Renton parkrun, WA, USA

Renton parkrun route
Renton parkrun route.

The state of Washington has two parkruns, within a few miles of each other (though it’s easier to get to each from Seattle, than from one to the other). I ran Des Moines in the summer, and very nice it was too – 2.5km up, then 2.5km down. Renton, on the Cedar River trail, is significantly flatter, though not totally flat, as my slightly disappointing third mile (and pleasingly quick first) showed.

Although the parkrun page suggests that there’s no available public transport, the 101 from Seattle to Renton arrives just after 8, and it’s not a massive walk from there – a couple of kms, and you can get straight onto the trail. I’ll admit, I didn’t do that – I stayed in the Quality Inn, for $80, which is on the other side of the 169 (road), just East of I5, in the map, above. From there, wander over the road (6 lanes, but there is a crossing), through the park and there’s a foot/bike bridge under the I5. Walk along for a mile or so, and there’s the start.

Simple. And beautiful. The trail is tarmacced, and wide enough to take both runners and cyclists, which is good, as the latter were out and about. Most of the route is surrounded by trees on both sides, as in the picture above, and in places you can convince yourself you’re in a rain forest.

Finishing Renton parkrun
Finishing Renton parkrun – as if coming down from the air.

The event is usually small enough that the keen event directors, Catherine (who ran today) and Kortney, and now including Patrick, training on the day, could introduce themselves to more or less everyone, and mingle to keep conversation going after the finish. We had 40 people with a good mixture of paces, ages and sexes. It was quick enough at the start, too, though without the mass of over-quick starts that is so common in the UK. That said, two people cruised past me after 500m and I reeled them in, so people put extra effort in at the beginning all around the world.

Renton group photo
Renton group photo.

The event director asked for tourists, and two of us made ourselves known. The other is in the photo above, and waved his cap at me on the run – yes, that’s a Spurs badge! At the time, I was too hard of thinking to be able to cheer him on, so at the end he wandered up to apologise for having the ‘wrong’ badge. “No!” I said “the right one!”. He was the other tourist, having been based in the UK for the last few years, and moved back to the relative sanity of the US (yes, really) just recently.

The course takes you out, East, for a km, then back on yourself, back past the start/finish, back West for another 1.5km and back to the finish to end up. Simple, with the start/finish just off the path. If you’re in the area, you can’t miss it. They also chalk encouraging messages onto the path, which is great. Weather was cool and damp, and probably tends to the humid in the summer, but it would be a pleasure to give it a go then, too. But there’s a new parkrun at Redmond in the offing, and a putative one in Portland, which is likely to keep me busy on a future visit.

The team retire to a cafe in Renton, post run, but I had a couple of buses to catch, down to Olympia, so left them to it, jogging back along the trail to the hotel. Such a pleasure to be able to roll out of bed at 8am and head for a 9am start. It could catch on.

Amtrak from Vancouver to the US

I have done much of this trip before, riding from Bellingham down to Olympia, so had seen many of the views. New, though, was crossing the border, and riding the train from the dark into the sun rise.

Travellers need an ESTA and an I-94. The wikipedia page on visa requirements for UK citizens suggests an ESTA is needed if arriving by air or cruise ship, but you will be asked if you have one before being allowed to head to customs.

The train was due to leave at 6:35, so I (as suggested on the ticket) got to the station at 5:30, to go through customs. With the train less than half full, that was arguably too early, and the whole thing was a breeze. First Amtrak staff check your ticket, then a second line check your passport and ask if you have an ESTA. Then it is on – and this is before you get on the train – to US immigration, who do the usual checks. I wasn’t asked anywhere near as many questions as last time I crossed by land. But then, last time I wasn’t sure how long I was staying and had no ticket out. This time, although casual, one of the early questions was “what are you doing in the US?” and in reply, I said I was there for 6 days to do some running. Although that was more info than asked for, possibly my having said as much meant he didn’t feel the need to ask for more.

