We caught up with Salomon-sponsored trail runner Rickey Gates to talk about his international running adventures. He’s featured in “Of Fells and Hills” the second episode of the fourth season of Salomon Running TV that launched on March 10.
Trail running Colorado native and Madison, Wis., resident Rickey Gates has made a life out of running and racing, as well as photographing and writing about his experiences. He also collaborates with Salomon TV to make visually beautiful and inspiring films to encourage the rest of us to lace up and go.
Gates, 33, who, by his account, has spent about half his life traveling the world, says he’d been told time and time again that he should travel to the United Kingdom and experience fell running. He finally did and his latest project with Salomon TV, “Of Fells and Hills,” explores the storied culture and welcoming community of runners.
“British fell running is unique and offers something really honest and pure to explore,” Gates says.
Watch the film and be inspired, but also notice that something is missing—namely trails and trail markings. For any interested in exploring the Lake District and Cumbria, Gates emphasizes that finding your own route and gaining some knowledge of the area is “really important.”
How do you choose your adventures and travels?
For me personally, it’s a matter of looking at the history of trail running, and it’s origins and finding different interpretations of it. British fell running is certainly one of the original forms, if not the original, and that’s very interesting to me as a student of the sport.
What questions are you hoping to answer through your exploration of running?
I think it’s kind of learning the bigger picture. The answers I’m looking for don’t necessarily have anything to do with running. Running is a medium to understand other people. It’s the entree for me to meet people that I wouldn’t normally be able to have much contact with.
Have you found running to be something that’s universal?
Not really. I mean yes and no. You see it in a lot of places. But plenty of people still think you’re weird for running. It’s certainly more universal than most things.
Logistically, how do you make this lifestyle work, from your running, to film projects, to writing, to paying for it?
Certainly for past few years, Salomon has helped me out with some of these projects. We have good collaboration, and I very much appreciate their outlook on these trips. I have anywhere from 10-15 ideas of where I would like to go and what I would like to do and who I would like to talk to going on at all times. I pitch all of my ideas to Salomon. Whether or not they take them doesn’t necessarily have any bearing on me doing the trip or not. It just means that I either have better funding or coverage. Otherwise I may go on my own. Like last year, when I went to the Copper Canyon, someplace I had really wanted to experience. I did the trip in more of a personal manner.
As for deciding where to go, sometimes it’s a matter of wanting to meet and run with people that have their own outlook on the sport, whether they even call it a sport or not is often up for interpretation. And sometimes it’s a matter of me wanting to run something that hasn’t been run or if it has been run, it hasn’t been run in a while and I want to see what its like.
Is there any universal life or running lesson that stands out from your travels?
I know that travel is extremely important. Travel these days is so easy. I could be in some small village in China in 36 hours if I wanted. But that’s my experience. For someone who’s never left their hometown, do they need to go to China to understand the world? Or can they do that by going to the next town over? I think that’s the question.
In term of running, it’s such a self-driven sport. We control our own gain level and we’re in charge of our threshold. I guess traveling and learning about the world and learning about ourselves is no different in that sense—the experience is to our own level.
What are essentials you take with you when you travel?
Camera, running shoes, something to take notes with—for some reason that’s really important to me, even if I never look at them. This sounds really cheesy, but I try to leave my plan at home, and try to be open to completely new things and have a willingness to get lost and a willingness to stay out until three in the morning and a willingness to be uncomfortable. People are often very regimented. I like to let plans take on a life of their own.
Whether real or imagined, the homogenization of America, the world for that matter, is something many bemoan. Do see something similar in running?
No, not at all. It’s 100 percent unique. Even here in Madison, there are all different types of runners. From those trying to lose five pounds to those trying to run a sub-2:20 marathon, and those two groups may not even know the other exists. The sport is so diverse no matter where you go. Everyone has his or her own interpretation. I see it as a way to experience different places and try to find people who are the same mentality as myself, but being open to meeting and experiencing people that are of a completely different interpretation.
At the end of the film, when you are talking about some of the fell runners you met in the UK, you say, “I can’t help but feel envy because in the end I think that a single mountain range is enough exploration for an entire lifetime.” Are you changing your vagabond ways?
Not necessarily. I really enjoy traveling. I also maintain that our backyards are the best exploration we can possibly find. I still preach that. But for me, I like to explore different cultures throughout the world. Running gives me that opportunity.
This spring, I’ll be going to Arizona and Majorca, Spain, to run with the Salomon team. I’m running Mount Marathon Race in Seward, Alaska, again in July (Gates finished second at the race in 2013), and I’m also looking at doing the Pike’s Peak Marathon in Colorado. I’ve never run it before. The Dipsea Race in California is another one I’m considering, then I have a couple 50Ks on my schedule–the Power of Four in Aspen, the RUT in Montana and possibly the Speedgoat 50K in Utah.
When he’s not racing, Rickey Gates also plays camp counselor for Hut Run Hut, a Colorado trail running adventure program he founded last year. For the 2015 season, he’s offering three sessions with a guest runner (Dylan Bowman, Jen Shelton or Scott Jurek) accompanying each group as they journey from Aspen to Vail.]