Utah Trip Preparation

When planning for Arizona I’d come up with the idea of a road trip from San Francisco to Yosemite National Park, and then down into Nevada. The first two places were about the only parts of California I’d not visited after having been to the state first for Comic Con, and then later for a Big Sur road trip. There were a few National Parks in Utah that one of my friends wanted to visit as well so combining our ideas resulted in what we thought might be a good trip.

As we planned more of this we decided we’d leave out the section of the trip that would go through Nevada, and instead fly from San Francisco to Salt Lake City once we’d done Yosemite. This meant we’d have more time in the National Parks, and less time driving. I had hoped we could fit in a visit to Antelope Canyon which we’d missed whilst in Arizona, but unfortunately it didn’t quite fit with the time we had.

My passport was damaged in Arizona, and after being questioned about this when I went to Nepal I decided I’d need to get that sorted. This also meant a new ESTA was required before I could fly out, but other than that everything was fairly easy to book. Most things were booked only a couple of months before, as it never felt like we needed to rush. We’d even pre-booked a four hour tour of Alcatraz to make sure we’d see as much of the island as possible.

For this trip I’d decided to get a new travel tripod – Manfrotto Befree Carbon. This meant it’d now be easier to carry a tripod around with me so would more likely make use of it, and would open up possibilities during the road trip.

I did a little research before the trip to see where would be good to run, and what other sights we could see whilst in San Francisco. I hoped we’d get to cross the Golden Gate Bridge as I heard there were good views from a lighthouse in Marin County.

The only downside as far as planning was concerned, was that the exchange rate for Pound Sterling to US Dollars had plummeted. There was no sign of it recovering either which meant the trip would be more expensive than we’d hoped.

Coventry Half Marathon 2017

I’ve not had a brilliant track record with attempting this race. In 2015 I wanted to do this, but it clashed with another race I was doing. In 2016 I actually entered the race, but couldn’t train at the time the race happened due to flu which was at it’s worse around the day of the race. It then looked like this race wasn’t going to be going ahead in 2017 after there was talk of the race organisers not having renewed their contract – but fortunately it did.

The weekend before this race I did a 22 mile run – the longest run before my second attempt at the Great Manchester Marathon. This meant that this race would become part of a taper towards the marathon, without easing off the effort too much. In recent weeks there had been a lot of rain, and the temperatures were inconsistent making it difficult to decide what kit to use.

I didn’t even know what pace to try and aim for. A year ago I was running 10 miles in 64 minutes and I’d hoped to PB at this distance in the near future. Now, I’m not quite back there, yet I felt even if I couldn’t hit the time I wanted last year that I might just be able to improve upon my 91 minute PB. On the drive to Coventry I thought some more about this and decided that as I’d been told it was a flat course, and the race briefing suggested it was all down hill except for one hill, I might just try sub-90. If there was only one hill, then to account for all the down hill sections it talked about it must be a pretty sharp hill.

When I arrived in Coventry the parking was quick and easy, and was also free due to the parking meter not working. I decided to warm up by jogging slowly over to the race village, which is where I wandered around until I was spotted by William and Colin. We then stood talking inside the nearby coffee shop until 35 minutes before the race when we parted ways to get ready. I joined the toilet queue, but by the time it was my turn they’d run out of paper – so instead headed over to the race start.

I made it to the race start with about 5 minutes to spare, but the starting area was that crowded I had to start about 10 metres behind the 90 minute pacer. There was promise this was going to be a fast race with how many people were looking at sub-90. This made my mind up – I’d attempt to stick with the pacer for the entire race.

When the race started though the pacer was off like a rocket and covered the first mile in about 06:30. I hadn’t anticipated sub-90 meaning quite that much pace as I’d been expecting to be a little slower. As I was losing ground on the pacer I decided to speed up in the second mile, and somehow overtook him. Whilst he was behind me I heard a noise from about 10-15 metres behind and noticed that a runner was getting back after having fallen over. I couldn’t be sure, but I think the flag on the pacer’s backpack had caught the wind and blown him over.

For the remainder of the second mile, I stayed in front of the pacer thinking that I was now going at around the same pace as he was. Part way into the third mile though I felt a runner run straight into the back of me – kicking my feet, and then barging through. I had no idea why he’d done that – although there were runners either side of me, he could have got passed by going around them. There was space!

During the third mile I started to get warm and was regretting wearing a compression layer under my t-shirt. Eventually the pacer caught up with me whilst I was still doing 6:40min/mile pace and over took me. I knew I couldn’t maintain the pace he was going at and so I realised I wouldn’t be getting the sub-90 time I’d hoped for. I started to calculate paces in my head and thought to myself that for a sub-90 time I only needed to maintain 6:50min/mile, but maybe I’d miscalculated. Or maybe the pacer knew something I didn’t and was going quicker now to make up for time that would be lost later.

Before reaching the 4 mile marker I suddenly found myself going up hill. It came as a bit of a surprise as on Twitter I’d been told it was a “flat PB course”, and the only hill of mention in the notes was one around mile 8-9. I knew strong winds were a possibility, but hadn’t expected more than one hill so I quickly slowed to a walk briefly before running up the hill. At the top of the hill I found I was starting to overheat so slowed to a walk once more so I could take off my compression layer. Just before I was ready the course then started to go back down hill, before repeatedly going up hill over the next four miles. These miles were hard work and between them and the wind I didn’t think I could run them – I was soon walking more and more.

