By Jesse Wood
Ray Russell, the owner of RaysWeather.com, is halfway through his ambitious attempt to run across the entire length of the 469-mile Blue Ridge Parkway, battling through nasty weather, a nagging leg injury and a bit of loneliness.
Ray began the “Relay with Ray,” a personal challenge intended to support and promote the national treasure, two weeks ago in Waynesboro, Va. Biting off 20-mile sections of the parkway each day, Russell entered the High Country stretch of the Blue Ridge Parkway on Monday, and by the day’s end, he said he felt as strong as he began.
“I feel the best today of any day since I started,” Russell said. “That’s the most bizarre thing to say after running 20 miles … I really do feel better today than any other day at this point in the afternoon since we were in Waynesboro. I am so excited about that.”
Russell finished Monday’s run at Grandview Overlook, near Parkway Elementary School, to signs and cheers from some of the school’s students. No doubt, the encouragement from the students contributed to the way Russell felt at the end of the day’s run – that and the prospect of Russell sleeping in his own bed for the first time in two weeks.
“That was awesome,” Russell said about high-fiving the students. “I went over and greeted all of the kids. It was hilarious and so nice. The signs were great, and it gave them a nice break from the monotony of end-of-grade testing. They helped me and I hope I helped them.”
Russell came up with the “Relay With Ray” as a way to celebrate the centennial year of the National Park Service and to also raise funds and awareness of the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation and Friends of the Blue Ridge Parkway organizations.
Part of the ways members of the community can support the Relay with Ray is by running with Russell along sections of the Blue Ridge Parkway; donating to the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation; and volunteering with Friends of the Blue Ridge Parkway.
And folks have certainly taken Russell up on the offer. Along the way, Russell has met a cast of characters from all walks of life that decided to join him for a jog on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Russell ran with one fellow for a bit who was staying at a halfway house for drug and alcohol treatment and decided to run to create a healthy discipline in his life. Today, he runs marathons and ultra marathons. On Saturday, Russell ran 19 miles with Stan Austin of Charlotte. Austin is running a marathon distance once a month and tacked on a few extra miles after Russell stopped for the day to complete his marathon-for-the-month task.
Yesterday, he ran with Donny McCall, who is owner of Perrycraft, Inc. in Sparta and who was featured in Season 3 of Shark Tank with his Invis-A-Rack invention. Today, he ran with Terri Marshall, a cancer survivor, also from Charlotte, who after two years of chemotherapy is back to running marathons.
“I would say the highlight so far is that I’ve been able to run some miles with people I didn’t know, and every single one of them has a great story to tell. They are just great people,” Russell said.
With Monday being Memorial Day, Russell ran for his late son-in-law, Army 1st Lt. Jonathan W. Edds, who died in Baghdad on Aug. 17, 2007 during “Operation Iraqi Freedom.”
“He was just a great man,” Russell said.
While Russell is halfway through his 469-mile journey, he’s nowhere near bypassing the most difficult terrain of the Blue Ridge Parkway. Ahead of him, Ray has his sights set on Grandfather Mountain, Mount Mitchell, Mount Pisgah, the Balsams and Water Rock Knob.
“Those are some nasty climbing days,” a humble Russell said.
If you want to see Russell in action, he’ll be running through the High Country for a short while. By Wednesday night, he’ll be on the other side of Grandfather Mountain, making his way toward Little Switzerland.