Friday, 4 May 2012

USA Day 3 - Revisited (03/05/2011)

Into day 3 of the run across the USA and things were going pretty well. I was slightly ahead of schedule and the fund for St Benedict’s Hospice and The Children’s Foundation was up to £31,000. Each day I tried to set off a little earlier than the previous day. I had started the run on day 1 at 0900. I was looking to get this to 0630 within a week and day 3 saw an 0822 (Pacific Time) start. Those early starts were tough but the support team and I had settled into a good routine. Richard would drive to the start point (usually with me still asleep!). I'd get my kit on, eat my porridge and then get out running. It was as simple as that. 

It was another absolutely boiling hot California day with gorgeous clear blue skies. It called for factor 70 sun cream once again on my arms and legs. I wore my cap and my head was fully covered with a Buff. Oh and not forgetting the nice Oakley sunglasses donated by Robinson’s Optometerists in Monkseaton.

To help with the high temperatures there was a lovely headwind coming on off the mountains. The roads were really quiet and I had The Beach Boys playing on my iPod. Could my running life have been any better at that point in time?

I took the opportunity, several times, to look back at the coast line in the very far distance. The green smog hanging over LA was not a pretty sight and it wasn’t a pleasant thought to think that I’d ran so many miles in it. 

Day 3 was probably the first day when I fully realised that I’d be away from my family for a considerable amount of time. I had a few tears on the phone when I rang home that morning during the first few miles. Running and texting, running and talking on the phone or running and updating Twitter was a skill that came in very handy indeed over the course of the run across the USA.

I took a very short break for a good gulp of water and an energy bar at an underpass (below) at the 5.5 mile point. It was a good spot to stop and the temporary break from the blazing hot sunshine was most welcome. I'd arranged to meet the RV at the 10 mile point but just needed some shade for a few minutes.

As planned, I met the RV after 10 miles and took the opportunity to call my son Jack (below) via Skype. This was the first of many such calls and, for the very first time, it really helped confront the separation issues that I had. More importantly, it also helped Jack. He was much happier talking face to face than over the phone. I would show him the surrounding scenery and he was able to really get an idea of where I was running. He was also interested in the RV and the support team.

That day was a definite turning point in dealing with being away from home. There weren't too many tearful days after that and we seemed to slip into a good routine of communication. 

The Skype calls, as and when the signal and time would permit, and lots of text messages really helped. Add to that the fact that Jack had started to write a blog about what he had been doing at school etc and it all made for as good a communication strategy as we could have hoped for. Please click here to read his blog from that particular day.

It wasn't too much longer before I was on my way again and instead of resting during the hottest part of the day I decided to push on through. Despite being incredibly warm I was really enjoying running through the California hills.

I made my first mistake of the run in Devore Heights having taken a wrong turn. I'd realised the error pretty much straight away. I've got a good sense of direction but, leaving nothing to chance, I stopped and asked 2 ladies on horseback for directions. I also asked them about what lay ahead on Route 66 (which wasn't too far away). They told me to watch out for "The Weirdos"! I had no idea what that meant at the time but thought that I was prepared for anything. 

The lady on the right hand side, Kim Bridgewater, had the following to say a few days ago about our chance meeting:

"When we seen you running in our little community of Devore, CA and you asked about a dirt trail leading you in the direction that you wanted to go, we suggested that you take the famous Route 66, but we warned you of the weirdo's that lurk in that area ( I'm going to call them street people). As you jogged off.... My first thought was good lord that's a lot of miles to run, then it was I hope he can run fast through that area where the weirdo's are…. Later I heard the your support team had a situation from the weirdo's... so sorry about that ...... But I'm truly impressed of your determination and strong will for such a great cause !!! God Bless you Mark Allison.".

I soon arrived at Historic Route 66. It was an old dual road with one side of it no longer in use and covered in overgrown plants and crumbling in parts. I guess the nearby presence of Route 15 (The Barstow Freeway) had seen the decline of Route 66. This was the kind of situation that I encountered all over the USA, meaning that I could make use of a very decent road with the traffic using the more modern route nearby.

At the 15 mile point for the day, I stopped to admire the trains again as they wound their way up through the valley. They were moving very slowly indeed and I loved hearing the sound of the horns.

