Local runner pauses cross-country journey for 'run-off'

Jun 13, 2017

Rickey Gates, right, exchanges a post-runoff laugh with kayaker Jules Campbell.
Credit Elizabeth Stewart-Severy / Aspen Public Radio

Roaring Fork Valley native Rickey Gates is a little over halfway through a 3,500-mile run across the country. Aspen Public Radio’s Elizabeth Stewart-Severy caught up with him on his stop-over in Aspen last week, which included a little friendly competition.



It’s not exactly an age-old rivalry, but on a cloudless day in early June, a small group gathers near the Slaughterhouse Bridge in Aspen for an unusual race: kayaker versus runner. It’s dubbed, “The Runoff.”


“This is a cool course because you can look down as a runner and see the boaters down below you for quite a ways, and then the last mile and a half is a mystery because you can’t see anything,” Gates said.


Gates put together the unofficial race, now in it’s second year. The course runs from from Slaughterhouse Bridge to Stein Park, with kayakers on the Roaring Fork River and runners on the Rio Grande Trail. The four-or-so mile race is meant to fall at peak spring runoff, but this year, Gates is a little ahead of the snowmelt.

“But I’m not going to be here three days from now,” he explained.


The stop in Aspen is a quick respite in a 5-month journey from South Carolina to San Francisco. He’s making progress.


He just ran over the Continental Divide from Leadville to Aspen. He has covered sections of the Palmetto, Appalachian, Ozark Highlands and Colorado trails. He jogged back roads, highways and sections of interstates across eight states, and took a stand-up paddleboard alongside barges in serious headwinds down the Tennessee River.


“I’ve slept in the rain quite a few times. I’ve had some really long days. I’ve been eating terrible food —- a lot of gas station food, Pop-Tarts and Slim Jims and, you name it,” Gates said. “But as far as human interactions go, it’s been 100 percent positive.”


After a few days in his hometown, Gates took off again, this time over the Elk Mountains. He planned to float the Gunnison River to Grand Junction, and then head into the desert on foot.


“That’s kind of where a large section of mystery lays for me,” he said.


Gates would like to run through the wild lands rather than on roads and highways through Utah and Nevada.


“It’s just going to be hot and dry and there’s going to be a lot of miles in between water,” he said.


He has a couple hundred miles to figure out his route, and he’s taking it day-by-day.


At this year’s runoff, the water was faster. A kayaker out-sprinted Gates by just a few seconds, but Gates likes his chances for the next 1,000 miles.