Utah Day 8 – Bryce Canyon National Park

Sunrise in Torrey was earlier than it was during our stay in California, and would have been the perfect opportunity to go for a morning run – however I overslept and missed my chance. Instead I went for breakfast before our drive to Panguitch, which was interrupted by a couple of stops to try and find somewhere to buy lunch to take with us. Eventually we were able to get some ready-made sandwiches for US$1.99 each.

When we reached Panguitch we dropped off our bags at the B&B. My friend was finally able to get a replacement memory card for his camera, and a replacement charger for his laptop – both to replace ones that had been stolen from our car in San Francisco.

Along the way to Bryce Canyon National Park we took some photos in the Dixie National Forest at Red Canyon National Park. This area has some impressive rock formations, though none as good as the ones we’d seen in Arches National Park, or even in Monument Valley. One difference here though is that you could drive through some of the stone arches over the road.

When we entered the Bryce Canyon National Park we first drove to the very end, which is 18 miles from the entrance. The entrance fee for this park was US$30, and would be good for a week – more than enough to cover our time there.

At the car park for Rainbow Point, situated 9115 feet above sea level, we wandered around at first to take some photographs, and then sat outside to eat the lunch we’d brought with us. It wasn’t as cold as it had been, but it was just bordering on needing to sit wearing a jumper.

The snow here was tougher than in Yosemite National Park, but for the most part wasn’t as deep. However, in places the snow was deep enough to cover a fence which we walked across to try and make it onto one of the trails in this area. Being able to walk across a fence without climbing isn’t a particularly common event in England. In this part of Utah it seemed like it may be fairly common as it was now early April, and a lot of the snow had actually gone but was still deep enough in places for this. The Yovimpa Point was still easily accessible via a path however.

On our drive back from Rainbow Point we stopped at every viewpoint we could all the way to Swamp Canyon Point. At the Ponderosa Canyon viewpoint we walked a short way along the Agua connecting trail, but turned back just before we got there. It was enough though to get a different view of the valley.

At the Natural Bridge viewpoint we saw yet another arch, but unlike the ones in the Arches National Park, this one we had to look down on. Finally, when we made it to the Swamp Canyon Point we set off on a four mile hike along the Sheep Creek connecting trail.

To start with this trail went downhill and was quick going, but once we reached the campsite and the Hoodoo marker the terrain became more difficult. After this point it crossed the dried up creek, and the trail wound around the valley. In places we had to climb over fallen trees, and duck under others. At altitude, and in the increasing heat it started to become harder work though before we knew it we’d covered the four miles in 1hr50.

It was almost 18:00 by this point and we knew we’d got a thirty minute drive back to the B&B so we decided that we’d do the rest of the viewpoints the following day, and would drive back. Once there we spoke with the owners as we’d missed them earlier when we dropped off our bags, and then headed out to the Cowboy Smokehouse for dinner.

For the second time on this trip we’d chosen a restaurant that specialises in barbecue meals. However, after twenty minutes nobody had taken our order. When another group who had arrived ten minutes after us started to be served my friend got up and spoke to another member of staff to complain.

We were assigned a different waitress and she did a great job – I ordered pulled pork with a side of fries and beans. This arrived twenty minutes later, and once combined with their homemade barbecue sauce it quickly rocketed into becoming one of my favourite meals of the trip so far. With drinks and a tip, the meal only came to US$42 between us which is a little less than most of the evening meals we’d had so far.

For the remainder of the evening I relaxed back at the B&B and pondered whether I’d be able to go for a pre-sunrise run in the morning in what was forecast to be -2 degrees Celsius.
8.1 miles walked

Utah Day 7 – Arches National Park

The sleet we’d encountered last night had turned into snow, and we awoke to a car covered in it. As we’d arrived in Utah during thick cloud cover, and pouring rain we hadn’t seen the mountains in the distance, but now, beyond the Netflix offices we could see them clearly.

