Friday morning I was at my desk having a full blown meltdown. Since we’d agreed to help Binks he’d had no internet and I had no phone number for him. All I knew was that we were leaving after work for Needles which is about 4 hrs away if you break all of the speed limits. My stomach was doing back flips “What did he expect from us? “ ‘What if we fucked up?” He’s a complete stranger and really famous in Fetch land!!! A couple of texts from Flip who told me “to calm the fuck down, he’s no diva, now fuck off and have fun” After almost 30 yrs he’s still such a sensible bastard when I need it.
Finally I got a hold of Laurie who had been doing his support for the previous few days. “Stop every 2 miles, give him Gatorade, spray him then soak him when he gets too hot and make sure he eats” OK any moron should be able to do that. Then I had a text from Binks to wake him up at 4am and that thankfully he supported Leicester and not Newcastle (or frankly the deal would have been off!)
A couple of days later the French race organizers asked what “Route” meant as most of the race goes along historic Route 66. They were the roads that criss crossed the US, families would leisurely drive around the country enjoying all of the towns along the way, hotels and restaurants boomed. Now unfortunately the once glamorous RT 66 is hit and miss. Once they blasted through the mountains and paved the deserts with 6 lanes of traffic for the motorway system a lot of those towns fell by the wayside. Needles California our destination was one such place. Think Radiator Springs in the film “Cars” only with stray dogs and non stop thundering of trains.
We pulled in the hotel about 10.30pm. God that place was rough. Groups of drinking toothless locals with wandering dogs were sitting outside the lobby. Thankfully Yank Dave is a big burly biker type so he’s the one who usually does the scaring. We put the Union Jack in the front window and went to our rooms! I didn’t dare take my flip flops off, there was a faint smell of pee, and it sounded like we were in a wind tunnel beside King Cross. I bet YD was glad I’d insisted we bring our own pillows.
Sleep was non existent and at 2.30am we gave up and just lay there. We started getting organized about 3am. There was a petrol station across the way where we could get ice and some supplies. When we went upstairs to wake Binks his door was already open and the heat was pouring out and he was already dripping in sweat. He hadn’t been able to get the a/c to work properly.
A kind of hug/handshake combo later and we were hauling all of his stuff downstairs. It was all boiling hot. We put it in the coffin sized cooler we’d brought and dumped 40lbs of ice over it, with another 20lbs in the back up cooler in the boot. Binks grabbed a dead petrol station sandwich and a coke for his breakfast (so that’s where my running fuel has been going wrong) and off we set for the 40 mile drive to Fenner, where the next leg would start. 42 miles to be run today in the absolute middle of nowhere.
The start was a petrol station in the middle of nowhere. We just hung around feeling awkward as everyone knew one another and already had a morning routine. We were introduced as Bink’s new crew and listened to the race brief as there were some route changes. YD just looked at me with that “It’s your turn to pay attention as you know I have a mind like a sieve” then all of a sudden they were off. We drove 2 miles and pulled over so we could actually organize everything. It was a relatively cool morning and we’d finally relaxed. I had no idea how long 2 miles would take each time we stopped so we’d just settle in and see. I opened up the boot and started searching for his Gatorade powder so we could pre mix drinks. I searched the entire car twice and the only thing to be found was a can of powdered “Tang” which is orange crap from the 70’s that they once sent into space with the astronauts. If that’s what the USA used to represent the wonders and knowledge of Earth culture no wonder the aliens never made a public visit.
Fuck, fuck, fuck we shoved everything into the car and as YD would say “hauled ass” back to the petrol station. Poor Binks probably thought we were ditching him. I had no idea how much time we had before he reached the 2 miles mark and we’d look like really stupid bastards if we weren’t there to meet him.
You know it’s a bad omen when the shop has a sign saying “Don’t bitch at our prices you’re in the middle of frigging nowhere “We grabbed the last 6 bottles of Gatorade $8 a piece!! and hauled ass back along the road. By the time Binks came plodding up you’d never know we’d even had any bother.
We settled into a nice steady routine and the morning really was quite pleasant. The road was just a never ending desolate ugly stretch that had a constant stream of trains with half a miles of cars behind it. Each time we pulled out the umbrella and chairs to cheer on the other runners and wave to the other vehicles. They’d shout out and ask if we were having “tea and a picnic” After a couple of hours the sun was getting stronger. Binks had put his hat on; we were doing light water spraying and had slathered him in sun block. The Sardinian Italo had gone by with an Arizona license plate strapped to his back shouting “Look at me I’m an American car “ Binks had taken over the Japanese guy Bando who had started out too fast and was about 5th. No bad for someone they continually called “stocky” for r a runner.
