Blog

Welcome to my blog, where I share all the stories from my L2L expedition as I row, cycle and kayak a continuous loop of the planet. I hope you'll enjoy experiencing the highs (and lows!) of my journey so far and the adventures ahead on my way back to Tower Bridge. You can also have a listen to my Phonecasts recorded en route.

N Y Sea

Brakes repaired, whizzing alongside the Delaware river

Brakes repaired, whizzing alongside the Delaware river

I love journeying for the contrasts and the last few days has certainly provided in bucket loads. From the rolling hills of Pennsylvania and the solitude of the bike to the skyscrapers and hubbub of Manhattan, NYC.  Mind and senses overwhelmed somewhat!

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Times Square

A break in the weather last weekend gave me the confidence to commit to busting out the miles to NYC with some big days and miles. With team mate Rebecca and her son Harry already in town and heading home on Saturday morning, and local helper Phil O’Brien (who I had never met before) flying out Thursday evening, I didn’t want to miss them. One of my oldest pals Claire had also flown out and was waiting for me.

Mike and Roni drove me to and from the nearest bike shop - 45 miles away

Mike and Roni drove me to and from the nearest bike shop – 45 miles away

I rode some big days through Pennhillvania (now renamed as such) enjoying the warmth and tailwinds – both rather novel after recent months – either whizzing along valleys or rolling or crawling up and down hillsides according to grades. Having had Hercules’ brakes bled in State College I could now hurtle down hills with the balance shifted in favour of confidence rather than fear and would no longer have to use my foot to skid along on the tarmac to slow myself down or walk Hercules down the steep (often very long) downhills. Meanwhile streams rushed down roadsides as snow melted and slumped off roofs and dripped off doors. Where I had seen white for months through fields and along road edges, now brown grass was appearing.

Marlin and Karen wouldn't let me camp  on their property. They insisted I sleep in their spare farmhouse!

Marlin and Karen wouldn’t let me camp on their property. They insisted I sleep in their spare farmhouse!

So too were animals, foraging and chattering. Water, not just just ice, raced down streams or visibily flowed down rivers.  I saw more people out walking or children playing than I had in months. I even met some bikers. For my own part it was a novelty to strip off some layers and enjoy air on my skin rather than covering up top to toe. It really felt like spring was here –  beautiful riding conditions and I grinned a lot, happy to be alive and nearing the goal. At the same time, I got emotional thinking back on the last 6.5 months  of riding and all the wonderful people I had met on the way, the ups and downs, the landscapes and skyscapes – everything.

The Penn Valley was beautiful

The Penn Valley was beautiful

On Wednesday I woke up with a head cold, snot monsters running riot and feeling rather rough. But I had a big day to ride – 125 miles to put me on the New Jersey side of the Hudson river, ready to ride into the city the next morning. I kept switching off my alarm clock as I felt so rubbish, and eventually got pedalling at 10.30 am.

Yarhuas from Turkey wouldn't let me pay for food in his gas station and filled my pockets with snacks for the road

Yarhuas from Turkey wouldn’t let me pay for food in his gas station and filled my pockets with snacks for the road

I pedalled until 5 am the following morning after one of my favourite days (and nights) of riding, in spite of the snot. If there had been more time I would have spread it over a few days, camping in some lovely places. Even so, a starry night and big orange moon always make good riding company.

Lynn and Lisa were the first road cyclists I had seen for some time, enjoying the warm weather

Lynn and Lisa were the first road cyclists I had seen for some time, enjoying the warm weather

I stopped to talk to people, shared food and stories with others, enjoyed the awakening of spring and the feeling that life is being refreshed as the sun powers it. The tiredness only really hit me after pedalling over the Hudson River into the city, to be met by friends old and new and some folk from the local branch of  WaterAid  - one of my supported charities.

