Last Annual Vol State Foot Race 2014
This is hard. To find the words. To remember. To evaluate and reflect.
I’ve come to the conclusion that it was a brutal defeat. But also a beginning. It was Tennessee chewing me up and spitting me out, Sauron putting a hex on Legless and leaving him to rot in the outskirts of Mordor.
Lazarus Lake has written a quality text about this adventure. Read that instead of the below gibberish.
My preparation for this endeavor was not to my liking. I raced a 48h in Bornholm at the end of May, did well and then tried to run a 50 miler hard in mid-June. It did not go well. My hip has been troublesome all spring and during and after the 50 miler they were weak and achy. A lot of work in the office also made my weekly mileage much lower than I normally would like to achieve before a long race. Small pains here and there, a swollen tendon on the left ankle, a sore achilles tendon on the right foot etc. In short, poor race shape for a fast short race, ok for an ultra, probably fantastic form for a road adventure over several days. I would have plenty of time to heal up.
Flew to Nashville via NY where Laz picked me up in the Honda. Dinner with his family and neighbors. To the farm and met Big, Little and Sofie. Had a nice morning walk on the countryside with dogs and Cantrells. Saw some backyard trails. Tasted moonshine. Had coffee. Realized that I would leave here in my race kit. Tried to organize the pack. It was hard. Did it five times. I’m truly poor at deciding what to bring. I needed to be forced to the decision by the fact that there is no more time. Laz questioned my doings and my choice of footwear. I switched to another pair of shoes and we were off. Big was left sad on the porch.
In my race pack: extra underwear, thin wind jacket, plastic rain poncho, long sleeved running shirt, extra socks, 8 quarters, sunblock, miniature toothbrush and toothpaste, fruit bar, salt pills, charger, cords for charging gps watch, booster pack for charging, gopro camera, smartphone, dumb phone for calling in, road book, turn sheet, maps, two 20oz bottles, toilet paper, wet wipes, credit card visa, credit card amex, dollars, headlamp, extra batteries, mp3 player with headphones, micro swiss army knife, sun glasses, sun hat, a Swedish flag and an American flag…
After buying discounted quality cigarettes for the driver we traveled on the course towards Kimball. There, at Super8 we met more Vol Staters. Picked up the big van from the rental’s. It was going to be staging the role as the meat wagon, picking up DNFs along the route. Visited Walmart and bought a travelling outfit, a soft cotton t-shirt and fresh drawers. Had the next to last supper at the china buffet. Ate until it was far beyond healthy.
Early morning drive to the Castle Rock farm and the beginning of the long bus ride. Tried to sleep some on the bus. But also to look out the windows and trying to capture some of the course. The ride was all day and we arrived in Union City and the motel at approximately 5 pm. Shared room with Marcio from Brazil. Still my Portuguese is very limited and his English did not work. We tried to cheer each other up anyway. It went well even though Brazil was killed by the Germans in WC!
The last supper was also a buffet but I did not stuff too much down this time. On the way back some of us stopped at Walmart to buy some more race essentials. For me it was salt tablets and an American flag. An evening in the lobby chatting before turning to the bed pretty early.
Slept poor. Nervous. Woke up to pee every hour. At 4:20 the bathroom was occupied and I needed to go, so I headed for the lobby. After taking care of my need I didn’t see any meaning of going to the room again so I had breakfast. The buses left for the ferry at 6:15am.
The ferry brought us to Missouri. A quick leak in the bushes and Laz lit his cigarette. We all went down the bank and onto the ferry again. This time together with a large truck. Sal set off into Kentucky. Marcio followed. I followed him. It was warm but not hot. It felt good to be on our way. Someone dropped a race flag. No one of the crewed runners would pick it up and risk helping turning someone screwed into crewed. I thought “they take this really serious!”. I picked it up and gave it Marcio since it was his.
Some steep streets up towards the overlook. A massive green and brown view over Mississippi and the lands below Hickman. I had water in both my bottles and I hoped it would last me until Union City. I did easily. Sue was ahead of me for a while here. Stopped to pee. Jogged a bit with Greg. Entered Tennessee. The journey had definitely begun. Some people where in their gardens. A man prepared his bike with trailer for his day out. He smiled and waved. Later that night I saw him pedaling west outside Huntingdon. Waving again.
In Union City I realized the need of paying attention to maps and route instructions. I tried to be alert on this for the rest of the race and did better than ok for being me. I just backtracked half a mile …
The first depot stop was in a gas station. I bought water, one plain and one bottle with some flavored cherry stuff. Not nice. Filled my own bottles with this liquid and headed out of town.
While approaching Martin it was a nice overcast. Entering Martin I stopped at another gas station and filled my bottles with bought water and also drank a soda. The girl in the gas station asked the inevitable question. Are you in a race?
While approaching Dresden on 22, a big road with separated lanes, I heard powerful thumps coming up behind me. It was Greg. He was worried that we were on the wrong high way. His crew was supposed to have met him but they were nowhere to be found. He had an empty water bottle so I offered him some from mine. He politely declined with something like “I could never take your water. I’m the one who is supposed to have water to offer…” We both agreed that the overcast that we had experienced before in Martin was nice. It was gone now.
