So it turns out Willie Nelson has got a ranch in Spicewood. Should have popped round and said… “Errr… Hi Willie. I...errr...like your songs and stuff”. However, I didn't. Instead, I took advantage of the lovely, gloomy, cool weather and the promise of a finish in a town called Llano, which is Spanish for flat. I like flat. I forgave it still being hilly as I entered Llano county, as you have to start somewhere, don't you? On the way up one of the stream of never-ending undulations, I came across Charlene and Gary, a self-confessed elderly couple who were picking up litter as part of the local highway sponsorship scheme. These guys were part of the Bible Church of the Lakes, which was a pretty little church, just up ahead. Apparently their pastor is pretty unwell, so get well soon, fella, though I doubt you'll read this! As they expressed their surprise at the run, I thanked them for their efforts as litter really gets on my nerves, wherever it is. They asked if people did this in the UK. I was pretty honest and said I didn't think the problem was AS bad, but then I thought that I'd never been exposed to it in the way I have here, so I retracted that pretty sharpish and we went about our respective ways!
Despite the hills, I felt good at the final stop just before Llano and felt that we could have done more. To be honest, I wouldn't have ruled out another 15 miles, but it was getting towards 5pm and we'd agreed no more than 35 miles for the day, with an eye on self-preservation. As we got out of Jenny at a local truck stop, I heard the unmistakable sound of an umpire's whistle and thought: “Football!” Now (American) football is huge in Texas, maybe more than any other state if what I've been led to believe is true and I've seen some pretty big grandstands at small schools on the way. I headed over to Llano Junior High (Nads was NOT interested!) and paid my $4 to see both the Llano Daubers (12-13yo) and the prized Yellow Jackets play. The field was top quality astroturf, with floodlights, and even a live action commentator. Amazing stuff. Now the Daubers had a bit of a bad day against the Texans, mostly because of their number 28, who seemed as though he'd do well in the NFL at his current age. He was an absolute wrecking ball and even though their coach tried to vary it a bit, it was literally a case of give it to 28 and he will score. He did. Lots. The poor junior cheerleaders tried their best to raise the spirits of the Daubers fans, but this ship had sailed. The boot was fortunately on the other foot for the Jackets as I sat down with my hot dog and Dr Pepper behind a family group, who acclaimed the Jackets star player, Mason “Moose” Brooks, who busted through the Texans defence (Sorry America, that's how it's spelt ☺) time and time again. My comments about the prevalence of the running game led to the standard curiosities first, on my origins and soon on to why Llano and the run, which was the given answer to why I was in Llano. Of course, the real reason, is I'd heard of the mighty Jackets and made sure Llano was on my route! When advised by one of the students (Evan) to maybe check the Mason Punchers game out the next evening on my way, I replied that I was Llano for life now, which resulted in me being given my own Jackets fan shirt, by the group I was chatting to, who happened to be Mason's family! Later that evening the group tentatively knocked on the RV as Mason wanted to meet me, so we took some more photos, including ones with Mason and his sister wearing the Gary Sinise Foundation “I Just Felt Like Running” beard. I reckon that will be worth a million to the charities when Mason is MVP in the Superbowl in 10 years or so… Sting 'em Jackets!
Start: Spicewood. Finish: 5 miles short of Llano. 35.3 miles
It's such a psychological bummer when you have to drive back 5 or more miles form the overnight rest stop to the previous day's finish, to start again. I should close my eyes, but I'm afraid of missing something I didn't see first time round, so I'll just get on with it. Wearing my Jackets shirt, I passed the school and after stopping for a selfie, got into the centre of town, which is a proper old-time American town as you imagine it from films like Back to the Future and errr… Forrest Gump. So much so in fact, that I had to call Nads to meet me, rather than the first meeting point to do some filming. After a slightly confusing encounter in a local barber's where I didn't think the guy could really understand me we went to Fuel coffee shop, a not-for-profit organisation, ran by Justin, who not only allowed us to film in the shop, but got in on the act as an extra, as well as providing the best brownie I can remember eating. Made up for my lack of organisation that morning re: breakfast.
The lie that was the flatness of Llano continued beyond the city limits. I'm currently in the acceptance phase, now I'm past bargaining and depression, though if they carry on much further I might lurch back to anger. They surely won't though will they? Yikes. Denial. There wasn't going to be much in the way of nature to look at on this stretch, so it may as well be at different heights, I guess. I saw a small community of Shetland-type ponies and donkeys, a lone wandering whitetail doe heading back to the woods from a rapidly drying creek, that judging by the footprints was a popular and usually larger watercourse and some magnificent Longhorn cattle, the breed that Texas is famous for. All of this after going past the Llano Cowboy Church. I so wished it was Sunday to see the congregation. One more stark bit of wildlife was seeing a huge turkey vulture holding court on a fence post over a very recently deceased deer, whose location I had determined by following the trail of blood from the road. I was pretty distraught at this, with it seeming worse than the other roadkill which I'm almost used to, because it was so...big...and new? Strange. You had to marvel at this wily old bird eyeballing me to see if I had any interest in his breakfast though. I'd had a brownie though, so I was alright and carried on, in great form and really enjoying my running, eventually reaching the tiny settlement of Art, which had about three houses and the same number of cemeteries. That's Art for you. I didn't understand that either. Running down a huge hill is a great way to end the day and only gets better when you're debating whether to go back to “Who's Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses” on shuffle if the next song is pants and “Pride” (Both by U2 weirdly – I've got over 400 albums by about 200 artists on my phone) comes on. “In the naaaaaaaame of lovvvvvve!!”