A flying hug with my pal Claire on the GW Bridge

A flying hug with my pal Claire on the GW Bridge

I have been in NYC a few days now, kindly hosted by Holiday Inn, topping up on sleep and rest and time with friends. The contrast of the hubbub, noise and volume of people in the city with its towering sky scrapers against my recent months of pedalling (mostly alone) through North America is huge and at times a bit intimidating.

Surreal to be welcomed to the Holiday Inn with a banner of me and Hercules :-)

Surreal to be welcomed to the Holiday Inn with a banner of me and Hercules :-)

Yesterday we took the train to Coney Island to the beach and walked in the freezing waters of the Atlantic. The last time I had salt water on my feet was Alaska – the Pacific, 6.5 months and a winter ago.

Having crossed the GW Bridge into NYC

Having crossed the GW Bridge into NYC

The next week is a mixture of admin, talks and friends before I ride the final 400 miles up to Cape Cod, Massachusets from where I shall begin rowing in early May. Happy Socks is already on her way, having been packed up into her container at  the beginning of the month by Team L2L at home.

The welcoming party - with banners, doughnuts and hugs at Pier 84

The welcoming party – with banners, doughnuts and hugs at Pier 84

So for now, thanks to everyone for following along, supporting from near or afar in whatever capacity that might be. This is definitely a team effort.

I would love it if you might be able to donate a wee bit to my supported charities   CoppaFeel!, JubileeSailing Trust, MND Association and WaterAid here:

http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/fundraiser-web/fundraiser/showFundraiserProfilePage.action?userUrl=sarahouten

Thanks and thanks,

Sarah and Hercules

Recent thanks to: Mike and Roni Sellers, Freeze Thaw Cycles, Glenn and Karon Edwards, Holiday Inn Lower East Side, Hudson River Park Pier 84, Phil O’Brien and team at W42St, Massage Envy MidTown, Team L2L here and home, Rob Eustace, Ryan Wagner, WaterAid USA.

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And now for something completely different: Kayaking the Aleutians

This has nothing to do with my current snowy biking but I am confident, dear reader, that you won’t mind the diversion for it is all about a film that you want to see, even if you don’t yet know that you want to see it. You might even not know that it exists yet. Read all about it, then watch it – there’s even a bit about a naked lady getting chased by a bear.

Even though she went to Cambridge... she's still one of my best pals.

Even though she went to Cambridge… she’s still one of my best pals.

The 101 days of kayaking along the Aleutian chain and up the Alaskan mainland to the nearest road last year were some of my favourite expedition days ever. Charged with adrenaline, set against a dramatic volcanic landscape and with a cast of characters as varied as native people through to honking, farting sea lions, inquisitive grizzly bears and shared with my good pal and big sister figure Justine – it was a journey that tested me in so many ways and helped me to grow in so many others.

While I am trying to stay upright, Justine would be taking photos/film.... The gnarlier the better.

While I am trying to stay upright, Justine would be taking photos/film…. The gnarlier the better.

Justine is not only a kick-ass sea kayaker. She is also a brilliant film-maker and her recently released film of our journey ‘Kayaking the Aleutians’ has already scooped at least three awards. You need to watch it – especially if you like beautiful places, amazing wildlife, a splash of nudity and a good story. It has been touted as her best film yet and I think I agree. It is raw, wild, honest and I think does justice to the place we travelled through, the people who call those lands home, and the friendship between us, complete with its challenges. Someone described it as portraying ‘excellently the challenges we faced together and between us’ and I think that sums it up very well indeed. That many miles in such uncertain waters are going to be challenging to mind, body and relationships – especially when one half of the double is way less experienced in a kayak than the other. The fact we made it, together, and still pals and smiling, is testimony to our friendship, teamwork, stubbornness and the fact that Justine was willing to embark on it with me. I couldn’t have done it without her. Though I could have done without the tent farts. Justine, my friend, you rock and so does your film of our jaunt.

