on the run

Rickey Gates Is Running’s Renaissance Man

The Aspen native shares his epic journey across the country through photos and essays in a compelling new book.

By Allison Pattillo July 2, 2020 Published in the Summer/Fall 2020 issue of Aspen Sojourner

Rickey Gates during his run across America 

Most professional runners, well, run. They also focus on recovery and, perhaps, a running-centric side business. But a pro competitor’s primary job is to train, toe the line at races, and, ideally, earn a spot on the podium.

Not so for Aspen native Rickey Gates. Yes, the Salomon-sponsored runner has stood on many a podium, but he also integrates his zeal for exploring on two feet with filmmaking, photography, writing, leading adventure tours, skiing, cycling, and being an all-around curious soul, eager to strike up insightful conversations.

In 2017, that curiosity led Gates on the adventure of a lifetime. He spent five months running across the United States, from Folly Beach, South Carolina, to San Francisco. (That’s a relatively leisurely pace; the record for running cross-country, set in 2016, is 42 days.) For Gates, who mostly ran alone, the point was not only the challenge of covering the miles but also discovering new locations, meeting other people, and taking photographs along the way.

This past spring, Gates released his first book, Cross Country: A 3,700-Mile Run to Explore Unseen America (Chronicle Books). A companion feature-length film is slated for late-fall distribution.

From the start, he knew that he wanted to make something larger out of the journey. “Setting out with that mentality put the experience under a magnifying glass and made it richer,” he says.

“It all came together as a very visual representation, which is something I really wanted, and putting what this experience is actually like into words was also important to me,” adds Gates, who posted details on Instagram as he went. The book also addresses his preparation and recovery, which included reintegrating into “normal” life.

More than reflecting on his run as one monumental achievement, Gates prefers to honor the smaller elements: “The question becomes, ‘How are we making these individual moments as grand as running across the country?’”

Since wrapping up his transcontinental journey, Gates remains on the move. He introduced the Every Single Street project by running all of San Francisco’s roads in 2018 and is now doing the same in his new hometown, Santa Fe. There’s his ongoing goal to run 50 classic North American trails, and last year he launched Bus Run Bus, in which a couple dozen like-minded runners travel together by chartered bus, exploring stunning places by day and driving by night (this year’s trip has, unfortunately, been canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic). 

With his book tour also delayed, Gates hopes to be in town later this summer when he is slated to host, with Aspen Alpine Guides, the seventh year of his Hut Run Hut, a six-day, 100-mile backcountry adventure from Aspen to Vail. Catch him if you can.

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