TransCon Recap: Week 7

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State: Missouri

Days: 42 – 48

Start: Joplin, MO

End: Ashley, MO

Cumulative miles: 2,013.6 mi

Day 42 (Friday)

Today it became extremely clear that we have transitioned from the West to the East. Rolling hills. Hardwoods. Green grassy hills. Psychologically, this is so important. I actually feel like I’m making progress.

Energy-wise, things are coming together a bit more. I’ll take that! I still seem to be dragging a bit at the start of my day, but usually it doesn’t last too long. It helps that so many people reached out to me to help me dig out of that dark, tired place I had found myself. Thank you Dotsie, Taylor, and all the Switch4Good athletes who sent me personal messages of encouragement. They were so appreciated.

Today was memorable because I met this eccentric and charming man, Tim. We were running a good bit on Route 66 today, which happens to be “his” road. He pulled up, walked over to me during one of my breaks, shook my hand, and said, “I’m so proud of you. And thank you for running on my road!” He and his wife had bought a house off Route 66 when they were both 66 years old. It’s an incredibly modern house. Tim explained that they wanted something different for the road. “This road is special, and it needs something different.”

I feel so connected to this road, as I have logged hundreds of miles on it. And I have to agree with Tim. There is something special about Route 66.

Tim also said that he tries to always be open to meeting new people. He values simply interacting with other human beings, “Because we learn from other people and other people are interesting.” It was a good reminder to me of another reason to be grateful out here on the Transcon. I get to meet so many people! Yes, I usually approach situations with a little social anxious at first, but without fail, people impress me. They are warm. They have something to say. Or they just want to hear. I have yet to have a conversation that didn’t touch me in some way.

We spend so much time on our phones, especially in public places when we could be talking to each other. As a society we don’t give each other enough opportunity for those enriching social moments with strangers. If we just talked more, maybe we wouldn’t be as polarized.

I’m so glad I’m not as plugged into the news these days. I’m getting to turn my attention to those around me. It’s incredibly rewarding. Thank you, Tim for saying you are proud of me. It meant a lot, even though you were a total stranger.

I saw a fox in the woods today. Always reminds me of Shelley.

Day 43 (Saturday)

Taylor and Greg from NadaMoo! joined the Transcon today! It is always nice to share the road with others. I had never met Greg before, and we had a blast running 10 miles together today. Taylor put in 19 miles with me today, which is her personal distance record! I am so lucky that I have been witness to so many people pushing themselves to achieve their personal distance records out here on the Transcon! Shelley, Gabe, Taylor, Elliott… who else wants to give it a go?

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Running with others really opens doors to getting to know someone unlike going out to coffee, or having dinner together. It’s the movement aspect that connects both sides of my brain and allows me to feel emotionally grounded and open. I think running opens my heart and inspires thoughtful conversations. I truly feel like I share a very special bond with each and every person who has run miles with me out here.

Michelle from Polymath Educational Cafe in Springfield, MO, tracked us down and brought me and the crew a vegan FEAST tonight. She and her two daughters were so sweet. I’m struck again by the generosity and kindness of others.

Day 44 (Sunday)

I woke today with higher energy levels than I’ve had in a while. I can’t tell you how relieving it is to know that the lows are just temporary and they do pass. I feel so confident in the daily work that I set out to do every day: run 45 miles.

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This morning, Michelle brought us another delivery of plant-based deliciousness! Biscuits and gravy, donuts, potato soup, sandwiches, cold brew coffee, AND rice krispie treats! Incredible way to start the day. It also helps that the area I’m running through is insanely gorgeous.

Sending a big shoutout to Shelley, Jamie (my future sister-in-law), Tess, Erin, and Darby who are running the Big Sur Marathon this morning! Jackie (my other future sister-in-law) and Jacob Garcia (past crew member) are also running races today down in Texas! Good luck to all and I’ll be thinking about you all day as I do my daily work. Enjoy the road, and run free!

