第３章 – ニューメキシコ州
2015年5月11日 – 5月21日（11日間）
第17日 – 第27日
ニューメキシコ州のニックネームは、“Land Of Enchantment”。つまり、「魅惑の州」だ。州を越えると、見た目や雰囲気が変わる。この州に入ってからのわずか数十分間で、2台の車が減速して、聞いてくれた。
「Kさん。今日は、最初の30KMがルート66の地道。残りの40KMはI-40に入る。そして、ちょうど70KM地点がRoute 66 Casinoなので、今晩はその駐車場にRVを停めよう」
次は、ランニングショップだ。スプラウツから16KMほど離れた所にある、Basque Running Shopに向かった。今回、靴は10足、4種類用意した。全てクッションの無いソールの厚さが6ミリぐらいのミニマリストシューズだ。ビブラム社のファイブフィンガーズ。杵屋社の無敵。ビボベアフット社のトレールシューズ。京都大学人類学部教授でナチュラルラン仲間の親友であるマリオさんから頂いた手作りランニングサンダル。恐らく、10足で十分だと思うが、ここまで路面がかなり荒かったので、ミニマリストのトレール系シューズを見に行こうとした。今朝ネットで見たショップオーナーのLikhaya Dayileさんが、満面の笑みで迎えてくれた。元プロのランナーで、人当たりも非常によい。結局お目当てのシューズは無かったが、面白そうな小物を数点購入した。アメリカ横断中と言うことを話しすると、非常に喜んでくださり、格好良いデザインのお店のシャツを、僕達3人にプレゼントしてくださった。最後に、ルート66のニューメキシコ州の交通標識にサインをしてもらい、記念撮影をした。尚、この店は、昨年度の全米ベスト50のランニングストアに選ばれている。
視界はかなり悪いが、それでも、大好きなEl Vado Motelの看板と建物は見逃さなかった。廃業しているらしいが、フェンスに触り挨拶をした。昨日寿司を食べた日本食レストランが見えた。そのワンブロック先には、アルバカーキのランドマークとも言えるKIMOシアターが、そのモダン・プエブロスタイルの美しい姿で僕達に声援を送ってくれる。
或る自称トレールランナーとやらが言った。”Flat is boring.” 起伏のある山道でなく、平らなアスファルトを走るロードレースを揶揄したコメントだ。でも、僕は思う。「あいつら、本当のフラットを知らないんだろうな」って。そもそも、トレールでもロードでも何でもいいじゃん、と思ってしまう。僕から見れば、どっちもランニング。トレール派とロード派が口論するのも見かけるが、ここ2,000メートルの完全フラットな高地を黙々と走っていると、トレールもロードも同じ地球じゃんと思ってしまう。
グレッグがインターネットで調査してくれたRVパークに向かう。サンタローザの中心部にあるLa Loma Lodge & RV Parkだ。いつものようにグレグッが手際良くチェックインを済ませてくれる。ホテル練の一室にあるシャワールームで、3人が順番にシャワーを浴び、コインランドリーで洗濯も済ませた。
このRVパークに入った時に、真横に有るレストランにすぐに気付いた。Joseph’s だ。このレストランも、ルート66上で名を轟かせている。2010年に車でヌンとルート66を旅した時に夕食を取ったことがある。そこで売られているビールのジョッキは、うちのバンコクの店でも使っている。驚いたことに、グレッグが今晩のヌンのバースデー・ディナーはそこでしないかと言う。Joseph’s のスポーツバー・セクションに3人で座り、それぞれの好みのピザを頼んだ。ビール、ソフトドリンクも注文し、ヌンの誕生日を祝った。
ハイウェイ沿いに、Tucumcariのモーテルやレストランを宣伝する看板がズラッと並び始めた。“TUCUMCARI TONIGHT” 人口約6,000人のこの街は、ルート66ファンにはたまらない存在だ。街の4KMほどをルート66が貫くが、1930年から60年ぐらいに建てられたモーテルやレストラン、そしてそれらの美しいサインの多くががオリジナルのまま残り、ルート66を彩っている。この街のホテルの部屋数は1,200らしい。“今夜はトゥクムカリで！”と言って、看板が我々旅行者に手招きをしてくる。
時刻は午後1時4分。ルート66モーテルのアイコン的存在であるBLUE SWALLOW MOTELに到着。そこにRVを停め、1時間ほどの昼休みを取ることにした。朝からの累計走行距離は41KM。例の足の痛みは無かったが、まだランニング・エンジンはかからない。41KM走るのに、8時間近くかかってしまった。平均時速約5KM。しかし、41KMを無事に無痛で東進できただけで、御の字だ。気温は8度だ。汗も書いていないし、雨にも当たらなかったので、シャワーは不要。着替えだけして30分ほど仮眠する。起床後に食べたヌンの手作りメキシカンスープが心身に沁み入る。
ほぼ定刻の午前5時2分にスタートを切った。例のくるぶしから下の違和感も無い。午前中は、できれば44KMを走って、Russels Truck Stopという大きなガソリンスタンド兼レストランに辿り着く予定だ。そこから、ニューメキシコとテキサスの州境までは6KMしかない。
ここ数日の重さから解放されている。San Jonという小さな町まで地道のルート66を27KM走ってきた。そこから更に、I-40の南側を走るルート66を東進する手もあるが、グレッグが別の提案をしてくれた。I-40の北部を並走するQuay Road 58.5を行く。理由は、そこからのルート66の路面が荒いからだ。荒くても、通行止めではないので走れるのだが、今は特にくるぶしから下を気遣ってスムースな舗装道路を進む。
Quay Road 58.5は直線的で静寂が覆う道だ。ここならヌンも運転できるので、グレッグと最後のニューメキシコ州でのランを噛み締める。この州での思い出話をしながら、しかし注意深く歩を東に進める。午前11時24分、距離は44KMでRusselsの大きな駐車場に入った。
Chapter 3 – New Mexico “The Land of Enchantment”
May 11 – May 21, 2015 (11 days)
Day 17 – Day 27
Distance crossing state : 378 miles (608 Kms)
Accumulated distance : 1,117 miles (1,797 Kms)
Before and after the state border
It’s Monday May 11. 1:50 p.m.
Just three more steps, I will have run into New Mexico from Arizona. OK, it’s not a huge leap for “mankind’ but it’s a huge milestone for me and the team.
As we approach the state border, I can see the welcome sign of New Mexico. The orange metal sign, illustrated with red and green chilies, is shining beautifully under the warm hospitable weather that has carried over from this morning. Indeed, just making this crossing and being “Welcomed” makes New Mexico feel hospitable and the right place to be right now. Greg and Nueng, our two-person crew, are now outside of our RV (recreational vehicle) to welcome me. The three of us hug each other with smiles and laughter. I started running in Arizona, ten days ago, May 5 (SAT), 7 a.m. Now, finally, after 408 miles (657 Kms), I have run across Arizona. We share our joy of arriving here safely and together both in body and spirit.
In New Mexico, it is 2:50 p.m., one hour ahead of where my feet, just three steps behind are in Arizona. Both Arizona and New Mexico are in the Mountain Time Zone. However, New Mexico is applying the daylight saving system, while Arizona is not. Therefore, New Mexico is one hour ahead of Arizona.
All three of us hop across the state line together.
The time has suddenly changed from 1:50 p.m. to 2:50 p.m. WE might have aged an hour instantly but the achievement has given all three of us a boost and we feel happy and rejuvenated.
“The Land Of Enchantment” is New Mexico’s nickname. As we cross state borders, we can normally feel a difference in scenery and atmosphere. In New Mexico the difference is quicker to spot. It’s not just the view but inside the people, too. In less than 30 minutes, in this new state, two cars have stopped alongside us, asking us with big smiles, “You running, huh? Where to?”
“To New York,” Greg answered with a grin as broad as any of us have ever seen, and that answer made the locals smile even more. We immediately sensed the friendly and relaxed style of people in New Mexico.
