THE JOURNEY ACROSS AMERICA – AGAIN
Day 12 (May 12, 2000) – 50.0 miles
Friday, May 12 began with a sense of great anticipation. A number of changes were imminent. First of all, we were about to leave the high desert and enter the most mountainous part of our journey. Second, we would be saying goodbye to Arizona and entering New Mexico – and – if all went well, we’d once again reach our desired target of 50 miles. Third, May 12 is my birthday, and would be my first day as a 49-year old. I definitely wanted to do something special on this day.
The plan was to get an early start. I got up at 3:30 and went right to work doing my Egoscue exercises, and stretching my quads. I was determined to get my body ready for this part of the Journey. Today’s plan also included securing an appointment with Dr. Boren, a chiropractor in Safford, with whom Ray spoke the night before.
After an hour or so of maintenance exercises, I came out to the main cabin where Ray was already up. I made my breakfast shake, got my gear ready, and put on my utility belt. Ray and I were on the road by 5:00 AM.
We drove back to the place where we had finished the run the day before, which was about 6 miles outside of Safford. The run began quite auspiciously. I was feeling pretty good because of all the stretching, though I knew that my right hip was slightly off, and was feeling some discomfort in my lower back and neck.
Still, I had a very good run by morning standards, accumulating 15k, or 9.3 miles, in a little less than two-and-a-half hours, which brought us to 7:30AM. That was the time Ray and I had planned to stop, turn around, and drive back into Safford to meet with Dr. Boren at his clinic. I wanted to get there early. He opened at 8:00am, and I wanted to be the first patient treated, so we could get in and out of the clinic as quickly as possible.
Ray was pleased that I stuck with the plan. He was a little worried that if I felt good, I might just keep running, and forego getting adjusted. Going to the clinic proved to be a smart decision, given what transpired later on in the day. When we arrived at Dr. Boren’s clinic, we met up with the rest of the crew – Don, Monea, and Laura – who were already there. We sat together waiting for Dr. Boren, who arrived at 8:05 and he was able to see me right away.
I explained to Dr. Boren that we on the twelfth day and at the 600-mile mark of a fundraising run for a couple of children’s charities, that would take us approximately 3,000 miles San Diego to New York City. I let him know that I regularly see a chiropractor and that I had just been treated by Dr. Holcomb, in Globe two days ago. The treatment there was very helpful, enabling me to make it through some challenging terrain for a day or so. Since then, I developed a very severe lower calf and Achilles tenderness, causing me to shift my gait, and seemed to have thrown out my hip and my neck.
Dr. Boren listened quietly, looking at me in the eye the entire time. While he didn’t seem to be a very talkative fellow, he was straightforward and calm, which left me feeling very relaxed and comfortable. He directed me over to the treatment table and began to check my neck and spine. We talked a little bit about what we hoped to accomplish with the Journey, and he shared a bit about himself. He told me that he had grown up in Safford, gone to school in Texas, and later returned to Safford, where he could enjoy living, what he called, the outdoors life.
Soon he identified what needed to be done, and told me to relax. He adjusted my neck with six or seven rapid clicks. He also adjusted my hip in such a way that when I stood up, I felt as if he had elongated my spine by three or four inches. He then offered to put me on one of the other treatment modalities he had in his office, pointing to his foam rollers and electrical stimulation equipment. I asked him which treatment would most likely guarantee that the adjustment would hold. He suggested electrical stimulation, and I agreed to go for it. I lay down on my back and he put electrodes on my right glute and turned on the machine. He said it was going to feel like pins and needles. He added that in order to ensure the best outcome, he would need to bring the stimulation to the highest level I could stand without experiencing excessive pain.
Dr. Boren started the stimulation at a low level, and began cranking it up slowly, until I began to really feel the pins-and-needles. He asked me if I was OK; I told him I was. He said I could adjust the intensity if I liked, and that the whole procedure would take about ten minutes. He then left the room and went back into his office to talk to Ray, who was waiting for me. I cranked up the intensity a bit once I got comfortable with the sensation. Ten minutes later, Dr. Boren returned, turned off the machine. I got off the table feeling much better. I thanked him, and offered to pay for the treatment. Dr. Boren said to consider it a contribution to the cause. We thanked each other and I went back into the Jeep.
Ray and I drove back to where we had ended the morning run at the 9.3-mile mark. All in all, we were gone for about a total of an hour-and-a-half; 15 minutes of driving each way, and approximately one-hour in Dr. Boren’s clinic. Don, Monea, and Laura stayed in Safford to stock up for the trip ahead, which was going to take us through the Gila National Forest in Western New Mexico. The crew projected that we would need enough supplies to last us for three or four days. Ray and I agreed to meet up with the motor coach somewhere along the route. We then began to head northeast through eastern Arizona towards New Mexico. The road and the scenery began to change dramatically. We were now in rugged mountain country.
We began experiencing long ascents and descents. I continued running, with Ray right behind me in the Jeep, for what seem an eternity. The severity of the hills was breathtaking. I definitely was not prepared for this emotionally; maybe it was better that I wasn’t. I couldn’t have anticipated such severity.
There came a point about ten miles into this portion of the day’s Journey, that I became fixated on a menacingly huge mountain face looming up ahead. I noticed what seemed like a line etched into the top third of the mountain that slanted down on a steep angle. What was becoming increasingly clear to me was that the “line” represented the road onto which I would soon have run in order to reach the top. As we got closer to the road, I could clearly see the switchbacks on the side of the mountain that would lead to the summit that seemed almost insurmountable.
I became obsessed by the thought of what it would be like to get to the top of that mountain just so I could experience standing there, looking down, to see where I had come from. My focus began to turn inward; I got into a zone that was both bearable and timeless; intense yet relentless. Ray was expecting me to stop and eat, but I did not want to. Instead, I spent the next few hours getting periodic rice cakes handed to me, smeared with almond butter that I ate as I ran.
