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What it’s really like to do a Forrest Gump

by Headspace

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At the beginning of 2015, we interviewed Jamie Ramsay on Radio Headspace, who, on August 15, 2014, set off on an 18,500 km run from Vancouver to Buenos Aires. When we interviewed him, he was in Manzanillo, Mexico, having traveled 4,700 km by foot in a little over five months. As we approach the the one year point of his remarkable expedition, we’re as intrigued as ever about his journey. Here he answers our questions about time, discovery and humanity.

Where in the world are you?

As I write this I am sitting in a hostel in Quito, Ecuador, preparing to finish my first stint in the Andes.

How far have you run and how far do you have to go?

So far I have run about 10,600 km which has taken me from Canada through the whole of North and Central America and into the beginning of the South American stage of my adventure. I have three more countries to run through (Peru, Chile and Argentina) and in that time I will need to cross the Sechura Desert, the Atacama Desert and the Andes.

Does having such a singular focus makes time feel like it passes more quickly or slowly?

I can’t believe I have been on the road for such a long time. It feels like no time at all. When you don’t have the usual structure of “normal” life then time isn’t such an issue. Obviously I’m missing time with my girlfriend, friends and family, but when you put that aside, what is time? My main concern is seasons, not time.

Have you always been a big traveler?

Traveling has always been something I enjoy but not something I have done nearly enough of. Every chance I get I try and visit new countries and experience new things but I fear traveling is an appetite I can’t possibly fulfill, and to be honest, that is the great thing about it. The list of places to visit and things to do is never-ending.

What were you doing before you embarked on this adventure?

I was a partner at an International Communications Agency in London. Originally I did try to leave my job but my company very kindly took the time to listen to what I wanted to achieve and then put in place a sabbatical that would give me the option to return to work. This was something they didn’t have to do and proactively put together for me. I am very grateful to them for giving me that flexibility.

How long did it take you to decide to do this and what were your hesitations?

I think we all have dreams that may seem unrealistic and we manage to convince ourselves that they are not achievable. After an unplanned running experience in Vietnam, I decided that I wanted to do something that involved traveling, adventure, running and charity, but I didn’t know what it was. Over time, I conceived this particular expedition. I started discussing it with close friends and family, expecting them to talk me out of such a ridiculous notion, but no one did. Quite to my surprise everyone gave me their full support and that motivated me to move forward with the project. Obviously, aspects of the expedition changed, but the whole thing started to become more of a reality. As it did, a lot of the obstacles I thought were in my way started to break down and all of a sudden I was in an office with my boss explaining what I wanted to do.

What’s been the biggest challenge?

The amount of admin work that needs to be done after a day of running. This is all to try and raise more money for my chosen charities. When I’m physically drained it can be hard to engage the mind and do the computer-based element of the journey, like my blog, photos, films and trying to raise the profile of my expedition.

What’s the biggest discovery you’ve made?

I think the realization that I have not been a very happy person over the last few years. When you have time to step away from your everyday life and analyze your actions, you can come upon some pretty disturbing things. Discovery is only the first step – next comes the hard bit of making longstanding decisions that will effect positive change in how I live my life.

How does the reality of running all day every day differ from your expectations?

I am enjoying this expedition even more than I thought was possible. So many of the original worries such as not being fit enough, coping with loneliness or having the right mental capabilities to see it through have fallen away and been replaced by a new confidence that motivates me to keep going forward.

Are you still able to get as excited about the trip as you were when you first set off?

Every day is so different and you have to use and develop new skills to deal with what is thrown your way. In America I was adapting to running a marathon every day, in Mexico it was coping with a different language. Now that I am in South America it is about adapting to mountain ranges and preparing for deserts and new weather conditions. It’s like having the best job in the world.

Has having so much alone time changed the patterns of your thoughts?

I’m not sure it’s the time that makes the difference – I think it’s the distance. I think I am quite an impulsive person and don’t necessarily think things through enough. Being at a distance allows me to think about a certain situation and then make the right decision.

Has there ever been a time that you thought you wouldn’t be able to go on?

I really thought there would be times when I would pull up and just think, no, I can’t continue, but in all honesty that hasn’t happened. I think I have created little targets that keep me hungry for more. As I sit here I am dreaming about running past volcanoes in Ecuador, crossing the Atacama Desert in Chile and confronting the imposing reality of the Andes. These are challenges that I am determined to overcome. I believe we can all do so much more than we think, but before I get out there and preach that I need to prove it to myself.

What have you learned about yourself over the course of this run?

I think I am learning that life shared is better than living in my own little bubble. I am someone who only lets people in so far and I have started opening up a little more. I have to admit, it’s a rewarding experience.

What are the top three ways in which the things you experience when traveling by foot differ from traveling any other way?

1. Being on foot means that your journey is determined by a very set parameter – how far you can travel in a day. This means your destinations are chosen for you rather than you following the path most travelled. I meet so many travelers who jump from tourist destination to tourist destination and miss all the great parts of a country that lie in between. Some of my best experiences have come from just turning up in a town. It also means you are constantly surprised by the unknown rather than disappointed by an expectation.

2. Because I am alone and on foot I only travel during the day and this means I see everything. The last 250 km were amazingly beautiful and so rewarding. When I arrived at the hostel, I asked someone what they thought and they said they got a night bus and slept through it all.

3. The faster you travel, the less detail you see, smell and hear. If you want to get the real experience, take things slowly, savor them and they will make longer lasting impressions.

What have you learned about humanity on this trip?

I have traveled through 10 different countries on this expedition alone and the thing that jumps out is that people all essentially want the same thing and are inherently good. There is hardly a day that goes by without someone coming forward and asking if they can help. Help may be in the form of a bed to sleep in or just a word of encouragement, but the sentiment is the same. People want to socially interact and help. There is no hiding from the fact that we get a positive feeling from helping others.

What advice would you give someone who’d like to take up a challenge?

Don’t let your own fears be the thing that stops you doing something amazing. All obstacles can be overcome but you may need to ask for help.

What are you going to do next?

That is the big question. I still have the opportunity to go back to my job and continue to work in financial communications. I think a main focus for me will be settling down and doing some of the normal things in life. I’m going to move in with my girlfriend and start looking forward to the future. Will this be the last expedition? I don’t think so, but I think I would like to do the next one with someone rather than alone.


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