Day 7 – the end of the road

The last day of the Relay brought with it incredibly mixed feelings for me. Sure a part of me wanted it to end. My feet were a mess and every step hurt. I was tired. My left hand had begun to tingle. The heat was starting to get to me. But at the same time, the predominant emotion I felt was that I did not want this journey to end. Words like “magical” and “life-changing” feel apt to describe my week running and walking through the desert to help all of those living with MS. And yet they also feel trite and inadequate. I simply don’t know of a way to describe what happened out there. But I can say that it was as though I lived an entirely different life for a week. It was full of emotion and struggle and ultimately victory. It was incredibly rewarding to be able to give of myself and use my talents for running to help others. And I was sad and reluctant to step out of that life and back into my own. It seemed I was saying goodbye to a good friend whom I knew I would never see again. But such is life.

My last day of the Relay was run in honor of my mother, who has been living with MS for 10 years. She is a tough woman. She’s a fighter. She has met this disease head-on and never given in. And she has fared incredibly well all things considered. But it has exacted its toll too. It was for her that I chose to join the MS Run the US Relay. I ran because she can no longer run. I ran because I learned to be strong from her example. When things were hard out there, I remembered those who fight each day with this disease because they have no choice. What I did was far easier than what many do each day living with this disease. And I was honored to do my small part to help.

IMG_2167

Perhaps appropriately, my journey was a series of challenges. It felt as though I was being tested throughout this experience. Mere weeks after joining the Relay I woke up one morning and my entire upper back and neck were frozen. After a few days, I couldn’t run at all. That was January and the injury has yet to fully heal. But I decided that this was not a good reason to give up. This was not a reason to stop fighting. This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and I would not let it pass me by. If I was being tested, then I was ready to do what it took to accomplish this goal. And so I decided to start hiking steep trails and walking miles and miles each day. If this injury would not allow me to run, then I would find another way: I would swallow my pride and walk if I had to. And this was not to be the last test. The unexpected challenge seemed to be the theme of my Relay experience. First a surprise military base in the middle of our route threatened a major reroute of the course only 5 miles into my segment. But we found a way around. Then an impassable road turned my 182 mile week into 205 miles. But I covered the miles anyway, doing 50 miles on my fourth day and catching us up. A No Trespassing sign seemed as though it would prevent our final passage into Las Vegas. But then as quickly as we had come to a halt, everything worked out perfectly. I learned many things out there. And as I continue to reflect on the experience, I learn more. But one lesson was clear: if you want something badly enough, you must find a way; you must never give up. Set your ego aside, focus on the goal and decide what really matters. For me it was helping others and running and walking for my mom. And that’s exactly what I did.

There was another thing that pushed me forward and kept me going when challenges were thrown in front of me: this was a Relay. 15 of us covered the 3100 miles from LA to NYC over 5 months. And I had to do my part. I was and am incredibly proud to have been chosen to be one of them. As I ran into Las Vegas, feeling sad for my week of the Relay to end, I thought about my part in this whole. I thought about Adam to whom I would hand the baton. My life-changing week was but one part of a greater event. Others needed their turn. I felt excited for each of them to experience their own journey. And I thought about how amazing this event was and what vision its founder, Ashley Kumlien, has. Not only did she run across the US, she spread the wealth, so to speak. By breaking this cross-country journey into segments, she made it accessible for us “mere mortals.” Ashley is a special person. Thank you for all you have done and all that you do, Ashley.

With my wonderful family who were there every mile of the way

With my wonderful family who were there every mile of the way

And so with a heart full of joy and sadness, I turned the final corner into the parking lot of a random park in south Las Vegas. Underneath a banner reading “FINISH” waited my wife and daughter. As I neared, my daughter ran out to meet me. I scooped her up and ran the last feet of my journey with her in one arm and the other raised in triumph, under the FINISH banner and into the arms of my wife. It was the perfect finish to an amazing week. Having my family out there was a huge mental boost each day. It meant more than I can possibly say. I cannot thank them enough for dragging themselves through the desert just to support me. Thank you Heather. And last, I could not have done this without the many, many friends and family and total strangers who supported me by donating to the cause, sending me encouraging notes each day and in myriad other ways. Thank you all. This was truly a team effort.

IMG_5127 IMG_5125

IMG_5136

Day 6

Day 6 was a good day…but an odd and jarring one. It brought with it a return to civilization after days in the solitary desert. This was both a welcome change and a sad goodbye to one of the more beautiful places I’ve been.

Today I was honored to run for Jill, Ashley's mom and the reason the MS Run the US Relay exists.

Today I was honored to run for Jill, Ashley’s mom and the reason the MS Run the US Relay exists.

The day brought one other welcome change. After about half a mile on pavement (from which I had not had a break for approximately 150 miles) I got to head off-road. There was a dirt road that headed off for about 5 miles and then appeared to intersect the highway. It wasn’t driveable. So, I got to head out a solo across the road and hope that the aerial maps were correct and the road would take me to where Ashley waited . And fortunately, it did. It felt great to run free and alone across the dirt. No cars. No other people. Really with no idea where I was. Eventually I met up with a clearly relieved Ashley. That had been our last hurdle, our last unknown. The course was clear sailing from here.

Finally onto the dirt! Hoping to find Ashley somewhere on the other side.

Finally onto the dirt! Hoping to find Ashley somewhere on the other side.

I headed behind a golf course to another dirt road that Ashley said would take me right into Primm, NV. It actually ended right at the back parking lot of the hotel where we had stayed that night. As I neared the parking, I could discern the outline of the familiar orange and white car that had been my shadow fo r the last several days…and Ashley next to it. After resupplying I decided to head into the hotel for a quick pitstop. Of course the ground floor was a casino. This was one of the most jarring and unsettling juxtapositions I have ever experienced. After 13 miles running alone on quiet dirt roads through the desert, my mind quiet and focused, I stepped into another dimension. A step through the door of the casino brought with it a cacophonous roar of sound combined with flashing lights from every direction and the stench of cigarette smoke both fresh and stale. I think I almost turned and walked out, but instead I just made a beeline for the bathroom. Everywhere I looked were people smoking and drinking. It was 10 in the morning. People sat at slot-machines like zombies dumping their money in one coin at a time.

Needless to say, I was quite happy to get back on the road. Across the parking lot, under Instersate 15 and north out of town towards Las Vegas I went. …Remember how I said that we were home-free and it was clear sailing from here? How silly of me to think that. This relay had been nothing but a series of tests for me. And apparently there was one more. About a mile north of Primm the ONLY road we could see, other than Interstate 15, was blocked but many bright orange, ominous looking No Trespassing signs. To make matters worse they all said “Clark County Department of Aviation.” Now, I’m not totally opposed to a little trespassing here and there, but aviation departments? In our post-9/11 world? Thoughts of the Department of Homeland Security and being arrested for “terrorism” stopped me in my tracks. Ashley was still with me. We puzzled over what to do. She drove off to look for other ways through as I stood there trying to keep my whole body in the shadow of a single telephone pole. When she came back the news was not good. The many dirt roads in the distance all had the same signs on them. The sole road on the other side of 15 went right through a quarry. Or we could run down the railroad tracks. So, basically it came down to where we wanted to trespass. Ashley decided to drive down 15 to the next exit and see what she could find on the other side of this dirt road I was standing on.

IMG_5109

IMG_5110

While I waited I tried to call the number on the sign. But it was the weekend. Everyone at the Department of Aviation was gone and the woman who answered had no idea what I was talking about. So, I decided to try calling the sheriffs office. The woman who answered was extremely kind and, while she couldn’t tell me about this road, offered to call the highway patrol. After holding for 5 minutes, she came back on and told me that the highway patrol assured her I could run down the should of interstate 15. Normally I would assume that was illegal, and it wasn’t my first choice, but it seemed like our only choice. When I called Ashley to tell her the good news, she informed me of even better news. A firefighter in Jean (the town on the other side of this road and today’s endpoint) said that the signs were for some motorcycle event which had past and it was fine for me to use the road. So, after wasting an hour or two, I went on ahead.

5 miles later I rejoined Ashley on the other side. As soon as I saw her I raised both hands over my head in victory and a huge smile spread across her face. We had made it over the last hurdle. It was all paved road from here. 26.2 miles fell directly in front of the hotel we were staying at. The hard part was now done.

Day 5

Day 5 sucked. I knew it would. So, no surprises at least. With 50 miles the day before, a bedtime well after midnight and a late start, the day promised tired legs, sore feet and lots of heat. And it delivered.

A friend who came out to cheer me on

A friend who came out to cheer me on

The day started uphill yet again. Compared to what I was used to running in Colorado, these long, gradual uphills were nothing. But day after day of it (with almost all of the previous days 50 miles being uphill) was starting to wear on me. My legs ached and complained. I looked forward to what I knew was coming later today, the long downhill into Vegas. But the uphill continued…seemingly forever. The miles slowly ticked by as I passed literally thousands and thousands of Joshua trees. Before this trip I had never seen a Joshua tree in person. Now I have seen a lifetime’s worth.

A sea of Joshua trees as far as the eye could see

A sea of Joshua trees as far as the eye could see

Beauty among the desolation.

Beauty among the desolation.

Walking and running along a remote desert road is  an odd endeavor. A years old, virtually unreadable, unopened bottle of Budweiser. A wallet with an ID still in it. Every manner of oddity seems to somehow deposit itself along these roads. Since these roads are almost never traveled on foot, I felt as though I was one of only a few people who had or would ever see these things or experience this place in this way. And there were the cars passing. Some moved over for me. Some seemed to try to see how close they could get to me. Some waved. Some ignored. Some looked on, puzzled. I had gotten used to this over the last 4 days. There’s no doubt that I looked like a freak or madman out here. But today I started to see a lot of motorcycles. And most of them were waving or honking or giving me a big thumbs up. At first it seemed odd, but then I started to wonder. We had seen a lot of motorcycles in Amboy a few days before. Many of them were stopped in Amboy and not only saw me, but saw the RV. While I can never be sure, I like to think that they realized what we were doing and maybe word even got around through their event. Whatever it was, it was fun to see that 90% of the dozens and dozens of motorcycles that passed me that day were very encouraging.

IMG_5087

And then finally, after miles of uphill it came: the long downhill. I could see for miles. Had the hills moved and the haze cleared, I’m pretty sure I could have seen Las Vegas, some 50 miles distant. But the long looked-forward-to downhill proved that it was not to be so joyful after all. By this point my feet felt like they’d been flayed, smashed by a hammer and were soaking in hot sauce. They ached to the core. Every step was painful. The road surface was horrible, very degraded concrete that was at this point little more than large marble sized rocks frozen in place and jutting sharply into the bottom of my feet. It wasn’t that different than running on the rocky trails I was used to, but the rocks didn’t move and they had no give. I would occasionally try running on the shoulder, which was softer, but it was either fine sand into which I sunk or uneven dirt which caused its own pain for my feet. There was no escape. And so instead of enjoying the downhill I had so looked-forward to, I just suffered through it, half wishing to be going back up.

And as I continued down the miles-long, pounding decent, the temperature kept going up. By now it was well after noon and probably in the low 90s. There was no shade for miles. It seemed like I was running through an oven…an oven with knives on the bottom of it. This was not fun. But it was apropos. This Relay is about helping those living with MS. Two common symptoms of MS: pain and/or tingling in ones’ legs and extreme sensitivity to heat. So, it seemed that the universe was again reminding me why I was out here and who I was doing this for. I had to suffer a bit but I’m still one of the lucky ones to even be able to do this. Heat bothers my mom horribly since she got MS. She couldn’t stand this heat for this long, many with MS could not. So, I proudly went on thinking of those who I could help with my effort.

