Aspen parkrun – the highest in the world

Aspen parkrun route
Aspen parkrun route – an out and back, unmarshalled but marked by (today) blue arrows on the ground.

Aspen is at 2,400m above sea level (obviously the locals call it 8,000 ft, or just below, because it is still in some ways 1854 in the US, and because the number sounds bigger) and so its parkrun can boast of being the highest in the world. Previously that was attributed to Johannesburg – which run I am not sure – at under 6,000 feet. Not that I have run it, but that is quite a difference in elevation and, presumably, performance hit.

Aspen itself is beautiful – and rich. Rich enough that some of the people in town looked familiar. But I had not spotted Lance Armstrong, or some other famous millionaire – it was the botox that gave particularly people a familiar sheen. None of that at parkrun, though, which is an exemplar of fit and active folk getting out and about.

Aspen parkrun start - on the playing fields
Aspen parkrun start – on the playing fields.

The start is on the astroturf at the Aspen recreation centre, a couple of miles out of town. Add a bit if you aren’t staying on the edge of town. It isn’t quite where it is marked on the map, but near enough. The course itself is an out and back, winding its way through the school (and across a quiet road to the school) before using the High School trail alongside the main road. Views of mountains are unmissable, though the course is demanding enough that you might struggle on the way back and spend time looking at the floor. With a downhill start, it is easy to go off too quickly, and that downhill means an uphill finish. They did warn us.

View from the corner of the first bridge, mountains distant
View from the corner of the first bridge, mountains distant.

It is stunning. And hard. Prepared from South Boulder Creek last weekend, I set off more gently – my first mile, despite the downhill, was only marginally quicker than last week. It didn’t exactly feel easy, but this time there wasn’t such a drop-off in performance. I reeled in the talented 60something who had gone off ahead, and enjoyed, mostly, the run back up the hill and onto the astroturf. There, the Canadian and Australian volunteers congratulated me on a course record, but actually that is still held by Jacob Gardiner, who was more than 20 seconds quicker than me.

There was also a good contingent of Australian tourists. They had mentioned they were coming on the facebook page, so I knew to expect them – and that Chris Laird is a quicker runner than me, based in Denver and over a minute quicker at South Boulder Creek. That family alone was enough to boost attendance over the 3 runners from the week before. Unfortunately for Chris, who had fancied giving the event a real go, he had trained hard for a tricky event the day before and was left pushing his youngest in a chair, while his eldest completed his 8th parkrun next to him. Dad David, who lives in Newcastle (where I have run) was well pleased with 6th place, though reckoned he had worked hard for it.

It’s a great event, one that may grow from small beginnings. Aspen is well worth a visit, though you’ll need a second mortgage to stay in any luxury. The cheapest bed in town is at the St Moritz Lodge, at $78 +tax for a dorm bed. The place is immaculate, though, and you can use the pool, swap towels as you like, enjoy a glass of wine (included) every evening and so on. At half the price it would be the bargain of the century. As it is, the frills take the edge off the pain of paying.

I travelled the cheap way, local bus to/from Glenwood Springs and the Greyhound to/from there and Denver. There is an airport at Aspen itself, but there may not be particularly cheap flights from there. It’s a pretty glitzy place, though; check out (just some of) the private plane parking at Aspen airport, below.

Private planes at Aspen airport
Private planes at Aspen airport.

The Maroon bells and trails. When does a walk become a hike?

First sight of the mountains after the shuttle bus
First sight of the mountains after the shuttle bus.

I am in Aspen because it has a parkrun. That is to say, I did not come here with other goals, though I knew there is a theatre and cinema, and expected beauty. I may not have expected quite so much beauty, thinking of this as a winter time place. And indeed, the bus driver returning us from our various activities at (greater) altitude this evening said “come back and see us reeeal soon. Preferably in Winter, when we know what we’re doing.” But it didn’t become quite so expensive (cheapest room in town, I’m in – dorm for $78 per night. Plus tax) without being fabulous year round, and summer is a delight. The town itself is chocolate box pretty, glamorous residences, easily navigated streets, and respectful drivers – even by American standards, where the general “defer to pedestrians” rule is a delight. If you mention that to an American, they’ll look confused, and say “well, we have rules”. But so does the UK – if you’re turning, pedestrians have priority, for instance – but few care. Here they do. Perhaps it is enforced more strictly.

