Rickey Gates, 37, is the Suunto-sponsored trail runner who’s becoming known for some massive running projects. Last year he ran across the US, unsupported, from South Carolina to California. This year, he took up the challenge to run every single street in San Francisco. He started on November 1 and finished yesterday, only a day or two off his goal of six weeks. But it wasn’t a speed record attempt, even though six weeks was an ambitious goal. The idea was to get to know his city, and the people in it.
Thirteen hundred and three miles (2,085K) and 46 days later, Gates noticed a few small gaps (totalling about five miles) on his Strava, so when we caught up with him today by phone, he was actually back out running. “I have about half an hour of running left,” he told us. “I won’t be able to sleep really well if I don’t fill in the gaps.” What we get is Gates’ unique perspective, as an ultrarunner but also as a photographer and an observer of people and places, in a city Gates describes as “one of the most rapidly changing cities in the country, if not the world.”
Along the way he photographed things that struck his fancy, but they weren’t the things you’d expect, like painted-lady-style homes or cable cars. Gates’ eye was drawn to more quirky things, like public toilets, graffiti on trucks, and peeling paint. But viewed from his perspective, they take on a distinctly San Franciscan (and distinctly Gatesian) artistic flavour.
Gates enlisted the help of his old friend, mathematician Michael Otte, to help him figure out how to run all the streets in the most efficient way possible, so as to avoid repeating streets he’d already run as much as possible. Gates’ daily trips produced some very densely-plotted Strava art.
— rickey gates (@rickeygates) December 13, 2018
Also, if you’ve ever been to San Francisco, you know it ain’t flat. Gates figured he ran 147,000 feet or 44,806 metres of vert (trail-speak for elevation change), or almost 1,000 metres per day.
Gates grew up in Aspen, Colo. (which he describes as “one of the paradises of the world”) and now lives in Oakland, Calif., just across the bay from San Francisco. At night he either slept in his van so as to be as close as possible to the next day’s starting point, or went home. He took two days off: (American) Thanksgiving, plus one other day where he was fighting a cold and just needed a day off.
— rickey gates (@rickeygates) December 13, 2018
One of the parts he enjoyed most about this project was having access to an unlimited variety of food from restaurants and cafes. “Going by a donut shop and getting a donut and a cup of coffee, or I might want Chinese food, or tacos, and knowing full well that I can get that if I just go a few more blocks… that has been the most pleasant part of this trip,” he admitted.
— rickey gates (@rickeygates) November 19, 2018
Gates noted that since the temperature is pleasantly cool at this time of year, he has opted for longer shorts and sleeves over last year’s short shorts and tank tops, so he didn’t feel self-conscious going into a restaurant. “I’m not dripping in sweat, but even so, there’s something about being in cities… even if you look a little bit crazy… it’s pretty easy to blend in.”
— rickey gates (@rickeygates) November 8, 2018
Gates found it more challenging to talk to people this time around, running across the country being a fairly simple concept to convey, whereas running every single street in a city was something few people could relate to. “Here in the city, I had to work a little bit harder at talking to people, learning other people’s stories,” Gates explains. “It’s not about me, it’s about the place I’m trying to explore, so I had to try and figure out how to start a conversation without bringing up that I’m doing this amazing thing.”
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After 46 days, 1303 miles and 147,000ft of vert, @rickeygates has gone and done it. Today, he finished his #everysinglestreet project. What a wild and audacious goal. Running every single street in San Francisco. Well I'm beyond grateful to have shared a couple of miles with Rickey these past two weeks, and to have seen my neighborhood and city in a whole new light. Store fronts I never noticed before. Vista points often overlooked. Murals on the walls and graffiti tags on the streets. Appreciating the structure and the chaos of our cities. Structured chaos. Sounds a bit like Rickey's @strava feed! #sanfrancisco #neverstopexploring #urbanexploration
Gates loves Colorado, misses the mountains, and would love to move back, but he says that “as trail runners and mountaineers, such a huge part of our existence is pushing ourselves, and I think we can be pretty blind to all of the different potential challenges and what we have to gain from them. I know this project doesn’t appeal to a lot of people, but it has been as much of a challenge to me as some of the 14-ers that I’ve done in Colorado [referring to 14,000-foot peak ascents], and much more intellectually stimulating than some of the other challenges that I’ve done.”