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March 20, 1996

USA LEG by inline skates (Jason) - Ft. Lauderdale to Pueblo, Colorado

>> May 1995 - March 1996

Land at last after 111 days out on the Atlantic. But that wasn't the last we'd see of Moksha our pedal boat - quite the contrary. For the next three months, we visited schools in Ft. Lauderdale and Miami so young people could see it, giving slide presentations about the expedition at the same time. We also focused our energies raising money for the next stage by selling T-shirts for $15 and displaying Moksha at boat shows, where for $20 people could put their names on the side of the boat and sign up for the biannual newsletter.

At the end of those three months Steve and I set out across the States - he on his road bike and myself on in-line skates (rollerblades), even though my first experience on skates had been only a couple of weeks before. I totally ripped my legs and feet apart during the first 30 miles of the trip and got terrible blisters all over my feet and shins. Skating definitely took some getting used to.

In the beginning I logged between 30 and 40 miles a day (later, I'd average 80 or 90 miles a day). Typically, I'd get up by first light - around 5:30 a.m. - and skate until 11:30 p.m. (by then, temperatures would be over 105 F - add humidity, and we're talking 120 F). I'd set out again at around 3 p.m. and skate until dark. I quickly learned the peril of skating at night and always tried to make camp by dark (when I did have to skate at night I'd cover myself with florescent strips and LEDs). I'd camp just about anywhere. My poncho doubled up as a tent, and because I was on a budget of $2-3 a day, my one meal consisted of rice, with a tin of sardines for beans and spices added for flavor. I lost a fair amount of conditioning because of my poor diet, but it was a great feeling to be out there and not have to rely on restaurants or hotels.

From time to time someone would invite me to stay or eat at their home, but usually it was just me, my skates, the road - and the local varmints. Blissfully swimming in a lake in Florida one morning, for example, I spotted a huge female alligator motoring my way; it chased me right up onto the boardwalk! In Alabama - where the state bird is officially the mosquito - I'd wake up in the morning with half my blood gone. The rice-growing belt of Arkansas was so bad that one night I had to sleep in the river with just my face sticking above the surface to get any peace at all.

The worst insect bites I suffered, though, were from fire ants. I was rudely awoken one night in the early hours by 30 or more of the brutes that had bitten me all at once. Unfortunately, they had targeted my groin. The next morning it was total agony to skate in the close-fitting Lycra shorts I was wearing.

I asked the saleswoman at a thrift store in the next town if she had anything really baggy. All she could offer was a red and white chequered skirt (actually it was a pair of women's cullots) that came up just above my knees. Normally, I would have just taken the skirt and been on my way, but I was having a bad enough time as it was skating through Alabama with long hair and an earring. After some hesitation, I decided what the hell. Off I went, and - other than the usual death threats and well-aimed beer cans - things were pretty cool until the local cops picked me up two days later.

A redneck cop with a large, wide-brimmed hat put me in the back of his patrol car - it's clear he thought I was drunk or something. For a minute I sat there paralysed with terror, picturing the infamous 'squeal like a pig' scene from the film 'Deliverance' being reinacted in a southern police station cell. This was definitely not a good situation. Suddenly, I was hit by a blinding flash of inspiration.

'For heaven's sake man," I said in a my best attempt at a Scottish (cum-Pakistani-cum-Welsh) accent, 'I guess you wouldn't know, but it's a national holiday in Scotland - that's where I'm from. This is my national dress - its a kilt - part of my national identity'. He just kept driving.
After a full minute of leaden silence he pulled over and turned to look at me. 'Goddamn! I just remembered - my great-great granddaddy came from Scotland.' He was now visibly enthused (like most Americans) at meeting near flesh and blood from the motherland. And after blundering my way through a lengthy conversation about warm beer and haggis he drove me back to where he had picked me up from, gave me $20 to have his name signed on the pedal boat and sent me on my way with an enormous, sweaty hug.

