Thursday, December 19, 2013

And Shooting Myself in the Leg

I pulled the trigger on The Great Noxapater Journey Run and shot myself in the leg. I didn't make it. I'll start at the beginning and tell the whole story.

I left the house at 8:30 am, Tuesday, Dec. 17, 2013, full of energy, excitement, and expectation. With a blue sky overhead and a weather forecast of 60 degrees, what was not to be excited about? But almost instantly I was a little surprised, shocked, stunned even. The foreshadowing of trouble was the total weight of my packs that surprised me and tossed a little caution into my consciousness. I had packed and repacked and the final packing included only the very necessary items in an attempt to save every possible ounce. But I was heavy from the first step, and I knew the weight was going to effect my journey. But still, I thought, everything will be OK, maybe a little slow but OK.

I made my way to Grand Blvd and across, over the new bridge (Veterans Memorial), and out Grenada Blvd, which is always busy and everyone drives that road like they are auditioning for NASCAR. Soon I found myself on Browning Road where I finally got out of the traffic, into a more rural setting, and into an environment where I could hear the birds sing. That's when I started having fun. Eventually, however, Browning Road forced me to either dead end or go out to Highway 82.

It always amazes me as to how much I love running a rural road and how much I detest running a busy highway. To me, heavy and fast traffic is something to be avoided at all cost. I didn't have to run 82 very far, however, maybe two miles, before I was able to cross over to the old highway and once more be out of swift and heavy traffic.
One of the neat roads I ran in Carroll County

The plan was to make it to Winona on day one and overnight there. My original idea was to check myself into a motel, but since my funds were limited I tried to secure cheaper lodging. I thought I had that worked out, but my free lodging fell through. I left the house Tuesday morning not knowing where I would lay my head that night. Believe it or not, I kind of liked that, the uncertainty, being out there having to figure it out and make something happen. I fortuitously saw a Facebook post where someone mentioned the pastor of the Winona Church of God. Since I pastor in that denomination, I thought, Cha-ching. I sent Pastor Brian Wells a Facebook message asking him to call me. To make a short story long, I was on old 82 when my phone rang. I told him my story and asked if he knew someone who could put me up. He answered, "We have evangelist quarters in the church. I will be glad to let you stay there." One problem solved. Thanks, Brian.

I knew my fitness was a little suspect with a few minor injuries, business, and bad weather taking a toll on my training. But I could handle the first day. I knew that. In the last few months, I had done a several one day journey runs one of which was longer than Greenwood to Winona. Day two, I thought, would be crucial. If I could get through day two, I should be able to make it. So I paced myself, running slowly and walking a lot. Ten miles of actual running per day was my self imposed limit.

A mile and a half or so on old 82 brought me to Skating Rink Road, which I promptly headed onto and back into real country. The road is paved for a mile or two then turns gravel. Once on the gravel, I felt a million miles from home and all alone. I loved it.

People in Carroll County can be kind of funny. They often give you hostile looks like, "What are you doing here invading my country?" This can happen even when you are on a public road. I came upon a few folks in a cattle gap. As I approached, I wondered if I would get "the look." Not only did I not get "the look," I got a smile, a wave, and as I drew closer, one man came to the roadside and gave me a hand shake. Wow! Then another young man got out of an off-road vehicle, came to me, and shook my hand also. "Hi Dr. Hodge," one of my former students said. By gosh they're everywhere. I asked directions just to ease my mind. I thought I knew where I was and where I was going but wasn't totally sure.

A few miles later and I was crossing Highway 82 onto Providence Road, which is gravel and runs into Carrollton. I was hungry now and eager to sit down for a meal. I made it into Carrollton, out onto the main road, and then headed for North Carrollton. As I ran down the steep incline towards the creek which separates the two towns, I felt a little soreness and discomfort in the lower shin of my right leg. Not good, I thought. Too early to have problems.

At North Carrollton, I stopped at 4K Food Mart, took off my packs and shoes, and plugged my Garmin watch and phone up to their chargers. Then I bought some chicken and potato logs and ate that stuff like I was angry at it. I didn't tarry long, but reloaded and headed out the door. I had only made a step or two before I knew I was in trouble.

The shin was worse and every step hurt. Once I got out on Winona Road, I stopped and sat on my feet in an attempt to stretch and loosen the shin muscle. That helped a little, but only for a few minutes. The journey towards McCarley was slow and miserable. I had to face the idea that I might actually fail, and even worse, fail on the first day. With every bend or rise in the road, I hoped the little community would be the first thing I saw, but over and over I was disappointed.

I texted my wife, told her I was having difficulty, and asked her to check on me after she got out of her exercise class at 6:30. This was around 4:00 in the afternoon and it was apparent by now that I was going to get caught in the dark. I wasn't even sure that Penny could find me on that road, so I wanted to get to McCarley and then on the Highway 82 where I could be found if I needed rescuing.

By the time I finally entered McCarley, I was barely able to walk. It was no longer a question of if I could make it or not. I could not. I texted my wife and told her where I was and that after a rest I would walk towards 82. It was about 5:00, and since my phone was almost decharged, I stopped at McAnerney's Resturant. They were closed, but some Christmas lights on the front gave me a chance to get my charger out and plug the phone up. I took my packs off, sat in a chair, and felt the fatigue and frustration slowly seep over me while the December sun sunk below the western horizon. After darkness was fully come, I got up once to use the bathroom, hiding myself behind a cattle trailer. It was then that I realized I could walk even less well than when I first arrived. The leg has stiffened and become more sore. There was no way I could get to the highway. I would have to wait for at least two hours, and Penny would have to find me here. I texted her and told her I was staying put.

I was no longer generating much body heat and the temperature was dropping as fast as my spirits were sinking due to my epic failure. At least MaCarley has a few old majestic houses with tall steep roofs. Not too long after I sat in the chair, a truck pulled up in the parking lot. A young man climbed out and asked how he could help me. I held up my phone and confessed to stealing electricity and told him I couldn't walk so well anymore. He said it was OK about the electricity and then he went inside. When he came out he asked me if I needed anything and then he told me he would be up and down the road and in and out of the building several times, so if I needed anything to just let him know.
He came back a little later and asked if I needed a ride. I introduced myself and told him I'd just wait for my wife. He left and came back again and once more offered me a ride. Our conversation went something like this:

"Really, I'll be glad to take you to Greenwood."

"Will you let me pay you?"


"Well, I'll wait for my wife."

"You can pay me."

"OK, let's go."

And with that, Kelly Welch, owner of McAnerney's Restaurant drove me home. He's a super nice guy who besides running an eatery, raises cattle and a daughter, and has been married fifteen years. He called me "Brother" when I stepped out of his truck.

I learned several lessons on this failed run:

1. There are still good people in this world who will help you if you have a problem. Thank you, Kelly Welch.

2. I need to be better trained for my next outing of this type, and that means not only more miles but more strength training. My lack of leg strength was apparent from the start.

3. I should never run downhill wearing a heavy pack.

4. Life is unpredictable and there are no guarantees. We do the best we can, and the best we can is all we can do.

5. Failure is not really failure but an opportunity to learn, reassess, and gain motivation.

6. I want a rematch with The Great Noxapater Journey Run. But first there must be some tune up matches.

7. I'm gald I didn't figure everything out because I still have a reason to go back and try it again.