Finding my way out of Iowa

Iowa was 10 hot days over 390 miles. I didn’t manage a single blog post during that time – but I did write the bulk of this one a couple days ago during an afternoon siesta in a town called ‘Wheatland’ – where the beer was cold but the internet weak. I made it across the Mississipi yesterday and am now in the small town of Rock Falls, Illinois. The shoulders here are not great, but better than Iowa. The weather forecast is hot hot hot.

In my last post, I put my phd to work by climbing the tallest metal object in the middle of a field during a lightning storm.  Iowa brought new opportunities for sheer stupidity. In my own defence, there were extenuating circumstances and I have done my best to include those details. I’ve even thought about bolding and italisizing these details less they be overlooked. And you are forewarned, if you read this and subsequently tease me, you will owe me more than one beer. It takes courage to tell a story like this.

Plant mister going full blast

As context, it really started with the heat running into my last city in Nebraska – South Sioux City. I knew it was going to be hot, so I started out early but it quickly became hot with the sun radiating off the asphalt.  Route 20 became an interstate for the last two miles and I ran with no shirt on and the plant mister going full blast. When I finally got into the motel my brain was baked and I kept dropping the key card to my room and basically acted drunk. That day was ~29 miles and had been planned a little short so I could pick up a mail drop containing my fifth shoes and other goodies. The next day was to be 34 miles with higher temps.

The Missouri

I was running by 6:30 the next morning. My goal was a small motel on the edge of Correctionville about 34 miles away. Navigating through the city and across the Missouri was a mess with broken sidewalks and sometimes just me squeezing through morning traffic and angry drivers. Eventually, I found my way to some quite country roads that paralleled Route 20, the roads were curious because most were concrete and also had negative shoulders, basically curbs that angled upward and away from the lane. Maybe these had something to do with channeling snow melt. Little did I know that this was just the beginning of bad shoulders in Iowa.

I can’t run on this!!

When I finally landed on Route 20 it was a mess, a divided highway with a loose gravel shoulder and cars screaming past on concrete slabs.  I stopped briefly at a fast food place in Moville and tanked up on water and ice  – with 12 miles left my strategy was to just power down the loose shoulders and grin and bear it.  I celebrated the six mile mark by crossing the road and sitting down in the shade under a couple trees – because the parking brake on the jogger is a little unreliable, I swiveled it around so it wouldn’t roll downhill into traffic if the brake failed (yes, there really are hills in Iowa).

Five miles later and the end was within sight. I thought about Bjorn Suneson (a great blog with English translation), currently on his third USA crossing, and how he describes the tremendous sense of relief and joy he feels at seeing his final destination at the end of a long day. I experience this virtually every day as well, and this one was no different. My water supply had been rationed perfectly, I was down to my last ‘when hell breaks loose’ 4 ounces. As I ran my last victory mile I couldn’t help notice how the water tower in Correctionville looked a lot like the one I had seen in Moville. Maybe all the small towns in Iowa had fancy new water towers? A little later I passed a sign that said ‘Moville Industrial Area’ and I thought how strange (and maybe smart) it was that Moville had placed their industrial area 11 miles away in Correctionville.

Even in the afternoon the
sun is in my eyes

As my brain struggled to process this, I looked up and realized that I was running directly into the sun.  Just as I had for the last six miles since crossing the road to sit down for a break. The end wasn’t  ¼ mile away, it was almost 12 miles away in the other direction. And that is how a bad 34 mile day in the sun turned into a  46 mile day from hell. The run back to the tree, and then beyond to the motel, involved a lot of crazy yelling and gesticulating. I was not happy with myself. I was the crazy guy yelling on the side of the freeway with a baby jogger. By the time it was over, I had covered that 6 mile stretch of crappy road three times. There was precedent I am ashamed to admit. When I was 18 years old on the Appalachian Trail I took a break and then walked 3 miles ‘back down’ the trail toward Georgia. So I guess I am older now but not wiser.

SPOT Satellite Tracks
each one is 10 minutes apart and numbered sequentially

And that is my best story out of Iowa. The ~8 days since then have been brutal. I attribute most of this to the lack of paved shoulders, heavy traffic, and oppressive heat. High mileage has not helped either, most of my days have been 35-45 miles. My route led me to drop down to Route 30 yesterday but it is no better.  I was running by 3:30 this morning hoping to beat both the heat and the traffic.  Today, I began to seriously question whether I was still feeling safe and still having fun. The answer is ‘not as much’ but with only one more day in Iowa, things will hopefully improve.  I’m now sitting in a tiny bar in a tiny town with 34 miles on my odometer. Once the afternoon heat has passed, I’ll go a few more miles and camp in a wildlife area. I used to think these were all conservation areas, it has taken me a while to realize the ‘management’ in the title actually means captive hunting grounds. Luckily it is not hunting season!

Amazing Morning

On some positive notes, I had one of my best mornings on the run when I somewhat accidentally landed on the ‘Pioneer Trail’ for ~8 miles. Running down this shady hard packed trail through corn fields was amazing.  I’ve met some great people in small towns and seeing so much green has been amazing. I am literally watching the corn grow.

And when I was in Webster City there was a knock on my motel  door. Expecting to see the manager, I instead found Glenn Caffery and his wife Connie. I’ve never met Glenn face to face as he lives in Massachusettes, but have been pestering him with phone calls, emails, and texts since earlier this year. Glenn ran solo from Seaside to Rhode Island last year and has consistently given good advice. Passing ‘nearby’ to reach a family event, my satellite tracker gave me away. What a surprise! It was great trading stories and having a ‘real’ face-to-face conversation and I’m really looking forward to running with Glenn when/if I reach Massachusetts.

The Mississippi and Illinois are around the corner, less than 50 miles away. The satellite/street views of Route 30 in Illinois show more gravel shoulders and more heat is on the horizon. I think night running is my new game. Wish me luck!

Update 6/14: Here are some more pics. The full set is posted in my picasa albums.

Best of luck to Andrew and Anna – biking from Syracuse to Santa Barbara. Really nice to have met you,  and best of luck with tail winds and your fund raising. Great blog! http://bikeforbrady.wordpress.com
Bye to a misty river
Hello to the Mississippi
It is muddy
That’s it folks
Miles so far 2,237
Total Days: 71
Rest Days: 2
Average Miles per day: 2,237/71 = 31.5

3 Responses to “Finding my way out of Iowa

  • OMG! I would have thrown myself on the side of the road and cried. Maybe never gotten up again. We are hoping things get cooler, smoother and flatter for you in Illinois. Let us know if you are passing through Indy. Lots of friends in the city. We are driving in to Seattle today…home in 2 hours. Woah. Thanks for sharing your story. It’s good to know I’m not the only one who does things like that.
    Stacy and the boys.

  • WOW! So hard to imagine your journey. My name is Nancy and I met you in the small town of Knierim, Iowa where you stayed in the park. I was watering the flowers and gave you easy directions to a cold beer uptown. I hope you enjoyed your stay there! Sending good thoughts your way and wish you the best during the remainder of your journey! I will continue to follow your over the top interesting blog :)

    • Hi Nancy, I remember you and Knierim well. Please say hello to everyone at Judds. That cheesecake was amazing. And also please say hello to Glenn the mailman for me. Thanks for following along. Cheers, Seth

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