An uneventful and actually enjoyable first run (these ones can be really tough sometimes) took me further away from Eldorado past the blinking lights of the intersection that would take me towards the interstate. Not for feet. After the second run, I was lucky enough to chat to Dylan Mathews, top man of Peace Direct who wanted to catch up and see if there was anything he could do for me and Going The Distance. We had a nice chat, but the stand out was when he revealed that he had shared news of GTD with the Peace Builders around the world and they were amazed that someone was doing this for them and revealed that they took great encouragement that people knew about and were learning more about their work. I said all I could, which was “Thanks for letting me!”
This was just one of a series of runs where I set off in good nick, covered the miles well, stuck to the pace (mostly...the legs keep wanting to go faster, but they're naughty. I reign them in.), got to the RV happy, ate well and repeated. We're in really sparsely populated areas now, with the bulk of the traffic relating to the local oil fields, which means big trucks, some scary oversize roads and the trade off between headphone volume and listening for traffic coming up behind me when I'm on a “run in the middle of the road” tip. This is quite a lot, to be honest with you and I'm probably doing an extra mile a day just weaving! My only human interaction apart from Nads and the phone call was with a friendly passing driver who asked if I needed a ride. Answer: “No thanks, I can't as I'm... (you get the picture)”. Reality: Wonderfully – no! I'm having a ball today!
My animal interactions were varied, but still mostly aerial. However, I did have my longest dog chase yet. I love it when the dogs just run after you barking and wagging, not having a clue what they're doing and not caring, then you turn round and shout and they look all worried, before continuing as they were as soon as you turn round. I'm sure one of these days I might have to deal with a dog that has a very good idea of what it's up to. I just hope it's little or scares easily. A wonderfully intact skeleton of a deer which appeared to have suffered a pelvic fracture was a cue to just stop and stare at how amazingly functional the skeleton is, with every protuberance and recess having a job and the way that different groups of species have evolved and changed these just bends my mind. I wonder if there's anywhere/anyway for our species to evolve further, or more importantly, is there time for us and other vertebrates to change in a positive way? I guess I'll never know, but remember – there's still a chance for us to make what difference we can to make sure someone/thing finds out.
Ah...It's great when a day is just routine and things just work well, including me. I treated myself to a “Blue Paddle” a nice pilsner by New Belgium Brewing, with the paddle in question being for table tennis, not a canoe. Must be Forrest's favourite?
Start: Sneaky back road off the 190. Finish: Junction of Highway 190 and 137. 30.4 miles.
Surprisingly staying at the junction of two highways wasn't the worse decision and we got fairly decent rest and the planned mileage was one of those magic days with a 2 at the start of it as we wanted to just get to Iraan to do the chores and resupply. I'll take doing extra miles the next day if it means getting up and being able to run out the door of the RV without a trip back to a distant location. We woke up to a slight chill in the air and stepping out of the RV into the murk of the pre-dawn I felt I could eat the first run for breakfast and as the sun rose behind the clouds Texas seemed to just open up before me and as I turned round to see the rays of sun stream through a gap in the clouds I felt very special indeed and also simultaneously missed home more than I had at any point. Maybe it was because I felt guilty, like a kid who'd stolen the last of the chocolate to go and hide under the stairs and eat it on his own… You are invited to eat my chocolate and share my views. You can even share the pain if you want, though I fear it would not subtract from my own!
