Hope Springs Eternal. Days 127-128

We'd spent the night in a Walmart carpark, which in some cases allow RV parking overnight and have been a bit of a saviour on occasions where no RV parks were available and I sat drinking my SIS shake wondering what today had in store. I couldn't have imagined how it would pan out. Getting hastily dropped off at last night's end point, I trundled into the clear morning and through the town of Dierks, a few miles down the road. I was heading to a place called Newhope for lunch, which amused me because of the Star Wars link… On the road, which was a lovely stretch with lots of greenery, trees and spring vibes, I saw something ahead. I initially presumed it was a coyote, due to the size, but they're so sharp, they see you a mile off and don't dwell by the road for long, in my experience. I thn thought it may have been a small deer, but when I got around 150 yards away I saw it was a dog, who had seen me and was making my way towards me. I was initially a bit wary, but it was wagging its tail and seemed fairly friendly. She was a small cross breed, I guessed a Labrador/Shar-Pei later on. She was very friendly, licking my hands and jumping up. I then noticed that she whilst not emaciated, was thin and covered in patches of scale and alopecia that indicated a nasty chronic skin issue, likely mites of some sort. There were a a few houses around, so I asked at those that I could. The dog followed me me closely, though hung back at a house that had another dog barking, as if frightened. When I stepped onto someone's porch where three cats were sleeping, she didn't chase them. Good girl. No-one knew her. I walked a bit further, with her following and asked at a local workshop. The chap Jacob didn't recognise her and explained in the nicest way one can, that many of these dogs have severe mange, the local pounds don't cover this area and they are often shot to prevent them suffering. I understood, but of course, couldn't let that happen. Meanwhile Nads had arrived. I filled her in and it was decided that we should see if she would follow me the few miles to Newhope. She walked for the first half mile until I decided I needed to be running, time-wise and off I set. She didn't leave my side. In the town we tried to ring local animal shelters and the local sheriff, but came up with nothing. We got some food from the local garage, where they explained there are unfortunately a lot of dumped dogs about and gave a few other bits of advice which we were grateful for. We christened our new friend Hope, in honour of the town and a brighter future. Hope ate the tin of food voraciously, and slept soundly on a blanket outside the RV, in the sun. Emotional, I couldn't really think straight, or make a decision. We were worried about the local pounds, in case they thought she wasn't suitable to be re-homed and euthanased her, while the idea of her living out her possibly short remaining time incredibly itchy, hungry and cold was unacceptable. We decided we'd take the risk of scabies, bring her into the fan and find a solution, whatever that was. We even debated bringing her home, but with Nads leaving very soon (i.e. before we could get Hope up-to-speed with rabies jabs and arrange things)and also the huge cost of flying her back (If we had the money to spare, I'd rather give it to a rescue and help many dogs), we reluctantly shelved that plan.

We finished in the town of Kirby and on chatting to the staff of the Kirby Restaurant and one of the locals whilst ordering some of the best takeaway food we have had (they did this lemonade sherbert pie, which was incredible), they informed me about a local lady, Nita who rescues the re-homes a lot of animals. Strangely, she was related to one of the people whose house I'd knocked at and had already messaged me thanking me for taking the time to do so. This was an option. Through my work, I know a lot of people like Nita do this regardless of their own financial situation and not knowing what this was, we didn't want to lump her with a dog that had a lot of problems that definitely required attention, so we fond a local vets, Wright's of Glenwood and resolved to take her in first thing. After almost snaffling my dinner, but backing down very quickly with a sharp “NO!” she ate her own then settled on a fairly meagre bed, but the best we could provide and slept and slept and slept. In fact, we all did that night. Team Going the Distance was back up to three.

Start: Near Jct of Highway 70 and Noey Lane. Finish: Kirby Restaurant. 42.1 miles. Day 127 Tune of the Day. Terry Bush – The Littlest Hobo. We'd found our littlest hobo. This stop she made, she made a new pair of friends.

