He was a young, bearded man, running for days on end for no decipherable reason and to no apparent destination. People who saw him were confounded; soon, some were inspired to join.
No, this wasn’t a scene out of Forrest Gump.
This was a real person, a Monterey resident by the name of Mark Moehling. For two months in 2019, he spent virtually all his free time running the streets of Monterey – every single one of them.
He didn’t do it because he was heartbroken over a Jenny. Moehling did it because he loves taking on arbitrary but original physical challenges.
At 30 years old, Moehling has long participated in conventional challenges like marathons. He has completed an Ironman Triathlon. But about a year ago, Moehling decided to make a change.
“I kept getting into longer and longer events, but it’s hard to distinguish yourself,” he says. “There’s always someone who’s faster. I thought about it and for me it was not necessarily the distance or the time. So I tried to distinguish by being places no one else has been or by coming up with interesting goals.”
One of the ways he maintains his fitness is by participating in an informal club called the Wednesday Night Laundry Runners. That’s not to say that he only trains on Wednesdays. On a recent Monday evening, Moehling is at Monterey Peninsula College’s track preparing for one of many weekly practice sessions.
He crosses his legs, bends down, touches his toes with ease and then straightens back up. Clean-shaven with good posture and an earnest look on his face, Moehling can’t help but resemble Forrest Gump.
From his backpack, Moehling pulls out a neatly folded piece of thick paper. It’s the map he used to chart out his mission of running all of Monterey. Every street, lane and road, including dead-ends, is marked in red, signifying that it’s been conquered.
The idea of this activity came to him from Tom Graham, who had walked (not run) every street in San Francisco, covering 1,260 miles over seven years.
A perfectionist, Moehling refused to omit Monterey’s restricted military installations. He obtained permission to enter and run through both the Presidio of Monterey and Naval Support Activity Monterey, where the Naval Postgraduate School is located.
At the end of his self-imposed mission, Moehling had run approximately 240 miles, including cul-de-sacs and backtracking. Compare that to the total number of center street line miles in Monterey: about 101, according to city engineer Jeff Krebs. An engineer himself, Moehling considers the difference and says he wishes he could have been more efficient.
But Moehling is probably done with street running. “It wears on you after a while and it’s really mentally taxing,” he says. “It’s not like hopping on the trail and turning your brain off.”
The job takes a surprising amount of focus: “You try to plot out the most efficient route and have a mental image of it, but there would always be some street that’s not on the map or a dead end that messes you up or you’d forget what your plan was.”
Before running Monterey, Moehling spanned the distance between Monterey and Santa Cruz – twice. Once, he did it by walking along old railroad tracks between the two cities, 50 miles in one day, from 4am to 8pm. By his estimation, some 45 homeless people reside along the route. Their friendliness helped dissipate any self-consciousness about taking on this admittedly bizarre challenge. “The homeless folks were very welcoming,” Moehling says. “They would say hi and their dogs would run up to me. I was in their neighborhood. I connected with those folks and then I didn’t feel self-conscious.”
Moehling also tried to kayak between the two Monterey Bay cities, hugging the coastline the entire way and never veering more than a half a mile away from shore. He didn’t make it; dazed by exhaustion, he hit rough water near Marina and used the last bit of his strength to get to shore. “I consider it my first shipwreck,” he says.
He now has even more time to pursue outdoor activities now that he’s quit his job as an agricultural engineer for the federal government. He’s gearing up to camp on every iconic peak in the region – Junipero Serra Peak and Cone Peak in the Santa Lucias, North Chalone Peak in the Gabilan Mountains.
Moehling’s goal is more than whimsical. He wants to inspire other people. He says: “Get out off the couch and have a spark and go do it.”
“Go walk up a new street today,” he says “You’ll remember it. You’ll have a better connection with your own community or with all the wilderness we have around here.”