The heat was taking it's toll on my feet and I stopped at the 17 mile point to ice my feet. In the mile before getting to the RV I had noticed a lot of cars parked randomly here and there. There was also a Sheriff's car pulling up alongside each one of them. Were these the weirdos that the ladies had talked about? It all seemed very strange.

The ice on my feet was such a relief. It had been a very tough 17 miles. I'd climbed to 2700 ft and still had another 1300 ft of elevation that day. As I was sitting there with my feet in a bucket of iced water a car pulled up diagonally opposite. The man in the car simply stared into the RV for what seemed like a very long time. This was my response to that at the time.

The first guy drove off to the rear of the RV soon after which I remember being a very nerve wracking experience. Shortly after that a big fat bald guy in a white vest parked very close to the front of the RV and blocked our exit. Richard, Stu and I were not too happy with his manoeuvre. That's an understatement, in fact. A few other cars drove past and once they had all gone I started running again.

This was the first tangible brush with danger that I'd experienced in the USA. Things were never quite the same after that. This wasn't like running from John O'Groats to Lands End. This was potentially a very dangerous place. The dogs were fierce and mostly unleashed. Some of the people carried guns and I was a very long way from home!

On the plus side, it was making for a great story on the Blog and via Twitter. Maintaining my famous sense of humour, these were the Tweets from the time:

"Having a break in the RV. Looks like we've parked in the dogging capital of LA. This is bizzare and very scary! But my feet are soaking…."

" ice and I'm going nowhere. This geezer is just staring into the RV from his car. Richard and Stu might have to take one for the team!"

"Richard says - 'one of the most bizzare situations I have ever been in'"

I got some good responses to this particular episode via email and Twitter and I think people following the journey started to realise that there was a bit of a story unfolding here. This wasn't just a simple run across the USA.

The website hits started to go up considerably too. I was hearing, yet again, that the blog had become essential daily reading. It was for that reason that I was quite happy that incidents such as the one on this day happened. Increased interest in the run would hopefully mean increased sponsorship for the 2 charities.

The final 6 miles of the day were done on a dirt track through the mountains. For safety and security, I was accompanied by Stu on this stretch. Not realising it at the time, I made my second mistake of the day. I missed a turning point and ended up going the wrong way. It wasn't a major mistake but it meant that I had added on a few more miles.

I will never forget what happened next and neither will Stu, I would reckon. As we ran past a bush there was this almighty deep growling noise. We both paused for a brief nano second and looked at each other in a kind of Scooby Doo Zoinks fashion! We agreed to maintain a "radio silence" before picking up the pace somewhat! Further up the trail, we heard the noise again. I wrote the following on my blog that night.

"Based on the tone of the creature's growl, I imagined that it was the size of a bull with huge fangs for teeth. My imagination was working overtime.".

I hadn't recovered from the Route 66 situation earlier in the day. Now this! My nerves were frayed. I was only a timid Englishman after all. These weren't everyday occurrences for me or any of the support team. Suddenly, having to run an average 31 miles per day was the least of my worries. But, oh what a story!

Weirdos and strange monsters aside, they were very challenging running conditions. The challenge of the searing heat and a climb up to 4000 ft in the mountains was something that I relished.

The very eventful day came to an end after just 25 miles on the "Rim of the World Scenic Byway". It was pitch black and I wasn't feeling confident about the route ahead. The busy train line (see the video below) and complex dirt route over the next 6 miles meant that I was calling it a day. It was a very good decision as it turned out. You'll see why on the next day's "Revisited" blog post.


Unfortunately, Richard had to bring the RV on quite a detour to reach us. It was not the best road to drive an RV on but he did brilliantly. Detours such as this were costly in terms on time and more importantly fuel. I had a budget to stick to and this kind of mistake couldn't be allowed to happen too often.

I'd ran 87.4 miles, climbed 6941 ft and burned 11,300 calories during the first 3 days. I was 5.6 miles behind schedule. If I kept losing miles at that rate for the rest of the run, I'd be 186 miles away from the finish line on day 100!

I enjoyed my Cherry Active drink that night, I can tell you! Surely day 4 wouldn't be as eventful. Would it….