The big news of the day was that I said goodbye to my friend and crew member, Joe Whinery. Joe understands this project. He just gets it. He’s incredibly reliable, responsible, reliable, and an all around solid friend and human. He always had my best interest at heart and anticipated my needs in a way that doesn’t always happen between friends. I really appreciate this guy, and am beyond grateful that he made the effort to come out and crew me for 10 days! It was great to feel caught up a little bit with his wife, Jessica, and their adorable daughter, Jasper while he was out here, too.

Day 45 (Monday)

New crew members arrived yesterday: Kelsey and Parker. Feeding off the new energy is the name of the game out here. Nevertheless, the morning started off feeling sluggish again. I think my instant coffee is expired and has no caffeine. Seriously, this is a huge problem. I only notice myself actually waking up when I take my first Spring Energy gel.

This morning was also kind of rainy and nasty, and incredibly humid. I had my rain gear on, and I felt like I was running in a swamp. It finally cleared up mid-morning and even got pretty hot and sunny.

I’m back on Route 66. No cars. No traffic. Parker turned me onto the Woody Guthrie Spotify channel, and I am thoroughly enjoying it. For the first month or so, I found that I couldn’t really listen to music for very long stretches at a time. It was too overstimulating, and my body was maxed out in so many ways that I couldn’t really handle it. Think, the noise of cars, the being in the elements day in and day out, the sheer emotional exhaustion, the physical fatigue. All of it added up and it became really hard for me to cope with anything “extra.” I’m finding that I have a lot more resilience now than I did a while back.

Topographically, I had a lot of rolling hills. This meant power hiking up a lot of climbs, and flying down the descents. Feels good to switch up the pace and feel like the road can give me some momentum sometimes.

I will never forget how beautiful the last 5 miles of the day were. I was kind of in awe and had this acute realization that I am actively RUNNING ACROSS THE COUNTRY. Not everyday is awe-inspiring, and sometimes the days actually just run together. The scenery can even be kind of mundane. But it’s that stark beauty around me that snaps me right into the present moment and gives me perspective. It’s like I can zoom out and be present at the same time.

The forecast looks ominous the next couple days along our route. Thunderstorms, tornados, rain, wind, flooding… my new crew is prepared to improvise and and go with the flow! We are hoping for the best.

Day 46 (Tuesday)

 
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My coffee actually had caffeine in it today! Whoa.

The first 5 miles of my day were similar in beauty to the last 5 miles of yesterday. Absolutely stunning. I know we have heavy storms in the forecast, so I tried to get in as many miles early in the day as I could.

All of a sudden Elliott and I found ourselves in a torrential downpour unlike any rain I’ve ever experienced in my life. I honestly have never been outside in rain like that before. We had to seek shelter in the rig for a while as the lightning was coming down in every direction around us. I’ve definitely never been that close to lightning before. We tirelessly watched the radar, hoping for things to let up so I could keep pushing towards my daily mileage goal. We kept reading estimates of 2-4 FEET OF RAIN for the area.

At one point, Parker drove up ahead to check out a bridge we needed to cross and to gauge the level of the rising river below it. We realized that we absolutely had to get across that bridge before the river flooded the bridge. Luckily, we got that break we were hoping for, and I got back out there and ran until it was no longer safe (lightning is no joke!). Thankfully I was able to cover 42.6 miles for the day, despite the powerful elements.

Unfortunately, the forecast for the next few days is still not great. It will be one foot in front of the other, with an eye to the sky.

Day 47 (Wednesday May 1st)

I’ve moved 5 turtles from the road in the last 47 days, but today’s snapping turtle did not want my help. I tried.

By the way, I think I’ve collected about 20 license plates. My treasure bag is getting pretty full.

For those of you that have been following my cross country journey since the beginning, you’ve heard of Elliott before, but you haven’t heard enough. Elliott has been with me since Day 1 (which feels like a lifetime ago, yes). I seriously don’t know what I’d do without him. Our chance meeting in the Copper Canyons of Chihuahua, Mexico after the Caballo Blanco Ultra run happened about 2 weeks before I arrived to Huntington Beach, CA to start this Transcon. Our serendipitous meeting is proof to me that if you follow your heart, and stay true to a goal, the whole world provides.

