Saturday, May 7, 2011
Jude Ryan got back in touch recently. He is one of my oldest friends from the days when, both nine years old, we met after moving to Paris and confronted learning the French language together in school.
Jude has accumulated an impressive travel record, and amongst those travels, a penchant for endurance events.
He ran an ultra marathon in the Gobi desert, which involved covering roughly 250 kms on foot, in the space of 7 days.
Although far from his level of training, I too have on occasion put my body through some grueling but rewarding adventures. In Tasmania with my partner Kelsi, we carried 30 kg packs for a distance of 34 kilometers in two days, sometimes through mud we would sink mid-thigh deep into AND stopping to film along the way. On a couple of occasions, alone and with Kelsi and others, I carried those same 30 kgs up into a remote region of the Northern Flinders ranges in South Australia, under a relentless sun.
So Jude and I have long been toying with the idea of participating in an endurance event together. I doubt I could keep up with him as he is a runner. I really am not. But I might just make it to the finish line.
The reality is that apart from those anomalous spurts of adventure, I have spent the past 12 years in dark rooms, in front of computers. The only rate I raised was not my heart's, but the speed of renders of computer generated imagery for blockbuster movies.
Jude probably knew he had the perfect hook when he contacted me about the Sahara desert race. Same format as the Gobi desert more or less: 40 kms per day for 6 days, and 10 kms the last day, for a total of 250 kms in 7 days. But the race crosses a place called the Valley of the Whales, and as Jude explained this location to me, I felt the familiar tug of a decision I would many times curse, before ultimately treasuring it for the rest of my life.
In the Valley of the Whales, paleontologists have discovered the fossilized remains, millions of years old, of whales that had only just recently (in evolutionary terms) returned to live in the oceans after an abortive attempt at life on land. The remains had small rear legs which the whale probably trailed behind it as it swam, without much use for them (since they eventually completely disappeared).
The poetry of running an endurance event through such a place to raise awareness and funds for Whale Like Me and the work of the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society was too strong to resist. Somewhere, I would have to find my running legs to make it through the resting place of whale ancestors who had abandoned theirs. A part of the Sahara desert, that once shallow sea is now one of the hottest and driest places on our planet. To run there, and then by night imagine the sound of the sea and the call of whales now dead almost 40 million years...
Training began at the end of March in Bali. I have to work my way up from a pathetic 5 minute run that first day along the Sanur beach front... to being capable of running roughly 2 hours and walking another 5, with a 10 kilo pack, day after day for a week.
Without underestimating the difficulty, I feel I have a chance. Early May, and I am now able to run one hour per day with a 5 kg pack. After a few years of work for the advancement of a new way to relate to whales and dolphins, it feels amazing to be able to do something simple, direct and physical towards that goal along side the usual work with concepts, digital communication and pre-production work on the feature documentary Whale Like Me. The effects of abstract work are long term and during the effort itself, their results are hard to gauge. This requires a sustained act of faith - over the weeks, months and years of hard work - that the vision is worth it all.
Running, in comparison, is pure simplicity. One foot in front of the other. Each step gets you a step further. After so many steps (a quantifiable amount), you reach your goal. Never mind that it hurts like hell. Never mind that this is the type of race seasoned athletes turn to as they seek greater challenges. I have embraced this and I'm grateful to Jude for having opened this door for me, to the Valley of the Whales.
To all my friends, and all those who support Whale Like Me, there is a standing invitation to join us to run through the Valley of the Whales in October 2011. You can also sponsor our run. If you are interested in either, write to
If you have a friend who you think might be 'our kind of crazy', connect us please.
You can find out more about the endurance event at: