Kerry and I at the foot of the giant rocking chair, Fanning, Missouri, Day 14.
My bike was not some Olympic sprint bike or some kind of Tour De France 2-gram mega bike, nope, in fact my bike was a near ten-year-old eBay purchase. My derailleur had bent in transit, my seat stem was held by God only knows what and as soon as I applied a little bit of pressure in certain gears the chain would jump and change gear completely independently but aside from all these things she was perfect. We called her Tallulah. The name is taken from the Bobsled in the film Cool Runnings’ which sees a group of Jamaican bobsledders appear at the winter Olympics. They too were considered the underdog and told they could not do what they set out to do, they too wanted to change people’s perceptions, and they too sought to triumph over adversity.
Doolittle, Missouri, our goal for the evening, was not what I expected. As there was little to nothing there, we stayed in a truck stop just off the interstate. It wasn’t glamourous or pretty, it was a long way from the friends and families houses we had stayed at along the way but for right then, at that moment in time, it was exactly what we needed – a place to rest our weary heads.
Map of Missouri Photo Gallery
I remember writing my blog at the end of Day 15 and saying that this day will go down as one that in days, weeks and months to come I would look back and think, “WOW, that was really stupid!” The truth is I don’t think that at all, now when I look back and I think about that day, I think “Wow, I ran 62.5 miles (100 km) in one day.” I don’t look back and think that it was easy but I think that we as a team came together when we needed to. After 150 miles in the sweltering heat (around 30 degrees) the previous day, we had managed to get to a point 62.5 miles from our truck stop in Doolittle. We had arrived in another town called Springfield, this time it was Springfield, Missouri.
The heat and humidity seemed to have crept back in over the previous couple of days, and so once again weight loss was becoming an issue. Humidity equated to more sweat and more sweat meant weight loss. I tried my hardest to control it, I drank every time I came to a stop, choking down hydration salts and anything in liquid form that I could swallow. Yet again, though, it was about finding that balance. Too much liquid and it swished in my stomach and made me feel very sick, not enough and my vision started to blur due to the dehydration.
I got away well in the morning, my legs freeing up and allowing me to get into my stride early. I did not mention to the team my intentions of trying to run 62.5 miles. I thought that if I did mention it they would just try and talk me out of it (and understandably so). I was, at this point, 50 miles behind schedule due to a gruelling day on the bike a few days before but I felt strong and motivated, I knew I could get it done. I worked out in my head that I would break the day up into small manageable blocks of 25 km (15.5 miles). It might sound strange to some people, but to me running in kilometres rather than miles made it sound much less.
Day 15 was not only the day of the 100km but it was also the day that the hills changed. They changed from being a pleasant, gentle, downhill slope to a bone crushing agonising descent which you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy. Uphill affected my heart and lungs but I could control that easily through pace, downhill felt like someone had put red hot pokers through my quad muscles and not only that, they were twisting them.
The day was brutally tough but the team, landscape and towns kept me going. At one point, we saw a sign saying Tan your Fanny’ and we went through a town called Uranus which had a famous fudge company. The sign here read Fudge Made in Uranus’. It still makes me giggle even now. As we left Uranus the leaving sign stated, Thanks for picking Uranus’ – absolute brilliance. Just like Fanning and its large rocking chair, Uranus are doing something to try and get people to come off the interstate and see them, they are fighting, they are giving it a go. I think that’s what the American Dream is to me, people willing to give it a go.
The road was quiet. Grass had begun to grow in some of the cracks to further emphasise this point. Houses on this part of Route 66 were very rare. We arrived at the bottom of a hill where the road bent round and the climb shot straight up a hillside and into the mist, it was called The Devil’s Elbow’, I will never forget it. “Head down and one foot in front of the other!” I chanted to myself as I began the ascent. The top of the climb still shrouded in mist, the trees looming large over the road. As I progressed up the hill the trees gave way to rock faces, you could see how the road had cut through the stone. There were signs scattered all over the cliff face warning of falling boulders. I pushed higher into the mist, my breathing now heavy and laboured, sweat pouring from my brow, leaving a damp trail on the road behind me. “Don’t quit, don’t quit!” I repeated to myself over and over as I inched up the hill. The mist cleared as I reached the top of the climb, the team were waiting there to greet me with yet more liquid. I sat on the tailgate for a few moments, broken but triumphant, another step closer to the end.
The climb conquered but beyond exhausted.
As I reached the end and the 100km mark I knew I needed to stop, I knew at that point I didn’t have much else to give. I’m not sure if you have ever felt like this but my vision didn’t move properly as I turned my head, it was like it was in still frames, everything moving in ultra-slow motion. My hearing wasn’t clear any more, distorted noises, slow and deep filled my ears, I was struggling to make out shapes and I felt disorientated – had I not known much better I would have said that I was drunk. It was at that point that the team saved me, they brought me back in, rehydrated me and forced horrible concoctions down my throat, whatever it was and whatever they did – it worked.
