Two guys plan to run 240 miles across Ethiopia
By Anne Stanton
Hans Voss and Chris Treter arent the fastest ultra marathoners in
Northern Michigan, but they certainly qualify as the craziestand
The duo plans to run across Southern Ethiopia to raise $100,000 to
help build and supply rural schools for a region thats considered
the poorest of the poor. Only half the children complete elementary
school, 36 percent of adults can read, and their life expectancy is
Their run will total 400 kilometers or 240 miles over 12 days. That
equates to 20-mile, back-to-back runs over a dozen days. Okay, just
pause here and think about that.
Voss and Treter are running buddies and spend each Sunday in each
others company for several hours at a time.
My running is central for me, said Voss, the 42-year-old executive
director of the Michigan Land Use Institute. We run four or five
hour runs and by the time youre into the third or fourth hour, your
whole being has crossed into a new threshold of awareness. You have
more insight into whats important. Youve scraped away whats
impeding you from thinking clearly and having real vision.
Said 35-year-old Treter : I view it as a form of meditation and
reflection. Once you get into running 10 miles, it sort of gives you a
calming feeling. You can think clearly and deal with everyday
So during one of these lengthy runs, these so-called clear thinkers
dreamed up this idea to run 240 miles across Ethiopia to help the town
of Afursa Wara, where Treter buys some of the worlds most unique and
sought-after coffee beans.
Treter goes to all corners of the world to work with coffee growers.
Eight years ago, Chris and then wife Jody Treter opened Higher Grounds
Trading Company in their basement, vowing to buy organic, fair trade
coffee. Members of the Ethiopian coffee cooperative, Negele Gorbitu,
decided to use their 5-cent per pound premium, as well as funding
from a number of coffee companies, to build a health clinic and
schools in Afursa Wara. Yet there are still a lot more needs, Treter
They hardly have any books. The 8th grade Civics class has 100 people
in just a small room, and they have two civics books. How are you
going to get an education? Teachers have no housing. They have to stay
in neighbors huts, and the kids and teachers go all day, from 9 a.m.
to 3 p.m., without food, Treter said.
The schools also lack desks, chairs, chalkboards, a library,
bathrooms, medicine and science labs.
Treter said that looking back, it was easy to raise the $18,000 to
build a kindergarten because Northern Michigan is so responsive to
people in desperate need. So he decided to form a new nonprofit, On
A GROUP EFFORT
The run will kick off on January 8, 2011 in Ethiopas capital of Addis
Abab, which sits at 8,500 feet above sea level. A group of Ethiopian
elite runners will join Voss and Treter, who will drop down into the
lush Great Rift Valley and run along the countrys main thoroughfare
that cuts across a number of towns and cities. The runners will then
climb back into the Ethiopian Highlands and finish near the town of
Yrgacheffe. There, residents of Afursa Waro and representatives from
the international Oromia Coffee Farmers Cooperative Union will meet
the runners and run the last 10 kilometers with them through the
countryside to the community of Afursa Waro.
The run will end with a big party, which is consistent with how Treter
and Voss prefer to end a race. When they ran a 50- mile ultra-marathon
in Manistee two years ago, they celebrated with burgers and chilled
The runners will be fed and led by Timothy Young, cofounder of Food
for Thought, an organic food company. Vosss wife, Maureen, will
likely be on hand at the runs end with their two daughters to help
with the celebration. Support during the runfood, shelter, and
transportationwill come from members of Team Tesfa, a professional
track and cross-country team made up of disadvantaged Ethiopian women,
who have been given the opportunity to train and compete.
Right now Voss isnt running because he twisted an ankle while
snowboarding. Treter is down with a bad cold. But they are anxious to
get back on the road, having gained inspiration from Born to Run, a
book by Christopher McDougall and Chi Running, a DVD and book. The
advice from both books is to run in a forward posture with your chest
open for breathing. Land on your full foot rather than your heel to
lessen the impact on the knees, a common running injury.
You keep your leg back as long as you can, Voss said. The other
thing I do is go to Bikram yogaits a complete body experience that
A side benefit of this running is that it ingrains in the runner the
Buddhist principal of living in the moment, Voss said.
When I was at mile 42 (in the Manistee 50-mile ultra-marathon), I
felt like my body was falling apart, and I still had eight to goand I
could barely take another step. I thought, How am I going to go
another eight miles? So I took one step, and another step and I was
forced into the moment thing.
Added Treter: Everythings in your head. The only reason you cant
do it is you let yourself think you cant do it. Anything you can
imagine, you can do. You just have to put the pieces together and take
the appropriate steps.
Their upcoming plan: to celebrate the summer solstice with a
sundown to sunrise run from Empire to Suttons Bay.
Help the Ethiopians
On May 14, a kick-off fundraiser for the new nonprofit, On the Ground,
will be held in the roastery of the Higher Grounds Trading Company at
the Village Commons in Traverse City. The fundraiser will feature a
silent auction and a local artisan market from 1 to 5 p.m. A CD
release party for May Erlewine begins at 7:30 p.m.
To contribute to the nonprofit, make out a check to On the Ground
and send to Higher Grounds at 806 Red Dr. Traverse City, Michigan,
49684. For more information, email Chris Treter at
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