As I send this I’m sat on an AMTRAK train going back to LA as I continue the long journey home after what has undoubtedly been the biggest challenge of my life. I spent the summer dancing through the Mojave desert of California and the heat, monsoon thunderstorms and altitude of Arizona to get to Gallup, about 20 miles inside the New Mexico border. The idea is to use my freedom to support those whose liberty and dreams are caged because of modern-day slavery – by raising funds for Anti-Slavery International. I’m happy to say we’ve now raised over £5,000 now and are well on our way towards reaching my target of £6,600 for this year’s prancing efforts. A big thanks to everyone who has contributed towards this.
The short film below (viewed more than 3,000 times in 2 days now) tries to encapsulate some of the epic things I saw and the changing terrain I danced through – I hope you enjoy it.
But the epic scenery and choice dance moves are only half the story. Many, many times the challenge really did teeter on the brink – so what follows is the the inside story of why and what really happened… courtesy of 12 different challenges I encountered along the way.
Challenge #1: Dancing through a desert in the summer
The first stage of my dance across America in March/April saw me cover about 200 miles and get to a tiny outpost along Interstate 40 called Ludlow. Ludlow happened to be in the middle of the Mojave desert, so the very beginning of the second stage started in the most difficult place, in the middle of summer, with daytime temperatures reaching 45 degrees or more. Getting all my kit together and organised on Barbara the buggy takes a while and that first morning – coupled with having to record some footage of me at the beginning – meant I began ‘late’ at about 6.30am. I’d done research into temperatures at particular times of the day and knew I had to stop dancing by 11am (if not earlier) each day… that first day I got a bit carried away, and, with the help of Ursula my anti-UV, hands-free umbrella, I was still dancing at midday. Problem was, I was beginning to lurch all over the road, I was drinking really hot drinks (which began the day cold until the sun got hold of them), my head was really dizzy and I was in pain when I went to the toilet – all warning signs of heat exhaustion. I knew I was in trouble so stopped a mile short of the 14 miles I had hoped to cover that first day. With literally no natural shade for as far as the eye could see in any direction, I attempted to put up my tarp over Barbara (my tent was to go under that). This was tough with the piercing midday sun, my unwieldy umbrella and my health deteriorating – and the fact I’d only practiced putting it up once before in my garden back home, without the seriously strong wind that was now playing havoc with the walking pole rig I was attempting to set up. It took over an hour to finally get it sorted and then put my tent up underneath for more sun protection. I sat there, in a daze, sipping hot water and attempting to recover, for the next three hours. The extent of the challenge was dawning on me. I sweated through the afternoon as the temperature climbed and climbed. The tent gave me protection from the sun but also stopped the (slightly) cooling wind, which made it unbearable in the heat – all the way through to late evening. I barely got a couple of hours sleep it was so hot. I resolved that night that if I was to dance my way through this desert – and I had at least a week’s dancing to do to get me through the California part – I had to wake up early (2 or 3am), and dance through the night and early morning. So it was that the next day I was dancing by 4am and reached civilisation – Roy’s Café in Amboy – by 10am. Despite being the centrepiece of fascination for a bus-load of very friendly French tourists there, I was still in shock because of just how tough this was going to be.
Challenge #2: dancing up a mountain via Fire Service Road 4
Route 66 isn’t really a road anymore – at least, one continuous one like it used to be running from Chicago to L.A. In many parts it’s been superseded by Interstate which is usually illegal for pedestrians (and certainly planet prancers), which means, with the help of Google and my GPS, I had to find alternative routes to progress in the challenge. In California, through the suburbs of LA, there were always alternative roads I could dance on – and as I headed eastwards lots of Route 66 still existed and was accessible to a man and buggy combination, so only twice did I have to venture (legally in the State) onto an Interstate where no other route existed. In Arizona, things were different. Except for a long ’66 section from Kingman to Seligman, Route 66 has almost completely disappeared as a road. Most of the time it is Interstate 40 – and, as Arizona Highway Patrol outlined to me when I called them to check – I am definitely not allowed to dance on that. I had to find alternative routes. Getting into the small town of Ash Fork was the first problem – involving serious amounts of muddy trails, barbed wire fences, faulty directions and an under-cover-of-darkness dash on the freeway for a kilometre. But that was nothing – absolutely nothing – compared to what I had coming over the next two days to get to Williams, Arizona – over 2,000ft higher. Google maps showed a big detour south and then a climb up via dirt tracks. At the time I had little experience of these – but we were to become so very well acquainted. Because of my nightime arrival the day before, I was late leaving Ash Fork, and only completed the nine miles on asphalt road heading south by about 3pm. Then it was a turn eastwards onto ‘Fire Service Road 4’.