Two more great runs followed and the last one was by far the most eventful, for good and for soul-sappingly rubbish. Not long after lunch I set off on this run, only 6 miles to Iraan and a 3pm finish and an opportunity to do some fun stuff for the page as well as the mundane jobs. I crested a hill to see a bird in the middle of the road. Not a vulture this time and alive. I got closer and it didn't move away, it just looked at me and walked to the side of the road. Now this is not normal behaviour in my vet book and I walked closer to see if it was injured. So close in fact, I was able to pick it up. It was a roadrunner. An actual meep-meep roadrunner and here I was, out-doing Wile E. Coyote in his 64 year quest to catch one. It was missing a few wing primary feathers and had a superficial wound to his wing, but no breaks and felt in good condition – maybe another near coyote miss. It was also fairly juvenile and my normal advice as a vet would be to leave it well alone, but this one was in the middle of the road and I wasn't thinking straight, so I signalled to Nads as she came over the hill to stop and after she had hurriedly pulled over onto the verge, I handed it over, for us to reconvene and hatch a plan. As I stepped into the RV I saw a big old plank of wood in the long grass that someone had just chucked there and sighed. Roadrunner was now Jenny's latest passenger. About a mile down the road I had what was undoubtedly the biggest “wow” I've had so far – or at least since the beautiful bayous of the Cajun states. Nah. It was this. Had to be. Coming out of a rock lined gully to a huge expanse of mesas, valleys, peaks and it was to put it mildly, majestic. Kathy had informed me in Eldorado there was a huge hill leading to an ancient sea bed near Iraan and you could imagine this being an octopus' garden a million years ago (Pardon my timeline, archaeologists…). I caught a similarly open mouthed Nads at a picnic area halfway down the hill and set about taking photos etc. We also called a very helpful vet clinic, the AMC in Fort Stockton, where Crystal and the attending vet thought it was probably best to try and find a safe spot near where we found him. Myself and Nads had thought this after the event and were happy to take a more informed opinion. Up the hill we headed and after we saw the spot, we turned round into a “what can go wrong, will go wrong” situation. Nads saw the spot late, called me as I had to deal with a drink going everywhere, I couldn't comment and Nads pulled sharply onto the same verge she had done earlier. Pfffffffffffffffffffff….
Instantly I knew. Tyre. Another tyre. It got worse. It was a huge screw from that sodding plank someone had so carelessly discarded. I could tell Nads blamed herself instantly, as she broke down. “It's ok. An accident. Nothing you can do and nothing done wrong. We know we can drive on three rears, get down the hill, I'll run back with Roadrunner and see you back there.” That's what I did. I found the same spot, and climbed down some rocks so it wouldn't just go straight back on the road. I waited for the rock to shift, breaking my leg, or a rattlesnake bite whenever I place my foot, but they never came. I put the little fella down and wished him it luck. Feeling hugely guilty. I got back to Nads and she had already arranged a tyre store to assess the damage (turned out to be an irreparable tear) and she set off, for me to run the last few miles into town – far too quickly, I may add.
Iraan is the second largest town in the second largest county in the second largest state in the US and has a population of just over 1500 people (and apparently a very fine marching band and football teams). I find it somewhere between at least intriguing and maybe a bit less than mind-blowing that the equivalent on the UK is probably East Kilbride, which has a population of about 74,000. There are rumours that there is a secret underground city here and a sign on the way in saying poison gas is occasionally produced in the area! Of course all we were to see of Iraan was the inside of a tyre shop (Cheers to Oscar for doing the best he could given limited time and resources), a service station to visit an ATM to pay for the new tyre and now Nads is inside the laundromat, doing the washing, probably sensing that I need a bit of time on my own. This was a bill we could have really done without and will probably recur as Oscar only had a part-worn tyre to do the job. That's $600 on a 3 and a half tyres in a week. Apart from the advent of the creak, this is the worst I've felt on the trip. It's not even that significant in the big scheme of things, but it feels like a death by a thousand cuts sometimes and makes the massive wins of the vast majority of the day vanish. The good thing is that the bad things generally persist less in the memory.
Sorry Iraan, if we were a bit reclusive or didn't smile as much as usual. We're alright normally. We've just had a crap day. I also didn't see any underground base or gas, I think you're just a nice little town, getting by. Keep on.
P.S. I hope you're alright, my little roadrunner friend. I still feel like I did something wrong.
