GREAT SALT LAKE — Magellan circumnavigated the Earth. A man named Jon Sanders circumnavigated Antarctica.
Rick Porter circumnavigated the Great Salt Lake.
Why? Same reason as those other guys. Because he hadn’t ever heard of anyone else doing it.
“Maybe someone has walked around the entire lake before,” says Rick, “but I don’t know anybody who’s done it. It’s a crazy thing to do.”
He says that last part from firsthand experience — 17 years’ worth. That’s how long it took him to circle the 275-mile perimeter of the Great Salt Lake.
Since his original projection when he took his first step on a sunny May day in 1998 was 10 days, to say it took a bit longer than expected is like saying the Sochi Olympics came in a tad over budget.
But delays, setbacks and Plan B’s and C’s and D’s come with the territory when you’re charting new territory.
“It’s never too late to finish what you started,” says Rick. “And yes, maybe it takes you a few years — or 17 in this case — but it’s the achievement and the journey that matters.”
That first attempt in ’98, when he was 38 years old, began at the Saltair Pavilion on the south side of the lake and headed west. It lasted three days and got him 105 miles. Three years later, he returned to where he’d stopped and set off again, lopping off a few dozen more miles. In 2003, 2010 and 2012, same thing. By this point he’d made it around the remote parts and found himself on the east side of the lake in downtown Roy, surrounded by 7-Elevens, Wal-Marts and the I-15 freeway.
Every time, he was sure he’d complete the circle, and every time he didn’t. It was always something. That first year, it was a hailstorm. The second attempt, the cart he’d built out of bike tires and two-by-fours to carry his five-gallon water supply across the barren west desert broke down after 10 miles. The third attempt, temperatures plummeted at night and he discovered driftwood filled with saltwater does not burn. The fourth attempt, he got bogged down by mud. Or was it the fifth?
Each time, he’d pull out his cellphone and call the Porter family version of 911 — his wife, Natalie, asking her to come get him.
He saw lots of neat stuff through the years. At Lakeside, on the southwest corner of the lake, he was there when the brine shrimp changed color and turned the water red. “It was like being on Mars or something, a red ocean; that was pretty cool.” He saw magnificent sunsets. He saw a nighttime sky filled with uncountable stars. Way out on the northwest corner he walked through the Kelton graveyard, all that’s left of a dead town.
But for the most part, he ran into all the reasons why skirting Utah’s largest and least visited lake isn’t a walk on the beach.
“Water is what kills you,” he says. “How much can you carry? And the more you carry the more you drink because it weighs so much.”
Still, a quest is a quest, and Rick couldn’t leave this one half-finished.
“When you fail the first time you just change the rules,” he says. “Who said you have to do it all at once?”
A philosopher at heart, he cites a book, “The Art of the Pilgrimage,” that talks about the benefits of getting out of your comfort zone and traveling.
“A lot of it has to do with what happens when you come home,” he says. “Yes it may be hard, it may be difficult, but when you come home you’ve got a story and it makes the rest of life more interesting in so many ways.
“I can’t honestly say I’ve looked forward to finishing this. What I’ve looked forward to is having the story of finishing this.”
It began “with a midlife crisis when I was 38,” he says, grinning, “Now I’m 55 and it’s beyond a midlife crisis.”
It was a crisis that finally ended last Friday and Saturday when he walked the 54 miles from Roy to Saltair, mostly on paved roads, with an overnight at the Day’s Inn in Woods Cross and lunch on Saturday at the KFC on Redwood Road.
“It’s pretty easy when water is from convenience store to convenience store,” he says.
Now he’s back at work at the Harold B. Lee Library at BYU, where he’s the media center lab supervisor (he worked as a media producer for the LDS Church before that, and has been, among other things, a firefighter). He’s also starting work this fall on his master’s degree at BYU.
“I’m either a late bloomer,” he says, “or a procrastinator.”
Not to mention the only person he knows who has circumnavigated the Great Salt Lake.
Lee Benson's About Utah column runs Mondays. Email: email@example.com