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.
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.
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.