Ryan Johns sat quietly at a street café in Athens, eating a pita sandwich, bone-weary.
He had anticipated arriving in Athens and celebrating.
But after running 2,600 miles across Europe in 130 days, and with his reed-thin body spent, Johns could only sit and contemplate, basking in his incredible journey that took him across seven countries.
“I had always expected to arrive in Athens jumping and shouting with excitement,” said Johns, a 2005 Olympia High School graduate.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Olympian
On the final day of Johns’ remarkable trek, he ran 50 miles, running a marathon in the morning and another in the afternoon. Running across Europe alone with only a 6-pound pack and no supply car following him, he averaged about 20 miles a day.
“I only had enough energy to stagger to the nearest ‘Milko’ vending kiosk with a big smile on my face,” Johns said about his final day.
On Thursday, Johns, who returned to his hometown of Olympia on Oct. 9, shared his story with students at his alma mater, Olympia High School.
Johns wasn’t the only one relieved that his journey was over. His mother, Nadine Webster-Johns, checked his blog – ryanrunseurope.blogspot.com – every night for updates.
“For me, I’m glad it’s over. I think he was very, very lucky,” Webster-Johns said. “So many things could have happened, and they didn’t. For that, I’m grateful. Would I tell him to do it again next year? I’d beg him not to. It was a long four months.”
Besides tired feet, Johns finished his run across Europe with a better appreciation for Europe and its people.
He began in Amsterdam just two days after graduating from Columbia in May, and only once in the first 80 days of his journey did he sleep outside. That happened only because he was in the middle of Germany’s Black Forest.
On each of the other first 79 days, total strangers took him in, allowing him to crash on their couch for the night.
Later, while running along the coast of Italy, he spent some nights sleeping on the beach because he couldn’t find a place to stay. But those nights were the exception.
“I was amazed by the hospitality,” Johns said.
Johns’ self-imposed rule was that he couldn’t stay in a hotel. To experience the culture and the people, he insisted on finding lodging in someone’s home.
It was never easy. After arriving in a village or a city, Johns would strike up a conversation with someone at a café or a corner store, speaking in French, German or Italian. He’d tell them about his journey.
“Eventually, they’d ask, ‘Do you have a place to stay?’ ” Johns said.
That often led to a second night’s lodging in another town if that night’s host had a friend in the next town. Along the way, Johns also found lodging through a hospitality Web site called Couchsurfing.com.
“It brings up profiles, like Facebook,” John said. “People would say, ‘If you’re staying in my town, send me an e-mail, and I’ll let you crash in my living room.’ It was all free.”
It’s a way for the host and the guest to experience a new culture. John estimated that he spent 20 nights with hosts he found on the Web site.
“I’d have someone who’d take me in, show me around town, give me a good meal,” Johns said. “It was amazing. You get to see more of the lifestyle than you’d see if you went with a tourist map.”
Johns ran through seven countries and three pairs of running shoes. He ran through the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Germany, Switzerland, Italy and Greece.
He said he dreaded the task of finding lodging more than he dreaded the running.
No one was more surprised or relieved to finish that Johns.
“I don’t know if I really ever expected to make it,” he said. “There were so many things that could go wrong, little accidents that could happen.”
There were the possibilities of getting hit by a car, of getting stress fractures, of getting sick or getting mugged. None of those things happened.
“I was always thinking, ‘OK, maybe today is the last day of this trip, so I’m just going to go to the next town.’ ” Johns said. “I think what really helped me make it through was not ever looking to getting to Athens.”
Instead, he’d think of getting to the next town.
“I never looked to Athens until the last week,” he said. “The only way I got by was just looking to the next day, saying, ‘OK, today was great.’ ”
Johns also found inspiration and support from a growing fan club on his blog. People he had never met began following his journey, making comments and encouraging him.
“His blogging updates were my saving grace,” Webster-Johns said. “Every night before going to bed, I’d check to see how he was doing. Sometimes I’d go to bed worrying because he still hadn’t found a place to sleep. Other nights I’d go to bed smiling because he had done it again.”
Johns plans to return to New York City, get a job and enter graduate school to continue his studies in architecture next fall.
“I’d have to say I’m glad he did it for him,” Webster-Johns said. “I think he learned a lot about himself, about the world, and got renewed faith about everyone in it.”
Gail Wood: 360-754-5443