It began innocently enough – Barbara and I could handle a dirt and gravel surface ok. But as soon as the ‘road’ began to rise, everything changed. It became a lattice of rocks – big and small, solid and loose. I couldn’t pull Barbara as usual, I had to turn backwards and use my arms to heave her over and around these rocks, all the while attempting to shuffle and side-step to the beat of my music. My pace dropped. The sun pierced. I bumbled and strained on. And on, and on. Then a loud shot – as if from a shotgun – rang out. And then another. Somebody was shooting very close by. In the middle of a road lined with trees, not being able to see what was going on, I had no idea if those shots were meant for me. My mind raced with what to do. I opted to blow the whistle I had around my neck for all I was worth in an attempt to let whoever was doing the shooting know I was there (hoping that they were just innocently out in the mountains doing some shooting, not shooting at me). I was right, and two men soon made themselves clear – I waved, they waved back, and I dance-hobbled-heaved on, pretending I was fine and prance-pulled a buggy through this kind of terrain all the time.
On I went, very slowly. An hour and a half later, with about 3 miles covered, I collapsed, exhausted and very dizzy. I hid from the sun under a bush and drank what I could. I ate frosted flakes cereal with water to hydrate me and give me some energy. I knew I had eight and a half more miles of this to go and I remember thinking ‘what the f**k… there is just no way’. I knew how much it took to heave Barbara over one rock, let alone miles and miles of them. I knew the pain my back, shoulders and legs were in. And I knew I was in a bad way because of the sun and heat. After a while just sitting there, I began to compose myself and think of what to do, how to overcome this. Having recently read a chapter about desert survival in The SAS Survival Handbook – the only book I’d brought with me – I knew I’d stand a better chance of making it through if I moved when the temperature was lower – and that meant at night. It was about 5pm by now, so I opted to get my camping mat out and try to get some sleep and rest for what I now knew was to come. In two-and-a-half hours I slept about 20 minutes, but my body was thankful for the recovery time from the heat exhaustion.
At about 7.30pm I packed up and readied myself for the night ahead. I had a good head-torch and lots of spare batteries. I began to heave-dance Barbara over the rocks once again. Up and up and up. Every so often I stopped to look at my location on the road on my phone – progress was painfully slow. The night was pitch black because the moon was the other side of the mountain I was ascending. But it was cooler and I could at least make more sustained progress.
Yet the problem now was that I couldn’t see the rocks properly, and if one of Barbara’s wheels hit one (seemingly no matter how small) without me being ready, she would lurch violently to the side and very often topple over. If I resisted in mid-lurch – which I instinctively did at times – this would twist the walking poles making up my harness, and I could hear them beginning to break. Barbara was so heavy that to get her righted took so much effort and energy. But on I went at what was now about a mile an hour.
At about 11pm things came to a head. I was destroyed from the effort. Barbara toppled again, this time with a horrible, groaning, snapping sound. I lurched backwards and my left ankle hit a rock I didn’t know was there, twisting it and causing a bolt of searing, sharp pain to shoot through my foot. I cried out as Barbara fell away. I collapsed in a heap as she did. The left two walking poles were snapped. My tripod broke in the fall. I had over half way to go, to be honest I had no idea what else this track held in store for me, my ankle was in unbelievable pain, I was making crazily slow progress and now Barbara was broken. I don’t think I’ve ever felt more alone. I called Trishna on the satellite phone, but it was difficult to convey just how stupid (and scary if I’m being honest) the situation was.
After a couple of minutes chatting we said our goodbyes and I sat there motionless, taking everything in and assessing my options. I laughed at the stupidity of it all – the ridiculousness of the situation. No-one knew I was there, and I felt as if I was stranded. It was then I noticed the eyes reflecting from the light of my head torch. This is just getting ridiculous, I thought to myself – stuck in the middle of nowhere and now Kingdom Animalia was out there coming for me too.
