Day 17 – a running day – saw us cross into the great state of Oklahoma. We crossed the state line at a place called Seneca, it was unbelievably warm and very muggy. In Britain, we would say that it needs to break’, there was a strange feeling of pressure in the weather. I felt like I was running with an extra layer of clothing on. It was 32 degrees but felt closer to 50, I couldn’t take deep breaths, as I felt as if I was suffocating just when I was breathing in.
Afer 10 miles of running, I stopped. This wasn’t normal. Usually, I was powering through a half marathon or occasionally a full marathon before I took a break. I stopped on the banks of a lake; it was called Grand Lake o’ the Cherokees’, a beautifully majestic place, buzzing with wildlife. I stared at the water, perfectly still and calm; it was mesmerizing, just the sheer size of the lake was breath-taking. The bridge we had crossed to get across the lake was larger than most I had seen in Britain and, yet, this was on a quiet, country highway. Having stood for what felt like hours I turned to carry on, I glanced back only to see that I had created a lake of my own where I had been standing.
We passed the small towns of Wyandotte and Fairland during the morning session. The heat unerringly increasing, becoming more and more intense as the day went on. Up until this day, I had been running 6 miles in about an hour, on Day 17 this took me 1 hour and 40 minutes. I was barely moving when the sun was at its strongest.
There was nothing pleasant about Day 17, I was hot, tired and feeling like the world was against me. The scenery was not helping, the roads were straight and there was the occasional bridge but that was about it. Absurdly, I longed for a hill – I wanted anything to take away the mind-numbing monotony of where I was.
Map of Oklahoma Photo Gallery
Towards the end of the day when thoroughly knackered, I came to one of the toughest tests on the road – dogs. You can take being barked at, you can accept dogs on leads moving towards you or even dogs attached to kennels by chains trying to chase you, but dogs on the road side was a brand new experience for me. I love dogs – I have a dog – but I was in Hillbilly heaven and I am not sure that these dogs had seen anyone in the last 10 years. Turns out I can run pretty fast when I need to, my mileage went from 12 minute miles to 5 minute miles very quickly. The dogs were very quick but once I was out of the territory, they stopped chasing me. I felt sick once the adrenalin had subsided. Pain lathered my body, my heart beat faster than it had in days. Those dogs were nearly responsible for ending the Epic Adventure’.
Lack of sleep is a killer. It clouds your judgement, it effects your ability to complete simple tasks but most of all when working in a team it makes you incredibly short tempered and unwilling to accept any other point of view but your own. Stopping in Vinita, Oklahoma was the toughest night of my life, the temperature never dropped from the level it had attained during the day. The tiny air-conditioning unit of the RV struggled unsuccessfully to cool the RV The warm, stagnant, sweaty air wafed backwards and forwards up and down the RV We were camped in a Walmart car park for the evening, entering the supermarket and standing in the freezer aisle just to cool down. I could easily have got in and slept with the fish fingers. Lying in bed that night, sweat poured from my head, the tiny desk fan we had bought just shoved the warm air round the room Any movement of my body produced a wave of sweat, saturating into my pillow. Sleep, once again, unsurprisingly eluded me. I lay all night, as still as possible, praying for just 5 minutes of sleep, but my prayers were not answered.
As the sun came up, I got up. Every morning I checked my messages – the messages of support were overwhelming. They made each day that tiny bit easier and this was especially necessary afer a night of little to no sleep. As I got out of my sweat-soaked bed on Day 18, I had a message from my younger brother, always a man with beautiful words. I read it before I set off on the bike. All the way across I had said to myself, “Don’t let pain break you.” I quoted motivational lines from films and all the cliched inspirational quotes that you see on social media. In the end pain didn’t break me, it couldn’t, but this message from my brother, Luke, did:
I have just spoken to Sam Boatwright through the magic of FaceTime and I am now more in awe of him than ever.
For me, I just think of when I am tired and hurting. I think about how at these times the little things like perhaps the noise of insects or the heat of the sun can/could drive me insane, even at home. However, after just talking to my brother I realise how mentally tough he is, how his incredible sense of humour enables him to make everything seem trivial and how this helps him to deal with all the difficulties he is being faced with.
Sam may not be superhuman in terms of his physical attributes – he works incredibly hard to be as fit as he is – but Sam is definitely a superhuman in terms of mentality because how can you possibly prepare for the torment, the challenge, the sheer exhaustion that he faces everyday?
