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Sojourn Takes Woman to New Heights at Roof of the World

Times Staff Writer

A former U.S. Navy biologist who lives in Ventura has laid claim to being the first woman and the first American to run the 3,000-mile length of the Himalayas.

Mary Margaret Goodwin, 51, jogged the harrowing trek along the “Roof of the World” accompanied only by her 3-year-old German short-haired pointer, Velia. Two bearers with supply-laden ponies followed them by several hours.

“I would never have finished without Velia,” Goodwin said in a telephone interview from the New Jersey hotel where she was resting after returning Sunday to the United States. “She was the only one I had to talk to. She was my moral support. She made me laugh.”

Overcame Many Obstacles

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Goodwin said she and her dog braved wild animal encounters, vast temperature fluctuations, and India’s monsoon season while following in the footsteps of British brothers Adrian and Richard Crane, who in 1984 became the first to tackle the hellish course that skirts Mt. Everest, the world’s highest peak.

A hypoglycemic, Goodwin said she dropped about 40 pounds over the course of the trip on which she averaged 30 miles a day carrying a load that ranged between 15 and 20 pounds. She also fractured two toes and pulled a muscle in her foot.

“I was discouraged constantly, but I had to keep going to get out of there,” she said. “It’s so good to be back.”

Goodwin’s journey began March 11 in northeastern India’s Darjeeling and finished Aug. 28 at Gulmarg in northwestern India’s Vale of Kashmir. Her 170-day run was well behind the Crane brothers’ time of 92 days.

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The Himalayas, a string of mountains along the Tibet-Indian border, includes 17 peaks over 26,000 feet. “They just beg to be climbed,” Goodwin said. “I can’t even see a picture of them without wanting to go back there.”

The trip’s most treacherous stretch, Goodwin said, was the 18,000-foot Throng La Pass, which she crossed in May. Strong winds and minus 5-degree weather had turned the trail to ice.

“You couldn’t stand up and walk,” she said. “You had to sit on your rear end and inch along.”

For Goodwin, however, the trip’s most challenging part didn’t come until 110-degree weather broke into August’s monsoon season. The rains not only drenched Goodwin for weeks but also dampened her spirits, she said.

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“It was so depressing,” she said. “I was constantly wet and I didn’t know whether it was the rain or the tears.”

Goodwin plans to write a book based on a detailed diary she kept during the trip on which she said she and her dog were charged by an elephant, harassed by monkeys and wild dogs, and chased for an entire day by a wolf. The book will include photographs that she took with a camera supplied by Eastman Kodak, the trip’s main sponsor.

Not an Official Record

Exactly where Goodwin’s feat will go into the record books is not clear. An editor with Ultra Running, the Amherst, Mass., bible of long-distance running, explained that records are kept only for events with official supervision.

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“She can take great pleasure and pride out of doing something like this, but there’s no way to say it’s a record,” said the editor, Peter Gagarin.

No stranger to obscure sports challenges, Goodwin said she ran the 2,000-mile length of Japan in 1986 and claims to have been the first woman to run across Death Valley, a 134-mile feat completed in 1984.

A former endurance swimmer, she once swam across Santa Monica Bay and the straits of Messina and Gibraltar.

Goodwin began running about 12 years ago to recuperate from back problems stemming from a childhood bout with polio. But she didn’t begin running full time until she quit her job in 1982 as director of environmental and conservation affairs in the office of the secretary of the Navy in Washington.

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“I was tired of fighting,” she said.


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