In total, I was in America (as a member of Mimi Anderson‘s support crew) for 26 days.
In those 26 days I can honestly say I learnt a whole lot of things – things about running, world records, living in close quarters, working as a team, 3 minute showering techniques, cooking, cleaning, sweeping, RV maintenance, chick peas, tortillas, cable ties, pipe cleaners, Scottish-ness, toilet habits, gas stations, tall grass prairie, dairy farming, Sorghum, cleaning pans, making porridge, tarantulas, fourteeners, Walmart, Twinkies waste dumping, fishing and the Missouri river.
Oh and America too, I guess.
If you’re scratching your head at this point, don’t worry, all will be explained. It is time to grab a brew, take a seat and settle down for a state by state journey through the USA. Or through quite a lot of it, to be more precise.
Our story starts in Colorado – the Colourful State…
Colorado was definitely the state I looked forward to visiting the most.
This was, of course, obscured somewhat on my journey to the US – the whole idea of just jumping in to a group of people I had never met before was as terrifying as ever, and with Colorado as my arrival state, this inevitably hid some of the excitement I originally possessed behind the nerves that accompany meeting new people.
That being said, from the moment I stepped off the plane, I knew that Colorado would live up to my original expectations. We arrived just in time for sun down – and despite the fact that Denver actually lies just beyond the rockies, in the (let’s say) less topographically blessed eastern region of Colorado, the view of the sun setting behind the not so distant mountains was stunning. Reluctant to break my strict rule of not taking photos through windows, I decided to wait until I made it out of the airport to take a snap. I therefore decided to jog towards customs, praying that the rumours about American security had been exaggerated somewhat.
Unfortunately, the rumours had not been false, and I queued for what felt like forever to get my passport checked. A tiny consolation came in the form of a stamp in my passport (always exciting) and in that I discovered I had been mentionned in an article which celebrated the 11 most inspiring young explorers in Britain whilst I waited (yes, that was a #humblebrag). That was exciting, but it didn’t stop me questioning quite why they had to ask so many questions at passport control. I toyed with the idea of telling them all about my new found proudest moment (which had happened literally minutes previously) but decided not to do anything that would risk any form of secondary inspection. Finally, having told Mary all about my upbringing in the small village of Hook Norton, my mothers maiden name and the way I like my eggs in the morning, I was cleared to carry on to baggage reclaim where I met Tim and we headed out to find a taxi. We were to stay in Denver one night, before getting a bus to join the others the next day. Over our final beer and burger – our last real treat for some time – I began to get excited again. Whilst a six hour bus journey is normally something which has as much appeal as a punch in the face, this one would take us out of the city and, fingers crossed, into the mountains. And that was exactly where I wanted to go.
The following day, bags repacked and polystyrene breakfast avoided, we set off to find the others. The coach took a long time to clear the city and by the time we left the interstate I was just about ready to drift off to sleep. However, not long at all after leaving the main road, the scenery started to form into something magical, raising me from my slumber and capturing my attention. The coach seemed to climb endlessly upwards, bending around tight river valleys with steep sides covered in various spruces, pines and firs. Occasionally, we would make a bit of descent, but it would never last as long as the previous climb, and would lead us on to an open and barren plateau, as opposed to back down another valley.
It was, put simply, spectacular.
Or at least it was for the first 4/5 hours. In the last hour, when we had swapped to a much smaller vehicle to complete our journey (to Alamosa), things started to get a little tiresome. We were entertained briefly by a sudden downpour, which in turn provided a beautiul rainbow above the plateau, leading me to finally crack and break my other key photography rule – no photos from moving vehicles. However, as soon as the rainbow faded, we were left with dwinding light, heavy showers, and the constant discomfort that comes from riding in a tiny bus on narrow mountain roads. Sure enough, as darkness swept over the plateau I found myself feeling really quite nervous once again.
Luckily, for the first part of the journey, I had a handy excuse to stay quiet. Jenny, head of crew, came to collect us in the car, and once she had gone over all the various bits and bobs that were important, the rest of the journey mostly involved Jenny and Tim catching up (I presumed they had met before but poosibly just spoken lots over skype) whilst I sat back quietly and listened. I had no idea what to expect so I was using this opportunity to gain as much insight as I could from what Jenny was saying. That, and Tim and Jenny seemed to be professionals in maintaining intelligent conversation and I was too scared to say anything stupid, so I kept it buttoned and looked out the window.