IMG_5090

As the steepness eased and I exited the Mojave National Preserve I ran past a sign. It said “Amboy 76.” I had started in Amboy only the previous morning. That really brought home to me the enormity of what I was doing. That sign was probably the highlight of the day. All the suffering made worth it knowing that I was out here choosing to suffer through some big miles, doing something epic, for those who can’t choose not to suffer.

Happy to be done

Happy to be done

Day 4 – the 50 mile day

Day 4 was run for Bill Sinak, another fellow Relay runner living with MS.

Day 4 was run for Bill Sinak, another fellow Relay runner living with MS.

I awoke on Day 4 very focused. Though neither my wife Heather nor Ashley knew it, I planned on doing 50 miles today. Before the relay started I had realized that on the night of my fourth day there would be a full moon. I love running by moonlight. How amazing would it be, I had thought, to run through the silent, black stillness of the desert by moonlight alone. But now, standing in front of the post office with the early morning sun shining on my face, I was just focused on covering miles.

Sunrise over the desert, from Amboy

Sunrise over the desert, from Amboy

The post office in Amboy and my starting point for Day 4

The post office in Amboy and my starting point for Day 4

I started out, heading east on route 66 as I had for the last 3 days. After about 6 miles I saw it, finally a new road. For the first time since mile 4 of the relay I would have to make a turn! Just before getting to the turn there was a sign. It read simply “Kelso 34.” And so it was. I would finish in Kelso for 40 miles and then do another 10 by moonlight that night. As I clambered onto the RV to refill my water I told Ashley I was going to Kelso. I later learned that she didn’t know where the heck Kelso was. My decision to do the extra miles today was lost on her.

The moment I knew where my goal lay for Day 4.

The moment I knew where my goal lay for Day 4.

But the road turned north into the Mojave National Preserve and I followed it, the desert pulling me forward along my mission. Something special happened out there in the desert, something deeply moving and magical. Whatever it was, it was deep inside me. If the words existed to share it, I would. But sadly I don’t have them. As trite as it is, all I can say is that I felt alive, more alive than I have in a while. I felt like I was doing something authentic and real.

And thus “ultra-mode” slipped over me. It seems incredibly ironic, but I find that doing ultras requires me to be absolutely in-the-moment. Every need and sensation is acutely felt and tended to. It feels as though my mind is blank even though it is closer to the opposite. It is an odd feeling, but I love it.

And so the miles passed quickly. The heat, though intense, never really bothered me. And before I knew it I was rolling into Kelso, a nothing little town smack dab in the middle of the Mojave desert. It was 40 miles from where I had started in Amboy that morning. It had been a few hours, but felt like days before. As a beautiful reward from the universe, a random man saw our MS Run the US RV in Kelso and, after talking to Ashley, handed us a $50 check for the cause.

Entering the Mojave National Preserve

Entering the Mojave National Preserve

Only 5 miles from Kelso

Only 5 miles from Kelso

We decided to drive ahead to a camping spot 20 miles up the road. We set up camp in the middle of the desert, surrounded by Joshua trees, completely alone with only glorious desolation and beer as company. Once the sun had set, my daughter was asleep and dinner was eaten, I headed out with Ashley to finish my days miles. Sometime around 10:30 at night she dropped me off in Kelso, now completely abandoned for the night, with instructions to drive 10 miles up the road and wait for me. I was now truly alone…in the desert…at night…with nothing but moonlight to guide me. It was eerie but wonderful. I had been imagining this moment, this moonlight run, for months. And here I was running up the road as Kelso faded behind me. It was magical and I tried to savor it.

Our amazing camping spot in the Preserve

Our amazing camping spot in the Preserve

The moon over our campsite, shortly before I headed out for another 10 miles by moonlight.

The moon over our campsite, shortly before I headed out for another 10 miles by moonlight.

And so it was that I did my third 50 mile day ever, after 3 days of running and walking, after two marathons and a 29 mile day. Back injury, blisters and tendonitis be damned. I had answered the call. I went out there and did what I had to do for my mom and for all of those living with MS. It was a truly magical day for which I will never find the words, but which I will never forget.

