I thought it would be bigger?
Not sleeping and the RV were two things linked very closely, add into the mix being parked in the middle of a great big forest with 20,000 bugs that could, if they wanted to, kill you – sleep didn’t happen. The problem with no sleep is not just the fact you are shattered but that your body has no time to recover. Running and cycling every day is horrible enough, now I was sleep deprived and in desperate need of recovery. I felt like things were starting to stack up against me.
Washington was not what I expected at all, but I am not sure what I actually expected. Did I expect to see the President out walking his dog at the White House or did I think it might be a little bit more like London as this was the capital after all? What we got was a very cosmopolitan area with a very angry under belly. Signs of protest covered most railings, protesting it seemed about whatever they could. The inevitable Trump protests adorned the majority of the posters we saw. We tried hard to avoid any talk of politics. A simple reason for this, I had absolutely no idea which area supported which part of the government. There was as much for Trump as there was against it. Seemed to me like democracy at its finest?
Like with many places we stayed and visited, I wished we had had a little more time to look around. The bits of Washington I saw I didn’t enjoy. It came across as very corporate with people in suits carrying overpriced coffees scurrying along the pavement, ears permanently glued to their phones. The world could have been ending but it seemed that everyone in Washington would have had something better to do than save it.
Map of Washington Photo Gallery
The obligatory sightseeing took place. I love to take in the sights of any place I visit, see what all the fuss is about and learn about the history and culture of that place. Washington has some history, The White House for one is a place steeped in American History. As we stood with about 1,000 Japanese tourists I couldn’t help but think, “Isn’t it bigger?” The film Independence Day depicts the White House blowing up in quite impressive style. The truth is, I can’t imagine the explosion would be that big. As magnificent as the White House is, it’s just a pretty big house. If we are playing Top Trumps, Buckingham Palace wins hands down, every time. We stood for about ten minutes, jostling with the other tourists for the best place to take the picture. “Well, that’s that done,” we thought as we trundled off back to the RV.
As we got towards the end of a section of greenery we saw some more touristy-type people heading down a private road, let’s follow them we thought as we still had about 10 minutes until we needed to be back at the RV As we did we saw a larger crowd than the 1,000 Japanese people we had just encountered. It didn’t take us long to realise that we had been taking photos of the back of the White House! It did look a touch more impressive from the front, although, it was still just a pretty big house.
Day 3 was all about running. It was the first time I had put my trainers on since New York. New York had soaked me to the core, my trainers had felt heavy during the running as the water had saturated them Washington was different. The rain from New York was nowhere to be seen, instead
we had blazing hot sun. Sun cream was applied in force; I looked like I had been painted with emulsion as I plodded along the pavement but I had a smile on my face because the sun was shining!
For the team on the RV a running day was much better for them It was boring if they had to stay on the RV as they did when I was on the bike, but they could at least get off and run with me when I was running. My feet had taken a real battering when they were wet in New York and my toe nails were already becoming soft. I knew right then that it wouldn’t be long before a decision needed to be made about whether I would let my toe nails fall out naturally or whether I would have to pull them out with pliers. On the original Epic Run the pliers had been needed, the nails had needed a little extra coaxing out of the nice, warm nail bed they were in.
Afer the previous day’s run in with the law, we stayed solely to surface streets and highways but even the highways were a little too congested at times. As we moved away from the capital the traffic calmed and the landscape became greener, trees now lined the road sides and fields spread out as far as the eye could see. It was good running for the rest of the day. Sun shining, light breeze at my back -the conditions were as near to perfect as they could be.
Towards the end of the day I was running along the side of the road, it was very much how I had imagined America would be. Little towns with local grocery stores, porch swings and picket fences. In each garden the American flag was flying proudly. I was running in a little haze when. BANG! A car had gotten a little too close to me and caught my elbow jolting me out of my near sedated running state. As with anything it was the shock that frightened me, the car didn’t do any major damage just a little knock, but for the rest of the day all I could think was, “A little knock when I’m running isn’t too bad. I’m only doing 6mph. A little knock when I’m on my bike, though, and I’m in some serious trouble!”
Like pedalling in a Greenhouse with the heating on Day 4 and I’m back on the bike. .well not quite. While moving the bike in the morning at the RV site, we managed to break the seat stem, meaning that the seat would not stay at the right height for me whilst I was cycling. Day 4 saw us travelling from Hagerstown to Washington, this time it was not Washington DC but a much smaller town.