Here is the trailer:

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You can order the film through Justine’s website here: www.cackletv.com

You can also see if she will be touring near you with the film at public showings. If you meet her, ask her about the ‘I’m a little teapot’ dance and rib her about how she could only get into Cambridge :-) She’ll know who sent you.

For those of you wondering about an overall film of my L2L journey… The plan is to produce a film post-expedition – format yet to be decided. Jen Crook is currently wading through all the years and hours of footage, having a mini-expedition at her computer.

In other news, I am now back on the bike and riding strong, though in fact today I am waiting out an ice storm which has in fact not turned up as forecast. Stay? Go? Stay? Go? If only I hadn’t checked the forecast….

Until next time,

Sarah and Hercules (in Pennsylvania)

 

 

 

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Turkeys in the snow

The flats of Ohio and Indiana have been brilliant cycling when the conditions are good

‘You know it’s getting colder tonight?’ said the chap filling up his car at the gas station.

‘Yes, I can feel it dropping alre-…’ said I, relayering my face masks and regoggling.

‘REALLY cold’, said he, frowning as though I might not understand what really cold meant.

‘Uhuh. And is the snow  still coming tomorrow night?’ said I, not concerned by the temperatures but knowing that the forecasted snow would force a rest day.

The chap harrumphed a yes and shook his head disapprovingly. I thanked the kind worker who had just let me use the rest room under oath of not telling her boss and wheeled Hercules off from his kickstand. She shouted ‘Be safe, friend!’ as I half-swung half-hopped my leg over the cross bar, clipped in with my right foot and pushed off to start hauling up the hill.  I grinned and waved back, trying not to wobble off, enjoying the sunshine while it lasted and the good energy of having just been called FRIEND!

It didn’t take me long to realise that the North American greeting of ‘Hi, how are you’ doesn’t have a question mark. It is just a greeting and people don’t actually want an update on how cold my toes are or anything else for that matter. In fact they look surprised, scared even, when I forget the rules and offer more than the expected ‘Fine. How are you’ in return. So, when a total stranger is keen to see me safe and well, and says it and means it, it can feel really special. Instead of sending me off with ‘Have a good day’ a lady in a store yesterday looked me in the eye and said ‘Be well’, which felt rather more thoughtful than the robotic norm.

I am daily grateful for gestures outside of robotic norms, feeling like I am bundled down the road in kindness and goodwill from people of the road. A favourite recently was hotel manager Isaiah listing everything under the sun that he could find for me to keep me warm and safe, if I wanted it,  suggesting everything from extra coats, his own blazer, a scarf, an escort van with tea supply to my very own bus.

Isaiah and his colleagues made me chuckle alot

Isaiah and his colleagues made me chuckle alot

 ‘Hell, I’m more worried for you than you are!’ It was a giggling ping pong as he played up to the camera I had rolling, his  offerings of this and that met with refusals from me, as his colleague reassured him that I must be OK because, ‘it says on her jacket “Don’t Worry I’m OK”. We all laughed at each other, the sleepy cyclist now chuckling as she left to pedal the day.

Roadies

So many strangers have been good to me lately – from people who have taken me in from the roadside, inviting me into their homes or sponsoring me into a hotel room out of the cold to Kathy who drove for an hour to come and say hi and bring me some groceries, including a bottle of (medicinial) gin.

Gin deliverer, story swapper and room sponsor - Kathy

Gin deliverer, story swapper and room sponsor – Kathy

Ralph’s kindness was the gentle chat mixed with easy silence over a lunch break for me while he mopped the floors at a rest station, whistling as he worked.  In Warsaw the weekend before last, locals Wendy and Rick rounded up a crowd of friends to take me out for breakfast and then troubleshoot my various needs.

'This is my Goddess, Shiva. Photograph me with her' said Miss Angie.

‘This is my Goddess, Shiva. Photograph me with her’ said Miss Angie.

In Van Wert the Collins family insisted on putting me up in a motel for the night where the owner, Miss Angie, fed me delicious curried foods from her native India after calling me down from my room to help her sort something with her computer.