Day 3

So, I said that there were two surprises on Day 2. I lied. There were actually three. And the third one was a doozy.

There was a road we were supposed to take into the Mojave National Preserve, it basically cut a straight line from Ludlow into the heart of the preserve. Ashley had mentioned the night before as we looked over a map that she was mildly concerned about it being passable the whole way by car. This didn’t cause me too much concern. But as I ran on Day 2, Ashley drove ahead to scout the road. She was back rather quickly. I probably should have known what that meant, but I can be pretty dense. As she pulled up beside me she told me “We have a problem.” It turns out she couldn’t even get to that road. In fact, she only made it 10 feet down the road that led to the road we were worried about. Gulp. My heart rate increased a bit and I took a deep breath as I asked. “So what about that other route we looked at that goes south?” I could handle a 5 mile detour, maybe even 10. “It adds 26 miles.”

I’m sure a long string of expletives went through my head, but I simply felt shock and disbelief. 26 more miles. An extra marathon in my 7 marathon in 7 days week. That’s…not ideal.

Ashley had an idea that she left me with before she again drove off over the horizon. This was a Relay. She was in the Relay. I could do a morning marathon and she could do one in the evening. I would still do my requisite 7 marathons in 7 days. And it was fully in keeping with the spirit of the Relay. But even before she pulled away, a sickening reality had planted itself in my being. I had to do these miles myself. This reality had not yet settled fully into my consciousness, not even close. I was still in shock. But as I look back, it was there. I knew it. I just hadn’t accepted it. So, I did the only thing there was to do, I put one foot in front the other and I kept moving forward. And I thought.

Slowly, as the miles ticked by and the initial shock of this new reality faded and as my frenzied thoughts settled into a steady swirl, it became clear to me. I was being tested. Call it God, fate, chance, serendipity. Whatever. First my back. Why did that happen when it did? Ashley asked me that at one point. I don’t know the answer. Why was this road not passable? I can’t answer that either. But what I did know solidified in my brain: This was my week. This was my segment. This was my contribution This was my chance to do this for my mom and for everyone living with MS. If the fates had decided to throw hurdles in my way, I had but one choice: to jump over them. Maybe I had underestimated this endeavor. I’d done two 50 mile races, how hard could 7 marathons in 7 days be? I didn’t have to race them. I could go slow. How about 8 marathons in 7 days…with a back injury…and blisters…and tendonitis in my left arch. No, this was NOT going to be easy. Not at all. But I was going to do it, no matter what else was to be thrown in my way. They say a person is measured by how s/he responds to adversity and challenge. It was time for me to find out what I was really made of. It was time to find out how badly I wanted this. It was time to step up.

By the time I climbed into the car at the end of the day two’s 26.2, I was resolute. I informed Ashley that I was going to do the extra miles. Her response as I remember it was “I thought you’d say that.” She seemed to sense the futility of debating me on this point…she was getting to know me. So it came to be that my 182 miles became 205.

Day 3 was run for a fellow Relay runner who is living with MS, Michelle Jacobi.

Day 3 was run for a fellow Relay runner who is living with MS, Michelle Jacobi.

And so there I was about 8 miles into Day 3, an extra marathon between me and the end of this. The blisters on my feet started hurting around mile 3. The tendonitis in my left arch which had started yesterday was coming back, and it was worse. The next few miles were excruciating. My single connection to the ground, my sole source of forward motion, my feet, shot back pain with every step. Newton’s third law was mocking me with every step. I struggled on in pain, my spirit about as low as it could get.

And then it happened. I looked up and saw something. There was still just desert and road and mountains as far as I could see, but there was something more. Something subtle. What was it? Beauty. It radiated from everything around me. And I could see it, I could feel it. I took a long, slow breath. And I realized “How many people are this lucky? How many people get to take a week off of work and come to a place this beautiful? How many people get to do something this amazing? So your feet hurt. Boo Hoo! Get over it. You had better appreciate every single moment of this. You are lucky to be out here.” And the pain in my feet dissipated…not even the tiniest bit. But I accepted it. It just was. It stopped bothering me. I have no idea what those living with MS go through. But I know that some of them live with pain everyday. Many live with discomfort. Pain had become a part of my reality now too, even if only for a short time.

