Epic 4,200-km run from Peterborough to Mexico to raise awareness of threatened monarch butterfly

Carlotta James, Rodney Fuentes, Clay Williams, and Galen Brown launch Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for Monarch Ultra project

Peterborough residents Carlotta James and Rodney Fuentes are part of a team planning the Monarch Ultra, a 4,200-kilometre relay run through Canada, the United States, and Mexico to raise awareness of the decline of the monarch butterfly, which makes the same journey every fall. The project will also include a documentary film about the run, and the group has launched a crowdfunding campaign to support an initial trip to ensure the planned route is safe. (Photo: Rodney Fuentes)
Peterborough residents Carlotta James and Rodney Fuentes are part of a team planning the Monarch Ultra, a 4,200-kilometre relay run through Canada, the United States, and Mexico to raise awareness of the decline of the monarch butterfly, which makes the same journey every fall. The project will also include a documentary film about the run, and the group has launched a crowdfunding campaign to support an initial trip to ensure the planned route is safe. (Photo: Rodney Fuentes)

Forty-two runners, each running a 100-kilometre ultra-marathon, all the way from Peterborough in Canada to the Sierra Madre mountains in central Mexico — the same 4,200-kilometre journey monarch butterflies make each fall.

That’s the dream of Peterborough residents Carlotta James and Rodney Fuentes who, along with Elmira’s Clay Williams and Toronto’s Galen Brown, have launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund the first stage of what they are calling the Monarch Ultra relay.

Planned for the fall of 2019, the Monarch Ultra would be the first attempt to run the length of North America (Canada, the United States, and Mexico), with the objective being to raise awareness of the monarch butterflies who make the same journey and the threats to these resilient insects as well as other pollinators.

Carlotta James, Rodney Fuentes, and Clay Williams are on a mission to build a 4,200-kilometre relay run through three countries, make a documentary about it, and save the monarch butterfly from extinction along the way. (Photo: Rodney Fuentes)
Carlotta James, Rodney Fuentes, and Clay Williams are on a mission to build a 4,200-kilometre relay run through three countries, make a documentary about it, and save the monarch butterfly from extinction along the way. (Photo: Rodney Fuentes)

“Their populations are in steep decline,” says Carlotta James, who is a life-long runner and a pollinator advocate. “In the 1980s, their numbers were in the billions and now they’re in the millions. There’s many reasons for that: pesticide use, climate change, habitat loss, disease.”

James is co-founder of the Peterborough Pollinators, a grassroots citizen-led group working together to meet the challenge of declining pollinator populations. Peterborough Pollinators works in the community to raise awareness of pollinators so crucial to food security and biodiversity and to the well being of our ecosystems.

“I’ve had this dream for a while, to run beside the flight of the monarchs,” James says, explaining the idea behind the run. “I want people to understand the strength and beauty of the monarchs through this project, to understand our connection to the land.”

VIDEO: Join the flight of the monarchs

But the Monarch Ultra project not only involves organizing and executing the relay run — a feat all of its own — but also creating a documentary film about the run. That’s where filmmaker Rodney Fuentes comes in, along with producer Galen Brown, founder of Toronto’s 3004 Studios.

“We are looking for support to start filming the first stage of this documentary,” Fuentes says, “which is a road trip that we need to do from Peterborough Ontario all the way down to the Sierra Madre mountains in Mexico.”

The purpose of the trip is to review the intended route of the Monarch Ultra, a route designed by Clay Williams, an avid runner from Elmira who created and ran the Canal Pursuit for Mental Health, a 780-kilometre route from Georgian Bay to Ottawa.

The Monarch Ultra is a relay race featuring at least 42 ultra-marathoners who will run 4,200 kilometres from Peterborough, Canada to Michoacán, Mexico, emulating the same journey that monarch butterflies take each fall. (Photo: Clay Williams)
The Monarch Ultra is a relay race featuring at least 42 ultra-marathoners who will run 4,200 kilometres from Peterborough, Canada to Michoacán, Mexico, emulating the same journey that monarch butterflies take each fall. (Photo: Clay Williams)

“My role as the mapping expert is to make sure that the entire course of 4,200 kilometres is safe for runners to run on,” explains Williams, who is also the ultra-race director.

“That’s a primary concern. I also have to check out each of the stop points and make sure it’s a safe place to park a car and have a little crew on the side of the road.

“We’ll be talking to interested parties along the route as well: running groups and conservation groups, as many people as we can along the way to spread the word.”

The Monarch Ultra documentary will be produced by Galen Brown, founder of 3004 Studios in Toronto. (Photo via Kickstarter)
The Monarch Ultra documentary will be produced by Galen Brown, founder of 3004 Studios in Toronto. (Photo via Kickstarter)

The team is seeking to raise $30,000 through Kickstarter to support video camera rentals, lodging and meals for the crew during the trip, car rental and gas, travel insurance and permits, and crew fees.

Any extra funds raised through the campaign will go towards production costs, additional filming opportunities with monarch butterfly experts, and marketing to promote the project across North America.

Of course, an ultra-marathon relay run requires runners, and the team is also seeking ultra-runners who could each cover 50 to 100 kilometres along the route — running across a diversity of landscapes including mountain paths, forests, meadows, deserts, and cities.

“For the runners that participate in this project, to be able to feel a little bit of the pain, the struggle, but also the complete resilience of the monarch butterfly and what they have to go through every fall,” James says.

“It’ll be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for those involved and I also believe it’s going to be transformational for the ultra-runners.”

VIDEO: The Monarch Ultra

Ultra-runners who are interested in participating should email Williams at 100mileclay@gmail.com. He will add your name to the list of participants and advise when registration for the race is available next year.

To contribute to the Kickstarter campaign (there are different rewards available for each pledge level), visit www.kickstarter.com/projects/1818077578/the-monarch-ultra-mapping-the-most-epic-run-on-ear.

To contact Rodney Fuentes or Carlotta James directly to see how you can get involved, email info@rodneyfuentes.com and carlotta.james@gmail.com.

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