By this point I couldn’t imagine how far in front the sub-90 pacer must be, but I’d assumed he’d slowed the pace considerably by now. I was certain the quicker miles at the start were to account for a steady 4 mile up-hill section. It may have been a relatively flat course compared to one such as the Nepal Marathon which is on a mountain, but I was certainly not prepared to call this one flat.

More or less immediately after the mile 8 marker it was then a steady down hill, with the exception of a loop down one road where you run down it, then up it. Half way down this road I did see the sub-90 pacer coming the opposite way and I calculated that I was a few minutes behind. I’d hoped that as it looked like it would be down hill for a while that I’d now run all the way to the finish – this was not the case though as I found running back up that loop was more of a walk.

But from the time I reached the top I ran most of the way from there to the finish. There was one or two slight hills I walked up on the way, but not for long. In places I noticed that the wind had been that strong that it had blown over some of the road closure barriers, and a little down the road they sent a bike along the course to move us over as the cones were being blown over as well. When I saw the 13 mile marker it was a relief, but I couldn’t be bothered to sprint to the finish.

I crossed the finish line in position 240 out of 2876 finishers (first 8%), with a chip time of 1:34:45. It was quite a way off from my personal best, but I guess it could have been worse under the circumstances. Upon crossing the finish line I had to jump to the side to avoid a runner who had decided to come to a complete standstill less than half a metre from the finish line, but fortunately I wasn’t moving quickly.

At the exit to the finishers area they hand you a water bottle, and a carrier bag containing a finishers medal, leaflets, and a bar of something. I was that annoyed with myself I walked straight back to my car (having taken a wrong turn once whilst trying to find it) and didn’t look at the medal until hours after I’d gotten home.

It’s safe to say I won’t hit my target at the Greater Manchester Marathon in 13 days, but I’ll try my best to get as close to it as I can. Maybe later in the year I can find another half marathon to enter and improve on this, and maybe even get the sub-90 time I want.

Ashbourne 10 2017

I hadn’t raced since the Nepal Marathon during the previous year, and my hope was that I could have a winter of training that would help me get to the point where I could set new personal bests for each of the distances I run. The first of the races I hoped to PB at was the Ashbourne 10, though sadly I missed a lot of runs in January and February as training didn’t go to plan for one reason or another.

By the time the race day arrived I’d just about turned training back around but was nowhere near where I wanted to be. In fact, I had no idea what sort of pace I’d be able to sustain on the day. This was compounded even more when I saw the forecast was for wind and rain, and that it was going to be almost freezing out. I don’t mind running in the cold, and I don’t mind running when it’s raining – the two together though I’m not so keen on. It helps though if the rain doesn’t start until I’m already running as at least then I’ve had time to generate some body heat. I’d decided I couldn’t PB at this race and would instead take it as an easy training run.

On the way to Ashbourne it started to rain, and didn’t stop until I got home a few hours later. I arrived at the Ashbourne Leisure Centre a couple of hours before the race so stood around waiting for the race start, trying not to get too cold – I’d at least found a spot that sheltered me from the rain. The positioning of the leisure centre was good for race HQ as we’d be all be running along the Tissington Trail – a former railway line which cuts through the Derbyshire Dales. The route has a crushed limestone surface so my hope was that it wouldn’t be too bad.

Today there were multiple distances being raced concurrently so to start with they sent the 10 mile runners off. After another 5 minutes it was then the turn of the canicross runners along with 10K runners, and the finally the 5K runners behind us. During the race briefing everyone was told to keep to the left due as everyone would be doing an out and back route, no matter what the distance.

As the canicross runners had to start at the front of the 10K pack it meant I was on their heels immediately, but couldn’t easily pass them. Whilst standing outside, my prescription glasses which have reaction lenses went dark so that when we went through the tunnel at the start I couldn’t see a thing. A couple of runners had Saint John’s ambulance medics assisting them after falling off the path and twisting their ankles.

The trail then dips down and goes back up sharply – the only real hill during the entire route. A little after the initial dip I ran out onto the muddy embankment to pass the last of the canicross runners. I’d already found myself passing runners doing the 10 mile race as well and for the next 3 miles I found myself having to frequently run out onto the embankment, slipping and sliding across it, in order to pass runners that were in some cases running three or four abreast. Some would also run around onto the right-hand side, despite the notice during the race briefing, to avoid the puddles in the path.

I’d started off the race leaping over puddles to avoid getting my feet too wet as well, thinking they might blister, but after how muddy and wet they got whilst passing I eventually stopped leaping over puddles and just ran straight through them. Before I got to the turnaround point I’d started to think that instead of setting runners off by distance they’d have been better off sending the fastest 10 mile runners off first, and then after a few minutes send off the rest of the runners organised by expected pace. That way those doing the shorter distances, which usually allow for a faster pace, wouldn’t be hitting the back of those doing the longer runs.

I eventually lost count of the number of times I slipped on the embankment, but somehow I never got to the point of falling over completely. After the turnaround point the oncoming runners, for the most part, were more considerate and would move over to their left-hand side to let people pass. It started to become more fun, though it seemed strange to not be pushing myself in a race. As my Achilles tendon had been sore recently I didn’t want to risk it getting worse when I’d still got a 22 mile training run to do the following weekend.

