Sleep In The Dirt

Bob Swanson Grant Recipient Runs Across Australia

Sponsorship and Non-Profit

I typically set big goals. I am a “dream big” kind of gal. For as long as I can remember, I’ve thought that I can will whatever I want to happen if I just push forward with faith and tenacity – a “dream it and you can achieve it” mentality. In 2009, this belief and hustle enabled me to run across America, and along the way, speaking with hundreds of groups about the importance of living a passion-driven life. I was on fire, to say the least, living my own dream. Ten years later, I wanted to reignite that on-fire gal – driven, determined, strong, fully and deeply alive, following her passions. I wanted to see myself lead with courage and curiosity rather than let fear and the “what ifs” step in. 

So, I went to Australia…to run across it.

The Outback may as well be referred to as the “Way Way Way Out There”. This remote, dry interior region of Australia takes up most of the country and is home to only twenty percent of the nation’s population. A mix of both Anglos and Aboriginals live in small Outback communities separated by miles and miles of desert and a lonely dirt road or two. Dingos, giant red kangaroos, blue-tongued pinecone lizards and camels are some of the many animals that call the Outback home, although sadly almost half a billion animals have been burned alive due to the current fires. Water is almost a myth out here, exacerbated by the worst spring drought on record this past year, and food is even harder to come by. Bottom line: if you ever fancy crossing the Outback you better darn well have your shit together.

From July 13th through November 8th, 2019 I ran 30 miles a day for 2,212 miles across Australia – across the Outback – from Darwin to Adelaide. As my support “vehicle”, my husband Henley pedaled a bicycle and trailer loaded with 350 pounds of food, water, gear and toilet paper. 

How was it? For as long as I had dreamed of one day running across Oz (13 years), it turned out to be a journey rich in pain, suffering, dread, tears and torment. But this was my pilgrimage, to confront all parts of myself in one of the most raw and barren places on earth. I dare say I wanted to push myself to the outside edge, just to see if I still had it.

Most every day we’d wake up two hours before sunrise and get going pronto to beat the heat. I’d run 6-7 miles at a time, with hour breaks in between, totaling 6-7 hours of moving time each day. The afternoons were especially brutal because it was often too hot to run, so we’d make shade from 12-4PM and pass the time reading, listening to podcasts, drinking tea and coffee and just gazing up at the cloudless sky. Henley did all the cooking, mostly tuna with pasta and beans with rice, and we snacked on energy bars and crackers dipped in peanut butter; fresh food was almost non-existent given how remote our route was. Evenings were the best, under a huge starry sky, and I can still remember the relief and comfort I felt once I finally crawled into our Big Agnes Tiger Wall 3 Platinum tent having accomplished another day.

The hardest part of the trip was the 18 days between Alice Springs and Oodnadatta. So much stress, with almost no relief. Sandstorms, 25 MPH headwinds, busted knees, 2 MPH pace as we slogged through tears, rocky roads, 100F heat, apocalyptic landscape without shade, flies and more flies. One thing after the other, and 439 miles with only one day of rest. 

The moment my heart crumbled was about seven days before Oodnadatta when I watched Henley go through immense hardship. I saw him so exhausted and beat up as he pushed, pulled, dragged and kicked the bike through 24 hours of deep sand. He was desperate to not let the bike’s inability to cover ground be the end of us, and through his desperation I saw remarkable endurance. This was the moment when I realized how this trip wasn’t about me, but rather it was about us getting through thick and thin together. We were crossing Oz to persist, dig deep, explore, as Ed Abby says, “…walk, better yet crawl, on hands and knees, over the sandstone and through the thornbush and cactus. When traces of blood begin to mark your trail you’ll see something, maybe.”

After 119 total days and a brutal last day of headwinds, rain, groin pain, a flat tire, chaotic city traffic, and another emotional breaking point (for me), we officially hit the ocean in Adelaide on Friday, November 8th at 5:30pm. One of the very first things I said to Henley as we dipped our feet and bike tires into the ocean was, “We’ve got to do this again!” Not the same run across Oz, but a trip of similar struggle, vulnerability, madness, and ‘pinch’ as I like to call it. Henley and I will always be the types that crave a little bite in the ass – to do something just to see if we can, to follow a hunch, to push our limits, to discover something new. You really are more capable than you think you are, and it’s all worth it in the end, no matter the misery, as long as you finish what you started.

We emerged unscathed and remarkably unbroken given what we asked our bodies and minds to do. Since day one and still, I truly cannot believe that my body rose to the occasion; day after day I asked it to do so much and it responded with, “OK, I’m with you” (only after first saying “F-this!”). At the end of the day, it was a tucked-away endurance that I had to find and a deep love for one another that won out through the lowest moments. I realized that endurance has nothing to do with how long you can go through hardship but rather how you can go through it with no end in sight. Ultimately, I learned how to bear-hug pain.

Throughout our journey as we ran and cycled, Henley and I experienced firsthand the worst spring drought in Australian history. The number of animal carcasses outnumbered by far the number of live animals and insects we encountered, and some sections of our route in South Australia looked like a war zone. The drought followed by the massive heat wave that hit Australia in December led to unprecedented dry conditions which caused the fires that are now consuming our precious Australia. It is heartbreaking.

Across the globe, climate change is ruining the places we cherish and jeopardizing the future of our planet. The decade that just ended was the hottest ever recorded, capped off by the second-warmest year on record. Extreme heat waves, ice melt and destruction of natural ecosystems are only set to increase. If we don’t take climate change into consideration in all our daily decisions immediately, it would be akin to piddling around on a sinking ship. 

Henley and I are taking a stand. We plan to share our Australian adventure story as a means to promote responsible adventure. 

What will you do? Ride your bike instead of drive your car one more day a week, or every day. Bring your own container to a restaurant for your leftovers. Create a project to bring awareness to biodiversity. Run a race for an environmental charity and tell all your friends. Fly less this year. Choose the DIY bulk section over buying packaged. Write to the companies you buy from and tell them to use biodegradable packaging instead of plastic, or no packaging at all. Turn the water off when you shave your legs or suds up your hands. 

Whatever you do, do something. It’s not a suggestion – it’s a responsibility. 

Invite Katie and Henley to speak in your town or at your school, workplace, shop, etc. They’d love to share their story and message with you! Contact: www.katievisco.com and Instagram @katievisco and @henley.phillips.

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Katie Visco is the 2019 recipient of our Bob Swanson Memorial Exploration Grant. This grant was created by the owners and staff of Big Agnes in honor of our adventurous and worldly colleague Bob Swanson who passed away in 2016. For more information about the upcoming application period, visit The Bob Swanson Memorial Exploration Grant page on our website.

Comments (4)

4 responses

  1. william burr

    Incredible testament to the human spirit. Don’t ever let failure stop you, learn from it, embrace it. Remember it’s not the destination, it’s the journey.

  2. Rob St. John

    What a great commentary on your efforts, and especially your and Henley’s relationship. In a word, awesome. Regarding global warming, my personal demand is that we once again restore the continental ice sheets, and on a local level, Glacial Lake Missoula. As that notable scion, nay visionary, Greta Thunberg would say “How dare you…” deprive our prodigy of the opportunity to grapple with Arctic environs.

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