On a recommendation from my host, I walked to the Highlands centre, which is a couple of miles from the St Moritz Lodge. I am staying at the latter, not using it as some spurious landmark (“…which is only 3 miles from everything else!”). My host had quoted the bus tour of the bells as being $30, so I approached the desk with some trepidation, fully expecting him to be right, having checked out the relative luxuriousness of the changing and rest rooms, downstairs and en route to everything else in the Highlands Centre (‘er’). But the bus shuttle, and included tour, is just $8 for the way up, and free on the way down. I was in, straight off, and enjoyed the commentary, as he pointed out avalanche chutes – avalanches are very common round here – and told us how good the Aspen tree is at surviving, being able to bend right over under pressure, without snapping. Aspen’s first hey day was as a silver town, with 1/6 of the world’s silver thought to have come from here. As a result, though, when the silver price crashed, so did the town, declining from 15,000 residents in the c.19th. But it has 6,500 now, and that number must be increased by tourists, perhaps year-round.

We disgorged from the bus, and everyone headed for the trail. The bus only takes 36 – more on the way down, when you are allowed to stand – but it still seems like a crowd as everyone heads off. But some room develops in time, particularly if you turn off the main ‘scenic lake loop trail’ to the West Maroon trail, which heads past crater lake. A different lake. There were plenty of people to pause for, passing the other way, or pass, early on, but it thinned out after a mile or two. I only walked four, but even that was a development, as I had thought about turning round after a couple of miles. This week, at least, the morning was the time to be on the trails, with drizzly rain every afternoon, though I couldn’t tell you if that was typical. It’s sensible anyway; with the last bus at 5, a late start might see you might easily get carried away and walk further than planned, then miss the bus and have to walk 14km or so back down to the centre. And it’s 2 miles to town if there are no more buses there. I started a little after 10, finished around 3.30pm, dodging a heavy shower through luck more than judgement, with about 3.5 hours of walking. Fabulous.

Plenty of wildlife around, too, though I didn’t see bear or moose. But chipmunks skittered, one pausing for photos and a little video. A marmot squeaked, a mountain goat walked away from the tourists, a strange (to me) clicking butterfly/insect clicked away down the trail ahead of me, while a large-eared rodent ran away off to one side. The sun popped out, more out than in, but it was noticeably cooler up here compared to town, which enjoyed 28 degrees.

First sight of Aspen

I started the day in Denver, but had a fairly full day of travel ahead. Bus to Denver, Greyhound (yes, also a bus) to Glenwood Springs, then local bus to Aspen. The first only half an hour, the second more like three hours, after a late departure. The last, a good hour and a half. Not the easiest place to get to on public transport, but doable.

I checked in to my beautiful hostel. It has a bit of everything – free drinks to take, free wine in the early evenings, heated pool for cooler weather (though it is properly hot in summer till 8 or so). But then, it wants to be good, at $78 per night. Plus tax. Aspen is expensive – this is the cheapest around.

I decided it was best to make the most of my couple of nights here so, with regret, left the wine behind and headed out for a walk. It was near 7pm, still warm but with the occasional cool draft to remind us all (along with breathlessness descending any time you head up steps) that we are at altitude. I headed through the town (city in American-speak) and covered a couple of miles out through the John Denver Sanctuary and past Hunter Creek. It is just beautiful here.

An accidental long walk to Northglenn

After Tuesday’s long and mildly stressful – roads! – walk to Red Rocks amphitheatre, I had something easier lined up for Wednesday. I had spotted that the 120 bus, available from near where I stayed, headed all the way East to the Prairie Centre, a shopping centre. In Brighton (Colorado). Just a short walk from there, the Barr Lake state park. Reviews suggested there wasn’t much shade, but a walk round the lake would give me some air and some wildlife. Great!

Long flat road, small verge
There was to be a lot of walking on this sort of terrain. Though not always with an adverse camber.

I headed out and caught the bus. I could have hopped off early, reasonably near the park, but rode it all the way round Brighton to the shopping centre. Figured I’d have a look there at the tents; a cheap and light one would be good as a backup for Washington (state) in a couple of days, and Victoria, BC, after that. Nothing doing, but I wandered off down the provided sidewalks. No one else on them, this looks like a new area, infrastructure being built, ready for people. Not that that many walk in this car-accented culture, but still.