His crew was waiting where we turned off 22 and headed into Dresden. He sat down in his camping chair in the shadow of the rubber boat. I continued. But I was not jealous because I had planned on having a meal in Dresden. The next turn was tricky since I longed for food and that is something that almost always is found where there are buildings. The instructions said, take a left turn. But I took a right turn and thought the instructions where wrong, since the left turn road seemed to be heading straight into the countryside. After a short bit it dawned on me that it might be better to assume that the written instructions were right and that I might be wrong for once. Good decision. Heading back.
My water was almost finished. In the center of Dresden a nice lady came out of an office, loading her car with something. She saw that I was in need and offered me water. I happily accepted and she brought me an ice cold bottle. It was good. I still waited to find fast food America but nothing came along. I found some of the orange markings in the road indicating I was on the right roads. All of a sudden I was crossing HW22 and still no food. I had missed it. And to fill my bottles. The first building after crossing the high way was an industrial wholesaler for some sort of agricultural chemical. I entered and found a vending machine right inside the door. I put some money in and collected a coke. Said hello to a very surprised man that worked there and was out on the road again fast as a whistle. Met Greg’s crew just of that industrial property and they cheered me on. I was a little bit worried about my shortage of liquid but was now aiming for Gleason. Rationing my last sips of water. Before Gleason there was an industry to the left of the road. A lady had come out to the crossroads to cheer on the runners. After making sure she was not part of a crew or associated with the race in some other way she gave me a very much needed bottle of water. She also offered me some candy but I declined.
Turning left by an inflatable pool that was very tempting. Into the city square and straight for the convenient store. Explained to the guy working there what I was doing and bought water, Gatorade and soda. I really wanted something to eat but I had to settle for an ice cream. I sat on a stool inside and the guy turned a fan on me to help me cool down. Soon Greg’s crew came in to stack up on supplies. I left Gleason. I felt weak. I had pushed to long without water and food.
The journey continued. Jogging on. Entering McKenzie I jumped into the first gas station and bought water, Gatorade and a hot dog. Decided to always eat when opportunity arrived. Unfortunately I did not live up to that promise.
The sun was setting while I was entering Huntingdon. Nice old houses stacked close together on Paris Street. Looked like something out of a movie. Turned left before the square since a saw a restaurant a few houses down. It had been advertised on a huge billboard out on 22 earlier. It was not fancy. Almost no guests. My guess is that it was a family that owned it and worked there together. I was offered a booth. Tried to order milkshake but they had none, sparkling water, had none, coke? I had several jugs of coke and a cheeseburger. It was cold AC climate inside. And I was weak. I started to shiver. Badly. The mother of the restaurant family came and wondered what was wrong with me. I had told her about the race already. Now this physical disintegration she was witnessing “is how it is supposed to be in a race like this”. I could tell that she was not convinced. I could hardly find my mouth with the fork due to the trembling arm. And I had no appetite what so ever. I staggered to their restroom and washed up a bit. I was mad at myself for letting me become this weak. This was the first proper food for the entire day. Purely stupid and not close to sufficient.
I knew I had to get back in the road before they called paramedics. The nice lady filled my bottles with tap water. The first tap water of the whole race. It was dark now. I hesitated a bit at the square on which direction to go. But soon I saw the police station and had the way. I picked up two small stones as defense for dogs. I carried them all night and but I knew from the beginning that I never would have used them or for that matter, that they would have done any good as defense. I met a young couple walking towards me in darkness. They were surprised to see me.
When old 22 rejoined new 22 I got confused. I continued on the right route for half a mile and then turned back. I had no good map over this place. Back at the intersection I sat down and studied what I had. I decided that I had been on the right road and started the journey again.
Found a closed convenient store with a vending machine out front. Bought a Coke and a Mountain Dew. Drank the coke and pored the mountain dew into my half full bottles. Poor decision. I had erupting bottles for many miles after that. The pack and everything was wet and sticky.
Coming into Parkers Crossroads a few minute too late. Every food place was closed but a store at a gas station. There two very helpful ladies gave me food and filled my bottles. I ate a small pizza sitting in one of their booths. I longed for real food. Still much too weak.
Trying to find some running rhythm again. It seemed ok. The road to Lexington appears very long. Especially the last curve. It never ends. But at the turn there is a night open gas station and I bought two sausage biscuits and drinks, sat in a booth and ate it all. I shiver when inside. I boil when outside. The t-shirt is constantly drenched in sweat. Sticky and heavy. The friendly man behind the counter thought that I needed to step things up a bit. The guy ahead of me had been there about an hour ago, he informed me. I told him that that guy had a crew. The man didn’t seem to see the difference. I didn’t blame him. It was a race. With or without crew. First runner to the Rock is King. The rest subjects.
I headed out through Lexington. It looked worn down and depressed. Perhaps it was me or the night that did it. I didn’t get far until I decided to rest for a bit. I laid down on the very leaning driveway of a church. Put my head down and feet high. I laid there for about 5 minutes. It felt like a luxury. I saw stars. But I also reflected over the fact that I was not moving. It didn’t feel right.
The morning light is always a quickening. I saw a couple of convenience stores or if it was cafes in the early morning light but I was heading for Parsons. As soon as the light gets more intense you feel the heat building up. Before you even see the sun. I stumbled into Subway and ordered a Philly cheese steak sandwich. And a large soda. I thought of charging my watch for a bit. Greg’s crew came in and gave me some encouragement. Went to the restroom and cleaned myself up. The guy in the mirror looked weak.
