Most people see little of any city they’re in. Permanent residents make the commute from home to work, with the occasional deviation to shop or exercise or eat. Most tourists do even less.
That’s why what ultrarunner Rickey Gates has done is truly unique. From November 1 to December 17, Gates ran every single street in the city of San Francisco, some multiple times. In total, Gates logged over 1,300 miles and 147,000 feet of elevation over 46 days.
I’ve updated my final heatmap from @Strava and recorded on my @suunto 9 for #EverySingleStreet of San Francisco. The color blue has never looked this good to me. pic.twitter.com/HKqDRZmagK
— rickey gates (@rickeygates)
Gates knows what he’s doing. He’s climbed “14ers,” or 14,000-foot mountains. Last year, across the United States in five months. and Suunto have sponsored him for years. In fact, he wore the Salomon and for his San Francisco adventure.
But the Every Single Street project was something entirely new for the 37-year-old from Aspen, Colorado. The idea came to him when he returned to San Francisco—his adopted home for the past several years—after his cross-country trek. How fascinating would it be, he thought, if he used his extreme endurance to truly get to know a city?
“I consider myself a social studies person of how our humankind operates, on this very simple and humble level of being on the ground and running,” Gates said. “[The Every Single Street project has] altered my way of thinking about a city—it’s changed it to this organic sort of being.”
Gates didn’t come up with the “every single street” idea, a concept that’s been floating around for years in various forms, but his rendition was far bigger and bolder than those before it. At first glance, the incredible feat of endurance required—especially in such a famously hilly city like San Francisco—is the largest narrative coming out of what Gates has done.
And in a sense, that’s entirely true: To finish by when he did, Gates averaged around 30 miles a day for a month and a half to traverse a city of nearly 47 square miles and 900,000 people. Most nights, he slept in a van parked where he finished that night so he could start again quicker the next morning.
But the largest lessons Gates took away from his urban adventure are more human. When asked what the darkest moments of the project had been, he replied instantly, not with a day of particularly heavy mileage or demanding climbs, but with his observations of the widespread poverty, homelessness, and drug use he witnessed on San Francisco’s streets.
“It’s about purposefully pushing ourselves out of our bubbles,” Gates told Runner’s World of a central motivation for the project. “Sometimes outside those bubbles it’s just not all that pretty. And I have no idea what to do about [these issues]. The best thing you can hope for is to develop some empathy.”
The best moments aren’t so running-related, either: The beauty of Bernal Heights; the grand history of the Hunters Point Naval Shipyard; and the invigorating bustle of Chinatown, Little Italy, and Russian Hill, which he churned through in his 50-mile penultimate day.
“I liked that a lot, just kind of seeing a section of the city that hasn’t changed in the last 30 or 40 years,” Gates said. “And I really enjoy the hustle and bustle. A large portion of the city is just residential, so there isn’t really all that much of it.”
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When it came to sustenance, too, Gates didn’t act much like a road runner. Part of truly knowing San Francisco was sampling food from all over the city. Burning as many calories as he was, those occasions came often.
“I wasn’t eating gels, I wasn’t bringing Gatorade with me,” he said. “That’s one of the beauties of doing an excursion like this. You don’t want to do something like this and not stop for a doughnut.”
But that passion for experiencing the city organically was a major logistical challenge, because any “every single street” attempt is the ultimate iteration of the classic . Overall, he ran far more miles than a perfect robot Rickey Gates might’ve, including running some streets two or three times. But he didn’t mind too much, Gates said—it was just part of the adventure.
For now, Gates doesn’t have plans for a similar endeavour, though Venice is intriguing, he said. But he’s excited and ready to promote the concept to others. Walking the streets, sticking to just your neighborhood, taking as long as you need to finish, he endorses it all.
“It’s super fun, really eye opening, and it’s expanded what I believe is adventure running,” Gates said. “We all think that we know our cities, our towns, our neighborhoods, but I guarantee there’s a couple Aspen streets I’ve never been on. It provides its own mountaintop to get to and come back down, and it’s right there.”