However, as we go on, I notice lots of empty beer bottles in the bushes alongside the shoulder of the road. The bottles are quite large, too, something I have never seen in Asian countries. Maybe these are Mexican imports, sometimes known as “Caguama” or “Ballena” named after loggerhead sea turtles and whales in Spanish. They are almost 1 liter (32 US fl.oz) in capacity. Keeping my eyes always conscious of what’s around me, gradually, I get to detect there are also lots of empty whiskey bottles of many kinds. As I do not see any pedestrians in this area, my best guess is that people are throwing these bottles from their cars. Later I understand why, when Greg explains that most states have an “Open Container” law. This law prohibits alcoholic beverages being carried in a vehicle once opened. Passengers are legally not allowed to drink in a vehicle, nor can the (opened) container be transported. Many people “drink and dump.”
I have finished my daily running, with a covered daily distance of 42 miles (68 Kms). It is 4:30 p.m. here, by New Mexico time. As our body clocks are still based on Arizona time, therefore we feel like it is still 3:30 p.m. now, a relatively short day of running but one full of new joy. We have prepared three camping chairs on the grass, with a magnificent view of this vast and beautiful state.
“Cheers!” With our own favorite drinks, we clink glasses to each other’s health and happiness as well as that of the people of New Mexico. The TEAM is celebrating our new start in this new state.
This is our entry into “The Land of Enchantment.”
Hotel El Rancho
Sunday May 12, it’s Day 18 since starting out from Santa Monica, California.
I started running at 5:02 a.m. The early morning hours have slipped by, painlessly, joyfully, and almost unconsciously.
Today, I have one reason why I have felt so high. I am, at least temporarily, being reunited with a very special old friend very soon – my beloved Hotel El Rancho. This hotel holds magical memories for me and to be within the footprint of her powerful spell is a wonderful thing.
Route 66 approaches the west end of the town of Gallup. At 9 a.m., I can see the big tall sign of “El Rancho,” and its hotel building on the left side. Now, I feel like I have finally met a lady I have been thinking and yearning of for many years. “She is still so beautiful.”
Built in 1937, this elegant hotel has always been proud of its first-class facilities and amenities, and it has been attracting many rich and famous people for the past 80 years. In its early years, its magnificent view of New Mexico and Arizona became Hollywood’s favorite location for making those exciting Western films. The town of Gallup itself was developed successfully as a convenient base for movie industry people, as it was close to the most sought after movie locations, such as Monument Valley. The Hotel “El Rancho” was loved by many movie stars, and nowadays we can see many of their framed autographed black and white portraits on El Rancho’s wall.
While I was enjoying my early lunch in our RV, Greg and Nueng went into El Rancho’s building. They took photos of each other there.
On January 2, 2010 Nueng and I stayed in Room 105 at “El Rancho.” Room 105 was named as Kirk Douglas’s room. El Rancho has put movie stars’ names on each room. Over 100 Western films were filmed in and around Gallup during the 30s/40s, so alongside Kirk Douglas, other stars such as Ronald Reagan, Alan Ladd, Burt Lancaster and Humphrey Bogart were also past guests. As “manly” as cowboys might have been, Mae West, Katherine Hepburn and Jane Mansfield were among the many famous female stars that also stayed at “El Rancho” and filmed around the area.
This time I did not have time to go inside the building, because I, like the cowboys of old, on a mission, I had to keep heading on … in my case heading for New York. However, I am satisfied, just for being here again. I lay my forehead gently on one of the pillars of El Rancho’s building’s main entrance, and whispered softly, “I am finally back here with you.”
New Mexico’s I-40
Now, I have started running on I-40. Interstate-40 is a limited highway for vehicles only, with its relatively high speed limit, 75 miles per hour (120 kph). Many trailers, over 70-foot long, are passing by. I am running very carefully, inside the road-shoulder, which is only 10-feet (3-meter) wide. I feel like a fly battling an elephant. I am defeated by those trailers’ huge noise and the strong wind pressure and suction they create as they pass by. In my rear, Greg and Nueng are trying to protect me, driving ultra slowly in our RV, with its blinkers on all the time. The coming 11-mile run (18-Km) is going to be a tough one, not only for me, but also for Greg and Nueng. I just pray nothing bad happens to any of us. It’s scary but there is no practical alternative.
I have run I-40 quite a lot, both in California and Arizona. Although it is outside the normal definition of a “limited highway” use, ie running along it, I could do that, because Greg helped me to talk to all the local highway patrol departments and got their permission to run. This time, in my running across USA, I am tracing the entire Route 66, which was established in 1926, and was officially removed from the US highway system in 1985. However, some parts of Route 66 have been replaced by Interstate Highways, such as I-40. In that case, we are getting local highway department’ permission and I run on the Interstate Highway to replicate the original route.
Right after I started running on I-40 in New Mexico, I noticed something. My little running corridor, that 10-feet (3-meter) running space, the roadside shoulder, has lots of small rocks and damaged spots across its surface. I can feel the damage, the impact and pain in my feet, as I’m wearing very thin minimalist shoes, with a flat 6-mm (0.2-inch) sole. It’s very hard to take gentle steps on that rough broken surface. In New Mexico, as in the previous two states, many segments of Route 66 have been replaced by I-40. I will run around 370 miles (600 Kms) on I-40 during the next 10 days, I just hope and wish that the I-40’s surface would be more gentle on my feet later on. Ultimately what impacts my feet impacts “me.”
Then the rain came. And, now, each raindrop has become bigger and bigger. I am using two pairs of sunglasses during this USA cross run. One is for daytime use, with black lenses. The other one is for morning and evening, with transparent lenses. Now, as it is very dark outside, I have switched to the transparent ones. I’m not sure when it last rained in New Mexico, but today it sure is catching up for any recent shortage. The rain covers the lenses so heavily. I can’t see anything at all. I pass the sunglasses to Nueng. Now the rain flows straight into my eyes. As I am wearing contact lenses, I cannot open my eyes wide now. I can only squint and hope that nothing bad happens. Before this USA cross run, I tried to have a LASIK operation in Bangkok to improve my eyesight as preparation for the run. Unfortunately however, the doctor said that my eyesight was too weak to be helped by this operation. I am used to wearing my contact lenses, under many kinds of bad weather conditions so will just battle on.
Sometimes I just wish it were just one battle at a time, the road condition or the trucks or the weather. When you have no choice you have to choose what you’ve got and focus one step at a time. So I do.
Nature can be so generous with her lessons. Next her largesse was extended to thunder! For bad road conditions and bad visibility, I can manage them by paying extra attention. However, for thunder, just being careful is not enough. We need to run away from it, if it becomes too hard and too close! I have run many marathon races, and I have experienced running under thunder and lightening, too. But, as my experience with thunder and lightening is not enough, before I traveled to USA this time, I had learned about thunder and lightening through Google. There was one useful tip for avoiding danger from thunder and lightening. – “Inside vehicle is safest.” We have our RV, and if the thunder becomes worse, I can stop running and hide and rest in our RV till it passes a safe distance away. I can see the whole dark sky above me from a 360-degree perspective. Lightning streaks and thunder roars here and there. I know this does not mean much for me, but I have just put my GPS watch inside my pocket. I sneaked it away, so that the thunder may not notice I am still running here. I am just scared.
Now, the final natural lesson has come! A hailstorm!! In the beginning, those were just small and soft pieces of sleety rain. Being in New Mexico the thought of ice balls falling from the sky was vaguely amusing, at least when they were small. But, the next moment, I could hear the sound of those little soft flakes had become bigger, harder pieces, like pieces of dry hard corns, hitting the ground. Then, immediately, the I-40 has turned into pure white color. That is it! I’m done!
Now, I’m turning back, and getting into the RV. Greg and I have talked, and we have decided to park our RV in the nearest and safest spot on I-40, waiting for the weather to recover. I quickly changed my clothes, and I have put on my winter jacket to warm me up. The cold has really gotten through to me, not just my skin but even my insides feel chilled. Nueng has made her special hot ginger tea for me. We can hear the hailstones hitting our RV. It’s like we are a target on a golf driving range and someone is playing nasty. Nueng and Greg are video-recording the hailstones covering our RV’s windows.
It is Day 18 since I started running from Santa Monica. But, this is my first time to stop running because of the weather. It was just a 15-minute stop. 15 minutes out of 18 days is almost nothing. We have been lucky so far, however I will keep on running east carefully, more carefully than ever before.
A car with its New Mexico license plate stopped and asked me, “Are you all right? You wanna ride?”
I showed my appreciation and explained that I am running to New York. That amigo returned my smile with a huge one of his own and shook my very wet hand tightly, wishing me luck.