Start: Junction of Highway 190 and 137. Finish: Iraan. 29.35 miles
New day. New day. New day. I thought that when I went to bed last night and I was still thinking it this morning. No new niggles. Good. Weather going to be great for running. Good. Lie-in. Good. No point getting up early when I'm about to leave Nads with a load of jobs that I'm eternally grateful for her to be doing that really require light. As I got out of the van, I heard distant strains of a marching band and I recalled that Iraan was famous for its Big Red Band and I followed the music to the home of the Braves, Iraan's high school sporting teams. It was (relatively) freezing cold and I was super impressed with their sound and e obviously well drilled as well as talented. I sat down in the grandstand and said hello to one of the drum majors and she asked me if I'd been the guy who she'd seen running. Assuming I hadn't narrowly missed a race or an escaped lunatic, I was pretty sure it was me and owned up. In the process of explaining what I was up to, a load of the guys watching the band practice from the bench (Do bands have substitutes?) came over and were really excited (mostly by my accent, I'm sure!), which was the pick up I needed. You can't beat youthful enthusiasm and I usually have loads of it, but I seemed to have misplaced it somewhere yesterday. I wished them luck for their upcoming competition and headed off to my start point, taken aback by their friendliness. I realised the enthusiasm was actually in my pocket, next to a gel wrapper. I now needed memories of Iraan and snapped away, including a short video that was puntastic – check Facebook in the near future! I began the climb (pretty severe) out of Iraan (built on oil) and was really chuffed to see lots of wind power on the horizon and on distant mesas. I saw a sign earlier in Texas saying no to windmills and yes to heritage and this annoyed me a bit as there'll be no importance in heritage if we don't take care of the future. I know some people think windmills are an eyesore, but it's not as if oil derricks are much different. To be honest, I weirdly like the look of them both and respect Texas's history as an oil producing state and hopefully it can become a world leader in renewables as it's got the sun, wind and space and it should be the oil companies' (who've got the money) responsibility to push this and also to look after the people who've served them so well, in places like Iraan.
The scenery was spectacular again and my heart sank a bit as we turned away from a minor road we had planned to take, but eschewed because over fears over passability and nabigation, as well as remoteness and our ideal need to be close to some sort of data beamy device. Fortunately, we didn't get a poor substitute and running down the I-10 service road was a treat as the interstate was just next door, so I could indulge in my favourite habit of running in the middle of the road. We'd decided to have yet another short day, as there just wasn't anywhere good to stop overnight beyond the 27 miles mark. Nadine had asked me last night how much I was actually enjoying the run and, in my melancholy I replied 6 or 7, probably meaning 6. That isn't good enough really and I know if it wasn't for the charities and people at home believing in me – a persistent 6 would mean home time. Fairly early in the run after meeting the Big Red Band, I was a solid 8 and later on I'd progressed to a 9, with the only thing stopping it from being a 10 was the lower mileage, when I felt I could have ran and ran. I ran past loads of oil derricks and one thing you may not know is that they really smell! There's a petrol/garage type smell and also often a heady whiff of sulphur and you can tell the direction of the wind from where you and the well would be, it's that obvious! Again, maybe strangely, I like the smell and it makes me hungry, which was handy as it was coming up to dinner time. I got into the RV to see Nads brandishing the video camera, interested to see if my mood had improved or, even worse, deteriorated...but it wasn't! It was a trap! She gestured for me to turn round and handing me my post-run shake was Olivia, a friend of many years, with the friendship formed over a mutual love of similar music and a hastily arranged trip to see the Rolling Stones on the Isle of Wight! I often try and surprise people and so am quite adept at seeing plans being hatched, but I didn't have the faintest idea that this was on the cards and was lost for words, apart from a stream of gibberish. We had beers at sunset as she'd brought some lovely Shiner Wicked Ram IPAs with her from Indianapolis where she was visiting family. As we were regaling each other with opur recent travel adventures, a roadrunner hopped onto our wing mirror and let us take photos. I think it was a sign, like Baxter in Anchorman with the bears. Our mate was alright.
What an end to a day that had already been great. A whizzbanger. A humdinger. Boss. A 10.
Start: Iraan. Finish: Exxon just off I-10 Bakersfield. 26.9 miles
Total: 988.23 miles