I do not know and probably will never know how you do it bruv but I will spend my life telling people about your achievements and making sure they know just how proud I am to share my name with you.
So people please give my brother every bit of support that you can – like his page, share his posts and most importantly donate to Help for Heroes. This man, my brother, runs for those who can’t – all we have to do is help him along the way, it’s not too much to ask, is it? #epicadventure #smilingbig #helpforheroes
We had had a team meeting on the evening of Day 17, we needed a different approach for the rest of the trip as the heat was becoming too much. It was brutal, gruelling work and we needed to do something different. We decided that the something different was rising an hour earlier and being on the road before 6am. It sounds quite early to be getting up at 4.45 am and having breakfast, but we couldn’t sleep anyway because of the heat, why not get the day started?
It was 25 degrees at 6am; we had stayed in a Walmart car Park next to the rodeo on the edge of Vinita. Farmers and animals were milling around the local auction, life for people of Vinita was hard, and farming seemed to be the main income for the locals. The town reminded of my hometown of Skipton; the auction, the quaint little shops and the high street at the centre. It was a lovely little town.
The day whizzed by in a blur of monumental heat, cornfields and straight roads. We passed towns like Chelsea, Foyil, Claremore and Catoosa. Foyil being the home of the world’s largest totem pole. It was 30 degrees by 10am but it was calm and peaceful, the roads were relatively quiet and Tallulah and the sponge absorbed the majority of the bumps and cracks of the road. Just after 10am and a good morning’s cycling we stopped in Tulsa for a bite to eat. For a while I just stared at my meal, it wasn’t that I couldn’t eat it, but I had just become completely overwhelmed by how far we had come and how well the team had done. I knew we had come a long way, not because of the way my body felt or because the maps said so. I knew because in the sitcom Friends’, Chandler takes a job in Tulsa, and they agree, it’s a long way from New York City.
A few days before we arrived in Tulsa, the city had been hit by a tornado, 7 people had been hospitalized from this, a major reminder of where were and what the weather in America could do if you were in the wrong place at the wrong time. It was strange to be sat down for our lunch at 10am but I was hungry and needed the fuel. The heat was still energy sapping even in the early morning and this was coupled with a significant lack of sleep.
We spent the night of Day 18 camped on the banks of Arcadia Lake, a little north of Oklahoma City near a town called Edmond. On this night, Arcadia Lake became my giant ice bath. I waded out and fell gently backwards into the water, totally immersed in the cold of the lake, I could immediately feel the swelling in my muscles begin to retreat. The cold water washed the sweat from my body, I half expected steam to rise from my baking skin as I hit the water. The team joined me. It was a brilliant way to finish a successful day on the bike. The entire team sat in a lake, in Oklahoma.
Day 18 had passed almost entirely without incident, this was in stark contrast to what was about to come on Day 19. Over the next four days, I had to do two running days back to back followed by two bike days back to back. The reason behind this was that the next member of our team (Darren, Helen’s husband) was joining us for the final push. He would be landing at Oklahoma airport which is on the outskirts of Oklahoma City. We were already on the northern outskirts of the city. As such, if I had cycled, we would have ended up 200 miles from the airport which would have meant a long round trip to collect him and this seemed ridiculous. We had, therefore, made the decision as a team that I should do back to back days of running and then cycling.
As 3am came around, just like in Pittsburgh, our mobile phones vibrated and beeped in unison, but this time it was followed by what can only be described as a military style air raid siren. “WARNING, WARNING, WARNING!” exclaimed a robotic voice over the public address system, “THIS IS A STATE WEATHER WARNING!” It continued to describe the weather that was due to hit Oklahoma imminently. Thunder, lightning rain and high winds were due for the area. Rain blasted and pelted the RV throughout the night, lightning crashed into the trees around the RV Park and like a bass drum keeping beat the thunder boomed continually for hours. Sleep once again evaded the team
We rose early the next morning with sleep deprivation in full swing. Kerry ran with me first thing, she enjoyed the early morning running, it helped get her up and about and set her up for the day. Helen joined me after a few miles and we pressed on towards Oklahoma City. It was one of the larger cities we had passed for a while and so we knew that the RV would struggle to stay near us. We made a plan for the RV to drive a little way further up the road and then we would run to it each time and we would continue through the city like that.