Back on the road the heat started to accumulate in me. I was jogging and was hoping to continue for the day. I soon realized that I couldn’t. It didn’t seem fair. And the dammed rumble strips made me think even sorrier for myself. Leaving Parsons I saw a motel to the right with a vending machine out front. I bought two sodas and sat down to drink them. An Indian looking lady came out and wondered if I was alright and if I needed a room. I thought I did. At least for two hours or so. She confirmed the two hour price with her husband before I paid them 25 dollars, got a cold water bottle and a room key. Room no 1 was at the end, closest to the road. I opened the door, took of my shoes and socks, shorts and T-shirt, put my water bottles in the fridge, washed my face, set my alarm and crept under the sheets. I decided to sleep for 45 minutes. I couldn’t. I was stressed. I slumbered for 10 minutes, than woke with a twist, leg pains and the felling that I had overslept something. Repeated that same procedure three times before deciding that it was not worth it. Got dressed. Felt a little bit worried about the chafe that had started to blossom on my scrotum and inner thighs. But did not tend to it.
The road was bad. I was slow. The sun was unreasonable. And the dammed rumble strips destroyed the little shoulder that was there. Very soon after the motel I stopped at a gas station and bought some cold drinks. Downed two protein drinks. It was mostly a slow walk from there. Frustrating. The miles just did not disappear. They were there. Constantly. Lots of trucks passing. Rumble strips. Sun. Everywhere election signs. From Kentucky to Alabama. I can’t remember one name now but on the road they were my friends. All the sheriffs, and clerks and judges and school administrators that wanted your vote.
Just before crossing HW13 in Linden a Pickup stopped beside me outside a gas station. A long haired fellow with his son riding shot gun, asked me if I needed a ride. I explained shortly that I was in a foot race and entering a vehicle would disqualify me. He then asked if I needed a place to crash and I gave him the same answer. Can’t get into a vehicle. His smile grew wider when he asked if at least I needed a smoke. I smiled back and declined. He then asked if I was sure because it was really good smoke. I waved and moved on towards and over the bridge.
I found a stick in the ditch. Or it was a white plastic pipe used to have electrical cables in. It had perfect length to be a dog training stick. I decided to arm myself for the coming night. I hit a hill and started to get worried about if I was on the right road. Stopped and took off the backpack to look in the book. Many cars honked in anger at me since I was reading a book on the non-existing shoulder on a very hilly and winding road. I totally understood them. I didn’t want to be there. It was mostly forest around me. Soon I reached a fork in the road and we were supposed to turn right. It was a lonely gas station there at the intersection and I went inside a picked two cool drinks from their fridges, sat down in a both by the window and drank them. The white stick was parked outside.
Continuing on in the heat. I soon got tired of the stick and also realized that I never would use it. I left it by the road just like I had found it. Once again I started think about why I hadn’t eaten anything. The energy was low. I was passed by a few cars and a sheriff but the traffic was not so heavy here. I really longed for the night. And for the miles to pass quicker. They didn’t. A guy was doing some tuning to his pickup engine when I was passing a farm. He was rushing the engine into a death roar. So many times. Too many times. Over and over again. There were no shade. There were no town. There were no sanctuary. There were no happy thoughts.
Hohenwald never showed up. I was getting frustrated. I saw a closed down store. Some houses. I needed something to eat. Nothing. Up a hill. Churches. What about all these churches? Everywhere. It was supposed to be an airfield somewhere. Finally I reached a gas station. They had warm pizza slices in a glass cabinet. I bought one. The Indian guy attending the place filled my water bottles. I sat in a booth. I was sticky and wet. I was getting chilly again. I wanted more energy. I wandered around inside the place to find something I wanted to eat. I found nothing. A small bag of chips. I was unfocused. Plan less. Tired. I understood that I needed to push on. But I wanted so bad to lie down. I walked out and did that next to the wall of the gas station. The concrete was still warm from the sun and I tried to sleep. But it was too close to young men’s roaring pickup engines which pulled in and out of the station to buy beer for the night. But it was nice to be still for a bit.
The sun was setting and I still didn’t see the town. But there were houses on both sides of the road and barking dogs. When I finally reached the town it was dark. I entered another gas station operated by a couple of Indian fellows. I bought a protein drink. One of the guys asked me if I was in a bike race. I explained I was not. I asked about the way out of town and they pointed me in the right direction. There were many shops on the way out of town. I was thinking about buying something to eat but ended up buying a Gatorade in an Indian run gas station.
Into the night. I was feeling a little bit better when the temperature sunk. The road was broad. There was a shoulder. The houses disappeared and dark trees lined my path. I met some bikers. I had no light on. They got scared, and a little bit angry I guess, when they passed me. It is good to be invisible. You see everyone, no one see you. Running alongside a long guard rail I found an opening in it. There were a paved surface in the opening. At the time a perfect bed. I took my pack off and laid down in the dark on the warm asphalt. The ground got wet from where I touched it. It was stars in the sky. I heard some barking dogs but they were far away. I was guarded by the rail. I had a good spot. I decided to rest. Not to sleep. Big trucks thundered by just a couple of feet from my head. But I was safe in my little road pocket. Soon I heard another sound. Someone where pounding the road by foot from where I had come. I heard Greg. I stood up and surprised him pretty good I think.