Wide open spaces in Brighton, CO
Wide open spaces in Brighton, CO.

If I were superstitious, I might have taken my slide onto my hand/backside, stepping on some innocuous mud under a flyover, as an omen. But I did not! I could almost see the park, just over there, behind the trees. And the railway line. Hmm, that’s a complication. Railway lines here are nowhere near as protected and fenced-off as in the UK, but still, not to be crossed willy-nilly.

Dead end and Fairplay (street) sign
Dead end! Fairplay!

There was no crossing. The road that looked good and close, leading directly to the trail round the lake? Signs at the entrance, saying ‘no lake access’. I plead ignorance to the gods, and walked along it a little further, but those words kept echoing, with them being pretty straightforward, and when I spotted a mailbox I figured I would have to head onto someone’s drive. I avoided the “can you read?” conversation, and turned back.

After another mile or so, with much checking of the map, I realised there was no way through the houses, and headed for main roads. That wasn’t a great walk, but there was space, and no pedestrian prohibition signs. But as I reached a junction that would take me to what looked like the park car park, I checked again. It was another 2 miles. Then I could walk round the lake, and then I’d have to backtrack, along the roads that had already bored me, to get the bus. Plus the road to the car park itself didn’t look great.

I figured I would take the road unknown to me, and head back West, towards where I had come from. told me it was about 19km. Maybe I would feel like doing the whole thing.

Some kms were okay, some were not. It depended on the width of the verge, and how much of a hobo I felt like. Fortunately, if you like, people carrying their stuff while looking otherwise respectful are pretty common here, so no-one gave me a second glance – from their cars and trucks, there were no other walkers.

And, after a few hairy bits, such as crossing a 6-lane highway that had lights to stop the main traffic, but not that turning from the side roads to allow walkers to pass, and a walk over a bridge that just had a small shoulder for me to walk on, I hit Henderson, turned on to Henderson road, and was rewarded. Yes, those blue areas on the map are (mostly) a park, and there is a trail that runs through them.

Finally, the lakes, and a trail
Finally, the lakes, and a (concrete) trail.
Wide concrete trail
Wide concrete trail, Henderson, CO.

I had pretty much decided by now that I would walk the whole thing, though with one last get out. Soon I would be on 120th street, and the 120 bus, my original ride, heads along there. I thought I might get to the petrol station, “Kum & Go”, refuel and then get the bus – I’d still have walked 11 miles or so.

Tunnel, 120th street

Buoyed by the sight, and sounds, of gophers (?) at the side of the road, I just kept on walking; finding it was only 5km from the petrol station, and refreshed by cookies/biscuits, it seemed daft not to finish it off.

Gopher poking out of its hole on parched earth
Gopher poking out of its hole on parched earth. There were several along the way, chirping to each other. They seemed unconcerned, but maybe the chirping was “watch out for this big thing passing by”.

I was particularly pleased to be back by 4.30pm. The night before, I had realised the Colorado Rockies were baseballing the Houston Astros, and I figured I’d head down. With a 6.30pm start, I could make that fairly easily.

Outside the Rockies' stadium
Outside the Rockies’ stadium.

I did make it. I walked slightly the wrong way, discombobulated by my own daftness in working out how much I needed to add to my Myride card for the few trips I had yet to make, and then deciding I was wrong, and not adding that, relying on cash fares (much less convenient). But still, I might have missed the first 10 minutes, mostly due to a slow security line. Not as slick, or as friendly, as Australian stadiums.

View of the baseball field
View of the baseball field, from the standing area near catering.

The queue for tickets was short, but grew. Unfortunately, they had lost power to their ticketing system. I was glad not to have bought one in advance, to pick up at the “will call” (just me, or is that really not that clear? How about ‘pick up’?) window, as that wasn’t working either. I considered buying online, but was unconvinced that would work, or surely everyone would be doing it – people in the queue were on their phones, but not leaving. Plus, the whole point of being there is to avoid the booking fees – a $22 ticket is reasonable, but buying it online from Ticketmaster and their fees is over $29.

View of the baseball field, from the rooftop
View of the baseball field, from the rooftop.

