Book review: Becoming Forrest by Rob Pope

Inspired by Forrest Gump, Rob Pope decided to go for a run - across America. Five times. 'Becoming Forrest' is his story.

It probably says more about me than the book, but the arrival of toilet humour on page 110 of Becoming Forrest is when my interest grew. Up until then, it’s an ordinary book about an extraordinary feat.

Recreating Forrest Gump’s iconic cross-country route across America, Rob Pope “just felt like running” and kept on going for 409 days and nearly 15,400 miles, matching the efforts of his movie hero. Becoming Forrest is the story of his journey, which is more an observation of America than a toolkit for running.

For the first hundred or so pages, it’s pleasant enough. Apart from a few mishaps – mainly with his motorhome called Jenny – there’s never really a feeling of uncertainty or urgency in his quest. It seems ludicrous to say that given the mammoth task, but the book zips through state after state at a fair pace with little happening.

Then Pope reaches a ghost town in Texas called Gomez, where things get rather desperate.

“The onset of explosive diarrhoea just before I reached Gomez was the unexpected and unwelcome diversion. Shit was going down and it was on the verge of becoming literal.

“I now know there are few greater humiliations than asking a complete stranger if you can use their toilet, then enquiring where the toilet paper is when you can’t find it, leaving them no doubt as to your intentions. My guardian angel was Gerald.”

The fun with new best friend Gerald doesn’t stop there, either.

“He’d watched Forrest Gump for the first time the night before – to be fair, it was on TV a lot in the US – and I worried that his family would return later that evening, hear the story about the film character that came to visit Gramps the night after he watched it and decide it might be time for a care home. I couldn’t imagine Gerald taking that lightly.”

I genuinely laughed out loud when I read that and it’s when Becoming Forrest turned a welcome corner for me.

Shortly afterwards his partner is forced to return to the UK due to financial issues, leaving Pope to continue his journey alone, which again is when I found it more engrossing.

Dealing with his lodging on the hoof and repairs to Pramsolo – his equipment carrying buggy, so called because Pope resembled Chewbacca at this stage – leads to a heightened sense of peril. How will he cope? Will he make it? It makes you want to continue reading.

His partner then briefly rejoins him, followed by a friend who also assists, and then the tone of the book returns to one of being, well, relatively humdrum. It’s fine and very well-written, but there’s no real sense of drama or danger.

I think the issue lies in the fact the running comes across as being largely effortless, despite the insane amount of daily mileage. It’s almost as if Pope’s being too modest and is reluctant to mention any showstopping injuries, unless he truly is super human, of course.

Becoming Forrest is worth a read, but I don’t think it does justice to what’s achieved. It does a better job of unearthing the real America than it does documenting an epic run.