Not long after the turnaround point I started to pass 5K runners travelling in the same direction as me though at this point there were very few of them. Eventually the oncoming runners stopped as well, so all that was left was the occasional 5K runner in front. Occasionally I could see another 10K runner in front of me, but I had no intention of trying to catch them up. I wanted an easy run, so much so I was actually wearing a hoodie and a disposable poncho to keep my top half dry. Of course though, me legs and particularly my feet were drenched. My toes had also gone numb, but I figured I’d only be out running for less than an hour so could cope with that. It was impressive how many people had turned up to brave the heavy rain in fact.

By the time I got back to the dip in the trail the rain had seemed to have slowed down. I decided not to risk going to fast on the downhill though – thinking that with it being wet I might slip. The up-hill bit was pretty muddy as I had to run across the mud again to overtake. I’d been waiting to see the tunnel again for ages on the return journey – but it was finally in front of me. Knowing I’d barely seen anything going through it the first time I looked ahead for silhouettes before entering it.

As I ran through the tunnel I came across some runners that were running the full width of the path and wouldn’t let anyone overtake. My only choice was to take a measured stride off the path and onto the gravel, speed passed them, and jump back onto the path. The timing was lucky though as a few seconds later I was around the mid-point of the tunnel where once again I couldn’t see a thing so kept running forwards and hoped for the best.

Eventually I was close enough to the exit for the path to be lit again, and around that point I started to wonder how far it was until the finish. I couldn’t remember how quickly we’d entered the tunnel on the way out, but I soon found that it wasn’t that far to the finish. As I reached the funnel to the finish I decided as my legs still felt fresh I might as well sprint to the finish to give them something to do. It didn’t last long, but it was faster than I’d run in months.

Crossing the finished I noticed that there were probably about a dozen people at most around, though a lot of them seemed to be 5K runners. I noticed one of them had a print-out of their time, so hoping that I’d made it into the first 10 I went over and got mine printed too.

I finished in chip position 4 with a time of 43:03. I was pretty shocked! I knew it had felt like an easy run, but my time suggested it was barely a steady run, and a minute slower than what I’d normally get through the first 10K of a 10 mile tempo training run in. There was a time not that long ago when this would have been a time that seemed unimaginable to me during a race, but things change.

What surprised me more was the position – even more so when I noticed I was the 2nd in my age category. In a proper race I’ve never come this close to a podium finish, and it gave me some hope that maybe one day it’ll be possible. Although not physically demanding, the race was tough mentally due to the rain and cold weather (it took a lot of effort to convince myself to run in this rain). I’m glad I did it, though now I’m thinking that it might be worth doing this again next year to race it properly.

Sadly the printed result was incorrect as when the official results were released I’d finished in position 6. I thought I was still quite a way from managing a podium finish, but then it was revealed that some runners had started with the wrong race. Once the results were updated to correct this my final position was determined – 2nd male, and 3rd overall. My first podium finish!

My next race should hopefully be the Coventry Half Marathon – I doubt I’ll be ready to run a PB there, but I’ll see what the legs feel like doing!

Nepal Day 14 – Everest

The final day had arrived with me getting up at 04:45 to be ready and outside the hotel for 05:30. I hadn’t intended to get up quite so early, but the noise in Kathmandu finishes late and starts early so not much chance for proper sleep. Good ear plugs is something I’d definitely recommend – unfortunately mine didn’t work great.

When we got to the airport we had to figure it out for ourselves. Fortunately I noticed in the small print of the ticket receipt which airline it was so was able to queue in the right place. Although our booked flight said 102, the one we were given tickets for was 100. It didn’t seem to matter though as in the departure hall there were multiple fights with Buddha Air all at the same time.

The scheduled flight time arrived, but they updated their PowerPoint presentation used for departure information to say it was awaiting a weather report. Apparently domestic flights are frequently cancelled or delayed depending on how much fog is about. This delay was only for 15 minutes, and although ours was the first in the list, when the time came ours was delayed a further 15 minutes and the others boarded. I started to keep a close eye on the time as each delay would eat into the time I’d have between flights.

By the time the plane finally took off it was 08:00 and the flight lasted for around an hour. To start with the left-hand side of the plane got to see the Himalayan mountain range including the all-important Everest. Whilst this was happening the other side got to visit the cockpit, and once the plane turned I was able to do the same. As my seat was at the front of the plane it also meant that I got in there quickly enough to see Everest from the cockpit which was quite cool!

Upon landing my only thought was making sure I got my luggage from the hotel to make it back to the airport in time. As my fight was scheduled for 13:05 (and delayed until 13:15) I wanted to be at the airport for 10:00, but Trek Nepal had insisted that I leave the hotel at 10:00 instead. They must do this a lot so it made sense to trust them, though I’d definitely feel more comfortable about it once checked in for the flight.

I was back at the hotel for 09:30 so quickly got my luggage moved to the lobby and found I’d got 15 minutes to have breakfast. As we were late having breakfast there wasn’t much left and what there was didn’t taste that appetising so had a few bits, a cup of tea and then made a move to check out. At this point the hotel said they’d just ordered the taxi and it’d be 15 minutes meaning I wouldn’t catch it until 10:15!