And from there it became easier, even fun. My feet throbbed, but my spirit soared. I trudged forward towards my goal: Amboy, CA. I watched as trains went by one after another. I marveled at the long delay between the billows of sand popping up in the distant desert and the booming explosion that came a few seconds later to explain it. And I savored everything, pain and all.

Route 66 stretching out into the desert for miles, my view for 3 days straight.

Route 66 stretching out into the desert for miles, my view for 3 days straight.

Many miles later I made my way into the sleepy little rest stop that is Amboy, CA. I stopped at the flagpole in front of the post office and looked down at my watch, 29.3 miles. Not a bad days’ work. Ostensibly Amboy is a town. But the “town” consists of a post office, a few ramshackle, hardly inhabitable looking buildings and Roy’s gas station, replete with an “unlivable” motel. It was more of an odd joke than a town, but it is also one of the coolest towns I’ve ever been in. I felt like I had just stepped into a David Lynch movie. The town’s “owner” told us we could plug the RV into one of the outlets on the outside of the post office. So, after checking out Roy’s and watching the moon rise over the desert, we retreated to the RV for some sleep. Tomorrow was to be a big day.

Amboy...getting close.

Amboy…getting close.

In my mom’s words

Tomorrow I run my final miles of my MS Run the US segment, 22 or so miles from Jean to Las Vegas. My mother was diagnosed with MS 10 years ago, and she is the reason I joined the Relay. She has been with me every step of the way. But tomorrow’s segment is specifically in honor my mom. I will wear her name on my back all day as I run and walk.

A while ago I asked if she would write a blog post and she agreed. I’ve waited until today to post it. It seemed like the right time, on the day I run for her. I love you mom. I draw strength from you and watching how hard you fight and I am honored to have been able to do this for you. We’ll always be a team.

—————————————————-

I’m Jay’s mom, Annie.

Herniated discs run in my family. Multiple sclerosis does not.

After I had an MRI to confirm a diagnosis of a herniated cervical disc, several lesions were also “incidentally” found in my spinal fluid. An MRI of my brain revealed a large number of lesions. Other tests followed that confirmed the diagnosis. The lesions seemed like foreign invaders to me. They still seem like that—uninvited and unwelcome.

I don’t remember having many symptoms of MS at the time. But I was struggling with multiple cervical and lumbar disc herniations that were impinging on my spine. In retrospect, I probably attributed the MS symptoms of pain, numbness, tingling and falling to the disc issues.

When I was diagnosed with MS, I only knew one person who had that disease and she was losing her ability to walk, to talk, to think clearly. In my world, she was losing everything. I soon learned that I was very fortunate. I had the relapsing/remitting form of MS—a much milder form of the disease.

The doctor started me on an injectable drug therapy and some oral medications to combat stiffness in my limbs. My adventure with the world of MS began.

The first MS drug was extremely difficult to tolerate. It made me very nauseated and tired. My white blood count plummeted. I was constantly sick and couldn’t work. At one point, I was sent to a hematologist because they suspected I had leukemia. I had horrible nose bleeds. After I suggested changing the drug several times, the doctor finally agreed. My white blood count returned to normal and the nose bleeds stopped.

I started a new drug. There were virtually no side effects. But I had a terrible relapse. When I was driving down the expressway, the vision in my right eye began to fade. My legs were very weak. I was terrified. I was hospitalized and put on IV steroids. Eventually, my vision returned in my right eye and I regained the strength in my legs. But I gained a lot of weight and was plagued by fatigue. I felt defeated.

I finally realized I had to change my life. I could have a good life with MS but it wouldn’t be the same life I had before MS.

My career had to change. A hard-driving, 70-hour a week sales management job was over. I entered the non-profit arena and pursued communications/public relations. I had to lower my level of stress.

