1,136 miles of road: 69-year-old runner makes trek from Texas to A.L. via US Hwy 69

Published 12:00 am Sunday, June 4, 2006

By Joseph Marks, staff writer

Geores Buttner-Clevenger crossed an unusual kind of finish line Friday night.

At 6:09 p.m., the 69-year-old completed an almost-two-month run along all of U.S. Highway 69, beginning in Port Arthur, Texas and ending at its intersection with Main Street in Albert Lea where the road becomes U.S. Highway 13.

The retired lab technician from Berkeley, Calif. said he felt &8220;fresh as a daisy&8221; moments after completing the 1,136 mile run.

Buttner-Clevenger wore a red shirt with the numbers &822069;&8221; on the front and back for the last leg of his journey. The 69-year-old also sported a long white beard he said he hasn’t shaved in 25 years.

On Saturday, Buttner-Clevenger ran three more miles up Highway 13 to the Interstate 90 intersection. By crossing the interstate, he said he had crossed most of the even numbered highways in the nation.

During his trek, Buttner-Clevenger ran a 10-minute-mile. Traveling 6.9 miles at a stretch, it took him 69 minutes to complete each leg of the journey.

Buttner-Clevenger said he couldn’t wait until June 9 to complete the journey because he turns 70 June 8.

&8220;I’ve seen people retire and they stop doing things and die,&8221; he said Thursday south of Lake Mills, Iowa at the 211 mile marker. &8220;Others are busier than they were before they retired. They’re working and full of life. I’ve met a lot of people like that and I’ve borrowed some of that from them to help me on my run.&8221;

Buttner-Clevenger said he is making the run to bring attention to physical fitness and the environment.

&8220;I want people to pay attention to their priorities,&8221; he said. &8220;I want to inspire people to be fit and care about mother nature.&8221;

The 69-year-old gained national attention three years ago, at the age of 66, when he ran U.S. Route 66 beginning in Chicago and ending in Los Angeles.

He said the run won him a title in Ripley’s Believe It or Not as the first person to make the run entirely alone. He also got a spread in the L.A. Times and was featured on the Ellen DeGeneres Show

Along the way, Buttner-Clevenger inspired many people with his run. When he returned to fetch his bike, tied to mile marker 211, south of Lake Mills, Iowa, Thursday afternoon, he found a bag of fresh strawberries tied to the frame with a note of support signed by &8220;the Johnson family.&8221;

When he completed the run Friday, a few people who came to watch him cross the finish line honked their horns in support.

One observer, Tim Trcka, said to Buttner-Clevenger, &8220;You know what I want to do now? I want to go running. But I don’t have the right shoes,&8221; he said pointing to his sandals.

People didn’t get too close though. Buttner-Clevenger chewed warm cloves of garlic while running, a trick he said he learned while running Highway 66 to keep ticks away and rarely showered.

Buttner-Clevenger’s only company on the trek was a bicycle named Blu and a van named Liah. Buttner-Clevenger said he usually left the bike tied to a mile marker and drove 6.9 miles ahead. Then he ran back to the bike and biked back to the van. The van was his home during the journey.

The van is outfitted with a bed and a roof that goes up.

On Buttner-Clevenger’s way up from Port Arthur, Liah had a blanket in its side window with a Highway 69 road sign that said &8220;run&8221; at the top and &8220;bicycle&8221; at the bottom. A few minutes after completing the run, Buttner-Clevenger changed the sign to read &8220;ran & bicycled.&8221;

Buttner-Clevenger kept a log of his journey that he shared in regular e-mails to a list that grew to 110 by the end of the journey. After returning home, he said, he plans to write about his run for Ex-L’s Express, a local retirement magazine.

He usually e-mailed from public libraries and rest stops that had wireless Internet.

Before starting his journey up Highway 69, Buttner-Clevenger said he planned to drive the road to Port Arthur and visit some of the places he’d later run through. But while driving through the Mojave Desert, he said, he worried he’d never make the run if he saw the landscape first.

Buttner-Clevenger often faced danger during his run due to failing eyesight. He said many drivers were kind enough to pull over for him during the run, especially through Iowa where the shoulder of the road was gravel, but he would not have made it through without a flock of angels flying above him.

During his career, Buttner-Clevenger ran a portrait studio for about 10 years and worked in the physics lab at the University of California in Berkeley for 29 years. He said he always kept physically fit, playing tennis and other sports but didn’t begin running seriously until he was in his 50s and began running competitively when he was in his 60s.

He has two great-grandchildren.

When he returns to California, Buttner-Clevenger said he plans to continue research into science and history at the UC-Berkeley library and make repairs to his van Liah, which has been breaking down.

Buttner-Clevenger said some Internet chatter has compared him to Forrest Gump.

&8220;Forrest Gump is fictitious and I’m real,&8221; he said. &8220;If Tom Hanks ever looks as good as me he can play my part.&8221;

(Contact Joseph Marks at joseph.marks@albertleatribune.com or at 379-3435.)