After breakfast we cleared the car and began our drive to the Arches National Park, fully expecting there to be a long entry queue when we eventually arrived. It wasn’t until almost 14:00 that we arrived at the park due to both the late departure, and making a couple of stops along the way, including at Thanksgiving Point, looking for supplies we needed.

For the drive out of Salt Lake City we were surrounded by snow, and in some places this also made visibility poor when lorries starting kicking up the meltwater. As soon as we left the valley through the mountains surrounding the city the temperature started to increase and the signs of snow were gone. It didn’t take too long until the views became similar to what we’d seen in Utah previously when we’d driven over the border briefly from Arizona just six months before.

When we arrived at the Arches National Park there were no queues, but we took a break at the visitor centre for a late lunch. Once we’d finished we drove until the very end of the park where they have a trailhead called Devil’s Garden. We wouldn’t have time to do the full trail, but we had enough time to do all the arches up until Landscape Arch. After the experience we’d had in San Francisco, we were both carrying all of our valuables with us – this meaning I was carrying a 16Kg backpack around with me.

When we reached the fork in the road for the other two arches I ran on ahead to see if they were worth seeing – which of course they were. As my friend joined me as I was leaving Tunnel Arch, I then moved on to Pine Tree Arch. However, when I turned around and headed back to the fork in the roads I didn’t pass my friend on the way – he was nowhere to be seen. I ran along the track under the assumption he’d have carried on to the Landscape Arch, and sure enough he had.

Once we’d seen Landscape Arch my friend went back to see Pine Tree Arch, and then we drove on to Skyline Arch, and made several other stops along the road. For our second hike of the day we walked to the Sand Dune Arch, and then to Broken Arch. Both of these were impressive arches and I felt that these two were the best photo opportunities of the day. If we’d had more time perhaps we could have done some of the longer trails and seen even better arches.

Eventually we had seen all we could without going on the longer hikes we didn’t have time for. It had been a rush to see what we had, but I think it was worth the US$25 entry fee. From there we then drove on for the next three hours to Torrey where we’d be staying overnight.

We had little fuel left however, and we were unsure how many gas stations we’d see along the way in the fifty miles we had left in the tank. When we passed a gas station it was expensive, but we had little choice. Fortunately it was the right decision as we then didn’t pass another until seventy miles later.

As the sun finished setting we entered the Capitol Reef National Park and stopped a few more times for photographs – though the light in the sky was fading fast. When we reached Torrey on the other side of the park we found the Broken Spur Inn relatively quickly.

As we checked in we found that if we wanted to have food at their steakhouse we had just twenty minutes to order. With this in mind we rushed to unload the car, and then quickly got to the restaurant to order steaks for the evening.

Afterwards I headed out into the night to take a few photographs of the night sky – but the light pollution was still too much.

 

6.2 miles walked

Utah Day 6 – The Golden Gate and the Submarine

After a long night it was a later start to the day than we’d planned, and whilst having breakfast a thunderstorm with hailstones had begun. I realised this meant I wouldn’t be getting to see the Golden Gate Bridge from a viewpoint as I’d hoped, but at least this wouldn’t affect seeing a second world war era submarine – the USS Pampanito.

I drove us through the rain and decided we wouldn’t be parking in the same parking lot as last time. Instead we parked further down the road in a multi-story that was a little closer to the submarine. Despite this, and running to it, we still managed to get soaked by the time we made it to the ticket office.

The entry for the submarine was only US$20 each, and we were the only ones there. Despite this apparently being their busiest day of the week normally it seems the rain had put everyone else off visiting as we were the only ones onboard. This meant it was great for taking photographs as we took the audio tour around.

The tour starts in the aft torpedo room, and proceeds from there into manoeuvring room, the engine rooms, the crew’s mess and galley, and also the control room. The tour then exits through the forward torpedo room, and out onto the deck.

During this submarine’s operation it had been part of a pack along with the USS Growler which was the submarine I’d been on previously in New York City. It’s tour of duty had been incredibly successful, and since 1975 has been a museum ship.

