Being Rickey Gates

I arrive at Safeway around dinner time. This was our planned meeting location before heading over to Waterton Canyon Trailhead, the northern starting point of the Colorado Trail.

I catch a glimpse of Rickey Gates’s white running pack through the sliding-glass doors. He looks lean and muscular, not as skinny and disheveled as I thought he would be, having already run over 2,000 miles across the country. His classic mustache has morphed into a full red beard.

He is holding a roast chicken, a block of cheddar cheese, a sandwich, and four bananas. He smiles when he sees me, that whimsical smile denoting a certain ease of being, as if he knows something that you don’t. He probably does.

We hug and I ask if he wants to get dinner, instead of eating the chicken in the parking lot. He agrees, leaves the bird, and we walk over to the tavern next door.

It’s trivia night so the place is packed. We linger out front, wondering if we should go somewhere else instead. A guy with full-sleeve tattoos, smoking a cigarette, queries Rickey:

“Where you going, man? You look like you’re going somewhere.”

“California. Well, eventually.” Rickey replies.

“California!? On foot!? Where did you start!?”

“South Carolina. I’m running across the country and I’m about halfway now. It’s good to be back home in Colorado!”

“Holy shit, dude! Holy shit! That’s unreal! Do you need anything? A shower, a place to stay? My name’s Thaine. Anything you need man? Seriously. I live right down the street.”

Rickey tells him he’s all set, but that he really appreciates the offer. Thaine recommends the burgers at the tavern. “Probably the best I’ve ever had in the state.”  

We follow his recommendation and find a couple free seats on the high chairs next to the bar.

This type of encounter with Thaine has become routine for Rickey. He’s a natural conversationalist and brilliant storyteller. What is most interesting to me is that he can somehow make his journey relatable to people from all walks of life.

I think this is partly due to Rickey de-emphasising his accomplishments in favor of hearing someone else’s story. That kind of openness makes it easy for people to connect and offer snippets into their own lives.

Over beers, we talk a lot about vulnerability, about putting ourselves out there in a real way with no judgment, and just letting bonds naturally form.

A trip such as this induces a certain receptivity toward others that is challenging to replicate when boxed in to the normalcy of our day to day. Strangely, that normalcy is what I find most fascinating as it most deeply represents the real fabric of our humanity.

I offer Rickey a spot in the back of my truck for the night. It’s a bit of a cozy fit for the two of us, but I have a good mattress and since his sleeping pad is punctured it will probably be more comfortable than camping. He agrees and we slot in the back after 11 p.m.

Before nodding off, I get a whiff of that delightful transamericana musk. I’ve cultivated that smell myself more than once on past trips. It has more of a nostalgic effect on me, than anything really unpleasant.

In the morning, I’m woken by a deep, feral groan from Rickey.

“You sore, man?” I ask.

“Nah, I just slept so so well.”

John Patterson, a friend of Rickey’s, joins us to run a segment of the Colorado Trail. After our second cup of coffee (as Rickey wouldn’t let me drink alone), we set off on transcontinental pace down the six miles of dirt road through Waterton Canyon.

It’s a beautiful day, sunny with a light breeze. Reaching the singletrack, with the sweet smell of pine, dirt underfoot, and undulations in the terrain is a welcome reprieve from the past 800 miles of pavement that Rickey had just endured. He is euphoric and lets out a deep exhale.

“Tired?” I ask.

“No, I’m okay. It’s nice to just a take a deep breath every once in awhile–a real deep breath and focus on it.”

I agree and comment on how yawning is one of my favorite forms of breathing.

We keep cruising along the rolling trail, in awe at the beauty of the land we are fortunate to call home and marveling at the grandeur of Rickey’s adventure.

Upon reaching the South Platte River, it’s time for John and I to turn back, but not before a quick soak to stave off the heat of the day.

Rickey eats his sandwich, with nearly the entire block of cheese layered between the two pieces of bread. He wipes his face with the back of his hand and exclaims: “Hey, do I have mustard on my forehead?”

He doesn’t. We laugh. We sit there, content, drying off in the sun. I think about how timeless these kinds of simple, seemingly insignificant moments are. The most profound things in life are not defined by how grand our achievements are, but rather by all the small details that make up the wholeness of our existence. Keep on, keepin’ on, Rickey.

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • Do you notice the small details of life? Do you see them as they happen or does it take an unusual event–outside your normal day-to-day routine–for them to become apparent? Do seemingly insignificant small bits of life actually hold significance when we notice them?
  • Have you been following Ricky Gates’s transcontinental running journey? Have you seen him out on the roads or trails so far?
Rickey Gates transcontintental run 1

All photos: Joe Grant

Rickey Gates transcontintental run 2

Rickey Gates transcontintental run 3

Rickey Gates transcontintental run 4

Rickey Gates transcontintental run 5

Joe Grant

frequently adventures in wild places, both close to home (a frequently changing location) and very far afield. He inspires others by sharing his words and images that beautifully capture the intersection of the wilds, movement, and the individual at Alpine Works.

There are 11 comments

  1. Rob

    Epic way to make memories. Reminds me of a sun-darkened, lean young man I met last year on a bike trail. He was halfway across the country and wolfing down some big calories, including fried chicken. Learning about himself and the country. Interesting characters these cross-country folks are.

  2. Gary Gellin

    Another great piece of writing, Joe. You capture well the life of someone who is very content with embracing the present. I’ll be wandering around Southern Utah in a week. Perhaps I’ll cross paths with our running nomad.

  3. Brad Gantt

    A wonderfully written, insightful piece about a wonderful and insightful human being. So much magic cloaked in the ordinary. Loved sharing a part of the journey. Thank Joe & Ricky.

  4. Mike Holliday

    Really enjoying following Rickey’s journey, his updates on Instagram are brilliant.
    “I agree and comment on how yawning is one of my favorite forms of breathing.” Who else yawned?

  5. Judd Haaland

    “The most profound things in life are not defined by how grand our achievements are, but rather by all the small details that make up the wholeness of our existence.”

    Something I have thought of for years because of how my Dad lived his life. Never able to put it into words.
    Thank you Joe

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