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Two to Say Go 

The woman who would bike the length of North and South America, and the man who's running around the world

Wednesday, Nov 15 2000
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On June 1, Chrystine Roy, a 29-year-old occupational therapist from Quebec, rose from her sleeping bag and gazed over the sparkling, hard-packed tundra she had waited five long years to see. Quietly, she broke camp, packed her bicycle and nearly 90 pounds of equipment (bare essentials that left no room for luxuries even as small as a personal CD player), and looked, again, over the Arctic Circle, just a simple marker in the middle of a seemingly infinite, shimmering nowhere.

Roy smiled and turned her bike south.

"So far, that was the greatest moment of the trip," says Roy in a French Canadian accent streaked with sun. Never mind that fewer than 40 miles later, Roy's 5-foot, 6-inch body was sprawled out across Alaska's Dalton Highway, a mess of curly hair, blood, sand, spokes, and soft gravel. Coming downhill, Roy had hit a spongy spot in the road and flipped over her handlebars, landing on her head with enough impact to break her helmet. For 15 minutes Roy lay in the dirt, helpless, feeling her collar bone protruding from her flesh.

"I decided it was a test," says Roy, "not a sign."

When a car finally arrived, the driver was afraid to move Roy, thinking she had broken her neck; an airplane flew her 300 miles to the hospital. Roy stayed in Fairbanks, Alaska, for six weeks, and on July 14 packed up her bicycle and rode off again, still determined to make the solo bicycle trip from Alaska to Ushuaia, Argentina.

"But my worst experience was in British Columbia," says Roy, as if the compound fracture were as incidental as headwinds and warm Gatorade. "I had decided to go off the main road to take an old railway track that had been turned into a hiking trail." The trail took Roy deep into the Canadian wilderness, across the path of two hungry bears, to the edge of a river spanned by a broken trestle.

"I had gone too far to turn back," says Roy. "I was hungry and thirsty, but too afraid to stop. I just had to keep going. But it was very scary being out there by myself. With bears."

Chrystine Roy's two-continent journey should take between 18 and 24 months, and cover approximately 19,000 miles. Arriving in San Francisco last week, Roy, now 30, has already traveled 4,000 miles in less than four months.

As a nonprofessional bicyclist, her only "training" consisted of a healthy life of swimming and mountain-bike riding, and a willingness to give up everything. "I gave up my job," says Roy. "And my apartment. I sold all my furniture. I sold everything. It was a dream. I was looking at a map one day and saw that line leading from Alaska to Argentina and I knew I had to try it. It was a big dream."

Dreams play a large part in Roy's oratory. She says it's the most common topic of conversation with people she's met along her route while trying to find shelter in campgrounds, churches, farms, and schoolhouses, and she hopes her ride raises $125,000 (Canadian) for the Children's Wish Foundation, which fulfills the final dreams of dying kids. (She's very excited that donations to her Web site have given one child his wish of an electric guitar and music lessons.) But there's something to her quest besides meeting people, seeing new places, and realizing personal challenges.

"It's like meditation," says Roy, trying to explain the "zone" about which I've heard so many athletes speak. "It's about being in the moment. You just look at the white line and pedal, and pretty soon you're just not there anymore. Your body is there, but your mind is someplace else. An hour goes by, maybe two, and you don't even know it. It's happened to me a couple times. ... You have a lot of time to think about life on your bike."


Britain's 33-year-old Robert Garside knows all about the "zone."

"It's difficult to describe, but you get into the rhythm, and your focus is heightened. It becomes really, really clear," says Garside, a former clinical psychology student now known internationally as the Runningman. "That's why I've always run alone, for my own pleasure. Running with other people, my attention is divided. I can't get into that altered state. I don't understand the desire to train for three years just to run a 2-1/2-hour marathon with a lot of other people."

Garside has been running since December of 1996.

Around the world.

By the time he's finished the first lap of what has become the Runningman's Circumnavigation Trilogy, it will be the year 2002 (at least) and he will have traversed 55 countries, seven continents, and more than 42,000 miles. Garside has already crossed Western Europe, Asia, Australia, and South and Central America, depending on the kindness of strangers for food, lodging, and airfare (when necessary). He's already garnered the world's record for the longest run, but that's not the point.


