperatures in Utah with no humidity was better than 105 degrees with 90 percent humidity in Arkansas or Oklahoma.”
It may be way too soon to ask, but would you do another large project like this again one day?
“I was thinking about that today. If I were to do something like this again, I would go north to south on the East Coast. The people were the most interesting thing about this whole trip to me. When you’re going through the desert, it’s more of a physical and mental challenge. I did it. And I could do it again. But what drives me is getting to know people, and the East Coast has a lot of people.”
Was there one thing that blew you away, that you didn’t’ expect to see?
“It’s a very long list. For example, I didn’t know where the Ozarks were before this trip, so to see how beautiful they were was amazing. I saw a bunch of little cities, I never would have gone through, like Tulsa, Oklahoma, with it’s beautiful art deco architecture, and the incredible history and food of Memphis, Tennessee. In Memphis, I ran with friends of friends and we hit two breweries, three restaurants, including the most amazing fried chicken place I’ve ever been to, hit Sun Studios and the National Civil Rights Museum.
“Was I surprised by it? No because these were things I couldn’t possibly anticipate. I tried to go into this without a whole lot of preconceptions.”
Does any single exchange stand out as epitomizing your reaffirmation of all that is good about your fellow Americans?
Affirming exchanges were a daily thing. I had positive interactions with people every single day.
What were the common questions people asked you in your interactions?
“What are you going to do when you get there? How are you going to get home? Why are you doing this? There were also Forrest Gump comments, but not as many as I expected.”
In reflecting upon the journey, do any realizations or life lessons come to mind?
“No big life lessons, but a reminder of the importance of empathy and patience. We all are taught how to be good people, but it’s good to be out there practicing it.”
A questioned posed in one of your early films was, “What’s the point?” So, besides learning more about the country, what was the point of this journey for you?
“It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a while. I’ve always been interested in anthropology and the study of people, photography and portrait photography. This was a good fit.”
“A lot of people are asking, ‘What’s it all about?’ And I’m still too much in the middle of it to say. It is what it is. There are many parallels with Forrest Gump that I do think about often. People asked his character, ‘Why are you doing this?’ And he was, ‘I just felt like doing it!’ It’s pretty simple.”
As you’ve gotten towards the end of Transamericana, you’ve had more company on your runs and been around more people and commotion in daily life. How’s reintegration going for you?
“It’s been a challenge. You get very used to quiet time, even if it isn’t exactly quiet. Running along the Coastal Trail, I could hear dogs barking on Stinson Beach and the waves crashing 1,000 feet below, but the three friends I was with were chatting and shuffling and couldn’t hear it, at least at first. I was like, ‘Well you aren’t being quiet enough!’
“I hope to carry that forward into normal life, being more quiet, being comfortable with quiet moments between people, listening to birds, even hearing the sound of the power tools across the street. It’s fine by me, I love all that. It’s just sound.”
Besides the quiet, what’s something you’re going to miss about Transamericana and what’s something you’re glad to see go?
“I’ll miss having a very simple, singular purpose every day, waking up and knowing what I need to do. And I’m glad that I can wake up and know that my purpose isn’t running every day. It’s exhausting. My body hurts. It’s nice to know I’m going to be able to take a little rest now.”