Mike Ehredt made an unplanned stop on his way from Preston to Decorah Tuesday morning as he kept seeing picturesque scenes he felt worthy of recording. As soon as he saw the log cabin at the side of the trail, he had to stop for a photo, something he said he doesn't usually do on his marathon distance daily runs.
Mike Ehredt made an unplanned stop on his way from Preston to Decorah Tuesday morning as he kept seeing picturesque scenes he felt worthy of recording. As soon as he saw the log cabin at the side of the trail, he had to stop for a photo, something he said he doesn't usually do on his marathon distance daily runs.
As the light of dawn filtered down into the valley in Preston Tuesday, Mike Ehredt walked out of his room at the Trailhead Inn with his belongings packed in a modified jogging stroller. He pushed the stroller out of the parking lot and started running. Approximately six hours later he reached Decorah, a distance of more than 30 miles.

For many people, Tuesday, Sept. 11, was a special day as they took time to remember the horror of 9/11. For Ehredt, it was just another day in his solitary quest to remember the fallen soldiers of Afghanistan. While 9/11 still captures our nation's attention once a year, the war in Afghanistan, which resulted from 9/11 and is now the longest war in U.S. history, has moved into the background with a seemingly wall of silence around it.

Ehredt, a runner and veteran, is doing his part to keep the memories of fallen soldiers alive by running the equivalent of a marathon a day for 81 days as the Idaho resident makes his way from the Canadian border to the Gulf of Mexico as part of his own Project America Run Part II. Along the way he is planting a flag for each deceased veteran at every mile point in his run.

As he began the day's run down Fillmore Street in Preston, a car slowed down to a crawl. A woman rolled down the window. "I saw you on TV last night," she shouted. Then, with added emphasis, said "thank you" before rolling up her window and going on her way.

Ehredt, who had been interviewed by a couple television reporters the previous night, quietly acknowledges the show of support as he silently ran down the street in the early morning light. The slogan on the side of his stroller and on the back of his shirt "One Life, One Flag, One Mile," are the only indications that he is a man on a mission.

Kathy Dahl, Preston's tourism director, helped set up Ehredt's stay in Preston after running there from the St. Charles area and took him out to dinner Monday night following a talk to a group of interested people that gathered at the trailhead Monday afternoon. She noted that he was not using the run as an opportunity to draw attention to himself and never once asked anyone in Preston for donations to his cause.

"His heart is in the right place, in that, his goal with the run is to truly honor the fallen soldiers and comfort their families with the message that their son or daughter has not been forgotten," said Dahl.

His website (www.projectamericarun.com) notes that "there is no statement to be made, no political message, just a personal tribute and a gift of thanks to those who served our country."

The journey

After the brief exchange with the supportive driver, Ehredt continued his run down Fillmore Street, making his first stop near a city light pole adorned with a large flag waving in the early morning breeze. He stopped, planted a small flag with a yellow ribbon below it that listed the name, rank, age and hometown of a fallen military member and then saluted before moving on, an action he will repeat 2,100 times, once every mile, before the end of his journey.

Although Ehredt is using the simplest form of transportation possible, he is well outfitted with technology. His iPhone has a custom software program installed that marks each flag with a graphic marker on a website for families to acknowledge the memorial to their soldier. He also has a Garmin watch with GPS so he can track each mile, an alarm sounding so he knows it is time for his ritual. Another unit on his stroller tracks his progress so people in the next town waiting for him can see how close he is and in case his location is needed for an emergency.

Typically, he runs the highways and roads through the country, but Tuesday he decided to run the Harmony-Preston Valley State Trail on the recommendation of Dahl, who noted that it is about the same distance as Highway 52 to Harmony. Ehredt was glad she made the recommendation.

"I don't usually stop to take pictures," he said as he interrupted his run a second time in the first three miles to record the scenery he was encountering on his early morning travel. He was clearly impressed with the beauty of the trail.