Wednesday was always meant to be a big day, due to our meeting with Dave Hair two weeks previously. We'd since learned that I was going to get to run with some of the Spa Pacers, Hot springs' running club and maybe go out for dinner later on, so we had to make tracks. Of course, our new variable, in the shape of a cute, loveable, though slightly skanky, crusty Hope, meant we didn't know where today would take us. She had been as good as gold overnight, didn't move and didn't mess anywhere. I ran to Glenwood first thing and met the guys at the local services. Nads said Hope hadn't taken her eyes off the McDonalds the whole time they waited for me. I went into the vets and chatted to Michole and Kayla about Hope. Michole said that she would have a word with Dr. Wright as soon as he arrived and we waited. . In the meantime she was going to phone a local rescue charity to see if they could take her as a favour, even though she was outside the usual catchmentI popped back in a bit and was greeted with the classic “Good news, bad news”, though in a way that took me by surprise. The local charity were unable to take her currently and after a word with Dr Wright (still no hint of positivity in her voice, my heart sinking)… “We can take her and hold her until they can!”. I don't know if she meant to, but she'd completely got me! Smiles all round! This was an amazing gesture from the team, as vets generally just cannot do this (often to the frustration of the public) due to space concerns and then an inability to move these poor guys on. We felt Hope was special, there was a reason why she found us, followed me and behaved so well. I think the team at Wright's sensed this and maybe our efforts already had persuaded them. We offered to pay for her initial treatment/tests, which was reluctantly accepted by the guys and she was vaccinated against rabies, tested for heartworm, Lyme disease and Erlichia all negative!) and given anti-parasite treatment. This could not have worked out any better and we returned with a box of doughnuts for the team and headed on our way with reassurances of updates on her condition. Boom.

So the rest of the day was going to have to live up to a lot. It started a bit cruelly, running past a brewery called Bubba Brews (OMG!), but this was unfortunately closed, though turned out well a little later, when I arrived at the RV to find Charlie, one of the main men at the Pacers chatting to Nads about the days events. I was to be escorted into Hot Springs by two club members and would meet with other members of the club at the Chamber of Commerce for a run to our campsite, before heading to dinner afterwards at one of the club's fave places to go. Charlie is a bundle of enthusiasm and even if I was in a bad mood, he'd have gotten me excited about the rest of the day, so I was obviously buzzing by now.

True to his word, he and the aforementioned escort team – Larry (great beard) and Jamie (a lovely lady, no beard) were by the bridge that takes you into Hot Springs (a scene very Antipodean in nature) and the sign that informed you that this was President Bill Clinton's boyhood town. We had a chat about Jamie's Boston Marathon adventures, Larry's halves and of course, Bill on the way on. Seeing we were on an upward curve of awesome, no point stopping now. Dave was there (unfortunately poorly, with a rotten cold, so hand shakes were exchanged for elbow touches!) and introduced me to the local press and the rest of the club. I was presented (guiltily) with the clubs' shirt and medal for their local half marathon, two cases of the famed local spring water (Thanks James!) AND a plaque declaring me a descendant of DeSoto (DeSoto was he first European to discover the springs in 1541), which I got the impression was sort of like the freedom of the town and a huge honour (I'm looking for a flock of sheep to drive down the main street still…). Wow. We then trooped en masse, down the main street, past the spas, the WW2 rehab hospital, no used as a school to the highway, where we were met by our actual police escort! I thought this was just a concerned law officer, but no – arranged. Incredible. Charlie and Dave (another Dave!) were waiting with some beers and after a quick shower, drove us into town for a great meal at the Copper Penny, where I regaled those assembled with an explanation of Scousers and Scouse, after I ordered an Irish stew and finally got my hands on one of Bubba's Brews! Charlie picked up our tab (very much appreciated, though of course, initially resisted) and dropped us back at the KOA campsite, drawing to a close one of, if not the best day of the trip so far. This was a 10. No doubt.

Start: Kirby Restaurant. Finish: KOA Hot Springs. 45.7 miles. Day 128 Tune of the Day: John Lennon – Instant Karma. Through a weird twist of fate, we'd gotten to do a really good deed. I like to believe in Karma, but I've never had it happen so quickly and be so abundantly rewarded for it.