I know my last blog pined for Lucy as I got through the separation again, but let this one reassure you that the Outen is calm and content again, enjoying and savouring the encounters and unknowns of the road, grateful for the experiences and insights and humbled by the kindness and willingness of strangers to share.

'There are a few other people would like to meet you too,' said Wendy, as we arranged breakfast.

‘There are a few other people would like to meet you too,’ said Wendy, as we arranged breakfast.

The Scheurich family were an hilarious evening, egging me on to pretend to their daughter, arriving later, that we had met years before at Aunt Mary’s party. I slept in my tent in the ornate gardens of Jeff Scheurich’s boss, Mr Hamstra and the next morning shook hands with various employees. One of them, Joyce I think her name was, returned shortly after to give me an orange. Whenever I go to a supermarket I always buy fruit – great guesswork.

The Scheurich family and their moose

The Scheurich family and their moose

And Boima was something of a happily serendipitious happening – we were checking in to a hotel for the night at the same time and he asked if I wanted get some food together. He had just flown in from Brazil to take part in a conference on Africa at a local university. As an African-American, married to a Bolivian, son of an immigrant and having travelled the world over, it was interesting and refreshing to swap stories and viewpoints and ask questions on all sorts and everything.

Travellers together - it was fun to share food with Boima and swap opinions on the world.

Travellers together – it was fun to share food with Boima and swap opinions on the world.

Stalled for a moment

The pattern lately seems to have been one snow day per week – forcing a welcome top up of sleep and rest and if I am lucky a chance to clean the salt from Hercules, me and my clothes. This weekend’s snow day has turned into six days off the bike – not because of prolonged poor road conditions (as they abided by the one-day-a-week rule) but a viral tummy bug. Happily, I had made it into Massillon and a hotel just before my insides really started rebelling. And here I have stayed, mostly in the same four walls, a bit like a narcoleptic sloth since Friday afternoon…

Heading downstairs for breakfast exhausted me and a trip to the doctor on Tuesday fairly wiped me out. Thankfully, after some anti-nausea medication from said doc I have been able to eat, the cramping has gone and I have been able to sleep soundly. I had hoped I could cycle today but the short walk to breakfast exhausted me again so here I have slept some more. Maybe tomorrow.

Happy is a cyclist in a tail wind, whatever the weather

Happy is a cyclist in a tail wind, whatever the weather

High on the hill

The riding before Massillon had brought us swiftly through the agricultural flats of Indiana and western Ohio before the landscape started curling into hills. On the back roads the grades on said hills seemed pretty crazy and unthought out, certainly for those of us with a laden bike. I can’t imagine the trap drivers of local Amish communities enjoy them too much either, or rather their horses.  My up hills were mostly slow, steady carthorse style efforts where I can look around and take in anything to be noticed, looking at the somethings or the nothings and talking or listening as fancy takes me.  The down hills have been rollercoasters at times – a teeth-clenching, handle-bar squeezing ride of either pedalling hard or standing up off the pedals and wigglign my toes for warmth, always tucking my chin in to my jacket to keep wind from whistling through the vents in my goggles and freezing my forehead. Sometimes I whoop to the sky, flattening myself across the handlebars to be more aerodynamic- imaging I am in the Tour de France. And then I am reminded that my forehead is freezing to numbness and that on the opposite hill I shall be slowed to six, five, four or three miles an hour as I crawl and pant up the best of the ‘Scenic Byway’ hills. I don’t know why this route – the Old 30 – is the ‘Old Lincoln Highway’ but it is. Lucky fella – it’s a charming ride for anyone looking to pedal the area.

