The 5000 mile project: running the length of South America
As preparations for the London Olympics intensify, 5000 miles away, we’re launching our own Olympian bid. On the 27 July 2012, we will be standing on the southerly-most point of the South American continent, gazing out to the fabled Southern Ocean. From that wild, sea battered peninsular, Cabo Froward, we will begin running. A run that will continue day after day, through snow, gale-force winds, steaming rainforest and desert, in some of the most gruelling conditions on earth. One year later, in the Caribbean Sea, we intend to become the first couple and I, the first woman to run the continent.
But how did this lunacy start? After all, as our parents pointed out, “You’re not athletes!” It was 2009. We were surveying seabirds in the Caribbean from our old wooden sailing boat. One subject filled our heads; what sort of expedition could we create that would captivate people, fuel their interest in the incredible natural world of South America and the need to conserve it?
We considered walking the Amazon from the west to the east coast of the continent, but discovered that another Brit was doing exactly that, Ed Stafford – and doing a fantastic job of it. We considered walking the length of the continent, punctuated by climbing to the “rooftops” of ancient iconic trees, but after a two week solo unguided trek through the Amazon, barely achieving mileages of double figures per day, we soon realized this would involve multiple years not one!
Then there was running. We both love it, taking to the hills of the UK and pelting up and down them. It’s slow enough to allow you to stumble across brown hares, peregrine falcons or bumbling badgers, but fast enough for you to cover decent distances. It’s also hard; relentless on your body and mind, especially when a gale force Argentine “pampiero” blows against you or a snow-capped Andean mountain stands in your way.
With the atlas sprawled across our knees we began planning the route. Pretty difficult in a continent like South America; bristling with wildlife and superlatives, from: the longest mountain chain, biggest river, largest rainforest, driest desert, most biodiverse countries…. We needed as straight a route as possible. Cabo Froward provided the logical start. We would then follow the spine of the Andes, take a right in Bolivia and head for Manaus through the Amazon, over the ancient Guiana Shield to the Caribbean Sea.
The run would be a by-product of a larger project; to raise awareness and money for South America’s imperilled ecosystems and connect people and their everyday actions to its survival. Our “BigToe Classroom” would involve students in a real-life exciting expedition; to inspire a “can-do attitude” and a passion for the natural world. While the “Mega Transect”’ would satisfy our urge, as Ecologists, to count the passing feathered and hairy occupants of the continent. We would run without a support team; pulling our classroom, come media centre, kitchen and bedroom in a recycled trailer.
We waded through grant applications, hounded potential sponsors, created the website, and selected Conservacion Patagonica (CP) and BirdLife International (BLI) as our charities. CP is restoring a huge slice of severely degraded Patagonia into a functioning National Park. BLI are achieving amazing conservation feats throughout the continent and through their Bolivian partner, Armonίa, we will support the conservation of critically endangered macaws.
People often quiz us on how our marriage will fare the rigors of the expedition. The reality is we will have infinitely more space and freedom than in our old boat, which has been our home and work place for the past four years, since getting married and setting sail from the UK.
Reactions to our “5000mileproject” have ranged from incomprehension, mixed with shock to the inevitable searching eyes for signs of sanity in the two “Forest Gumps” standing in front of them. After over a year of planning and training, each step we take will finally carry us nearer to our goal. How will our bodies react to the excruciating pain? Will we help to conserve an iota of this magical continent? We are about to find out.
Katharine and David Lowrie are both 34 years old, from Devon and Northumberland respectively. The Ecologist adventurer team married and set sail from the UK in 2008 to undertake the first complete breeding seabird census of the Eastern Caribbean and an extensive marine education programme. They have published the “Seabird Breeding Atlas of the Lesser Antilles” and sailed over 20,000m circumnavigating South America. Running the length of South America is a dream expedition aiming to inspire and connect people globally to the continent’s incredible natural world.Tagged in: 5000mileproject, BirdLife International, Conservacion Patagonica, environment, environmental, South America
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