Roosevelt Island parkrun, DC, USA

Roosevelt Island parkrun route
Roosevelt Island parkrun route. The loop at the bottom left saves some congestion, but it is mostly an out and back.

My seventh parkrun in the US, and first in DC. Roosevelt island is an obvious one for tourists to head to, being on an entirely traffic and cycle free island, and a scenic one, to boot. Staying nearby, I didn’t even have to think about getting there, as I was given a lift to the Key Bridge Marriott just over the river. Of course, I then nearly ballsed it up, running over the first footbridge then forgetting what I was doing. Why am I not on an island? Is that the river I want? The first footbridge, to explain, takes you over the George Washington Memorial parkway (very clearly not a river, but I was on a bridge, and not paying attention), and drops you on to the riverside. You then head along a little way on the Mt Vernon trail (and it is a little way) and cross the bridge to the island itself. From there, a sign took me to the start.

250-parkrun t-shirts
The event director didn’t think they’d seen a 250 shirt before – then today, they got 2.

So, right, idiot. Still, I was there in time, and what else matters? The event director was all excited to see me – he had just welcomed Kevin, their first (he said; I haven’t checked) 250 shirt wearer, and then up I pop. One more needed for the “like buses” ‘joke’, but that did not happen today.

Run briefing
Run briefing.

The route is on the sort of surface you can see above – hard packed, with a few loose stones, maybe the odd tree root sticking up a little, and one or two areas to be slightly careful of your footing round a pothole. It isn’t exactly hilly, nor exactly flat, so never quite lets you go. After 3+ weeks without running, I was feeling frisky, went off too fast, had a halfway decent first mile and discovered the limits of my fitness, to my great chagrin. But no matter, it’s a lovely run. On a hot, humid DC day, the trees at least gave some respite from the sun, and the out and back course allows participants to see each other and offer support and smiles. Afterwards, I chatted with a couple of Irishmen who were on their way home later in the day – one to run a 10-miler straight off the plane. He had also completed all the marathon majors, and in under 3 hours each, which gives him membership of an exclusive club. I don’t wish to stereotype, but he seemed to be very lucky with travel – on two trips that work have organised for him this year, he has looked to see if he could run a marathon or similar on the set weekend, only to find that, yes, it is in fact their major marathon weekend.

The luck of the parkrunner.

DC has several parkruns, and they are generally pretty easy to get to from public transport (so long as, in some cases, you’re happy to walk or run a mile or two at the end), but Roosevelt Island will carry on being right up there for tourists.

3 days on a train – Amtrak, Portland-DC

Straight up, I will admit to a fib. This trip should have been 3 days on two trains. 2 days to go from Portland to Chicago, then a tight 1h45m connection onto a different train, and into Washington the next day. I had only made a provisional booking in DC, reasoning that the connection might be too tight.

Sunset in Montana
Sunset in Montana.

America is a huge country, with a large railway system, but one which is far from serving everywhere. The route I took, across the top of the country via Montana and North Dakota, stops at some very small places, ignoring some larger ones to the South – though you can connect to them via buses. This quirk, though all a part of the massively wasteful ‘drive to here, errand, drive to there, errand, drive to this friend, drive to that friend’ American lifestyle, means that the trains are an oddity, and that makes for a great atmosphere. On each train I have been on, conductors have walked the length of the train, chatting and laughing with passengers, making jokes and generally keeping people entertained. They will even wander through after a few hours just to check if “everyone alright down here?” It’s pretty great, and even the reported presence of a screamer in the observation car, and people getting on the train in the early hours and chatting, couldn’t spoil it.

Food given to me
Food, and bag, given to me by kindly fellow passengers.

I had the cheapest possible ticket, $186 to go across the country in coach. Those seats are massive, and the leg room is enormous, but it still isn’t a patch on a sleeper. That said, I was lucky enough to have no one next to me for the first couple of nights (other than a sketchy lady, but she occupied her journey by walking the length of the train, seeing if anyone would front her money on the promise of taking a loaded debit card from her) and so with the leg rests (yes!) stretched, I could curl onto a makeshift bed. The seats recline, but that doesn’t suit me so well.

Murals in a small town
Murals in a small town.

I was right in the mood for the trip. I think you have to be, really, otherwise it must seem an awfully long time. As it was, with power available at the seat, plenty of time to use and a big bag of food from Safeway in Portland – which is only a few minutes’ walk from Union Station – I was set, and pitied the people who got off a mere 6 hours later.

I was mostly happy at my seat, though I did get a reassuringly expensive can of Budweiser from the cafe – 330ml, $5.50 and sit in the observation car. If you want to talk and have quiet neighbours, that car or making a reservation for lunch/dinner will probably sort you out. Plus people are generally up for chatting. An Amish girl got on halfway through, and did not join in with the conductor’s light-hearted “Broken arm? Have you been taking on the boys?” but talked for a little while with a gentleman who walked past with a coffee and stopped to ask her about the different religious groups in the area. It’s okay to talk – I will miss that, back in the UK.