Whilst we’d been on the boat the sun had come out and this was drying me off quickly. The attendant for the ticket booth had also disappeared in this time and now people were walking onboard without paying.

As we had some time left over, and as the sun was shining, we decided we’d pay the toll to drive over the Golden Gate Bridge in an attempt to get the photographs I wanted of the bridge. Along the way though I noticed that there were a few places where we could see the bridge from. In both of the places we stopped, I went off and took a couple of pictures of the bridge. From the second stop I also had to cross a field and a beach in order to get close enough – but it was enough and meant we wouldn’t need to cross the bridge after all.

As we’d now finished everything we wanted to do, we headed back to the hotel to pick up or luggage and drove on to the airport. The check-in for this was relatively quick, but whilst I was checking in my friend disappeared again. Fortunately we met up on the other side of security.

By now it was past midday and we were in need of food. It wasn’t great, but we did manage to find a place to get a sandwich as we waited for our flight out of San Francisco. Whilst we were waiting my friend helped a couple out with some painkillers, and got talking to them. They’d overheard him talking about his equipment being stolen, and told us that they’re volunteers at a place up in the mountains that has a good viewpoint. They offered us free access for when we arrived in Salt Lake City. Unfortunately we wouldn’t have time immediately, but we thanked them, and let them know that we may have time when we return in a week.

The flight to Salt Lake City was an easy one, and in first class it was also a comfortable one with a choice of snacks and drinks. As I’d not had nachos in a while I decided to go for a packet of those whilst I watched some video on my laptop.

When we arrived at the airport it was raining heavily, so after baggage collection we made a dash across the road to the car rentals building where we picked up our car for the week – a Nissan Sentra. This wasn’t the one we’d booked but we decided after our San Francisco experience it was worth paying the extra to get one which would hide our luggage better. It would have cost an extra US$45, but having flown with United Airlines meant we only had to pay an extra US$15 per day.

The drive to the hotel was quick and easy, and the the hotel lobby was well furnished. This was our cheapest hotel for the two weeks, yet it was also the best one so far. Hopefully breakfast in the morning would keep up our opinion.

For the evening meal we ran across the carpark through the rain to the nearby Ramada where they have an attached restaurant, Amelia’s Grill and Bar – named after the famous aviator Amelia Earhart. I decided on the Bourbon BBQ Chicken which was chicken in a BBQ bourbon sauce, topped with cheese and bacon, and accompanied by a jacket potato, carrots, and broccoli. By the time we’d finished eating the rain had turned into sleet – hopefully not a sign of what weather we’d be experiencing over the next week.

 

4.2 miles walked

Utah Day 5 – From the City to the Rock

Breakfast at the hotel in San Francisco was considerably better than what we’d had in Oakhurst. Though not only did we have it later than the previous days, we also left the hotel considerably later than we had in Yosemite in an attempt to avoid rush hour traffic.

Eventually we found a car park outside of pier 39 which advertised a day rate of US$37 which was actually only twelve hours. As it was 09:45 we knew that if we left Alcatraz on the last boat we’d probably have to run back to the car to meet this time.

To start with we headed up Telegraph Hill to Coit Tower via quite a few steps. This tower is named after San Francisco’s first female fire fighter and was built solely as a viewpoint. To go up to the top it cost US$8 per person but from there you could see downtown, the Golden Gate Bridge, and Alcatraz Island.

We had planned to go to the USS Pampanito in the morning, but we’d forgotten about this and instead headed further into the city to walk through Chinatown and photograph the Dragon Arch. This area did genuinely feel very Chinese and in places reminded me of Beijing and Xi’an.

As we weren’t far from Union Square we decided it’d be worth visiting this as well. As I’d got offline maps on my phone it meant this was easy to navigate to. We noticed that in Macy’s they had a Cheesecake Factory – a place we recognised from television. As we wouldn’t be eating until late we decided it would be a good idea to go there for some of their famous cheesecake before continuing on. I went for a large piece of cheesecake that included bits of Snickers bar as topping.

