A Guest Blog by Sarah Hodder

This blog was written by Sarah Hodder, one of the incredible MVP Protest Runners who successfully ran along the entire 303 mile MVP route.

Sunday, April 25th:

We woke up bright and early Sunday morning feeling nervous and excited. Russell was there at 5 AM with a delicious pot full of freshly brewed coffee. This became quite a theme in our journey. We packed up our soaked camp – it rained all night — and started our trek towards the Bradshaw Compressor Station to begin our journey.

From our second turn out of the campsite, the routing issues began. Due to a lack of service, and Google Maps trying to take us on back roads that didn’t exist, we made about 4 wrong turns and had to turn around before we were en route. The day was drizzly, cold and dreary – a perfect metaphor for both the fight and the day we had ahead of us. We made it to the compressor station. That alone was a sight to behold. Opening the window or car door, you could immediately hear the buzzing of the station. A buzz that rang through your ears and settled deep in your stomach. It was a clear juxtaposition to see the station. Such beautiful mountains and old, abandoned areas abut to the compressor station which would push fracked gas under high pressure through a pipeline spanning 303 miles. Compressor stations are what you could compare to the heart of a pipeline. Just as your heart pumps blood to circulate throughout your system, the compressor station pumps gas to circulate through the length of the pipeline.

The runners embrace by the compressor station before beginning the MVP Protest Run. Sarah is on the right, Mercedes in the middle and Katie to the left in the green. Photo by Matthew Pickett

Once Mercedes and I figured out that the route wouldn’t upload on her watch, I gave her mine to use for navigation, we snapped a few photos with the “STOP FRACKING OUR FUTURE” banner – and she was off. She hadn’t made it a mile before we were concerned she hadn’t gone the right direction. To summarize the issues, our routing platform, along with Google Maps had been using outdated data for the area. The route was supposed to go up the mountain, past the compressor station, back down and then we’d follow along it in a general direction. However, these roads were not passable – one hadn’t been used in years and had begun turning into a grassy patch and ended in a small stream. We went up and down this one gravel road so many times trying to follow the route until we finally realized this wasn’t going to be possible. We made it up to the compressor station, but immediately upon pulling up, were greeted by “security” who told us to turn around and come back how we came. There was no access in any other direction. So, that’s what we did. Once we got back down to where we had started, we pulled out a WV road map and tried to navigate using that. We made the decision, after taking two hours to go three miles, that we’d cut out a section, head towards a local couple we met the night before and have them help us with routing.

The MVP Protest Runners’ message in Mobley, WV. Photo by Matthew Pickett

Once we made it to their house, we were immediately relieved. One of Ryan’s tires was losing air, so Charlie helped him sort that out. They offered us coffee and tea, let us use their internet and we plotted our next steps. Their dogs were also the most pleasant surprise – dogs seemed to make quite a presence in our trek!

Once we sorted ourselves out and had Russell there with us, we were on our way! From there, we had a caravan that included Russell, Ryan, and our van. The navigation was still sketchy – these back roads were difficult to traverse having no clearance on our cars. Somehow the Prius and van made it through unscathed while Russell blew his muffler off. That meant he had to leave for a little while to get that situated. Somehow, he magically found us again, and continued to be our constant support and encouragement that day and for many others. After making it nearly 60 miles from where we started, Matt found us, and we were ready to call it a day and drive to our campsite at Stonewall Jackson State Park.

There, we were greeted with Russell, Maury (who would be vital to us making it through the trip), and a local to the Stonewall Jackson area named Diana. Diana spoke with us about how her family farm was taken from them to create the resort we were staying at. They promised that the farmhouse would be preserved – the family was even denied from taking their chandeliers and other meaningful items attached to the house as the builders promised to preserve it. She would later come to find that it had been totally leveled. The golf courses we were seeing were once the fields for her cows to roam on their angus farm. I can’t imagine how it had to feel to come back to the very place where your farmhouse from the 1800s once stood – where you could look out along the pasture and see your hard work and livestock. Now, to see strangers golfing on your land. We talked about how it’s a common theme in our capitalist society – how natives experience the same feelings to this day. How they were pushed out of their land so that white men could come and profit off of it. It’s hard to take in. But these individuals, despite their hardships, were so willing to share their stories, their wisdom, and their hope with us. And for that, I’m so grateful.

