The conversation weaved around about as much as we did as we walked along the side of the road. We were sleepy, but the shoulder of the road was wide, so we managed okay. We entered Lewisburg about the same time I entered it alone last year. Nothing was open on either the approach into town or in the downtown. Even the Huddle House wasn’t open yet, though we saw employees getting dropped off in front of the locked building.
Lewisburg (mile 201) seems like a depressing place. We hear chickens crowing in the downtown area, the housing looks like it has seen better days, and there is so little open for business, even on a Monday morning. We stopped at a Shell-mart and again, no chocolate milk. They have fried eggs, so I order two biscuits with two eggs on each, and get a large fountain lemonade, which they allow me to refill before I leave. There is no place to sit inside, so I find a low brick wall across the parking lot and eat there. I also inspect my feet once again, but make few changes.
The eggs will burp up several times during the next couple of hours as we make our way towards Farmington (mile 206), where a restaurant that treated me so well last year has been shut down. John and I revisit a topic we have discussed several times, whether or not he should go on ahead. He is anxious to run, but I’m in no shape to do so. I’ve been grateful for his company and expertise in dealing with my blister, but he has a chance for a sub-6 day finish and maybe even a top 10. I don’t. I can tell that he’s thinking hard, and he finally makes the decision to try running for awhile, at least on the down-hills.
Marcia and I walk on towards Wheel (mile 211), and I take a chance that the Methodist church will have its water hydrant on. They do, and both of us soak our heads and hats good before moving on. Two miles later (though it takes us about 40 minutes to walk it), we arrive at the Pit Stop Market (mile 213) where John is finishing up his lunch. I eat two chicken salad sandwiches, lots of pickle slices, and a bite of Marcia’s ice cream. The gals manning the store are first rate and it will trouble me greatly when I realize a mile or so down the road that I’ve left without leaving a tip.
I am chilled, and with my foot needing so long to loosen up, I know Marcia will have no trouble catching me, so I head out alone. The heat was oppressive, and now I didn’t have anyone to convince to keep marching when I wanted to stop. I was getting sleepy, and there was no shoulder to walk on comfortably, and traffic was heavy. I finally succumb to temptation and find a shade tree on the other side of the road. I am at the edge of a yard, and I really don’t think anyone will mind, but as I lay trying to nap, a car pulls into the drive and an older lady rolls down her window. She really wants to know where I am from, so I tell her about how we started across the river from Hickman, KY and so on. Then she asks me again, “where were you from before that?” Oh…Indiana. “I thought you sounded like a Yankee,” and I wish I had a photo of the mischievous smile on her face! She tells me to ask if I need anything and drives up to the back side of her house.
I continue resting in the shade, but not sleeping. I look up to see Marcia making her way along the road, staggering a little, pausing and looking at the ground as if she’s dropped something, then moving along again to repeat the process. She looks at me but does not cross the road to share the shade. She doesn’t get more than a 100 yards before a sheriff pulls up on my side of the road, half on and half off, with his lights on, stopping traffic from both directions. He gets out and crosses the road to talk with Marcia, at which point I decide to put on my shoes and go over to see what’s happening.
I introduce myself to the officer who is young and very polite, and he tells me his concerns about Marcia’s weaving on the narrow berm of the road. His concerns are valid, I’ve seen enough to know that. He literally asks me for a second opinion as to whether it is safe for her to continue. In no way do I want to be responsible for Marcia being taken from the course, but I also am not a doctor. The best compromise I can come up with in a hurry is to assure him that I will walk with her to Shelbyville. That satisfies him, and he shakes our hands, tells us to get water at the fire department if we want, and returns to his car.
I have stepped in where I might not have been wanted. All I can do is assure Marcia that I respect her desire to be independent but that I want to respect the commitment I made to the officer. She handles my meddling very well, and we stay together to the convenience store in Shelbyville (mile 223). We even find another house that will let us use their garden hose to cool off. It made those long miles a little more bearable. We see several county vehicles before we get to Shelbyville and I speculate as to whether or not they are purposefully keeping an eye out for us – a positive form of paranoia?
I tell Marcia at the convenience store that I plan to stop at the waterfall park and then go to the motel. My feet are burning up and my legs are as tight as guitar strings. My commitment to the officer has been fulfilled; the AC and refreshment have restored her as much as they have me, so I head out for the park alone I call Laura along the way and tell her my plans and she has no objection to my booking yet another motel room. It seems frivolous, and it’s even off course, but I can’t talk myself into heading out on the long, exposed road to Wartrace in the afternoon heat. (It only reaches 91° on this day.)
I’m not at the park very long when Marcia joins me. Not long after that, Charlie T drives up and takes our picture. His relay team has just set a new record, and he is taking the scenic route home. Shortly after he leaves, I leave and seek the motel. Marcia stays behind to think out her plans.
