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The Journey West

Death Valley Badlands, 282′ below sea level


For 37 years I have been attending the Southern Baptist Convention, the annual denominational meeting for millions of Baptists to send representatives to do church business, hang out with friends, and tell amazing stories (many of which are true). We Baptists go to a different city each year but we always have the same standards. “We came to your city with the Ten Commandments and a twenty dollar bill and we didn’t break either one.”

This year the meeting was in Anaheim, California so I decided to avoid that rushed, hurried feeling and do something different. I would drive and take my time, you know, enjoy the experience for once. Running ultramarathons has helped me to train my brain to handle long stretches in the car and, more importantly, if I stick to the main highways there will be plenty of bathrooms along the route.

Every trip has objectives so I decided that I would keep the schedule to a minimum and be flexible each day. I knew that I wanted to see Death Valley National Park. I knew that I wanted to do some family research in Ventura, California. Also, I wanted to meet my cousin and his family in Chino, California–more on that later.

My first step was to get my music playlist together. No long distance event can happen without its own playlist, right? Music ready, I thought I might throw some clothes in a bag as well.

Sunday starts early with a 6:00 AM race, the Navy Nautical 10 Miler to benefit military families and then I am off to preach for a friend later that morning. I am briefly detained by the Master-at-Arms (Navy Military Police), but only for a picture.

Schedule Alert: The Arkansas Razorback baseball team lost their game Sunday in the Oklahoma State regional championship in Stillwater, Oklahoma so the winner-take-all-game will be Monday night! I bought a ticket for $25.00 and threw a Hog shirt and hat in the bag with the suits (for the convention), the running gear (looking for great trails to run along the way), and all of the healthy snacks I could pack.

Monday June 6, 2022

Rental car secured, I will head to Stillwater and the Razorback-OSU baseball game. I stop at Mom and Dad’s house in Little Rock, Arkansas for a quick lunch and then hit the road again. I should make it just in time for the first pitch.

O’Brate Stadium is one of the nicest sports venues I have ever attended. The Oklahoma State fans around me are super nice (I tell them that I will behave).

The weather is great and the view along the third base line is perfect.

After the Razorback win I walked back to my car which was parked a few blocks away. Some locals shouted at me but I don’t care. I just smile and wave–Arkansas 7, you guys 3, bro. Drove to Oklahoma City to spend the night and be near I-40 for the next day.

Tuesday, June 7, 2022

Made it Amarillo, Texas by lunchtime and decided to eat at the Big Texan Steakhouse. Made the afternoon drive to Albuquerque, New Mexico and ate at an authentic Mexican restaurant where the salsa burned a hole in the top of my head.

Schedule Alert: My hotel in Albuquerque is close to the Rio Grande Valley State Park. Sounds like a great chance for an early morning trail run.

Wednesday June 8, 2022

Parked the car and it seemed like a safe area. Headed out for a run. No time just a fun run.

The altitude of Albuquerque is about 5400 feet, almost a mile high. Ran five miles on a trail along the Rio Grande River. Originally not impressed with the tiny river until I realized, when the trail turned, that I had been running alongside a drainage ditch. The real Rio Grande river was as big and grand as a John Wayne Western. #Embarrassed.

The real Rio Grande

Drove to Henderson, Nevada. No fancy restaurants today and I am trying to avoid fast food so I am eating like the pioneers that first explored the West.

Stopped at Petroglyph National Park along the way. We had brought the family here years ago so I had seen the park already. I did buy an annual National Park Pass to have ready for the other stops on the trip.This park is so interesting because it is basically a swamp from a long time ago. Talk about your climate change! I did not stay long because I wanted to get to Nevada and get ready for one of the Big Trip Objectives the next day–Death Valley National Park.

Petroglyph National Park

Stayed at a hotel in Henderson, Nevada to keep Las Vegas off my credit card. Weird, creepy vibe at this rather nice hotel. I don’t know why. Maybe it was my discerning spirit. Or it could be that I need to stop wearing my “Only Baptists Go to Heaven” T-shirt.

Stayed in my room watching youtube videos of how to explore Death Valley in the Summertime. Apparently not dying there is a very important objective. Also, If you do die there they may not find you for a really long time. I prep by adding extra music to my playlist.

Thursday June 9, 2022

Up and out early before it gets too hot. I arrive at the Death Valley National Park Visitor Center and have a stroke of luck. Today the weather is experiencing a cold spell. Of course, it’s still 8:00 AM. The high today should be 114 degrees.