Eventually, I made it up that hill to the summit, which turned out to be the 40-mile point. Once there, I stopped, looked back. and saw how far we had climbed. I was totally amazed. Looking down the mountain, and realizing the enormity of the climb, left me with a sense of accomplishment. While I wanted to savor the moment, I knew that there was no time to waste gloating over it. I turned around and started walking. Ray handed me a bowl of rice topped with some broccoli, zucchini, and onion, liberally doused with Braggs Aminos and olive oil.
As I began walking, the severity of the mountain climb, combined with the earlier up-and-downs of the morning run, began to affect me. My back started to spasm; my left Achilles started to ache, as did both of my hamstrings. My left knee was also very tender. Running at that point wasn’t an option, so I just walked the next mile, which brought me to the 41-mile point. I tried running again, but could not get going. My back hurt so much that I decided to stop moving and do some of the Egoscue exercises that Pete had suggested for me. My “go-to” stretch then, and which I repeated many times again in the future – was the “Downward-Dog.” After about five or ten minutes, I started feeling better, and decided to try running again.
This time, I decided not to run with utility belt, and handed it to Ray. I asked him to give me the little portable MP3 player that was in the Jeep. On that MP3 player was my favorite music, including: Springsteen, U2, Van Morrison, Bob Seger, Crosby Stills, and Nash, Phil Collins, and Men at Work. I clipped the MP3 player to the back of my cap and began listening to music, and running without the belt for the first time during the Journey.
My state began to change dramatically, just in time to notice how radically the world around me had transformed. No longer was I traveling through a land of severe cliffs and harsh mountain peaks, I was moving through an enchanted forest. There were pine trees with little paths and campsites scattered about. The air was cooler, and smelled different – more floral and calming. The music energized me and my pace began to pick-up.
Ray and I reached the rendezvous point just before the New Mexico state line, where we had planned to meet up with the motor coach and the rest of crew. Suddenly, I saw Monea and Don running down to greet me. Monea shouted out, “I can’t believe you’re here already!” What a wonderful and uplifting greeting by the crew. I waved to them and said I was doing ok, and was still determined to go for the “50”. They were really happy to hear me say that and very pleased that things had gone well up the mountain. I continued on, with Ray leap frogging with me up the road.
Around the 47-mile mark of the day’s run, I looked up and saw Ray, camera in hand, pointing to the sign: “You are now entering New Mexico”. What a triumphant feeling! I ran to Ray with my arms upraised and pumping in the air, feeling like Rocky Balboa running up the stairs in the first “Rocky” movie. We had done it! We climbed the mountain, and only had three miles left to go to reach our goal of 50-miles. We accomplish our goal in spite of taking an hour-and-a-half off to go to the chiropractor, and completed – what was for me – the most severe mountain run I’ve ever attempted. Today was, indeed, a very special birthday.
Ray and I continued moving forward, leap-frogging each other the rest of the way. After leaving the forest, we came to rustic meadow, with beautiful rolling hills, dotted with little clusters of trees and shrubs. Up ahead was a ranch with a small corral. In the corral was a young girl training a horse with someone who looked like her older brother sitting on a fence, watching her and shouting out instructions.
I became mesmerized by this scene, and was soaking it in as I was running down this lazily undulating road. After the whirlwind of the past twelve days, getting a glimpse of everyday life was both hypnotic and grounding – a realization that there was life outside of the Journey “bubble” we were living within.
Soon, I reached Ray, who was about to take a sign out of the Jeep. At that moment, I knew then that the 50-mile mark was just up ahead, which ended up being – appropriately enough – the entrance to the driveway into the corral.
Ray greeted me with tears in his eyes and a big happy birthday hug. We went back to the campsite to meet the rest of the crew, who were planning a birthday celebration to conclude the most glorious day of the Journey thus far. Don planned a wonderful meal, including fresh grilled salmon and chicken he picked up in Safford, to be paired with rice and sautéed vegetables.
Before I could join the crew for the evening’s festivities, I had to go through a routine to help ease the stress of the day’s run – which was the most formidable day of the Journey thus far. I was concerned about the effect the mountain climb would have on my body, which was made even more worrisome by the knowledge that it was going to be at least three or four days before I could get any chiropractic work or massage therapy. We were out in the wilderness, and the closest city was Socorro, which was south of Albuquerque – 193-miles away!
The routine we decided upon was set up by Ray and Don, and inspired by the Egoscue exercises. First, I would lay on my back, with my knees bent, and my feet up on blocks to help relax the muscles in my lower back. Ice bags were wrapped around my Achilles and hamstrings. Ray filled up another bag of ice, placed a towel on top of it, and inserted it under the right side of my lower back. There I lay, all wrapped-up in ice. I stayed there for about twenty minutes. I then took a shower, and finally went into the main cabin to join the crew for a most amazing birthday meal.
I drank heartily that night – three cans of V-8! Woo! Woo! We all sat around, laughing, talking, and opening up presents. A chorus of happy birthday was sung. The only let-down of the whole evening – which for me was major – was that we had no cell phone service, so I couldn’t call my family. I really wanted to talk to Mary Beth, Beau and Mackenzie on my birthday. I was certain they all left messages for me on my cell phone, and I could not respond that day.
Finally, I went back in the bedroom and finished my stretching for the evening. I fell asleep around 11:30. It was a tough on-again-off again sleep throughout the night. This was the first night of the Journey that was bitterly cold. It was also a fairly painful one. My Achilles was very sore through the night, as were my hamstrings. I was very apprehensive about how I was going to get through the next day.