By Matthew A. Ward
RICHMOND, Virginia (Reuters) - (Reuters) - Former Australian politician Pat Farmer cuts a lonely figure as he runs alongside the afternoon traffic on U.S. Highway 1 just north of the Richmond, Virginia city limits.
The hot sun bears down on his sweaty frame, a far cry from his trek through the Arctic and the frostbite that has only just healed on his fingers.
Extreme temperatures, busy highways and, soon, a dangerous jungle are all part of the landscape as Farmer attempts a more than 13,000-mile run from the North Pole to the South Pole without a single day's rest.
"I'm dreading the South Pole," the 49-year-old ultramarathoner said this week, pausing on a gravelly roadside shoulder for an interview. "I've been told that once you get this sort of severe frostbite, you're more prone to it if you're in those regions again."
The plan is to get there by February. To do so, he'll have to run 52 miles per day, the equivalent of two marathons.
Farmer, who began his run on April 6, wants to raise $100 million for clean-water programs in third-world countries.
He also has some time on his hands.
He had been handpicked in 2000 by then-Australian Prime Minister John Howard to run for Parliament as the conservative party's candidate in a suburban Sydney district.
Farmer, a former mechanic and landscaper, was already a household name thanks to a charity run that circled the Australian continent, and he won the seat.
But a political sea change knocked Howard from office in 2007. Farmer subsequently lost the respect of his party's power brokers and was blasted by the media when he moved outside his working-class district to Sydney's wealthy North Shore.
His party swung its support behind someone else prior to last year's federal election, effectively ending his candidacy.
Just before his political demise, Farmer visited India, Peru, Egypt and Nepal with the Red Cross. He said the trip opened his eyes to a reality much different than his own.
"I stepped outside the door of one house, a tiny tin shack ... and a rat was perched on the edge, just taking a sip, of the only bowl of water they had, which they used for cooking, for drinking and for washing," he said.
He decided he would use his current run to raise money for the Red Cross in the United States, Canada and Australia. Donations can be made via his Pole to Pole Run website.
This week, he ran up the front steps of the American Red Cross headquarters in Washington, D.C. He met with President and Chief Executive Gail McGovern, who gave him running shoes, water bottles and other gear.
"Running two marathons a day is just an amazing achievement," American Red Cross spokeswoman Anne Marie Borrego said. "We are just honored that he is choosing to highlight the work of the American Red Cross and the other two Red Cross societies."
PERSONAL LOSS, RISK
Yet another seed of inspiration for Farmer came from the death of Lisa, his wife and the mother of his two children, from a heart condition in 1998.
"It made me realize that every single day is a gift, and it's so important not to waste a day of your life," he said.
Farmer sleeps alone in a 15-foot trailer, and his crew sleeps in two others. He aims to eat about 8,000 calories daily, starting with a bowl of cereal as he walks the first mile, followed by water and fruit about every three miles, protein shakes and pasta, meat, beer and dessert for dinner.
He said the most dangerous legs of the journey through 14 countries are the two poles and the Darien Gap, 3,000 square miles of jungle straddling Panama and Colombia and a notorious hide-out of drug cartels.
An armed security team will escort him through the jungle.
"Basically, it's full of swamp, panthers and mosquitoes, and it's just a dangerous place to get through," he said.
The Colombian government will not allow his crew through there, so they will travel around the coast on a ferry, he said. He will be allowed just one extra person, which will be a cameraman, he said.
Aware of the risks, he has updated his will, he said.
"Whatever happens will happen, but this is what I want to do," he said.
(Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Ellen Wulfhorst)