After this our plans weren’t that fixed, and we decided to head towards Columbus Avenue and see where we ended up. I thought it’d be good if we could make it to Fort Mason as there was potential for a good view of the Golden Gate Bridge, though my friend wasn’t feeling great so we sat inside a church for a while before heading back to the car so he could get his sunglasses.

Once my friend had his glasses we doubled back on ourselves and headed in the direction of Fort Mason, but time was now against us. It was this point that we had also realised we’d forgotten about the submarine we’d planned on visiting, so I went on ahead and found out the opening times for the next day before continuing on.

We got as far as the Historical Maritime Park when we decided we couldn’t make it the rest of the way in time so decided I’d run on ahead and attempt to get the photographs I wanted to save time. To start with I walked fast, but then when I got there I found the view of the bridge was terrible – mostly due to the fog.

As I was now running short on time I decided I’d run out to the viewing point on a pier to see if I could get a better view of the bridge. From a certain point of view I could – I could see more of it, but it was still shrouded in clouds. As I was now getting extremely low on time I ran back to the Historical Maritime Park where I’d left my friend.

It was now mid-afternoon and we’d got just over an hour until we needed to be at pier 33 for the Alcatraz tour. We hadn’t yet however had a proper lunch so we went to the Boudin Bakery which are famous for their sourdough. I decided to go for their turkey and avocado sandwich without the avocado and it tasted really good. As this was a quick lunch it then gave us more time than expected to get to the pier so we went back to the car one last time so my friend could change his shoes.

We boarded the boat for the island at 16:15, and only twelve minutes later we’d made it across to the island’s pier. We were greeted by National Park Service guides who then led our group of thirty around the island.

Our tour started in the gatehouse where we were told that Alcatraz Island was first used as a fort with a dry moat and drawbridge to defend against attackers wanting to gain access to the gold in San Francisco during the gold rush. This of course is where the Golden Gate Bridge gets its name from – it spans the gateway to the gold of San Francisco. They never experienced an attack and the island was later converted into a prison upon the orders of President Abraham Lincoln.

After the prison closed due to the amount of money that would have been required to bring it up to standard, it was briefly occupied by native Americans and some buildings knocked down by the government. It was then turned into a national monument however and is now run by the park service to maintain it for future generations to see.

On the other side of the gatehouse we went up the ramp to some destroyed buildings. From there we accessed the first area that was exclusive to the behind-the-scenes tour – the area alongside the power station. At the side of this there is an archway under the road which says to “blow your horn” so that anyone walking out the doors won’t be unexpectedly hit by cars. On the other side of this there is a tunnel that was built by labourers from the prison. At the far end of this the park service has knocked through into another building which is a workshop.

The next off-limits area was the officer’s garden which overlooks San Francisco and Angel Island. From there we headed up to what was formerly the citadel, but later became the main prison building after all but it’s cellar was levelled and rebuilt. Inside here our first stop was another off-limits area that was situated through the visitation area and up some stairs to a chapel. This chapel also doubled as a theatre on some nights, but it was evident that this was also occupied by native Americans after it’s closure.

In “A block” we were then taken to some stairs down into the cellar where the original solitude cells were located. In the later years of the prisons life these cells were closed down due to humanitarian issues and was moved into “D block”. It was said that these cells would drive prisoners insane due to the darkness and the sound of rats amongst them. The cells under the main building were in a place that would once have been the dry moat around the citadel – some of the only remains from that time. Whilst we were there they turned off the lights that the NPS had fitted to demonstrate what it would have been like down there. It was dark. Very dark. In this place there wasn’t even a feint hint of light which is what often helped to drive prisoners mad.

When we reached the barbershop area we were told about one of the murders that had taken place in the prison, and how this was a lovers quarrel. The behind-the-scenes tour then concluded in the dining hall where we were told a story about one of the prisoners and how Alcatraz had turned one prisoner from a non-violent offender into a killer.

We then started an audio tour of Alcatraz starting from the shower block where another of the murders had taken place. This audio tour took us all around the prison and told us about the history, the functions, of the rooms, and what life was like here.