It was so good to have company. Someone experiencing the same thing. We ran together. He with a head light and I without. I with a shirt and he without. We met more bikes. We had pretty good pace. I liked it. We passed a car that had been pulled over by the police. We waved and smiled to the officers. I wonder what they thought about who we were. Greg told me about his work and his running experiences. It was a good moment. Soon we reached the Natchez Trace campground. Greg continued on towards his crew. I stopped and had a cold soda on the bench outside the office. I had read that there might be mattresses and blankets laid out here for the Vol State runners. I didn’t dare to search for them. Walked out to the road again and started a slow jog. Soon I met I guy running towards me. Later I understood it was a friend of Gary’s who was crewing for him.
Soon I was in the middle of a road construction site. It was only one lane open in each direction. And plenty of road cones. Every time a car came I had to jump out of the way. I was too tired for that game. I laid down behind an orange plastic cone. Stared at the sky. Wondering what I was doing. I was unfocused. Perhaps confused. Soon stood up and continued. Greg’s running friend stood by the side of the road. He encouraged me and told me a little bit about the road ahead. There was no food to buy for a long time. After a bit I decided to run on the actual construction site in the gravel where they were preparing the new lanes. It was safer. Despite some pit holes that I did not see since I was not using a torch.
There were some hills. I smiled at my sore legs while running downhill. It was a forest beside the road. Big trees. In a small town there was a closed gas station. I bought a soda in the machine out front. My first choice was out of stock so I just lost my money. My second choice fell down and I sat down on the curb and drank it. I was hungry. The hilly road continued. Sometimes pretty steep sections. My brain started to form the big trees on the side of the road into giants. I didn’t appreciate that kind of company so I tried to look away. But they started to appear everywhere. A car pulled over and a guy jumped out. It was King Joe. I told him I really appreciated him coming out and to have a real person to talk too since I had started to get imaginary friends, or perhaps foes, in the night. He informed me that Greg was up ahead and told me to push on. He disappeared too soon. The meeting was short but it gave me some new energy.
I found a road pocket. No houses, a hill in the countryside, warm asphalt with just a tiny bit of gravel on it. Laid down. So tired. Couldn’t focus on running. No traffic. Laid there for a bit. Pebbles pressing into my skin. Set the alarm for ten minutes. Maybe five minutes of sleep. It helped. Up again. Onward. Longing for the morning light. The noise of the cicadas. Sometimes so strong. At the next moment almost gone. Scary. Lonely houses. Barking dogs. Some fog. A dim light further up. It is Greg and his crew parked in a corn field. I don’t stop. I jog on. Soon the crew car passes me. They are parked on the next hill. They wave and cheer me on. I try to smile. I love that they are there. I’m not alone. But still it is a race. In some strange way I still think of this as a race. That I have a competitor close that I need to shake. Entering Columbia with the early morning’s misty light.
Greg’s crew points me towards an open gas station with food. I enter the cold indoor climate and the morning shift all stares at me. Do you need help? No I need breakfast. Buys a couple of eggs and bacon biscuits. Sits down on a stack of water bottles by the door. I had hoped for a booth. This was too cold and too uncomfortable. My legs were hurting and cramping. Out into the warmth again. One of the employees runs out after me. She comes up and says that she is so impressed with what we, the Vol Staters are doing, so she wants to shake my hand. We shake and I move on. The sun is drying up the foggy air fast.
My stomach was a little bit upset due to that I actually fed it. It is not so used to that. When I was entering the actual town of Colombia Greg caught me in the uphill. He looked fresh. I was feeling dead. We walked together into town and talked. It was extremely pleasant to have him beside me. Someone who knew what I was feeling and going through. We could discuss other things than just describing the race to each other. Some fractions of another life.
When we turned south we started a not so pretty jog. The sun was rising. I decided to check into a motel and get some proper sleep. I was too mushy for the road. We saw the turn leading out of town up ahead. We said good bye and I walked into a gas station to get something more to eat and to think over my options. This was a Saturday, People where entering in order to sit down and have something to eat and to meet friends. I listened to their conversations as I downed a couple of biscuits. I had no plan. That’s bad. I looked in the book, studied the maps. It felt like I was doing something important while executing these tasks. I reality I was of course not. My plan was a simple one. Move until you drop, stand up when you can and continue moving forward. Until you drop again… If you see food, eat it. I needed no map for that. But perhaps my brain and ego needed the map just to believe it was more to the race than the simple “moving forward”.
The best decision that morning was to skip the motel idea. Motels are bad. They only eat up time and money and the worst part; they make you soft and whiny. The plan was to head out of time and to find a good place in the shadow beside the road in order to get 45 min of quality sleep. I found the right spot in a pretty steep bank covered with lush grass. I spread out my one dollar poncho as a sleeping mat and set the alarm. I was asleep in seconds and it was the best sleep I had for the entire race. I woke up smiling and stumbled back onto the road. Now the air was baking. And I was stumbling forward.
Soon I reached the Glendale and the fantastic newly painted red “Bench of Despair”. One of the ladies managing the store was coming out with a sharpie for me to sign the bench. I took a picture and moved into the AC climate and had some peanuts and a soda. Back on the road I was struggling. And stumbling. And slumbering. It was a very slow progress. I met a gang of road bicyclists that stopped and chatted for a bit. While being charged by a pack of dogs, a wild looking man came walking towards me, traveling the same road but the opposite direction. Our combined appearance somehow got the dogs to slow down and move back into the property from where they had emerged. I would have done the same. The guy was on the way from somewhere to somewhere else to run for senate. I don’t really know what he was upset about, but he was upset about something. He knew Laz of course and sent greetings to him.