The man at the motel is very friendly. The rate is very fair. He tells me that a runner that morning wanted to book a room for only one hour, but that he wasn’t legally allowed to do that. (I found out later the runner was Frank. He has moved that far ahead of me.) It is only 2:30 in the afternoon. I check my phone; John has sent a message that he is on the other side of town. Had I gotten that before I checked in, I might have tried to continue, but it’s too late now. I take a shower, trying to keep my foot as dry as possible. I lay on top of the sheets, and there is blood from a gash in my back (caused by an object in my pack) and from my shoulder (also rubbed raw by the pack). I keep the foot outside the to air it out. I also have a towel with me, as I have sweat profusely the previous two nights, leading to chills and interrupted sleep. I will alternate between wiping away sweat with the towel to laying on the towel to keep the sheets from getting soaked.
I stay 11 hours!! It is after 1 am when I finally decide to pack up and go. Laz has sent a missive stating the the only imperative any runner still out there has is to “move!” I feel like I’ve been yelled at by a coach, shouting at me from the sidelines to get my head, heart and feet back into the game. I top off my water bladder, buy a Coke, and head out into the night.
Shelbyville is a pretty town, perhaps my favorite on the Vol State route. Along this short stretch are a line of flowering trees surrounded by a grassy lawn. It is a horrible place for nature to strike, especially if it was daytime, but it’s dark and there is no traffic. My keys are locked inside the room, there is no turning back, but my bowels will not allow me to move forward. Shelbyville is too nice a place for this, so I close my eyes and pretend I’m in Lewisburg.
I march steadily for Wartrace, stopping to get two hot-dog like sandwiches at a store outside of town (mile 226), then moving without a break until I reach the bench in front of the Marathon at 4:30am. There is car out front and I see two ladies working inside, their backs towards me. I slide off my pack and update my Facebook status and think about relaxing. There really is nothing I can do here, so I shoulder my pack quickly and stand up to move off. I hear voices. Ladies’ voices. They are talking to me, or about me. One comes to the big window and says that they’re not open and I can’t hang around here and I have to move along. She’s younger than me, at least a little, and somewhat pretty; she’s doesn’t look like someone who would think a boogie-man might be out to get her. I assure her I am going and walk away.
I get a Coke at the laundromat downtown (mile 233) before heading across country on Pine Knob Rd, which turns into 16th Modal Road. I spend the night composing an instrumental break for a song we do in church (Everlasting God) which I decide to try out when I get home. I think about the lady in Wartrace, and how fear has taken the place of love, all in the name of prudence, in our society. (I admit, I seldom pick up hitchhikers anymore.) I get to thinking that a Road Angel with doughnuts and coffee would be a wonderful thing about now. I try to email that to the group, but I have no signal. I hear the chorus of “Tennessee Jed” playing in my head, so I try to text Dusty that there is no place I’d rather be, wondering if she’ll get my humor so early in the morning.
I stop by the campground (mile 244) to drop off the empty can I’ve carried since Wartrace. I’ve heard the owner doesn’t much like us, so I’m in and out. I’ve also noticed a little sign announcing the Little Hurricane Primitive Baptist Church, Elder Earl Pitts presiding, and that tickles me. I break into a version of “Angel Band,” singing out loud as I walk. I turn south on US 41 and head into Manchester (mile 250), catching Richard Westbrook just past the courthouse.
I stop at McD’s for two burritos and a large coffee. Richard comes in just as I’m ready to leave, and just as I’m ready to leave, the rain starts. I put on my Dollar General poncho and head down the road, the rain getting heavier, just like the traffic. It’s late morning (about 10:30) and there is little where I can go to get out of their way; the shoulder to the left of me is a small river of water and I don’t want my feet getting any wetter than necessary. Fortunately, the rain doesn’t last long and I can soon put away the poncho before I get too hot and sweaty.
I stop at Hillsboro (mile 258) and get a couple bottles of fluid, a chocolate milk and a lemonade. I carry them in the outside compartments that Jeff had showed me a few short days before. Before getting too far out of town, I think about my feet and whether or not it would be a good idea to change socks now that the rain has stopped. I have moved well all night, but my feet are starting to get that familiar ache again, so I stop and set up shop on some steps at the side of the church. I take off my shoes and the sight is not a pretty one. The patch job is shredded and the foot has some pretty good maceration (wrinkling) going on. I have no choice now but to learn how to use the second skin and kinesio tape myself. I start by cutting away the dead skin, drying the area as best I can, then putting some anti-bacterial ointment on the wound, as best as I could see and feel where the worst was at. Then I cut a good size piece of second skin and put it on the wound. John would cut it to form fit, but I don’t have good enough vision of the wound to be that careful. I then wrap some kinesio tape over the second skin and around the foot and learn how to use the vials on benzoin that Marcia has left me to glue it down. Then I have to clean up.
I carry a roll of white cloth tape that I used to use on my nipples before my daughter introduced me to 2Toms. I rolled the empty and broken vials inside the backing of the kinesio tape, then take a small piece of cloth tape to make a little ball. The cloth tape is actually scrap, the edging that builds up with use and resembles a twist tie from a loaf of bread. I actually forgot I had thrown it on the ground so when I saw it laying there, I thought it was a twist tie. It holds the ball of trash together perfectly!