Watery view from the train
Watery view from the train.

I didn’t have to show any proof of my flight out of the US, nor did he ask about it. I did need my wits about me when it came to the I-94, though. It is only $6, and you can just pay that at the time. The website suggests you pay cash, but crossing via car, card payments were taken, and maybe the same is true here. You can, however, apply for a provisional I-94, paying online, and I’d done that. But he either didn’t check, or missed any automatic “wait! This person has paid!” notification. No harm done, I just said I had paid online, and showed my confirmation. Without the latter, though, I might have had to pay again. Plus when I said I had paid online, they assumed I meant the ESTA, poor confused tourist.

Sun rise, seen through the train
Sun rise, seen through the train.

It was easy, anyway. The train stops at the border for another check. There are warnings that you must be in your seat and not wearing headphones. Pay attention! There are enough officers that if they want to ask questions, they could, but on my carriage at least, they checked passports and moved on.

Sun rise in Washington
Sun rise in Washington.

The train rolled down the coast, right next to it much of the time. The sun rose just a little way into the journey, which was lovely. The views are at their best early on and when moving around Seattle, but it is a journey you could pass by staring out of the window.

Blurry view of the water
Blurry view of the water.

I even took better pictures as the time went by. The weather was entertaining. Bright and clear in Canada, thick fog once we were in the US, then that cleared, only to return a little later. So there might have been great views early on, too, though I am fairly sure the fog was sitting over farmland.

View over Puget Sound
View over Puget Sound.
Boat moving away from the train, WA
Boat moving away from the train, WA.

It is a lovely way to travel. If you want just to head to Seattle, Bolt Bus are cheaper, but I only paid $33, and that’s a pretty good bargain for a relaxed ride through the US countryside, and the best way to get to intermediate stops.

Delaware and Raritan Canal parkrun, NJ, USA

Delaware and Raritan Canal parkrun route
Delaware and Raritan Canal parkrun route – straightforward out and back.

The US is seeing a welcome boom in parkrun events – at the time of writing, event 25 is about to start, and that number will soon seem very small. For now, though, there is only one event near New York, and that is this one. It’s Southwest, even of Newark (where I stayed, and quite an edgy place) and needs a bit of transport planning. Some people drive, of course, and the locals have got you covered – check the event’s Facebook page and you’ll find a regular weekly call out for those travelling from New York, who will be directed to a volunteer who can pick them up from New Brunswick or another station.

It worked for us, anyway, with three of us getting picked up after the train pulled in at 8:11 (back of the train, John, was the instruction I didn’t get, but it’s not that far from one end of the platform to the other).

If you’re driving or getting a taxi/Lyft, parking lot F is the key thing to know. Colonial park is a big one, and it’s a fair way from other parking lots. So long as you know that, there’s your warm up. But if timing is tight, as it was for one of our number, thanks to Uber delays, you’ll want the near parking area.

The welcome was warm, with Rory, the Irish event director, a serial event-starter and hugely experienced volunteer (this is an understatement). The weather was warm but not too hot – the sort of humidity that British people call “muggy” when they mean “keeping us nicely warm”, rather than what I’ve seen in DC recently, which was “hot”.

The bridge, parkrun flag to the foreground. Finish is to the right.
The bridge – start on the far side. Finish towards the camera, turning left (right in the photo).

The course is as easy as you could hope for; a straightforward 2.5k out and back, albeit you start on the far side of a bridge, then cross it at the end and turn immediately left for the finish. Normally there would be a turn-around marshal, but even without one, knowing that “if you hit a road, you’ve gone too far – turn around by going round (not in front of!) the gate before the road” it is so simple even I could follow it on my own.

Fast, flat, scenic. It’s a lovely run! There is even water on both sides, with a river and a canal, but I didn’t spot that on my right. Kate jibed me for it, but admitted she hadn’t spotted the second set till the 3rd time she ran here.