I waited. The family ahead of me bought their tickets online… then couldn’t access them. They moved off; I hope, to take up their case elsewhere. Sure they’ll get the money back, but how annoying. “I’m in” said the ticket lady. She wasn’t. I waited some more. Then she was in! All she could offer was a rooftop ticket, standing only, and I hadn’t eaten more than cookies and breakfast all day. But, stuff it, those are the cheapest tickets, and at $15 that was half the price I had thought about paying online. Plus The Rockies had just scored a home run, so were 1-0 up after 3 innings.  I went in, stood behind the first seats I saw for a while, then spotted that the rooftop was high over to my left, and wandered up there for the last 4 innings or so.

Big screen in the stadium
Big screen in the stadium, and a magnificent jacket.

It was good. Not great – too many delays, yet with only very short bursts of music or jumps to the crowd for entertainment. The Astros, current champions, seemed like they might be toying with them, as they drew level then went one up. The Rockies drew level after a nice steal of home base. I lost an innings – the Astros’ last – so didn’t quite appreciate the situation, but as one of the Rockies’ better players (judging by the fact that he had his own intro on the screens – not everyone does) hit the plate, with 1 out and a player or two on bases, one score would do it. He swung, he connected, and it flew over the fence. Rockies win! Happy happy; out in plenty of time for the 10.30pm bus, World Foods open to feed me, and time to find a way to buy a single ticket at Union Station (if you don’t have cash to pay on the bus, then the railway station will sell you one. So far as I could tell, the bus station only sells monthly or multi-day passes.).

Walking to Red Rocks amphitheatre

My host recommended heading to Red Rocks, and I liked the idea of checking out the view from a famous (in the US?) amphitheatre, and seeing some of the park. Sadly, there is no really good way to get there on a bus, particularly from Northglenn. I figured I’d go for the walk, though, so got a bus to Denver, train to Federal Center station, then a bus out into Lakewood. Left in a suburban area, I turned and walked down a wide sidewalk – it being there was encouraging, at least – alongside a busy road and over a freeway. The Rockies in the distance and either side were inspiring, to offset the traffic noise. I did have to ignore a ‘sidewalk closed’ sign, though, as there wasn’t another option (other than backtracking) to get where I wanted to be.

Once I got over the freeway, things improved. I saw a sign for Dinosaur Ridge which I hadn’t noticed, despite it being clearly marked on my map. They have a (free to walk, pay for a driven tour) walkway, and that road leads to the Red Rocks park. From there, I went in via entrance one, and walked up the road. That bit wasn’t much fun, but I think they expect to see some walkers, as the side of the road is well marked for cyclists, and that serves to give cars notice of other traffic on the road. After a short while that felt longer after a blind corner, I took a trail off to my right, and was in amongst red rocks and clambering up to the amphitheatre.

Red Rocks amphitheatre
Red Rocks amphitheatre.

The place is pretty dramatic. In the summer it gets pretty well used. The visitor’s centre – separate to the museum – lists who has played there each year, and while the earlier years are impressive, the last several years are absolutely packed with dates. But in the day, it is available to visitors, as well as people exercising on the steps. None of them had walked up from where I did, mind. I really feel a little punished in the US without a car – I mean, on a day like today, it was a decent walk in the sun, but I definitely feel like there are places I am not really meant, or at least able, to go. I also rebel against the idea of driving to go for a walk, or run, as a routine thing, mind, so am just turning against the US and its car-heavy culture here. I feel cut off if I need a car to get anywhere, even if I actually have a working car – it feels too precarious.

Still, it works, and the place had plenty of people in without feeling crushed.

Panorama of the amphitheatre

After the walk, I wandered back down the trail, but followed the Red Rocks trail more closely. That took me out of Red Rocks exit 2, from where I could follow the Dakota Ridge trail back to the dinosaur trail. And from there, rather than turn and walk over the freeway, I walked along a wide but quiet road (S Rooney Road), to get to the Rooney Road trailhead. That might need some care if it has been wet, as the trails can be closed. Even on a dry day, admittedly after thunderstorms a couple of days before, it was on a middle level ‘use not advised’. Still, I could follow a longer but prettier route, through William F Hayden Green Mountain park, back to the bus stop at West Alameda parkway & West Jewell Avenue to retrace my steps, hopping on the 21 bus. Well worth it for the views. But with a car you could spend longer in the mountains.

South Boulder Creek parkrun, Colorado

South Boulder Creek parkrun route
South Boulder Creek parkrun route.

