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The last day of my 17,000km Americas run was surreal. I had run for 16-and-a-half months, crossing two continents, through 14 different countries and on the last day I had a mere 20km of running through Buenos Aires to my finish line. My adventure had taken me across mountain ranges, through deserts and tested me in so many different weather conditions, but today I would be running through the hustle and bustle of Argentina’s beautiful capital city. Brightly-coloured markets, quiet residential streets, vast cemeteries with magnificently grand tombs, parks with children playing and tourists aimlessly ambling along replaced the long open road. For so long I had been the master of my daily route but here one way streets and traffic lights dictated my journey through the bustling metropolis.
I had been lucky for most of my running adventure – the little niggle here, the small sprain there, but nothing to stop my progress. Today I realised that my mind had been holding things together. My sheer determination to finish had masked an array of aches and pains that were all coming to the surface. My stroller, that had carried my life for over a year, was desperately trying to hold itself together. The wheels scuffed against half stuck stickers as they wobbled on their axel. Every scrap, dent and scratch had a story to tell and brought back vivid memories.
But what surprised me most on this day is that sadness I felt. I had been alone on the open road for so many months dreaming about arriving at the finish line where my girlfriend would be waiting. The idea of seeing her again and returning home to my family and friends had been a massive motivator for me, but now that the finish line was within touching distance the harsh reality of how finite this was hit me. I had grown to love the solitude of the wide expanses, the continuous challenge of new obstacles and constantly surprising myself with new personal achievements. Every day I had one objective – to run south – but tomorrow that would all be gone. The sense of unknown in my life was going to be replaced with the familiar, the humdrum, the norm.
The last day turned into a series of flash backs from the trip that was fast approaching its finish line. I started trying to answer the questions I knew I was going to be asked. Most of these were easy – I had worn through 17 pairs of shoes, raised £25,000 pounds for charity – but then there were the bigger questions. What had I learnt? Where was the best place I had run through? Who was the most interesting person I had met? Who was the kindest person? 16 and a half months of experiences were going to have to be condensed into digestible sound bites. Each time I reflected back on an event it made me nostalgic. The big experiences like running across the Andes or the Atacama Desert seemed to be as good memories as camping behind a bus on the side of a highway. The first hospitality I received in the US seemed so comparable to that which I received in the deserts of northern Peru..
This journey had been experienced on two levels. There was the physical journey in which I had to develop a routine that would ensure I would finish. The main component of this was to treat each and every day as this was my job. If I quit the adventure I would be forced back to the office and that was something that drove me forward every day. The daily routine was simple when on the road and in the wilderness. Wake up, pack up, carb up and go! Each morning was nearly exactly the same no matter where I was but the small local differences made it special. One day I might be eating breakfast whilst whale watching and on others I might be watching the sun rise over an open desert. The running would then follow. I would set me self little goals throughout the day, like reaching a certain village or to a tree I would see in the distance. On special days there would be archaeological points of interest that would spur me on. Not a day went by without a challenge. The key daily differentiator for me was the people. No matter where you are in the populated world you are almost certainly going to meet a character. It could be a fellow adventurer, a local business man or a hospitable family. You learn quickly that our perceptions of places and people can very quickly be proved wrong. If you are being positive then people will gravitate towards you.
The second level of the journey was the one within. When I made the decision to undertake this adventure I was wearing a suit, sitting at a desk staring at a computer. Excitement and adventure seemed impossibly far away. Up until this point I had been living a life I thought was expected of me that was purely motivated by money and acceptance. At this point I did not know just how dramatically this expedition was going to transform my life. I was going to leave behind a world of stress and commotion and find my peace in the wide open expanses of some of the most spectacular wilderness. However as I weaved through the streets of Buenos Aires, I realised that the transformation that had taken place on this expedition was not about to abruptly end – this was just the beginning. The feeling of freedom and tranquillity I had discovered within as going to be what defined me in all my pursuits going forward.
As I crossed the finish line and embraced my girlfriend and high fived well-wishers my mind spun into action – this was not the finish line; this was the start of a new adventure. When you have achieved something that everyone has told you is not possible, a whole new world of opportunities opens up. You think back to all the things you previously thought were impossible and reappraise their feasibility. The word ‘can’t’ is banished from your mind and ‘how’ takes its place. When I crossed that finish line and prepared to go home, I realised that my return was going to be nothing more than entering the planning stage of my next expedition. Life would continue its course but adventure would be at its heart!
What the next adventure will be remains to be decided. Since I have been back I have been dismantling the remains of my old life and started building the foundations of a new happier one. A large proportion of my time on the road was spent dreaming of all the things I could achieve. Now I have to look at the best possible way to action each and every one. But for me adventuring is split into three phases. Firstly there is the planning and logistics (an area I like to keep to a minimum), secondly the doing and then thirdly, and most importantly, the sharing. People who have the freedom and resources to explore have an obligation to share those experiences and hopefully inspire others.
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