Total: 4227.54 miles.

Run a State in a day? OK. Days 125-126

My love of being in a tent/caravan/RV when the rain is pouring overnight is starting to wane a bit. The impending day of running in said rain is good at dampening hopes for the day. Of course it was raining. The first place I ran through was called Manchester, just before the border with Oklahoma. Texas was done again. Both times it has tested me to near breaking point, though maybe the shorter crossing this time helped me cope better on leg 2. It certainly felt a lot quicker. Oklahoma was originally meant to be for the exclusive use of the Native American people- the Choctaw Nation, though in one of these lovely government mind changes, a “land grab” was allowed where people were held at the border until a starter's pistol was fired and you could basically race into the unclaimed land and plant a flag. There were strict penalties for people who tried to sneak in before the official start and hence people from Oklhaoma are called “Sooners”. There you go! I met a couple of these on the road, as they stopped to see if I was alright in the pouring rain, which went on all day. This was so depressing with it being cold as well and my head was perpetually bowed to avoid the headwind stinging my face. I don't really have a lot to report from what was going to a brief time in Native America, apart from that Idabel, our stopping place for the night has a very nice laundromat on the west of town and the RV park is very weird, with seemingly no-one around to pay and huge puddles that you couldn't see until they were lapping over the top of your shoes. Every day is different, I didn't even hate it. It wasn't Oklahoma's fault. I just hope this rain stopped, Sooner or later.

Start: Jct of County Roads 195 and 196, Faught. Finish: Idabel RV Park. 40.4 miles. 125 Tune of the Day: The Stone Roses – Waterfall. When in Rome… (or Manchester…). You make the best of what you've got and music was my buddy today.

So...no-one around in the morning. Free night's stay. We've been in this situation before and always paid, usually via an honesty box that these places have, but there literally was nothing and asking at the local gas station yielded no answers. Nads wanted to leave £20 on the little power point on our site, but I said that it was just going to get lifted by someone passing by, so reluctantly we left. I reckon that seeing this is for a good cause, it was alright, or...maybe OK. My right achilles had come back to the party as an uninvited guest the last few days, so I reverted to my old tactic of waking the muscles up by walking the first mile and amused myself looking at the #gumpchallenge videos that had come in overnight. I caught Idabel half asleep I think, with the town centre being relatively deserted. This corner of Oklahoma doesn't get many visitors I think so I did draw a little attention from the few people that were about as they probably don't see many people taking photos left, right and centre! I got a particularly cool one of a mural of a Choctaw Chief on his horse. The achilles was just there...just noticeable, but the key is always: “Is the pain increasing?” The answer was no, so I stayed in surveillance mode and resolved to step up my end-of-day maintenance regime. The Tiger Tail was going to get a lot more use – by the way – if you have tight calves – get yourself one of these. It's pretty much torture, but it does the job a treat. We were due to reach the Arkansas border by lunch and sped through the larger town of Broken Bow and its restored steam railway engine, stopping for breakfast by an auto glass repair shop that had a fairly extensive classic car graveyard behind. It was on the way to check this out that we had the pleasure of meeting Jean, the lovely owner of the shop who was enthralled by the adventure. She wants to sell up, get an RV and see the country – I advised it was a good idea, though the running does get in the way sometimes! She gave us a little something for the charities, as she was happy to see “someone doing something peaceful for a change”. She was heading to de Queen, AR, just like us. She jokingly offered me the lift, before she headed off.

