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Crossing Nevada Ð five miles at a time

Andrea Robb-Bradick

TONOPAH – Thousands of people saw my run to work … and I did it only once. You may have seen me, too, if you have driven on U.S. 95 north of Tonopah.

The run to work was a challenge I decided to take after hearing stories of the Nevada pioneers and their long journeys in the north state. This “run to work” was 240 miles, and it took much longer than anticipated.

I realize there are people who could do this distance in two ultra-marathon runs. For me, a long run is five miles. I have a weak body, but a strong will and lots of determination.

My late husband’s family were pioneers in Nevada. I had heard and read stories about their travels from one mining camp to another. They led such amazing lives and had such different attitudes about life and adventure than we have today. I wish I had been born in that time.

They would travel 30 or 40 miles to attend one dance, and this social occasion could take anywhere from three days to a week to accomplish. If the ore disappeared in one mining camp, they made plans to move to another area where they could grow potatoes until another find of gold or silver was announced. They then would move on to another adventure in a new mining camp.

I feel we lead such predictable, safe lives today. We travel in air-conditioned or heated cars and don’t have a feeling for the land as we travel. I decided to experience a small part of the pioneering spirit by traveling on foot across the area of Nevada where the ancestors had traveled a century earlier.

In the process of my “run to work,” I have had my feet on every mile of the road from my home in Reno to my workplace, the Jim Butler Motel in Tonopah. I have smelled the vegetation in all the different seasons, felt the sweltering desert heat as well as the bone-chilling cold, squinted in the noon-day sun and strained to see in the dark of night – slowly covering the 240 miles to work.

The week of my 50th birthday, I had one of those “light bulbs” go on in my head. My late husband and I were taking our monthly trip to Tonopah from Reno so we could deliver supplies to our motel and spend time doing maintenance work. I had been able to complete a nearly five-mile race in Reno and knew that it was a distance I could complete with some effort. I figured each month as we drove to Tonopah that I could run a different section of the road for five miles, and by the time I was 55, I would be able to complete the “run to work.”

I made a 28-inch-long chart on graph paper and marked out the 240 miles. I watched the odometer as we drove back and forth from Reno to Tonopah and marked on the chart the landmarks and towns along the way. It made the trip interesting to note where the big hills were, where the long valleys made running easier. The week I turned 50, I began my run from Tonopah to Reno. I ran the first five miles from the doorstep of the Jim Butler Motel down into the valley below Tonopah.

There are many twists and turns in life, and my five-year project is now nearly a 10-year project. Injuries, extended health problems and the death of my husband delayed its completion.

I didn’t think I would be able to complete my “run to work” when my husband died. You need someone to drive along with you out in the middle of nowhere so you don’t have to run out from your car for a few miles and then run back to get your car. That would double the distance to run.

Time to heal injuries over the years, glucosamine to ease the present pain and a wonderful new husband to support me have made my goal possible.

The last miles of my run were the most difficult. I didn’t know how I could run on the road past Walker Lake. There are no safe running areas off the side of the road along the lake and especially around the cliff area. Some areas have barricades on both sides of the road, and outside the barricades are acres of boulders at the bottom of steep drop-offs.

Looking back, I enjoyed the portion of the run along the lake the most. Running beside the cliff gave me time to stop and look at all the nooks and crannies. I had driven by this area all my life but had never walked beside the cliffs. It was all part of experiencing the land and the purpose and reason for my project.

My biggest challenge was getting down the I-80 corridor from Reno to Fernley. I knew I shouldn’t walk or jog on the freeway. In many areas, the only navigating choices are on the freeway, on the railroad tracks or in the river. I couldn’t justify taking a raft down the river to get through this section of my project.

The railroad provided a feasible, if not physically challenging, route for many miles. The railroad ties are not evenly spaced so you can’t get a steady stride, and I ended up half running, half jumping and hopping when I ran along them. At several points, the only way to travel down the I-80 canyon was to cross railroad trestles over the river. My fear of heights, the swirling river below and the possibility of meeting a train in the middle of the trestle made these runs especially memorable.

My husband spent many hours scouting out dirt roads along the I-80 corridor so I wouldn’t have to run beside the freeway traffic. With persistence, we found alternative routes to travel the canyon area on foot. Some areas kept me awake at night thinking of having to run through them, especially the areas with tall sagebrush overhanging the narrow, sandy roads. One of these areas had many winding trails in the sand made by snakes. My great fear of snakes kept me moving at a quick pace in the middle of the road.

I know our early pioneering families would find my fears trivial and my challenges mild. I also know the nearly 10 years of adventures have given me a greater appreciation of their travels 100 years ago.

It has been fun planning my trips to Tonopah based on my running routes to complete my project. I may have been more diligent keeping in good physical shape so I could manage my monthly runs.

I appreciate my late husband and my present husband for the patience to allow me to pursue my weird personal challenge. I have experienced more of Nevada than I would have simply riding in the pickup over those many years.

Now as I travel down the highway “to work,” I often think of my experiences running on that particular section of road – was it hot, was it cold and windy, was it challenging? It has made the trip from home to work much more interesting over the years and will provide memories for a lifetime.

But I don’t intend to “run to work” again.

Andrea J. Robb-Bradick, 60, is a 55-year Nevada resident and owner of the Jim Butler Motel. She said she doesn’t remember when she finished other than it was about eight months ago. Her first husband’s late aunt, Blanche Robb, was a longtime employee of the Secretary of State’s Office. Both her late husband’s father, Ray Robb, and his father, Daniel Robb, were Democratic assemblymen from Nye County.