An Army veteran who pounded the pavement from coast to coast to honor the nation's fallen troops finished his grueling journey in rain and high winds on Friday in Maine.
Mike Ehredt of Hope, Idaho, placed a flag in the ground every mile along the way to honor military personnel killed in Iraq and on Friday the final flag honored Marine Maj. Jay Aubin, a pilot from Waterville who died when his CH-46E Sea Knight helicopter went down near the Iraq border.
The 49-year-old extreme runner kicked off his journey on May 1 in Astoria, Ore., averaged about 29 miles a day and took only four days off. All told, he ran 4,425 miles.
Howling winds and sheets of rain accompanied his finish on the Rockland waterfront, where supporters gathered wearing bright yellow T-shirts emblazoned with "Thanks Mike!"
"Who needs blue skies and sun when it can be like this in Maine?" he joked as he was surrounded by supporters, including some high school runners who joined him.
Friday's weather aside, the operation ran with military precision. Ehredt kept to his schedule and stayed with a different family every night. He suffered no knee or hip problems, which often plague distance runners. He didn't even lose any weight. Each morning, he popped a couple of painkillers, and hit the road.
"I never opened the door of doubt. You'd never get it shut again. So every day it was like, 'Let's get up and go," Ehredt said before heading into the rain for the final six miles.
Ehredt hatched the idea for the coast-to-coast run three years ago. And it took three years of planning to pull it off. It took 4,424 small flags and 1,000 feet of yellow ribbon to create the tributes, each bearing the name of a service member, that he placed on the ground at 1-mile intervals.
Along the way, Ehredt went through 19 pairs of trail-running shoes, drank 40 gallons of chocolate milk (one quart a day) and consumed 668 Aleve (two each morning and night).
Though he didn't personally know any military personnel killed in Iraq, Ehredt said he felt a kinship that all former service members feel and wanted to honor the fallen. And many were moved by his gesture. A mother from Alabama drove 28 hours to Colorado to be there when he placed a flag honoring her son, he said.
"For whatever reason I can't explain, I just felt a connection to those young people and people my age from Iraq. And I just wanted to do a personal tribute," he said.
Maj. Gen. John Libby, adjutant general of the Maine National Guard, said soldiers, Marines, sailors and airmen and women all appreciate Ehredt's efforts.
"What a remarkable feat. All us are just looking for some validation that people appreciate what we've done. But this validation is on the extreme edge," he said.
Ehredt is no stranger to pushing his body to its limits. He got the running bug at a young age and as a soldier in Germany he won the Army Cross Country Championships.
Later, he took up trail running in Colorado and Idaho, and continued to push toward more difficult runs like the 250-mile Trans-Himalayan run in Nepal, the six-day Marathon des Sables race across the Saraha, and the Rocky Mountain Slam which consists of Bighorn, Hardrock, Wasatch and the Bear 100-mile races.
Ehredt said he didn't mind the stinging, wind-driven rain and thunderclaps on the final day of his run.
He noted that it was a raw day on which he began in Oregon.
"After that first mile, and the first flag was planted, I turned around and there was a rainbow. It was an omen," he said.