West To The Sea
The Little Pram That Thought It Could
Dave Chamberlain // Photography by Morgan Cardiff
I run because it makes me feel like a wild stallion galloping free across desert landscapes – albeit a three-legged Shetland Pony. My name is Dave and last year I ran just over 7500km, while living out of a pram.
But I do have one thing going for me: opportunity. I’ve had the opportunity to run the length of Argentina. I’ve had the opportunity to run from Walvis Bay to P.E. and recently, I had the opportunity to run across Canada. Over 15,000km’s of trail and ne’er a step repeated. Every runner’s fantasy.
There are several reasons why I ran across Canada. Firstly, I have a bit of a sticky-out bum which can’t be helped, it’s genetic. Secondly, I had promised Canada’s World Wide Fund for Nature that I would. But mainly I run for the tranquility it affords me, the ability to escape the ‘normal’ routine of everyday life for just a while longer. I run because it makes me feel like a wild stallion galloping free across desert landscapes – albeit a three-legged Shetland Pony. My name is Dave and last year I ran just over 7500km, while living out of a pram.
Cape Spear, my starting point, is situated on Newfoundland Island and is the most easterly point in North America, although I didn’t know this at the time. There were actually many things that I didn’t know about the route which lay ahead. But that is the great pleasure of running like this; the complete novelty of every step and every day.
Before I set off I didn’t know that I would run with a lone wolf for over an hour. I didn’t know that I would run past a feeding grizzly bear seated just three metres from the side of the road. I didn’t know that the St Lawrence River could look so incredibly beautiful at sunset or that the prairies of Manitoba and Saskatchewan would smell so wonderful. I also didn’t know that it would rain every day for the first 33 days.
And so, ignorant of what lay ahead, I began my journey on foot. I ran through the forests and across sparkling rivers. I ran over misty peaks and along rugged shorelines. I ran for 17 days, and on the 18th day I reached Nova Scotia and I rested. And I ate, and then I ate some more. Do not be fooled, Man cannot survive on two-minute noodles and sandwiches alone.
Then I began running again. Across Nova Scotia with its Scots and Irish, New Brunswick with its Acadians and finally into Quebec with its French folk, stopping en route for a bowl of poutine in Montreal before heading off west again. For those of you who don’t know what poutine is, it is a Quebecois invention consisting of French fries, gravy and cheese curds. It may sound like every cardiologists nightmare, but to a runner, it is ambrosia.
So I ran like I have never run before. As I was free from the routine of work – from repetitive running routes, from dodging cars and dogs and of weaving along uneven pavements – I loved every single step. I loved the feeling of the mind and body disconnecting. I loved the fact that I could enjoy the smell of a sunset or the sound of a flower, while my little legs just kept plodding away without needing a guiding brain.
Through a process of fits and starts, my trusty pram and I made our way across Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, and ended up in Tofino on Vancouver Island in British Columbia five months later. Along the way people kept asking me ‘what’s it like?’ They ask me to explain my thoughts and feelings. But such a trip can never be cut up into bite-sized chunks of prepared speeches and slide shows. A trip like this is filled with emotions. It is filled with disappointments, sadness, disbelief, happiness, awe, self-pity and moments of absolute humility and respect. It is filled with tears for every occasion, and sometimes simply tears for tears’ own sake.
On any given day, my thoughts about the trip are different because I feel different, so I can’t tell you what it is like. ‘To understand it’, I would have to tell them them apologetically at the end, ‘you’ll really need to go out and try it yourselves.’
I’m no great runner, but I’ve made running my ‘thing’ – a thing that gets me going, a thing that gets me off the couch every single time because it gives me a sense of purpose and of worth, and because it makes me feel alive. Don’t be put off by five hour-plus marathon times. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that you embrace and invest in your running ‘thing’. What matters is that you wake up each day feeling like the 4th movement of Beethoven’s 9th. If you can use your running to help and serve the community around you, all the better.
My running ended on ‘All Hallows Eve’ and I’ve since returned to South Africa. That’s okay. All good things must come to an end so that they can make way for new good things. This year I will be swapping my pram for a trailer and the solitude of empty Canada for the Russian steppe. Kicking off in April, I will start running from Vladivostok, with the intention of reaching Reykjavik by the following year.
So if you see a grumpy looking little muffin-top panting away in the middle of rural Russia, stop and tell him to remember to smell the sunsets.
A trip like this is filled with emotions. It is filled with disappointments, sadness, disbelief, happiness, awe, self-pity and moments of absolute humility and respect. It is filled with tears for every occasion, and sometimes simply tears for tears’ own sake.
West To The Sea is featuring as part of the Running Films series at ShAFF 2015. For tickets and information, visit shaff.co.uk
Dave Chamberlain will soon begin his next project during 2015, which promises to be even bigger. Sidetracked, as selected media partner, will be following and reporting on this journey. Look out for the first updates soon.