Monday, July 29, 2019

Like a Rolling Stone (Vol State '19)

Bob Dylan once said, "You shouldn't let other people get your kicks for you."
The start of the Last Annual Vol State 500k Road Race 2019
On July 11th I set out on a journey unlike any other. I was to travel 314 miles (500km) on foot from Dorena Landing, Missouri through Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama and finishing on "the rock" on top of Sand Mountain in Castle Rock, Georgia.

For a couple weeks now I've tried to put my experience into words, but I continue to struggle. No amount of writing or explaining can fully capture my Vol State, however, here is my best attempt at a recap of my adventure, as best I can recall...

Vacation Without A Bus:
100 runners. 11 hour bus delay? No problem. We'll just drink beer, play frisbee, meet new friends and consider this an added bonus to get a jump start on heat acclimation. I'm not sure you would find this level of patience anywhere outside of a group of ultra runners. Although we couldn't drive the route backwards like intended, missed "the last supper" and didn't arrive to our rooms until midnight, I wouldn't trade it for the world.

Laz handing out the flags.
Ferry to Fire Hall:
It was a pretty uneventful day by Vol State standards. I slept in a post office, consumed 5,000 calories at a gas station, paid $10 for a hotel room for 2 hours and then traded it to other runners for a bag of McDonald's cheeseburgers and fries, ate some homemade orange sherbet, had my pocket-burger elbowed by the nicest road angel while taking a selfie (thanks Shawn), caught a 30-minute nap on the floor of the Gleason Fire Station and had a breakfast consisting of Gatorade, crackers and Cheetos at a Boxing Gym. 56 miles done.

The Dresden Market: Home of the best orange sherbet!
Gleason Fire Hall...basically it's heaven on earth.
Huntingdon Haze:
Somehow I only traveled 8 miles in about 6 hours. Pretty sure this was where my brain started to fry. After 36 hrs and 81 miles of  cooking on the Tennessee roads, I checked into a hotel at Parkers Crossroad and slept for 7 straight hours. Rookie mistake: sleeping during the night!

Darden Delight:

Day 3 started as a complete disaster. Due to my sleeping blunder the night before I was forced to travel during the heat of the day (hello heat rash). Then I read a sign incorrectly, turned left and ended up climbing a big hill only to be standing in the middle of a cemetery. I finally made my way back on course and found the Darden Church and road angel station I was looking for. Upon entering the Church, I incorrectly read another sign. That lead me to do a couple full laps of the church halls looking for the "resting room" which was right at the entrance where I first walked in.

I was 102 miles into the run and feeling the full effects of my brain turning to mush. However, a wonderful road angel gave me freshly picked cherry tomatoes, bean salad and a red solo cup of frozen blueberries for the road (thank you Selena)! This propelled me to the Pine Tree Inn at mile 111. They were sold out but I was able to have a room as long as I was out by 5pm.

Just a sampling of some of the road angels that helped me reach "the rock".
Tractor-Trailer Livin' in Linden:
With overcast skies, I decided to leave the room a little early and take advantage of a sunless sky. A mile into the run I started to question my decision. A storm was approaching quickly. I desperately tried to outrun the storm to Fat Man's Gas Station but didn't quite make it. I was pretty soaked but my shoes weren't too bad so I decided to hunker down in the gas station and wait out the storm in order to try and keep my feet as dry as possible.

Crossing the Tennessee River and trying to outrun the approaching storm.
15 minutes later the skies cleared up and I headed back out working my way towards Linden, 11 miles away. Skies were still overcast and it was great running weather. The miles were clicking by with ease and things were actually going pretty good. But then God looked down at me and chuckled a little. I was approaching mile 124, only 1 more mile to the Linden Visitor's Centre where I heard they had their doors open for the runners for shelter and rest. Another storm came up quickly and starting dumping sheets of water. I spotted a tractor-trailer on the side of the road and quickly dove underneath it in an effort to keep my feet dry. For a minute, I was pretty proud of myself. Problem-solving on the spot and embracing the Vol State life.