I got to the gas station in Culleoka hungry. They had a dining room in the back. I wanted food. And to cool down. They served me the best burger. I drank some cool drinks in the company of a few families, that like me, had dirty clothes. But not as dirty. Not as stinky and sporty. They had done proper work on their farms, probably with a true purpose. Their clothes were the clothes that people wear for protection from the environment, practical clothes without logos or flashy colors. I was wearing Sporty Spice’s clothes. My dirt was from a very unclear purpose. Their dirt was the dirt from honest work. Glory dirt. Mine was from a crazy road race. An unnecessary journey across rural Tennessee. A journey for myself. An ego trip. I envied their dirt.
I tried to run a little. Downhill was ok. But slow. When reaching Mooresville I needed something cool to drink. I was surprised to find a place to get inside. A gas station that had homemade ice cream! I needed that but couldn’t eat much of it. The young lady at the counter wondered why I looked as I looked and what I was doing. After I told her she kept her distance. The sun was brutal as I entered the road. Moving slow. Started to feel really drowsy again. The road grew wider and had a few lanes in each direction. I think I was looking dead. Several cars stopped to check on me. Offering water. Two families actually turned their cars around and returned after ten minutes with cold water. This after me declining any help or assistance. I was happy for the water but mostly for their friendliness and company. That I could share some words with someone that cared for me. I was starting to feel lonely in this never ending endeavor.
Up a hill and into Lewisburg. There was the meat wagon. I was so happy to see Laz. I complained about my growing chafing on the front and inside of my thighs. Laz told me I needed to wash the shorts and get rid of all the salt. It was destroying the skin cells. Yep it was. Yellow blisters that popped in a fleshy mess. I also had lost skin where the legs meet and I was truly worried that it would end my adventure.
I continued through the town. It was long. No food. When I turned left I stopped by a vending machine and bought a soda. I longed for a restaurant. Didn’t find any on the course. Rather big town, no place to eat. On the edge of town I entered a Walgreens to stock up on patches for the chafing and more sunscreen. Bought really expensive high tech patches that would cover my fleshy parts of my thighs. I ended up never using them. I entered a fast food place next doors. But I didn’t want what they were serving. Talked to a couple of gentlemen there. I remember one of them describing the heat in the Mojave. I listened politely before exiting and moved down the road.
Entered a motel with a black horse on their logo. In the reception there were two ladies behind glass. I asked for a room for two hours. She gave me a discount and the charge would then be 50 bucks! Expensive but I had not the energy to argue too much. She blamed the new owners that would make her sorry if they found out. I don’t think she did not believe that I only was going to spend two hours.
Whilst in the room I quickly showered and washed my shorts. The first and last shower during the race. I threw my worn underwear and socks in the trash and laid out the spares I had carried in the pack. Luxury. I hung the shorts to dry on the outside of the door in the evening sun. I had forgotten to eat again. Visited the vending machines but they had nothing I wanted. I bought two sodas which I drank before setting the alarm and laid down between the sheets. 45 min of pretty ok sleep did really good. I was back in the reception checking out well within my pre called two hour time frame. The lady was almost in chock. Now she believed me and apologized for the high rate. I and also want to believe I looked transformed and new. At least I felt revitalized.
My brain was slow. I needed food. I had decided to use the mp3-player now. I had carried it just in case. Now was the case. The Swedish gangster rap did good. The pace was ok. I was running again. I looked for food. Crossed the road a couple of times just to realize the place I had aimed for was out of business or closed. I looked at the map and decided to run some miles to the next food place. It felt good now. I was moving and soon I would have dinner. But no. When I reached Farmington the sun had set and the food place was closed. No dinner. Just more road.
I still had water. I moved into the night. The traffic was no longer scary. The dogs approaching was no longer scary. I guess I did not smell like “scary Swede” anymore. More like “I’m moving outahere no matter what, get lost”. Even the roaring pickups started to give me road. The water was disappearing in my bottles. I saw a party at a rescue station close to the road. I could have asked them to fill my bottles but I didn’t dare approach them. They might have shot me or just started to ask about what I was doing and I couldn’t tell the Vol State story anymore. I rather chose the solitude of the night without water. I started to look for churches, I wanted a place to sleep and a water hose to fill my bottles but they were all too far from the course. This distance would be like 150 feet. I didn’t want that.
Turning into Shelbyville there were a night open gas station with food as I entered town. I told the “what and why” story again and bought two chicken burgers. The girl helped me heat them in the microwave. I had a Dr Pepper and a Gatorade. I needed calories. She filled my water bottles. I sat on the curb outside the station. I guy approached and asked if I needed anything. He would by me food if I wanted. He was young and didn’t look that he had too much money. But he wanted to help. I gracefully declined. I finished my sandwiches and moved on. I was slow. I entered another gas station and bought a protein drink which I finished before continuing onto the town square. Sat down on a bench there. Looked in the book. No particular reason.
Moved on. Was getting worried that I would make a wrong turn somewhere. I didn’t have to worry so much because there were no turns. I was getting sleepy. I saw a very welcoming parking lot outside a mechanical work shop. Johnson’s I think it was called. There was a sign there with its base in perfect height in order to place my lower legs on so that my knees had a 90 degrees angle while lying on my back. The asphalt was new and extremely smooth. Still warm from the heat of the day. I set the alarm for ten minutes. It was a good moment.