I had kept my music on from the beginning of the path purposefully to warn animals I was coming their way. And – because I was later informed that the terrain and mountains I was prancing through were home to bears and mountain lions – it seemed to do the trick as I wasn’t ever bothered by either and if I had ever bothered them, I didn’t know it and they had stayed out of my way. Right there and then though it was coyotes who were taking an interest in me. By now my eyes had become accustomed to the dark and I could make out their contours. I’d been warned about them though my research had led me to dismiss these warnings (only two people have ever been killed by coyotes – one a young child and the other a twenty-something). Right then and there I thought of myself as slow-moving, injured prey though – and thought that maybe I would be a little more tempting to a hungry wild animal (who can sometimes move in packs).
That thought was all the motivation I needed to get moving. I righted Barbara. I whipped out the gaffer tape and zip ties and sacrificed my baseball bat by using it as a splint for the broken walking poles. The duct tape sorted the tripod too. I got back into the harness and realised my ankle was ok if I kept it going straight forward rather than twisting. Music on and I was off into the night.
About an hour of pain and misery later – during which I had had countless thoughts of using my GPS SOS rescue beacon but only didn’t because of the humiliation involved in getting rescue services out to the middle of nowhere to rescue a guy attempting to dance up a mountain in a tutu – the road switched to ‘Fire Road 4’. I didn’t know it at the time, but Fire Road 4, compared to Fire Service Road 4, was to be my best friend. Sure there were tough bits, slow bits, and plenty of bits which bowled Barbara over, but overall the pace picked up to a respectable 2 miles per hour.
By 3am I was done. I nearly cried when I saw the end of the road and the relative heaven of a plain gravel road which was to be my next prancing ally. I lay on the ground and called home – speaking to my dad enthusiastically in celebration of getting through something that came so close to defeating me. Stopping made me realise just how cold it got at night up in the mountain forest, and I was soon on the go again – increasingly delirious as the lack of sleep caught up with me. About three hours later, as the sun rose and I got back to signs of civilisation and the Interstate once more, I downed tools and slept for a couple of hours after refuelling with a protein recovery shake and my usual concoction of ‘you will not get ill’ tablets. Then it was six more miles of painful progress into the outskirts of Williams and I was done. What. A. Night. All that mattered was that I was still in the game – still moving forward and still dancing, just.
Challenge #3: dancing where the was no road
The struggles of Fire Service Road 4 were replicated a few weeks later as I struggled to dance from Holbrook, Arizona eastwards towards New Mexico. Google had kindly mapped out a nice route for me next to the Interstate, but after 3 or so miles the nice tarmac road I was on came to a fenced dead end, beyond which there was no recognisable road or path (despite Google’s insistence) – only sand and shrubs. It was like Fire Service Road 4 all over again, except the problem this time was the sand – with Barbara sinking into it at every opportunity, and toppling over when her wheels hit the hardy foliage. The pace was even slower – literally half a mile an hour – and the going was tough through the morning sun. I buried myself for eight hours in the cause of hauling-dancing Barbara forward. I’d scheduled a 24-mile dance that day, but finished exhausted after just 9 miles – thankfully stumbling across an RV park and campground I didn’t know existed shortly after re-emerging onto the concrete of old Route 66. The dunes continued for the first four hours of the following day too. But the experience of Fire Service Road 4 gave me the resolve to just. keep. going whatever came my way. I’ll let the photos I took that day tell the story.
Challenge #4: dancing along an Interstate (motorway) for 22 miles
Two days later I was faced with a huge problem – a 22-mile section where no other road (or google path) existed other than Interstate 40. I’d been informed by National Park Rangers (more about them later) that Pinta Road – the dirt road I’d hoped to travel on which more or less traversed alongside the freeway – was blocked off in three locations with barbed wire blockades to stop drunk drivers from using it to evade the Highway Patrol on the Interstate. And so off limits for me and Barbara too.