I waited and waited, but the taxi didn’t arrive until 10:25 – much later than had been agreed. It meant I wasn’t at the airport until 10:50 which gave me less time than normal. Fortunately it was still enough to go through airport security, check-in, and embarkation in plenty of time. The embarkation queue and form was far simpler and more organised than the visa on arrival. In fact, all of the departure area seemed more organised!

Before going through security I bought a Buddha statue for $12, and bought some lunch. For 1000 rupees I was able to get a chicken burger, snickers duo, and a can of Coca Cola. The burger was the most appealing of what they had, but still wasn’t great.

At 11:45 I started queueing for security and was surprised that they have a queue for men, and a queue for women. The queue for men was twice as long so they moved some of us into the business class queue which moved far quicker and I got through in 15 minutes. It was then a long wait, almost until the departure time, before a gate was announced. This was due to the plane getting in late and causing a 35 minute delay. When leaving the gate they pat you down one last time in case anything has changed since the last two security checks.

It was the second time I’d taken off on a flight from this airport in the space of 6 hours – it can’t be often that happens! During the flight I watched an episode of The Big Bang Theory, and then Now You See Me 2, Everest, Eddie the Eagle, and Birdman. It was a lot to watch but it helped me to keep my eyes open during the flight so it’d help with adjusting back.

The Everest film told of how during a tourist trip up to the summit the weather had turned and stranded people there – some people losing their life as a result. It was based on a true story and demonstrated just how difficult a climb it is. It also reminded me that after the marathon some had gone on a trek to it’s base camp.

There were two meals served during the flight, a chicken dinner early on, and then some sort of vegetable dish covered in grease about an hour before landing. I wasn’t keen on either which meant it’d worked out well that I’d had the chicken burger in the airport.

The eventual landing was just before 22:00 Nepal time, so around 19:15 local time. Before I could make my connecting flight I then had to get through security once more, a process that was now becoming tedious – four checks for the journey even though I’d got international transfers. Fortunately this last one didn’t have a queue.

On my way to the gate they made the first call for passengers for the flight so had to speed up getting across the airport. When I got there though there weren’t yet many people about so had probably put the message out to get people there early.

This flight was a little more comfortable than the last and again served some food I didn’t bother with. I spent the time on this flight watching episodes of The Big Bang Theory and the 5 hours seemed to pass in no time at all and I was back in the UK once more, and home after 26 hours of being awake.

It’d been quite an adventure over the past two weeks, and quite different from trips in the past. The organisation and execution of the first week had been amazing, and went well enough that I’d recommend an Impact Marathon Series race to anyone. It had been a chance to look closer at what the country was really like, and then in the second week to see more of the place, and do the sort of activities that tourists usually go there for. This was definitely an adventure in the Himalayas.

Nepal Day 13 – The Long Drive to Kathmandu

The long journey home began today after a 07:00 breakfast with a bus ride from Chitwan to Kathmandu. The bus left Chitwan at 08:30 and took almost an hour to get across the city. We then continued along the same road we’d arrived from Pokhara on a couple of days previous for a further 2 hours. This time though we were heading past the junction and on to Kathmandu.

Our first stop was a 10 minute one fair early on, if you exclude the stops we made to pick up extra passengers. At 12:00 we made a stop and it seemed this would be the only chance for a lunch stop so I bought a tube of pringles for 300 rupees as it seemed the best option, just not a very healthy one.

Unexpectedly we stopped 30 minutes later for a 30 minute break and on this one I photographed some monkeys in the tree there. The hotel owner next to these trees didn’t seem to like monkeys and threw a brick at them.

Later in the afternoon we made one final stop just 21km away from the city. This was another short break and at the time I thought it pointless, but when we reached the city limits we soon hit traffic and it took over an hour to get through.

Whilst in the queue I noticed one Nepali cleaning windows whilst standing on an upturned bucket, on a ledge over a four story drop. It wouldn’t have taken much for him to have fallen!

We finally got through the traffic and reached the final stop a 16:45, but this wasn’t the place we’d taken the bus from near Thamel originally and there was nobody from Trek Nepal to meet us either. We asked a taxi driver to take us there, but he had no idea where Mandala Street was so we had to walk 2.1km carrying bags and heavy suitcases. It was fortunate I had an offline map with me on my phone otherwise we’d have had no idea what to do.

At the Trek Nepal office they briefed us on what would be happening on the next day before telling us to go and check in to the hotel we’d been in at the start of this 7 day adventure.

Once checked in we looked around the shops for a while before meeting up with a couple of other marathoners for one last Nepali meal at the Electric Pagoda. I had a Himalayan Steak and apple pie – this together with a drink and tip cost me 1050 rupees, so was pretty cheap!

I packed one last time, and got some sleep ready for one last early start.

Nepal Day 12 – Chitwan Day 2

Breakfast today was served at 07:00 so I decided I’d get up at 06:45. For breakfast I had a couple of slices of “almost” toast and then had a cereal bar when I went back to the room.

The tours for the day started at 08:00 when we were driven to a place to board a dugout canoe. We took this along the river passing many mugger crocodiles as we went. Due to it being early morning there was also a kind of haze hovering above some of the water. The canoe itself seems to get very close to the riverbed in places, but I was pretty sure it was the light being refracted to make it look shallower. It’s also steered at the back by a guy with a big stick, something that kept dripping on me as he changed sides.

