- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 29, 2005

KHILOK, Russia — A solitary figure is running, strapped into a harness that pulls a loaded buggy and puffing great clouds of vapor. It is 4 degrees below zero and Rosie Swale Pope, 58, a British grandmother, is halfway around the world, in eastern Siberia.

Almost 16 months since she left home in Tenby, Wales, Mrs. Pope has covered more than 5,000 miles of her round-the-world run to raise money for charity.

Her journey has taken her through Western Europe, the Baltic states and deep into Russia. She has been knocked down by a bus, threatened at knife point, surrounded by wolves and confronted by a wild boar. Now comes the hardest part of the trip — the Siberian winter.

“This is the real Cold War,” she said. “It’s going to be a struggle to stay alive.”

At night, temperatures fall to 40 below, and they could drop further as she runs toward Yakutsk in the Russian Far East, one of the coldest inhabited places on Earth.

Her toothpaste has frozen (she uses salt instead) and the poles in her tent keep snapping. People here in Buryatia, a republic about 3,000 miles east of Moscow, think she is crazy.

“Tourists going to hot countries I can understand, but this …” said a taxi driver, his voice trailing away in disbelief. “She must be an iron lady.”

Mrs. Pope is unperturbed. The Sunday Telegraph found her on the main road running east from Lake Baikal toward Vladivostok.

“This kind of cold is just training for what lies ahead,” she said, dragging her 200-pound buggy, Hercules. “Today is quite warm, actually.”

In this landscape of snow and ice, pitching her tent and making dinner on a tiny gas stove is an agonizing process that takes hours of fumbling with numb fingers.

Mrs. Pope’s diet consists of boiled buckwheat, bouillon cubes, the occasional piece of fruit bought from a roadside shop, vitamin supplements and pork fat — which she also rubs on her face and feet to keep warm.

After dinner each night, she puts on four pairs of long johns, a pair of padded trousers, a jumper, a down jacket and bootees, and climbs into her three sleeping bags.

Her exhaustion means sleep is usually uninterrupted unless hungry mice try to get into the tent. On one occasion a pack of wolves circled outside. At first she thought they were wild dogs and tried to feed them.

Loneliness is one of her toughest enemies: “Sometimes it cuts like a knife.” But she has a satellite telephone and keeps in touch with her friends; her son, James; daughter, Eve; and grandson, Michael, 3.

In the morning she does facial exercises to help her circulation. Every aspect of her routine is vital. “You just need to make one mistake and everything goes to ruin,” she said. “Realizing a dream like this is a combination of brass tacks and having a vision.”

Her vision came when her second husband, Clive, 73, died of prostate cancer in 2002, and she decided to run around the world to raise money for the Prostate Cancer Charity and an orphanage in Kitezh, Russia.

She is used to adventures and publicity. In the 1970s, she made headlines by sailing naked through the tropics — from England to Australia — with her first husband.

In 1983, she sailed solo across the Atlantic and later trekked 2,000 miles through Chile on horseback.

She turned to running late in life — at 48 — but loves it. On this trip, she must strike northeast toward Magadan on Russia’s Pacific Coast. From there, she will fly to Alaska or head north and cross the frozen Bering Strait.

Then her route will continue through the United States and Canada, before hopping by airplane to Greenland, Iceland and, finally, back home, by March 2006.

She started out from Britain carrying a 40-pound rucksack, but got rid of it near Moscow when someone gave her a child’s buggy. She used the child’s buggy for 1,500 miles until Hercules was delivered to her in central Siberia. The small, two-wheeled cart was built with a harness designed by the explorer Ranulph Fiennes. But, she said: “I may have to exchange Hercules for a reindeer if it gets colder.”

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