It meant I either stopped the dance there or then or travelled via the Interstate. The latter was both illegal – I could be picked up by Highway Patrol at any moment – and very dangerous. But I had five very good LED rear lights, a helmet to wear, things that made me very visible like my flag and neon yellow clothing, and a sensible head on me, I thought to myself. So I’ll give it a go – stop if it gets too crazy – and see how far I get.
And to be honest I wouldn’t recommend dancing along a motorway to anyone. One of my biggest fears was causing an accident because a passing driver was too busy looking at the weird dancing guy at the side of the road – so I kept my moves as discrete as I could (meaning I used three different steps on rotation, and kept any arm movements down by my waist). But this, combined with the hard asphalt, meant a far bigger risk of repetitive injuries striking, especially as I was going as fast as I could to cover the ground in as short a time as possible.
Two main fears occupied my mind for the next seven or eight hours. First, that I would be taken out by a truck at any moment from behind and that would be that. Second, that at any moment Highway Patrol would stop me and whisk me away from my prancing dreams. Both had me on edge and high alert – a tough place to be mentally for 7 or 8 hours straight.
Every 30 seconds or so I looked behind me to check what traffic was coming my way, so I was prepared for trucks and could see their trajectory. I was always on what we in the UK call the hard shoulder (and as far away from the traffic as I could be on it). Thankfully this was delineated from the two main lanes of traffic by a strong painted white line and grooves in the asphalt – there to tell a driver if they are drifting into the shoulder (a tyre going over the grooves makes a very distinctive sound and must initiate some serious vibration). These two elements gave me hope and were my allies throughout.
I broke the 22-mile distance down into three sections and my GPS watch showed me progress towards these. Just before the first break a photographer going the other way in his van spotted me, turned his truck around at the next junction and came and took some photos and film of me – plus gave me some much-needed ice cold water and energy/electrolyte drinks. At the final stop – a gas station in Navajo territory – I met a couple who were perhaps the most enthusiastic about my adventure of all I’d met until then. A few days later I learned that they had even called up local newspapers in Gallup (where I was by then aiming for) so they could cover my story. Often Barbara and her big flag saying what I’m up to was the conversation starter and I was so pleased to get the chance to chat and share my adventure with these folks – otherwise it was like a plodding timetrial, just me and the tarmac all the way, all day.
Sometimes trucks veered very close to me, sometimes cars too. But as the day drew in and darkness descended I actually became more confident as I knew my lights really stood out in the dark. To be writing this I obviously did make it to my destination (a motel in Chambers, just in time to keep their restaurant open to feed me calories galore) – and unbelievably I saw nothing of the Highway Patrol all day. I kept my head down the whole way and told myself not to look for them among the passing cars as their presence was entirely out of my hands. But I’m sure the National Park Rangers from the night before – who had said they would place a call to the Highway Patrol to hopefully allow me onto the Interstate – must have had something to do with it. I have no idea if they did call or it was just luck that I didn’t get seen or pulled over – but I do know that the next dancing day when I was off the Interstate on a road running parallel all day, I saw at least four Patrol cars whizz by.
Challenge #5: dodging monsoon thunderstorms & lightening
Most of my research before I left had been into what I needed to do to cope in the crazy desert temperatures of the first week. It was only when one of the fabulous folks who hosted me during my Easter dancing stint messaged me about the ‘Arizona monsoon thunderstorms’ as I travelled back out to the US that I realised the weather would be more of a foe through more of the second leg than I’d anticipated. Basically, after the first week, every day afterwards became a game of cat and mouse between me and thunderstorms and lightening, which tended to appear rapidly in the afternoons (I was generally dancing later in the day by now as the temperatures were a little more bearable – up to high 30s). To be honest I was incredibly lucky – as I predominantly danced in the (clearer) mornings, it meant I could set up camp or get to my host or motel before storms arrived. Four times I encountered full-blown storms. Once, it was during the night when I was already set up (see Challenge #7), another time I just evaded it on a huge 37-mile dance to Seligman, where it preceded me (the horizon I was dancing towards was literally black with lightening lighting up the sky – but thankfully I was by then dancing so slowly that two hours later when I got there it had moved on) and followed me (I raced into Seligman to beat a storm following me and was just about ok). Another time I was stuck out in a flood plain and my host from the previous night (the wonderful Sondra) called me up to offer to pick me up and have me stay at hers again. When we returned the next day, all of the ground was wet – and I realised I would have been totally washed out if it were not for her saving the day. Only once was I properly caught out in serious rain – despite the weather forecast saying there was only a 10% chance of rain, I ended up crouching beneath my broken umbrella and Barbara as I set first foot within the Petrified Forest National Park, rain pouring down around me and soaking my feet through. The lightening was the biggest worry – because a lot of the landscape was flat, I was often the tallest thing around, and my metallic tripod must have seemed a tempting proposition for gathering thunderstorms.
