Day 25 - 42 miles of Montana highways, 0 miles trail
We knew our luck had run out and the temperatures were going to get into the 80s finally. No one could complain about running 24 days without seeing the thermometer reach 80 degrees, but as all runners know it is much easier to run a decent pace with the temps in the 50s. Our finish times for the day indicate that none of us had a great day of running, but the day started out well with all three of us running a good pace. The day got better when I picked up two quarters about the 7.75 mile mark, and even better when Heidi told me there were a dozen cyclists riding across the country just a few miles back. As I climbed a hill on the road the cyclists starting passing me. It was super to see and share a few words with our fellow crossers. Just a mile later it was great to visit a few more minutes with the cyclists who had taken a break at the same place Heidi had parked the Roadrunner. And just a mile or so later I took my only two pictures on the Run of a heavily damaged trestle of the Old Milwaukee Road which joined the road again for several miles. Life was good even with the temperature moving higher and higher. However, stuff happens. Up ahead of me Jen makes a misstep to avoid a dead vulture and ends of straining her back. Regrettably Jen's back bothered her now and again all the way to the Atlantic after this misstep. About the same place Jen encountered the dead vulture my left hamstring started giving me problems and forced me to a walk for 6-7 miles. I enjoyed traveling through the small town of Lavina (population 187 in the 2010 census) at mile 26 as I was just starting to return to jogging as advil had helped with the troubling hamstring. Another old Post Office brought a smile to my face. I started to run more and more and when I approached the Roadrunner at about mile 36 I noted that Jennifer wasn't far ahead. I felt confident I could catch Jen before we reached the finished for the day, but it wasn't to be.
Day 26 - 37 miles of road, 2 miles of trail
We passed 1000 miles on this first day running in the heat of 90 degree temps!!! It was a tough day for the three of us as we all ran out of water between crew stops on this hot day. Regrettably Justin ran a few extra miles due to a confusing intersection. We went over the route at Fuddruckers the night before, but sometimes I wonder if I could have a done a better job discussing the route. Did the extra few miles Justin ran in the heat on day 26 possibly lead to his issues a few days later that forced him from the Run? It is a valid question, but there is no way to know the answer. Speaking of Fuddruckers, I mentioned to the cyclists that Billings had a Fuddruckers (actually there is more than one Fuddruckers in Billings) and I read that the cross country cyclists also ate at Fuddruckers - although we didn't see them there.
Day 27 - 41 miles of road, 0 miles of trail
This day was the buggiest day of the Run. For about 20 miles the bugs attacked, and no one had fun. This one turn day was a slightly down elevation day through the plains of southeastern Montana. There were no services on the route until reaching the town of Hardin at the end of the day. At about mile 11 we (Jen and I running together) saw our largest dead carcass of the Run. We smelled the dead cow before seeing it, but there it was a few feet from the road. At mile 38 I passed a freshly dead skunk in the middle of the road on the outskirts of Hardin. I wish the skunk hadn't been hit, but I knew that Jen would finally have a chance to smell a freshly dead skunk - another first for Jen. I note that there are no skunks - and many other common US animals like raccoons - in Britain. I had no idea that many common American animals don't live in Britain until Jen informed me of that fact. I asked Justin after finishing if he had seen the dead skunk and he hadn't, hence there wasn't much doubt that the skunk was freshly dead.
Day 28 - 39 miles of road, 0 miles of trail
We said goodbye to Margaret - who was taking the Scooby Van to the Billings Airport in order to transfer it to Mike Melton before flying home - and headed out to the start. There were five of us in the Roadrunner - Heidi, Crew Dog Daphne, Jen, Justin, and myself. Heidi and Daphne were going to take care of the three of us until Mike Melton arrived in the Scooby Van. With one crew vehicle we stayed together and made good time to mile 12 where we turned onto US-12 - our planned running home for the next 200 miles - just yards away from the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Memorial, aka Custer's Last Stand. Regrettably I was already wiped out on this day which would see the temperature climb past 100, but the three of us continued on into the land of no service for the rest of the day. A few miles later the wind picked-up - a fierce cross wind that made the tough day that much more challenging, and the three of us decided to cut four miles from the route today with the hope we could run those miles in cooler temperatures over the next few days. Mike Melton finally arrived bringing a wonderful Dairy Queen vanilla milkshake. I am a milkshake snob so I didn't think I would like the shake, but I loved it and ended up consuming many Dairy Queen milkshakes during the rest of the Run!!! Mike's arrival improved our outlook just a bit, and the final miles of the day passed OK but ominously as we could see smoke ahead on our intended route eastward.
