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He Winds From Chicago to L.A. at 2x6 Miles per Day

To celebrate his 66th birthday, Geores Buttner-Clevenger is jogging Route 66.

October 07, 2003|Hugo Martin | Times Staff Writer

Geores Buttner-Clevenger's cross-country trek was prompted, innocently enough, when a friend asked his age.

"I'm doing Route 66," Buttner-Clevenger said. He meant he had just turned 66.

Then it dawned on him: Why not jog Route 66, from Chicago to Santa Monica, to celebrate turning 66? Why not take the "66" theme to its extreme?

Thus was born Buttner-Clevenger's plan to run the 2,448-mile "mother road" by jogging six miles in the morning and six miles in the afternoon and finishing the trek in six months and six days. To continue the "66" theme, he planned to run each six-mile stretch in 66 minutes and finish in Santa Monica on Sunday, at six minutes after 6 p.m.

But Buttner-Clevenger, a jogger and retired radiation technician who lives in Berkeley, underestimated the task.

Since he began April 6, he said, he has been chased by dogs, harassed by police, attacked by ticks and assaulted by arthritis and repetitive stress syndrome. In Oklahoma, he was mugged once and robbed twice. He's grateful it hasn't happened 66 times.

"Oklahoma made me a faster runner," he joked Monday as he took a break in San Bernardino, preparing for his final stretch. He still plans to finish Sunday.

He has considered quitting. In Chicago, he slogged through 6 inches of snow and 35-mph wind gusts on the second day of his journey. In an e-mail to friends, he wrote, "May be home soon."

Sore but upbeat, Buttner-Clevenger said it has been worth it. He has made dozens of friends, seen some beautiful scenery and pushed his body further than he ever imagined.

"My adrenaline is keeping me going now," he said as he rested and ate an avocado at a fast-food joint along Foothill Boulevard in San Bernardino.

While his approach may be unique, Buttner-Clevenger's journey has been matched by thousands of people in cars, motorcycles, bicycles and even roller skates and wheelchairs, according to Kevin Hansel, a trustee with the California Historic Route 66 Assn. in Rialto.

Buttner-Clevenger said he believes no one else has run the route alone -- at age 66. (He turned 67 in June on the road.)

Hansel and other Route 66 aficionados applaud such feats, saying they renew interest in the road immortalized in song ("Route 66"), books ("The Grapes of Wrath) and television ("Route 66").

But Hansel, who has completed the route by car three times, warned that the trek is not for the faint of heart.

The road cuts through rugged terrain and rough neighborhoods.

Buttner-Clevenger can attest to that. He suffered bumps and bruises in an attack by muggers and lost a camera and a backpack to thieves. He has been nearly run over many times by distracted drivers.

"The risk factor is tremendous," he said.

Buttner-Clevenger said he has always loved to jog and decided the trek would be a challenge. He also wanted to get away from home to blow off some steam after a publisher rejected his book proposal about backpacking in Yosemite.

When Buttner-Clevenger raised the idea with his family, the reaction was mixed. One son said it couldn't be done. Another son simply laughed. His daughter thought the idea sounded "cool." His wife, Katie, supported the idea, guessing her husband was going through a phase.

"I think it's an age thing," she said.

Along the route, Buttner-Clevenger's wife and friends have joined him on short stretches. But for the most part, he has been alone. Buttner-Clevenger usually locks his bicycle along the route, then drives ahead six miles. He then jogs back to the bicycle, turns around and rides the bike back to the van. He repeats this twice a day.

At the beginning, it was easy to keep up the 11-minute-per-mile pace, he said. But as fatigue set in, Buttner-Clevenger said, it became hard to keep on schedule. "Every step I take I'm hurting," he said.

But he has received lots of encouragement. At a Barstow truck stop, Buttner-Clevenger said he met a cashier who held his hands and prayed for his safe journey.

"It's things like that that have inspired me to do this," he said before climbing into his van to begin his next stretch.

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