I suspect that after running from Portland, Oregon to Washington, DC, I’ll never look at animal crackers the same way again.
Last November, Adam and I were at Tryst, a coffee shop in the Adams Morgan neighborhood of Washington, DC (http://www.trystdc.com/). Over Tryst’s endearing pairing of coffee and animal crackers, Adam brought up his dream of running across the country. He described his vision: a personal, likely solo journey wherein he would run about a marathon a day, meet people and talk to them along his route, and rely on the kindness of strangers for shelter. He expressed his sincere wish to connect with people in person, to seek answers to community problems over a dinner table, in a fire station, at police headquarters. He didn’t seem interested in heavily publicizing his adventure beforehand, nor did he imagine having external financial support. I asked a lot of questions: why run, how much would it cost, how long would it take. He could answer those questions to some degree, but I left thinking it all sounded a bit silly and unrealistic. And more than a little crazy.
As I drove back to Virginia that afternoon, something happened. I suddenly understood what it was that Adam wanted to do, and it started to make sense. Then I wondered if I myself would ever be capable of embarking on and completing such an adventure. Of course, there was the physical component. I’d run one marathon and other shorter races here and there, but no ultramarathons or extreme distance events. There was also the seemingly scary idea of spending four months doing this, as if it would negatively interfere with my life. But I realized that this journey and what could be gained from it would not be so much life interrupting as life changing. I started to get excited and couldn’t help but grin as I seriously contemplated jumping in on Adam’s idea. I remember shaking my head a few times, thinking it might force my mind to reset from ‘this is a great idea’ to ‘this is nuts’, but I just ended up believing both to be true. I asked Adam later that day if he would want company on his run, and in his typical humble fashion, he replied ‘well I might need it!’ (For the record, I’ve no doubt he could complete this journey on his own.)
So we began planning. We started to think about what we could accomplish during such a run. Adam has spent many years working on sustainable energy and transportation initiatives in both Portland and DC while I’ve spent my adult life in academia, where I’ve developed an interest in education policy (more about that in subsequent posts). We are both interested in governing and leadership, and we feel that our distinct backgrounds would complement one another and give us a good, broad footing for relating to and understanding problems in communities across the US. We realized that while this journey could be completed in a quiet, unpublicized way, we have the potential to reach out before we start running to begin building relationships with people in towns we hope to encounter.
Our specific goals for the run continue to evolve, and we have both enjoyed getting feedback and suggestions from other people (if you have some thoughts, please pass them along; be sure to check out our contact page). Our mission, though, hasn’t changed: to organically connect with people in their own communities across the country, to take the necessary time to listen to what Americans have to say, and to give ourselves space to brainstorm solutions to problems. Who knows, maybe we’ll even have time to enjoy some animal crackers now and then as a happy reminder of where this whole thing started.