After that, we sat with Diana and Maury over dinner and went over our route for the next day, seeking roads that were manageable and usable for car, bike, and foot. We decided to call it an early night and hit the hay. We would begin the next morning around 5 AM again and wanted to be well rested in case it was a day like we had just experienced.

At Stonewall Jackson State Park with Diana and Maury. Photo by Matthew Pickett

Monday, April 26th:

We woke up bright and early to begin the day. It started to become routine, and we were just two days in – wake up, coffee, tear down camp, coffee, confirm route and GO! And of course, Russell greeted us yet again with a huge pot of delicious coffee and magically disappeared until we were ready to roll. He truly was somewhat of an angel disappearing and reappearing as we needed him.

This morning, Ryan started our day off covering 13 miles. We began directly outside of the resort and he ran along the road there for his miles. It was such a beautiful morning. Matt and Russell came for most of the day. It was a super foggy morning with a nice chill to the air. The countryside there was so beautiful. The dew on grass, the clouds laying low, the sun peeping through – it was hard to comprehend we were there for a cause that was so destructive!

Ryan finished out his miles and from there Mercedes hopped on her bike. And the road immediately went UP. And up. And up. And up. That poor girl climbed so many mountains on her bike. On winding, twisted roads, through expansive forests and countryside. It was absolutely beautiful… and I thank her for taking those mountains from us to have to run on foot!

After Mercedes ran, I was up next. Katie and I decided that we would switch off and on and run relay style so we didn’t have to take it in such huge chunks. That meant I’d run around 5 miles, then she’d do the same and we’d just keep switching back and forth. From here, I ran 5 miles to where we would then meet up again with Maury. And this is where it began. Katie picked up her 5 miles and from there, Maury made note to her that she’d be going up a hill, it’d get steep for just a minute and then it wouldn’t be so bad after that. Once she got up top, there’d be a beautiful overlook that she’d be able to take in a view from. Then it’d be ridgeline before it descended. Well, that was BS. It was a huge climb that went on for probably 2 miles. Poor girl. Then the ridge line kept going up and down then UP then down. Then it was my turn to run and from there, it all went downhill – a nice steep descent into a little town called Erbacon. It was beautiful, though. Maury followed along waving his “Yellow Finch Strong” towel at cars to slow them down and keep us safe.

Maury Johnson with his ‘Yellow Finch Strong’ flag. Photo by Matthew Pickett

We passed numerous locations where the pipeline was set to go in. It’s so sad to see these people in their community directly next to something that is damaging their water, their way of living and could put their lives at risk. I wondered if we got to stop and talk with them about what we were doing, how they would feel about it. I remember running down the hill into Erbacon – the sun was shining, the grass was such a lush green, and I ran over a small, grated bridge across the Missouri Creek. It was so beautiful. Just a little way outside of town you’d turn around and there’s a massive cut in the side of the mountain where trees had been cleared and pipeline laid in the ground. It was such a stark contrast after the beautiful town I’d just run through. I thought to myself then that as awful as the pipeline was visibility, that was nothing compared to the damage it was doing underneath the surface where it’d been laid.

Katie finished off the section with the last stretch where we came into the town of Cowen. From here we decided, we’d make our sleeping arrangements off route and come back to start the next day.

Ryan left us here which was sad for me, but he would be returning in just a handful of days to see us finish up the project. After deliberating with Russell, Maury & Matt, we made the call to get a room in Summersville, as Tuesday was supposed to be a rest day. From there, we’d shower, get some supplies and use the internet to figure out the next few days.

