Dave Chamberlain is a hard man to pin down. You’d expect that, from the guy who is literally running around the entire world. Where is he now? Somewhere in North America, we think.
To get a little perspective on this unfathomable goal, we’ll tell Dave’s story from the eyes of his good friend and professional photographer, Morgan Cardiff, who has been following Dave’s journey for several years. Then we’ll hear from the man himself.
Morgan and Dave met in 2010 on Little Corn Island in Nicaragua. Rumour has it that Dave saved him and his diving buddy from threatening jaws of a rather large hammerhead shark. Later that year Dave found himself in Bolivia, hoping to get to Antarctica to meet his family and run the Antarctic marathon together.
Over 4000km lay between him and Antarctica, and his mother suggested that he run there. So off he went, on a short jog down RN40, the renowned highway that hugs the Andes mountain range, all the way to Antarctica. Here he met up with his family and they all ran the famous race.
“Two years later I get this email from Dave saying that if he got me a 4×4 in Walvis Bay, Namibia would I be interested in heading down to shoot some images. I was living in Germany and unemployed at the time, so of course I said yes.” Dave’s goal was to run 2700 kilometres from Namibia to Port Elizabeth in his home country of South Africa, across some of the most hostile desert on the planet.
Shortly after, Morgan landed in Walvis Bay and set off for five weeks in the desert, finding Dave shortly after on the side of the road. For this particular endeavour, Dave was running on behalf of Birdlife South Africa, raising awareness for the plight of the African Penguin. Dave didn’t plan too far ahead, he just set off one day with the goal of running the entire length of the bird’s former 2700 km range. Morgan admits that he couldn’t quite believe what he was witnessing in those early days. “I recall one particular 46 degree day, when he had run 55km by lunchtime. The days were incredibly hot and hostile, but then the sun drops and it becomes the most magical place on the planet”.
Solo and unsupported, much like his previous run, Dave traversed Canada from coast to coast some three months after finishing in Port Elizabeth. He totalled a massive 5100 kilometres in just five months and one day. Canada was a totally different ball game, “I recall Dave telling me, that he was basically wet for the first 30 days of the run.”
After returning back to South Africa, Dave then set his sights on the big one, in his mind the Holy Grail of all runs. Russia.
Dave’s plan was to ride the Trans-Siberian Railway to Vladivostok, turn around and run back. He spent five months in Russia learning Russian, preparing in every way possible, in particular trying to gain support and visas. After two years, many dead end proposal submissions and phone discussions, Dave and Morgan concluded it wasn’t going to happen. The administrative shackles of the cold war era meant that bureaucratically, it wasn’t possible.
Russia was put on the backburner – for the time being. “I could tell that all this waiting around was getting to him, we did some filming in his hometown of Pretoria in the lead up, he was fit and fat as he likes to call it, with nowhere to run ”. It didn’t last long though, Dave flew to Honninsvag in Northern Norway, arriving well north of the Arctic Circle in just a pair of shorts, and proceeded to run all the way down through Scandinavia to Northern Italy. He completed this at an astounding rate, sometimes upwards of 90+ kilometres per day.
Dave’s is now currently somewhere in the United States, where just recently he found himself in the fictional home town of Forrest Gump. Appropriate to the general theme of his endeavours, Dave decided to tack on a mere 24,000 kilometres and 3 years to his journey, by following the fictional footsteps of the character a few times around the country. “I guess now when people refer to him as Forrest Gump, they are not far wrong,” stated Morgan.
Central America, South America, Australia and New Zealand will soon follow, but Dave’s in no rush at all. He hopes that by the time he returns to Russia to complete the final leg of the mammoth expedition, his support will get him over the line and through the country hassle-free to his goal.
For Morgan, it’s been a 4 year journey to this point, and one that he hopes will continue. “All of it has been an incredible experience, it really set me on the path that I am on now. If his goal is to inspire others to take that leap, he has one in the bag already.”
Dave self-titled his adventure ‘The Hug Run,’ and we were lucky enough to pin him down for a brief moment to get a personal insight into the mind of a man just doing what he loves – which also happens to be running 90,000 kilometres around the world for the next 8 years.
How far on average will a single pair of shoes get you? (Insert sponsorship pitch here)
Shoes were a headache, but since having gone up an additional size, I’m averaging around 700km, which is a 40% improvement on the previous average per pair. ASICS have done an amazing job of keeping me blister free, while allowing me to retain all of my toenails, so I’m kind of an ASICS groupie.
What’s the greatest threat you’ve faced so far on your journey? It can be something as tangible such as bears, blizzards, and blisters, or it can be as abstract as you like.
The greatest threat is water. It’s arguably the most evil thing created, closer to being the “Pus of Lord Voldemort” than “lifesaving nectar”. Not as dramatic as Grizzly Bears, but it’s a constant. You’re always having to drink more of it because it’s always working out ways of escaping the body. The problem is that the only taste it has is the taste of the plastic bottles it’s carried in. It’s warm, when you want it to be cold, and it’s cold when the weather is less than toasty. It causes chafe, can lead to hypothermia or hyponatremia, and if you run out of it, kidney stones are the least of ones worries. If water were a pet, it would be a cat. It’s a threat because it’s an hour-by-hour consideration, with zero personality but because of what I’ve mentioned above, it is a constant morale sapper.