The finish line
The finish line.

Post run, coffee and breakfast is at a cafe up the road; it’s easy to find if you get a lift, check the address or follow someone. I chose the former, and the food was good, chat flowed and the prices were reasonable. You don’t even have to have an enormous breakfast, so fear not.

Me, finishing D&R parkrun
Me, finishing.

Philadelphia, Rodin museum and the Museum of Art

The Rodin museum has plenty of sculptures outside, so if you don’t fancy paying to go in, you can see several things. Most were cast in bronze after Rodin’s death, which was always the plan, and there are a few (but a limited number) of each, so you may see a Thinker elsewhere. To go in, pay what you want – suggested donation $10, no criticism offered if you pay less.

The Museum of Art is a huge draw in the city. On a Wednesday evening, 5-8:45 (and first Sunday of the month, 10am-5pm), you can pay what you want in order to enter; otherwise it is $20 for two days’ entry. There’s a lot to see, and lots of different types of art, from paintings through furniture, homewares and armour, so spreading your visit out makes sense. I felt a little overwhelmed from the sheer variety of forms, let alone the amount of stuff, but did wander through most of the museum. It’s a bit of a maze in places – it is worth picking up a map!

Meanwhile, outside.

View of Philadelphia from the Museum of Art
View of Philadelphia from the Museum of Art.
Sculpture of the Free Library's founder
Sculpture of the Free Library’s founder.

On Thursday evening I took myself off to the theatre. I couldn’t find a play, but a musical at the Walnut Street Theatre was a fair substitute. The lowest-priced tickets are $25 – buy them at the theatre to avoid high online surcharges. If the theatre isn’t full then the floor manager will invite people to move forwards. Otherwise those cheap seats are right at the back. It is a relatively small theatre but still, further forward is way better. It may not be Broadway, but the performance – and singing – was of an extremely high standard.

Outside views of Philadelphia, PA

I spent four days in the eminently walkable, artsy and sophisticated city of Philadelphia. It boasts great museums, albeit not free ones, and the Museum of Art has the ‘Rocky Steps’ (that is, the steps up which Rocky ran in the film, like).

Day 1; walking from the station to Apple Hostels, then to the waterfront and finding happy hour in the Olde Bar.

Philadelphia is also the ‘home’ of independence, hosting the building in which both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were signed. Visiting Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell is free. The former needs you to collect a timed ticket from the Independence Visitor Centre (which is a shortish walk away, but not right next door). On day 2, we visited both of those places.

Day 3. Love Park, sculptures and statues.

Day 4. Docks, museums and Boathouse Row.

Fletcher’s Cove parkrun, DC, USA

Fletcher's Cove parkrun route
Fletcher’s Cove parkrun route – straightforward out and back.

I was promised a fast and flat course at Fletcher’s Cove (by people who ran at Kensington last weekend), and was not disappointed. Other than the 180 degree turn around, there’s little to impede a quicker run here. That said, the towpath isn’t that wide, and training groups use it, as do cyclists, so it would certainly be possible to get momentarily stuck. It worked for me.

Potomac river, seen from a bridge
Potomac river, seen from a bridge.

I ran to the start from Falls Church, a straightforward 5 miles with some hills to keep me working. The end of that run took me over a bridge, with a great view of the Potomac, and then along the path, dovetailing with the ‘back’ section of the out and back parkrun course.

Riverside path; the whole run is on this
Riverside path; the whole run is on this.

As you can see from the picture, it’s not a tarmacced course, but it’s pretty hard-packed.

Canoes at Fletcher's Cove boathouse
Canoes at Fletcher’s Cove boathouse.

The meeting point is near Fletcher’s Cove boathouse, with runners mostly congregating near the car park and on the bridge. For the briefing, they move you off the path, down some steps, nearer the canoes above, which is smart – it keeps us all out of the way of other path users till we actually need it. Event director Andreas was chatty and friendly, happily talking about how he found parkrun, and was intrigued because it fit with the social network growth in which he had a professional interest.