Ultimately, due to the route distance and how long it would take us, we decided to each cover 5 miles on Tuesday to take 15 miles off our long day on Wednesday. We got Burger King for dinner, showered, planned our 15 miles for the next day and decided to chill for the evening.

Sarah pauses to take in the the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) ROW in West Virginia. Photo by Matthew Pickett

Tuesday, April 27th:

We woke up and already, Russell had coffee ready for us in his room. He even had four mugs laid out for us to use. After gathering our things from the room and getting caffeinated, we made our way back to where we had left off. It had become mentally manageable to break up the runs into 5 mile segments. We had no problem busting those out quickly. Russell met back up with us during the last segment which really made me realize how much driving he was doing to meet up with us at different points. From here, he’d head back home and then catch back up with us on Friday.

The last segment, Mercedes biked directly up the side of a mountain. It was a huge climb from town to a truck pull-off on a busy road. After she made the trek UP the mountain, it was only fair she got to ride back down so we let her FLY down and followed her to the bottom where she got to spend some time with her feet dipped in the nearby creek.

After our ride/run, we made our way back to the room so we could take care of work or personal things. Mercedes’ boyfriend Issah was coming to meet us with her dog Moose, bearing with him our list of grocery needs.

Once I got some work emails answered, I began work on our routes for the next few days. Wednesday’s miles would be hefty, but it was Saturday that we really needed to sort. Those trail miles we were stoked on. So, I spent some time on the phone with Maury to try to understand our routes, we relaxed and started on some dinner.

We pulled out all of our gear from the van and had that thrown across the parking lot to dry out. In an attempt at trying to be organized, we resituated everything in the van, but we knew that’d be futile. For dinner, we set up the camp stove and made “nachos grande”. Really, they were more of an impossible meat filling loaded with veggies that we ate in a wrap rather than over top any chips. In fact, I don’t think we ended up eating any chips with them.

We called it an early night as we were waking up bright and early on Wednesday to cover nearly 50 miles.

Sarah heads down a hill in Monroe County, WV. Photo by Matthew Pickett

Reflections

Those first few days, we didn’t have a ton of interaction with locals or get to hear directly from as many folks as we would get to later in the trip. But I think these days set a tone and outlook for our entire endeavor. Using multiple routing platforms and planning things thoroughly before beginning our first day, we truly felt like we had prepared. We elicited help from local experts who know the region and area intimately. Yet, when we arrived, no technology or expert advice could really prepare us for navigating an area that we hadn’t yet stepped foot on. So, that begs the question – how can a company, perched in their offices hundreds of miles away, possibly be capable of mapping out a fracked gas pipeline that spans 303 miles? Not only was that seemingly impossible after the experience we had on that first day, but this pipeline is to be the first of its kind – a 42” diameter pipeline – larger than any to date, and traversing steep, rugged mountainsides.I thought a lot during our time driving through West Virginia. We saw people from all walks of life. We saw people riding their mowers to tend to their lawns. We saw people making their daily trek to the Post Office to pick up their mail. We saw people sitting out on their porch to enjoy a view they’ve probably been appreciating for years. We saw humanity. People going about their daily lives – trying to live their lives the best way that they can. And that’s when it really hit home that this project was about more than the pipeline causing and perpetuating environmental destruction. It was about the people. Nobody deserves to spend their entire lives working for a place to call home, for their land and their family, only to have a private company roll in to take that from them. This project was about extractive industries putting corporate profits above the health, safety and wellness of hardworking families. I think that’s something we all know deep down – It’s something I know that I knew. But for me, it took witnessing it in such detail for it to really hit home. And I am so grateful to every person who let us in. Who shared their story. Who shared their knowledge and expertise with us. Because it’s those stories and that wisdom that helps us lift one another up and helps us all to stand stronger to fight together.

The MVP Protest Runners with supporters in Monroe County. Photo by Grace Tuttle

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