At 4:51 p.m., we have come up to the edge of Thoreau, a predominantly Navajo town, one of the Native Indian tribes. Today, I have run 74 Kms. It is still before 5 p.m. It’s been a day of contrasts, revisiting history, that of the Westerns as well as Nueng and mine, plus lots of lessons from life and nature about taking care of what you can and making sure the forced pauses are just that… it’s better to take a break than be broken. Those pieces of hailstone might have stopped me from running for fifteen minutes, however my high feeling has helped take me much further and faster than I could have hoped.
Running slow Route 66 all day
Wednesday May 13, Day 19.
I started running today at 5:01 A.M.
It is unusually dark and cold, here on Route 66, passing through Thoreau, with its elevation of more than 7,200 feet (2,200 meters). Google has taught me that the current temperature is 44 degrees F. (7 degrees C). Maybe it’s a combination of the altitude and wind factor but it feels more like below 0 degrees C (32 degrees F) to me. Yesterday afternoon I ran through a cold and tough storm that chilled me through to my core. Now so many hours later, I still have that feeling inside of me. Probably, another cold day is coming. I’m getting mentally prepared, I hope it’s unnecessary.
About an hour later the sun has started to rise and with it I can see we are starting to have a beautiful morning. Greg and I are enjoying running together on this stretch of the route, through New Mexico’s high desert area. Now, on this quiet part and more slowly moving Route 66, Nueng can comfortably operate our RV, still heading east. Neung drives a little ahead of us as Greg and I are running together and then pulls over and waits for us every three miles. Compared to running on I-40 with all its fast moving trucks and difficult roadside shoulder, this really is a pleasure to both run and drive on. And, while she stops, and waits for us to catch up, Nueng stays busy making coffee or preparing food. Along the roadside, we can find lots of beautiful alpine plants, reflecting the high region we are running through, a desert in the high hills! Some have prolific “look at me” gorgeous flowers, while others have tiny cute flowers, dancing gracefully in the gentle wind. Nueng loves nature, animals, plants and places, and is busy taking photos of the rich variety of trees and flowers.
Most the route I run alone, this way when Greg joins me I get an added kick from enthusiastic companionship, and when he shares the driving with Nueng, she doesn’t have to worry about the unfamiliarity of the route, vehicle or driving on “the other side of the road” vs. her (and my) country. When the road is not complicated, which is in most cases, I ask Greg and Nueng to go ahead and meet me in 3 miles time (4.8 Kms). And, we repeat the pattern, again and often again. Having said that, we aren’t robots! We always discuss our plan and decide our pattern flexibly, considering the situation and upcoming environment. Anyway, I ask them to go ahead a couple of miles and wait for me there. By doing this, Greg and Nueng can take a little rest, while they are waiting for me. If I ask them to drive just behind or just ahead of me all the time, they need to drive and watch me all the time. That takes so much concentration. It detracts from general road safety and would add an extra stress that is too much for them. Surprisingly it can also waste lots of gas of the RV. Something we are very careful to conserve both for financial and caring for the planet reasons.
When they park the RV, we gather around and talk to each other…
“K, are you all right?”
“Do you wanna eat or drink somethin’?”
“Do you need to change your shoes or clothes?”
Then, I answer…
“I am good. Thanks! See you in another two miles!”
“So good! 4 miles!”
“1 mile more, then can you give me some hot coffee, please?”
“In 3 miles, I will take a 10-minute break. I really want that almond cereal, I can almost taste the crunch already.”
“In 5 miles, we will be at the finish point of this morning’s run, right? Then, see you in 5 miles, and can you start to find a good spot for parking our RV, please?”
Occasionally, during these short breaks, I also ask Greg and Nueng, “Are you all right?”
However, I must admit, in most of cases, Greg and Nueng are the ones, who ask this question to me. “My crew” are my wife and “best buddy.” They really know how to keep spirits high and make any tension disappear before it even arises. I’m luckier than my mind is always conscious of, though I think my heart and body knows, mainly moving forward with little resistance despite the effort.
In this way, we make communication. When we cannot talk verbally for some reason, like when the vehicle is passing me or vice-versa so we can “talk”, we use gestures as our language, too. For example, when I hold up three of my fingers, that means “See you in three miles!”
Anyway, we communicate like this, at least 50 times a day.
In the afternoon, I have run 15 miles (24.2 Kms), and we have arrived at a little town called “McCartys Village.” The town is so small, the population temporarily expanded almost 10% with Nueng, Greg and I visiting!
Today’s total distance run has become 45 miles (71.7 Kms). A good day’s running. No significant injuries and we are all feeling good.
Thursday, May 14.
It’s Day 20! If I can run across the USA within the 80 days as planned, today will make 25% of our whole journey in terms of the number of running days. We will be a quarter there. Now that’s a big milestone!
I am doing what I want to do. How many people can honestly say that? That’s why I have never thought of wanting to quit running on this adventure or even to finish this as soon as possible. Each step is a blessing. A gift from my body and mind back to me. As conscious as I am of my own inner-peace, I have to also be aware however, that Greg and Nueng might have different thoughts and feelings. I have been asking so much from them. They with their good spirits, good hearts and wise ways, smile, help, and push on.
Every morning, we three place our hands together, and then throw them up high in the air, saying “Boon!” This is our morning ceremony, wishing our safety today, and appreciating we have come to this current point. After this ceremony, we share our schedule and our highlights of the day ahead. In this way, we elevate our mood, draw our team spirit closer, and draw attention to any issues that might need addressing.
This morning, after our morning “Boon,” I shared this information. “Today is Day 20. It is 25% of 80 days! We are a quarter the way there!”
Greg smiled, thinking of our past 20 days and the upcoming 60 days.
At 5:02 a.m., I made my first step towards the east. In our RV, Greg had just explained our running route for the day, as he always does before I set out.
“K-san, today, you will run Route 66 for 18 miles (30 Kms) from here. The following 25 miles (40 Kms), you will run on I-40. And, at the 43-mile (70-Km) point, our daily finish will be the Route 66 Casino. We are gonna park our RV there tonight.”
I keep on running quietly, slowly and steadily along Route 66, each step facing east, each step getting closer to the eastern states. Today, my daily running route is very simple, without having to make any complicated turns. – “Just keep running east.”
In the case when we have complicated points, twists and turns or temporary rerouting from one road to another, Greg usually draws a map on a tiny slip of paper and I bring it along with me. In these past 20 days, I do not know how many pieces of those hand-drawn maps I have gotten from him. Thanks to those memos, from Santa Monica to here, for 800 miles (1,300 Kms), I seldom have lost my way. The three of us are still together. We are on-route and on-target.
In this way, I am running with Greg’s full support. I don’t need to carry a smart phone to check my route and location, though I do keep a micro-compact phone tucked away in case of any emergency. I can concentrate on running, and I can keep on going without thinking or worrying too much about directions. I feel light, both physically and mentally. However, I do wear a SUUNTO GPS watch all the time when I am running. This is just for knowing the current time and distance and for keeping the daily distance, route and pace records.
Greg and Nueng drive our RV on the right side of the road, while most the time I run on the left side of the road to be able to see oncoming traffic. If I run on the right side, it would be difficult and dangerous. I would need to pay attention all the time to what is happening behind me, where the vehicles are coming from. That is why I run on the left side, where I can easily watch the cars coming from ahead of me and if need be move deeper into the shoulder. However, when I run on the Interstate Highway, that is an exceptional case. All the time, I must keep to the right hand side, inside the road shoulder. Plus, I must be followed by the RV. These are the two necessary conditions for us to get the local highway patrol department’s permission to run along the Interstate Highway.
For now, I slowly keep on running along the left shoulder of Route 66. Greg and I exchange words frequently, deciding in how many miles more we will meet again, at our next stop.
I have run more than 18 miles (30 Kms) in the morning. It is still only 9:30 a.m. If I can keep up this pace, I will finish my morning 26-mile run (42-Km run) before 11:00 a.m. “Then, I can arrive at Route 66 Casino, at least before 4 p.m.”
I can’t remember how long it is since we last stopped and I had a chance to catch up and chat with Greg and Nueng. This morning I have run so comfortably on this simple straight road, I am not concerned at all and I just keep on running.
My consciousness, normally focused on my steps or sometimes on past real or current spiritual ones with my running masters, is jolted by a vibration from within my running shorts, followed by me hearing my cell phone ringing. Greg is the only one, who calls this number.
