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The 5,000 Mile Project

Posted: Aug 21, 2013 01:22 pm EDT

(By Nick Boudreau) As explorers the idea of traveling long distances over many days and weeks isn’t a foreign concept to us. Nonetheless, there are always a handful of epic adventures that stand out and David and Katharine Lowrie’s “5,000 Mile Project” is definitely a contender.


On July 28 of 2012 David and Katharine set out to run the entire length of South America. They did so not just for the adventure but to raise money for Asociacion Armonia, BirdLife International and Conservacion Patagonica to purchase, and hopefully preserve, threatened habitats in South America.


Running isn’t the only thing they do on their journey. Every day they keep track of all the wildlife they see in the air on the ground, alive or dead. The data they gather will hopefully help the efforts of conservation organizations.


ExplorersWeb caught up with the passionate environmental British running duo during one of their normal nearly marathon length daily runs to get the skinny on their project, their route, and find out about life on the road…literally.


How did you come up with the idea of running the length of South America? What was the inspiration?


The germ of the idea formed in 2009 when we were surveying seabirds in the Caribbean. We wanted to do something to raise awareness about South America’s imperiled natural world (that we all depend upon) and undertake a world first expedition.


We’re running for wildlife and wild-lands and so South America was the obvious choice for highlighting the value of intact biodiversity. The aim of the run is to connect people at home to the wild-lands of South America that we all have an impact upon. Through our daily choices we can, with small steps, help protect these amazing, but threatened wild-places.


We both love running. It allows us to travel at the right speed, whilst submersing ourselves in the landscape. Whilst running we count bird and animal species and road kill! We’re free to run at our own pace and can make decent distances, 20 to 25 miles per day, and watch the landscape gradually change around us. Hundreds of people have cycled the continent but no one has run it in this way before. We’ve also found that running with our homemade, recycled trailer, has opened doors and afforded us unique opportunities to discover the relationship between local communities and the natural world around them.


How did you train for running the equivalent of 200 marathons back to back?


Ha, it´s funny. The first step was to learn to run again!! We love running but are not trained athletes. We soon realized you can`t really train for this by just putting in miles, the endurance comes with the event. More importantly we needed to learn how to make sure we could make the distance whilst protecting our joints from the extreme wear and tear, and to do that we needed to learn to run using the “barefoot running technique”. So we trained for 3 months with the virtual help of our coach in the UK, sending horribly embarrassing videos via Dropbox until we got it more or less right!


What have been some of the major unexpected hurdles you've had to overcome over the previous 4,000 miles?


We underestimated the demands of pulling the trailer which really changes things. The grind of living by the roadside in some pretty dodgy areas at times. The equivalent of a daily marathon is hard, but to then have to find a hidden place to camp, avoiding human problems and crime, living with our gear being chewed up by ants and being stung by wasps…it´s the little stuff!!


One other thing, psychologically the long straight roads of Argentina were tough, too. Side winds, low desert scrub, seemingly endless stretches without a curve. It´s hard to gauge your progress when the conditions and terrain are like that. The GPS watch helps! 


But even whilst hour to hour can be really tough, in the long-term, we have never considered it an option to stop the expedition, as long as our feet will carry us. We’re also indebted to trusts: David de Rothschild’s Sculpt the Future Foundation, Ranulph Fiennes´ Transglobe Expedition Trust, the John Muir Trust and all our sponsors.


What will it be like to run through the Amazon?


Great question, but no idea! Nobody has ever done this before! This is the stretch we have been obsessively looking forward to for months as it offers the best chance of running with the rainforests iconic species, endangered mammals, tropical birds. The miles pass easily when you share it with wild things!!!


We are researching the best we can via satellite images and local contacts but in reality we will only know when we get to the really remote stretches! We already know about the challenges of running in extreme heat and humidity so that won´t be new, and of the flora and fauna we will be living with. In fact one hope is it may be easier as there should at least be some tree-cover some of the way (much of the last 1000 mile´s deforestation has left us very exposed to sun).


But it will be a challenge as there are some key aspects we don’t know about yet, such as how much of it will be thick mud, the effect of local weather, tribes, police, black market trade, illegal loggers, narcotic traffic, robbers, etc.   Any kit failure when we are in the middle and 11 days run away from any help, would be a real problem, but we are mostly prepared for that.


There is also the fact we will be running with 3 weeks of food supplies and probably a decent water reserve in case of a few dry stretches. We drink 20 liters a day between us, and it is impossible to predict when it will arrive on the route (or from the sky!). We will be carrying two trailers to cope with the extra weight, and plan to donate one to local people once the food is exhausted.


If you had to point out one favorite place you've passed through these months, where would that be and why?


The most beautiful landscape goes to southern Chile, towering, snow-capped mountains, teal glacier-melt rivers and tangled temperate rainforest!


Anything else you want to share?


Sometimes people like to hear about what it is like on the road, something like, ‘What reaction have you had from people you meet on the way?’


We’re meeting everyone, as our office is the roadside, from the most humble of road-sweepers, to the world’s largest landowners. Typically, we pass thousands of people every day, generally with good-humoured waves and hoots. A shop-keeper refused to allow us to pay and then invited us to dine with him; whilst a homeowner threatened us with guns. People don’t know what to make of us. They’ve never seen anything like it before. “Where is your bike?”  they ask. We’ve been invited to give interviews on television and radio stations, yet two miles later have been shooed off the road and treated like tramps. The simplest of goat herders shared the few mouthfuls of food his family had with us, yet two nights later a landowner prevented us from camping under a tree on his land because our nationality offended him, as anti-English sentiment in Argentina runs high. Living so visibly has been one of the most charming and yet at times one of the most unwelcomed factors we face.


Since our interview with David and Katharine have now made it most of the way through the Brazilian rainforest, nearing the Venezuela border. Visit their daily blog for today’s latest phonecasts and a map of their progress.


Related Links:


5,000 Mile Project Facebook


5,000 Mile Project Twitter


5,000 Mile Project YouTube


#Trek #5000mileproject #southamerica #conservation #wildlife #world #DavidandKatharineLowrie

The wildlife along the way
courtesy 5,000 Mile Project, SOURCE
Not so usual neighbors
courtesy 5,000 Mile Project, SOURCE
The roads aren't always paved
courtesy 5,000 Mile Project, SOURCE
How to run 5,000-plus miles with a trailer
courtesy 5,000 Mile Project, SOURCE
What ants can do to your trailer
courtesy 5,000 Mile Project, SOURCE