South Boulder Creek parkrun starts SE of Boulder, on the trail. 8:00 in the lighter months, 9:00 in the colder ones. They don’t meet there, though, so standing on the trail at 7:50 is lonely. Head for the community centre to find everyone, as I did with great relief.

The buses from Denver are brilliant, and will get you to within two miles of the start no matter how early you want to go – even if sporadically, they run through the night. Catch the FF1. Staying in Northglenn, as I was, is slightly less convenient, as that bus route is way over to the West, and there are no interconnecting buses early on. I could have got a bus into the city and back out, but it was quicker, and more under my control, to run the 6 miles to US 36 & Church Ranch station. It’s mostly an arrow straight run along W 112th Avenue, but turning off onto Big Dry Creek trail gave a bit of variety. As a bonus, the run was pretty much all downhill, too. And buses would carry me back up, later on.

I had carefully worked out that the downtown Boulder bus station was over 4 miles from the start, but S Broadway & Table Mesa drive was a manageable 2.5 miles away. Arriving just after 7, that would be easy.

Plans aren’t always right, though, and when I was actually on the bus, it became obvious that the US 36 & Table Mesa Station was actually closer – only 2.5km, in fact. I think that might be a cheaper fare, too, but was using a Myride card and haven’t worked out how to pay only a local, versus a regional, fare on that. It’s still only $4.50 each way ($4.25 on the card). I was feeling a little tired from the run and had plenty of time, so I walked to the start of the run. No one was around at 7.20, so I recced one end of the course, passed by some very fit, quick looking runners. None of them were parkrunners, though, so I was hopeful of continuing my first place streak at US parkruns.

View of deserted streets and mountains
Heading West, on the run to the bus stop; mountains in the distance.
1 mile to go sign - not for parkrun
Big Dry Creek trail. Some event happening. Cones out, and everything; made it feel like I had hit a parkrun already.
Wide street, view of houses in the distance
View over i36 from the bus stop at I36 & Church Ranch.

I jogged back from the Southern end of the course, still feeling tired. The sun was by now up, and much of the course is unshaded, so it was pretty warm. After waiting at the start with no one around, I found my fellow parkrunners and joined in the briefing. There were other tourists, one Kiwi and several English, plus one bloke who has a similar world-wandering life, albeit one which brings him back to Boulder every year (with much questioning from immigration) and involves a lot of yoga. I also chatted to a local, who was wearing a parkrun-apricot shirt from Shellharbour, Australia, from where he has relocated his family. Or re-relocated, I suppose, given he is from the US originally.

South Boulder Creek trail sign.
South Boulder Creek trail sign.

The route is beautiful. Most of it is on gravel paths, but the start is paved. From the modesty at the start line, and a couple of nervous questions, it became clear that most of us didn’t know where we were going. It is straightforward, but you need to know to turn left before the road (parking lot on your right), and left again just 40 or so metres later (an obvious place for a sign, but they aren’t allowed to put one there, and US runs operate with a minimum of volunteers). That takes you onto a gravel trail, parallel (in a wiggly way) to the original paved route, and back to the start. Then it’s an out and back along the trail, with the turnaround point marshalled. The second out and back is a fair bit longer than the first. Neither the Kiwi nor I were able to resist heading out front, so the blind led the partially sighted. I knew to make the crucial left turn, at least, and after that we were okay.

But boy, it was tough. After a reasonably-paced first mile, I was struggling, and the Kiwi came alongside. “The altitude makes it tough, huh?!” Of course! I had forgotten about that – my watch reckoned that Denver (/Boulder)’s claim to be the mile high city was right, slightly under rather than overstating it. For the whole of the rest of the run, I felt short of air, and the slight feeling that someone was sitting on my chest persisted for hours more. The Kiwi came past and though I caught him and led through half way, he was too strong in the end. No matter – he runs at Hagley, which is a bit competitive, so hasn’t had a first place before, and it is nice to get your first, particularly in an international run.

Looking West from the trail, mountains and greenery.
Looking West from the trail, mountains and greenery.
Just a few metres along the path, another view of the mountains.
Just a few metres along the path, another view of the mountains.

Wow, that altitude is tough, though. I was over a minute slower than the week before. It is also recommended that you drink plenty of water, and I hadn’t. Plus I felt fine during the run, but running 6 miles beforehand may not help. Normally I think a long warm up works for me, but in Malaysia I ran much quicker when I only had a short one. It may be the same here. I’ll get a chance to try different (some) preparation before next week’s run, at Aspen. Runner numbers there are very low, though, so I may not have much company.

