On the 10th October – after a hectic day spent discovering that some of the route was a little more tricky than it looked on paper – we found ourselves approaching a bridge over the Mississippi that marked the crossing in to state number 4, Illinois.
It was a moment I had been looking forward to for quite some time. The Mississippi is (of course) a world renowned river that carries a sense of grandeur and adventure, which for someone like myself is irresistible. A glimpse of this river would be a treat for me and I looked forward to cruising over the bridge, potentially stopping for a couple of photos and generally just uttering a few oohs and ahhs to express my delight with being there.
The only issue with this, was that the reality of reaching and crossing the bridge was about as far away from my ideals as it could have been. The day leading up to the crossing had been a beautiful calm and clear day. Mimi had slowed slightly due to the pain in her knee, and it looked like it would be early evening when we made the crossing. This in itself would have been fine – a dramatic sunset over the Mississippi would be a spectacular goodbye to the beautiful state of Missouri and the perfect welcome to Illinois. A later arrival therefore didn’t matter to me. On a day like today we were bound to have a stunning sunset, hopefully we would catch it at the perfect time to capture an absolute banger of a photo. So that we could put it on Instagram and whatnot.
Now I know some of you will wonder what I’m going on about – its just a bridge over a river. It’s hard for me to explain this childlike excitement without sounding like a complete nutcase, but rivers are kind of my thing. Well one of my things. In the same way that people might get excited about going to see a particular building (e.g. the Empire State) or an iconic painting, I love to see a good river. Or just any natural landscape feature. It’s not cool. And it’s very much something which I hope to use to embarrass my children one day. But it’s a thing that you just have to accept.
Back to that state crossing and things were starting to go pear shaped. As we neared the final few miles, out of nowhere, the sky filled itself with huge dark clouds. Disappointed slightly, I carried on with the drive, making a final turn onto the road which would take us over the bridge.
The issue being, this turn was not what I expected. For a start I was forced to turn right when I really wanted to turn left. And to compound matters, we were turning onto an incredibly busy dual carriageway that was completely unsuitable for running along at the best of times. Let alone around 45 miles into a day preceded by 33 days of running 12 hours almost non-stop. Frustrated slightly, we found a way to do a loop and came back to our 3 mile rendezvous with Mimi. It was here that my trusted co-pilot and co-snickers connoisseur jumped out to run with Mimi along this horrendously busy stretch of road. As he jumped out the car, we noticed the wind had riled itself into something serious and it was starting to rain. It was, quite frankly, horrendous. A combination of the unexpectedly stormy weather and the two lanes of traffic hurtling by meant that I was no longer excited for the crossing – I just hoped that Mimi would make it across in one piece.
I looped round one more time, to see Mimi before the bridge and make sure she had her waterproofs and flashing jacket, and after nearly losing the car doors to the wind, wished them both luck and set off to the other side of the bridge where we would meet again.
As I drove off in front of them, I realised just how treacherous the conditions were and I barely even saw the river as I crossed into Illinois – my full attention going in to avoiding the lorries which were swaying in the now ridiculously strong wind.
It could have been really disappointing, however what really mattered was that we were now into Illinois, Mimi was safely across the border and Tim and I were officially given the go ahead to head back to the RV and grab dinner. And I can tell you that at the end of a long day on the road, there is absolutely nothing that hits the spot like one of Jan’s dinners.
In all, our time in Illinois was short and sweet. Well, it was short for sure. It wasn’t entirely sweet, but it had sweet parts in it. Mostly what I mean by that is that it was a time where I wrote down very little in my journal and took very few photos. Mostly due to the fact I was working on a new hobby of mine – falling asleep in the most ridiculous of places at the most ridiculous of times.
There is no disguising that by this point in the trip, it was becoming a tricky time. Not only was the crew becoming increasingly fatigued, Mimi was by this point in an incredible amount of pain – and watching this was unbelievably tough. Mimi had been in pain since we got there, that was a given when running these mad distances. Aches, pains, blisters etc.
I’d been there a year back and I had been running WAY less. But that kind of pain you can ignore. You spend all night feeling incredibly sore, wishing your legs would stop hurting so that you can sleep, yet somehow each morning you wake and you manage to suppress the pain enough to progress on your trip. This was the pain that I was used to seeing Mimi endure – and I had no trouble encouraging her to push through it (not that the encouragement was needed).
But now, we could see that the pain was reaching a new level. Mimi’s upright style had changed, and she was now running at an angle to try and relieve the knee. I started to question how much I should encourage Mimi to keep going – but at the same time, I knew how much this record meant to her and how much she had thrown into training for it. I was in no position to tell Mimi not to keep running and I had no intention of doing so. Mimi had been to the absolute extreme of what her body was capable of before now – and if anyone knew how to read their body it was her. For now all I could do was be there for Mimi in whatever way she needed, and marvel at the way in which she kept going, through pain which would have stopped the majority of people a long time ago.
That’s not to say I wasn’t a little relieved when she visited a doctor in Illinois. And very pleased when I found out she’d been prescribed something to help with the knee pain. I knew Mimi would be in control – that she wouldn’t take any unnecessary risks – and I hoped that this would be enough to see her through to the end.
The total time it took Mimi to cross Illinois was just three days. During that time we were treated to some pretty fun things. We met hundreds (hyperbole again but definitely lots) of law enforcement officers – real life Sheriffs, deputies and even the odd police officer. This was mostly down to Jan, who when not creating miracles in the kitchen, was often found charming the local fuzz with her tales of policing from the back home. Then there was the hilarity of passing through Effingham – which obviously isn’t hilarious if you have a mental age older than 12 (which I obviously don’t).
We also passed some entertaining signage and ran through the charming town of Casey – bizarrely a small town which is home to 7 of the world’s largest things – the largest wind chime, rocking chair, golf tee, pitchfork, wooden shoes, mailbox and the largest crochet hook and knitting needles. Sound odd? It is 100% real – they even have a website. I perhaps wouldn’t go as far as to recommend it as a holiday destination, but if you happen to be passing through – definitely drop in.
And that was Illinois. Or at least that’s what I remember of Illinois.
Three days. Very busy. Mimi continually pushing what is possible and another state in the bag.
It was time to head to Indiana.
And there was one big question playing on everyone’s mind – would we finally be blessed with a decent state sign?