Mile 124: The beginning of a lot of bad decisions.
But in typical Vol State fashion, my pride was quickly stomped on and thrown to the wolves. I suddenly had a mini-flood happening under the trailer. There was no place to go. I needed higher I started making higher ground. Standing on 1 foot, I started scraping and building an island out of the surrounding gravel. Then I repeated for the other foot. A few minutes later I was crouched on my little 3" high stone island, with a big grin on my face. My pride had returned and I really felt like I was figuring out this Vol State thing!

But as you can probably guess, things didn't keep going my way. About 15 more minutes had passed and the rain wasn't letting up at all. The water continued to rise and I could start to feel it seeping into the bottom of my shoes. My legs and feet were also severely cramping from the awkward position of being hunched over on the balls of my feet. I needed a new plan and quick!

The green building across the street has a small awning over the door at the back of it. If I can sprint across the road and jump the grass I should be able to land on what is sure to be a little cement porch at the door. 1-2-3-GO! A couple strides across the road, 1 giant leap from the shoulder and in mid-air I realize...oh crap. No porch. I am now standing in ankle-deep flooded grass. Vol State wins again.

I stood there for about a minute, playing back the last half-hour of my life in my mind. Suddenly it was like someone smacked me upside the head. I reached around to the side of my pack, retrieved my umbrella, opened it up and proceeded to casually walk to the Linden Visitor Centre without getting another drop of rain on me. Idiot.

***Funny thing was that when I first went under the tractor-trailer I knew I had an umbrella. However, my sun-baked brain was convinced that it was a "sun-umbrella" and not a "rain-umbrella" therefore it was useless in my current situation. Not one of my finer moments.

Hohenwald Hobo:
All I have to say is "Thank God for the Hinson's carport"...and their cuddly cat. After an hour of rest, I was feeling good and on the road again towards Hohenwald. But a couple hours later and I was zombie-walking in what felt like a ghost-town. It was 3am and everything was shut down. Except of course Hohenwald's finest who were wondering why there were zombies in their town.

Hohenwald Police weren't too fond of the walking dead invading their town.

A 2-mile death march got me to a 24hr Walmart for breakfast. A coke, a bag of grapes and an expired Italian sub was my 4am curbside feast. All dignity and couth were essentially absent at this point. I was at mile 145. I would proceed thru Hampshire (mile 163) taking a short break in a lawn chair there and then continue into Columbia at mile 175 where I had a reservation at a hotel.

I Do Not Belong in Columbia:
Yes, there was a country bar. Yes, I went in for a drink. Yes, I told my story on stage. Yes, they made up a song about me on the spot.

Why did I leave this place?
But after all of that, I can still definitively say that I do not belong in Columbia. I had a long talk with God that evening as I traversed through town. I also cussed out Laz several times during this same stretch. But I did meet Mr. Goad, so it was all worth it!

Columbia's Mr. Goad gave me some race advice and more importantly some life advice.
I checked into the hotel on the outskirts of town but couldn't sleep. I think I was just happy to be alive. After a couple hours of horizontal rest and the sun down below the horizon, it was time to hit the road again. There were a couple major milestones coming up and I was anxious to get to them.

The Bench of Despair at the Glendale Market

The road angel stop at the Nutt's house (mile 187)

Pit Stop After the Pit Stop:
I rolled into Lewisburg at mile 201 by morning check-in time. I had 2 breakfast combos and then hit the next gas station for the largest Dr Pepper on the face of the earth. This would now become my new breakfast routine. (Unfortunately I had to break that habit when I returned home)

My next goal was lunch at the Pit Stop Market in Bedford (mile 215). Once I arrived I ordered enough food and drink to feed a small family. This would later bite me in the ass, quite literally. I won't go into detail, but I will say this: Whoever designed roadside guardrails must have been an ultra runner. Ergonomics are spot on!

By early evening I was in Shelbyville (mile 223). I wasn't able to sleep, but did get a couple hours of horizontal rest.

Nightmare in Wartrace:
Prior to Vol State one of the major elements of my plan was to get through and out of Wartrace during the daylight. Needless to say, I found myself resting in the town square at 11pm (mile 232). The next 5-6 hours were by far the scariest & craziest I've ever experienced. Fighting sleep deprivation while fending off pit bulls with an umbrella was not something I had trained for.