Eventually we got off the canoe and started a nature walk. This lasted for about an hour and we saw many termite mounds, a spotted deer, and a wild boar. Whilst hiking through the forest I did hear the sound of other wild boar once but didn’t get to see those. We also saw what the locals call “tree killer vine”, named such due to the way it takes the moisture away from the tree and kills it.

Once we’d finished this we walked to an elephant breeding centre where we first had to read the signs in an information centre. This told us things such as how at a very young age the elephants are taken away from their mother and have their food and water restricted. This form of torture effectively breaks them so they can then teach them to be beasts of burden. The torture of these animals doesn’t stop there though, it then described how they’re burnt and washed to desensitise the skin and how they can sustain injuries during training.

After reading this we were then shown the elephants in captivity with the older ones chained up by the foot, no longer able to roam like their instincts tell them to. I saw one calf also chained up, trying to get to one of the other elephants but it couldn’t and looked distressed. Female elephants such as these are herd animals, they’re not used to a solitary life.

I got closer to the young elephants and whilst watching them one of them used its trunk to pull on my leg to bring me closer and tried to pull me into the enclosure. It then started to pull on my shoe laces as well – you could tell that despite this harsh treatment, some were still quite playful, and I know that they’re protecting these elephants, but it doesn’t make it right.

We were then taken to the elephant bathing area and this was just as bad. You could see the spiked tool they used to control the elephants and the pink scar tissue across the top of the neck where it gets used. Those that were in the water weren’t getting it any easier though – pulled around by the tusk or trunk. For those wanting to pay to be washed by an elephant the handlers would then scrunch the elephant’s ear and pull them to the side to make the elephant roll to the side when their time was up.

I decided I couldn’t watch them do this and instead spent most of my time there photographing the birds and dragonflies that were about. After about 15 minutes of this we were taken back to the jeep and driven back to the hotel ready for lunch at 12:00. I was glad I’d chosen the jeep safari option instead of the elephant back safari.

Today’s lunch was rice, chicken, vegetables, and fries – so pretty much the same as yesterday’s but with a tomato soup starter instead. We only had 30 minutes for lunch before we had to be ready outside for the start of the jeep safari.

The jeep safari started in the hotels one and this took us to where we’d seen the dugout canoes the night before. After hanging around in the midday sun for about 10 minutes we then put on life jackets and boarded the boat bound for the other side. Once over there it was a short walk to where some jeeps were parked up. I also noticed the occasional elephant footprint – apparently these would be from wild ones.

The jeep ride went a long time without us seeing anything, even at the watering hole it seemed like we weren’t going to see anything either. Then we saw a rhino on the other side, some deer, and a couple of crocodiles. This was almost everything we saw until just before we got to the conservation centre when we got a lot closer to a rhino, but it was still very well hidden by the bushes. It was a shame we weren’t able to get out and move around – but obviously this was for safety.

At the conservation centre I didn’t go in, though from the description it sounded like they were doing good work to conserve crocodiles and turtles. Instead I photographed a signature spider located just outside the centre. We were then the first group to leave and from there until we left the park at 17:00 we didn’t really see anything except for a monitor lizard up a tree. It was getting cooler too due to the setting sun.

For tonight’s meal it was finally something slightly different, dal baht, though what it compromises of is mostly the same as the previous lunches and dinners. From there we then went to the Tharu Culture Program which lasted an hour and consisted of various dance performances based on local traditions. I thought some of them looked like a type of fighting kata that may have been used originally to teach warriors.

When the show was over we were driven back to the hotel one last time, but this time I knew that the music we’d hear late into the night and start again early morning was likely from these culture shows.

Nepal Day 11 – Chitwan Day 1

This was the last day with this specific guide, but we needed to meet him at 07:00 to take us to the bus stop for 07:30 when we’d board a tourist bus bound for Chitwan. Once at the bus stop we were then on our own for the journey and would be meeting a new guide at the other end.

The bus left at 08:30 and made its first stop at 09:30 for 20 minutes. We were told that although the planned journey time is 5 hours it could be 8 or more due to roadworks on the route and the bad road surfaces requiring us to go slower. Based on this I decided to buy something from the shop at this first stop, but the best thing they had was a small twix for 180 rupees – the equivalent to about £1.33 at the time!

A while later we crossed a big bridge over the river and from then until we reached Chitwan it was a very bumpy, narrow, and dusty road. It looked like the road works may have been there to widen the roads along the cliff and to improve the road surface. Although we got into Chitwan at 13:00 it wasn’t until 14:00 we reached our stop at Sauraha, on the edge of the Chitwan National Park.

From this stop we were driven in a jeep to the Jungle World Resort where we were each given a glass of Coca Cola on arrival and then shown to our rooms. We then got lunch at around 15:00 which consisted of soup, and was then followed by a main course of chicken, spaghetti in tomato sauce, vegetables, and rice.

Not long after we then met up with the rest of a group who would be going on a walking village tour. This sounded incredibly boring as on the way in we could see that most of the town was modern and had no historical buildings. This started very close to the resort with a look at the traditional buildings of those area made from elephant grass and coated with clay in the winter months. We were also told how the locals could keep away malaria carrying mosquitoes through eating copious amounts of chilli.