Fletcher's Cove sign
Fletcher’s Cove sign – right near the start.

There are buses to near the start, Google told me, not that I took them; if you want to use the metro, then Rosslyn is a nice 5km jog away. I ran back that way, post-social at the ‘Black Coffee’ shop a short walk away from the start/finish area. It’s a great spot, and the (gluten-free) brownie I had was a cut above.

Finish line, parkrun
Finish line, parkrun.

As for the run, it was organised like clockwork, fast at the very front, and people seemed to happily find a place to spread out along what otherwise would be a congested footpath. I had a decent run, and it was a coolish day, though the DC mugginess was still in full effect to make it a sweaty experience, even in mid September. At the finish, those  runners who wanted to stand around and chat did so on the bridge and around the finish area, which is nicely organised so that everyone else can still use the trail.

Start/finish section of the path
Start/finish section of the trail.

I had the bonus of meeting Mark Broomfield, a US-based ambassador for the Comrades ultra-marathon, who entertained us all over coffee: “Ok, ok, last story” was his catchphrase, and we kept persuading him (or he persuaded us, I forget) to let him make it the penultimate, every time.

View from the bridge into Rosslyn
View from the bridge into Rosslyn.

As the sun appeared, it was a still more sweaty run into Rosslyn, though I had the benefit of bumping into Nick Young, event director at Roosevelt Island parkrun, just as I got near the metro station, so ended my morning as I had begun it – talking about runners and running. It’s a great parkrun community in DC, spread across the city thanks to their having several runs for you to try. Highly recommended, but do try and stay for at least a couple of Saturdays so as to experience different runs and groups.

Me, on the run - it was hot, spot the sweat!
Me, on the run – it was hot, spot the sweat!

Cascade Falls and Barney’s Wall, Pembroke, USA

For our final day in Virginia, we aimed lower, with the prospect of a 6-mile round trip, taking in a waterfall and whatever Barney’s Wall is sounding ideal. In the end, it was a 7-mile walk, and we couldn’t park at Cascade Falls themselves, as all such locations had been officially closed in case of flash flooding from Hurricane Florence. With the hurricane not due in to this area till the day after, though, parking on the road ahead of the (closed) car park wasn’t a great risk, and we wandered into the park.

After I had taken pictures of more bits of Woods Hole hostel, mind; including the goats, of whom we had heard, but previously seen no evidence.

Goats, Woods Hole hostel
Goats, Woods Hole hostel.
View from Woods Hole hostel
View from Woods Hole hostel.
Logbook, Woods Hole hostel
Logbook, Woods Hole hostel.
Logbook cover, Woods Hole hostel
Logbook cover, Woods Hole hostel.

Cascade Falls is only a couple of miles from the car park, and worth the walk, though in places the ascent is pretty steep (on a decent path).

Cascade Falls
Cascade Falls, Pembroke, USA.

From there, head upwards and right, onto the Conservancy trail, and there’s more to explore. Much more, in fact, though we just headed the mile and a half to Barney’s Wall – there is a sign not far from the falls.

Funky red and white mushroom

View from Barney's Wall
View from Barney’s Wall.

Barney’s Wall gives a great view out over a valley. The wall itself is a great rock cliff off to the right. But you’ll have to trust me that it’s there, because I took no photos.

View from Barney's Wall
View from Barney’s Wall – a clear day!

Just look at it. A clear, sunny day. Not noticeably hotter than the previous two, just much better for looking out over the world.

Me, standing on the rock
I did look at the view. Then at the camera.

By evening, we were in Roanoke. The city seems quaint enough. Our taxi driver from a few nights before reckoned they got few tourists, but the place has a huge theatre, plenty of places to eat and drink, and a nice atmosphere about it.

Roanoke, sculpture
Roanoke, sculpture.