I could move quicker now. I had a good stride. The morning was approaching and I entered a gas station and bought a Gatorade and used the bathroom. It was still dark and the trees on the sides of the road were turning into huge monsters and animals. It was ok. I let them come. Invited them. I was fascinated by the details and how real they looked. I could still run. Entering into Wartrace I heard the trains. I walked up to the gas station and lay down on the bench in front of it. I set the alarm for five minutes. Slept well. Was pleased with my progress. Was in a good mood. Gave myself five more minutes. Slept them as well. Then headed out of there.
The morning light came as I moved out of town. Found some stride. Started to recognize some of the landscapes and farms from the bus ride. It felt like I was getting closer to the finish. I increased my pace. I even tried to run uphill. It was Sunday. People where probably going to church. The sun was turning up the temperature. Soon I was in a bad place once more. I had not much to drink. I sat in a ditch for a while. But the uncomfortable ground, the lack of food, drinks and shadow made me take the decision to get back on my feet.
Finally I reached the Whispering Oaks campground. I headed over to the barn like building and found a vending machine. The machine ate my first dollar without giving anything back to me. But finally I got out two sodas from it. I man pulled up his pickup next to the building and jumped out. He asked me what I was doing and I told the story once again. I asked if he was the owner and he confirmed that. I asked for permission to use the restrooms and if I could fill my bottles and that was ok.
I realized I needed to eat something again. While stumbling down the road I passed a stand where some folks where selling vegetables. I bought a cucumber which I chewed on while heading towards Manchester. When coming down a hill I felt the need of a restroom stop. It was bad place for this but I really needed to go. It was only very steep slopes next to the road with extremely dense vegetation. I pushed into the bushes and did my thing. Then I realized the poison ivy all around me. I laughed at myself. And stumbled down to the road again. Since it was so steep I could not control my forward movement when my feet got tangled up in the vegetation. I fell out onto the road. Ending up lying flat on my belly on the pavement. No traffic. No hurt parts. Thanks.
Now I was looking for a restaurant. One I entered hadn’t opened the kitchen yet but the nice lady thought that I would find one further down the road. Moving into town I saw that the entire square was a construction site. Everything looked closed. But then I saw some nicely dressed people entering a building that might be a restaurant. It was. When I entered the dining room the owner noticed and was approaching me in two seconds flat. I did not fit in. “Can I help you?” Yes please I would love to eat, is it possible to sit outside? His face broke into a smile. Sure you can sit outside, we have a yard. He placed me at a lonely table. A table with table cloth on it. A waitress stepped up and asked me if I wanted something to drink. The contrasts are huge, from the ditch life to the table cloth life. But in distance it might only be twenty meters.
But soon a young couple entered the yard. Greeted me politely but with some skepticism. They looked curiously over at me from their table. The guy soon asked me if I was in the Vol State race. It happened to be his dream race. They were Lee and Coral Leonard. I confirmed that I was racing and learned that they were there on their first wedding anniversary. We had a small photo session which forced me to look happy and less dead. It was good for me. I ate a wrap of some sort. It was really good. Good food. After a couple of soda refills I was back in the sun. Now I made a decision to push through the race. The city was long. I was tired. Or the sun made me. I walked. Slow but still movement. The road was straight. I was going out of water. Started to look for people in gardens that I could ask for a refill. No one was out. One guy pretended I didn’t exist and walked inside. Or maybe I didn’t exist.
Linda and Dale passed by. They stopped and waited up ahead. I was so happy to see them. Someone was there for me. They offered me iced water. I really wanted it. “We asked Gary, he told us it would be fine to give it to you…”. Thank you very much but I have to do this race by myself. It felt rude to decline their water. It felt that I also declined their efforts for being out there. I did not. It meant a lot. It gave me strength. We talked for a while as I moved along. We said goodbye.
But I needed water. Soon I was passing a garden where a mom played with her kids. I greeted them and approached them with my hands visible. Still I saw the fright in her reaction. She quickly got the kids inside while I slowly approached their property. I spoke quickly before they all were inside. She hesitated. I reached out with one of my empty bottles. She struggled with the decision for a few seconds. But the kids were inside and safe from the road monster. She took the necessary steps towards me. Passing the bottle was like passing over a live grenade. Never have two persons been so far apart while handing over an empty water bottle. She disappeared inside but was soon back with the bottle filled. Now she looked much calmer. Her decision to help me, transformed me in her mind from scary hobo to someone that needed caring. She told me that there was ice in the water because I looked like I needed it. I was happy. She was happy. To help people in need makes that to you. And to receive.
With cold water I pushed on. In Hillsboro I entered a gas station to buy something to eat but I had to settle for a Gatorade and soda. Filled both water bottles. Passing several deserted buildings. I bicycle rolled up to me. The rough man riding it asked if I needed something from the store. He seemed exited to see me. I didn’t quite grasp what was happening. I told him that I didn’t need anything since I had stacked up on drinks. He disappeared but told me that he would be back soon.