“K-san, where you are?”
I am not familiar with my current location. The area I’m running through is not a big city, or even a small town. There are no clear signs or significant landmarks. All I can see is hills, grass, trees and more of them. Pretty, but a pretty useless place to get lost.
Now, we both stop where we respectively are, and we try to stay cool.
“Greg-san, I am so sorry. I have gone too far, without checking your location and mine.”
I ask Greg to give me a few minutes and I will try to find a house or store, anything or anyone that can tell me where I am. Finally I find a house. The owner looked a bit surprised to see someone unaccompanied, no car, with shorts, a vest and minimal shoes on running there. After explaining the situation the New Mexican warmth came out and with it the requisite information. I give the information to Greg. He checked out my location, using his smartphone.
“Ah… K-san, you are up north, somehow, somewhere you turned off Route 66! “
It looks like I have been running alone, unconsciously, for more than one hour, over 6 miles (10 Kms), without meeting Greg and Nueng. Weird but it felt good and natural at the time.
Greg is so mature that he keeps his calm, and he tries not to get upset by my mistakes. He knows if he does that, it will effect my running emotionally, and eventually physically. He is managing this loss of time and break in his careful planning with maturity and positivity.
It was my careless mistake. I was running on the left side of Route 66 for 15 miles (25 Kms), and I did not notice that I turned off into State Road 279, which goes up north. I am sure I ran into 279, thinking I was still on Route 66. Also, I was thinking about our planned holiday, tomorrow in Albuquerque. When I am off-guard, thinking of something else, this kind of mistake will happen. I try to keep up my own positivity, and don’t let a problem become a disaster either to my mind or our relationships. I keep telling myself, “It’s still good that it was not an accident, at least. Lesson learned… when running, I will keep focusing on each step and only on each step.”
So now I am focused only on my movement, only one step at a time, heading east. Finally, out of the corner of my eye, on my right side, I see a huge sign for Route 66 Casino and its surrounding buildings. 44 miles (71 Kms) is my daily running total for today. And, the time is still 4:33 p.m. Even with my little route error we have made good time.
The first thing we did was to take a shower at the truck stop inside the mega-casino complex. We paid nine dollars each for a shower and towel. It was worth it!
Actually, we have a good shower system in our first-class RV. However, as good as the RV’s shower is, there is a natural limitation in the size of the water tank for clean water. Greg and Nueng have very considerately always been taking a quick shower to save enough water for me. Tonight, my wish is that Greg and Nueng will be able to indulge in a long hot shower, washing away all of their fatigue of the past 20 days. The three of us can do more than just wash away the daily dirt, but also warm us up the center of our cores with life-giving hot water. Although it’s a shower, the luxury of being able to enjoy as much hot water for as long as you want takes me back in my mind to being in an “onsen”, a Japanese hot spring, where guests scrub themselves scrupulously clean before entering the hot spring pool. The pool itself is an escape, typically surrounded by rocks, cascading water, bamboo, perhaps, native plants, the little things that help our minds escape the daily grind and enter the eternally beautiful. There is an expression in Japanese “inochi no sentaku” roughly translated as “washing your life” but really meaning bringing some deep relaxation or refreshment to your life. Tonight’s shower has been like that for all three of us.
Now, we are hanging around inside this huge casino. None of us are gamblers, though the whirl of the machines and the calls of the croupiers bring some entertainment after the quiet and solitude of the long and often quiet road. Better yet, we have found a stylish Mexican Restaurant, where the waiters are making fresh guacamole, in front of us, based on each table’s customers’ requests and individual tastes. I’ve mentioned before that Greg is a man of many talents but none of these casino guacamoles can be compared with Greg’s. Once again he is No. 1, with the world’s best RV home-made guacamole, but we all had to admit that the restaurant’s was delicious enough to celebrate our New Mexican night!
Holiday in Albuquerque
Friday, May 15, Day 21.
Today, it’s our planned holiday, not just a break but a whole day!
“Holiday” is a funny term for what we do when we have a day “off.” It doesn’t mean that the three of us relax ourselves in some gorgeous resort hotel, lying around the pool drinking cocktails, or even visiting the local attractions, as attractive as they surely are. And it certainly doesn’t mean “doing nothing.” It just means that I’m not physically out on the road running. All the other parts of our life will be busy today, or busier in the “multi-tasking” sense, trying to do all the other things that we can’t do on our running days. The reason why we have decided to have our holiday here is that Albuquerque is a big city, where there are lots of businesses, and we can do many things here that can’t be done elsewhere. In fact Albuquerque is the biggest city in New Mexico, with a population of 480,000. In contrast this state’s capital, Santa Fe, is only about one tenth the size with a population of 62,000 people.
Last night, we talked what we should do on this holiday. Lots of things came up, but we settled on three “must dos”. The first thing is buying groceries. Supplies get depleted quickly and we love eating, fresh, healthy and delicious! Not yet critical, but possibly so in the future, I wanted to buy some more minimalist running shoes. And, Greg’s had a special request that would not only help us feel better prepared to keep on running but also to appreciate that we had enjoyed a day’s holiday, it was one we all thought vital to the day’s list – to go eat sushi!
In the last Chapter “Arizona,” I have written about Ryuhei-san, who will go on to give me the most precious lesson in my life, after I finish this USA cross run. While I’m running, he has still been encouraging me, periodically, by emails. He seems to sense what I need to absorb, and even when… I have been amazed at his very short but meaningful messages. A few days back he sends me a perfectly practical and totally timely message “In Albuquerque, you can find SPROUTS, an organic grocery store, it’s here at this link. You may need good food. I always wish your success.”
I just wonder, “How can he know what I would want?” Recalling my memory of our email conversation, I notice that our RV in fact has just arrived at SPROUTS! SPROUTS is a chain grocery supermarket store, with its headquarters in Phoenix, Arizona. Many, MANY, kinds of fresh food are available there. While Greg is from the USA, Nueng my wife is Thai and my home country is Japan… of course we have supermarkets in both Thailand and Japan, however we don’t have anything like SPROUTS or TRADER JOE’S. We are especially amazed at their high quality organic vegetables and fruits, with their naturally beautiful and vivid colors, like sparkling green spinach, crimson red peppers, golden yellow watermelons. Just to look at them is a feast! We are also amazed at the large and great selection of various kinds of packaged foods, too. Considering their extremely high quality, the price is not expensive at all, and it is not prohibitive to go to this kind of quality supermarket. This makes cooking in our RV easy and fun. All three of us love cooking and eating, so it isn’t a duty to procure necessary groceries for our travel, but another part of the adventure with exciting discoveries and treasures on every plate and forkful. Even the shopping, at this wonderful supermarket is an exciting venture. Each of us has selected and purchased our favorite deli items, and now we are enjoying them in SPROUTS’s parking lot.
While I was still munching my crispy vegan turkey hot sandwich, with a hot decaf coffee, Greg helped us to start up our RV slowly. Greg also enjoyed his hot minestrone, and now he’s sipping hot Guatemala coffee behind the wheel. After her main dish, a warm SPROUTS’s club sandwich with chips, Nueng is now enjoying her hot organic earl grey tea, with creamer and sugarcane sugar. We are all feeling very relaxed, refreshed and satisfied, without feeling bloated.
After driving about 10 miles, we arrive at “Bosque Running Shop.”
In preparation for my Trans-USA crossing run I had prepared, and brought with us, ten pairs of minimalist shoes of four different kinds. Five pairs of Vibram’s FiveFinger shoes, two pairs of Kineya’s Muteki, two pairs of Vivobarefoot’s trail shoes, and one pair of handmade running sandals from my best friend, Mario-san, Professor of anthropology at Kyoto University. All of these are precious sponsorship items or gift from very generous sponsors and friend. I had guessed these ten pairs would be plenty enough for me to run from Santa Monica to New York, however now I want to buy one or two more pairs of minimalist trail shoes, because so far, after running 800 miles, (1,300 Kms), I’ve found the surface of the road, particularly the shoulder of the highway, is quite rough, and Vivobarefoot’s minimalist trail shoes have helped me out a lot in the tougher conditions.