We then trekked straight through town and came out at a river. This is where it got more interesting and I realised this wasn’t your average village walk. From here we could see two species of crocodile – Gharial and Mugger. We soon saw a kingfisher as well though it was too far away to see clearly. As we walked along the path I stopped a few times to photograph dragonflies and eventually in the “No permission without entry” area I photographed an Indian elephant you could see in captivity.

At the end of this path was a big clearing and there amongst the bushes we could see an Indian Rhinoceros. It was mostly obscured by the bushes so it wasn’t that clear, but it was far closer than any I’d seen in Africa. We couldn’t get any closer to it, or move around to where there was a clearer view so I had to try my best with the position we were in.

The rhinoceros eventually heard one of the people amongst the group and appeared to became agitated so our guide led us away along the path, back to where we’d first reached the river. Here we were told to wait until sunset, so we did, and I took some photographs of it whilst doing so.

After sunset we were then taken by jeep to where another rhinoceros had been seen, sitting down in the river. We couldn’t get as close to this one, but it was at least another chance to photograph one. After about 10 minutes there we moved on and back to the hotel.

Dinner was at 19:00 so I had a quick shower first and then met up with the others at the restaurant. This meal was similar to earlier and was rice, chicken, pasta, and vegetable. The dessert however was some sort of apple yogurt though I don’t know what reality it existed as yogurt in. We then sat and talked for awhile until it was time to get some rest before another busy day.

Nepal Day 10 – Paragliding Over Pokhara

Although the beds of the guest house were hard, I managed to get a decent 5 hours of sleep before I needed to be up ready for the hike to the Australian base camp of Annapurna. This meant it was pretty much the best night’s sleep I’d so far in Nepal. It wasn’t something I’d expected!

We set off at 06:30 before breakfast carrying only what we needed as porters would take our luggage from Kande to Pokhara ahead of us. I didn’t really want to leave any of my camera backpack with them so had to carry all 15kg of that on the trek. Fortunately it’s something I’m used to anyway.

The morning trek started as the sun was rising and the two mile ascent took around 1hr30 to complete. Once we arrived at the Australian Base Camp there was incredible cloud cover which made the peaks of the mountains beyond, including Annapurna II, difficult to see. It created an amusing effect though where it looked like some of the peaks were just appearing out of clouds from nowhere.

To start with we sat on the roof of the Australian Base Camp restaurant and ordered breakfast. It was nice sitting there whilst the sun was out with the mountains in the background. There was Wi-Fi as well, though this only lasted a few minutes until the connection died.

Once we’d finished it was then 4.2 mile trek back down the mountain through the village of Dhampus. This was a long and winding journey with varied terrain. We had to have a few stops as the morning sun made this hard work. After the initial descent through the trees we eventually took a road around to a cobbled and rocky path that reminded me a little of the smaller villages in Yorkshire.

The descent was actually longer and harder than the ascent due to the terrain, but eventually we made it to the bottom where a jeep was waiting for us with our luggage. We stopped there for 10 minutes to get a drink and then drove the 15 miles back to Pokhara. On the way the driver had to stop and pay the police as they pull over new vehicles, and the one our driver was using did not yet have its paperwork.

When we got back into the city we were dropped off outside the Paragliding place and our luggage taken on to the hotel. We were bundled onto the van that was waiting there after I’d been told I couldn’t take my camera with me. I also asked if we needed warm clothes for this but the guide seemed to think we didn’t. In the van we were told there was a chance of a water landing so anything we took with us would be at our own risk. A little late to warn us, but fortunately they let me leave my phone in the van.

It was an approximately 20 minute drive from there up a mountain to where we’d be paragliding. After parking up it was then a short five minute walk to the top where we got to choose who our guide would be. I said I was fine with anyone so was assigned one who then fitted me with a helmet and harness.

Once the guide had attached himself to the parachute he then attached my harness to his and told me to run forward, towards the edge of the cliff and to look forward not down. Eventually my legs were still moving but not making contact and we were away.

Time passed quickly in the air and we were soaring through the sky, catching thermals to travel around the mountain around Pokhara. It was actually warmer than I expected so was okay in shorts and t-shirt. After a few circles we got higher and higher before moving to over the trees. Whilst over these trees we got close to vultures who were also riding the thermals.

The guide asked me if I liked roller coasters – it sounded like a loaded question but I cautiously said that I do. Once he’d had that confirmation we headed over so we were above Lake Phewa Tal. The guide then said it’d be fun and started doing acrobatics over the water. I’d never realised before this that it was possible for parachutes to go upside down. A few minutes later we then swung around over the shore again and started to descend lower and lower until the guide told me to keep my legs up ready for landing. Just before touching down I was then told to stand and ran forward a few steps as the parachute came to a stop.

It was a fun experience and very unlike anything I’ve done before, but one of those things you have to do when visiting Nepal. After the parachutes had been packed away we were driven back to their office and got to look at the photos they took during the flight. I was interested but had no idea where our Trek Nepal guide was as I’d need my wallet from my backpack first. Five minutes after standing around a while we were then told a taxi had been sent to collect us and take us to the Butterfly Lodge, and that those of us wanting CDs of the photos could have them delivered in an hour if we left 2,000 rupees each with the reception.