 
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Elliott has been the one on-the-ground constant throughout this whole Transcon. Every single morning at 5am, he treats me to a bowl of porridge and a cup of coffee. He has shared countless miles with me, and has become one of my dearest friends. He provides council to me on all major decisions, and I know without a doubt that he is always prioritizing the Transcon. It’s not often that such incredible people enter one’s life and I couldn’t be luckier for that to have happened at such a crucial time in mine! Thank you for everything, Elliott. Don’t know where I’d be without you, bud!

 
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Today was a very special day for me because my cousin Dusty (@dbalenger) flew in from Atlanta to join the crew for a bit. Dusty has been my friend and is the closest I’ll ever know to a brother (I am an only child). Adulthood hasn’t allowed us a ton of time together, but we’ve tried to keep in better touch over the last several years, and I love him just the same. There are very few memories from my childhood that don’t involve him. His companionship was so instrumental in my childhood as we learned so much about the world from our grandparents on their farm in Northeast Georgia.

As I was conjuring up the idea for this run I always hoped and envisioned that he would be able to come out and be a part of the experience with me. I’ve looked forward to his arrival since my first day at Huntington Beach. I first saw Dusty this morning at my 15-mile break. At mile 20 he jumped in to run with me. We spent the entire afternoon catching up on life, reminiscing about our shared past, and talking about upcoming goals (Dusy is currently training for his first IronMan triathlon!).

At one point while we were running, Dusty reached out his hand for a high five, telling me that he had just passed his Personal Distance Record (PDR) of 13.1 miles. I was so excited for him - and I’ll add him to the list of people who have achieved their PDR’s while out here on the Transcon! Little did I know how far he wanted to take it. At my prescribed 45 mile distance for the day he was already at 25 miles! To round things out we continued and finished my day at 46.2 and him at 26.2, DOUBLING his previous longest distance. I couldn’t be more proud of him on completing his first marathon!

Today was by far one of the highlights of my run across the U.S. I am so excited to have this time with Dusty and everyone else that has taken time out of their lives to join me for a portion of this journey. I am truly blessed.

Day 48 (Thursday)

Today started off rainy but cleared by the time I had run 15 miles. Seems to be the new normal now. Even when the rain clears up though, the humidity sticks around. Luckily, I don’t have any notable new blisters to report on. I have been having some night sweats, which is never a fun way to wake up.

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At 17.2 miles into the day I found the crew waiting to celebrate my 2,000th mile mark. They had marked the spot with “2000” written in sticks. It felt like a huge accomplishment.

The area we are traveling through is generally just very wet. The ground is even saturated and seems to be on the brink of flooding at all times.

The crew is really jiving now. It’s great to be surrounded by so much laughter.

We had another PDR today! Parker ran 20 miles (!) beating his previous longest distance of 11 miles! Dusty also put in 13 miles with me today like it was nothing. All-in-all, spirits are high and my body is feeling good. I’m so excited to see Shelley on Saturday!

I have started thinking about what life is going to be like after I reach NYC. It’s pretty daunting to imagine having to deal with logistical stressors that life will inevitably bring after the Transcon. Even just the thought of trying to figure out my travel plans back to Denver seem complicated and anxiety-producing. I know I’ll be able to better cope when I’m facing it all in the moment.

Sometimes it feels like the Transcon is going to be over before I know it, but 27 days still feels like a really really long time. Just because I have a groove going doesn’t mean that things don’t get hard for me at least once a day. But if there were ever a metaphor for the life, I think I’m living some version of it right now. I’m learning. Learning about gratitude, learning about patience, learning about how to trust that setbacks are not permanent. I’m also getting to know myself. That’s a good feeling and one that I hope everybody has a chance to feel at some point in their lives.

Robbie Balenger