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Last Updated: Sunday, 21 March, 2004, 14:29 GMT
Russians warm to round-the-world runner

By Sarah Rainsford
BBC correspondent in Novopetrovsk, western Russia

Rosie Swale Pope on the open road
Rosie began her charity run in October last year

A lone figure in soggy trainers, bent beneath the weight of a tatty red rucksack, Rosie Swale Pope is an unusual new feature on the Russian landscape.

Jogging beside the trucks and tractors on the snow-lined road to Moscow, the 57-year-old widow from Wales is attempting to run solo around the world.

Rosie's route stretches for more than 20,000 miles (32,000 km). She set off from her home in Tenby in October, running on a tiny budget - and totally alone.

Her challenge is a combination of stamina and survival.

With no money for hotels she carries her bed and her belongings on her back and camps every night in a brown bivouac by the side of the road.

"I've been through the darkest nights of winter at -22 C.

"My feet were freezing and turning purple," Rosie admits cheerfully.

"Sometimes I had to find a cafe to melt the tent down, because it got frozen stiff as a board!"

Welsh flag

Rosie wakes each morning at first light.

Her matted, blonde hair emerges first - then her broad grin - as she wriggles out of her bivouac into the waist-deep snow.

After weeks on the road, her camping stove is clogged with soot but she manages to muster enough flame to make breakfast: coffee, using melted snow.

I just looked at the map and it drove me crazy!
Rosie Swale Pope

By 1000 AM, Rosie is up and running - a Welsh flag wrapped round her neck against the cold.

"Running for me is more a fast way of looking at the view than anything else!" she laughs.

With 17 kilos in her backpack her pace is more a fast walk than a run.

Still, now the snow is melting and the days are getting longer, she is averaging up to 20 miles (32 km) a day.

Russia is by far the longest, the coldest and the toughest leg of Rosie's round-the-world route, which stretches from Wales, all the way through eastern Siberia to Alaska and beyond - via the Bering Straits.

"I just looked at the map and it drove me crazy!" Rosie says, explaining her gruelling - some say impossible - choice of route.

"I wanted so much to run this magnificent stretch of land.

"I just could not believe that there is the English Channel, then the Bering Straits - and there is land in-between!"

'Nice Russians'

The locals in Russia have never seen anything like it.

Even in the most remote villages, Rosie cuts a peculiar, bedraggled figure. Her skin is deeply ingrained with soot from her stove.

As she bursts into a shop, the cashiers look understandably concerned - but moments later, they're laughing out loud.

Rosie tries out a word or two of Russian, gesticulating extravagantly. "Ya Rosie, from Wales! Riga-Moscow - peshkom!"

Rosie in her bivouac
'Luxury' - Rosie considers fulfilling a dream better than living in a palace

"What, she's doing this alone - and she doesn't even speak the language?" wonders Katya, one bewildered cashier.

"I'm impressed. " The petrol attendants fill Rosie's fuel bottle for free.

"Typical Russians," Rosie smiles. "So nice."

She produces a log book for the girls to sign.

"It's a record of everyone who's been kind to me, she explains.

"It's also an accurate record of my route. This journey must be authentic. It has to be 100% on two feet." She pauses.

"Or on all fours, if I get tired."

'Thank you for life'

Rosie's journey is clearly an enormous personal challenge but it's also what she laughingly calls a charity fun-run.

An orphan herself, she's hoping to raise funds for the Kitezh community for orphaned and abandoned children in Russia.

She's also supporting two cancer charities: her husband Clive died of prostate cancer last year.

"I'm doing this to say thank you for life," Rosie explains.

So far Rosie's only nocturnal visitors have been friendly Eric the Wild Boar and a deer

"Life is precious and every minute is precious. This is just my way of making a little contribution."

Rosie confesses that the hardest thing to deal with is the loneliness of the open road - and keeping going, knowing that her mammoth journey will last at least two years.

But if she is to complete this challenge she knows she has to take special care of her health.

"If something hurts I have to stop and rub it a bit," Rosie explains, cooling one bare foot in a snow-drift as she rests for a moment by the side of the road.

"You have to listen to pain as a warning, because there is no-one there to save you, if things go skew-whiff."

Luxury

As evening falls, Rosie begins her daily search for a campsite. She needs to stick close to the road, but remain as inconspicuous as possible for safety.

Rosie with Russian cashiers
Russians are amazed at Rosie's fortitude

So far though her only nocturnal visitors have been friendly Eric the Wild Boar and a deer.

In five months Rosie has already come a staggeringly long way from home.

But she has thousands of miles of road left to run.

And across vast swathes of far-eastern Russia there are no roads at all.

But as she wades through the deep Russian snow to pitch her bivouac for the night, Rosie remains characteristically optimistic.

"I consider doing what you want to do most in the world the greatest luxury - far greater than living in any palace," she explains.

"Of course, it's hard - but when I poke my head out in the morning, to hear the birds singing and the last owl hooting - or when I see the stars at night - I just think what a lucky woman I am."




SEE ALSO:
Rosie on course for global run
29 Dec 03  |  South West Wales
Rosie begins global run
02 Oct 03  |  Wales
Rosie, 57, to run around world
25 Sep 03  |  South West Wales


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