Snow hurrying across the roads is mesmerising in windy conditions

Snow hurrying across the roads is mesmerising in windy conditions

It is about 100 miles to the border with Pennsylvania and within lie the Allegheny mountains, bisecting the state north to south. I am looking forward to the lung burn and satisfaction of the ups and the yippeeing flights of the downhills, the twists and the turns following rivers and wondering what they will be wearing – snow, ice, water or combinations thereof. I am excited for rounding hills to new views, seeing mountains and moods of skyscapes and snowscapes and looking back on the flatlands behind me. I am really going to savour the space from urban areas and traffic, beautiful camping spots and camp fires and silent nights. The wildest spaces are always my favourite, even when they are fleeting moments of rides through forests, along lakes, between fields, hopping from one town to another… or in this case a couple of hundred miles in the hills before I roll down to NYC.

Spotting a red cardinal (bird) along a river bank recently – a bright splash of colour against the lyre string hedge as cars whizzed by on the road to my left was such a treat. A rather more comical avian treat was rounding the spur of a hill to see some wild turkeys scrabbling at a trot through a wheat field trying to hide, heads down – as though, like three year olds, they thought they couldn’t be seen because they were looking in the other direction. As they scurried for what they must have imagined looked like cover in a field of uniformly short corn stubble so too did whirls of snow spin across the fields, chased by the wind like dancing hares at a spring cavort. It was delightful and I laughed out loud.

Be present

It is dawning on me that my biking on this continent is drawing to a close, the space between me and the sea  on my map ever shortening. It is now just two of my hand spans to the Cape. Soon the characters of my journey will be the whales and dolphins, the fish and birds of the ocean and the conversation altogether different.

Lying here on the bed that I have cursed at times in the last few days, I think I am grateful, actually, for the enforced pause. It has rebalanced my perspective and reminded me that there is more than the weather out of my control and that a few days here and there, in the grand scheme of things, are just a few days here and there – moments in the journey. Getting ruffled by the juxtaposition of my expedition and its closing phases and life after the journey, I was reminded by someone recently the need to focus in on the now and let the afterwards happen as and when. It was a good note.

I have been reminded that every moment needs savouring and feeling and noticing, be it with stranger or friend, a host of black turkeys trying to hide in the snow or the space of the open sky. Be they good, bad or something in between, all moments are potential for memories, unrepeatable happenings in time and space. As Kathy (gin deliverer) and I sat and talked of adventures past and present, she acknowledged that ‘although the replacements are slowing me down these days’ (referring to her bionic limbs), she was satisfied at a lifetime of memories in her bank to reflect on. Happy days, as one cyclist often says.

Shoutout

I’d like to take these last few lines to make shout outs to some very special parents of very special friends of mine currently facing health challenges bigger than my dodgy tum. Mr Hammond, Jane, Mr Harris – Hercules and I send you warmth from Ohio and look forward to seeing you in the autumn.

Until next time,

Sarah and Hercules

P.S Recent road thanks to: Wendy, Rick, Troy, Amy and the Breakfast crew; Dr David Dick; Isaiah Trammell and colleagues at Holiday Inn Express, Mansfield; Kathy Wells; Shelagh Egar;  Team Scheurich and Wilb Hamstra; Chief Boima; the Collins Family and Geoff; the ladies who bought me lunch and the staff at Hampton Inn, Massilon

P.P.S Thanks to all recent donors to the L2L charities. All donations gratefully accepted here: www.sarahouten.com/the-mission/charity/

P.P.P.S Apologies not to have a picture of the turkeys in the snow – I was laughing too much to get my camera out.

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You pass the moon to me

It took a while to get used to the space of the big orange tent again as a soloist

It took a while to get used to the space of the big orange tent again as a soloist

It has taken me a while to write again post-Lucy. At first I slumped into an emotional, angry, numbed grief period and then I climbed back up and settled into something more manageable and remembered – the steady self-reliant routine of talking to Hercules, the clouds and myself more than anyone else. Whereas at first the miles to the coast and the powerful vastness of the mighty North Atlantic felt like too big a void to contemplate toute seule, now I am somewhat more adjusted to the idea, as much as I wish it were otherwise. Looking forward to seeing Lucy again in Cape Cod pre-departure, there is another part already pining at the goodbye, a lump in my throat if I think on it too much.

