It only takes one second for an accident. Life is full of small margins. I will not forget today in a hurry…
Before we get to the day’s big event, there’s another family event going on across in Europe that I want to mention. Today is my parents’ 44th wedding anniversary, and I’m so grateful to them for all they’ve been and done for me throughout my life. Great long-lasting marriages might be becoming few and far between, but I’m thrilled and thankful to be a product of one.
In terms of morale, I think yesterday was my biggest battle so far, which meant that last night it was a real effort to write anything on the blog. The fact is, Steve and Tania were fascinating people. They were a bit like Richard Briers and Felicity Kendall in The Good Life (sorry US-audience, I don’t think that comedy made it over here). I misrepresented them last night saying they had forty six cats and dogs, and felt bad about it, so I asked them this morning in order to get my facts right. Here goes: they have four dogs, seven cats, four goats, ten chicken, two mules (hence the funny comment about only going to do some overseas aid work if she could take her donkey with her). They’d laid out home-brewed beer for us, and the other guest for the evening, a delightfully rambunctious guy called Paul, had obviously been sampling it repeatedly before we arrived because I just don’t think we got the fully sober version. It made for great entertainment. He’d brought along an array of instruments as he was part of a Mississippi gospel blues band, and wanted me to join him on the guitar, but I just had nothing left in my tank. Another time.
Steve, from New York, worked for the State Department. I asked Tania what line of work she was in. She replied: “Simon, I’m a glorified butt-wiper! I tell you, there’s no glamour in caring for old people.” Steve confessed to being a socialist (a cuss/swear word in these parts that could get you lynched!) as he observed the brokenness of the state. He talked of the local high school and how they promoted abstinence rather than also teaching about birth control, and consequently, the teenage pregnancy rate was terrible. Because it’s a Republican state, taxes are low, so there are very few programs that can be funded, so it lags behind as literally the last state on most indices of good things and first state on most indices of bad things. Hence a socialist agenda with increased taxation would surely benefit here. I hope I represented your argument well, Steve, if you’re reading this!
We were woken up in the early hours by the sound of multiple cocks blasting their mouths off. Apparently a lot of them are reared here for cock-fighting, although it is illegal. We got up, and Steve and Tania sent us off after a superb breakfast of pancakes and strawberries, which was a huge fillip for morale. A cockroach scuttled along the kitchen table but was quickly swatted away with complete disdain. As I’ve said before, meeting a cross section of new people on this trip is definitely one of the highlights. Anyways, back we drove to our starting point. On the way, I listened to a voice-message from my gorgeous children, saying they loved me and missed me. Again in my tired state it brought tears to my eyes. Not long to go now. So we managed to get off to an early start. It’s humid enough these days that I am already dripping with sweat by the time I’ve checked and pumped up our six tires. Fifteen miles into our ride, the unthinkable happened.
We saw a middle-aged lady cycling alone (the first on our whole journey as women normally go as least in pairs for safety reasons). So I rode up alongside her and we got chatting. Her name was Sherry, she’d actually started from Austin with another lady but the latter’s work rate wasn’t up to speed so they’d gone their separate ways. Sherry was obviously packing in the miles whilst pulling a trailer cart with all her belongings. She’d cycled all over the US, and this current leg was from Austin. Funnily enough, two of her recent cycling buddies had decided to become vegan whilst on the ride. The Southern states are not the time to decide to become vegan, what with their of all things meat and fried! She told me her Dad’s funeral was happening today, in just a couple of hours. He had died, aged 76, of cancer, but had insisted she continue her ride, as he was an adventurer himself. She was obviously upset, but a real trooper, and I could tell she was glad for a little company.
She then asked me what we were doing. I told her about our fundraising efforts for Burundi, and reached into my back pocket to get out a card from the zip-lock plastic bag I keep my i-phone that we give to anyone and everyone with the Bike for Burundi website details and a little about us. We were cycling along slowly in parallel as I did this. When I handed her the card, with my left hand holding the handlebars and the zip-lock bag, I suddenly totally lost control and veered sharply away from her in an arc to the left into the other lane. I thought I’d wipe out then, but somehow managed to just about regain control and veered back towards her in an opposite arc to the right. There’s a hilarious YouTube clip of a Dad going down a slide with his daughter on his lap, and their momentum keeps him going at the bottom as he stumbles forward literally another twenty steps, almost able to regain balance but actually eventually totally wiping out on his head. Well, in slow motion it was like that for me. I thought I’d be able to steady myself, but in the moment I was a complete moronic nincompoop. You see, I was still one-handed, because my brain didn’t tell my hand that I could let go of that stupid insignificant three by five inch card, of which we have about six thousand in the RV anyway! As I careered back towards Sherry, I could hear the others’ gasps behind me, and Sherry’s scared eyes pleading for me not to take her down. I duly smashed into the back of her bike and trailer, legs flew off upside down, my bike somersaulting, and I landed badly on the verge beyond her. Meantime Craig behind me was taken out by my upturned bicycle, and came likewise crashing down.
The scene was one of total devastation, in sharp contrast to the bucolic peaceful countryside around us. I was down, and my back was damaged. Craig was down, and he was nursing his bruises. I’d snapped off Sherry’s trailer flag (an eye-catching warning to vehicles). And so, ladies and gentleman, that is the reason for the title of today’s blog. Man down… and it’s painfully all over for me. I was in some pain, and I went all over the top, but I’m still in the fight!!! Another possible title could have been ‘Hitting the Sherry!’ As with my previous crash, once we realized it wasn’t too serious, we all burst out laughing. I felt such a muppet, it looked spectacularly uncoordinated of me, and it could so easily have been game over. My back is definitely bruised, but I’ll be fine.