After 26 miles we finally made a right hand turn and headed down to the motorway where he would be running 6 miles. We had to let him get a head start and we could stop once. We had to look out for a wider shoulder where it would be safe. The wind has picked up and it was just plain fucking hot. By now we were soaking down his hat and shirt with ice water. After a quick pit stop we headed away to meet him once he got off the motorway. There were lots of truck and I was really quite nervous for him.
We sat and waited. Serge’s driver was parked in front of us and it was hysterical to watch. He looked like a butler with all of his stuff in a plastic container which he held on the palm of his hand. Serge never stopped, his guy walked along side him for about 1/10th mile handing out stuff and then turned around and came back to the car. No ice dousing and necking a bottle of Gatorade from him. No surprise really considering he’s run across every continent.
Now I needed to pee! I don’t camp; run ultras and when we run in the state parks there are regular toilets. I went outside and the heat and wind took my breath away. I instantly got a blister on my top lip from the heat and trying to find somewhere with no obvious snake/critter holes was rather challenging to say the least.
After that ordeal we set off on the last stretch back to the hotel. How the fuck could he keep on running and still be pleasant and say thank you at every stop? We pulled in at The Bates Motel grabbed a couple of beers and the Union Jack to wave him in. Everyone cheered and clapped and then he collapsed in the shade in a chair with his “American water” they handed out……..Budweiser!
As a former psychologist this whole ultra thing just fascinates me what are you like after that kind of ordeal? Tired and spacey is the answer. You could tell that he was having a hard time getting his brain and mouth to smoothly coordinate. He was still having problems with his UK phone so Wine Legs called him on mine and he went to rest before dinner.
We got everything unpacked and sorted. We had gone through all 60lbs of ice as his stuff had been so hot. We re iced everything for overnight, took a quick shower and a group of us had dinner. Half way through dinner I had that sick feeling you get when you know the heat has gotten the best of you. I felt pretty ill. Back in the room I sat in front of the a/c, drank more fluids and was so tired I actually let my bare feet touch that minging carpet as I fell into bed.
Despite being completely knackered the wind tunnel/Kings Cross environment had us awake again at 2.30am. OMG how can anyone deal with this for 70 days. Real hotels have soft towels and little fridges never mind going without even a microwave for that long. YD was thankful again for my over packing as I‘d brought huge fluffy bath towels. We packed up our crap and by 4.30 am the car park was a hive of activity. Italo, the Sardinian was trying to negotiate with the Japanese to carry some supplies for him as today was a tough uphill climb 51.3 miles and wasn’t really getting anywhere with them. We mentioned that we had seen him within 5 minutes of Binks all day yesterday and would carry some stuff for him. We were here for Binks and would stop every 2 miles so he decided to run with him and take advantage of the offer. The car was jam packed; thankfully it’s pretty big so there was still room for me.
When Binks came downstairs he was doing a good John Wayne impersonation…apparently chaffing. PL’s over packing genius strikes again. I had seen in his FB photos a tub of Sudocrem and a silly comment about never travelling without it again. There was a tub under one of the bathroom sinks from when the family was here last and I’d grabbed it on the way out of the front door. It was very gratefully received.
The race briefing talked about how tough it would be and that on the steep hill roads we would have to use care in choosing places to pull over. YD was actually grinning. He’s a Top gear nut and loves all those crazy winding roads whenever we’re home and we have tons of them in Arizona. One of the runners Marcus had missed the cut off last night due to illness and all of the runners had agreed that one bad day was allowed for everyone. And then off they went. As everything was still cold from last night we went ahead with just 40lbs of new ice this time.
Just a short way down the road we turned a corner and I couldn’t believe my eyes. Right next to the flea bag, pee stinking Bates Motel were huge houses with boat docks, man made beaches and the sparkling Colorado River! We crossed the Arizona state line and things were instantly greener and prettier ( I may be a little biased) We put on the cd I got from my Fetch Secret Santa which was full of running tunes and cheered everyone on. It was the first and last chance we got to see the lead runner Rainier. We had dinner in his company last night and he’s a really cool funny guy. He ran Sparta when he was 19. The University he works for had let him take 2yrs holiday so that he could do this race. Binks came by just as Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run” came on.
Our plan for today was to stay in the car as much as possible and just surface when the guys were in sight. Italo stayed close to Binks and was either with him or just behind. We started a climb and the terrain became more familiar. The desert really is beautiful and has its own seasons. As much as I hate not being beside the sea you can’t beat a desert sun rise/sunset. Binks was walking uphill so we decided to whizz a head and scout out the mining town of Oatman.