At one point I came across a small church that had a cement porch with a floor mat on it. It looked extremely comfortable for a much needed nap. I took off my pack to use it as a pillow, however the squirrel that was now living in my backpack kept shifting around and preventing me from sleeping. I removed my pack from under my head and moved it to the other side of the porch. The noises from my pack were so persistent that I still couldn't get any shuteye. It was at that point I realized I was in the midst of losing my marbles. I picked up my pack and held it close to my face. I focused on the fact that I was obviously just hearing things. There couldn't actually be a squirrel in my pack. When the noises didn't stop, I threw my pack over my shoulders and proceeded down the road, taking my new rodent friend with me.

5 miles to get to the next campground angel station. Somehow this took me about 4 hours to do. I still have no idea what I was doing during this time and how I went so slow. I did however find this text conversation I had with my sister-in-law that occurred around 3am. She had awaken suddenly in the middle of the night and felt the need to send me a message of encouragement. (Thanks Jod)

Here is part of the conversation that transpired...

I finally made it to the campground (mile 242) and was able to have a legit conversation with a real person (thanks Denise)! I totally snapped out of my mind-warp and after a 30 minute rest I was able to push on to Manchester (mile 249). I even had a nice conversation with the Sheriff as I was approaching town and he didn't even look at me like I was all that crazy. The sun was coming up and I was feeling good again.

Pelham's Bee Sting Road Angel Station:
The sun was trying to kill me again. 37 bees also tried to kill me (I later confirmed it was only 3 or 4 stings). Also, a wonderful road angel drove by and told me that there was some chairs set up in the shade only 4 miles up the road. I think it was more like 14 miles, but she meant well and that's all that matters. A couple miles later and I was in Pelham (mile 266) having the greatest sandwich of my entire life.

Even the bees couldn't cloud my vision enough to mask the beautiful views.

Monteagle Mess:
Just when I thought things couldn't get any worse...Monteagle happened:
 - Heat rash in all the wrong places. Not fun.
 - Blew out my left shin 1 mile into the 3-mile climb up Monteagle. Not fun.
 - Got a phone call from my Alabama-brother (thanks Cary). That was fun!
 - Had a major reaction to the bee stings I received. Not fun.
 - Mistaken for a homeless person twice in CVS trying to get Benedryl. Kinda fun.
 - Disorientated and made a wrong turn leaving the pharmacy. Not fun.
 - Phone died while trying to find the hotel. Not fun.
 - Asked a nice lady for directions to hotel. She sent me to the wrong hotel. Not fun.
 - A hot blonde drove by in a Cadillac honking and whistling at me. That was fun!
 - 5 extra miles and 2.5 hours later I found the hotel. Not fun.
 - Coated myself in diaper cream and slept for 3 hours. That was fun!

"3-mile climb" up to never do hills justice.
Sub-Six or Bust:
I still struggle to understand what happened next. I woke up feeling like a brand new man. My left shin felt more numb than any really pain or discomfort. I was at mile 272 and it was 10pm on Tuesday night. I did some quick calculations; 9.5 hours and 1 more mountain climb to come in under 6 days. I had 4 bottles of water and a pack of lifesavers. Yup, totally doable!

I cruised thru Tracy City (mile 280) and down into Jasper (mile 295) at a steadfast pace. With 28 miles behind me I came into Kimball (mile 300). I was now starting to feel the impact of my efforts. With another 14 miles to go calories were a necessity. I tucked my last water bottle into the pocket of my shorts and took my pack off to retrieve the lifesaver gummies I had been saving. I devoured the gummies and then tried to retrieve my last bottle of water...but it was gone! I must have dropped it somewhere. I quickly decided against turning back to attempt to find it. However, that hot blonde in the Cadillac returned, honking and whistling at me again. I was pretty sure she was stalking me. That boosted my spirits! (Thanks Jenn)

With 6 miles to go, the climb up Sand Mountain started wearing me down. Dehydration consumed my thoughts. I was losing focus. Then my phone rang. My good friend reminded me of all the long training runs I did without water or food in preparation for this exact possibility. He dished out a dose of tough love and told me to hurry up and finish the damn thing! (Thanks Gord)

I ran those last 42 miles in 8hrs 41mins. I'll forever be proud of that last push to "the rock". My Vol State was complete.

