My headphones beat music out, large anthemic tunes from Bruce (The Boss) Springsteen played and I sang at the top of my lungs as I weaved my way along the highway. When it wasn’t The Boss’ I turned a little heavier and went for Linkin Park’s Hybrid Theory, a classic in my opinion. There was the odd occasion where I wanted something a little lighter in order to try and bring a little happiness into the world. I am a big believer in trying to change people’s perceptions of how they see the world. I am 6 foot 3 inches tall, I am heavily tattooed and probably to most I look quite intimidating. So, while I was cycling through deepest Illinois I decided to camp things up a little bit by singing some show tunes, I particularly enjoyed Joseph and the Amazing Technicoloured Dreamcoat. It is always good to see a person’s face when you change their opinion of you, especially when it is for the better!
I was definitely finding running days much easier than on the bike. Whether this is because I felt more confident running or because I knew people could be out running with me, I don’t know. The running days were taking me on average about 11 or 12 hours to complete, they were long days, but the bike days were even longer taking me about 12 to 15 hours. Each time I knew the bike was coming up, I would be dreading it. When I was running I was already thinking about the bike the next day, and how much it would hurt. I would be looking at the tarmac and the landscape and thinking to myself how much it was going to hurt. Every so ofen I would descend a hill and think that this might be ok on a bike. However, at that point I would turn the corner and the climb would be brutal, the tarmac would be all broken and disjointed and I would be thankful that I was running.
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Day 13 – I was off the bike and running strong, the magic sponge was rested for the day and I was able to plod along. I had started to break my days down into more manageable blocks, this gave me something to work towards but it also allowed the team the chance to come out and run in different stages. I didn’t want one of them getting hurt and not being able to run with me anymore. All of them played their part, sometimes it might have been a short two mile stretch but every time that they ran with me helped me immeasurably.
I had broken the 1000-mile mark, a sign on the side of the road told me it was 1907 miles to LA. I remember a friend telling me about when they ran their first marathon, a gruelling encounter by all accounts. He told me how he was completely convinced that the local council had put benches along the side of the route in order to try and tempt him to sit down and stop, he believed so hard that this was the case that he used his anger for the council and its benches to push harder towards the finish. I now understand exactly how he felt, all I could think of was why I needed a sign to tell me I still had a long way to go, I knew I still had a long way to go!
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On Day 13 I met Kimee Armour, an American Para-Games athlete who I can now say that I have had the pleasure of running alongside. Kimee saw me effectively crawling past her house, read the banners on the RV and felt compelled to come and run with me – our very own Forrest Gump moment. After the normal pleasantries, we continued down the road at which point Kimee turned to me and said, “You do know, you’re on the wrong side of the road?” We had travelled over 1,000 miles and no-one had mentioned that I was running on the wrong side of the road. I couldn’t help but laugh, could we have looked any more out of place in this foreign land?
After two weeks on the road, you are feeling every emotion possible. Tensions in the RV were high, it was no one’s fault, it’s just being together every single day, the little things start to get to you and arguments begin to erupt. I blame the road, the road does strange things to your mind. Some days you feel like you could conquer the world, others you feel like an insignificant speck. The worries and panics I had before heading to the US and at the start of the adventure were gone, like most things people worry about, they turned out to be pointless. We had seen so much by this point, we had made countless errors but in doing so we had learnt some incredibly valuable lessons.
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The morning of Day 14 we stood in St. Louis at the Gateway Arch, the largest free-standing arch in the world. We had once again beaten the commuters and the streets were quiet. A dark, dank drizzle had settled over the city, but even in the miserable weather, I liked St. Louis.
Navigation throughout the entire trip was a bone of contention for me. Find me a decent route with long roads of unbroken tarmac and I loved you, send me the wrong way and make me climb tortuous hills and you were my worst enemy. Helen agreed to navigate us out of St. Louis and towards the place where we would spend the evening, a town called Doolittle. I don’t know if we picked the place by how much we liked the name but this had to be one of my favourites.
I should at this point mention that Helen still holds her hand up in an “L” shape when turning to the left to check which way is left and so, if I’m honest, I was wary of where we might end up. The hard part, navigating out of St. Louis, Helen did with ease, then as the roads opened up the call came over the radio, “TURN LEFT BOATWRIGHT!” It was said with conviction and confidence, who was I to argue? I followed my orders. As I did so, I looked to my right and saw that the road continued to follow the river, gradual easy-riding, flat, almost majestic. I looked to my left, my eyes continuing upwards as the hill in front of me loomed. A pump of the legs and out of the saddle, I attacked the climb with gusto, it was still early and I felt strong, the sponge soaked up any lumps and bumps on the flat and my legs welcomed the rush of adrenaline.
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It was a good 2.5 mile climb and by the time I got to the top I was heaving for breath and definitely a lot warmer than what I was at the bottom
The radio crackled in my pocket, “Ermmmmmmmmmm.. I think we should have turned right” said Helen, I can tell by her tone she is telling me this whilst cowering behind the map. “Sorry, you did really well on that climb though!” I took a massive deep breath and counted to ten (and then ten again and ten again for a third time). A quick glance back and a smile to Helen and the rest of the team, I dipped over the edge of the hill and powered back down the valley. The climb that had taken an age to power up was descended in minutes.
The old route runs parallel to Interstate 44, twisting and turning as it moves across the state, north of the Mark Twain National Forest, we pass towns called St. Clair, Stanton, Bourbon and we rest in Cuba. I loved Cuba because it was nothing like anything we had seen so far on the journey. There were no high street chain shops, or shopping malls. It was full of independent, family-run shops. The devastation caused by the interstate was evident once again. Cuba was lucky – lucky to have people there willing to fight for their livelihoods. Many of the towns we rolled through were ghost towns, this was not through choice, the people there had lost everything. Many times we saw that the tables were still set, the sofa and chairs still there, it looked like one-day people just decided they had had enough and they had upped and left. Where they moved to I have no idea.
Afer Cuba came a place called Fanning, Missouri, the home of the now second largest rocking chair in the world. The chair was erected on April Fool’s day in 2008 outside of the US 66 Outpost and General Store. The chair was built as a way to try and entice people into the store, and I have to say it works!
The riding had been great all day, smooth roads and a minimal amount of climbing, the sponge absorbing the lumps and bumps of the road. Mechanically the bike was doing ok, she had taken some pain over the last two weeks and was starting to creak a little bit but she was doing pretty well all things considered.