I had a long chat with Briony (my psychotherapist) when I was in Chicago last week and we tried to work out why things felt so different this time to previous oceans. I am more wary this time, seemingly more nervous of the consequences of things going wrong and the idea of not coming home. I think it has something to do with chatting through the Pacific 2012 saga with my weather router Lee when Lucy and I were in Minneapolis a few weeks ago, coupled with the fact that Lucy and I have now been together longer and more recently in each other’s company 24/7. We are more in love than ever, if ever it was possible to be even more in love than before. Even though there is a risk that each of us might not come home if we pop to the supermarket or do any realm of x,y,z things, the ocean represents extreme isolation and a multitude of unknowns and potential ‘biggies’. Another thing that is very different this time to last time is that after the 2013 Pacific row I became severely allergic to many things, including mould. As my team and I sort the medical kit for this row, we have to consider the chance of me having a big reaction at sea – to mould, to something new. So long as I don’t become allergic to the sea – for then I would be in an insurmountable pickle.

These are not reasons to stay ashore – not yet, at any rate. If it was medically unsafe for me to put out to sea alone then I would have to heed the advice, but for now we are working on ways of managing the risks and niggles and bothers and worrysome bits. Just as before, the training, the planning, the talking and support systems in place will ensure that I am as safe and tracked and supported as possible. And the rest is up to chance.

As for Lucy – we just have to keep on, keepin’ on, living together and apart all at once, moment by moment, day by day. We speak when we can and are in regular messaging/email contact. I live a double life of biking and lambing at the moment (Lucy is a farmer) though at least now I am brave enough to look behind me on the bike. At first when she left I called out often but wouldn’t look behind – willing her to be there.

The Missisippi kept me company - albeit silently as I weaved up and over the hills

The Missisippi kept me company – albeit silently as I weaved up and over the hills

How curious that the above words just put themselves onto the page like that. About an hour ago I was chatting to my pal Emily Chappell up in Canada, swapping stories from the road (she is currently biking Anchorage to Seattle – see her blog thatemilychappell.com) and I didn’t know what to write about. It seems that my fingers did, however, describing my present mental landscape instead of the beautiful physical landscapes that have kept me busy these last couple of weeks and the characters who have peopled my days.

I shall do that now, briefly…

I followed the Mississippi in all her patchwork glory for a couple of hundred miles, puffing up and rolling down high bluffs that lined her banks, mostly in bright sunshine, accompanied by eagles and watched by fluffy cows with icy beards.

I turned East through Wisconsin, wheeling past farm after farm and yet more cows, some of them newly arrived into this world and breathing fresh the crisp days as I was. And then it snowed. A blizzard grounded me in Argylle with a friendly family, forcing a welcome rest upon mind and body for a day before I pushed on eastward, yet more snow slowing things past Illinois’ third biggest city, Rockford. Here I met some real heroes – a firefigher who told me stories of families losing everything in house fires as they struggled to heat their homes with open-doored ovens or overloaded electric heaters. And Beth, the foster mother who teared up as she told me about her two fostered lads, hungry for attention and love after a sad start to their young lives. And then there was Lou, the unconventional, outspoken, somewhat potty-mouthed arch-something-or-other from a local church who had walked across the U.S in support of those in poverty, with a hope of ending the P-word someday.

Blizzard in Argylle

Blizzard in Argylle

Jay picked me up outside of Chicago to drive me to the city in his huge mobile pizza-oven-pulling wagon, swapping tales of bike trips of years past. The Bloyd-Peshkins hosted me as one of their own for my time in the Windy City, feeding me with delicious food and company, laughing or talking away the niggles and worried bits, and showing me the sights about town.