The hotel looked a lot better than the guest house from the last night and was actually better than every room we’d had so far. With our bags dropped off in the rooms we then headed out to All-in-one Cafe for some lunch. It was another late lunch so we were all very hungry by this point. I went for a spaghetti bolognese which was coated in cheese. It tasted great and wasn’t that expensive either at only 250 rupees, but the meal was included as part of the tour so didn’t matter anyway.

On my way back out from the hotel, having fetched my cameras, I then found out I’d need to change rooms as the one I was sharing with now had his Dad turn up to surprise him. As they understandably wanted to share a room I’d needed to shift my bags into another. I decided I’d do that later and instead checked at reception to see if the CDs had been delivered before heading out.

As the CDs hadn’t been delivered I first went to the paragliding office to pay and pick them up. This didn’t take too long and I was soon walking down by the lake. I sat around for a while taking photographs and hoping for a good sunset over the water. After 20 minutes of waiting a layer of mist started to roll in over the far mountains so I decided it wouldn’t be worth waiting.

After moving my bags into the new room I finally got to have a hot shower – not just warm, it was hot. It’s amazing what things you can take for granted and then miss. There was then a few hours to kill until we’d all be meeting up with other marathoners at the Moondance Restaurant for 19:00.

The restaurant was really good and their pizza is recommended by guidebooks , so I tried that topped with barbecue chicken and green peppers – it was incredibly good! This was then followed by apple crumble with ice cream which was also really good. We’d taken our guide out for this meal as well as it’d been our plan to treat him, however the restaurant waived his part of the bill.

We then stuck around talking until 22:30 when we decided it’d be a good idea to sleep before our morning drive.

Nepal Day 9 – Trisuli River Rafting

In order to fit everything in today I had to get up at 06:00 and we met our bus driver outside the hotel. About an hour before meeting the driver we’d all felt a minor earthquake – something common to Nepal, but something new for some of the group even though we occasionally get them in England.

When we met up with the guide it was then a half mile walk to find a tourism bus we’d be taking for the first part of our journey. When we found it I started putting my bags above the seat ready and as I was about sorted I was told to sit at the back. When I got to the back I started unloading my bags off my back again and again was told where to sit, despite having just been told. It seemed the guy responsible for the bus was a little impatient.

We set off at 06:55 which is when I started eating the packed breakfast that had been provided by the hotel. This consisted of two bananas, an orange, a hard boiled egg, a bean muffin, and a carton of mango juice. After about an hours driving we had a 5 minute break, and then again at 10:00 we had a 20 minute break. At this second one we saw some of the others from the marathon that were heading to Pokhara today – mostly Impact Marathon Series staff.

At 11:00 we’d arrived at Rapid Runner Exhibitions for the white water rafting. Unfortunately we had to wait 35 minutes for another group to arrive that were coming in from Pokhara to join us. When they finally got here our luggage was already loaded onto a truck ready to be taken to the finishing place, and we put on a warm top, a helmet, and a life jacket before heading down through a vegetable patch with a paddle to the beach.

One the beach were told a few commands and told what we’d need to do in various situations. Our group and the other group then got into the rafts and pushed out into the water. To start with we practised the commands and then set off down the rapids.

White water rafting is hard work, especially when the waves are so big they come crashing over the boat. For the first two hours we got drenched repeatedly as we avoided capsizing, and had to steer furiously. At 13:30 we stopped for a short 10 minute break on a beach where we could take photos before we had to get back on the boat to continue on. As we left this we could see a black snake crossing the river come ashore downstream.

In the last section we had what the guide described as major rapids. He wasn’t kidding either, one of the last ones we hit got us so had that the boat almost flipped as we shifted from paddling fast, to hiding inside the boat and then back on the edge steering again.

When we finished at 14:00 I thought it’d been quite fun, even when it felt really cold. There had also been a few places where we could leave the boat for a swim as well. We were led into a back room of the Ananta Jeewan Church where we were able to get dry and change into some warm clothes. In the front of this we were then able to eat from a buffet lunch of cold beans, cold pasta, some sort of meat, peanut butter, and bread. They also had a few biscuits so had a few of those for dessert.

We then needed to head on to the Australian Base Camp for our overnight stay, but our guide warned us the end of the trek might need head torches. Our guide had hoped to flag down a tourist bus, but hadn’t been able to so eventually after quite some time, at 15:45 he got us onto one of the local busses. From what I understood later, the delay from rafting had meant missing the planned tourist bus which meant a long wait for a suitable bus that would get us to Pokhara, although this bus would be slower to get there.

The local busses in Nepal do not have suspension and you feel every single bump on the road with some severity. The three hour journey was made even more uncomfortable by needing to have my camera bag on my knee. It was definitely an experience, and a way for us to further see what it’s like to be a local. After about an hour our guide got a call from the porters asking us where we were, so it seemed we were somehow at least two hours late.

Our guide eventually told us the hike would be at night, which was obvious as the sun was already setting. Our guide gave us the option of staying in Pokhara or carrying on to a guest house. It wasn’t that clear what this meant, but he said if we stayed in Pokhara we wouldn’t get to do the hike so we agreed to the guest house.

