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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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