Team Bloyd-Peshkin - paddlers, bikers and all-round fun folks

Team Bloyd-Peshkin – paddlers, bikers and all-round fun folks

Bonnie Perry hosted me for a talk at All Saints and the lovely punters donated very generously to the expedition. We had a happy hour wandering amongst the park visitors, watching skaters on the ice ribbon beneath towering high-rises and admiring the smooth lines and reflective form of the ‘bean’ as people studied it and themselves in their own little bubble.

The 'bean' in Chicago's Millennium Park contrasting against the skyscrapersl

The ‘bean’ in Chicago’s Millennium Park contrasting against the skyscrapersl

I even had a paddle, enjoying being back in a kayak after six months away from the water, joining in after Sharon and Alec had finished their coaching session. To be with kindred, outdoorsy spirits with the shared connection of Justine and many mutual pals in the paddling world was comforting, refreshing and a whole lot of fun. The couple of hours spent ‘under the thumb’ as Gina the physio righted the wrongs in my back and legs were painful but productive, as were the hours Hercules spent in Dan’s Bike Shop. Both bike and rider left feeling rather refreshed, though sorry to be leaving new friends. And then there was lovely couple Joey and Bob who came out to find me by my riverside campspot last night after Joey found out that Bob hadn’t invited me in when I called to ask for camping spot advice!

Bob and Joey in Montgomery

Bob and Joey in Montgomery

We had a lovely evening together and Bob ran the first three miles with me this morning.

When Lucy flew home, someone reminded me of the Winnie Pooh quote about being lucky to have someone to feel sad about saying goodbye to. Another pal today sent me a poem by Carol Ann Duffy, ‘World’ – all about passing the moon and rolling the sun to the one you love when across lands or seas. I hear WTP and love it when I see the moon to talk to or imagine the sun being passed back and forth between us and I am realising more than ever that love is the biggest motivator to get home asap.

Thanks to: Team Fischer, Team Bloyd-Peshkin, Jay Jones, Bonnie Perry, Lou, Beth, Gina Kolk of Integrity Physiotherapy, Kevin of Dan’s Bike Shop, Joey and Bob, Jay Shefsky and crew of Chicago Tonight, and everyone who came to the talk at All Saints.

Until next time,

Sarah and Hercules x

P.S BT Sport Action Women – January cover girl

P.P.S Recent news piece with BBC East Midlands Today

P.P.P.S Recent news piece with Chicago Tonight

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Leaving on a jet plane

Happiest of days

Happiest of days

*Huffs and puffs * ‘ARGHHH! I have to get my foot out….. There must be a toe warmer in between my toes and it’s REALLY annoying.   I can’t sleep with it there.’  I wriggle around trying to get my leg out of the sleeping bag that both Sarah and I are sharing rather unsuccessfully….

Last night in the tent together

Last night in the tent together

It was our last tent night and we had saved two beers from the night before to toast our cycling success – the miles, the memories and lack of frostbite. As I brought them from the tent I put one down my top to keep ‘warm’ and opened the other, drawing it up to my lips. As I tipped it up, the liquid began to freeze so quickly, turning the pale gold into ice before our eyes. We watched the second bottle do the same and resigned ourselves to hot chocolate instead, marvelling at the two frozen beery volcanoes.

Beery volcanoes

Beery volcanoes

After dinner and a little campfire, punctuated by marching about to keep warm, we settled into the tent and found Sarah’s sleeping bag zip had broken irreparably. (Sarah – I never have much luck with zips) We decided to try and fit two of us into my sleeping bag, (a massive feathery house of a thing) but even that was rather snug and left the top half of our bodies only partially covered.