So with the thought that it is time for me to prepare a third pair of minimalist trail shoes we visited “Bosque”. Entering the store, I could see the same guy, whom I had seen on the shop’s website, the owner, Likhaya Dayile, and he welcomed the three of us with his great big smile. Likhaya, originally from South Africa, used to be a professional runner, as well as race director, and is extremely knowledgeable about running, also, very importantly; he has the right manner to talk to people. Unfortunately I couldn’t find those minimalist trail shoes, however I did find and bought some unique running items, which I have never seen in Thailand. Once Likhaya knew that I am running across USA, and was deliberately stopping by at his shop, he became much happier, showing his even bigger smile. He gave each of us his shop’s coolly designed t-shirts, as gifts of encouragement. We got his autograph on a New Mexico’s Route 66 metal traffic plate, and we had our photo taken together. By the way, his shop was selected as one of America’s Best 50 Running Shops last year. If you are ever in New Mexico… check it out and please say “hi” from the three of us.
Now, our RV is cruising along Route 66, going through downtown Albuquerque. Tomorrow, I am going to be back here running this part of the route. Greg has found SUSHI HANA, by searching on Google. He has a good sense to detect good eating spots, by reading various information sources, reviews etc on the Internet. We have parked our RV in a public parking lot, next to this Japanese restaurant. The parking fee was just one dollar, pretty reasonable for a city spot. I can sense “oriental” from the restaurant signage and interior design. The manager and staffs however look Chinese, though I’m not sure where they’re originally from. Greg has ordered his sushi, which he has been dreaming of for the past three weeks. Now, he is happily enjoying those American style big sushi rolls, with lots of avocado, fried shrimp, mayonnaise, dipping soy sauce and wasabi. Nueng has ordered “bento,” a lunch box, containing lots of small portions of various Japanese dishes. I, a vegan, have ordered three kinds of sushi – kappa maki (cucumber rolls), natto maki (fermented soybeans roll) and kampyou maki (dried gourd rolls). We’re on holiday and a good meal is a great way to end the day, especially among three close friends. We’ve all enjoyed this peaceful and relaxed dinner, indeed we all enjoyed our holiday.
We have managed to do a lot today while staying relaxed. A huge thing, I could stop running for one whole day. Now the day is over though I just wonder if Greg and Nueng could take a good enough rest or not. I really hope so. Not just because they need and deserve it. Not just because I love them. I couldn’t be doing this without them and know that each of us has to keep things running to keep on running. The next holiday, our third planned holiday, will be at Carthage, Missouri, where we will meet Mr. Ron Hart, Chairman of Route 66 Chamber of Commerce, who is one of the project members of our USA cross run. I’m really looking forward to that. But, it is on June 5, 24 days from now, 1,000 miles (1,610 Kms) east from here. I know you will probably be wondering, “How can you run 44 miles (70 Kms) everyday, 24 days straight, without rest days?” I will write more about this point in some chapter in the future.
Running through Albuquerque
Saturday, May 16, Day 22.
Back from yesterday’s one day holiday, our daily routine has restarted. Waking up at 4 a.m., going to the bathroom, washing our faces, brushing teeth, choosing and wearing the most suitable clothes for a 5 a.m. start, enjoying breakfast, and talking with Greg about today’s route and planned schedule. Now, with three weeks under our belts, we are doing much better at all of these.
I’m ready to head out and am making a 5:02 a.m. start right now.
Today my main dish is Albuquerque.
You might think I’m trying to make meal of it, but Albuquerque isn’t just a good-sized city but it’s one that stretches. The total metropolitan area is almost 400 square miles with a population just short of a million people. It’s a high altitude city surrounded by walls and then surrounded again by hills and mountains as you get further out. It’s a beautiful place that’s going to take some physical effort to both enter and leave.
Right now, here at Route 66 Casino, I’m standing at an elevation of 5,250 feet (1,600 meters). I’m at the outskirts of the city, still to enter the walls and run through it.
Now, I will run up to the highest point of the west wall of the Albuquerque basin, this is at an elevation of 5,930 feet (1,807 meters). Then, I will run down to the bottom of the basin, to downtown Albuquerque, itself still highly elevated at 5,085 feet above sea level (1,550 meters). To exit, I will run up to the east wall of this town, and finally leave this beautiful big city, stretching across the Rio Grande basin. It is going to be quite an exciting course.
I have run up to the top of the steep west wall. It was just an 8-Km run, however it took me one and a half hours to get there. Running at altitude and uphill, in the cold at 5 a.m., is not easy! From the top of the west wall, I can see the most incredible view in the early morning sunshine – Albuquerque.
I start descending the west wall heading into downtown Albuquerque. A stone monument has caught my attention, as if it were calling to me, “Come, Runner. Take a break, and read me.”
The monument is no Greek Siren, and I fear no harm in listening to its seductive voice. I take that break and read the inscription on the monument…
“Albuquerque was founded in 1706 as the Spanish colonial outpost of Villa de Alburquerque…”
As the United States of America was established with the Declaration of Independence in 1776, this town had already been there 70 years.
It is just 9 a.m., and my SUUNTO’s GPS tells me my distance run so far this morning is now 16 miles (26 Kms). I am now running on the iron bridge that crosses the Rio Grande. In the middle of the bridge, looking below and watching the brown river water flow past fast, the heavens suddenly open up and the water is now pouring from above me, too. Heavy, heavy rain is raining me on. Feeling relaxed and at one with nature and the local history and unique architecture, I didn’t mind it at all. Most mornings I run the equivalent of a full marathon before taking a break, so today I imagine I am on and loving my very own private Albuquerque Marathon Race, running its fascinating course with an exciting route, beautiful scenery, deep history and lots of unique attractions of my beloved Route 66, too.
Cold heavy rain makes for poor visibility, however I could never miss my favorite motel on Route 66, the famous “El Vado” and its magnificent sign. Famous for 80 years and now being refurbished, I stopped and greeted this old friend, patting my soaked gloved hand on El Vado’s fence as runners might brush fingertips as they pass each other. After a few minutes, I caught sight of SUSHI HANA where we ate last night, and after one block more, the 90 year old KIMO Theatre, the Albuquerque landmark with its beautiful modern-pueblo style architecture, was there to give us encouragement, just like a bunch of enthusiastic spectators or an aid-station does on a marathon race. I felt fired up!
Now, my wet but trusty partner, my SUUNTO’s GPS watch tells me that we have finished this “private Albuquerque Marathon Race.” It is 11:13 a.m., with 26 miles run (43 kms). It’s time for a break and time for lunch, too.
After our lunch break, at 12:50 p.m., I step out of our RV into rainy Albuquerque again. This afternoon’s highlight is going to be climbing up and down the east wall of this town, running more on the outstretched Route 66, heading out east.
Despite my soaking wet and heavy clothes, I actually feel very light, and can fly up to the top of Albuquerque’s east wall, 7,067 feet high (2,154 meters). My “Montane” black color water-proof long pants, a UK outdoor goods brand, has been working perfectly to stop the water coming inside the pants, while my very expensive red-colored water-proof jacket from a much more famous outdoor goods maker has me soaked five minutes after putting it on. Anyway, from past experience, I know waterproof jackets usually don’t live up to their claims, despite their high price, therefore I was so surprised and happy at the quality and performance of Montane’s water-proof pants. To raise my positive feelings, rather than bring my spirit down, I focus my attention on the success of the pants rather than the trouble with the jacket.
The highest point, on my USA crossing, so far, has been 7,415 feet (2,260 meters) in Flagstaff, Arizona. Now, we are almost close to that elevation again here, 7,067 feet high (2,154 meters). At the peak, now leaving Albuquerque, I turned around with gratitude and called out, “Thanks, Albuquerque, for hosting us.”
‘The east wall of Albuquerque’ is actually the southern edge of The Rocky Mountains, which runs all the way from its northern edge in British Columbia, Canada, 3,000-miles (4,800-Km) up north from here.
Now, I am descending this east wall, and running along State Road 333, under whose asphalt, the original Route 66 is resting. That cold rain is still pouring on this quiet stretch of 333. I hope the old route 66 feels the 333 is giving it some water-proofing though, better than my red jacket!
It is 4:26 p.m. now, I’ve finished today’s run of 44 miles (71KM).
That pain in my feet
Sunday, May 17, Day 23.
It feels like our routine really is getting sharper and sharper. Today I was out of the RV, ready and my first step, one foot in front of the other, running at 5 a.m. sharp. Today, I will just run along I-40 East.