Garside jogs into the lobby of the Allison Hotel in San Francisco, wearing blue Runningman logo shorts and juggling a cappuccino and a bag of pastry.

"Health food," he says with a grin. He rifles through the pastry bag and tosses instructions at the two young skateboarders I've been interviewing. "Friday morning. We leave Friday morning, no matter what. Sound good?" The skiers-cum-skateboarders -- 21-year-old Justin Hawxhurst and 18-year-old Tyler Buschmann -- nod their blond heads enthusiastically. They can't wait. After reading about the Runningman in Sports Illustrated, Buschmann and Hawxhurst contacted Garside through his Web site and asked to join him on his journey across the U.S. If all goes according to plan, it will be the single longest documented skate in the world. They're stoked. And highly impressed with Garside.

"The first time we met Robert," says Hawxhurst, out of earshot, "he had just run from Half Moon Bay to the Ferry Building in San Francisco. He pulled out his computer and made an entry. Had two cell phones going at once. Then he was running toward the Golden Gate Bridge at a pace that would have challenged a 200-yard sprinter while talking on the phone. The person on the other end would have never been able to tell. He's amazing."

"Sorry, I'm running late," says Garside, pointedly oblivious to the allusion. "I was running around town." Garside's current girlfriend, a 23-year-old Venezuelan woman named Endrina Angarita Perez, arrives in the lobby. Perez had been sent ahead to warn of Garside's late arrival, but, of course, the Runningman pulled in first.

"I've run alone for most of my trip," says Garside, who is now facing a good stretch with two spunky English-speaking comrades and the first support vehicle of the journey, driven by Perez. "You always meet people, but you don't always speak the same language, and the isolation can get to you." Of course, there have been girlfriends. Five in Brazil alone. And one in Australia who bicycled alongside for nearly 500 miles before she said goodbye. Mostly, they've said goodbye.

"As I got further and further away, the heartstrings got more and more strained," says Garside of the end of a two-year-long relationship that saw him through until Katmandu. "Eventually, it became too difficult for her to fly the distance to visit me, and I knew I had to keep on going." Garside speaks of this early time in India, approaching the Himalayas broke and brokenhearted, as among his worst on the run.

"But people always help you out," says Garside, remembering the strangers who put a stop to his involuntary two-day fast in India. "People won't let you starve in the street if they can help it."

But they may shoot at you, as Garside found out on the outskirts of a small Russian town, and they may try to rob you at gunpoint, as he later discovered leaving Panama and entering Acapulco -- all situations that were easily resolved in Garside's world. He simply ran away.

Of course, running didn't help in China, where Garside was imprisoned for traveling across prohibited areas. "They don't really understand running in China," laughs Garside. "That's probably why I ran away from the Public Security Bureau officers."

But for every dispiriting experience, Garside has four great moments to share: the snoring monk in Tibet burning yak feces for warmth; the children in a small Australian mining town coming out to run with him; his introduction to the prince of Nepal; and his tea in Rio with British railroad robber Ronnie Biggs. He wouldn't trade any of it for the world.

If all goes according to plan, he won't have to. In 2002, around the time Chrystine Roy is finishing her journey to Argentina, Robert Garside will be entering England -- the country he left five years before with only $30 in pocket -- carrying several book deals, multiple world records, a brand logo, and a new outlook.

"I definitely don't want to be a clinical psychologist anymore," says Garside. "Maybe a patient. To be quite truthful, I love what I do. I don't want to stop."

The U.S., Africa, Eastern Europe, Central Asia, and Antarctica still stand between Garside and his original goal of running across the world's continents, but while the finish line may seem a long way off to the average Sunday jogger, Garside is already thinking ahead: Parts 2 and 3 of his Circumnavigation Trilogy involve swimming and flying around the world. As for the small task of being the first person to run across Antarctica, Garside plans to design his own shoes and an aerodynamic Runningman-obile, an egg-shaped sleeping capsule equipped with satellite technology and skis. Even though Garside has only just received his first sponsorship, he's not worried. That's the point. "It'll work out," he says. "I left London looking for a direction. I found one. I just didn't know it would be a road.

"Right now, I'm thinking about Africa."


Chrystine Roy can be tracked at www.novanor.qc.ca/desc-ame.

The Runningman can be tracked at www.runningman.org.

About The Author

Silke Tudor

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