At -30 it would not do and we covered our top halves in jackets and fleece to insulate, wriggling and squiggling to get comfy and lie still enough to decide if we were cold. During this time I tried using one foot to try and remove a toe warmer trapped between my little toe and his neighbour. In the end I thought it must be wedged and declared that I couldn’t sleep with it there and that we had to disentangle ourselves for me to get at it. While Sarah took this opportunity to use the en-suite facilities I took off my socks to remove said toe warmer only to find… nothing there. On closer inspection I realised that I could no longer feel my poor little toe which was now white except for a bruised-looking tip.  The pinch test failed, meaning that no blood was looping around my little digit and I couldn’t feel Sarah’s tapping or pinching.

I really was with crazy!

I really was with crazy!

Sarah immediately got to business – sitting up, massaging it and warming it in her armpit. (Romantic, or what) There we sat for 30 minutes, Sarah coaching me through muscles clenches up and down my body to squeeze warm blood down and preparing a ‘What if?’ plan incase we had to get to hospital.  I lay there, wrapped in the sleeping bag, a little bemused by the whole thing – wondering at how this would happen on our last tent night together.

At the end of 30 minutes, suddenly a rush of feeling shocked the pale toe into action and it looked red and healthy again. We looked relieved.  Phew.

A chilly Sarah

A chilly Sarah

I have learned that the cold does funny things to you as it does to kit and gear. Not only does kit getting misshapen, not fitting into this or that or folding neatly as it did before – but minds and bodies do, too. At – 40 Sarah says that I lie very still, not talking at all, in a sort of stupor as though conserving every micro-ounce of energy. I don’t think I shall miss the cold too much.

It has reassured me whilst packing my bags and boxing the bike to fly home, that Sarah is always on high alert and very in touch with what her body is doing and telling her.

Our final day of cycling went smoothly,  with mild weather, good tail winds (about time, too) and only a couple of hiccups. My rear luggage rack decided to snap off it’s fixings just one hour into our 100km ride and so we unloaded at the roadside and got creative with duct tape and cable ties.  At the other end of the road, just 10 km from our final stop we were honked at by a motorist and illuminated by the car lights behind. It was a very-smartly-behatted  State Tropper informing us that we were breaking state law and were not allowed on the Interstate. Apparently we had missed the ‘Bicycles prohibited’ signs amid our teary, thoughtful dazes as we contemplated our final hours on the bike together.

Getting creative with cable ties and duct tape

Getting creative with cable ties and duct tape

Riding with Sarah  the last 2 months have been the best times  - ever. Period. The highlights are too many to mention but my favourite part was spending 24/7 together. With only one small bicker about how best to pack my bike into its small box, we are closer then ever.

I am able to better understand and support Sarah now through the distance, holding her hand knowingly while she continues cycling and rowing home, even though she still has thousands of miles to make. When she says she has seen a sun dog I know that it is ‘freeze-your -wotsits -off’ weather and she had better get inside. Or when she says she has had a really good day on the bike, or equally a bad one – I get it.

Both happy to be here :)

Both happy to be here :)

Sarah has so many first class qualities but two that stand out are her patience and ability to remain positive and cheerful in ANY situation. Patience with me as a learning bicycle tourer making mistakes she’s already made years ago but being kind enough to sit them out and watch me make them and learn. On days when it seemed the whole of America would descend and stop and ask what, where and why, there was Sarah speaking with the same enthusiasm every time. When most people would get stressed, Sarah smiles and let it all wash over her, being meticulous in her actions to ensure the best outcome and leaving the rest up to whatever will be will be. The kindest, bravest and most humble person I’ve ever met.

So, this is the second to last of the big goodbyes done now. I am back  in the UK, helping with Happy Socks sorting and immersing myself with my farm work as lambing season descends. And Sarah and Hercules continue East to the coast.

I am constantly reminded what an incredible journey she is making and I feel so lucky that I was able to share  a tiny bit of it first hand.

Thank you so much to those who have donated to my cycling months and miles supporting the L2L charities.  Here is the link incase anyone else is tempted :)

Lucy x

P.S Thanks to Team Carlson and Team Stevens, Sable Inn – Foley, Sherry and Lee Bruce, and Accenture Minneapolis

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