Hello again, and welcome to this, the third state in my state by state journey across the USA as part of the support crew for the legendary Mimi Anderson on her transcon world record attempt earlier this year. Kudos to those who have been with me every step of the way – thats a real commitment. To those just joining – parts 1 + 2 – Colorado and Kansas – can be found here.
We left the last part of the story trying to find positives about the crew’s time in Kansas. Whilst not impossible, it was with a skip in our step that we approached the Missouri border on the 5th October. Kansas had not been kind to Mimi, which meant long days battling heavy winds and huge trucks, on roads with no shelter and no hard shoulder. It was a runners nightmare, and though Mimi didn’t let it stop her – the longer days were definitely starting to wear me down. This combined with the fact the adrenaline was wearing off and fatigue setting in, plus the relentless battering of the wind, meant that by this time, I was in fact really quite grumpy. I did my best to hide it – because the last thing I wanted to do in front of this incredible group of people was admit that I was struggling – but in hindsight it was only a matter of time before the inevitable happened.
Complaining out here though, whilst watching Mimi continually push the boundaries of what is possible, was not on. I’d have to just suck it up, get on with it, and hope that Missouri would be kind to us.
The 5th October saw us making our way to the eastern border of Kansas – where my third state (and Mimi’s seventh) would greet us in the form of Missouri. For days the crew had fantasized about this moment, longed to be out of Kansas and in to a state a little less flat, a little less smelly and hopefully, a lot less windy. As we covered those final miles though, Kansas began to change. We passed through the beautiful Flint Hills, we wound round corners and we found shelter behind an increasing number of trees. The flat road was replaced by long reaching undulations, the amount of greenery seemed to increase around every bend and the wind seemed to finally back down.
It was as if Kansas was having one last attempt at impressing us, and I have to say, this little pocket of the sunflower state was stunning. The Flint Hills are one of the last remaining sweet spots where a native ecosystem – tall grass prairie – dominates. This land used to be widespread through Kansas (and Oklahoma), but has since been threatened by agricultural expansion and over exploitation. There are no longer any Elk or Buffalo in these hills, and though you could picture them, there was no sign of them coming back. It held a strange irony that the most beautiful part of this state – which had been so devoid of natural beauty – was one of the most threatened ecosystems in the US. It was a strange view into what the land was like before we (as a species not as a crew) got involved. Time travel, if you wish, to a time before population growth and agricultural expansion got the better of us.
A bittersweet goodbye to a state which I wouldn’t be rushing back to. Yet at the same time, the Flint Hills delivered hope that Missouri would bring new levels of excitement, and once again I found myself looking out for that state sign.
Only this time, there didn’t seem to be any signs. The increased number of roads as we moved eastwards across the USA meant that the signs, welcoming people to a new state, were reserved for the interstate – a road which for obvious reasons we were avoiding. So, disappointed slightly, I simply took a shot of the map, and carried on on my way to see what Missouri was made of.
We actually arrived in Missouri shortly before dark – and it wasn’t long before we were searching for somewhere to park up for the night. In the short moments before the sun set, we were not disappointed when it came to scenery. Rolling hills and lush vegetation were a welcome change, but unfortunately this made it very difficult to find somewhere to park the RV. As chance would have it, Jenny came across a couple of young men, who were super keen to find out what we were up to. It was following this conversation that Missouri made its grand welcome. Shortly after chatting with them, the two young men stated that their family owned a field at the end mile marker for the day – and immediately set off to find someone who could open the gate. Minutes later we were parked up in the field, and set about our daily chores (which as always were being executed in a rush before Mimi got back), whilst Tim talked the farmer through what was going on and why we were here. The farmer later returned with a tray of fruits as a gift, and the boys later returned with the promise of coffee and cinnamon buns in the morning.
My initial disappointment about the lack of a state sign suddenly disappeared. Missouri did not need a sign. They had a full blown welcome committee.
The next morning, at 5:00am on the dot, Mimi and I left the RV to start running for the day. Moments before, as promised, the boys had returned with coffee and cinnamon buns. Trying not to get too upset about the fact I would be missing out on the grand unveil, and actually, grabbing the opportunity to be out of the RV for a couple of hours, I rushed off to catch up with Mimi, who as always had left as promptly as possible whilst I did some last minute faffing.
Our run that morning was a welcome change from the past few weeks. In fact, almost every morning in Missouri brought a smile to my face. The gentle undulations brought with them an autumnal beauty, with mist lingering in the valleys as the sun rose above the surrounding hills. The fields became lush and green and the number of deer we would see each morning would quite often blow my mind. Being someone who is particularly awful at getting up and about in the mornings, I don’t often get to run alongside these graceful creatures, so it was a real treat.
Each morning I would run anything between 8-20 miles with Mimi, all depending on crew logistics, the speed of RV pack up and sometimes, just on how I was feeling. Some days, after 8 or 9 miles I would just feel awful and have to mutter some kind of pathetic excuse to Mimi about why I thought I should stop. Other days, the crew would have to physically drag me (forgive me some slight hyperbole there) into the RV to make me stop running. All this really highlighted to me how remarkable it was that Mimi was able to tell herself to go out there and run 57 miles a day. It didn’t matter how she was feeling. It didn’t matter how excruciating the pain she felt in her legs was that day. She just got out there, admittedly by this stage sometimes with a certain amount of choice language, and get on and do it. I loved this about Mimi. The courage and perseverance thing mostly. Though the language was bloomin’ funny too.