An enclosed footbridge, with padlocks on the wire mesh
Heading back to the bus station, padlocks on the footbridge.

Friendly tourists from Winchester offered me a lift back to Denver, but I was happy to stroll to the bus stop and hop on the FF1, this time stopping at US 36 & Broomfield (I could have gone from there – it’s a 6.4 mile run). Bus 112 then heads East, leaving a walk to my spot in Northglenn. That bus doesn’t run too often, though, so I had time to explore the area around. It is all very new, clean and …big. There are a few shops, but generally it looked pretty quiet. However, (as a tip for anyone without a phone that will tell you what’s nearby – don’t despair that you can only see a pizza place, bike shop and offices) round a corner, tucked away a little on Colony Row, is Loftea Cafe. Phew. There’s a surprising lack of convenience stores around, but the cafe sorted me out.

If you can, stay in Boulder – it’s a fairly short walk from there to the mountains, easier than Denver, and not too far to the run. Second choice, somewhere near Denver centre, or near the i36. But it’s not impossible from elsewhere, and the view of the mountains through the morning, as the sun comes up, is stunning.

Results from South Boulder Creek parkrun, event 22, 21/7/18.

Des Moines parkrun, Washington, USA

Des Moines parkrun route
Des Moines parkrun route.

I missed a parkrun last week, reasoning that an hour and a half to Crissy Field, San Francisco, was too far. Too far because I have run it before, that is.

No such problem this week, with both Renton and Des Moines Creek available south of Seattle. The latter is closest to the light rail, and is a newer event (just number 6 today) so I headed there. A 40 minute ride to Angle Lake, the end of the line, and I walked down the road (stay on the right hand side, the pavement runs out on the left, though I did walk there, in the cycle path), turned left into the Creek Trail at a small car park, and jogged down to the start.

View from Angle Lake station
View from Angle Lake station. Mt Rainier is there, but faint.

Down it was, too. The parkrun website makes it clear that there is a gain of over 250 feet from bottom to top, and the top of the creek trail is higher still. An easy run down, then, though I was the only person doing it. A couple of other tourists turned up, but they stayed near the bottom, in Des Moines itself.

Des Moines Creek trail.
Des Moines Creek trail. This is the surface throughout.

I was greeted enthusiastically by the volunteers. One had toured England extensively, so we were soon into discussing accents. I agreed that everyone has an accent to some people, but secretly still believe neutral English is accentless English. One of the volunteers is a local councillor, keen to extol the virtues of up-and-coming Des Moines, and it does seem lovely (the sunshine helped), with a gorgeous waterfront setting for the town (parkrun is a smidge inland). Pronunciation-wise, older residents pronounce the ess, newer ones do not – it was suggested that’s because of the Iowa place of the same name. I was a little embarrassed by the attention, but had spotted another runner slide in nearby, modestly standing to one side despite wearing (under the cover of another top) a parkrun apricot top. I pointed him out and he helped share the enthusiasm. I was right to think he was modest, mind – he never even mentioned that he had completed the date-line double (parkrun in Aus/NZ, flight, then parkrun in West Coast US/Canada; in his case, Brisbane-Richmond).

The Creek trail starts near the water, so there’s a cool breeze and a short walk will get you to the salty smell the councillor of which was particularly fond.

Sign advertising parkrun
Reverse of the turn here sign, about half a mile down the trail.

I got the train earlier than I needed to, hopping on the 7.09 from Westlake, and running down the trail around 8. The turn around sign was already in place, along with plenty of chalked motivation on the ground, which was great but did lead me to double check that 9 was the start time.

Turn here sign, parkrun, in place before 8am.
Turn here sign, parkrun, in place before 8am.

The route is tarmac-covered all the way down, so it’s just the ascent to slow you down. For me, the first half was 1:10 slower than the second, so it does make quite a difference. I’ve not run Ashton Court in the UK, which has a similar profile, so I’m interested to get there and see if it is a similar speed, or similar effect, if you like.

Heading into the woods, a couple of hundred metres in.
Heading into the woods, a couple of hundred metres in.