Another short drive into my running future took us to Mason City Park, where Nads had arranged not only for us to stay the night, but after a very kind offer from the park manager, Brenda, to be fed, with an amazing BBQ dinner, but also free box seat tickets to the Mason Punchers (Another word for cowboy, by the way) game. Friday night football in Texas, is a “thing” and there was a homecoming parade with marching bands and other shenanigans as well as the game. Nads WAS interested and despite me being an avowed Jackets fan, I figured as they were in different leagues, it was ok. We found that our seats had been taken by two of Brenda's pals and as we didn't want to evict them, tried to find a seat in the stands as I was needing a rest for my poor feet. It was packed, so we headed over to the away stand, where the smaller, but still impressive crowd for the Harper Longhorns (told you…) were. The halftime show was as impressive as the occasion, with about 4,000 fans there for a school game at the Mason Puncherdome (!). The Bon Jovi medley by the Mason band was an especially cheesy treat. Away fans are generally more fun anyway and the ladies we sat with, Julie, Deanne and Andrea were a riot, giving us a Longhorns mini-football and introducing us to Coach Will Reid - Harpers, X-C and track coach, who was rapt with the run and we devised a training exercise for his athletes after State champs to have a bit of fun with the sort of distance I'm doing. One of his athletes was super keen to have a photo as she loves FG, despite it being released probably 10 years before she was born. She identified my not by the chat, but by the cap! As regards the game, Mason showed why they regularly get to the finals, ending Harper's seven game win streak. I think, anyway, as we left after the third quarter as I was pretty beat. I didn't check, as I like to live in hope…
Start: 5 miles short of Llano. Finish: Art. 33.0 miles
Today marked the start of four days of progressive temperature increase and much less cloud, so we were keen to get going early. That snooze button hey… I woke up really tired, rummaged around the Enterprise tired, ate tired and started running tired. The first run of about 8 miles with some walking breaks thrown in as usual was a struggle, despite me wearing my Western Athletics vest, which has special powers. I met Nads at Dollar General, just after the Dr Pepper bottling plant (no free samples) and tried to revive myself with a huge bowl of porridge, honey and bananas and searched for one of the SiS gels with caffeine. Last one - best be a goodie. To be fair, as I set off again on what was to be a planned short run to stop at a place called Grit (how appropriate this would turn out to be), I started to feel pretty good and was soon having to reign my pace in a bit. I had just got to the sort of point where I'd expect to catch a glimpse of Jenny in the distance when I got a message from Nads asking if she'd passed me, as she didn't see me and was at the meeting point. After wondering if she'd gone the wrong way, it dawned on me. Denial, then furious, sweary anger. I had. How far? 5 miles. I looked at the map and there was no cross country way back. Nads came and picked me up and mentioned that I'd still done the miles, so to just start from Grit. I explained that wasn't an option. If I did that, I may as well do the whole thing on a treadmill, I have to step foot on every part of the route and 5 mile sections can't just be missed out. I was just going to have to run 5 miles extra. This is not what a generally cooped-in-the-RV Nads wanted to hear on a hot day and a bit of a disagreement, shall we say, occurred. I checked if we were on the same page just now. Nope. Unfortunately, in this case, I'm not able to reason or compromise and I'll do the same again, though hopefully I'll never go much further wrong. We're still talking, by the way – don't worry – this is just an isolated thing that we won't see eye to eye on. Ever. :D
I was now running angry. Not at Nads, I can see her point, but at my stupidity for not checking the map properly and going wrong half a mile from the start. I even wondered where the oversized load heading the “right” way was going as I ran past. This is not good for stamina levels, injuries or thermoregulation, but it's bloody effective in getting miles done (that day – we'll see about tomorrow) and I got to Grit, pledging to show it today. I stopped just for a drink and got straight back into my running, saying I'd stop at lunch time. Grrrr. What a hard case.
From leaving Llano, we'd started to see glimpses of the “big” Texas landscapes with me amassing a growing collection of photos of long straight roads disappearing into the distance and I'm glad of the fact that having done so much training on treadmills, which people say drive them crazy, I seem to be able to cope with monotony. There's still enough variety, both near and far to keep me occupied here. I hope that lasts. My major distraction is often rescuing bugs, today mostly crickets, grasshoppers and caterpillars from the road, which I hope will reap karmic rewards somewhere. I was also counting down the miles to the 800 mile mark, which was achieved after lunch. I took a couple of photos (by the way guys – check out my Facebook, Instagram and sometimes Twitter for some photos of what you're reading about, if you're not already!) of the view in front and behind and they're pretty identical! When I finally arrived at Hext, our final stop, it was in contrast to the previous days where I wanted to run and run. I was glad. Stop now. Eat. Write a massive blog post. Sleep.
Start: Art. Finish: Hext. 33.3 miles.
Total: 812.25 miles