This week, the Director at the Department of Destiny decided that I’d got a little too big for my Cowboy boots. He sensed my belief that the final ten days would be a mere formality, and so plunged his hands deep into the weather well, and began drawing out: “Flood? Hmm, no, we’ve done that one. Blizzard? Come now, that’s so 2013…” Then he happened across a little bottle marked ‘Polar Vortex’. “I wonder…”
A HERCULEAN STRUGGLE
The first few flakes of winter storm Hercules fell in Memphis. They were barely even whisps, so I thought no more of it, and ploughed North for the obligatory dip into Kentucky. Things there began to get a little brisk, even for a Brit (I had to put leggings on and everything), and when I looked out the window in Missouri the following morning, my mouth did the droopy thing. Snow. Sigh. I checked the forecast. Minus 7C. Windchill – minus 13C. 23 mph headwind. Turd.
So I had a brainstorm – with myself (this is totally possible, I didn’t even need a whiteboard), and came up with a what I thought was a Grade A plan. I’d move slowly from small town to small town, making as much headway as I could. Only… I couldn’t seem to get operation ‘Creep’ underway without at least bouncing the idea off of someone. I was caught between wondering if I was a fool to go out in such temperatures or whether I’d gone soft because I was even considering not to. My guts had gone glacial. My balls, below zero. My can of man-up, frozen. I needed back up, and fast. So who you gonna call? Ghostbusters? The A-Team? Danger Mouse? No…. your Mum. I flipped open the Skype App and hit call. “Hello Petal” came the familiar voice. Ah. I felt better already.
All credit to the Mothership, When every instinct is screaming at her to tell the precious little spawn (moi) to stay safe and warm indoors, she came at me with “I agree you’ve got to keep moving, it’s due to get worse” and “You’ll find a way, there’s always a way”. Parents. You’ve gotta love em.
So I let some air out of my tyres and embarked on 3 days of wind battered, icicle encrusted, hill-tastic riding. When the chill hit -15C my legs stung as if being stabbed by itty bitty knives. An icicle beard formed on my chin, frozen droplets took up residence on my eyebrows and my water bottles turned to lumps of ice. Oddly enough, and honestly, I was so het up by the challenge of it all, that it was rather bearable – or so I remember. I was careful to listen to the soft whispers of Captain Sensible however, who reminded me (at intervals) that no matter how good I felt, it was still bloody cold.
LOSING IN MILES, WINNING IN SMILES
I made it about two thirds of the way across the Ozark mountains before things slid off the scale of silliness. I woke up to a foot of snow and not a scrap of tarmac in sight. Bugger. What’s more, the sub zero temps had also caused a layer of ice to form under the snow. Double bugger. Had this been earlier in the trip, I would have sat it out, and waited the four days for it to pass. But with a visa expiring, and my folks bound for Hawaii to meet me – sitting tight wasn’t an option. So I did the thing that made me die a little inside – I took four wheeled assistance. The first was from super-host Larry, who, with nerves of steel (and studded tyres) drove me 60 miles through snowy back roads, round steep curves and over mountain passes. Each time he said “Well if we make it up this one, I think we’ll be okay” my heart crept higher into my mouth and my feet pressed a little farther into the footwell. At one point I wondered that they might break clean through the floor and we’d wind up in a Flintstones-mobile (“Willlmmmaaaaaaa!”)
At Springdale, Arkansas, Larry’s work was done. Like precious cargo I was handed over to new host, Jay, who drove me the final few miles to his home in Gentry. The following morning the mercury dropped to -22C, with a windchill of -28C, and I discovered that it was a warmer at that point in Alaska, than it was in Arkansas. I began to feel a tad foolish. Embarrassed even. Who rides their bike through the US in the winter? I’d done research. I’d checked the average temperatures for the times I’d be going through each state, and not found anything to suggest I might hit this kind of cool. But of course, like the flood and the blizzard, I was assured that this wasn’t ‘normal’. What can I say, I’m just a lucky lady. Or a weather witch. A lucky weather witch.
Funnily enough, a snowy stopover turned out to be just about the best thing that could have happened. Not only did I get to hang with kind and adventurous souls Jay and Shirley, I also got to meet their group of bicycling buddies – who all descended on the house for dinner one night. I was touched to discover that they’d been following the blog, and I enjoyed answering question after question between mouthfuls of Mexican nosh. In turn, they shared tales of their own – of dog chases, near crashes, actual crashes, post ride feasts and random acts of kindness. To be part of such a close knit group of friends for the evening was a joy. And I retired to the lad of nod with cheeks wearing from smiling and a belly that ached from laughing (that, and ODing on the guacamole).
For the remaining 3 days in Gentry I was treated like a princess. I got taken for a massage, went for lunches, played board games with the girls and had dinner with both sets of grandparents. I even went on a million micro-adventures from the comfort and warmth Jay’s couch – as he took me through photos of previous family bicycle, hiking and four wheeled trips.
THE ADVENTURE ARMY
I’m sure you find this hard to believe, but I struggle with asking for help (I know, right?). I tend to think I can fix most anything on my own and above all, I hate to put others to any trouble. Which is ridiculous, because going to trouble for others is literally one of my most favouritist things to do. Put it down to homesickness or weary traveller syndrome, but this week I accepted a mountain of help. And in inflicting my icicle-pickle on the residents of Arkansas, I found me a powerful Adventure Army.
On the second night in Gentry, the army was in full swing. Imagine the scene: Jay called bike friend Dan. Dan called his brother. The brother called his store manager, Erin, who said I could stay with her on the outskirts of Dallas before my flight to Hawaii. Bike friend Tod then called his mum, who agreed to put me up for my first night in Oklahoma, and his sister, Robin, offered to take me out for dinner. (Are you still with me? Good…). Shirley’s Dad arranged to get me clear of the ice and more cold weather with a ride to Kansas with friends of his. He then called another friend who’d source me a bike box in Dallas, drop it off, then come back at 3am in the morning to take me to the airport (who gives people a ride to the airport at 3am? Kind people, that’s who). And that wasn’t even the half of it. I had friends of friends on standby across Arkansas, Missouri, Oklahoma and Texas, ready to host me and ride with me should I make it to their area. I watched all of this unfold in awe, feeling so incredibly blessed and grateful. It. Was. Awesome.
DALLAS, AT LAST
The final furlong, from Kansas to Dallas, wasn’t entirely plain sailing. I had a dash of nasty fog, headwinds, rain and a minor ‘moment’ on a clay farm track as I spent an hour unclogging one very dirty Boudcia. But as D-Ream foretold in 1994 ‘Things, can only get better (they can only get, they can only..) I said things, can only get…… better.“ And sure enough, by day four I was riding towards Dallas in sunshine and Blue skies, with the wind on my back.
I write this with the biggest grin my face, having just touched down in Hawaii and been reunited with my folks. There’s an upwards assault on a volcano on the cards this week – so tell the fat lady to hang tight for a little, I’m not handing her the mic just yet.
Catch you all when I’ve conquered the 50th state,