Because all of today’s running is on I-40, the super fast highway, I thought Greg wouldn’t be able to run at all today, needing to drive our RV behind me, on the narrow dangerous shoulder of the Highway. Sometimes however, Nueng helps Greg operate our monster 30-foot long RV. Then, Greg comes out of our RV, pacing me, each time running around 3 miles (around 5 Kms) together. We have done it a couple of times before today.
The view is amazing. We can see the horizon, with a panoramic 360 degrees view. In the more material world people are started to get excited by “Virtual Reality” and the 360 perspectives it offers. Here it’s not virtual, it’s totally real! The land and as far as we can see in every direction is flat, completely flat. The wide-open horizons seem to open up the earth wider to us, too, as though we are feeling more of it, more of its greatness with each footfall. Running together, Greg and I are talking about many subjects, too. About running, life, family, and friendship among others … though sometimes, we say nothing, just listening to the sound of nature, the sound of our earth, feeling like we are flying with a gentle wind following and uplifting us.
In one form or another I guess I’ve been running for several decades, though more seriously in taking part in events for the past 20 years. Living and moving to many countries either with work, or visiting friends and exploring new places has given me the chance to run in some really interesting locations, uphill, downhill, across beaches, through rivers, on the road, through woods, cross-country, through trails, as well as tracks, roads and highways. Although each run is superficially the same, one foot in front of the other, even running alone, each can be made very different by the environment you find or choose to run in. I have always wanted to run on what I like to imagine or at least call in my head “the super-plane” … a totally flat surface offering 360-degree views to the horizon in all directions. Compared to my relatively small and mountainous Japan, the USA is huge and has magical places that contain “super-planes”. To be able to make this running dream come true is one of the reasons and huge motivators for me to want to run across the USA. It’s happening right now!
Of course everyone has his or her own point of view. One runner I know told me “Flat is boring”. He defines himself as a trail runner. He means flat road running is boring. To some extent he is right in that “monotony” is boring. Who would choose running on a treadmill all day say vs. running through trees, across streams, feeling the leaves underfoot and hearing birdsong rather than a motor whirring. But, running on and through this totally flat and vast desert, feeling our mother earth, I say to myself, “Maybe, he does not know “the real flat.” This is anew and unique experience on my feet, on my body, on my eyes and on my soul. There is no monotony here.
To be honest, I really don’t distinguish trail running from road running. For me, running on trails and running on the road are just the same, they are both running. And running is wonderful! Sometimes I hear this argument made between trail-runners and road-runners as though they are different in some fundamental and incompatible way. But, running in this huge nature, I just feel those points of view are something too small to be concerned with. I love how running can unite people rather than divide them.
In the morning, I finish running at the 24 miles (39 Kms) point, without any problem, as usual. Life is feeling rather good and the day has gotten off to a great start.
However, in the afternoon, not long after setting out again, it feels like a yellow light has suddenly turned on behind my eyes. That pain in my feet has come back. I have had this uncomfortable feeling in my feet, which occasionally appears in my left foot and occasionally in my right foot, since starting out at Santa Monica. As I have written before about the road surface of I-40’s road shoulder in New Mexico, it is really rough. I am not a running master, someone whose feet seem at most to kiss the earth, if ever touch it, therefore I am not able to fully manage the impact I’m getting from this kind of rough ground. This impact is especially felt as I am wearing very thin minimalist shoes. Each time when I step on something hard, or penetrating, I cry out loud alone in the middle of the desert. At most Greg and Nueng might be able to see me flinch or slow down lightly but this pain is not for sharing, I just want it to go away.
There are 56 bones inside each of our feet. As we have 206 bones in our whole body, 27% of our bones are inside our relatively tiny feet. Our feet are really one of the most complicated and sensitive parts of our bodies. A long time ago, Leonardo da Vinci used to say, “The human foot is a masterpiece of engineering and a work of art.” We should look after and love our feet.
I’m sure that I have misused my masterpiece of engineering and work of art in rough ways. I have become afraid that my feet will be broken into pieces like a pair of shoes made of glass, if I keep on running even one more step. I know I have run only 13 miles (21 Kms) this afternoon, while I usually run 17 miles (28 Kms) after lunch. It can’t be helped but I have decided to give up running for today. It’s now 3:30 p.m. Today’s total distance run is only 37 miles (60 Kms), 6 miles (10 Kms) short of my usual run and target. Despite having another ultra today, I really feel bad about not making the planned distance.
A little earlier we found a travel center, a big gas station, called Clines Corners, four miles west of our finishing point. So, now, we are heading back west on I-40 in our RV. We will stay overnight in the RV, parking at this big truck stop.
Well … I have again that very heavy depressed feeling I mentioned a couple of weeks back. I feel like I have been picked up by that marathon race’s sweeper truck. The one that makes you feel “DNF” (Did Not Finish) in other words, a failure. 37 miles (60 Kms) today, was my limit. On May 2, right after I started running in Arizona, I was defeated by the dangerous heat and a steep hill climb, that day I also could only run 37 mils (60 Kms). It has been half a month since then, which I guess means I have done well in the past 14 days. However, it is just Day 23, today, and if this happens frequently, I’m sure I cannot run across the country in 80 days. Thinking about it, I have more than a defeated feeling. Now, I have a really worried feeling. “Can I run again, after only eight hours from now?” I touch my feet frequently, partly to ease the pain, partly to remind them I do care despite dragging them across this huge continent.
Monday, May 18, Day 24. Today it’s Nueng’s birthday.
Despite being a special morning, Nueng again had no choice but to wake up the same time as Greg and I, at 4 a.m., even though she had hinted she would love to stay in our warm RV bed a little bit longer. If somebody asks us, “What is the most difficult part of this journey?” we will all answer, “4 a.m.”. This way at least Nueng can enjoy her birthday for longer! We need to think positive.
This morning, we were especially busy. We needed to drive our RV for 4 miles (6.4 Kms), moving the start point from Clines Corners, back to where I had finished yesterday’s run, further east. We try our best to keep our 5 a.m. start. It’s not always very easy to do however. Each day circumstances change at least a little bit, so even a fixed routine has to be a little flexible. To get the RV up and running and then parked back at yesterday’s finish point takes us roughly 15 minutes and I manage to take my first running steps at 5:12 a.m. We, the TEAM, have really done great.
Yesterday, I had that uncomfortable feeling in my right foot, specifically in the metatarsal bones. I was completely done in for when I got to 37 miles (60 Kms). I immediately stopped running for the day. Yes, yesterday, I lost 6 miles (10 Kms) against my daily planned distance of 43 miles (70 Kms). But, I was still lucky, because the pain occurred close to the end of my daily running, and I could still manage to run 37 miles (60 Kms). If that happens again however, from the beginning of today’s run for example, I will only be able to cover a very short distance. If I can’t run today at all, I will lose 43 miles (70 Kms). And, if I then feel the pain again tomorrow, I will lose another 43 miles (70 kms), and the accumulated total loss will be 92 miles (150 Kms), which would be very difficult to make up in the coming 50 days.
Metatarsal bones are very sensitive parts. I am sure the impact from the ground has been piling up inside of my feet. Right now, I feel that uncomfortable pain in my right foot. But, sometimes it disappears, and the other time it hops across into my left foot. My feet are not relying on layers of shock absorbent material; I am wearing very thin minimalist shoes. Instead of depending on shoe cushions, I am trying to make the best use of my inner natural cushion function, the inherent springiness in the foot and its arch. This natural function has been working perfectly for my joints, such as knees. Even after 23 days, covering 930 miles (1,500 Kms), I haven’t felt any pain in my joints at all. Now I have started to have a niggling doubt, “ Perhaps Natural Running technique may not be able to support my foot fully.”
I am moving carefully, placing my feet extremely gently on the ground, testing them out, hoping against hope that they are ok. Fortunately, my feet are not crying. It looks like my body is actually giving me another chance to run correctly. Thank you!
At 9 a.m., I’m starting to miss my favorite crunchy almond granola cereal with almond milk and satisfying my desire with a large bowl. I really wish I could be this generous to myself with almond milk all the time, as it is very expensive back home in Thailand.
“Nueng, and K-san, I need a minute,” says Greg, who is walking towards us bringing two pieces of cake with him.