Even this time though I was thankfully rescued, although it did lead to me being arrested shortly afterwards. My rescuers were Petrified Forest National Park Rangers (basically, police within the National Park) Nick and Mike. They informed me that I had illegally entered the National Park – basically, there was no other legal way in other than via the Interstate, which I wasn’t allowed on, so I had to venture in via an open gate and a kilometre of off-road dancing…the hardest going of anything I’d experienced in the whole challenge (including Fire Service Road 4)…though psychologically it didn’t compare – I could always see the end point I was aiming for and had made it after an exhausting but relatively short hour. But, after they checked out my credentials and heard my story, they offered to give me a ride in their truck to somewhere safe (and secret) within the national park where I could camp overnight. In exchange they simply asked if I wouldn’t mind getting faux arrested as Mike was newly qualified and was still undergoing elements of training. I said yes right away and was soon being searched, handcuffed, belted and marched into the back of their truck, where I sat with Barbara in the back as storms came down around us. Amazingly Nick and Mike took me to a store to get a few provisions while we waited for the storm to move on, paid for those provisions and whisked me to a great overnight spot. An amazing end to a tough day – underlining the fact that out on the road I never really knew how each day would end.
Challenge #6: Overcoming gastroenteritis & other injuries
I’m still not sure what caused it. I think either the difficulty I had properly cleaning out my drinking or food (Nalgene) bottles when I was away from civilisation for a few days/nights, or an encounter where I shared one of my drinking bottles with someone who looked seriously worse for wear on my way into Winslow. Whichever it was, by the end of that day, as I lay resting in a wonderful Air BnB donated to me by my host, I began to feel the hot/cold sensations of a fever coming on. I tried to sleep it off – but in the night awoke a good few times and clambered – and then rushed – to a sink, toilet, whatever plumbing I could find – to vomit. Sorry to say it but added to it was unbelievable diarrhoea that continued for what turned into a good few days. Winslow was my rest day location but I spent it feeling terrible – nauseous and unable to keep down much food. It meant I couldn’t recover and refuel my legs and had to spend two extra days trying to shake it. It oscillated too – I dined out with my host too soon afterwards and symptoms returned with a vengeance, and in my eagerness to get going again I pushed myself too far too soon – after two more days dancing, where I felt as weak as anything out on the road – I had to stop again for an extra day as the sickness returned. Begrudgingly, although I tried to rearrange my mileage so I could still make Albuquerque after so many extra days off (at a ridiculous average of almost 30 miles a day), after this I decided to adjust my end goal – for me, just getting into New Mexico would be a success.
Although this was definitely the most acute illness I experienced out on the road, almost every day I battled muscle strains, niggling injuries and the signs of flu and fever brought about by the extreme stresses I was putting my body through. All in all I encountered heat exhaustion (twice), lower leg pain (twice), severe heal pain, extreme lower back pain, a sprained ankle (which I went over on about 10 times), stabbing myself in the hand with my penknife by mistake (lots of blood!), iliotibial band soreness (pretty much continuously), knee pain (ditto) and groin pain (ditto) as well as the gastroenteritis. Happily none of these were serious enough to derail the dancing permanently, and on I went.