Reaching "the rock" after 5 days, 23 hours, 11 minutes & 1 second.

And on a final note...

The one thing I wanted most from Vol State was to answer my "WHY". Why exactly did I want to do this?

I've been drawn to this race for several years now, but couldn't really pinpoint exactly why I felt I needed to do it. It definitely wasn't about the physical challenge. I have nothing to prove in that regard and don't feel any desire to impress anybody. Yet, I always felt there was something out there waiting for me. I would find it on the beginning of my 4th day of running.

The household I grew up in as a kid was not very affectionate or sentimental. We never said "I love you" to each other. It's not to say there wasn't love in my family, there was lots of it, we just never expressed it in words. This runs pretty deep, all the way back to my grandparents and great-grandparents. It's just who we were and how we did things. I never felt comfortable telling my parents I loved them. I know it's weird, but it's just the way things were.

That changed on the morning of July 14th somewhere around mile 150. It was my Mom's 70th birthday and a phone call was in order. My Mom was thrilled to hear my voice. I wished her a Happy Birthday and told her I loved her with all of my heart. She broke down crying and told me she loved me too. My Dad picked up the line and we exchanged "I love yous" too. We all shed a lot of tears that morning. It felt good. It felt really good. My Dad promised me a huge hug when I got home (which he delivered on). I promised myself I would tell my parents I loved them face-to-face when I got home (which I delivered on).

I found my "WHY".

Running and Rambling,

Saturday, July 20, 2019

My Vol State in Pictures

 Some of the sights along my Last Annual Vol State 500k journey in 2019.

Castle Rock gates (near the finish) on the border of Alabama and Georgia.

The buses had a mix-up and an 11 hour delay so we all made the best of it by drinking beer, mingling, playing frisbee and getting used to the heat. Here Laz is giving out last minute instructions since we wouldn’t make it to “the last supper” in time.

Finally boarding the buses to travel to the start.

Crossing the Mississippi River on the ferry at Dorena Landing.

Starting the race thru Hickman, Kentucky.

4/5 Tennesseans recommend a monster truck for your daily driver.

Early stages of the line white line, minimal to no shoulders and lots and lots of traffic.

Love the old towns.

Dresden Market was like heaven!

Gleason Fire Station at mile 47, the first spot to catch some rest.

So many nice city and court buildings.

Day 2 sunrise.

I’ve learned to fall in love with road running all over again.

So many beautiful homes.

This really makes you appreciate wide shoulders to run on.

First crossing of the TN River at mile 114. Only 200 miles to go!

Like a rolling stone.

They were looking at me strange.

Beautiful Tennessee.

I thought this would make a great spot for shelter from the storm, but then a flash flood around me forced me to get creative. Ultimately it turned into not one of my finer moments...but a good story to share over beers one day.

Solitude on the open road.

There’s something really beautiful about small town America.

Mr. Goad calling me up onto his porch.

The pretty part of Columbia.

Stopped in for a drink, some country music and to tell my story in stage.

Ultra running hallowed grounds...the Glendale Market at mile 184.

The Bench of Despair at the Glendale Market.

Road Angel Station at the Nutt’s house.

Another beautiful morning!

Tennessee walking horse country.

Americana at its best.

The foothills of Appalachia.

I was really tempted to go swimming with them.

The climb up Monteagle at mile 270.

The 2nd crossing of the TN River at the iconic Blue Bridge at mile 303.

Climbing Sand Mountain.

Running “the cheese-grater” to Castle Rock.

Beautiful Castle Rock on the way to the finish.

Touching “the rock” at mile 314, 5 days 23 hours, 11 minutes and 1 second after I started this journey.

Souvenirs of a grand adventure.

Running and rambling,