“That’s a birthday cake!” Nueng and I shout together, and we could see two pieces of cinnamon rolls, one for each of us. Nueng’s has a ripe red strawberry on it, and Greg has lit a match and put it in Neung’s birthday roll.
“It was difficult to keep these hidden until now,” Greg says with a shy boyish grin. Greg says he sneak purchased the cinnamon rolls at Clines Corners last night. Our RV is very comfortable with enough space for the three of us, however Nueng and I can easily imagine how difficult it must have been for Greg to keep those two birthday cakes inside our RV, hidden away from us, until now. Nueng and I are really touched by Greg’s kindness for doing this, while he has so many things to do for us each and every day. Recalling the memory of these 24 days, Nueng is enjoying her special birthday cake, and moved by deep emotions … I can see her eyes are wetter than usual.
At 12:30 p.m., my GPS watch showed 25 miles (42 Kms). Usually, I take a one and a half hour lunch break. However, as I have refueled myself frequently with the right amount of food and drink this morning, I just switched my shirt, and start my afternoon run.
I could run 43 miles (70 Kms) today. I put my right foot, today’s last step, gently on I-40. It is 5:40 p.m. It has taken me 12 hours and 28 minutes, as I was moving extremely carefully. I could finish this without any pain. This is such a great achievement.
Now, I have hopped into our warm RV, and we are heading for La Loma Lodge & RV Park, in Santa Rosa. Greg has found and booked this RV park, using the Internet and phone. Now, Greg is helping us to check-in and park our RV at our reserved spot. A nice touch of luxury, we could take a shower inside one of their motel rooms, while we were waiting for our clothes to finish washing in their coin laundry.
In Santa Rosa, there is one of my favorite Route 66 diners, “Joseph’s”. Today, while I was running, I had three wishes in mind; I was wishing that I could run 43 miles (70 Kms) without pain, I wished that we could celebrate Nueng’s birthday in Santa Rosa, and if possible at Joseph’s. In 2010, when Nueng and I traveled the entire Route 66 by car, we had dinner at Joseph’s, and at our vegan café in Bangkok we are using Joseph’s beer mugs to serve our beer to our customers. Surprisingly, while Greg parked our RV at our spot, from RV ‘s bedroom window, I could see Joseph’s building is just right in front of us.
More surprisingly, Greg has searched and found a great pizza place in Google, for Nueng‘s birthday dinner, and that happens to be the sports bar section of Joseph’s! We three sat together, with Neung in the middle, and we each ordered our favorite style pizza. We celebrate Nueng’s birthday, with real beer for Greg and Route 66 root beer for Neung and myself.
Tuesday, May 19, Day 25.
Morning has come around, and once again we need to drive our RV back to our start point, where we finished yesterday’s run. This time it’s quite a long trip, 16 miles (26 km) which takes us 20 minutes in the RV. I glance down at my watch, I can start running at 5:21 a.m.
I haven’t checked the current temperature, however what I know, I shout, “It is COLD!” It isn’t snowing now, but I can see some frozen snow on the shoulder of the I-40, my running strip. Now, I am running this segment of Interstate-40 for the next 7 miles (12 Kms). Then, I will get off I-40, and will run into Route 66.
Route 66 runs through downtown Santa Rosa for around 2.5 miles (4 Kms). Slowly I run past La Loma RV Park and Joseph’s, where we celebrated Nueng’s birthday last night. I am heading east, and now here in front of me, I can see Route 66 is making a sharp steep turn. In the middle of the steep turn, on the right hand side, I see a big metal sign indicating the entrance to I-40 East. Next to it, as always, there is a notice sign warning, “No pedestrians. No bicycles.” Then, as always, my bad sense of humor jokes with me, “Good. At least runners aren’t prohibited.”
Now, Greg and Neung are at a supermarket, and I am alone and to be honest a bit scared, standing here in front of this huge highway entrance. That bad joke did not make me smile after all. Now, I need to enter the highway alone. I know I look so weird, running on the huge loop-shaped entrance of this super highway as the cars whizz by. In this kind of situation, I need to exude confidence, that I’m the right person in the right place or at least pretend that I am doing something right. I shouldn’t look like I am doing something sneaky. Well… whether I look sneaky or not, surely I must look a bit suspicious. I have driven in 48 states of this country, however up till now I have never seen any weird kind of runner on the Interstate. Is it weird to recognize you must look weird or is it a sign of sanity? Anyway, I have to carry on.
(Remark : In New Mexico, when we got permission to run on I-40, we did not get strict instructions that our RV should run behind me ALL of the time. Though basically, for safety, our RV was following me from behind in this state, too. However, sometimes we needed a tiny bit of flexibility in how we did this.)
Based on our plan, today, at the 42km point, which means at our lunch break, we will arrive at a town, called Cuervo. Then, from Cuervo, I can start running more slowly and relaxed along the much more peaceful Route 66. However, right after I started running on I-40, Greg called me on my cellular phone, “Hey, K-san, have you seen the road construction part yet? It’s a really long one. Lasts maybe around 10 miles (16 Kms).”
Right after I hang up, I could immediately experience what Greg meant. Yes, it is a huge construction work. Now, I-40 East has only one lane, and there is not enough space on the road shoulder for our RV to go. That means the RV cannot follow me slowly, at my running pace, from behind on the shoulder, but they need to go ahead of me for the next 10 miles (16 Kms). So, here I am running without the protection of the RV, and with a very narrow space of road shoulder to run on. Anyway, I find just enough space for me to manage to run. I am scared though. Not because I feel the danger of the traffic passing so closely by, but because I feel so alone. Running on the shoulder is hard enough already, but when it is so narrow there is almost no choice of where your foot lands. No matter what kind of surface, if I can keep on going, that is good enough for me. I am wearing a pair of minimalist shoes, Vibram’s Bikila EVO, with their 6 mm (0.2 inch) soles. It is very difficult to keep on taking good steps. Every time, when I step on something hard or broken, I shout out loud, alone.
At the 17 miles (28 Kms) point from this morning’s start, I couldn’t bear the pain in my feet any more. I have stepped on too many things. Uneven things, hard things, broken things. It wasn’t comfortable, but I needed a break so I sat down next to a bush. 200 meters (660 feet) ahead of me, I can see the construction crew of about 10 people watching me. I guess they must think I’m loco. I get up on my feet again, and I stride up to them with a magnificent confident attitude, not with a defeated or suspicious one. I thought they would ask me something, but we just smiled and nodded at each other, and I could keep on going. Again, Greg calls me. It looks like he is waiting for me 2 Kms (1 mile) ahead. I guzzle down a bottle of water that Greg gave me earlier at Santa Rosa. I can’t move fast, and the 2 Kms feel like 200 Kms (120 miles) now. Finally, I manage to make it to our RV. It has taken me six hours just to run 18 miles (30 Kms). At 11:30 a.m., I opened the door of our RV, and took my lunch break. Even I have run only 18 miles (30 Kms), I need a good break and not one next to another bush.
After a one-hour break, I head out again and I keep on going east, trying to reach the town of Cuervo, which is the 26 miles (42 Kms) point where we originally planned to stop for lunch. Now the I-40 is back to normal for all three of us. I can run comfortably now. My running space is back to its regular width and I have some choice where I place my feet, I have the reassurance of the RV protecting me from behind and Greg and Neung, too.
At 2:11 p.m., eight hours and fifty minutes after our morning start, I have finally arrived at Cuervo, the 26 miles (42 Kms) point of the day. Now, my feet are off the I-40, and back on Route 66. As Cuervo was a kind of intersection, or abandoned ghost town, I kept on running east.
I saw snow on the road this morning, now in the afternoon I’m putting lots of sun lotion on my face and body. Yes, it was a long day for running. It is 6:38 p.m. now, and as I have run 43 miles (70 Kms), I have stopped. We are not in town, but we are on Route 66, where we want to be. This point has become an important landmark to us. The accumulated running distance from Santa Monica to here is 1,000 miles (1,610 kms). We park our RV here, and celebrate our 1,000 miles accomplishment with wine.
Wednesday, May 20, Day 26.
Today, after completing this morning’s 25 miles (42 Kms) run, I will arrive at another famous Route 66 town, Tucumcari. “Tucumcari!” What a cute name, it really fits with the atmosphere of Route 66! Like “Sixty-Six”, “Tucumcari” has a natural rhyme or rhythm when you say it out loud which makes you feel a bit happier.
