Summer 2014 Road Trip: Week 1

Posted by Breanna Cornell on June 2, 2014 at 10:45 PM

Admittedly, a road trip is a very personal thing; as cliche as it may sound, it is a journey of self-discovery. For this reason, I am a bit hesitant to really go into detail on my blog, as it is mainly devoted to race reports and experiences I’ve had while running. This road trip isn’t solely focused on running. It’s about visiting friends, National Parks, job interviews, and making the most of my time between graduation and employment. To say the least, I have been very privileged to be able to take such a trip. However, this trip does include crewing at several races and the Bryce Canyon 100, which will have a stand-alone blog post. So I think I will post just enough to entice your imagination, encourage your spirit to take a trip down some roads you’ve longed to explore.


I’ve summarized the trip day by day below. There is so much more that I could write; thoughts and ideas just flow like snowmelt down a mountain when you experience new trails and places, interact with new people, meet new and old friends, and try some things that scare you a bit.


Week 1

Day 1: Monday, May 19

An uneventful, but necessary, day. I drove from my parent’s home in downstate Michigan up to Brainerd, Minnesota where many of the friends (the Ninja Runners) I’ve made through the Zumbro and Superior races reside. Torrential rain, road construction, and traffic turned what should have been an 11 hour drive into a 13 hours. All the while Darcy (my pet rabbit) was digging in his cage in the back. Unfortunately, I was unable to bring Darcy with me for the entirety of my road trip. Maranda, one of my Minnesotan runner friends, had a young niece who was looking to adopt a bunny. So Darcy was to accompany me to Minnesota, his new home. While the drive was long, I arrived in Minnesota alive, and stayed at my friend Mark Y’s house. Mark had paced me at the Zumbro 100 this past April and was an amazing host.


At this point, I will clarify who/what the Ninja Runners are. “Ninja Runners” was the name coined by Laurie for the group of runners who bonded over the 2013 Zumbro 100, mostly comprised of a core group of runners in Brainerd, Minnesota. Maranda loves to do photography, and takes photos of group runs and events and posts them to the Ninja Runner Facebook page. I was in Minnesota to visit my Ninja Runner friends and help where I could in expanding the group.


Day 2: Tuesday, May 20

I awoke early the next morning to run a trail loop with Mark before he had to head off to work. John then met me at the trail and I did another loop with John. Following this, I meandered over to the salon where Maranda works and received a wonderful hair cut so I could look not so disheveled for my upcoming interviews. After Maranda got done with work, I followed her to her parent’s farm. There we gave Darcy to her niece, Adeline. Adeline was overjoyed with the bunny, and I could tell that Darcy was going to a good home. A rabbit having been my first pet at the age of 5, I knew how much significance a bunny could hold for a little girl. Maranda and I camped in her trailer that night.

Hitting the trails!


Day 3: Wednesday, May 21

Maranda and I woke early to meet a friend at the trails who wanted to start running by 5 AM. Unfortunately, she ended up not being able to make it. So we went and got a coffee until Mark arrived. We ran around, up and down, back and forth on a six mile loop of single track trails constructed upon old mining tailings. They were a lot of fun. Maranda and I headed out to do another 6 mile loop after Mark and I finished the first loop.


Mark looking out over the Minnesotan trails.

With all the Ninjas off at work, I returned to Maranda’s parents’ farm, where I spent an enjoyable day with Maranda’s mother, Mary. Mary’s farm is absolutely beautiful. Sitting upon a lake, and removed from main roads in a forest, she has horses, chickens, a pig, a pony, cats, dogs, and (now) a rabbit. I assisted in re-seeding a part of the yard with grass and in feeding the bees. That was an experience! I had never worn a bee-keeper suit before. We ended the afternoon with Adeline, going for a walk down the tree-lined dirt roads.


Following this was a Ninja Runner meeting where most (but not all) Ninja Runners were present to work on the up-and-coming website and discuss future plans and adventures for the group. It was wonderful to see Maranda, Laurie, Mark, John, and Ryan. Unfortunately, Theresa, Michael, Jon, and Ed were unable to be present. I spent that night with Mark again.


Day 4: Thursday, May 22

Thursday was a bit of a rest day for me. Between running several loops on the trails yesterday, then running some hills, then working on the farm, and going for a walk, I had done about 20 miles. Which, realistically, isn’t a whole lot, but my shortest run in the past 23 days had been 3 miles. So I only went for a short 2 mile jog before returning to Mark’s house to work on the Ninja Runner website, apply for some jobs online, read, and just relax a bit. That evening, I accompanied Mark and his lovely wife, Michelle out to dinner.

More Minnesotan trails.


Day 5: Friday, May 23

Maranda was planning on racing the Booneville 100k in Iowa on Saturday. After a trail run in the morning with Mark, packing, and farewells, I made my way down to Des Moines, Iowa for the packet pickup. Maranda was feeling ill, so I met her with her runner’s packet and info in the back of the Booneville Bar, a quarter mile from where the race start was to be the following morning. The bar had agreed to let racers camp in the back. Now, I know this sounds really strange, but this bar was pretty much in the middle of farmland along a river; there was no one and nothing really around it. I camped out of my car that evening.