It was George Boxley and he was soon back. He rode his bike up ahead and then ran back to meet me. Then we walked together and talked. Surreal. But good. After some miles Carl and Laz were there by the side. I told them about a guard rail sleep story. We all laughed. By seeing them it felt like the race was still on. I was not lost on the roads in a foreign country without any clear purpose. The views were pretty here. The mountain in the distance. Green trees. Fields. Rolling hills.
George went ahead to prepare Harry and Ollie’s Country Market and Cafe for me coming to dinner. He was very excited. And fantastically friendly and encouraging. I soon got used to his companionship. Now he was gone. Where was he? The afternoon sun punished me. I saw the water tower. It didn’t get any closer. Where was my new friend? I was getting frustrated. It had been no rest or food since the Manchester meal. I was transparent, a straw. I walked up to a dry stone wall at a cemetery. How could I feel so deserted all of a sudden? I had been deserted since the ferry. But now I was waiting for someone. It broke my mental state. I was sitting on the wall when George came back. He told me it was really close to the restaurant. We started moving again. I thought it was close. George told me “just a little bit longer”, “it’s just up ahead”. But it never came. I was not happy.
Finally at the restaurant I was greeted and welcomed inside. A warm meal was prepared. I ate. It was good. Dessert. The lady made me two cheeseburgers for the road. But I couldn’t resist one of them. I ate it right there. But one was packed. George had to go to meet his wife somewhere and we said goodbye. When I was getting ready to leave and wanted to pay for the dinner he had already taken care of that. I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t even have the chance to thank him for the food.
Towards the mountain in the afternoon sun. Barking dogs. Walking through the outskirts of Pelham. Hitting the incline. Sat down on the pavement. Drank some water and checked the book. I was soaking and sticky. Walked up to Monteagle. Crossed the street and entered the pharmacy to buy some liquids. The sun was setting and I sat on the curb outside and drank a protein drink and some lemon sodas. I don’t really know why but I decided to use my headlamp for the first time during the race. I think it was an act of “gearing up”. Preparing myself for the final push. I was going for the Rock now. The batteries were dead. I had to go inside again and buy new ones. Now it was dark. I started a stiff jog. Turned left and followed HW 41 out of town. Many cars. But now I was part of the road. I didn’t use the headlamp. The cars were close but couldn’t catch me.
All of a sudden I couldn’t stand wearing the shirt. It felt like a restrain. It had worked fine for three days. I had to stop and take it off. Bare chested I jogged through the night. Passing the South Cumberland visitor center. One car on the parking lot. I was feeling cruel. I could run. I was getting hungry again. Entering Tracy City at one minute to 10 pm. At 10 everything closed. I saw an Indian guy close his restaurant while I passed. I longed for food. Some sort of neighborhood watch had a gathering at a deserted parking lot. I stopped at a closed store with a soda machine out front. Sat on the pavement and drank a can of coke. They watched me closely but did not approach. I didn’t care anymore. Back on my feet and started my jog.
I wanted to finish. I was ready for the last push. 16 miles of deserted night landscape. Darkness solitude. Not many cars. Only me. I heard things. I ran without light. My body worked. I could jog. It was a confident movement. Soon I started to recognize things, houses, fences and turns in the road. I heard woman was screaming angrily at someone from a house in the woods. Not many dogs up here. The road didn’t make sense. I should be at the descent by now. I knew it because I knew the road. I knew it as well as my training roads in Stockholm. My mind had entered a state of constant deja vu. I passed an entrance to a state park. I just couldn’t get how the daughter of the man who made the decision to establish it, could convince her father to do so. I had to talk to Laz about it. Turning crazy…
I felt sorry for the guy who owned the feet at the end of my legs. They were sore. Boiled. I sat down in the middle of the road, took the shoes off and massaged the feet. It felt incredibly good. I was happy to offer this service to the foot owner. Because luckily that wasn’t me. Still I kind of recognized the road I was travelling. But it didn’t add up. Someone had altered with it. I realized that Carl and Laz had decided to make the course more difficult. Probably because I had decided to push for the Rock already. I just couldn’t figure out how they could have done it. But I smiled. I was not breaking. The need to feel the ground under my feet was getting unbearable. I took of the shoes and socks. It felt great.
My feet were back. I started running bare foot down the highway. The form was great. Feeling the asphalt against my skin lifted me a little bit from the bottom of my delirium well. I soon realized that the race would be over if I stepped on something sharp in the dark. Smart. The shoes came back on. And again, it was no longer my feet. The dejau vu continued. I passed another entrance to the same state park. And again I didn’t get how the daughter could have convinced her farther to open up the park. I definitely had to talk to Laz about this scandal.
Where was the descent? I knew it should have been here already. The course was definitely altered. They wanted me to suffer. They wanted me to question my ability to complete this adventure. I didn’t stop. I ran. Finally I reached a cross roads with a closed down gas station. Somehow I knew that I now had beaten the altered course. I had pushed through all the extra miles that Carl and Laz had put out here for me to conquer. I sat down in the middle of the intersection and ate a snickers bar. A lone lamp post illuminated the scene. I smiled.