Plus we stumbled upon Oriental House, 125 Campbell Avenue SE, which was a total bonus. The owner, Peter, 74, was happy to promise us good food, which had me totally sold. And he delivered on it. If he promises his Pad Thai is really good, just believe him.

Roanoke city centre
Roanoke city centre.

Appalachian trail, Woods Hole to Pearisburg.

A second day on the Appalachian Trail, this time walking from Woods Hole hostel to Pearisburg, a small town nearby. Although there was similar cloud cover for this day, we were very grateful that Hurricane Florence wasn’t about to interrupt, and for an almost complete lack of rain during the day – the greenery was wet through where it had rained at night, and that rain had left our safari tent feeling damp. It is still highly recommended, mind.

Plus the terrain was varied, from mud pack to rocks, which made the walk seem more varied even without views from most of the viewpoints. We stopped at three different ones, each with views like those below.

A different viewpoint, with the same cloudy outcome.

Like the apocalypse is coming, right?

A moment later, view blocked.

Lunch had better views, though they varied from moment to moment, as clouds moved through the valley. At one point they lifted to show hills in the distance, too, which was exciting.

The clouds clear to show the valley.
Cloud obscuring the whole view – it varied from moment to moment.

And then, at other moments the whole thing was blocked.

Emma, me, swirly cloud
Selfie on the trail.
View over the valley, as the cloud swirls.

Walking further along the trail, heading SE, took us through green and pleasant views. And we realised – it was bright! The sun was out!

There is almost certainly an interesting bird in this photo. But it may not be visible – picking out small objects is not the phone’s forte.
Photo of the photographer
Angel’s rest viewpoint.
A view – the sky had cleared by the time we got to Angel’s Rest.
Snake on the trail – I didn’t see it and stepped straight over.

Although people talk about spotting bears, the wildlife we saw was all small. This snake was a highlight, though I just walked straight over it, only realising when Emma stopped for a photo. Probably it is making some very threatening pose towards the position I had just left. Totally wasted, given I was behind it.

Green carpet and trees.

More variety in the view, as we descended into Pearisburg. It’s a fairly steep descent in places, though given we did it after heavy rain through the night, it would take more serious conditions before it actually got hairy. Still worth having shoes you can trust, mind you.

Dismal Falls.

And so we were picked up by Neville, the hostel owner, in town, and taken to The Dairy Queen for an ice cream. We were picking up another walker on the other side of a couple of mountains, so got to road-trip further round, visiting Dismal Falls into the bargain. As the name might suggest, they aren’t dramatic, but pretty enough, with spaces to wander through and explore the grounds around.

Rock formation by Dismal Falls.
Dismal Falls – not a review, that’s the name.
Dismal falls.

We headed back to the hostel, and paid the extra to have dinner. The place is renowned for its food, in fact, promise of which draws many walkers in. We were joined by three older gents just as we were on the verge of serving up – although Neville does the cooking, help is semi-compulsory for the ‘communal dinner’ – but the food stretched and fresh company only added to the gaiety. It’s a lovely place to stop. Neville is so used to people walking bits of the trail that it isn’t a place to head to just to chill out, unless you want to be warding off many suggestions as to places to get to each day. But for tired walkers, it’s nirvana.

Woods Hole hostel, near Pearisburg.

Appalachian Trail, McAfee’s Knob (twice)

I was due to fly out of the US on the 10th Sept, but a bonus opportunity to explore part of the Appalachian trail came up, so I took it. A few days later, and here I am; parked in a car park near McAfee’s Knob, which is the most-photographed part of the trail, apparently. We walked up over the hill, down the other side and back again, a total of 11 miles from the car park near Catawba, though it only needs to be an 8 or so mile round trip to get to the top.

Appalachian trail, en route to McAfee's Knob
Appalachian trail, en route to McAfee’s Knob.

The weather was warm, still with some of the humidity that the East Coast sees well into September, but not boiling hot. Shorts and t-shirt, and trainers to walk in, covered all we needed.