Waking up in an RV was a difficult experience every day. Banging and clanging my way through the RV to the bathroom, the constant battle to put my socks on, the fly paper sticking to my hair and face as I threw myself onto the bed whilst trying to hitch up my running tights. However, one thing I loved was that every day we woke up somewhere different, somewhere new. Sometimes it was a car park others a truck stop and on occasion a layby but wherever it was, it just added to our adventure.
Heading towards Joplin on the bike I knew that by the end of the day I would be over the halfway mark and we were aiming to camp on the border of three states; Missouri, Oklahoma and Kansas. I was still in recovery mode from the 100km run and didn’t I know it. Every day as I lay down to sleep my body was tired, it was aching and it needed rest but the true damage wasn’t seen until the morning afer. This time around, remarkably, the majority of my body was ok. I had the normal aches and pains but this had become the norm to me now, this pain was as natural as breathing in and out, it was just something that was there throughout. This time there was a different type of pain – my nipples. I have heard many people talk of runner’s nipple but it was nothing I had really encountered before and during the 100km it was nothing I was aware of, particularly. On awakening that morning, however, I felt like someone was in the middle of sand papering my nipples off, they were beyond sore even with a soft shirt resting against them. Immediate action was needed before I put on my t-shirt and set off on the bike. This time the sponge couldn’t save me so Vaseline did. It was applied by the handful, so much so that a closer look may have suggested a small but developing cleavage.
Once I had got going, a good hour passed before I even saw my first car. We were up and away early, a great start after the torture of the day before. As I passed through the towns, each one had a small sign stating the town you were about to pass and the population. The populations varied along the way, some larger towns of 50,000 people and some with only 150 people. Interspersed between these towns were small holdings, tiny groups of houses or sometimes just one house on its own. I was doing 150 miles every day on my bike and sometimes I would not see a supermarket or grocery store for days. I couldn’t help but think to myself, “Where do these people shop? What do they do? Where do they go on Christmas Day?” I just couldn’t understand life out there, I am a country boy but even for me this was remote.
At times when at home and life becomes busy and chaotic, we long for that peace and quiet, just something to slow life down a bit, out in the American mid-west life doesn’t get much slower. The peace and quiet are your friend at first, helping you stay focussed and alert to what might be coming, slowly you realise there is nothing coming, there will only be you, on that road, all day. It’s a lonely place out on the road with only your own thoughts to think about. You imagine all the great things you will do when you get home, I imagined what I might do if I managed to finish, what would I say? I cursed myself for thinking about the finish line. “1 day at a time, 1 hour at a time and 1 inch at a time, bloody idiot!” I said to myself.
The hills in Missouri are not like the hills around Yorkshire, in Yorkshire when you climb you are out of the saddle for a while, they keep going, each one testing you a little more than the last. I don’t know if it’s just me and because I’m a miserable Yorkshireman but I have always believed that there are more uphill’s than down in Yorkshire. Missouri’s hills lull you into a false sense of security, because as with anywhere in America the roads are so straight that the hills look bigger than they actually are, like a thankfully pleasant optical illusion. Unlike the hills in Yorkshire you don’t really have to get out of your seat, if you don’t want to. I am a climber who likes to be out of the saddle and pumping my legs, to me that’s a personal choice, some will sit down all day. Missouri’s hills require just a little more than staying seated all the way to the top but not quite enough to stand up and pump your legs. What it meant for me was that I found the hills very frustrating, by the time I had stood up out of the saddle I was sat back down again within a minute, having already reached the summit of the hill.
As I neared Joplin the road surface deteriorated to the point where it resembled cobblestones. It genuinely looked like a visually challenged individual had laid the tarmac – one patch here, another over there, paving slab here, some gravel over there. There was nothing uniform and it was absolutely horrible to cycle over. I can only imagine that this is what it must be what it is like to cycle the Paris Roubaix (for those not in the know, this is a cycle race on cobblestones). My hands, wrists, elbows and back were beaten to bits, opening or more accurately prising my hands off of the handle bars was painful. My jaw hurt so much it felt like I had been chewing the same piece of gum for the last 20 years. I could barely talk, grit had built up between my teeth because they had been constantly grinding together. I needed to rest.
They always say it’s much harder for you to tell if you have lost weight – other people will tell you all the time that you look thin or you look fat, in fact, they are more than happy to point these things out but it is difficult to see it on yourself. It wasn’t until well into the trip that I started to notice the changes with regards to my body. The scales will tell you that you have lost weight but physically I couldn’t see it, however, afer 16 days I was beginning to see the changes. My chest and arms could only be described as mush, like the muscle in them was just melting away. My arms had lost definition and seemed to be one straight line from my wrist to my arm pit. The strange thing about it was, there was nothing I could do to stop this – it was inevitable on this adventure.
Day 16 finished without any further episodes, we stopped and rested just outside of Joplin.