I’m now seven dancing days into my challenge to dance every step across the USA and here are my reflections from the road so far, with a little help from four Bs…

Beds

Although I claim that this challenge is self-supported (and in a sense that I’m pulling all my own kit, it is), I couldn’t have done this without those folks who have gone out of their way to host me along the way.  Every one has been just brilliant in keeping me on the dancing straight and narrow, recovered and ready and prepped to take on another dancing day after a few hours sleep.   Found through a combination of colleagues of cousins of my work colleagues (!), people found via Facebook and cycle touring websites, they are the key to me being able to continue.  Major thanks go to Leigh and Henny for putting up a stranger in a tutu at the last minute and for being so relaxed and accommodating; to Piper, Tom and Aoife for great chat, groceries and gastronomy at the end of day two; to Sarah, Nick, Ali and Ben for being great fun, going above and beyond in preparing me for the next day and ordering THAT pizza; to Julie and her daughter Zoey for sharing their home and really becoming a part of the adventure after day four; to Arthur and Avis at the Claremont Colleges for being awesome and letting me eat quite a lot of EVERYTHING; and to current hosts Karen and Simon for being truly inspirational in their support for me and in the way they live their lives.

Barbara

My kit really is doing me proud.  Yes, it’s a perpetual source of stopping, fixing and starting again, but what wouldn’t when you’re dragging all kinds of weight many miles into some pretty inhospitable terrain?  I invested quite a lot of time getting the right equipment for the job (where it existed) and I think it’s paying dividends now.  Here’s my buggy – who I’ve named Barbara – helping to explain what I’m pulling along when dancing everyday:

Highlights kit-wise are definitely:

  • Barbara – according to the manual she can hold babies/toddlers up to 17kgs (37lbs), yet for this she is carrying up to 60kg daily (132lbs).  Everything is going well do far  – except for her irregular tire size – and she provides a very stable and reliable base for my dancing harness.
  • My stereo – I love this and so pleased I switched from smaller/lighter JBL Xtremes to the heavier but seriously robust Aiwa Exos-9.  So far it hasn’t needed a battery swap on any day and continues to power my prancing through every day.
  • My gimbal – which exists to buffer the bumps in the road so my GoPro records half-decent dancing footage.
  • My trainers – I haven’t found anything rugged enough to cope with long distance endurance dancing over a prolonged period but until I do my Salomon XA Pro 3D trail shoes will do fine: lightweight and comfortable all day long (the only issue is the wear in the sole).
  • Electrolyte tablets and energy and protein recovery sachets – I got a job lot of High Five products cheaply a few years back and they have been awesome.  I haven’t cramped once.
  • My helmet and rear lights: my Knog Blinder lights run up to 50 hours each and help make me much more visible to traffic; my helmet is there should I get hit and I’m happy to be using it without fail every time I set foot on a road, even if it’s just for a minute or two where there’s no sidewalk. 

Body

I came into this challenge woefully underprepared – dealing with multiple niggling injuries (back, groin and knee) that just wouldn’t go away really hampered my training.  It meant by the time I left I’d completed just 4 hours on roads with my buggy in ‘challenge’ setup – about equivalent to one third of one day of the actual challenge.

I’m amazed how my body has coped.  To date I have no blisters, something which blighted everyday of my dance across the UK.  I’ve been using Zinc Oxide tape as soon as I feel any slight rubbing and it seems to be working.  Rotating my two pairs of trail shoes (that I wore in before beginning unlike Dance Britain) seems to have really helped too. 

My right knee – which I had operated on last year – is steadily painful but I knew it would be.  The pain isn’t prohibitive and comes and goes.  Only once have I smashed my knee against my buggy and cried out in extreme pain.  Up until yesterday I was getting more and more worried about apparent tendinitis which was building up at the back of my left knee (and to a lesser extent the right) and making dancing painful but miraculously it improved while dancing yesterday and I hope I can continue to manage it, especially after a rest day today.

Everything else is doing great.  My arms and shoulders are pretty much on the go all day and I don’t know how they do it.  Dancing up inclines sees me pulling in oxygen for all I’m worth but I love that feeling and am feeling fitter and stronger as the challenge goes on.  I’ve got a bit sunburned here and there from the combination of sun and wind but my factor 50 is doing its job pretty well.

All this could change with the arrival of the desert and the sand, grit and heat that comes with it, but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it and bask for a moment in the confidence drawn from managing to pull and throw some shapes with my 70 kilo-plus buggy in tow all day for day after day.

Brain

It’s all about the baby steps.  I try as hard as I can to focus on the next thing – the next km, mile, hour, section, day.  It stops mostly daunting thoughts about how big the challenge is (zoom out on the tracker map on http://www.planetprancer.com/live to get a sense of it!) from creeping in.  And if they do sneak up on me, they usually cause me to laugh out loud at the absurdity of the whole endeavour.

I focus on getting to the next break after 2 hours of dancing. I break that down into 30-minute segments and try for each 2-hour stage to complete between 4 and 5 kilometres.  I’ve taken to using my Garmin GPS watch to track pace/speed – so I roughly know at all times how far I’ve gone and how long is left – this really helps when the going is tough.  I’m also a lot more inquisitive with hosts about the terrain I’ll be facing the following day – after my experience of day 3 I like to know exactly what’s in store!

I think one key is to guard against complacency at all times.  Being in an unfamiliar country, each challenge is new to me and I’m careful to learn the ropes – be it working out how and when to cross an intersection, or the best way to go about on-road dancing.  The key to that is staying alert at all times, when on winding roads stopping and checking traffic before going round blind corners, and – although this sounds dodgy – doing a significant proportion of distances dancing backwards (so I can see the traffic coming).

Truthfully I have to say I’m loving the challenge psychologically – there’s lots to keep my brain occupied (what with organising logistics, the route, hosts/where I’m staying, posting updates, checking and mending kit, recharging tech, planning for potential problems, trying to get people to sponsor me etc.) so there’s rarely a moment to pontificate or worry about what I’m trying to do.

Having said all that, each day brings fresh challenges to surmount.  Tomorrow (Thursday) is perhaps the biggest day of all so far: heading steadily up the Cajon (pronounced ka-hone) pass on Route 66 without a sidewalk all day, and doing a (legal – I’ve checked with San Bernadino Highway Patrol) one-mile stretch of dancing on Interstate 15 at the end of the day.   There’s no other passable way to get through.  Cyclists and walkers have covered that stretch before but this will be the first time a dancer has tried to do it.