Soon I saw a yellow warning sign. Switchbacks. Good, finally the descent. But something made me flinch. It also said 3 miles. It was too much. I knew this road. In my mind it should only be a few hundred yards. Another hard blow at my will. But I carried on hoping that it would be shorter that what the signed had told me. That the sign would be wrong. I was almost certain that the sign must be wrong. It was not. As I plummeted down the narrow highway I reached a sharp left turn with guard rail to the right. I needed a sit down. Whilst on the rail I looked down and saw the ground covered with worms. Hundreds, everywhere. Like centipedes. I was fascinated. Were they real? I gathered my will and continued my descent. Decent running. But soon I was forced to a halt. I couldn’t believe it. I had reached the same left turn again. Looking around, it was the same place that I had left some minutes ago. Still the same worms on the ground. Pushing on. Became extremely disappointed when I soon reached the same left turn again.
Sat down on the rail. Worms. My grandfather was there. I couldn’t see him but he was there. He was very disappointed at me. When he lived he taught me everything. That you should keep everything straight and tidy. And that you should prepare and organize your working space before commencing any tasks. I totally understood his disappointment with my performance here on the slopes. I was also very disappointed in myself. I just couldn’t figure out how to get past this left turn. I made many attempts but after a few minutes of hard downhill running I ended up at the same spot. Every time. Thighs acing. I tried to keep track of time and kept an eye on the watch. Even if the sign was telling the truth about the 3 miles, I should have been down by now.
I sat on the guard rail when a big black pick up approached from below and stopped in front of me. The driver rolled down the window and called me over. “What are you doing?” He sounded frustrated and a little angry. I started the well-practiced speech about Vol State… He interrupted me and asked “Yes, but what are you doing?”. I’m trying to get down from the mountain… “You’re not doing that very well. Get in the car and I’ll get you down.” I replied that I couldn’t get into a vehicle without getting disqualified from the race. I took a step back. The driver sighed and said despairingly “good luck then” and drove off up the mountain. I was still in a good mood. I smiled at my status. And my inability to get down a road. I just didn’t get it. I pushed on one more time. This time something else happened. The slope flattened out. I was getting down. I made it.
At the bottom of the mountain I reached the first buildings of Jasper. One church on each side of the road. I stopped by the left one to have a rest and celebrate conquering the switch backs. I sat down on the parking lot’s pavement. Something new happened now. In my mind I had just arrived from a business trip. Some of my colleagues where there at the parking lot as well. They were all faceless and we didn’t speak. But it was as it always is when we get back from a business trip. We always end up there on that parking lot outside the church in Jasper. Nothing strange with that. It felt safe and familiar. But I started to feel a little sad. Because I remembered that I had been in a running race where I was supposed to run to the Rock. Now I couldn’t finish the race. That was sad. But inevitable. I wanted to touch the rock, see the view from there and to talk to Carl and Laz about my adventures. But that would not happen now. My friends from work disappeared one by one. They got picked up somehow and vanished. I realized that this was what always happened after a business trip. But I couldn’t recall how I was supposed to get picked up. I didn’t have a phone that worked for international calls. It was a prepaid US phone. I was stuck. I had lost the formula for getting home.
I had to pee. There were large stones lining the lawn surrounding the church, hindering cars from entering the grass. They were perfect sitting stones but the rules we lived by here, forbid sitting on them, you were supposed to sit on the tarmac and to pee on the grass. It was not ok to lie down. You had to sit. But that was easy because I was getting nervous. All my friends were picked up and gone now. I was alone. And I didn’t realize how I was supposed to get out of here. Home to Sweden? I couldn’t get it together. Time passed. I was getting cold outdoors for the first time in the race. I put on my long sleeved running shirt and a windbreaker. I ate my cheeseburger. Conserved my water. Peed on the grass. Looked on the stones and sat on the tarmac. Time passed. Minutes. Hours. No one came to pick me up. I was really worried now. I was locked up here. I couldn’t figure out how to get away. I heard a car coming down the road. I stood up and lifted my thumb. The car sped away. After a while another car. Same procedure. I sat down. Sad. Worried.
The dawn was approaching. And the sound of running feet against the road. I saw the running shoes. And the runner. I was free. Like snapping your fingers I was back in the real world. I had lost over four hours outside the church. My descent was at least an hour. I had been serving five hours locked up in the twilight zone. Walking the plains of Mordor, destined to be cast into the fires of Mt Doom. Charlie Tailor looked surprised to see me and soon worried. My words poured out and drenched him. I tried to tell the saga about my psychosis. I needed company, real company, so bad. We ran down to Jasper and turned right. His relay team switched runner and now it was Marshall that got the same crazy story from me. The running was good. My legs had rested more than enough. It was a misty morning. Soon it was Mikes turn. When I told it the third time I felt worried. What had happened to me? This was new. New in a not so good way. Mike waited while I walked in to a gas station in Kimball and bought drinks. Then heading on. It was Charlie and I that crossed the blue bridge. In the hilly roads coming up Marshall was too fast for me. I slowed down but kept a descent pace.
The turn towards Sandy Mountain. Finally the last climb. The sun was back now. It was pretty steep and I couldn’t run it. At the top I found my running again. While approaching the The Castle Rock farm Laz came rolling in his Honda. I got escorted all the way, over the field, through the forest and to the finish abyss. Sitting in the throne and finally executing the right to be still. I finished. That was easy.
It was hard to write this story. Everything seems to be built up on details. That was not the case while I was on the road. It is very hard to recollect everything regarding the facts. I didn’t want to tell this story based on all these little details. But I didn’t know how to tell it differently. The time on the road was a life. It was complete. A very simple life. A life that I thought I understood.
“Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face.”
― Mike Tyson
I’m apologize for all of the above,