I’m 30,000 feet in the air again and on my way back to Los Angeles. It’s all very familiar and I’m a lot calmer than the first time around – given I’ve done exactly this less than three months ago. Yet I know something far more challenging is coming my way. So, what’s different about this, stage two of my dance across America?
It’s the peak of summer
I’m going to be faced with daily temperatures exceeding 40 degrees Celsius – difficult to just move around in, let alone dance through. I’ve been using an amazing website which tracks daily temperature, temperature variation and a huge number of related statistics for any location in the US and see that the nights (at least, about four hours between midnight and 4am) can get down as low as 20 degrees, but by 7am it’s 25, by 9am 35 and by 10 it’s too hot to do anything remotely active.
It’s all desert
Last time around I had the built-up suburbs from LA serve as my American dancing initiation – all the way from Santa Monica to San Bernadino. It means there were hostels, motels and people I could stay with; supermarkets to supply my every need and water pretty much whenever I wanted it. It meant I had a week to just get used to the dancing and what it took to haul 75 kilos of kit with me. This time I’m right back where I finished last time – in Ludlow, a tiny desert stopping-off point at the intersection of Route 66 and Interstate-40. From here it’s 28 miles (and two days’ dancing) until the next sign of civilisation – Roy’s Motel in Amboy, with nothing in between. After that (Roy’s isn’t actually a motel – more a gas station and café with no running water), it’s 40 miles (and three days on the road) until the next place. Every step is through the desert, on deserted stretches of the old Route 66, 40 miles of which is impassable by vehicles. How will I eat and drink enough to sustain my body? How will I carry enough energy to recharge all the devices I’m taking with me?
It’s tough from the top
All this means there’s no easing myself into this dance. At the beginning of the last one the first few days saw me dance 10 miles the first day, then 7 the next, then 8, and then 10. This time it’s 14, then 14, then 13, 14 and 13, then 17 and then 21. All while dancing through heat far in excess of what I experienced in the spring, all while camping out rough in the desert, and all the while miles from civilisation. It means I have to carry far more water and provisions (i.e. way more weight) with me and be so, so careful to avoid the delirium of heatstroke – something that if it strikes can seriously impair decision-making abilities which are vital. On the back of little training – I’m finding it’s near impossible to combine it with the pressures of my day job – will my body be able to take this kind of physical demand?
It’s monsoon season
All my build-up has been pre-occupied with problem-solving how to dance through a desert that’s hot, dry and full of things that go bump in the night. But an email from one of my hosts from last time revealed that California is experiencing some of Arizona’s famed July monsoons at the moment – so I need to be on the lookout for lots of rain and flash flooding, and ensure my kit is all protected from serious amounts of water.
It’s a long, long way
Over Easter I danced a total of just over 200 miles in three weeks. This time around I have 700 to dance in six. Coping psychologically with such big distances is going to be touch – particularly in the first few weeks when half way is a long way away. Last time I was only ever two weeks of dancing away from finishing – this time it’s a whole different story.
It’s dangerous, the desert
This time around there’s no other way round it – I will be camping rough in the desert for a substantial amount of my time on the road. Apart from the heat, absence of life-sustaining sustenance and lack of people and civilisation, it means I have to watch out for snakes (rattlesnakes in particular), spiders (especially the black widow variety) and scorpions. Add to that particularly virulent hornets and the risk of an encounter with mountain lions. And of course the dangers of dogs who don’t take a shine to the unfamiliar sight and sound of men like me dancing past.
So all in all there’s a lot to worry about. Why then bother, given the risks?
But what would be the risks if I didn’t give it a go? I wouldn’t get to raise funds for a charity whose work I really believe in. I wouldn’t get to show just how free so many of us are to do the things we dream of. And I wouldn’t get the chance to prove to myself that I can surmount the hurdles that lie ahead. Yet it’s more than that – I too wouldn’t get to take the path less travelled, to witness the kindness of strangers first-hand, to see some amazing sights and to experience such extremes of tiredness, joy and wonder. I wouldn’t, in every sense, get to have the adventure of a lifetime.
I must take each and every risk seriously and work hard to mitigate them – see the next blog post – but I’m in it for what all this can bring to life, not what might get taken away. As I keep telling myself, it’s a phenomenal privilege to be able to give this a go.