Joseph Michael Kai-tsu Liu Roqueni is in the middle of a big, big run, but it's taking a detour through Whistler.
In 2013, Liu left Montreal with the goal of making it all the way to the southern tip of Argentina on foot. He made it to Mexico's west coast before financial considerations forced him to halt the trip, but after moving to Whistler last week, he's regrouping in the hopes of continuing the sojourn next year.
As part of Liu's first phase, he left Montreal on July 2, 2013 and arrived in Tuxtla Gutierrez, Mexico on Oct. 29, 2014. The route covered over 4,600 kilometres. He hopes to continue the journey in March, running from Chetumal, Mexico to Panama City and then going from Cartagena, Colombia to Ushuaia, Argentina. Completing that run would bring the total trip to roughly 20,000 kilometres. The projected finish date is April 2018.
Liu will follow the Pan-American Highway through South America, running through centres like: Lima, Peru; Valparaiso, Chile; and Buenos Aires, Argentina before heading to the continent's southern tip.
"I'm going to go through the Atacama Desert (in Chile) which is one of the driest deserts in the world. And after that, I'm going to have to cross the Andes from Chile to Argentina and then run all through the Patagonia (region) all the way to Ushuaia," Liu said over coffee last week.
Liu considers himself an explorer and adventurer who's found the specific journey he's driven to complete.
"I've wanted to do something that nobody is doing or that nobody has done to stand out. I wanted to do something that pushed me to the limits, and go over those limits and see how far I can go," he said. "(It's) just basically to explore my capabilities as a human being."
On average, Liu covers 25 kilometres of ground each day, but that can vary depending how he's feeling. On a couple occasions, he pushed it all the way up to 55 kilometres, while the odd day he does less than 25 kilometres.
"You get used to the pain. It's very painful. Sometimes your feet just are swollen and you have to ice them. Your body learns how to recover faster, so you get used to that. The physical part is not so hard. It's more the mental part, especially when you don't know if you're going to find a place to sleep that night. You've got to be focused on a daily basis. Your objectives are today," he said.
One extra twist is he runs practically barefoot, wearing Xero shoes to protect against parasitic infections and to have his own spin on the run.
"It's the closest to barefoot running you can get," he said. "I'm doing it semi-barefoot because it's already been done with shoes."
Danish runner Jesper Olsen has completed north-south runs before, first from North Cape, Norway to Cape Town, South Africa and then from Punta Arenas, Chile to Cape Spear in Newfoundland. Before Olsen's feat, British runner Robert Garside completed a west-east run, taking just under six years to return to his starting point of New Delhi, India. The record was verified by Guinness in 2007.
When he first set out, Liu carried all his necessities like an air mattress, sleeping bag and tent. However, he received a sponsorship providing him with a baby carriage to push to make things a little bit easier. He kept little food with him, carrying only granola bars, as other food can be heavy and is at risk of spoiling, and two to three litres of water, often opting to drink most of his fluids before and after his runs.
Camping is generally a "last resort" as Liu's first course of action is to contact hotels — he estimates that he is successful in getting a room two to three times out of 10 — in exchange for a positive TripAdvisor review and social media mentions. If that's unsuccessful, he'll try to make couchsurfing connections with friends of friends or social-media connections, or he'll knock on doors hoping strangers will let him pitch his tent on their lawn for the night.
"Very, very, very few nights I stayed in the middle of nowhere without asking permission. In Texas, there's 300 Ks without anything in between," he said.
But for every night alone, there are many more where he meets people who are "so good and so generous."
Liu recalled one day in the southern U.S. where a restaurant not only fed him, but donated their day's tips to him. One waitress took him in for the night and had purchased creams for blisters and shaving supplies and some souvenirs to remember them and the town by.
Liu is currently recovering from sinusitis and is on a six-month treatment. He figured there was no better place to spend time recovering than Whistler. Liu is a longtime friend of Roberto Gibbons Gomez of The Expeditioners adventure photography duo, who is a Whistler resident.
"My dream was always to live on a mountain and I was told that Banff and Whistler were amazing places. You look it up and you see the pictures. Finally, I got here and I'm planning to set (my) base here in Whistler," he said. "It's a pretty sick place to do training here. I love the outdoors and all the activities you can do around here."
For more, visit www.run2theend.com.
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