From one ocean to another, Concord man running across America

Last modified: 6/13/2015 12:58:17 AM
One week ago, Alan Barlow stood on Heceta Beach in Oregon and dipped a plastic water bottle into the Pacific Ocean. He stashed the bottle in a stroller, alongside food, clothes and gadgets.

And then he set out for a run.

Barlow, a 55-year-old Concord resident, is attempting to run across the country from the West Coast to the East Coast. He is logging about a marathon every single day, traveling alone, pushing a 75-pound stroller of supplies. If that’s not enough, he’s raising $15,000 for the food pantry at St. Paul’s Church in Concord along the way.

In five months and 3,200 miles, he plans to end his journey at Rye Beach in New Hampshire.

“What interests me about it is just that it’s such an infrequent type of journey,” Barlow said by phone from Oregon the day before he set out last Saturday. “There’s less than 50 people that have ever successfully run across the United States solo.”

At night, Barlow will rely on campsites, motels or the kindness of strangers who open their backyards to his tent. He will walk some stretches and take days off as needed.

“This is sheer endurance,” he said.

The run

Barlow has been a runner for years.

“While he was working, this was his stress relief,” his wife, Diane Barlow, said. “No matter how long his days were, now matter how late the meetings were or what country he was traveling in, Alan found a way to get his run in.”

But he didn’t run his first marathon until he was 45. In the 10 years since, Barlow has completed four. He has never run a race longer than those 26.2 miles.

The idea for his cross-country journey hit him in 2007, when he was working in Munich on a 3-year assignment for a German-based lighting company.

“I’m kind of still trying to find the reason for the inspiration myself,” he said. “Why not run across the United States? I enjoyed running for many years, but why this particular thought, it’s really difficult for me to say.”

Barlow began to research online. He learned fewer than 10 people over 55 years old have completed a solo run across the country. He told his family about the idea.

“I said to my girls, ‘Don’t talk about it, I don’t want to know the details, this is the craziest idea I’ve ever heard of. Don’t entertain this,’ ” Diane Barlow said.

But Barlow was running three times a day – before work, on his lunch break, after work. He ran long miles on the weekends. He mapped his course. In 2012, the stroller arrived. When he retired in January, he ramped up his training. He got a GPS tracking device, so his friends and family could track his progress online when he doesn’t have cell phone service.

“He just is so dedicated and wants it so badly that it sort of turned me around,” Diane said. “I know that he has really planned well, and he doesn’t take unnecessary risk.

“If there’s anybody that could possibly do something like this, I believe it could be him.”

The reason

The Barlows – Alan, Diane and their two daughters, Stephanie and Courtney – have been stocking shelves at the St. Paul’s Church food pantry on Centre Street for years.

Every Sunday night, they replenish empty shelves for Monday morning.

“We’ve been doing that as a family for – I don’t know how many years,” Diane Barlow said. “We did it when the kids were little, and they were rolling cans on the floor and playing.”

The patrons of the food pantry rely on the kindness of strangers to make ends meet, Barlow said. So when he wanted to connect his run to something bigger than himself, he immediately thought of those years of Sundays.

“Let’s face it, Concord’s a pretty nice community to grow up in and to live in,” Barlow said. “You don’t see a lot of homelessness. Generally it’s not right there in your face. Yet the amount of food that’s going off the shelf to help people who are struggling to get by, you know the needs are there.”

The food pantry runs on a minimum budget of about $20,000 a year. Just one week into his journey, Barlow has raised more than 10 percent of his $15,000 goal. Barlow doesn’t have any sponsors and is self-funding his journey; all donations will go directly to the food pantry.

“We have our times when we’re down to very little. . . . This money will help us keep our shelves full during those low times,” Diane Barlow said of the pantry. “I think to have that cushion and know that we will have that when our shelves are bare is going to be a relief.”

Rev. Kate Atkinson, the rector of St. Paul’s Church, said the entire parish is supporting Barlow on his run.

“I think it’s wonderful for someone like Alan to make it known to whoever he encounters that this is what church is, this is what faith is,” Atkinson said. “It’s not going into a building and singing hymns and saying prayers and going home again. It’s taking what you receive in your worship experience and your faith community out into the world.”

The resolution

So far, Barlow has posted an update on his blog almost every day. He records his mileage and documents the day’s journey. He also writes about the friends he has made along the way, the strangers who have bestowed that hoped-for kindness. The construction worker who gave him a cooling handkerchief for his neck. The Oregon woman who bought his lunch after hearing his story. The couple that let him use their shower and camp in their yard.

“As long as I live, I will never forget today,” Barlow wrote on his blog at the end of his first day. “And if my journey ends tomorrow, all the time, training and effort I have put forth in the past eight years will have been worth it just to have experienced today.”

In five months and 3,200 miles, he plans to end his journey at Rye Beach in New Hampshire. He’ll dig a plastic water bottle out of his stroller. He’ll unscrew the top and tip it upside down.

In five months and 3,200 miles, he’ll pour the salt water of one ocean into another.

(Megan Doyle can be reached at 369-3321, or on Twitter @megan_e_doyle.)

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