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