The Calm Before the Storm. Days 129-131

Trotting out of the sanctuary of the lovely KOA onto roads that I'd been assured weren't the greatest and to expect roadworks that could hinder stopping places wasn't ideal, but it was a lovely morning and I soon received a message that Hope had had a good night, was very clean and had eaten well in the morning. That's always going to put a smile on your face. I curtailed my first run as I ran past a nice picnic area that was perfect for Nads to enjoy a bit more peace and quiet that we have on the road usually. I left her taking photos of bees on the flowers, which was pretty perfect for her until a dude with a lawnmower came along and spoilt the party. Charlie had also arrived, but after I'd left. He was off to see Phantom of the Opera in Little Rock – he said he'd look out for me on the road, but I think he went past when I was answering the call of nature at another rest area, so we'll have to wait till I return to Hot Springs for another hello! As I came out of the facilities, I saw a car speed away with a Labrador gain, surely – at least this one had a collar. Had they forgotten their dog? There was a work truck at the end of the car park so I went down to see if it was their dog. The dog was “Beef” he lives over the highway and comes down to the picnic area all the time to try his luck. Classic Lab!

Soon after this I got into the thick of the roadworks, which quite often is fine for me as it will mean a lane of road with no traffic. I got to watch the dismantling of an old girder bridge as I went past and had a number of chats with the road crew who were asking what I was up to. The second “beef” of the day came about as there was nowhere for Nads to stop – our pre-determined meeting point was now occupied by a huge crane and the road was coned off for another 6 miles, meaning a stint just shy of 15 miles, with not that much water and a hungry belly coming up to lunch. Such is life. Again. It worked out ok, though further tests awaited in the shape of interstate running, (though there was no sign saying I couldn't!) and some real cold rain at the end of the day, with a dark finish and requirement for the Iron Man lights. I got some pretty sweet news too. What could that be? My little secret.

Start: KOA Hot Springs. Finish: Highway 70, near Pinedale Walmart. 41.3 miles. Day 129 Tune of the Day: The Dropkick Murphys – Shipping Up To Boston. Nothing like a good bit of punk to get the job done.

I didn't realise just how close we'd got to Little Rock, Arkansas' capital city. The monster Wednesday probably helped! As such it was a bit of a frenzy to try and get some media organised, but Nads has been hiding another talent of hers – she'd be a great press secretary. I got a message to be at the Statehouse Convention Centre for 10:20. I was in a reception black spot but luckily got the message when I was 2 minutes away, to meet Mitch, a cameraman for both Fox and NBC. Interview done, it was over the Arkansas River, that I'd been informed by a chap called Adam had a great trail for running. He's hoped to meet me to do some miles, but couldn't make it that early, which was a shame, but he looked right about the river. Little Rock seemed like a cool city, but there's no time to dwell these days. I was looking after myself this morning to avoid the RV/inner city combo and by the time I caught up with Nads again, incidentally by the L'Oreal Maybelline plant (She's worth it), we were by a mangrove lake, which was really beautiful though still not immune by the blight of litter and large scale dumping at the side of the road. I wonder what's wrong with people sometimes, I really do. Soon we were back in farm country and trying to get back some of the time I'd inexplicably lost during the day. One of those days. I was in . a great mood and found myself singing “Somebody to Love” by Queen when it came on and I thought of my little mate Hope again and thought it was pretty appropriate in part! In the distance I saw a figure moving towards me and soon it dawned that it was someone out for a run. I wondered if I could persuade them to join for a bit? Turned out no persuasion was needed – it was Adam – Biology (Pre-med) student from the University of Central Arkansas and my advocate for the river trail! He'd not been able to get hold of me so had chanced his arm based on my route and he caught me just 1.5 miles before I took a back route! Perfect timing. He was a good runner so we ran a bit quicker than I've been used to, but it was doable and I enjoyed the chance for a bit of in-depth chat, focussing on the actual running part of! He was also a former member of the Spa Pacers and a Hot Springs local! We reached Jenny for a quick break where we fell slightly foul of a local farmer who informed us we were parked on his land. He did at least let us stay there for a few minutes to take a break… Adam came a good six or so miles with me before he had to turn round and head back to his car. I did feel a bit sorry for him as he headed back as it was getting cold, but hey, I was probably holding him back – he could do some speed work! Really glad of the chance to run with you man!

A lack of suitable stopping places and us having no wish for another disgruntled landowner encounter led to us heading to Nick's BBQ, where it looked like there could be some overnight parking. I popped in to ask about the parking to see it was super busy. What's more, the news article had just been on the TV. Hands were shook, photos were taken, questions asked and in a couple of cases, a donation and someone, anonymously took care of our tab, which was pretty incredible. We were so full we couldn't have fitted in a pudding, but the y looked so good, we joked that seeing as it had been taken care of… Dignity and stomach capacity prevented us in equal measure! If you're in the area, I recommend it!

Start: Highway 70, near Pinedale Walmart. Finish: Highway 70, 3 miles shy of Carlisle. 39.9 miles. Day 130 Tune of the Day: Queen – Somebody to Love. Come on...someone give Hope some love!

I've only been to Carlisle in the UK once. It seemed a nice enough town, but it was freezing cold, wet and windy. How lovely of Carlisle, AR to ensure I felt right at home as I passed through the town! Well fed from the night before and wrapped up warm I strangely enjoyed it. Remember, there's no such thing as bad weather, just inappropriate clothing! The cedar trees in the mangroves were enjoying the water. There is a lot of water in Arkansas. Some pretty big water course too – after passing through Hazen and De Valls Bluff, a very important town in the civil war, I crossed the White River, which was more chocolate brown if truth be told with a huge amount of debris racing down the river. The recent rains had obviously swollen the river and I was quite glad to be high on a concrete bridge, snapping photos of the old girder bridge, rather than the other way round. It's been a pleasure in the last few days to see the return of the herons that were such a feature of the first half of leg 1 and large numbers had retreated further up the bank than you'd usually see them. Bit rough for fishing, I guess. Most of the day consisted of dodging puddles and trucks, with there being no shoulder to run on for a good part. My sight seeing was curtailed by the front edge of my hood, which spent a good part of the day pulled pretty snug, against the elements. To be fair the day was pretty uneventful (so I thought, though something I thought nothing of at the time was going to rear its head later) until we got to our RV Park, which tonight was linked to the Super 8 hotel in Brinkley. As I was dealing with check in, with a few other people hanging around in reception, I had a fame moment! A Texan family who had been aware of my story for a while had been misdirected by their SatNav and ended up on the road I was running. They were excited then, but not half as much as when they realised we were staying in the same place. They asked very politely if they could have a photo after checking with Nads outside that “it was really Rob!”. Cue everyone in reception thinking “Who is this guy?”. Don't worry – nothing to see here people! Maybe it was that intervention that got us a free room to shower in after there was an issue with the key card to the RV shower block! I'd like to think so.

Start: Highway 70, 3 miles shy of Carlisle. Finish: Highway 70, 2.5 miles east of Brinkley. 41.4 miles. Day 131 Tune of the Day: Weather With You – Crowded House. Carlisle certainly had taken this literally. Meanwhile, thousands of miles away, some of my good friends were enjoying lovely sunshine and the writer of said song, Neil Finn, performing at Golden Plains Festival. They win the day.

Total 4350.14 miles


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. 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