At the border, we stopped at a bar for a celebratory beer – not much of a selection – Coronas it was! I assume people use designated drivers to get to here and its next door neighbour (that we thought we were at initially) as it's in the middle of nowhere and looks like it could be a fun place to do a mini crawl on a Friday night. So we crossed from Native America to the Nature State – did I tell you I was running for the WWF? Almost instantly the sun came out and I loved Arkansas. The weather didn't get me down yesterday, but it certainly bucked me up today! We reached de Queen, which seemed pretty well put together with a surprising number of hipster types apparent. I even saw Jean on the way back as she beeped and waved! I met Nads and asked permission to do a few more miles due to a late start and some intra-day delays, which was fine. This however led to us driving back in rapidly falling light, which was naughty of me, regardless of intention. It's crazy how running west, i.e. away from the sun makes such a big difference to how late you can run, in only a few days. Apologising, I resolved to finish no later than 18:15 until the next time zone or the clocks went forward. “How's your achilles?”. I realised it was fine. I know it will probably be back again tomorrow, but it was a cherry on the top of a solid 8/10 day.

Start: Idabel RV Park. Finish: Near Jct of Highway 70 and Noey Lane. 42.6 miles. Day 126 Tune of the Day: Queen - God Save De Queen (Did you see what I did there?). Brian May played this at the end of every Queen gig and also famously from the top of Buck House, for Lizzie herself couple of years back. I felt this was a more grand choice than the Pistols' version – especially as De Queen was very nice.

Total: 4139.74 miles

Big Tex = Big Miles(tone). Days 122-124

Today was always likely to be a good one too! I was getting spoilt. First of all we were joined by Pam, an ultrarunner from Dallas Fort Worth...well, more of a citizen of the world really, but she lives there currently. She's building up to a Badwater one day and has crewed in the past, so she knows how hard core it is. She was flying to London the next day as she works as aircrew and has even met Gary Sinise (Lt. Dan!) on a flight, so we were only blessed for lunch and a short run in the afternoon. She brought goodies a-plenty and was far too generous all round. It's great meeting someone who's crazy enough to “get it” and we may very well get another visit in the future. I hope we do anyway. She however, was not the only guest on this sunny day. Later that evening I was having a reunion with my good mate Tex, or Alan, as people in Texas call him. I feel his pain with a geography based nickname when on home soil. As we were also meeting his wife Suzie for the first time and his new baby Olive, so a slightly different meeting from last time I saw him in Texas where we shot guns, watched ice hockey and drank a lot of beer, but great all the same. He arrived in time to intercept me on my penultimate run of the day and received a good sweaty man hug, for which I heartily apologise in advance to anyone when the hug is on the cards. He didn't care. I set off on my last run with Tex coming to collect me. Maybe I was showing off subconsciously, but I probably ran a bit quicker and reached the lovely centre of Whitesboro in no time. Two kids, maybe around 12 years old rode past on their bike. “Are you running like Forrest Gump?”. I was wearing my Bubba Gump cap and showed them. “That's AWESOME! How did I know? I knew!”. Every time a kid quotes the film it blows me away. The only film I watched that was older than me when I was their age was Star Wars and that was only one year older – this is about 24 years old now! I had another nice chat with a local just at the wrong time...as a walk break was about to clock on and at the start of a big hill. No way could I walk after that so on up the hill I pushed and surprisingly broke the 40 mile barrier on a day that, due to the nice distractions I had bargained for no more than 35. It helped Tex got a bit lost too… So a return to the RV park and Tex returned again, with his lovely family in tow and back to Gainesville we merrily went for dinner. Real cowboy fare in cowboy surroundings. Maybe not the sort of place you'd knowledgeably take the girls to on a posh night out, though I hope it was cheap for Tex! Just the one beer this time – times are pretty different for both of us at the moment and all too short. Same again leg 5?

Start: Jct of Highway 82 and Field Road. Finish: Jct of Highway 59 and Old Sonoma Ranch Road. 40.62 miles. Day 122 Tune of the Day: Midlake – The Old and the Young. Skirting just to the north of the hometown of one of my favourite bands, so I listened to a lot today. This has got a really good shuffling beat that's great for running.