I grab a map from the ranger and head out. Lots of other people out which is reassuring. If I die here, I want company. I make an early ascent up Golden Canyon Trailhead just to see how my body holds up in the heat. The conditions were challenging to say the least. At least that what the Italian fashion models doing a photo shoot along the canyon walls said.

Great sign. Really excited that they finally banned dogs smoking here. No place for that in Death Valley.

Walked all over the park through the day but I could not get Golden Canyon out of my mind. I wanted to make it all the way to Red Cathedral, which would be a 3 mile hike but it would be late in the day and the canyon would hold in the heat. My plan was to pack my ultra-vest with all the water I could carry. I would go until my water was one-third gone and then turn back, wherever I was. To be safe, I left a note on my car in case the Park Rangers showed up. “I am hiking past the area where the Italian Fashion Models had their earlier photo shoot.” Safety first.

A long uphill slope going in with a few tight spots. Running in the Memphis Summer heat and humidity definitely helps prepare for times like this. Except for the narrow spots.

Made it back to the car and headed for the hotel in the Furnace Creek Park Center.

When I got back to my hotel room I turned the Air Conditioning on full blast and began the cool down. I ate dinner at the 1849 Restaurant Buffet. The day was not over because I wanted to go back out in the cool of the evening for a look at the stars. I headed out about 10:30 PM and hiked up Zabreskie Point. The hot desert wind blowing off the floor of the valley was like a blast furnace of convection oven air. It seemed hotter than in daylight so I didn’t stay long. We have stars back home as well.

Zabreskie Point 10:45 PM

Friday June 10, 2022

After breakfast and a stop in the Furnace Creek General Store I headed west for Ventura, California to find the grave of my great-grandfather, Lewis Spradlin. Many of my grandfather’s brothers and sisters moved West from Ohio and Kentucky around the time of the Second World War. Lewis travelled with them. Family lore says that he got a job caring for Trigger, the horse of Cowboy actor Roy Rogers. Alas, Trigger is long gone so we may never never the truth there.

I made my way to the Ivy Lawn Memorial Park in Ventura, California to the northwest of Los Angelos. The office staff were helpful but there was some confusion about where Lewis’ grave was actually located in the older part of the cemetery. One of the groundskeepers came over and eventually we found the grave.

Lewis Spradlin 1872-1958
Lewis Spradlin

Headed to Thousand Oaks, California to spend the night before a Big Objective Day tomorrow.

Schedule Alert: It turns out that there is a trail half marathon happening nearby Saturday morning and they still have slots available. After the late day Golden Canyon hike I would be a fool to run 13.1miles in the hot mountains the next day. But I ask myself an important question. What would the Italian fashion models do? I quickly sign up.

After dinner I head to Walgreens to stock up on fluids and stop and talk with an elderly lady in the parking lot. I have a Bible for her and some other help as well.

Saturday June 11, 2022

Saturday has now been designated “race day” as I make my way through Burbank, California and up to Mulholland Gateway Park. I am running in the Valley Crest Trails Half Marathon. The course boasts an elevation gain of 1,459 feet which is a lot but after the brutal Big Hill Pond Ultra back home in Tennessee how hard can this be? What I don’t know yet is that about half of the elevation gain is a sprint straight up the side of the mountain to start the race. Hello 7:30 AM!

The neighborhood I drive through to get to the race is really nice and I can’t tell the make or model of any car on the entire drive. What country am I in? This is definitely an upscale race crowd. At the race start I overhear the runners, who all look fit, thin, some perhaps medically altered, talk about their new color-themed Hokas. I don’t enter in to their conversation. What would I say? “I had my gallbladder removed once.” I guess we all have some medical secrets.

The race is hot but fun as we run on the dirt fire roads along the mountains. When the race is over I head back to the hotel to clean up and head to Saturday’s Big Objective. I am going to meet one of my cousins and his family for the first time.

My cousin and I have talked on the phone several times. Our grandfathers were brothers. His grandfather came west while mine stayed east. He is a pastor and the chaplain for the Chino, California police department. Also, his name is Mike Spradlin! We had the best time together and I got to meet his wonderful wife Carla as well. I plan to visit his church Sunday morning even though he is on a sabbatical after two decades of pastoring there. I look forward to introducing myself to his church members as “Mike Spradlin.”

Mike Spradlin and Mike Spradlin

Sunday June 12, 2022

Visited Valley Christian Church in Chino and the people were so friendly. Especially when I told them my name. Mike has been the lead pastor there since 2005.

Someone else who was at church today was Mike and Carla’s son, Christian Spradlin. Christian is an honors graduate from California Baptist University where he studied under Dr. Chris Morgan, graduate of Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary, where I serve.

