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Real-life Forrest Gump re-creates the character's epic run across America

Rob Pope has crisscrossed America nearly five times in re-creating the run from "Forrest Gump" and raised $30,000 for charity.
/ Source: TODAY

The real-life Forrest Gump is coming to the end of a very long road.

After more than 15,000 miles of crisscrossing America just like Tom Hanks' character in the 1994 hit movie, British runner Rob Pope, 39, is pretty tired. He thinks he'll go home after finishing his quest at Forrest Gump Point in Utah's Monument Valley on April 29.

"I know what the dream ending is, which is what we're approaching,'' Pope told TODAY. "The gravity of it all is being cushioned by the fact that I still have a little bit left."

Pope began his quest to run the route Forrest covered in the movie when he started out in Mobile, Alabama, in September 2016 and has since documented his whole journey on Instagram.

He has covered 15,300 miles and run across the country four times in four different stages across 420 days, besting the 15,248 miles that Forrest said he ran in the movie.

"I had been thinking about it for 15 years,'' Pope said. "I kept talking about it to where it got to the point where it was time to put up or shut up."

Pope is on a break for a few weeks after returning home to Liverpool, England, to be with his girlfriend of seven years. Nadine Strawbridge, 38, gave birth to a baby girl, Bee Catherine, on Tuesday.

He could've finished his quest earlier, but he decided on late April so Strawbridge and their daughter could be in Utah to witness the end.

He plans on running the London Marathon on April 23 and then following immediately with the final 200 miles of his journey to Monument Valley from the now-defunct Twin Arrows Trading Post near Flagstaff, Arizona. That's the spot where Forrest supposedly got splashed with mud in the image of a smiley face to inspire the famous T-shirt.

Pope quit his job as an emergency veterinarian to pursue his quest, which arose from his desire to do something unique. The experienced marathon runner had found one person who completed a single leg of the journey, but no one who had run the full 15,000-plus miles like in the movie.

He's seen "Forrest Gump" about 10 times, and watched the running scene online about 50 times.

Coincidentally, he happened to be 38 when he started, which was the same age Hanks was when he played Forrest Gump.

"It was meant to be," he said.

He also has used his journey to raise about $30,000 so far for Peace Direct and the World Wildlife Fund.

Pope ate around 6,000 calories a day while running about 40 miles and pushing a cart with his belongings in it. He has often relied on the generosity of strangers for a place to stay at night.

"The people have been one of the best parts,'' he said. "There's such amazing scenery, but it's the two-legged encounters that have really stuck in my mind. I think the Forrest Gump thing really helped break the ice."

There have been some hairy moments along the way, from getting painful tendinitis in his shin just 200 miles into the journey to having an 18-wheeler jackknife on the road ahead of him in Tennessee.

One late night last year near Jackson, Tennessee, he knocked on a stranger's trailer home to ask about where to camp nearby. The owner answered holding a 10-inch carving knife behind his back.

"He asks me if I had any weapons, and I say, 'No, I'm British — just my razor-sharp wit,'' Pope said. "We cleared up any misunderstanding, and he ended up letting me stay in his trailer for the night and cooked me a really nice chili."

Pope started his journey clean-shaven with a plaid shirt and chinos in Alabama just like Forrest. He has since grown a shaggy beard and worn a "Bubba Gump" hat like the character during his yearslong run.

He has visited several of the landmarks in the movie, including running the 100 yards of the football field at Weingart Stadium in Los Angeles, which stood in for the University of Alabama's home field in the movie.

People have often joined in running alongside him just like in the film, but no one followed him for a full 40-mile day.

"Those have been my most enjoyable days, when people come out and run,'' he said.

While others on social media have tagged Hanks in messages about Pope's journey, he has not heard anything from the actor himself.

Pope's dream would be for Hanks to be at the finish line next month to utter the line said by a trailing runner in the movie after Forrest abruptly decides he's done running.

"Now what are we supposed to do?"

Follow writer Scott Stump on Twitter.