Jenny and Tim had talked over most things by the time we reached the RV – how Mimi was going, how the crew were getting on, how the vehicles were holding up etc. etc. If anything, by this point, I felt less like I knew what I was doing than when I cluelessly borded my flight back in Heathrow. Who’d have known being in a support crew would involve so much work. Before now, I had been in awe of what Mimi was doing each day, running almost sixty miles every day for the past two weeks, often over difficult terrain and in scorching temperatures. Just now I was starting to think she had chosen the right option – at least Mimi wouldn’t have to worry about shrinking everyones clothes in the tumble drier.
I jest of course, crew life was tough – even stressful at times, but it was nothing compared to what Mimi was achieving. Two days into my involvement, this was highlghted by the fact that Mimi crossed the 1000 mile mark, after less than 18 days on the road. Not only that, she continued to be in good spirits, she was smiling and laughing every day, and even though we knew she was hurting (who wouldn’t be after running this far) she absolutely refused to moan about it. Now I knew Mimi was tough. I’d read her book before coming out here and I knew this lady was as hard as nails, but this let me see another side of her. Her composure was impeccable, her wit was unstoppable and her determination came disguised behind the most charming of smiles. If I can grow up to be half the lady she is (and stop now with the laughing I AM capable of being ladylike) then I’d like to think my parents would be proud.
Anyway back to the important thing, what was life like for me?! Well I’m glad you asked.
For the crew, life would start at 4:20am. It may have been 4.15am for the others, but I’m fairly sure it was never before 4.20am for me. I was the lucky one, in that I got to go out running most mornings. This meant I got up, struggled to get dressed in a tiny space filled with people, downed a smoothie (a smoothie made for me by the wonder woman that is Jan), grabbed a few wet wipes, then dived out the door after Mimi. Usually forgetting half the things I had planned to take with me. These few hours in the morning were a huge treat for me. I got to run. I got to chat to Mimi about anything and everything. I saw every single beautiful sunrise for about three weeks. I got to snack on Mimi’s snacks (normally these were off bounds for crew) and most importantly I got to skip the part where the toilet got cleaned. I made up for these things later in the day – with endless washing up and dreaded food prep, but the mornings were ace. I was pleased to see that Mimi and I shared a similar sense of humour and that I was able to make her laugh most mornings. It was the only real way in which I could make this any easier for her and so I took great pride in making it happen. After around 12 miles (this did slowly increase) I would normally ask to be picked up, and be whisked off to help with other crew duties, whilst Mimi continued running. Sometimes I would even be glad to stop – my little feet just aren’t as hard core as Mimi’s – but I tried not to complain. It would have seemed ridiculous to do so.
Crew duties for the rest of the day involved washing up from breakfast, making lunch, washing up lunch, laundry, food prep, washing up from food prep, cooking dinner, washing up from dinner, preparing Mimi’s things for the next day, and more washing up. You could always guarantee there was some washing up to do. By the end of the day, around 10.00pm, I like to think we were as exhausted as Mimi, and as soon as I jumped into my bunk I would be asleep, only to be woken up 5 minutes later to do it all over again.
I realise I have had said very little about Colorado since I got too excited about being on a bus – but lets just say the scenery didn’t disappoint. For the first few days, we were on a high plateau, with stunning views of snow topped rockies in the distance. We climbed up and over a pass, before descending down another beautiful valley into Eastern Colorado. With less dramatic scenery, Colorado needed to find another way to wow us, and it didn’t take long for it to deliver the goods. Three or four days in to the trip (for me at least) I got to witness one of the most incredible natural events I’ve ever seen – the annual migration of Tarantulas. The Tarantulas which are native to Colorado (Oklahoma Brown) put on a dramatic display – the males only get to mate once every 8 years – and shortly after they come into their reproductive prime, they die. This means they only really get one shot to find a mate. The females, who live a lot longer, wait for the males to come to them (that is a great example of correlation not being causation) as they are not in such a desperate reproductive situation. As a result, hundreds of fluffy little critters can be witnessed crawling across this one particular road once a year. And we just happened to be there just at the right time. It was awesome. I don’t have any decent photos – because it doesn’t matter how awesome the event was to witness, I didn’t want to risk one of those (apparently harmless) spiders coming into contact with me – but I did just find a YouTube video which gives you an idea.
As we moved further east, the land began to flatten around us, but the sky grew to take its place, leaving me with a constant feeling od being in the most vast of countries. Everything here was on a larger scale, even the natural things. I’ve said it before – but time outdoors makes you start to appreciate things on a whole new level. You start to watch for the changing light to signal sunset is coming, you can see the next storm coming in, notice the gradual change in the wind and even start to spot spiders crossing the road from a good 50ft back. All in all – in the brief moments I got to take a little breather (which I liked to do on top of the RV) – I began to really get a sense that I was so lucky to be out there experiencing all this.
Even if I was starting to hate the potato peeler an irrational amount.
And all this time – Mimi? – well she just kept on running.