The next day, a passing driver tossed a bundled-up pair of shorts at me. In the bundle was a little note saying, 'I think you need these.' I could finally get those horny southerners off my back."

I visited about 10 schools and summer camps in Florida, Alabama, Mississippi and Arkansas, generating interest with expedition slides and videos as I went. Then it was across through Oklahoma and up through Kansas, where I spent a couple of weeks with some Native Americans. They were really cool people - way cooler than the driver I encountered while leaving a little Oklahoma town one Friday afternoon.

He was after trouble, yelling and swerving at me from behind before driving up the road and waiting for me. I passed him, mace in hand, and he started following again. His vibe was clearly evil, so I turned off the road into a small hospital complex with a roundabout and a tree in the middle of it. I stopped and joined some local Indians who were lying under the tree swigging Wild Turkey. Even though half-toasted, that they would make better witnesses than nobody at all. The driver just drove around us, steering with his left hand. I couldn't see his right hand.
After a while, he finally realized he wasn't going to be able to get at me without getting out of his car (a procedure Americans seem to avoid if at all possible), and drove off. Looking through the back window, I could see that he was putting a revolver back into his glove compartment. Sometimes I forget this isn't just sleepy old England.

By the time I got to Colorado the roads had turned really bad. I don't know what the state spends its money on, but it's certainly not roads. The bad roads stand out because my first major wipe-out happened on my second day in the state. It was a day that would change my whole life.

The day started inauspiciously enough - on a bad note. Trying to dodge an eighteen wheeler and a rough patch of road, I avoided the truck but not the corrugated pavement. The fall shredded a lot of flesh on my arms but I got up and kept skating. My sights were set on getting to the town of Pueblo where I had a bed waiting for me.

At sundown, it started to rain. I knew deep down that the right thing would have been to stop at the gas (petrol) station I had just passed, spend the night there and then go into town the next day, but I was really looking forward to a night of comfort. With 85 miles down, I had just two to go. Exhausted and skating against my better judgement, I carried on. I stopped to attach my flashing lights to the back of my pack and proceeded along the running shoulder of the highway.

That's when I got hit from behind.

The police say the car that broke both of my legs was going about 40 miles an hour. It hit me in the back of the legs, snapping the bones in the lower part of both legs and sending them right through the skin. A split-second later my body smashed into the windshield, shattering it, and I somersaulted over the roof. My backpack - having been ripped off me - probably saved my spine from being crushed. The driver didn't even stop - just continued driving down the shoulder until a witness to the whole mess finally ran him off the road and held him for the police. When the ambulance came, I was placed in the back and lay there, in shock, for what seemed like forever.

When they shuttled my into the operating room, I was pretty disoriented. I hadn't eaten all day and I was exhausted from skating. The orthopaedic surgeon (Dr. Kenneth Danylchuk), a very cool guy, immediately offered me a place to stay without knowing me from Adam. He explained that I'd need a place to recoup for a fairly long while - the tibia and fibula in both legs were broken in various places, he said, and he'd have to put rods in my legs. Still, he was hopeful that I'd recover quickly because I was in good shape.

Two days after the accident, Steve's dad Stuart flew to Pueblo to help take care of me. Four days later I was stable enough for surgery. After that, Stuart and I spent the next nine weeks at the good doctor's 1,100-acre ranch in the Colorado Mountains, going out each day in the pickup truck to feed hay to 81 head of buffalo being raised there.

For me, Expedition 360 continues to be a trip about a principle: simply, to go for something you've never done before with an ingrained faith that you can do it, if you just set your mind to it. Maybe the people I met along the way could sense that. They often didn't know what I was doing, or what my - or Steve's - story was, but they were still really enthusiastic and helpful; they'd stop on the roadside, offer me a place to stay the night, meals, clothing, anything. Maybe our being out there symbolized a kind of freedom those people wanted to experience, in whatever positive way they could.

Jason Lewis - March 1996

Posted at 8:42 PM