By the following Monday, the stream of visitors to the Shattos' house began to slow, and Kerry went into his garage and began to work. His father had given him one wooden board, and Margo's dad had given him the other. For seven hours, Kerry sanded, routed, notched and nailed, blinking away the sawdust and tears. He painted and repainted until it looked just right. At 1:30 a.m., the time of the crash, the cross was finished. "This was as close to building a coffin as I could get," Kerry says. "I wanted to build something for my son."
The next day, at Tie Siding, Kerry and his family finished kicking through the dust of Mile 417 and then thrust a steel stake into the ground and mounted the white cross before a barbed-wire fence. IN MEMORY OF THE 8, it reads. The names, all painted black, are carved into the wood: SHANE CODY NICK KYLE JOSHUA JUSTIN KEVIN MORGAN. The wind blows unendingly out there, and cars and trucks whip loudly past. Come winter, the ground and everything on it will be buried under snow.
Everyone worries about Chris Jons. In the first few weeks after the crash, he slept two hours a night. He's got a partially torn hamstring, nerve damage in one foot and a knee that clicks every time he bends it, but he's running as hard as ever. He survived a wreck himself about a year and a half ago. He's trying to be strong. No one is fooled. "He doesn't want to show it," says Greg Schabron, "but it shows more on him than on anybody else."
Jons is the perfect captain, 23 years old going on 50, one of those people who love being in charge. He's the man who organized team dinners and the freshman initiations, the road trips to Saratoga, Wyo., the naked runs. The night of the crash, Jons had gone camping. It was his first night in weeks away from his teammates.
At a candlelight vigil on campus the Monday after the accident, Jons stood in the rain amid all that flickering light. He stared at the photographs of the eight, propped up at the base of the Cowboy statue, and he watched everyone drift away as the hours passed. He stayed all night, staring at the pictures, and when the sun crested the mountains, he went for a run.
"If I'd been there, it would've been different," Jons says of the night of the accident. "We'd have left earlier; we'd have left later; we'd have gone to Saratoga; we'd be in two cars instead of one. I can't change it, but it still hurts. Those guys would've followed me off a cliff. It's like I let them down. If I could trade myself for eight, I would. It would be an easy trade."
He is driving along the course of the team's last run, the 12-mile route up in the Snowy Mountains. Here's where we started, at Fox Park, Jons says. Here's the lookout point. Here's Lake Owen. Here are the sun-washed plains and the air like cool water. Here is Wyoming. Jons loves it all, though these days he's convinced that life sucks and soon another disaster will tear through Laramie and the nation, too.
"All of us here are still hurting, but they don't care," he says of his departed teammates. "Josh is up there talking to Prefontaine, and the first thing I know Josh said to him was, 'Hey, dude, I died in a car crash too.' Kyle's saying, 'Guys, let's not talk track, but how do you think I'm going to run this week?' Morgan's telling God that he's got a stress fracture and needs a bone scan; Cody's doing a little dance; Shane's sitting there grinning; Justin's not saying much; and Kevin and Nick are just goofy, wrestling and kicking each other and enjoying themselves. And on Saturdays they're getting ready to run—even if they don't want to."
He stops the truck at the lake, where that Saturday run came to an end and they munched bananas and began planning the road trip. Lambert-B�langer and Schabron had gone down to the waterline to skip stones. Jons walks to the edge. Clouds hover above. "The sun was shining through," he says. "I remember that."
Snowflakes spin into his hair. Jons picks up a rock, hurls it and waits for the splash. He doesn't move. Runners run, but only old runners know that life has a way of catching up to you. Then all you can do is stand there and take it.