I wasn’t able to use the bike first thing in the morning which meant getting changed and running again, not a prospect, I relished but a necessity if we were to keep moving. I ran through small towns and villages along quiet country roads. In my headphones the words of Bruce Springsteen describing the towns of America were starting to make more and more sense. Some of the towns we passed were desolate lonely places – places reminiscent of those from zombie apocalypse-type films. There is nothing open at 6am and so the chances of getting the bike fixed early are evidently slim. We crawl along at a snail’s pace, my legs screaming at me, they feel like they are being tenderised with each step I take. The shake of my quad muscles across my thigh pulls tiny ligaments and sends a shooting pain both up and down my legs. I think back to Scotland, to the Lochs and to the pain. “You got through that,” I tell myself, “you got through.” I repeat this over and over in my head.
We arrived in a small town, the name of it even now escapes me, and pain flooded my mind. It was still only 8am in the morning; the majority of the town was asleep. As I crept slowly along the streets we saw the light of a car garage on, just off the street. We all agreed that it was worth a try. The garage looked pretty much how you would imagine an old American car mechanic’s garage to look. Beat up old vehicles were dotted around the place and parts of old pickup trucks were hanging from the walls. The large Ford sign sat crooked on top of the roof, a long time since it had been cleaned or painted.
The part that was missing from my bike was the collar off the seat post, the little part that makes the seat post grip and not drop through. Such an unbelievably simple piece of equipment but one that we did not have a spare for and the garage clearly didn’t have one lying around either.
I decided to carry on running not wanting to stop as I was already massively behind for the day. The team stayed at the garage with my bike, scratching around for something to try and hold my saddle in place.
They caught me up only a mile down the road; I had pushed on and out of the other side of the town and was headed into wide open country. The Bruce Springsteen song Darlington County bounced around my brain for some reason. I have no idea where Darlington County is and I am sure I was miles away from it, but right at that point the words seemed quite apt. The kind old man at the garage had managed to shackle together something that would hold my seat stem in place, I’m sure he may never know that that exact seat stem stayed entirely the same for the next 2,500 miles whilst travelling over some of the harshest roads a bike could ever cover – perhaps one day he will read these words and if you are reading this Sir, I would like to say to you a huge ‘THANK YOU!’. The bike was now sorted and humanity had shown its beautiful true colours once again.
When I ran I maintained about a 6mph average, which meant I was running 10 minute miles, but on the bike I could eat up the miles, covering 25 miles an hour. It meant that I felt like I had moved.
When I ran sometimes it felt like I hadn’t moved very far; the landscape, the signposts, the people -they all stayed the same, whereas on the bike you could make real headway and move over state lines much quicker.
The climbing on Day 4 will be something I will never forget. I think it’s probably more the accomplishment that I won’t forget, the sheer brutality of the heat and humidity coupled with the ferocity of the climbs made me feel even more triumphant. There didn’t seem to be anything flat any more, New York’s streets were a distant memory and the climbs just kept on coming. As we pushed further into Pennsylvania the humidity seemed to get worse, as I pushed into my pedals the sweat that had accumulated in my shoes was forced out of the front like wringing out a sponge. Breathing in the warm moist air was like cycling in a greenhouse. The sun seemed to be focussed on only me, it felt almost like I had my own personal spotlight.
I asked the team to drive on ahead, I was at my slowest, the traffic was building up behind the RV and I knew the mountains were going to be a battle. The steepest climb on Day 4 was a 2,915ft climb – that isn’t really too bad but when this was the steepest climb of 7 that I did that day, it just seems like the odds are stacking against you. The blow out from earlier in the trip meant that the descents were done with a little more caution by this point. I braced, the weight pushed back over my rear tyre, I was trying my hardest to maintain a high speed and get down the mountains in one piece. Each climb I conquered the team were at the top cheering and whooping, doing everything they could to keep my spirits up. I loved them for that.
It gives you a massive boost when local people know how hard the road is as well, and if it wasn’t apparent enough I think they could see the suffering on my face. I suppose if it was easy then everyone would be doing it. I didn’t see one other cyclist that day.
The second brilliant thing needs a bit of an introduction. The previous day in the RV site I had taken an ice bath in our inflatable paddling pool. As I have explained to many people, we were not a team of doctors and medics, we were a bunch of friends and colleagues who wanted to have an adventure. The inflatable paddling pool was a life saver and a thoroughly brilliant idea. There are few steps required in making the best ice baths.
1. Fill paddling pool with cold water so it’s deeper than your legs when you sit down.
2. Chuck a few bags of ice in.
3. Sit down and swear a lot.
4. Get out and apologise to the families in the RV around yours
The end of Day 4 didn’t end with an ice bath in a paddling pool; instead we ended up in the river. What better way to cool yourself down before calling it a night than jumping in a river? I say jump, it was more of a geriatric lying down, but it was still amazing. The team stood at the side and laughed as I shrieked at the freezing temperature of the water.
As much as I loathe them, the ice baths are an essential part of any endurance event. They become a daily ritual, and they become a necessity. However, at the end of this day, a dip in an icy river was a wonderful and welcome alternative.
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