I’m sat on the plane as I write this – finally with a moment to catch my breath and reflect on the whirlwind of the last few weeks: a cacophony of last-minute training and essential kit testing (conclusion: I haven’t done enough, and I have too much), wrapping up all my (too many to mention) work commitments, attempting to find people thousands of miles away who don’t mind putting a stranger in a tutu up for the night (success rate: 70%), and an endless cycle of forgetting/remembering all the little tasks that have to be done as the final countdown looms ever larger.
What’s the state of play then as I catapult towards California?
- Because of all the work and all the time it takes to organise a solo project from miles away, I am woefully under-prepared physically. Add to that the injuries: a groin injury put me out of action until Christmas; recurring knee pain as a result of my operation last February has me facing each training session with trepidation, and last week my unreliable back (problematic since childhood) went AWOL and left me immobile for three days. It means I’ve managed to complete the equivalent time in full challenge set-up (with buggy, flag, stereo and full kit weight) of just three-quarters of one day’s dancing. As a result I feel as if I really am heading into the unknown here – I know I have mental toughness to get through quite a lot, but surely it can only take you so far?
- I’ve managed to sort out where I’m staying for 15 out of 20 nights. I kick off a few days of final preparation in Santa Monica in a hostel (where everyone’s been super kind and helpful), but then still have to find somewhere (in Beverly Hills or West Hollywood) for the night after my very first day of dancing. Then it’s a string of brilliant volunteers (and a wigwam motel) hosting me all the way to beyond San Bernadino. After that I’ve still to find a place in Hesperia, after which Victorville is sorted but not Helendale. Barstow sees me staying in another motel and Newberry Springs in a caravan park. If I’m still going by then I’ve then got to work out how to get shelter the next night (as there’s 30 miles of desert until the next signs of civilisation – too far for me and my buggy in a day). After which it’s a motel and then hopefully I can find some kind folks to help me somehow get me and my kit back to LA in time to fly home. It’s not all sorted and taken care of – but where’s the adventure in that?!
- I’ve had zero time for publicity and promotion. It’ll mean no media at the start and very few will know what I’m up to when they see me out on the road. But I’m ok with that as I just want to get started now after so many injury-hit false dawns. I’ll go slowly at first and hopefully things will build up over the legs I’ll be doing. By NYC sometime in a few years hopefully there’ll be coverage to write home about.
- I’m now much more aware of the challenges I will face out on the road. I know that physically – because of the distances, the 75kg+ weight I’m pulling and the lack of training – I will be crushed in the first week or so. I know I’ll face problems with getting lost, consuming enough calories and staying hydrated out in desert areas, finding places to stay and generally people to help me. I know for certain my biggest threat will be the traffic I’ll be dancing close to every day. And I know I’ll be travelling through some difficult neighbourhoods (on the approach to San Bernadino locals have warned me I’ll be heading through gang territory). But the key to risks is to plan to minimise them. I’ll build up my daily distances. I’ll chunk each day into 2-hour dancing blocks to help focus on the now not the gargantuan challenge ahead. I’ll soon see what I do and don’t need on the road – and jettison anything that hinders more than it helps. I’ve got paper maps, downloaded google maps onto my smartphone, a GPS unit, one rugged phone with week-long battery life, one satellite phone with wherever-you-are-in-the-world coverage, and a series of hosts watching out for me. I’ve got capacity for 24 litres of water if I need it and have essential protein and energy on tap. I’ve got a helmet to wear whenever I’m on the road, flashing lights for my buggy and flags to make me easily visible to vehicles. I’ve got enough reserve power and kit to spend a night out in the wilderness if I absolutely need it. I’ll be contacting the local police before each day’s dancing so they’re aware of what I’m up to. I’ve got advice from those in the know about how to safely make it through more high-risk areas. I’ve got two ways for people around the world to know exactly where I am in real-time, and two devices with direct links to an emergency response centre if I absolutely need it. And I go out there with an attitude of see how it goes – if it’s not possible to go it alone and pull what I need every step of the way I’ll stop and come back in the summer with a better plan to get me there.
- Although this is supposed to be a solo, unsupported challenge, I’ve got a lot of people to thank for getting me so close to start line: every single one of you who has put in a supportive word over the last three years; those passers-by who have smiled, high-fived or donated; everyone lined up to host me in the States as I pass by; the companies who’ve gone the extra mile for me (Aiwa have shipped a stereo and extra batteries to my hostel ready for my arrival, in less than 24 hours PrintDesigns made and delivered a brilliant flag to show everyone what I’m up to, and Ant at ZeroSixZero created the best tracker map I could have ever wished for); everyone who’s sponsored me and helped Anti-Slavery International work to end the modern-day slavery that cages people’s lives and dreams; my Hammond and Gautama families for believing in me and my dream even when your instinct might be to get me to call it all off; and Trishna who has to put up with more than anyone knows and reminds me every day of why I believe in love.
The overwhelming sense as I sit on the plane is that the whole project feels so surreal. There’s just no doubt: it really is an odd thing to try to dance across a country. Half the people I talk to about it find the whole thing near incomprehensible – it can stop conversations dead as people attempt to fathom why I’d want to do such a thing. But in equal measure it also sparks interest, astonishment and support – and it’s those reactions, built up over time, that I think have instilled in me the conviction that yes, it is truly worth doing.
Taking on a challenge like this incorporates so much of what I love in life: planning projects, supporting causes I believe in, adventuring, travel, hatching plans, the great outdoors, persuading people to join something, pushing myself physically, meeting all kinds of new people – and of course music and dancing. I also have an immense fear of dying without having really lived – and figure that there are worse ways to spend life than dancing through it.
So I’ve resolved to take in all that the US can throw at me. To surf the uncertainty of not knowing what each day will bring and to absolutely, one hundred percent, go for it for all I’m worth. In every possible sense, I’ll dance to that.