Christian Spradlin and Mike Spradlin
Carla, Christian, Mike, and Mike Spradlin

Sunday night I check in to the convention hotel and go to the Conservative Baptist Network conference to hear Dr. Voddie Baucham and Dr. John MacArthur preach. It is a great night of preaching and fellowship. My only problem was that at the end of Dr. MacArthur’s sermon he is reading from the diary of William Wilberforce. Wilberforce, British politician who led the fight to ban the slave trade in the British empire, also kept a diary where he continually writes of his utter wickedness before the Lord. All I can think about is that the day before I was driving on the Ventura highway playing a song called “Ventura Highway.”

Schedule Alert: Mike Spradlin tells me that we have another cousin in the LA area, Mary Lou (Spradlin) French. Mary Lou is my Dad’s first cousin on the Spradlin side. I call her and she says I can come and see her the next day. And she has some old family pictures!

Monday June 13, 2022

Mary Lou French and Mike

What was supposed to be a short visit turns into lunch at a local coffee shop. Mary Lou has an amazing life story of her own and is writing a book. I won’t spoil it but I was mesmerized while she recounted some of her experiences. She is getting ready to work at Vacation Bible School at her church the next week but she makes time for our visit and I am so grateful that she did.

Tuesday June 14, 2022

Tuesday starts with a sold out Conservative Baptist Network Breakfast and then a day of denominational meetings. Regardless of the ebb and flow of convention business through the years it is always great to connect with so many wonderful friends and make some new ones as well.

Wednesday June 15, 2022

Mike, Heinrich, Bret, Andy, Sascha, Phil, and Hollie

Wednesday starts off great. I breakfast with some friends from Germany and others. My conversational German is actually quite good. I am able to tell them, in German, that I don’t speak German. They don’t seem surprised.

Convention business done, Tim, Dawn Hight, and I head across town to the LA Dodgers and California Angels baseball game at Dodgers Stadium.

Tim and Dawn Hight, Food Explorer Experts

I have eaten really healthy on this trip but the one time I slip up with a Dodger dog and a Coke, I am busted.

Thursday June 16, 2022

Thursday begins the fast track back home but I decide to go the southern route, along I-10, just to be different. I make good time but I do make one side stop to see the General Patton Museum. Great experience but I did notice a misspelled German word on one of the displays. Just sayin’

Stayed the night in El Paso, Texas.

Friday June 17, 2022

Friday all traffic was pulled off the interstate to go through a border crossing checkpoint. The border agent asked me if I could provide proof that I was an American citizen. I stated that I could do so and once the sniffer dog was through he told me to proceed and have a nice day. The alternate story is that I said, “No habla ingles, Go Biden” and he said, “Welcome to America, here’s a phone and enjoy your stay.” (Just kidding).

Late in the day I stopped at Buc-ees (if you know, you know) and I wanted something different to drink besides water. I saw some fruit drinks that had no sugar or calories so I bought two and drank them down. About an hour later I felt so good that I thought I might not stop in Texarkana tonight but drive all night and get home early. After another hour I felt so good that I thought I could run all the way home. Then I realized that I drank two energy drinks back to back. I did finally get to sleep, about 3:00 AM.

Saturday June 18, 2022

I drove back through Little Rock, Arkansas and stopped at Mom and Dad’s for an early lunch again. We talked about the trip, about family members met, and new friends made. I made it back to Memphis after lunch.

Valor Homecoming

Respectfully Submitted,

The End

3 comments on “The Journey West

  1. Tim Ruth says:

    Dude YOU ROCK such an inspirational story treck!! Im forwarding to my son and wife at travis afb. They are kindred spirits to you and I had to check that this wasn’t Brandons post but Spradlions![lion is intentional] Hey you wanna run grand canyon rim to rim via kaibob trail oct 8th? Brandon and wife will run r2r2r[46 mile] and im planning to run r2r [22 miles] They start at south rim 5-6 am meet me at north rim 12;30 get back by dark ! As the 70-s go KEEP ON TRUCKIN BRO!!


  2. Kelly Smith says:

    Dr Mike, what a great journey. I am so glad you stopped at the Big Texan in Amarillo Texas. I lived there for 12 years. Did you eat the 72 ounce steak with all the trimmings in a hour? I did not see your comments on that….Love you Bro…Pastor Kelly


  3. Beverly Gresham says:

    Dr Mike, you are a “hoot”! I have enjoyed reading about your trip to the convention immensely! What fun and excitement, meeting more Spratlins! Praise the Lord for safety there and back and glad a search party didn’t have to be dispatched to look for you!!!!! Jack could have related!!!
    Beverly Gresham


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