Maranda and I hanging from the railroad bridge behind the Booneville Bar.


Day 6: Saturday, May 24

The following morning I awoke to find that Maranda had only gotten an hour of sleep. She had spent the night being ill. Somehow I had managed to sleep through the bar noise and Maranda’s trip away from camp. She was pale and dehydrated. I was worried about how the race would go.


As a crew for Maranda, I was informed that there was to be no pacing and that I could only provide support at the bridges (the race was supposed to showcase Iowa’s covered bridges) and aid stations. I had attempted to decipher the map on my phone, but had little to no reception in areas. The course was all white, chalky, gravel backroads through Iowa’s rolling farmland. While the route was only marked with a single orange flag at turns, the race director provided a turn-by-turn direction sheet for the racers. I managed to obtain a copy for myself. They wanted to avoid having the crews drive on the course, but, not knowing the roads around the area and finding some of the roads blocked off, was unsure of how to do this. Given that the roads were not closed to through traffic, I ended up driving on the course anyhow.

Start line of the Booneville 100k.


There were very few people entered in the race, given it was in the first year of its being. The day was warm and sunny, and with a start time of 6 AM, racers had until midnight to complete the 62 miles. After brief photo op at the start line, the racers were off.


I followed other crew cars to about 7 miles into the course and parked along side of the road with three other vehicles. There was a family cheering on their father/husband/son, and the wife of a super talented runner who dubbed themselves team “Dan-drea,” their names being “Dan” and “Andrea” respectively. It was wonderful to socialize with the other crews while waiting to cheer our runners on. The first runner came blasting through, well ahead of the others. Soon enough, though, more racers began to trickle in. I went for a short jog down a side street while waiting for Maranda.


Maranda came through the 7 mile mark in about 1:20, which was fantastic given how she had been feeling. We reviewed her plan to walk the hills and run the flats and downhills, to reevaluate how she felt at each aid station. With a few words of encouragement, I drove ahead to the aid station at mile 10.

Maranda coming through the 7 mile mark.


There but two people manned the tent that provided only Gu, water, and Gatorade. I waited with the family and Andrea for our racers to come through. By this time, the temperature began to rise. When Maranda came through, however, she was still wearing a long-sleeved shirt claiming to be cold. I felt her forehead, which was burning up. She had a fever. There was no talk of stopping, though. She was managing to drink and eat and remained optimistic.


I drove ahead another 5 miles and pulled off to the side of the road. She had been averaging 10-minute miles, which gave me enough time to get a nice jog down a residential street. I was chased by a well-intentioned brown lab, before returning to my vehicle. While parked along the rolling stretches of farmland, a handful of farmers had pulled off to ask if I was broken down. It was thoughtful of them, but I waved them on. A few asked if I was part of the race. When I responded that I was cheering on one of the runners, the farmers explained that they had not been informed that the race was going to take place and wished they had known in advanced. I told them I’d let the race director know this request for future events.

First covered bridge of the race.


When Maranda came past this time, she asked for some music. I handed her off with my iPod and her speakers. She seemed to be in a really good mental state, no matter how bad she felt. After a short break, she took off for the second aid station.


The second aid station was located at the first covered bridge of the course, but was only stocked with Gu, water, and Gatorade; a one-man show this time. However, it was across from a gas station. Knowing that Maranda needed more solid food, I jogged to the gas station to peruse the isles for something that she might like. Upon returning to the aid station, I went for a mile jog (my legs were still cramps from the lengthy drive the previous day), then settled in to wait for Maranda.


Time passed. More time than should have. I began to worry. Had she taken a wrong turn? Did she get sick on the course? I waited. And waited. Until there were but three people left to come through the aid station. Two came through. Then it was just Maranda. Where was she? Exchanging numbers with the volunteer manning the aid station, I tried to interpret the directions in reverse to find Maranda. After missing a turn, I felt in my gut that I had missed her along the course somewhere. After driving back five miles, I turned around to return to the aid station. There, Maranda was sitting happily in the grass, waiting for me. I had missed her along the course when I made the wrong turn. Thankfully, she had not been there long.

Maranda refueling with Honey!


Maranda asked me to sit in the grass with her and we enjoyed the cool freshness of it. She was able to eat some solid food before she returned to the dirt roads. The third aid station was a short 7 miles from the second. We agreed that we would meet there.


Thus was when the race began to become interesting.


After a couple miles, the course turned from the maintained gravel roads to an un-maintained dirt road. It was smooth enough at its entrance and with all-wheel-drive the only worry I had was the clearance on my little VW Passat. But how else was I supposed to get to the next aid station?


The dirt road was beautiful; Lined with trees and roofed with branches, it meandered. Then, it dropped away, suddenly, like when you ski over a ridge on the face of a mountain. All of a sudden, I had no room to turn around or back up; the only way to go was with the road: DOWN. Which, would’ve been fine, if the trail hadn’t been rutted beyond all reasonable expectations for a non-off-roading vehicle. Slowly and carefully, I maneuvered my car over and through the ruts. I only managed to bottom out three times. Something under my car twanged. Uh-oh. I’d have to check it out at the aid station.