As Thursday morning passed, I realised we were some way behind schedule. We’d stopped in the night, and there was an ambulance parked outside. “Oh, probably someone died,” said one of my neighbours. Then floods in Wisconsin meant there was some doubt over whether we’d get through, communicated by the train’s announcer emphasising that “we are being told that we will get through”. Well, yes. None of us had doubted it until you seemed to. At any rate, that was a slow bit, and then we screeched to a halt in Pewaukee, with a couple of policemen mooching past the train to check something out.

All of that added up to that Chicago connection being too tight. And that was hugely to my benefit. Announcements assured us that Amtrak would be on the case, but wouldn’t decide much till we got to Milwaukee. I received my new ticket, for the same train on the next day, long before that, via email. Then when we arrived – 3-4 hours late – I joined a queue at passenger services to be offered a room at Swissotel, taxis there and back (no thanks – under 2 miles, I’ll have a walk in Chicago – I was one of the first off the train, early in the queue, so was still at the hotel by 9.15pm) and a $10 food voucher for the station’s food court. All in all, that’s the cost of my ticket returned. Plus it made for a much better itinerary, with a proper bed for the night and a day to wander round Chicago’s waterfront in the sun. Had I booked that itinerary, though, I’d have paid for the hotel stay, and probably more for a split ticket, too. A huge bonus.


WA – Nooksack falls, Bagley Lake loop, Artist Point and the Old Growth forest

Thanks to generous hosts, I had use of a car for a couple of days. They have just returned from their own travels – we met in Laos – so didn’t fancy more sightseeing, and I was free to make my own way to the area around Mt Baker. I had a list of highlights to see, though, so got on with it.

First up, the Ranger station. There are a few info boards, though the most useful things are the machine to allow you to pay for a permit ($5 per day) and the chance to get a map. A chance I forwent, while a ranger was occupied explaining how to get to Nooksack falls in great detail to a nervous visitor, but still.

Douglas Fir, Ranger station, Glacier town
Douglas Fir, Ranger station, Glacier town.

Nooksack falls are easy to find, and a short stroll from the car park. The falls are pretty, the colour of the water above them even more so.

Nooksack falls
Nooksack falls.
Green river above Nooksack falls
Green river above Nooksack falls.

I was directed to Artist Point, at the top of the road up, but stopped earlier than that, and walked round parts of the Wild Goose, Bagley Lakes and Chain Lakes trails.

Bagley Lakes loop
Bagley Lakes loop.
Bagley Lakes loop
Bagley Lakes loop.
View out over the valley
View out over the valley.

Smoke and clouds in the air

The smoke, from wildfires in Canada, was clearer, but sun intermittent and clouds in sight.

Me and the rocks
Me and the rocks.
Clouds low on the mountains
Clouds low on the mountains.

It is possible to walk up to Artist Point, but I drove and just walked a few kms around and up. The views, despite the clouds hiding Mt Baker itself (other than sun reflecting off snow in one place), were fabulous.

View South from my highest point
View South from my highest point, Artist Point.
Ski area, Heather Meadows
Ski area, Heather Meadows. Which sounds like a person’s name, and must be, but here is the place name, too.
Picture lake
Picture lake. 500m to stroll round it. Wild blueberries all over.
Old-growth forest
Old-growth forest. Just before (N)/after (S) mile marker 44.

Walking from Fairhaven to Bellingham, Washington State

Performing Arts, WWU
Performing Arts, Western Washington University
View from WWU, Bellingham
View from WWU, Bellingham.
Flower bed, WWU
Flower bed, WWU.
Alternative library, Bellingham
Alternative library, Bellingham.
Berry, USA
Berry, USA.
Tree with mirror squares attached
Tree with mirror squares attached, Sehome.
Community garden, alternative library, Bellingham
Community garden, alternative library, Bellingham.
Sehome hill arboretum trail
Sehome hill arboretum trail.
Fairhaven runners, shop
Fairhaven runners, shop.

Fairhaven waterfront

Bench! Fairhaven
Bench! Fairhaven.
Dog pub, Fairhaven
Dog pub, Fairhaven.
Fairhaven marine park
Fairhaven marine park.

Fairhaven marine park

Dog pub, Fairhaven
Dog pub, Fairhaven.
Fairhaven mural
Fairhaven mural.
Eclipse bookstore
Eclipse bookstore, a haven of old and new books.
Back of Eclipse books
Back of Eclipse books – a deck.
Sunset over an info block
Sunset over an info block.

Sunset, boulevard parkJazz on the boulevard, Bellingham

Seagulls sit on posts
Seagulls sit on posts, coastal railway in background.
Orange ball in the sky
Orange ball in the sky (camera makes it white).

Orange sun reflection over the sea

Coastal trail, Bellingham
Coastal trail, Bellingham.
A deer emerged from under the boardwalk.
McDonald's light table - touch sensitive
McDonald’s light table – touch sensitive.

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.

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