As happy as the name is, and the prospect of running through Tucumcari, I have to admit I feel quite heavy today. It’s sometimes hard to separate mind and body, but I try to do so, as the mind can be very deceptive. As I scan my body with my inner-eye, I really feel the lethargy and heaviness is physical, my mind feels normal, not energized but not particularly depressed or concerned either.
Early every morning, at the very beginning of my daily run, I usually spend lots of time warming up, walking fast, then gradually walking faster and faster. Eventually shifting into running. I do it naturally, waiting for my body to let me know, “Yes, K, I am ready to run now.” Usually, it takes me 30 minutes to 60 minutes for this shifting to be complete. Or, sometimes, it may take me hours. Anyway, I never push my body. I just wait for my body to be ready for running patiently. These past few days, I feel that my running engine is taking longer than normal to start working.
Along I-40 and then Route 66, I can see lots of big advertisement signs, shouting out “TUCUMCARI TONIGHT!” Tucumcari, with its population of 6,000 Tucumcarians, attracts many Route 66 fans, and I am certainly one of them. Route 66 runs through Tucumcari’s main street. Both sides of the 3-mile strip (5-Km) is lined non-stop with a plethora of motels and diners, established during the 1930’s to 1960’s, with their cute and now nostalgic looking signs. They say there are around 1,200 motel rooms in this town, a lot for a small town! These “TUCUMCARI TONIGHT” signs try to invite in tourists, like us, to stay overnight there.
It is 1:04 p.m. now. We have arrived at one of Route 66’s iconic buildings – The Blue Swallow motel. Built in 1941, it’s been operating for about 75 years. We parked our RV beside their property, and decided to take a one-hour rest. This morning’s running distance is again 24 miles (41 Kms). Distance-wise, it is not bad at all. I have not had that uncomfortable feeling in my feet today, however that heavy feeling I mentioned, if anything, has intensified. It took me eight hours to finish 24 miles (41 Kms). My speed has been around 3 miles (5 Kms) per hour. It is slow, however I am just happy that I could make the distance and reach this morning’s destination target. With a temperature of only 46 degrees F (8 degrees C) and only very slow running, I haven’t been sweating. I wasn’t pelted on by rain, either. That’s why I don’t need to take a shower now. I just change my clothes, and enjoy taking a nap. After a 30-minute shut-eye, I am fully recharged, and I can feel the warmth and natural goodness of Neung’s home-made (or RV made!) Mexican soup sinking into my stomach and then spreading a sense of wellbeing throughout my entirety. I think Napoleon Bonaparte said “An army marches on its stomach”; it seems I run on mine.
Now, I am stepping outside back onto Route 66, where that big famous blue swallow is flying. It is already 2:14 p.m. and the sky has become cloudy and dark.
I am back making steps on Route 66, heading east. However, after 12 hours, at 5:27 p.m., I have stopped running. This afternoon, I could only cover 9 miles (15 Kms) in three hours. Today my daily distance is only 35 miles (56 Kms). The truth is, I can still move, but I want to keep my energy for tomorrow. Tomorrow is going to be a very special day; we will have two wonderful events.
We are all looking forward to it.
Greg’s birthday, and completing New Mexico
Thursday, May 21. Day 27.
Usually, when we wake up at 4 a.m., we say “Good morning. Did you have a good sleep?” to each other. However, this morning, an extra special occasion is reflected in our words.
“Happy Birthday, Greg-san!” We celebrate this special day, shaking hands firmly with each other, yes, at 4 a.m.!
Today, it’s going to be busy, in a good sense. It’s Greg’s birthday. And, we will run into Texas, our fourth state.
I start off running at 5:02 a.m. I don’t have that uncomfortable feeling in my feet and a lot of the heavy feeling has eased off, too. My morning goal, hopefully, I can run as far as Russell’s Truck and Travel Center, which is only 4 miles (6 Kms) from the New Mexico/Texas border.
Free from that heaviness, I’m making good progress. I’ve run Route 66 for 17 miles (27 Kms) to a small town called San Jon. From San Jon, I had the choice of continuing running along Route 66, which runs south of I-40. Greg however has suggested that I run Quay Road 58.5, which stretches along north of I-40. The reason for this is that the surface of Route 66, east of San Jon, is going to be rough. It’s not a problem of permission, but the asphalt simply turns into a dirt track. Greg has really done his homework well and chosen a much smoother surface for me to run on, caring for my feet and me.
Do you know how Greg reads the road surface of the road? When he sets up our future route, he considers many factors, very thoughtfully and professionally. For example, when he sets up our route, he is not simply considering only the distance between A and B, but he also considers the road trend and weather along the course. He does this using his tiny smartphone, enlarging the Google Maps image to the maximum, and checking out the surface of our future road and if need be alternatives. As he sets up our route, he is not just considering my running, but also considering how we can do all our daily jobs effectively. He finds the locations of supermarkets, coin-laundry shops, RV parks and other businesses we might need. His three major considerations are: 1. I can run safely and smoothly. 2. All three of us can travel together safely. 3. We can save cost, time and energy. With these in mind he draws our route in his notebook. His hand-drawn route maps are not simple ones, like “Today, A to B, 43 miles (70 Kms)”, even if I describe some of our segments that way. His route maps are made from his experience, knowledge, consideration and love.
Quay Road 58.5 is a very straight country road, filled with complete quietness. Here, it is easy for Nueng to operate our big RV by herself. Greg can run with me now. We are enjoying our last steps in this “land of enchantment”, recalling each of our memories of these past 11 days in this state. We are carefully making steps toward the border of this state. At 11:24 a.m., with the morning goal of 27 miles (44 Kms) completed, we have run into the spacious parking lot of Russell’s.
After a lunch break nap, at 12:51 p.m., we left Russell’s. I am enjoying the last 4 miles (6 Kms) running along New Mexico’s I-40. New Mexico is huge, the 5th largest state. Here I have seen and run many totally flat planes, with their breath-taking 360-degree horizontal panoramic views. Now we are so close to Texas, the 2nd largest state, and the magnificence and flatness have become even more than I thought possible. It is becoming humongous!
Greg and Nueng are protecting me. Greg is now back behind the wheel, Nueng next to Greg and myself outside. We three, the TEAM, have made sure to burn this precious view of New Mexico into our memories forever. Now, we can see New Mexico’s last traffic sign, a farewell, “Now you are leaving New Mexico.” Beyond, a sign is pointing out we are about to enter Texas. We stop now.
It is Thursday, May 21, 1:40 p.m. It’s been 27 days and 1,117 miles (1,797 Kms) since we left Santa Monica, California on April 25.
Memories of the moment when we hopped into New Mexico from Arizona on May 11th are still fresh in my mind. Since then, in these past 11 days, the three of us have run and covered another 378 miles (608 Kms).
With a few more steps, we will cross the state border between New Mexico and Texas. Based on our original plan, we were supposed to cross on May 24 (Monday next week). Roughly, we are ahead of schedule, three days, or 130 miles (210 Kms).
There are two reasons for this.
1. Route 66 has two alternate routes, going straight east along I-40 or going up north into Santa Fe. We have saved time, as well as cost and energy by skipping Santa Fe and going straight east. This way I could run a slightly shorter route.
2. This is truly thanks to Greg’s carefully made plan and maps, and to his careful navigation, and Nueng’s great effort too in crewing with Greg.
I’m reminded of the old African saying that runners love. “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” In this instance, so far we have gone far, faster than we planned, because of the team both on the ground and those who supported my dream is so many ways across the earth.
Greg and Nueng, who have been supporting me with their dedication, each and every day, under all sorts of difficult situations and environments, always practical, always positive, always there for me. Thomas, our main sponsor, who is giving so much to us in so many ways, both tangible and emotional, such as providing us with our first-class RV, but also giving us all his enthusiasm and encouragement to achieve this dream. All the other sponsors and friends, who are giving us their encouragement and support.
I want to send my biggest appreciation to all these friends, from this big flat plane on New Mexico and Texas border.
Next monthly column is “Chapter 4 : Texas”.
I will deliver it to you on March 1.
2017 February 1st
K (Atsuyuki Katsuyama)
A management member of Route 66 Association of Japan
Leader of Thailand 100 Miles Run Club
email : email@example.com