Ehredt started in International Falls, Minn., on Aug. 23. His journey on foot will end in Galveston, Texas, on Nov. 11, Veterans Day. Over the 2,100 miles he runs, he will plant 2,100 flags. That is greater than the death toll so far, but he knows it will grow during his journey and wants to include the recently deceased in his invisible wall of honor across the country. This is his second cross-country trip, as part one of Project America Run in 2010 covered more than 4,000 miles from Astoria, Ore., on the Pacific Ocean coast to Rockland, Maine, on the Atlantic coast to honor those who died in Iraq.

Shoes, not body, wear out

On the stroller's handle bar next to the box full of flags hang 19 shoelaces, one for each pair of shoes Ehredt has gone through on his two journeys. He said he should clear the laces out as they add to the clutter, but he keeps them there, even the ones from 2010, for good luck.

He replaces his shoes about every 300 miles. He has shoes and a new supply of flags shipped to future destinations on a regular basis. Tuesday, he made arrangements for a special delivery of warmer running gear after viewing weather forecasts in Iowa for cooler and rainy weather later in the week.

When asked about the toll of running a marathon every day with no breaks in his daily schedule, Ehredt said he hasn't encountered any problems. For one thing, he runs at an easy pace, noting that his movements aren't much more than what a working person may encounter over a full day.

"The body can handle much more than people realize," he said.

He attributes a routine that makes sure he gets adequate sleep and good meals to his endurance on foot. He gets an early start, takes a power nap as soon as he gets into a new town before meeting with the residents and makes sure he has a good night's sleep. He also has a special fuel - a quart of chocolate milk - that gets him through the long distances. He wears compression sleeves on his legs to reduce the risk of injury during the run and longer compression sleeves that cover his entire legs at night to enhance recovery.

His main concern is with his energy lagging, not pain or soreness, as he never takes a break from his daily routine of running.

Spirit of Americans

In a blog he wrote on Wednesday, Ehredt said he spent much of Tuesday, the 11th anniversary of 9/11, trying to answer a question a 4-year-old asked a few days ago: "Why is freedom so important to you?" He noted that he looks at the names on each flag and the yellow ribbon to try to find a connection between them and those we lost on Sept. 11, 2001, in New York.

"I come to the conclusion that it is the spirit of we Americans," he wrote. "A spirit that we inherited. There is a core value in us all, one that is indisputable." Recalling the firefighters and others rushing to aid those in need, he concluded "we respond without hesitating. Lives are sacrificed to save others."

Prior to delving into these thoughts, Ehredt made his way down the trail answering questions from a journalist running alongside him. He recalled many stories about the people he has met and some of the memories he still carries with him.

For example, he reached into a pouch on his stroller and pulled out a beat up Liberty dollar coin he found on the road just after a string of happenings that seemed to have more meaning than pure coincidence. Then he pulled a bullet out of his pocket that a retired police officer in Lake City had given him. The officer told him that the bullet had been meant for him, the last one left in a gun carried by a criminal that had already shot him twice with only a bullet-proof vest saving his life. He gave it to Ehredt, feeling it would prevent harm from coming to him along his journey.

Ehredt also told stories about the gracious people he has stayed with on his journey. As he headed toward Iowa he recalled asking one man how he would know when he crossed the border into Iowa, questioning if there was a welcome sign. The Minnesotan joked that once he got into Iowa he would "lose his smarts" because that's what happens in Iowa, showing the good-natured rivalry of the two states.

However, Ehredt's first encounter with Iowa was inspiring. He ran with the Luther College cross-country team as he approached Decorah and then gave a talk to 600 students, who in unison greeted him with a physical and vocal tribute to 9/11.

The tribute clearly moved Ehredt, who ended his blog for that day with "We care. We believe. We are generous. We respect. We sacrifice. We are honest. We are thankful. We love. We listen. We learn.

"We remember........."