Challenge #7: Facing a hostile reception
Almost everywhere I travelled I was either met with interest, fascination and kindness or at the very least the reception was benign. The treatment from Hackberry General Store, Arizona, was something different. It’s a landmark and tourist attraction on the Kingman to Seligman stretch of Route 66 (part of the longest complete section of Route 66 still in existence), and I’d hoped I would make it to there on departing Kingman, despite it being about 25 miles away and me carrying a leg injury. I made it – and was delighted to discover that the place had snacks, chilled water and fizzy drinks galore to satisfy a very tired and overheating dancer. I arrived by about 12 and bought a few things right away, and as I did informed the cashier what I was doing and asked if it was ok if I spent the afternoon on one of their picnic tables outside (where lots of people were), and parked up Barbara in the shade. The lady wasn’t the friendliest but allowed me to do so. During the afternoon I met loads of interesting folks who came and chatted with me – some who donated drinks and funds too which was brilliant. By about 4pm the weather had turned and dark clouds were gathering. I had had the intention of camping that night but was worried because of impending storms. I was right – at about 5pm thunder was all around and I had my first real experience of serious rain. Along with other customers I took cover with Barbara underneath the fixed roof awning outside the store. Although the rain passed in a while, the clouds and wind didn’t – and I knew I may need to make alternative plans for my sleepover that night. I had earlier seen a truck pull up and go through a locked gate and round the back of the store, so when I saw it return and come back out, thinking he was resident at the property I took the opportunity to ask the man inside if it would be ok if I could sleep on one of the picnic benches overnight until about 2am because of the storms. He said he didn’t think so but wasn’t the person to ask – I should ask inside. I went back to sit down and he went inside. Soon afterwards another man came out and came straight up to me, introducing himself as the property manager and immediately saying I wouldn’t be able to sleep there. Slightly taken aback, I introduced myself and explained what I was doing. He responded by saying that a security guard will be on duty and if anyone is found sleeping on the premises the police will be called. I thought this was a bit extreme – basically he was threatening to call the police on me – so I said in slight shock that this is the only place in my whole journey so far that had refused to help out in any way. He then said ‘anyway, slavery was abolished 150 years ago’ – which made me think maybe that – a problem with the cause I am supporting – was more of the issue here. I then thought back to the Confederate flag I’d seen flying among others outside of the store. I attempted to explain my cause was modern-day slavery and give examples of it, but the die was cast. I asked where else I might go and he did at least point out a few places I may be able to pitch my tent (albeit in the thunderstorm). I shuffled off begrudgingly and was pleased to find a lay-by fairly soon up the road that I could use for my overnight stop. By now the wind had really picked up again and the clouds were amassing once more. I pitched the tent and put the tarp over Barbara as best I could in the wind – but she soon toppled over and the tent literally uprooted and blew away in the by now very powerful wind. I managed to push Barbara underneath a nearby tree for protection, and rescue and then re-pitch the tent, putting almost everything I had inside it to weigh it down. Cooking my dinner on my stove that night in the wind and the rain was an experience. Both buffeted me all night and it was a relief to get moving by 3am the next morning. Of course, I had to trudge back to the very same General Store to begin again and, though I stayed over the other side of the road, let’s say my thoughts about the place were less than complementary. I was very happy to get out of there that night/morning and let my frustrations dissolve as I pranced away through the next (very beautiful) valley.
Challenge #8: Pulling the 200lb Barbara the Buggy with me every step of the way
Dancing across Britain in 2012-13 was tough. It too was almost a marathon a day in distance, with a similar load of climbing to do. But the difference was that all my kit, my provisions, my stereo – everything – was carried in a motorhome or on our support trike. I danced freely and just had to prance forth carrying the weight of me with me.
2018 was very, very different. Doing it alone, unsupported and in very unfamiliar terrain and climates meant hauling everything with me. With the false starts to my dreams of dancing across America over the intervening years I’d had plenty of time to prepare and work out what I needed to use to do it, and the result was Barbara the buggy, tailored to meet my exact needs, with dancing harness and camera tripod added. Looking back I probably over-prepared (military-grade water filter and snake bite kit, anyone?), but I felt the precautionary principle was an important one to follow. I stuck to a few core principles – always carry enough water for an extra day in case I got caught out and couldn’t make the distance I had intended; ditto with food; ditto with power (which meant double batteries for the stereo and a few power banks too). The total weight I pulled as I pranced, at its heaviest, was as follows:
Water 36kg (36 litres total = 10kg + 10kg + 10kg + 6kg)
Gear 40kg (stereo 5kg + walking poles + baseball bat + clothes + stove & fuel + umbrella + emergency tape + first aid kit + bear spray + tent + tarp + hammer + camping mat + flags & flag poles + tripod + solar panels + bottles + bags + all electronics)
Total 95kg = 210lbs
I was basically dancing across America pulling another one of myself along for the ride.