Poor old Craig! You see, it’s hard for us guys to say ‘I love you!’ to each other. You girls do it all the time and it’s OK, but not so for lads. Gary Chapman’s bestseller ‘The Five Love Languages’ outlines how all of us broadly-speaking have one of five main ways of showing and receiving love. Well, I do love Craig, and the way I show it to him, is by making him crash behind me – it’s the third time this trip!
I apologies profusely to Sherry, and we got some duct tape to fix her flag back on. She asked us to pray for the funeral as we were going on our way, so we prayed with her there and then. “Lord, thanks for the chance to bump into Sherry today!” So I prayed for her, the funeral, and we parted. I look forward to reading her blog to see how she records our encounter once she gets back in touch with us (or maybe she’ll never want to if that’s how we treated her first time around!).
David, our film-maker, was in sight filming us at the time, but was pretty sure he had the wrong camera rolling at the time. Oh, how good it would have been to get it live to share with you! We left Sherry, and the next twenty minutes were spent in hysterics as we relived the incidents. It was that nervous relief elation kind of laughter. Jeff said: “That was the best fall I’ve ever seen!” More laughter. He piped up again: “I’ve spent so much energy laughing I need to eat another Cliff Bar!” And as we finished the morning and pulled up to the RV for our standard second breakfast, after two lovely hours of cycling, I said: “That was probably the best morning of our trip”, to which he replied: “Yes, and all at your expense.”
We got into the RV for a second round of pancakes, and David uploaded the filming he’d shot. And, whadda ya know, the genius managed to shoot it!!! The camera was stuck on the back of his car, held in place by a sophisticated network of bungee cords, and was just rolling away, but, beautifully, you can see the whole crash until the end when I fall over off camera, but you still catch my bike going upside down, and if you’re really careful you’ll see Craig wiping out as well. Enjoy this! It’s only 29secs, so come on, let’s make it a YouTube sensation:
When he showed it to us, you would have loved to have been a fly on the wall inside our RV. We were lying sprawled across the tables and sofa and floor, laughing our heads off for minutes on end. In fact, I haven’t laughed that hard in years, literally. I was sweating from laughing. All of us except Craig, who was munching on his breakfast. We looked at him and asked: “Don’t you find it funny?” He said: “Yes, very funny, I laughed at the time, but now it’s time to eat!” My back’s bruised, but my tummy’s aching from that time. Beautiful.
We got back on the road, and I think I had so much laughing juices pumping through my body that I didn’t talk to the others for the next fifty miles, just occasionally cracking up to myself. It was a gorgeous day of cycling, going along straight colonnade-style roads lined with trees to offer shade. Actually we had a decent downpour which doubled the fifteen minutes of rain we’ve had all trip. The sign outside Magnolia Baptist read: “Is your life running on empty? Free fill-ups inside.” I was low on Gatorade by that stage and could have done with a refill but it was shut. The floodwaters were really high, with some houses submerged, as we entered Alabama (our seventh state), and turtles would regularly slide off rocks into the water as we passed them by.
After 80miles, we had a serious problem. Craig’s right arm has been giving him problems for days. It’s got to the stage where he can’t feel three of his fingers at all, and he can barely use the whole arm, just resting it on the handlebars and mainly using the other one. He’s a suffer-in-silence tough nut, but he pulled up in trouble, so we knew it was bad. I rang my superstar physical therapist Jill Boorman back in Charleston, who picked up the phone straightaway thankfully, and she diagnosed him down the line and gave him some exercises which immediately brought some relief. It sounds like a trapped nerve in his neck, so hopefully with those exercises he’ll get back to full strength soon. He’s had some tough days with other (well-documented!) body parts, but maybe this afternoon was his toughest.
It was great to reach Mobile (for UKers, it’s pronounced ‘Mobeel’). We cranked out 108miles at 16.1mph, going past a few trashed houses from previous hurricanes. Smelling the sea air and hearing the seagulls was so encouraging, and seeing the beautiful basking Bay of Biscay* in the background brought bounteous blessings in my breast (nice alliteration?!). It’s not the Atlantic Ocean yet, but we’re getting a whole lot closer. We passed where Forrest Gump captained his shrimp boat, and then came across a sign outside a few lower grade houses with stated ‘Beware of Pit-Bull with AIDS’. Hmm… that’s the equivalent welcome to the Texan farm that had: ‘If you step on this land, you will be shot!’ But surely the Mobile police aren’t so totally relaxed about AIDS-ridden psychopathic pit-bulls roaming free, are they? Not sure I believed the sign, but neither was I tempted to go any closer.
We drove to Daphne, are staying the night at a family’s house who are out of town, so got showered, and then were hosted by Ken and Ceil a few streets away, who picked us up and dropped us off at the end. It was a feast, prepared by a real foodie. We had lots of fun with the different accents. In fact the first thing I asked Ken was: “Do you know Rob Sturdy?” He seemed a bit non-plussed: “Do I keep a rope steady?!” We’ve got two new team members who have just flown in from Charleston on Ron’s company airplane, so Ron’s the new daddy of the trip at 49-years-old, and Hadrian is a final-year student from the UK but studying in Charleston, and he’s preparing for an iron man event in two months, so I’m sure he’ll be just fine. We had a lovely evening with incredibly food and fun people, and now it’s back to bed and a little sleep before a very early start. It’s been a long one, but hey, it was one seriously memorable day. Man down… but not out!
* OK, it’s really Portersville Bay for the smartypants amongst you that noticed the error.