In Missouri, Mimi had been on the road for almost a month and was averaging around 57 miles a day. 57 miles a day for 30 days. That’s a heck of a lot. And as we did continue the journey, there were times where I saw the pain she was feeling in her eyes without her even uttering a word. But still she pushed on. Providing inspiration for each and every one of us. When I read Mimi’s book (before heading out to America) I formed the view that if I ever had children, Mimi would make an incredible role model for them. However being out in America and watching her take on a goal so huge made me realise she was an incredible role model for me too.
Anyway, enough fan-girling and back to the story.
The 7th October, officially our third day in Missouri, was my birthday. And it was awful.
Now I don’t wish this to cause offence to anyone – because I know that I was incredibly lucky to be out there – but this birthday probably ranked 25th of 25 in terms of how a birthday should go. And please bear with me – I’m not being a brat – I was just super tired and grumpy, and now I’m just being honest.
On the eve of my birthday, a navigational hiccup and the tiredness of the crew had led to some tensions in the RV. Now anyone who knows me will well will know that I hate tension. And conflict. And eye contact (though that’s not really relevant here – just a handy fact). And so I went to bed feeling a little bummed out, but confident that tomorrow the mood would be lifted, and I might even be given an easy day.
The morning started as I expected, the normal mad rush to get ready, accompanied by the (always embarrassing for some reason) kind wishes of happy birthday from my crew members. Mimi and I set off to run – as normal – and had the added bonus of running a slightly improvised route. I loved having the responsibility of navigating (I know – bit nerdy) and so this was the first treat of the day. We had a minor scare with a territorial dog (who in the end caused no trouble), we couldn’t physically find one of the roads, and we were treated to an epic sunrise. Shortly after sunrise I returned to the RV, we made it to the lunch spot and at lunch, the lovely crew surprised me with a delicious cake. Had I been able to end the day here it would have been perfect. A weird and wonderful day in the middle of Missouri.
Unfortunately though the afternoon saw a return of my tiredness, possibly the result of a huge sugar crash (I ate a LOT of cake), and a frustrating turn of events left me feeling on the verge of tears. Long story short, the tension hadn’t eased all too much, the car had another flat tyre (our third I think?), I’d spent my afternoon waiting for the RV to arrive, had to do all the prep for the following day and was still washing up at 10:30pm. I was so tired that I felt myself welling up whilst drying the last few things up. Everyone gathered for the crew meeting and I felt that burning feeling spreading over my eyes. It was late, it was my birthday, and I was about to break into one of the most cliched scenes possible. I had to get out the van, so as soon as the briefing was over, I grabbed my toothbrush and went outside to sit on the back of the RV (my contemplation spot). A few deep breaths and a bit of fresh air helped me stave off tears and I began to be proud of myself for holding it together. Suddenly I remembered I still had the film crews go pro on me, so I walked over to their RV to give it back to them (whilst we slept, the film crew would be beavering away editing footage just next door). As I opened their door and presented them with the camera, they asked how my birthday had been.
That’s when, inexplicably, I lost it.
I burst into tears and started blubbering that way that you do when you get all emotional on your birthday. It was awful. Terrible. Humiliating. Then the film crew, being the lovely ladies they are invited me in for a chat and a beer. Up until this point, I hadn’t spoken to either of these ladies that much – meeting 7 other new people was frightening enough. But in that moment where I needed someone to talk to – they were there. And better still, they were there with an ice cold beer and a cracking sense of humour. It was a little thing – but something for which I will always be grateful for.
Turns out a good cry was all I needed. The next day I woke up raring to go all over again, with a big grin on my face.
The rest of Missouri passed in a beautiful manner. Mimi was finally given a break from the roads and the traffic as the route started to follow the Katy trail. Not only was this more scenic, packed with wildlife (owls, opossums, the occasional skunk, foxes, turkey vultures), and far less monotonous than the road, it also meant that we started to see other people out and about. Cyclists, walkers and even the occasional runner. All things which helped to break up the day and ease some of the pain Mimi was having to endure. The Katy Trail is a really beautifully maintained, easy to follow trail, that winds its way through 240 miles of Missouri scenery. At times it follows the grand Missouri river, it is steeped in American history and it is truly beautiful. I would definitely recommend this route for anybody keen for an introduction to a multi-day cycling or running challenge. Especially if you are willing to get out nice and early and catch a sunrise or two.
The final highlight of Missouri (discounting the time I went to do laundry with Tim – the only crew member more clueless about laundry than myself – sorry Tim!), was crossing the Mississippi river. The scale of this river was something incredible – and to say I’ve seen it is definitely something to mark off the list. Obviously I will have to go back and see more of it one day – but for now – a glimpse was enough to make me happy.
So, just a few days after arriving in Missouri it was time to leave and head in to Illinois, where a whole new set of adventures would be awaiting us.