Just more than 400 miles on the most dangerous highway in the United States are all that separate Laramie runner Helene Neville from a first-ever run through every state in the country.
Since 2010, Neville, has run more than 13,000 miles across 49 states. Starting this week, she’ll be running from Livengood, Alaska, to Prudhoe Bay, Alaska — 414 miles along the Dalton Highway, a dirt haul road used by truckers ferrying supplies to oil fields on the North Slope.
The notorious highway, the subject of television shows such as Ice Road Truckers and World’s Most Dangerous Roads, has never been run before, and for good reason. Heavy trucks rumble up and down its steep grades and sharp turns. Food stops, cellular service and medical care are nonexistent. Polar bears patrol the unpopulated northern tundra.
“There’s a lot of things to be cautious over,” Neville said.
She left for Anchorage, Alaska, earlier this week, where she’ll pick up a donated rental truck and trailer to live in for the next month. Friends have volunteered to accompany Neville and drive the truck ahead each day.
Neville completed the first leg of the Alaska run, from Anchorage to Livengood, earlier this spring. Last fall, she completed her 49th state with a 132-mile run around the island of Oahu in Hawaii.
Neville, who moved to Laramie in early 2018 and works as a nurse at Laramie Care Center, first started running in the 1990s after being diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a form of cancer that attacks the immune system. She completed the Chicago marathon in 1998 after chemotherapy and radiation treatments and three brain surgeries, and she later founded the Des Moines marathon in 2001.
In 2010, living in Arizona, she had just turned 50. She was adjusting to life with her youngest son off to college and still grieving the death of her mother several years earlier. That’s when she decided to do something big — she decided to go for a long run.
She trained for about a year and then did just that, running 2,520 miles from Ocean Beach, California, to Atlantic Beach, Florida, over 93 days in the summer. The route had been run before, but never in the summer.
Friends driving an RV would drop her on the highway, drive ahead 30 miles to make camp, and wait.
As she neared the Atlantic Ocean, she decided she wasn’t ready to hang up the shoes, so in 2013, after a cancer relapse and having written a book about her coast-to-coast trek, she ran 1,520 miles from Vancouver in British Columbia, Canada, to the Mexican border town of Tijuana in 45 days. During the run, she carried a 26-pound urn containing the ashes of her brother, who had just died.
This time, she stowed her gear in an Isuzu Trooper and relied on strangers she met along the way to drive ahead with her so she could drop off the car, then drive her back to the stopping point from the day before. Sometimes strangers also offered a meal or a bed.
Neville continued that trend on runs from Florida to Maine in 2014 and New Brunswick, Canada, to the Washington coast in 2015.
She supported her runs by selling T-shirts and books, and her accomplishments drew the attention of media outlets around the country, including Runner’s World magazine and ABC News. She shared her story in hospitals and schools in towns she passed through.
After finishing her run around the perimeter of the country, Neville returned home to Las Vegas, Nevada. She then experienced another cancer recurrence and went through more chemotherapy treatment.
In 2017, Neville decided to run almost 4,000 miles through the remaining 12 states she hadn’t yet covered in the country’s interior, including Wyoming. Two weeks after her port was removed, in May 2017, she toed the starting line in Evanston on what would be the toughest leg yet.
She was planning to cross Wyoming along Interstate 80 in about six days, but was hit with debilitating altitude sickness. She managed about 10 miles a day but also found herself in the hospital at one point and spent 30 days in the Equality State.
Wyomingites, she said, truly took care of her. They sat with her in the hospital, found her on the road to check on her, donated hotel rooms and ran beside her.
In Alaska, Neville is hoping to average about 13 miles a day on the Dalton Highway. That’s an easy amount for her, but she’s being cautious to account for unknown challenges.
“I have no clue what to expect,” she said.
Among the many logistical hurdles, she’s had to get permission and security clearance from BP, which controls access to the last three miles of the highway before it meets the North Sea.
“They’ll have a whole security detail with me,” she said.
BP has also given her permission to camp in pull-outs along the highway that provide access to the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System.
The Dalton Highway is the most remote road that Neville will travel, but she’ll still encounter the ubiquitous travelers of every highway system — truckers, about 160 a day. She’s met them on every run.
“The one constant was truckers, and they always stopped,” she said.
Neville said she feels a special affinity for truckers because of their constant presence on her runs, and she’s proud to be in a position to highlight their work.
“They literally move our world,” she said.
Although she’ll pass through only one settlement and won’t encounter many strangers, another feature of previous runs, this time Neville has an audience watching from afar and supporting her efforts. Donations big and small have made the trek possible.
“I’m honored and humbled that people thought I was worthy of help, and to see it through,” she said.
Neville will be updating her progress through a satellite device connected to the website www.whereishelene.com. She’ll also post occasional update on her Facebook page, One on the Run, a name that’s taken on a deeper meaning as the run has progressed.
When she started running in 2010, One on the Run referred to a single person going for a long run. Then she began meeting people everywhere she traveled who cared about her. That one person found oneness with strangers through shared kindness.
“It changed quickly, and it just got deeper and deeper — the beautiful display of humanity,” she said.
Even though she’ll be running alone, she said, she’ll be connected to thousands of others that have supported the journey.