Day 29 - 36 miles of road, 0 miles of trail
Can temperatures really drop 50 degrees in 13 hours? Yes, the high winds brought cool air into southeastern Montana overnight and when we loaded the vehicles early morning day 29 we were actually feeling slightly chilled in the low 50s for the early morning. Unfortunately, the ominous signs couldn't be missed. When I checked out the hotel clerk told me there were evacuations underway around the small town of Ashland which was around mile 35 of our route this day. HMMM. Minutes later when we turned off the interstate onto US-12 to head to the start point there was one of the road construction message signs with the message flashing something like US-12 open to local traffic only. HMMM. Well, the sign didn't stop us, and for 15 miles the three of us ran fairly well in the cooler temps as we watched the traffic heading west pass us. The fact that there was traffic coming from the east appeared to be good news, but it was not to be. Upon reaching the small town of Lame Deer Heidi informed the three of us - who were running just minutes apart - that the road (US-12) was closed due to fire destroying the road. Thankfully we stopped right at a four way intersection which allowed us the choice of either heading north or south from this point in order to continue heading to the Atlantic. Regrettably fires happen. Jen said it best in her blog, "So we stopped our watches (for the first time
mid-run) and had a conference in the Roadrunner to decide what to do and where
to go. Mike M drove down one route to see if it was open and Mike S was pouring
over the map.
... Mike M came back with good news – we could head
south and not be stopped by the fire." So we headed south or a surprisingly scenic road with little idea of what lay ahead in the near future. Eight miles later Justin stopped for the day due to runner issues. Jen and I were concerned about Justin but hoped the issue was just a temporary one that would allow him to return to running the next day. Another 13 scenic - and smokey - miles later Jen and I finished the day at the edge of the reservation - in the middle of nowhere. Ninety plus minutes later we arrived in Sheridan and met my great friend Frank Dembia who had flown in to crew and run with us. I jumped onto the internet as quickly as possible to determine our detour route back to the original RAAoT route. I note that I made a good decision to not take the mapmyrun.com shortest route through rural Montana/Wyoming as a number of the "small" roads on this "shortest" route turned out to be ranch roads that probably would have caused us trouble had we taken them, so in hindsight I ended up planning just about the best detour route possible. I didn't know that at the time, however, and I had to worry each day if I was leading us on a route that wouldn't work and lead to extra miles via forced backtracking or be longer than needed due to not using a road that actually would have allowed us to run a shorter route.
Day 30 - 31 miles of gravel road in the middle of nowhere, 0 miles of trail
It was great to have Frank run with Jen and I as we started the day in the middle of nowhere - and we were encouraged by Mike Melton's report that Justin had started the day off running well - but the positive feelings took an awful shot in the arm when the Scooby Van pulled up to the three of us around mile 12 or so with Justin in the van. Justin continued to have issues so he decided he needed to drop from the Run. I felt sad for Justin that he wasn't going to complete the Run, and I knew he would be missed by Jen and I and all who followed the Run. This was definitely a very low point of the Run, but Jen and I continued on running in the middle of nowhere - a very scenic middle of nowhere I must add - with Frank on a clear day that could easily have been smoke filled if the wind had been working against us. We ended the day at a place "closer to somewhere" only an hour from Sheridan. Jen and I had hopes of getting our hair cut upon returning to Sheridan, but no luck on that front.
Day 31 - 40 miles on road (36 miles of which were gravel), 0 miles trail
After starting the day at "closer to somewhere" Frank drove his rental car ahead to the 10 mile point to see if we could take a "smaller road" which would cut two miles off the "less smaller gravel road" route. Frank reported we could - and should - take the shorter route, so we did. Shortly after the Roadrunner and rental car passed Jen and I we saw a sign that appeared to indicate that the road was a private road - ouch. Was the owner of the house we just passed - the only house we had seen so far this day - going to tell us to get of his property??? A mile or so later we pass a road sign that northwest bound cars would see. I turned around and read something like "Welcome to Powder River County" which meant only one thing, we had passed out of Montana and into Wyoming - state four reached! Another milestone! We met Frank on the road shortly before the two roads converged and letting us know that he had just met the local rancher who asked what the cars were doing parked near what we presume was the gate to his property. The rancher was amazed to hear about the Run across the country. Jen and I passed the rancher a mile later or so and I believe he wished us well as we passed - only the second car we passed that morning. About six miles later I took my first fall of the Run - a fall that caused no injuries, just some scrapes. Another 4-5 miles later we turn off the road we had been on and there was a large sign that appeared to indicate the road we were just on was owned by some corporation - great. No wonder we only passed two cars and two houses in 25 miles. At mile 36 we returned to paved road at the very, very small hamlet of Leiter, WY (population 29). The building at the turn housed - yes, you guessed it - the small Leiter Post Office!!!
Day 32 - 44 miles on road, 0 miles on trail
Frank started the day with Jen and I and the three of us all ran well!!! Thanks to Heidi (and later Frank) and Justin for crewing!!! Frank ran 27 miles this day - his first run past the marathon in many years! The route was a good one - all rural road except the final 1.5 miles on this no-services-on-the-route-gain-800-feet-of-elevation-day. The interesting encounter of the day occurred about mile 16 when a pick-up truck pulled up behind me and stopped. The exact conversation escapes me, but the brief encounter went like this:
Rancher: Whatcha doing - running?
Rancher: Where are you going?
The rancher then puts his truck in reverse and heads back down the road in the other direction.
Bottom line, day 32 was one of my favorite days of the Run!