I found an integrative medicine physician who diagnosed a number of food allergies including gluten, garlic and dairy. I knew I had food allergies years before but ignored the doctor’s advice. Now I listened and changed my entire diet.

I took charge of my health care. I need a team of doctors who are willing to collaborate with me—listen to my ideas, thoughts and suggestions. My internist and ophthalmologist are outstanding. I have had four neurologists and am holding auditions for the fifth. Collaboration is a challenge for this group.

Relapse prevention is key. In my ten years with MS, I have had 4 relapses. I had three of those relapses at one job due to extreme stress. Everyone in that particular function was under that stress but I was the only one with MS. I resigned without another job and was unemployed for almost a year. To this day, that employer doesn’t know the reason why I left.

By far, my greatest challenge with MS is employment. I never tell an employer or anyone I work with that I have MS. It doesn’t help and, the one time I did tell an employer, it really made the situation worse. Professionally, I live in the closet which is not where I prefer to live.

Attitude is everything. This disease doesn’t affect my day-to-day life. I can go months without thinking about it. I have not had a relapse for three years and I don’t intend to ever have one again. I know my relapse triggers—extreme stress and heat especially high humidity. I have a healthy respect for this disease but it will never defeat me.

I was once a very ambitious corporate senior manager with a very promising career. MS has made me a kinder, gentler person who loves her writing career and is not so driven.

My greatest strength is my family. They have walked with me through my darkest hours and have helped me get to the other side. What can you say about a son who would run 7 marathons in 7 days? I am humbled and I am proud beyond words.

I also want to thank the many people who have donated and supported us.

Day 2

Yesterday started with months of pent-up excitement unleashed in a single moment as I kissed my wife and daughter and ran under the official MS Run the US Relay START banner, my journey towards Las Vegas finally underway. I rode a high all day. And the weather was gorgeous.

Today Ashley dropped me off by the mailbox where we stopped yesterday, basically in the middle of nowhere, and I unceremoniously started walking. There was a distinct haze settled on the horizon. Mountains that I could see yesterday clearly were barely discernible today. The wind was whipping and kicking up sand everywhere. This cast an eerie, almost somber glow over everything. The brightness of yesterday’s sky was absent. Today was not to be like yesterday.

And I just kept moving forward. That was the theme today. No surprise military bases. No reclining chairs or other interesting oddities as there were along yesterday’s route. I spent the entire day on one road: National Trails Highway, aka Route 66. Not a single turn. The monotony of the desert has a very odd effect on one’s perception. You cannot even see yourself moving forward. My immediate surroundings were unchanging. It was only after miles traveled that I would look up and see distant objects like mountains revealing that I was making progress. Life can often feel that way, like we’re standing still. But it’s just a matter of perspective. Always keep putting one foot in front of the other and you are making progress, even if you can’t see it.

IMG_4944

 

IMG_4932

My back is holding up. There is some pain, but it’s doing pretty well considering. And the heat, which had been a major concern, has not been a problem thus far. Apparently I deal with heat better than I did when I was younger. Plus I’m moving fairly slowly and the last two days have had an amazing breeze. I’m also using armcoolers given to me by Recofit (www.recofit.co). I was very skeptical. I don’t like gear. But they are working really well, keeping my arms cool and protected from the sun.

There were two surprises today. The first was when Ashley told me there was a Dairy Queen about a mile past where I was finishing the day. I love a good Blizzard. That was a most welcome treat. Then there was a less welcome surprise when I took off my shoes: the hot spots I’d been feeling were all now blisters. Plus another I hadn’t even felt. 4 blisters. I’ve had about that many blisters total in my whole running career prior to today. Heat and sand are not my friends this week. But we keep moving forward.

298061_10151612653685610_1957490477_n

Today I ran for Sue Neal, a friend of a friend who was recently diagnosed with MS. Today was Sue’s birthday. Happy Birthday Sue! And stay strong. We’re out here running for you and everyone with MS.