Challenge #9: Prancing up, up & away
Ludlow, where I began the summer, was at about 2,000ft. I ended in Gallup at 6,500ft. In between I climbed up to 7,500ft (pretty much twice as high as England’s highest mountain) on the way to Flagstaff, climbed for 12 miles straight as I pranced out of the Colorado river valley up to Kingman, and climbed up and descended down countless seemingly never-ending roads. With Barbara in tow, this was tough. At the higher altitudes, I was gasping for air – I felt like I just couldn’t fill my lungs with enough oxygen. As I circumvented up to and around Wing Mountain at 7,500ft, I thought Barbara was going to fall apart (she had begun to sway violently left to right and I couldn’t tell what was causing it). I had been so pre-occupied by getting through the desert at the beginning of this leg that I hadn’t really factored in, realised or accounted for just what challenges the mountains would present to me as I danced my way through Arizona.
Challenge #10: Coping with re-supply failure
One of the key things that motivated me to haul myself through a day filled with 37 miles of dancing was the thought that coming my way was a resupply box. One of my hosts from my Easter trip – the wonderful Karen – had offered to send on boxes I’d left with her full of kit and protein/energy powders at two-weekly intervals of this summer dance. And she’d sent one to my motel in Seligman. It meant fresh clothing, toiletries and new trainers with better grip. It meant I could go back to my usual protein and energy drinks that I used and trained with in the UK rather than whatever sickly concoction Walmart sold (by this time I had really had enough of Fruit Punch Gatorade). I also had a rest day scheduled there so I could get everything sorted. It was going to be brilliant.
That is, if the motel had told us that they don’t actually receive post. It goes to a PO Box which they collect from. Only when I’d called them up in advance to ask if I could have some supplies sent to them in advance of my arrival, they’d neglected to tell me this. So I had it sent to the motel address, as you would. The morning after I’d arrived, I went to reception to claim my prize and lo and behold there was nothing waiting for me. We tracked the parcel online – ‘incomplete address’. And then, heartbreakingly, ‘returned to sender’. I was distraught. With only one shop in town (a Family Dollar if I remember rightly), which didn’t sell what I needed, it meant I had to start rationing until I got to a bigger place. It meant trainers meant to last for two weeks would have to last four. And I would keep having to drink that horrible Gatorade mix. Depressing. I resolved to never again have anything sent ahead to a motel. Next time it would be someone I knew and trusted and I’d ensure communication was clear and definitive before getting Karen to send any parcel on.
Challenge #11: Dancing daily distances of up to 37 miles
In my first 200 miles over the Easter holidays I’d danced up to 28 miles – but most of my days I pranced less than 20 miles. This time around I was covering a lot more ground – basically because I was originally scheduled to be away for 9 weeks over the summer, but work commitments meant I could only afford 6 weeks for the second leg of the challenge. It meant I ended up dancing close to an average of 25 miles per day (nearly a marathon a day), all the while pulling Barbara with me. It meant by the end of the challenge my legs were in a permanent state of chronic fatigue and pain.
Challenge #12: Doing it all alone
Perhaps the most difficult aspect of the challenge was to face it alone. I had so many people help and support me (without whose help I certainly wouldn’t have made it) – but looking back I think I found it hardest in those moments where I wasn’t staying with a host or sharing with others what I was up to, but was on a rest day, in a motel room, on my own, with time to think about the size of the challenge I was attempting and the effort the next part would take. When I was in a comfortable bed, in a room protecting me from the sun and the monsoon rains, I could feel time slipping away too fast and new I would soon have to haul myself up and be on that road again. Once I was there I was fine – I see the best of myself when facing challenge or when with others – but dealing with the dread of the unknown road ahead alone was truly a challenge.
Make it I did though, and I guess the reasons for that are for another time. If you haven’t yet had the chance to support my prancing efforts for Anti-Slavery International with a donation and would like to, I’d really appreciate it if you could sponsor me any amount. I have self-funded all my costs myself so everything you donate goes to the charity to support their work. Thanks for anything you’re able to give.