The third aid station, located at mile 30, was at the junction of a gravel road with the dirt road along a stretch of river. A jolly volunteer greeted me. This was the first aid station to have solid food; pretzels, oranges, bananas, and PB&J in addition to the Gu, water, and Gatorade. Looking under my car, I could see that a metal strap of some sort had come loose and been nocked out of place when I had tried to come down that rutted beast of a road. The Passat was running fine enough, and nothing was leaking, so I wasn’t worried.

The metal strap that got knocked out of place when I bottomed out; view from the front of car.


Waiting for Maranda, I jogged another mile. She was in last, but was well ahead of the time limitations. There had been a runner who had a biker semi-pacing her close to the aid stations. Another crew member arrived and ran back to greet his runner, who dropped at this aid station. After waiting for Maranda for an extended period, but knowing pacers weren’t allowed, I turned to the volunteer and asked: “Would it be alright if I jogged back to meet my runner?”


With his permission, I set out to find Maranda. I only had about a half mile until I ran into her. We walked it into the aid station, where wet bandanas were provided. Maranda prepped herself to head back out. She was sun-burnt, and I encouraged her to put more sunscreen on. She said that her stomach was upset, but didn’t want to take any more medication. Her legs: amazing. The rest of her: not so much. She gathered herself and took off with the plan for us to meet every 3 miles until the 4th aid station, another 12 miles away.


I drove 3 miles ahead. When Maranda reached me, she informed me that she was done. All I could respond with was “OK.”


Part of me felt like I was a horrible, awful crew person to not try and push her to do more. Another part of me was a bit relieved because she was really giving me no indication how sick she felt. She already had a fever, had spent the night throwing up, was sun burnt… how much do you push a person before it becomes not safe? There was only so much aid I could give her on the course. I had honestly questioned if it was smart for her to even start. The fact that she had made it 34 miles in her state was beyond me.


View from inside the second covered bridge of the race.

Sitting with her on the side of the road, we debated about how best to turn in her timing chip. We decided that we would drive to the next aid station. Maranda wanted me to run the rest of the race, but I said that I couldn’t; that would be bandit racing and not fair. She told me to run to the next aid station, and, with that, jumped into my car and started driving off.


The hunt had begun!


It was light-hearted and fun. I caught Maranda 3 miles down the road. There, we found the next covered bridge of the race and stopped to take pictures. A race security guy on a motor bike stopped to check on us. We informed him that Maranda had dropped and he called it into the race director. We returned to the start and turned in Maranda’s chip. Given the day it had been, we determined that getting a hotel room would trump camping behind the bar again. Driving back to Des Moines, we found a room and had dinner.

End of the day.


What an adventure! Throughout the whole of it, Maranda had been so positive. She never let how awful she was feeling bring her down. I am throughly impressed with her ability to weather the tough stuff. The race itself, the Booneville 100k, however was a bit disastrous. There is some room for forgiveness as it was its inaugural year, but the website failed to inform racers the lack of support at aid stations. Crews should have been provided with directions to the aid stations where you didn’t have to follow the course. The residents along the course should have been informed that a race was going on, in addition to the course being better marked for both the racers, the residents, and crew members. Iowa wasn’t quite what I expected, but I guess I don’t know quite what I was expecting either.


Day 7: Sunday, May 25

Rain tapped the windows of our hotel room, waking me early. I arose without waking Maranda to explore the paved bike trails of Des Moines in the wee hours of morning, the 9 hour drive ahead of me that day taunting my legs. Following the run and a sorrowful good-bye, I packed my car and took off for the Black Hills National Forest.

Stopped at Mt Rushmore.


The drive, while long, was uneventful (which is a good thing, right?). I reached the Black Hills in the late afternoon, giving me plenty of time to stop at Mt Rushmore and find a camping spot. Just a couple miles past the monument, I saw a scattering of tents through the trees and pulled off into a lot by a volt toilet. Parking next to two guys (who I later learned were Adam and Nick), I rolled down my window.

"Oh hey der goat."


“Is this the free campground?” I asked.

“Yeah,” replied Nick.

“Awesome,” I said, getting out of my car and stretching my legs. “Are you guys camping too?” When they responded in the affirmative, I furthered my inquiry, “Do you want to go for a run?”

Adam laughed, “We were just talking about doing that 20 minutes ago.”


Not five minutes later, I was galloping through the forest with two guys I had just met. Adam was still in college and Nick had graduated, both hailing from the east coast. They were taking a month-long road trip across the country to climb and run, similar to my current endeavor. Somehow, in the short distance between camp and the trail, we managed to scramble our way over rocks and around the back of Rushmore.

Run with Nick & Adam.


A solid 7 miles later, we returned to camp. There, we met a cyclist who had just arrived, Victor. Victor hailed from France and was biking across the US. How many cool people would i meet on this trip? It was but the first day! It was an evening filled with macaroni, story swapping, and plans for adventure.


Parked along side the tents, I slept in my car. It had rained and hailed not an hour before I had arrived earlier and who knew what the forecast was for that evening. I slept well.


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