There is little that is tricky about the course, though on the way down, at the water-treatment plant, there’s a tempting route off to the left. The trail is the one marked with a yellow line down the middle. Other than that, we were warned to stay on the pavement (sidewalk) past the car park, which curves round and might be confusing if you haven’t checked it out. One runner was too tempted by the straight line available through the car park and bombed through there, which worked fine, but does mean brushing through leaves and hopping up a kerb to get past a gate. It probably doesn’t make much difference, but it will tempt you if you’re on a second run and after a pb.

"Have a great day" written in chalk
Plenty of motivational chalk messages.

Post run we cheered in the runners and walkers and I stood chatting in the sun. The ‘international contingent’, Scotland, England, Australia, had a quick photo taken for later and then we all headed to the farmers’ market, which starts at 10. In the end, we just wandered through and then went our separate ways, without quite enough people to make getting coffee the sociable option. The volunteers were mostly curious as to how we heard about parkrun, so we pointed out the various maps and tools that tell people where they are. That doesn’t stop people asking ‘is there a parkrun near..?’, but those tourists who like to plan these things in advance will be well aware of Des Moines, and itching to visit. I’m glad to have got there fairly early; always nice to feel ahead of the crowds.

WA’s strongest man competition on Des Moines seafront.
WA’s strongest man competition on Des Moines seafront.

But, as the councillor had told us, the Washington strongest man competition was taking place on the seafront, so I stood and watched people lift, or struggle with, heavy kegs. Watching it soon became clear that it wasn’t just the weight, but the shape that prevented some from lifting the kegs. Or ‘the sodding things’ as they were probably thinking, after 30 seconds of effort. And I learnt that the powerlifting federation mandates a rubber sole, and one competitor had the most lightweight ones available. They looked pretty sticky.

Even leaving before 7am, and with a run mostly under shade, I really should have put sun screen on, walking back to the station in blazing sunshine and ending feeling a little warm. Otherwise, though, a total success.

Santa Cruz, CA, USA

This road trip’s Southernmost point was Santa Cruz, California. It’s not a huge city, around 55,000 inhabitants, but is big enough to have everything and still be easily navigable. Houses are clapboard and pretty, and the area is obviously wealthy, though wears its poverty on its sleeve. Apparently, homeless people are a little more welcome here than other places, and the climate means that much of the time being outside isn’t totally bad for them, so they are obvious, as are poor and troubled folks.

Blue skies, California.
Blue skies, California.

The climate varies, and though it can be very hot in the middle of a July day, it cools right off in the evenings. The first day I was here was overcast and cool but, frankly, the variety is a relief after tropical countries.

Beach view; sandstone inlets and scrub grass
Beach view, Santa Cruz.

There are a few state parks close by, running and cycling distance, and the beach boardwalk is scenic and historic. Which doesn’t make it particularly old by European standards, but it is still the place to be.

House, trees and pink flowers over the gate
Pretty outward aspect to this house.

Just walking the streets is a pleasure. People are friendly if you’re feeling chatty, and plantlife looks to be encouraged by residents. The colours are offset by the colour of the sky, assuming a clear day.

House with a tree of purple flowers
There is a cloud in the sky, but it barely matters.

Black Butte lake campsite, California

Just a few shots of this stunning campsite. It isn’t quiet, at least not in the build-up to July 4th, as the lake carries sounds across it, so you’ll hear the shouts of bathers and music even from the other side. But it is idyllic. The site was visited or passed by ground squirrels, jack rabbits and deer, while an osprey circled high above before swooping into the lake to emerge with a fish. Sandpipers and woodpeckers merrily scooted round the trees nearby.

And I hid in the shade – it hit 41 degrees, which is plenty warm. Warm enough at night, too, to leave the top off the tent and stare at the stars, though it cooled down enough to be glad of a sleeping bag.

Tree full of woodpeckers (admittedly, not woodpeckers the camera could pick out).
Tree full of woodpeckers (admittedly, not woodpeckers the camera could pick out).
Campsite surrounded by trees, overlooking the lake.
Campsite surrounded by trees, overlooking the lake.
Black Butte lake sunset.
Black Butte lake sunset.
Black Butte lake sunset.
Black Butte lake sunset.
Black Butte lake by morning.
Black Butte lake by morning.
Parched grass, lone tree overlooking the lake.
Parched grass, lone tree overlooking the lake.


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