Do you ever run out of things to think about? Most people zone out and let their thoughts occupy their time, but that’s usually for a 45-minute jog around the block.
I usually stop thinking, pretty much completely, at a conscious level within the first 2-3 days. This is a combination of running out of stuff to think about, as well as the fact that I find myself boring, so I stop thinking as a means to protect my sanity.
I don’t know whether such a level of consciousness officially exists, but I spend most of my waking time in a semi-conscious state; namely that I stop analysing the world around me, and just absorb all the information that my environment throws at me. My uphills are experienced as smells and sounds, as well as feeling how they affect my legs, breathing rate etc. I’m able to experience each moment through all my receptors but without feeling the need to analyse or critique the situation.
At a subconscious level, however, the brain never stops. I regularly experience “Eureka” moments, where I’ve suddenly understood an event in my life. For example, a relationship that may have ended unexpectedly suddenly makes sense. Not only have I sorted out the issue in my brain, but these “Eureka” moments come complete with a full, logical, sequential backstory, carefully explaining each step along the way. It’s not that the issue of the breakup has caused me sleeping problems, or any other observable negative consequences, but it does explain things. This is crucial because I think a significant portion of unhappiness stems from uncertainty or confusion, and I’m able to answer a lot of questions about my life, past and future, during these projects. Life makes more sense when one understands ones own failings in any situation. We can’t control the world, but we can control ourselves. This is a very calming realisation to come to.
Talk us through the road blocks you’ve encountered in your planning for Russia. What was the most significant obstacle and how do you hope this will be eventually mitigated?
The biggest roadblock was minor, cold war era bureaucracy. Basically, rules still exist which restrict the movement of foreigners. Nobody at any level of government was against my proposed idea. They were just hamstrung by laws that were so small that they’d never come up for review post-cold war era. The intention is still to run across Russia, at the back end of the run now, but a new potential threat is the rebalancing of global power, which may or may not have an effect on future travel for foreigners. As a South African, though, things are actually getting easier, as South Africa and Russia are actively improving and easing visa rules, so I’m quietly optimistic.
Is the concept of time ever an issue? Apart from sunrise and sunset, it seems as if you make your own schedule. How do you balance logistical considerations with just living each day as it comes?
The only logistical considerations deal with food and water. Provided I have enough of each, time is largely inconsequential. I run purely on biological feedback. If I feel like running quickly, I do. If I wake up, ready to run, and at some point between putting on my shorts and shoes, I don’t feel like running, I climb back into my sleeping bag. Even my end goal of getting to Cape Town is disconnected from any time restrictions. I may get there in 8 years time, or it may take me 13. An important basis of this project is to experience my passions in the best possible way. Throwing in a time constraint is self-sabotage.
Where time does become an issue is with visas. Each country has their limits on how long I may be in the country before needing to leave. Depending on whether I am able to subsequently re-enter, I am sometimes forced to plan accordingly. Even then, though, adjustments are based around finding a route most truthful to the philosophy of “enjoyment”. I’d rather run less of a country, while enjoying the experience, than push the mileage simply to be able to say afterwards that I ran across the whole country. Having said all of this, I’m not a complete slacker and some days I wake up feeling slightly more energised, and I’ll run 100+km in a day, just because I can.
You’re doing this for a variety of causes, but primarily you seem to just love it to the extent that it’s all the justification you need. Any advice you’d like to pass onto our readers looking for a push in the right direction?
There is a bunch of stuff to say under this point, but I’ll try restrict myself.
1) You always have control, even when you don’t. You can’t control the weather, drunk drivers etc., but you can control how you enter the environment of your choice. Pack the right clothing and tent, use high-vis vests etc. Do what you can, and then stop being paranoid. If you try to account for every eventuality, you’ll never get started.
2) Work out why you are doing what you are doing. Not the reason you tell your family or media, but the ACTUAL reason. Depending on the type of project that you set out on, and it could be to start your own pizza truck, or learn a new language, you will eventually be forced to confront the “why” of the project. This “why” is what will get you up in the morning when things aren’t going well. And if it’s for something as simple as just wanting to meet more girls or boys, so be it. If it gets the job done, hold onto it.
3) Understand that there is no fair or unfair in life. There just “is.” Forget about the idea that because you’ve planned, because you “really want it” or because you “deserve it”, that the world will sit up, take note and align things in a way that guarantees your success and happiness. Life will throw you curveballs, but instead of sitting down feeling like you’ve been unfairly treated, take a breath, make a plan/adjustment, and then pick yourself up and keep going, because humans are incredibly adaptable.
Follow along with Dave’s adventure on his Instagram @thehugrun
Photography and video provided by @rhys_morgan