We saw a sign and I couldn’t help but think of Flip. “No beer for 5600ft “ When we got to the town it was just amazing. It looked like something from the set of a western complete with the wooden paths raised off the ground to keep your feet clean. And there were donkeys just wandering everywhere LOOSE!!! YD was taking video and one just stuck its head in the car window and we were stuck. Eventually we got turned around and went back to meet Binks. There was real food and toilets here but all they wanted was ice cream, something fruity not creamy and a little something for Wine Legs. We got ice cream in the saloon and when they came running in spent a little time taking tourist pics. Italo was hugging the donkeys and chatting like crazy. As the main street ended the climb got steeper and we would eventually pass a gold mine. YD had bought one of those super soaker water guns that shot out 5 stream of spiraling water so he lay in wait for Binks. Boys and their toys!! He also obliged in cooling down Serge, Patrick and Italo.
The benefit of climbing was that it was a little cooler and there was an actual kind breeze. The scenery is just stunning and when you think of how hard it must have been back in the day to blast all of this rock and create a road its mindboggling. We were also passing lots of motorbikes coming in the opposite direction into Oatman. I could see YD getting that grin on his face that bike riding brings and before he opened his mouth I nodded and mouthed “Not till the winter”
More picture taking at the highest point and Alex and his crew were camped out here. He has a huge entourage and is sponsored by Jeep. He was sitting in the shade with his feet in an ice bath having a bowl of pasta with some cut up fruit beside him. He has this big bushy beard which I think is the inspiration for that hairy mess that Binks was growing. To be honest I was just glad that Alex had normal running gear on as yesterday he was wrapped in this see through white bandage thing with tin black knickers underneath and I found it very distracting.
Speaking of food. Binks had not really eaten enough yesterday and Italo had been getting harassed also by the race director. When the end of the world finally comes and the only thing left on the planet are the cockroaches they will be feasting on the rubber bologna and plastic cheese that Binks was eating on his sandwiches. Italo was trying to soften salty rock hard noodle packets with warmish water and saying “Mmmmm Special Chinese noodles”, while trying not to break a filling. But at least they were eating.
As we hit the switch backs on the downhill Binks sped ahead of Italo and we even did a little video interview as he was running. The next pace we stopped was this little stone museum/shop in the middle of nowhere called Cool Springs. We grabbed some cold drinks and a piece of authentic Route 66 stone and a Route 66 passport which we put in Bink’s bag in the car. Suddenly the scenery was over and all that stretched out ahead of us was 10 miles of flat hot desert with occasional houses in the middle of nowhere.
It was miserable and hot again. Italo stopped to change his sock and we cooled down his feet. We were all tired, hot and pretty miserable at this point. Suddenly he farted! He looked up and said “It’s ok just noise, no sheets” We just cracked up.
Binks knew we’d make the cut off but the goal now was just to “fucking get this over and finish sometime” We had to cross both the on and off ramp of the motorway to get to the side road leading into Kingman. There was also no shoulder so I walked them across and reminded them to be careful. Ahead was a huge sign for a McDonalds and Binks asked for a Big Mac, chips and strawberry milkshake when he finished. We passed a truck stop that had a strip club in the back of it. The American do like to multi task.
Two miles from the hotel we soaked them down and watered them for the last time. I must say they really know how to pick these hotels. This one was a lot nicer, but situated next to a Juvenile Detention centre. Beers opened and Union Jack waving we sat and waited for them to come in. YD had got some blowy noise things which the French thought were highly amusing. Binks and Italo ran in hand in hand. This time he was just so knackered. He did perk up when YD appeared with his food and he had some decent beer instead of the usual American water.
As we were getting ready to unload everything Italo turned to Binks in such a serious tone and said “James are you lonely tonight?” I spat my beer out. Turns out the room had 2 beds and he was asking to share and split the cost. Of course they’d given him a room on the 1st floor! YD and I just rolled our eyes and started heaving everything upstairs. There was tons of water and stuff leftover so we just put it in the smaller cooler and left it there as a present for the race. We’d mixed up Gatorade and roughly tidied up his stuff but nowhere near what he really needed. But we still had a 4hr drive home.
I kid you not I hadn’t set foot on the 1st stair when this stench came wafting down. It was his stinking feet. He joked that he’d stepped in some bog of doom last week and couldn’t get rid of the smell now. One of those fish pedicures might work but he wasn’t sure how many he'd kill before the funk was gone. We had emptied out the last of the ice from the coffin and Binks was sitting in it while Italo took photos of his feet. Lots of hugs and Italo gave me his Sardinian bandana as a thank you.
We crawled into the car. We were absolutely knackered and all we’d done was jump in and out of the car for 2 days. YD loaded up on Mountain Dew and 5 hr energy drinks and we made it to Phoenix at midnight. It was 41C at that time of night.
Getting up at 5am was just ugly and YD accidently locked the fluff ball Duncan Hardmoors in the laundry room all day in the chaos of getting ready for work. I still can’t quite fathom the strength and bloody determination needed to get up day and day out and do what he’s doing. And when I read his blog about breaking down in the restaurant I cried and was so mad that we could have done just a little bit more before we left.
It was one of the most amazing experiences of our lives and it was a pleasure Mr. Binks.