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.
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.
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.
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.
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.