Running, at Age 72, from England to Nepal

“In Germany in the forest, I came across a guy lying on the path and it was quite obvious he was dying. He absolutely had nothing and he was crying and unhappy. I didn’t know what to do because I was not in touch with anybody, as my phone wasn’t working … I held him, I held him for about an hour, he was beyond help and he just died in my arms.”

From the border of Serbia, veteran — very veteran — British adventurer Rosie Swale-Pope is recounting her most profound experience thus far on her 10,000km run from Brighton, England to Kathmandu, Nepal.

At 72 years old, when most people have hung up their running shoes for good, or at best manage a slow shuffle round the local park, the loquacious grandmother has embraced another major adventure.

She started last July, pulling food, fuel, stove, sleeping gear, clothing and solar panels to recharge electronics in a special carbon fibre cart that she nicknamed Ice Chick. To minimize weight, she sources fresh fruit and vegetables on the go.

Ice Chick is more than a vessel to transport equipment. It’s also Swale-Pope’s home each night. She parks the cart on any bit of land she can find, except parking lots and private property, and unfurls her sleeping bag inside. Now and then, she spends a night in a hotel to refresh.

Despite the vulnerability that comes with being a single older women on the road, Swale-Pope’s vast travel experience has given her a philosophical outlook on the dangers. “Security comes from being vulnerable and learning how to adapt to it,” she says.

No doubt her ability to adapt developed during her many previous adventures, when she dealt with naked men with guns, a man jumping out of a tree with an axe, raging rivers and -60°C near the Bering Sea, to name a few.

The Ice Chick as personal hotel. Photo: Rosie Swale-Pope

Swale-Pope took up running in her fifties. After losing her husband to prostate cancer, she ran 32,000km through Europe, Russia, Siberia, Alaska, Canada, America, Greenland and Iceland between 2002-7. In 2015, she ran 5,400km from New York to San Francisco. In 1984, she rode solo across Chile on horseback; in 1971, she sailed around the world with her first husband, and in 1983 she sailed solo across the Atlantic in a cutter she found in a cowshed. Whew!

This latest adventure to Nepal originally started as a journey to Berlin to meet her book publishers, but after gentle encouragement from Phase Worldwide — a charity which supports health, education and livelihoods in remote parts of Nepal — she decided to continue onward to Kathmandu. Remarkably, this came less than a year after Swale-Pope broke her hip in December, 2017.

Swale-Pope doesn’t tote many luxuries. For a while, she carried a plant in memory of an old friend who had recently lost a loved one, before gifting it to an old couple she met along the way. Her latest companion is a toy rabbit, but she won’t keep it much longer, “The toy rabbit will go to a kid, as soon as I see a sad kid,” she says.

On the move. Photo: Mateusz Jedrzejewski

Such a journey might seem at the limit of someone who admits that she’s poor athletically and is reaching her twilight years, but she doesn’t see it that way. “What’s the recipe for my energy?” she says. “Partly, I’m lazy  and self-indulgent. I do things for joy because I love them, not to test my limits or to be unhappy. I do it to be happy.” Hinting that it isn’t easy physically, she adds, “My legs have a short memory.”

The journey hasn’t been continuous. She takes breaks to see her children and grandchildren, and she’s even jetted to China to give a paid talk, to help keep her finances afloat, before returning once more to Ice Chick and the hard miles ahead.

“I’m very lucky. I’ve had life after life after life. More than any cat or kitten.” Photo: Mateusz Jedrzejewski

From Berlin, Swale-Pope headed south through the Czech Republic and into Hungary, her current location. Shortly, she will cross the border into Serbia, then down through Bulgaria, Turkey and across the Caspian Sea. From here, onward through the Stans, before visiting less fortunate school children in Kashmir and Nepal, and perhaps even meeting Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, before finishing in Kathmandu.

Swale-Pope seems to have gained confidence in life from her early hard times. Born in Switzerland, she was orphaned as a child and raised by her grandmother. “I’ve lost many, many people in my life. We were very poor when I was a kid. My grandmother couldn’t walk but she gave me the space of the wide horizons in my mind. All I can tell you is that I’m really happy.”


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