Helen and I weaved through the streets of Oklahoma. It was warm and muggy but raining at the same time – a dangerous combination as you are completely unaware of how much sweat is coming out of you. Avoiding floods from the previous night’s deluge was impossible, often our only option was to run through the flood or dice with danger and run into the road. We were already wet so the flood tended to be the clearest and most sensible option.
Each time Helen and I were running we were searching for the RV. We knew that when we reached it we could rest – we could have a break. Now I must inform you that the streets in Oklahoma City (much like the rest of America) are in straight lines and once you are on one street you can stay on it for miles and it won’t change. What this should also mean is that it is nearly impossible to lose anyone or anything on these roads.
On one such road, we ran and ran and ran and ran, yet, we could not find the RV We discussed the road we were on and agreed that we were headed in the right direction but we could not locate the RV We were sure we were in the right place. “How could anyone get lost on a straight road?” We kept saying to each other. I was losing my temper very quickly, the RV had to have gone wrong, we weren’t going fast enough to get lost.
The weather had been so bad at the start, that neither of us could carry a mobile phone as it would have flooded within the first 2 minutes, this was now proving to have been a poor decision.
We crested a small climb and as we did, we saw that the smaller roads now merged with what looked like the start of the M1! The lanes went from single carriage to a 4 lane interstate, we were stuck. At the other side of the interstate were some car garages, risking death or at the very least severe injury we crossed the interstate. This would be the first of two interstate crossings that day, neither of which I would like to experience again.
No money, no phone and no water we pulled into the Hyundai Garage in Oklahoma City. Like drowned rats we stood in the foyer, water dripping onto the floor all around us, it looked like we had swum to the garage. Approaching the very loud woman at reception, Helen asked if we could use the phone – the only issue being that we didn’t know anyone else’s number! Luckily the power of social media came to our aid, we messaged Kerry telling her where we were and added our location – this was followed by a lot of exclamation marks!
When I ran in 2012, my own mother had managed to do the something very similar. In the small
Scottish town of Montrose, she had managed to completely miss the large, ginger-bearded runner resembling her son coming passed the front of the campervan, as she was reading the newspaper. Strangely it hammered down with rain all day that day as well, “I was reading the paper!” she said as she caught me up 5 miles down the road, a huge smile on her face and wiping tears of laughter from her eyes.
We were running hard out of Oklahoma City, some stretches the team joined me for and for others I was left alone. We were heading towards a small town called Bethany. Helen once again running with me, Kerry inside the RV navigating. We then hit a section where it said Road ahead closed’. The RV had no chance of passing, “I’m sure we will get through on the pavement!” I said to the guys at a little meeting on the side of the road. The RV set off in the opposite direction, agreeing to meet us on the other side of the roadworks, a few streets up. It disappeared into the distance and we set off towards where it said that the road was closed. As we approached the team working on the road, we realised why the road was shut. The bridge that had previously spanned the interstate was not there, two thin walls crossed the interstate and in between them was just a massive hole. I looked to Helen, “Sh$t!” was the best word that I could muster.
We looked up and down the street and saw a small gap in the fence which lead down to the interstate – another potentially risky crossing. In fact, it was worse this time as there wasn’t an island in the middle where we could wait. On other side of the interstate stood a tall concrete banking with a large steel fence at the top. We passed under the fence and stood at our side of the interstate, cars whizzed by, there were 8 lanes to cross in order to get to the other side. In hindsight this was stupid, not just due to the 8 lanes of traffic but mainly because we had not actually worked out how to get up the banking once we got to the other side. At a small gap in the traffic we ran; sprinting, screaming and shrieking like little girls as we crossed the interstate. Our hearts were still pounding and we were breathless as we reached the other side still alive. At this point we looked up, really for the first time, at the daunting, concrete slope in front of us. We walked up and down the side of the interstate for a while looking for a gap. We found a small storm drain. The drain moved the water from the streets above down the ramp and into the sewage system below. Dropping to our bellies, we commando-crawled through the mud and slime up the storm drain eventually appearing from under the fence onto the street above. 2000 miles we had covered and we were crawling up a storm drain in Oklahoma. Our small mercy was that the rain had stopped so there wasn’t water pouring down the drain on to us as we climbed up.