What dies everyone like on a Friday? A Crunchie? No! A milestone! Today was the 4000 mile mark – one that had seemed to take so long to reach for me, but as I've heard – seemed like no time at all to some of you! I guess my days have just been a little intense for me recently. What I need is a good night out… I found the perfect opportunity (if only I could have stayed) running through Sherman. “Dorothy was right though”, sung Alex Turner of the Arctic Monkeys. The second the words left his lips, I looked up and I was right outside “Dorothy's Bumper Club” advertising karaoke that night. Why did this have to be at the start of the day? Even I couldn't make up a good enough excuse to get Nads to drive 30 miles back at the end of the day. If you are wondering – I'd probably have started with Back in Black, and moved onto Maggie May or Twist and Shout. The rest of the day was how I like it, uneventful until the “event”, which was today expected and welcome, despite us almost forgetting about it as things had been so smooth and yielded just under the 45. Nads made...or should I say adapted our 3,000 mile sign to celebrate the occasion and it got a huge response on social media, which was ace. The local Brookshire's supermarket had agreed to let us park up overnight and I'd had my eye on the Domino's over the road where Pam's donation to the cause was about to bear fruit. There was also an amazing deal of pick your own craft beer 6 pack for $9.99 in Brookshire's...so we got two. Sometimes a good night in is better than that night out anyway, especially the next day...just less singing.

Start: Jct of Highway 59 and Old Sonoma Ranch Road. Finish: Jct of Highway 82 and County Road 2905. 44.2 miles Day 123 Tune of the Day: Led Zepellin – Rock and Roll. Finishing for the day in Bonham – the surname of their late, great drummer. This song just encompasses the organised chaos and power of the phenomenon that was John Bonham. I was lucky enough to see Dave Grohl have a damn good go, playing this with Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones at Wembley with the Foo Fighters.

Our last full day in Texas...for a long while or for ever...who knows? I had a little surprise lined up for Nads later...though unless she was pretty blind, she would have seen it on the map. Our last town was Paris, TX and it even had its own Eiffel Tower! It was cold today, but the glorious level of cold where you can wear long sleeves and leggings and not get sweaty when you're running. Today also had an unexpected turn for me, with one of my university pals, Sonya Eastaugh having an absoloute stormer of a brainwave, spawning the Gump Challenge. Basically, this is a bit like the ice bucket challenge in principle. The idea is you have to re-enact a short scene/quote from Forrest Gump, using at least one prop, make a donation and then nominate two more people to do the same. The early attempts have hit the spot straight away, with some quite unexpected choices/interpretations. Type “gumpchallenge” on Facebook search and maybe get some ideas. You don't have to be nominated to do one, in fact you starting one off your own bat helps to spread the word! Soon after I'd digested this, I had the great time sink of being able to listen to the Liverpool match, which we won, but the best bit of Liverpool related news was that Robbie Fowler AKA “God” to Liverpool fans, retweeted one of my tweets about the 4,000 mile barrier. Cue my inbox going to into meltdown: “Have you seen...” Yes. Yes I had and today was just grand, thanks! Nads had unfortunately realised the Paris thing (as she's very clever) and had already been to see the Eiffel Tower, by the time I'd run through Paris' elegant town square (weirdly, with not a French Restaurant in sight – surely an opportunity?) and the unfortunately run down outskirts. At least this meant I could get some more miles done I guess, but I wouldn't have minded the detour to see it. I'd been thoroughly soaked as well on the run through Paris in a rainstorm that would have seemed completely in keeping with a wet November Monday in Paris, France, but my joie de vivre was untempered. The north east of the city was an unusual mix of country clubs and grand mansions, though I'm not sure how there was so much money all in one place – I wanted to knock on doors to be nosey and see what these people did for a living. Some of these houses were incredible, with multi-layered roofs that you'd get straight onto your Christmas dream list if you were a roofer and you got the call to re-do one in December. I caught up with Jenny for the last time just as were getting back into farm territory again in a cheeky hiding place behind some highway aggregate and tucked into the microwave pizza left-overs as the temperature started to drop towards freezing again. Brrrrr. Romance isn't dead people.

Start: Jct of Highway 82 and County Road 2905. Finish: Jct of County Roads 195 and 196, Faught. 42.8 miles. Day 124 Tune of the Day: Nick Cave – God is in the House. Welcome to Going the Distance, Robbie lad.

Total: 4056.74 miles