LOS ANGELES, September 7, 2013 – Travel can bring people together – and it can pull them apart, as noted in the indie film, “The 25,000 Mile Love Story,” which wraps up the Rome International Film Festival this weekend in Rome, GA.
The story is a mile-by-mile allegory of one of the world’s leading endurance athletes who decides to run the circumference of the earth with his wife on her motorbike at his side. What truths they find are the stuff of, well, movies and books, and perhaps philosophers.
This real life Forrest Gump was no stranger to endurance feats and nor was his wife. Serge and Nicole Roetheli had done this before – the Pan American Highway took them two years in the mid-1990s, but that was only 14,984 miles. Adding more than 10,000 miles to a course, as they did from 2000-2005, can set any relationship on a dangerous trajectory and that is what happened with the Swiss couple’s 25,422-mile journey down the world’s most remote roads and some of the heart’s darkest places during this world adventure.
Through the film and then a book, The 25,000 Mile Love Story, The Epic Story of the Couple Who Sacrificed Everything to Run the World released by Dunham Books in February, we follow along in a sort of interior and external travelogue through places few dare to go. We see the dust and feel the sweat. We meet the villagers, feel the fears and fight the battle of will over circumstance, of goal over emotion. This is a travelogue for the soul.
Alone in some of the world’s most unforgiving landscapes, the Roethelis encountered exceptionally challenging situations along their route, including civil wars, dangerous animals, poisonous snakes and extreme weather conditions. Both Serge and Nicole were stricken with severe cases of malaria, and Serge suffered a fractured arm when hit by a vehicle. In spite of these and many other difficulties, they persisted to the finish line and raised over $400,000 to support humanitarian efforts in Africa, South America and Central America.
At the heart of their journey is a love story - a relationship of two people who left their lives behind to achieve the impossible. But at the end of every dream is that difficult transition back into the solid world that surrounds us. And for this couple, that meant future roads would be traveled alone.
Serge Roetheli was born in Switzerland in 1955 and may, indeed, be the greatest endurance athlete in the world. His accomplishments have run the range of runner, climber, rower, boxer, bicyclist, and machete wielder.
For now, Serge considers running the distance of the circumference of the earth to be his greatest feat. In early 2011, he also rowed across the Atlantic Ocean in a canoe. In 2000, he ran 1,500 miles across the Sahara Desert in 118-degree heat. In 1986 he ran four marathons in as many days in Death Valley: 100 miles, in temperatures averaging 118 degrees.
That same year he took on the Grand Canyon – running up and down from rim to river (28.8 miles and climbs of 5,200 feet) in a single day. He ran Europe in 1989, a feat that took 219 days to go 6,500 miles. And the list goes on: the five mountaintops of the Swiss Alps in less than 20 hours; Annapurna to Thorong La Pass (17,589 feet) in a week; and successful, speedy climbs of Mt. McKinley, Mt. Aconcagua, Mt. Kilimanjaro and Mt. Blanc.
In his grounded flight across the belly of the earth, Serge faced challenges most of us only experience in fiction and film: civil war, hostile villagers, relentless mosquitoes, snake bite to the eye, wild beasts, intense heat and humidity, thick jungle trails that lead nowhere, sponsors dropping out, constant weakness, sickness, pain.
The feat took them 1,910 days (consider this thought: that would be running a marathon every consecutive day for five years and three months). Serge drank six tons of Coca Cola on this trip, wore out 64 pairs of shoes, and 122 pairs of socks. Serge and Nicole had only each other through the entirety of this epic undertaking.
They both faced death and disease head on each day. Malaria still wracks Nicole. Still, they had each other for company and kept each other’s spirits alive, a love story, indeed.
In an interview this summer with Running News from Race-Calendar.com, Serge admitted the decision to commit to running the circumference of the earth was a hard one to make.
“You have only two decisions: You either decide to do it or you don’t and if you decide to do it, you commit 100%. There is no possibility to fail. It took lots of planning and it wasn’t a decision that my wife and I arrived at easily. We made all of our own arrangements and had no official sponsor of any kind. We handled all of our own logistics.”
Was it worth it?
“Yes,” said Serge. “There was a high price to pay for the pursuit of our dream. We risked to lose everything every day. When we finished! When we were in Nepal… absolutely beautiful!”
An adventurer? A modern day Marco Polo? Jules Verne with running shoes? The lands and landscapes and lessons learned by this far flung wayfarer may not be for the average tourist. But in a world torn asunder with strife and a marriage torn apart by the extremes of interior forces, perhaps a quote from his book tells it best:
“I am no longer with Nicole,” Serge wrote. “This fact always shocks people to a degree and saddens them, especially those who know and understand our journey.
“They think the world tour tore us apart. It is quite the opposite. The world tour is what held us together for so long.”
Note: To build upon Roetheli’s humanitarian mission, 50% of the proceeds from the book go directly to Lil’ Red Foundation, which actively supports housing and education programs in developing nations.
Lark Gould is an author of eight books on travel and a journalist who has been covering the travel industry for more than two decades.
Stay informed about the world of travel: Travel-Intel, for travel news and updates. Also find out more about Lark Gould’s travels at Larkslist.com
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