I stand up and start to move. I can’t tell which foot has the blister, literally! I’m elated. No shuffling for minutes upon minutes to limber up the foot! I can get right down to it! And I do. It is several miles to Pelham, and I will be late for lunch, but I’m already thinking about what I am going to order. I want a cheeseburger, but while I’m waiting for that to be prepared, I want a bowel of ice cream and a lemonade. I have very pleasant thoughts while I make my way south.
Harry and Ollie’s in Pelham (mile 267) are huge friends of our race. They set out water, offer $5 showers, use of their RV, and open their campground for crews to use. They said they would set up a shelter and have sleeping bags available. Jan pulls up alongside me in her van and snaps a few pictures. This is the first I have seen of Jan and her van, so I am embarrassed not to recognize her. She has been keeping track of the back of the pack for the first several days, but is now looking out for us. She tells me Marcia is just leaving Hillsboro, but is struggling and needs some rest. Richard is still ahead of me at this point, but we are within eye contact of one another and I will catch him before long. (He passed me without my knowing it while I patched my blistered foot south of Hillsboro.)
I order my ice cream, but they are out; they have popsicle sticks left over from a church event that past weekend, so she gives me three of those. Salt Shack and Karen are there. Richard stops in. Jan stops in. We have a party in progress! I air my feet and am relieved that my patch job is holding. The cheeseburger is awesome! There is no lemonade so I try sweet tea. I recharge my iPhone and they refill my water bladder. I don’t rush the visit, but I don’t exactly tarry either. Salt Shack (Tim), Karen and Richard have moved on. I need to boogie. I soak my head and hat at the outdoor spigot one last time and move on down the highway.
The climb up Monteagle (mile 274) goes well. I stop at the CVS (Salt Shack and Karen are making there way out and I urge them to keep moving) and pick up some 5-hr caffeine. I have only used these one other time for a race, but they stay down better than the pills, at least if there’s not too much already in the stomach. I quickly move on out of town, passing by the last convenience store before Tracy City. I think the others must have turned in there, as I never see them again until the finish.
I buy two candy bars and some pop in Tracy City (mile 280). It is a long haul to Jasper (mile 297) and I need to have calories, sugar and caffeine. The owners let me fill up my bladder with ice since I have purchased some other stuff; I get the feeling that they are reluctant to let me do so, but relent. I thank them as I leave, and they become very friendly, genuinely so, so maybe I have misread them all along. I check my feet outside and there is some serious blistering around my long toe. There are also some small blisters on my right heel. I make a bloody mess trying to pop them, so I put on some antibacterial cream and replace the sock. There’s nothing more to do.
It is dark as I start out for Jasper. This road is almost desolate, at least of businesses and homes, but not of traffic, at least early on. There is no shoulder, so I’m constantly stopping to let cars go by, inches away from me. I decide to use my headlamp for the first time, not wearing it, but carrying it, turning it on as cars approach, just so they can see I’m there. I make good time. I have Scorpio in the sky ahead of me. I see a couple of falling stars. I stop only once to update my Facebook status and rest my shoulders from the weight of the pack. There are less than 12 hours left in Day 5.
I try to run. My first attempts are laughable, but I don’t surrender the idea. I try again. For some reason, I count to eight over and over as I run, but with no particular number of eights in mind, or any other goal. It’s just something to occupy my mind while I run. I run off and on when it’s flat or downhill. My feet are able to take it, and my legs might even be appreciating the change.
(Jasper isn’t a bad place, it’s getting there that puts your feet through Dante’s inferno!) Nobody was around to take a pic of me when I passed by here in the wee hours of the morning, so I used this one of Caleb.
The 4-mile downhill into Jasper is torture. I cannot move more than a few steps without stopping in pain. I sit on the guardrail several times. I try switching sides of the road. I honestly don’t think I’m moving as fast as 2mph as I drop into town. At the bottom of the mountain, I walk to regain my mental equilibrium, then start running again, counting to 20 now. I run and walk through town, not stopping anyplace since I’m only four miles from Kimball and planning to stop there.
As I approach Kimball (mile 300), I see Frank on the side of the road fixing his feet. He has run well. A police officer swings over to my side of the road, rolls down his window, and tells me I’m almost there, to be careful, and God bless. And, best of all, the McDonald’s is open. Two more burritos and a small coffee and I’m good for the final 14 mile push to the finish. I cross the bridge (the second crossing of the Tennessee River) and call Carl. He tells me there are three or four runners just ahead of me. I have no more to give; I will be happy just to finish.
I make New Hope (mile 305), start the climb up Sand Mountain (mile 308) and finally reach the top. I have under two hours left in Day Five, and I’m pretty sure I can make it, but I do not stop. I spend my climb up the mountain counting, sometimes to four, sometimes to three. I don’t know why it helps, but it does.
I encounter a dog on the road leading to Castlerock, the first scary canine encounter of the trip. As I enter Georgia (from Alabama, which I entered as I neared the top of the mountain), my cell phone changes time zones, so I have a moment of panic thinking that I had only twenty minutes to complete the run in under six days. Carl assures me I have closer to eighty minutes, but I run through the field, into the woods, and out into the clearing where Carl is waiting to assist me to the Rock.