We arrived in Pokhara at 18:55 and got off the local bus; our guide wandered off at this point to look for our transport from there. A jeep soon arrived which would then take us on to the guest house – I noticed that this had been provided by the same company as the rapids earlier. The driver had some issues with this as he hadn’t brought rope for luggage so probably didn’t know how many of us there was going to be. Though he solved this by stacking them in the boot with the guide being cramped on space.

We arrived at the guest house in Kande about 30-45 minutes later and the guide went off to talk to the owners. The voices were raised but it was difficult to tell if it was friendly banter or them trying to come to some sort of agreement. Eventually we were led down the dark corridor beyond and down some steps that were behind bars to where there were padlocked doors.

I started to think the place looked incredibly unclean and when they opened the first of the doors we saw that it had two beds, with dirty sheets and a thin blanket on a tiled floor. I think it’d be difficult to guess when they last had a clean in these rooms. I was a bit put off by this and at first wondered what we’d stumbled into. It had been our decision though, and in hindsight had been the right one. I decided I’d go bed fully clothed – unsure of how dirty the blankets really were, and knowing I’d need them to keep warm anyway. I was lucky though as in addition to being clothed I was able to have a second blanket of the other bed as this time I wasn’t sharing the room.

Back upstairs there was a very basic menu for ordering a late dinner, and the best thing on there was a peanut butter pancake. I’d have gone for a pizza but apparently they get those from the village, and it was closed due to how late it was. After quite some wait it actually didn’t taste too bad, but I was still hungry so had a kit kat and went bed.

Nepal Day 8 – Swayambhunath – The Monkey Temple

It was an early start, earlier than any of the days thus far having to get up at 05:00 in order to get the bus for a walking tour of Kathmandu. Once again this followed a night without sleep as the noise went from party celebrations to people getting ready to leave. It was still dark at this time and there wasn’t much about for breakfast so I had a banana and one of the cereal bars I’d brought with me and boarded the bus.

The bus got into Kathmandu at around 09:00 the driver thought we were all going to the airport. This was not the case though and had to be given directions to where we could be dropped off for the Trek Nepal office. I had no idea it was their office we were going to as I’d assumed they’d be checking us into a hotel first. From where we were dropped off it was a 0.5 mile walk to the office and we were led to another office where we saw one of them from Trek Nepal who had been on the bus with us, but was surprised to see us as he’d assumed the same as the driver.

He led us back to the first office and the Kathmandu Resort Hotel. Once there the theme of nobody knowing what was going on continued, but eventually after phoning Impact Marathons to clear this up, we found we could check into the hotel in an hour and would be going on the tour at 14:00. It made no sense that we had to get up at 05:00 for this.

To kill some time we went to Pumpernickle Bakery for a drink and some food. I decided to have some cheesecake for 200 rupees and a bottle of Fanta for 85 rupees. After this we headed back to the Trek Nepal office, completed some paperwork and checked into the hotel. We were then finally able to relax for a while before needing to go for the briefing at 13:00.

By the time we got to the Trek Nepal office, those that had been on the 10:00 bus, the one we were originally to be on, had already arrived. Here they told the group about the coming week and also provided bus tickets for a few days time. After this there was a bit of spare time so I went back to the bakery to get lunch. For this I had a toasted chicken sandwich with fries – food which was completely different to everything I’d eaten in Nepal so far.

After waiting a while for the minibus driver our guide for the afternoon led us to where it was parked up. This was then a short drive to Swayambhunath, the temple often referred to as the monkey temple due to the number of rhesus macaques that live there. In Tibetan the name of this temple site means “Sublime Trees” due to the number of different trees on this site.

It’s also the oldest religious site in Nepal with it being founded in around 5th century CE. Unusually this site is important to both Hindu and Buddhist religions and becomes a busy site on holy days, and also Saturdays.

It didn’t take long before we saw our first monkeys here and there were many more yet to be seen. Instead of taking the large number of steep steps up to the stupa we took the shortcut which winds past a few shops. We were taken in one where we were told out the painting techniques they used, and the levels of mastery. For the more advanced levels they’d have had to have spent decades of their life having repeated the same design over and over.

Around the stupa there are quite a few statues and old buildings, some of which were clearly damaged by the earthquake. The stupa is impressive and is intact having been repaired swiftly after the earthquake in 2015 as it is the second holiest place in Tibetan Buddhism. Walking around the stupa clockwise we got to peer down the steep steps to the bottom and also started to see a lot more monkeys around.

Whilst there I bought a fridge magnet for 350 rupees and a pack of 100 stamps for 600 rupees. There was then a great opportunity to photograph monkeys as many of them suddenly appeared next to the stupa. Although they were being shooed they were desperately trying to eat crumbs from the floor and were also fighting amongst each other.

Once we’d done there we were asked if we wanted to see any more, but wasn’t told what else there was we could see. So, instead we headed back to the hotel and sat around until going out for an evening meal at 18:30. We met up with a few other marathoners our group had met and ate at the New Orleans Wine Bar. After we got there more and more turned up until there were about 23 of us. It was a good evening and for the first time in a week I had some western style food in the form of a chicken burger and Coca Cola for 700 rupees.

Once we’d paid the bill I said goodbye to those I wouldn’t be seeing again and thanked Nick for putting on a great event and week. Now I could finally get some sleep before the adventure continued.