Appalachian trail, with big rocks.

This first day’s walk probably wasn’t the highlight. With cloud cover, there wasn’t much to see once the terrain cleared, and most of the trail leading there was tree-lined, like the above. Still lovely, mind, but without dramatic views, once we were away from the road (which took a good kilometre or more of walking, partly because the trail wound its way upwards from the start) it was mostly a pleasant nature walk rather than feeling like one of the world’s great trails.

McAfee’s knob, on a cloudy day.

You can’t miss the rocky outcrops of McAfee’s Knob. But with clouds swirling, you might miss the valley below. At least it let those of us with an aversion to heights feel a certain sense of security; unable always to see how far down the bottom of the valley was, we were free to pose on the rocks for photos.

Emma spots a hole in the cloud cover.
McAfee’s knob and me. But no view.
Shrugging at McAfee’s Knob.

We hung around and ate lunch, but with no break in the clouds, eventually we moved off. Halfway down the hill, a break in the trees let us see that the sky looked clearer. A couple coming the other way were hustling to make it to the top while it was clear. And their instinct was right – by the time we turned and made it back up, the cloud was thicker, if anything.

Cloud swirling in the valley. It did clear for a little while – we were in between viewpoints.
Rock formation, entertaining to wander through.

Without views, the highlights of the day were the rocks that crop up along the route. Many and varied. I am no geologist, so that’s all I have to say about that. But they look good.

Rock formation and me.
Appalachian trail parking. And sign.

Kensington parkrun, DC, USA

Kensington parkrun route
Kensington parkrun route – out and back x2

In to DC, out again on the red line, for me, to Grosvenor-Strathmore metro station and then, because I had time, a walk of a couple of kms to the start, past friendly people out walking with their kids, or exercising in the area. I had the choice of several parkruns which all involved trips of similar lengths – College Park and Anacostia were just as doable – but this, on a trail (which in the US usually means a concrete path, but hey, they decided to just use the words differently so that’s their problem) appealed to me for some reason.

Group photo, Kensington parkrun
Group photo (before the start), Kensington parkrun.

That reason, if I’m honest, is that first place is often a bit slower here than elsewhere. Didn’t help me, I finished third. But that’s the honest reason. I was immediately glad I had headed this way, though, meeting Ron, a 70-something, much travelled – some military, some for marathons – and entirely new to parkrun. We chatted happily. And here he is.

Ron and me, by the parkrun flag and turnaround cone
Ron and me, by the parkrun flag and turnaround cone.

The cone on the right in the photo is stuck in the middle of the path once you’re off and running. The course is a double out and back, so it’s 1.25km out, turn around a (different, unloved and unphotographed) cone, back to the start, round the cone with which you are now familiar, back up the course and then finish on the grass off to the right (as you run – on the left in the photo). The turnarounds alone are enough to add a few seconds to anyone’s time, though I am going to claim that I added extra by dancing round one of them, as below.

Slowing for the turnaround
Slowing (dancing?) for the turnaround.

It isn’t the easiest course, undulating throughout and with one tough hill on the way out – though I confess it didn’t seem as tricky the second time round, when I wasn’t racing anyone at that point (more to the point – the first time out I was being outpaced up the hill by a bloke I had passed on the flat). The path is a great surface, tarmacced the whole way, but despite pacing a little better than last week, I still couldn’t quite get under 20. It’s a lovely run, though, with lots of support (“Go runner!”) from other parkrunners.

The gentlemen talk running after the event
The gentlemen talk running after the event.

I thoroughly enjoyed it. The sun wasn’t out, and last night’s extended thunderstorms had taken the edge off the weather, but it was still humid (if you’ve not been to DC in August/September, be warned; it is fierce). A first for me on this trip – cool weather, with sweaty running. Another thoroughly recommended parkrun, just don’t expect your fastest time.

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