Following this we then went to two talks – one which covered the prison break attempt of one prisoners, and then another that covered details about the number of people involved in another prison break attempt. We left during this one as we decided it’d be better to get the 20:40 boat and get back in early enough for food.

We got back to the parking lot at around 21:15, and went straight to top up the car parking for a couple more hours – costing us another US$15 to do so. When we got back to the car I opened the back of the car up and noticed that there was glass all over the floor – then I realised the window had been smashed. My friend’s camera bag had been left in the back, hidden by the tinted windows – but the thieves had smashed the side windows first and had obviously then seen his bag and subsequently smashed the back to get it.

My friend no longer felt like going for food, and was suggesting we should drive back to the hotel; though I was insisting we should phone the police and the car rental company first before moving anything. As we were discussing this we were approached by someone visiting from New Jersey to see if we needed help. We explained to him the situation and he quickly dialled 911. It took him several attempts to get through – so a good job it wasn’t an emergency. After he’d explained what had happened to them they said they wouldn’t be sending anyone out, and we should dial 311 to report it for the purpose of insurance.

My friend dialled the number we’d been given and they emailed him a form to fill in to report the incident. Following this we called the car rental company to tell them what had happened, and after giving us an incident number it seemed they expected us to carry on with the car having a smashed window. So I drove us back to the hotel – seemingly one of the longest twenty minute drives of the week whilst my friend, in shock, spoke to his cousin on the phone about what had happened. As I drove back glass continued to drop from the rear window both into the car and onto the road – it didn’t seem like a great idea to be driving this.

When we got back to the hotel we warned the reception that our car may spill glass out into their car park, but they didn’t seem bothered by it – nor did they want to help us. We emptied the car in the pouring rain of anything left in there of value. Over the hours that followed my friend tried to make a list of what he’d lost, and began to pack for the upcoming flight. By the time he’d done it was gone midnight and all we’d eaten was a couple of biscuits.

 

13.4 miles walked

Utah Day 4 – Yosemite to San Francisco

My original plan had been to get up and run before we returned to San Francisco, but I decided that the efforts from yesterday’s hike were the equivalent to a tough running session. Instead we had a slightly later start, though I didn’t find breakfast that appetising after having had the same for the past couple of days. Even with a slight detour to Starbucks for my friend to buy coffee, we still made it to the entrance to Yosemite just before 09:00.

Our first activity of the day was a short hike to Bridalveil Falls. This one had a car park that was a little flooded, but we made it onto the path without getting wet. As you get closer to the falls though you’re very likely to get damp from the spray being blown across the path and viewing point. Though we managed this without getting too wet.

We then continued around the park, stopping at some of the viewing points we didn’t stop at before and eventually made our way towards the exit for the last time. When we reached Wawona we pulled off down a road which said “Redwoods in Yosemite”, thinking that it was a potential hike. What we found though was that this was the name of a series of holiday cabins, but nearby there is a hike to the Chilnualna Falls.

At Chilnualna Falls there is the option of an eight mile hike that is estimated to take around five hours, or a short one mile hike to the base of a cascade. These falls are quite out of the way and not visited as much, though they’re worth the hike.

Before leaving Yosemite National Park for the last time we stopped briefly at the viewpoint for El Capitan – the first place we’d stopped at on our way in. After that we didn’t stop again until we pulled off into the Sierra National Forest to have a packed lunch.

For the hours that followed we drove ever closer to San Francisco, with one stop for fuel and then with only ninety minutes left we stopped in Gilroy for me to take over the driving. This area was incredibly familiar, and with good reason – we’d driven through this before on our way to San Jose at the end of our Big Sur roadtrip. We also saw what seemed to be a very small twister tearing across a field with some speed.

During my section of the drive it soon started to rain, and it got heavier and heavier until the visibility got bad enough to have to concentrate hard on where the lines were on the road. This felt tiring, but eventually we made it to the Comfort Inn hotel we were staying at.

We heard later that during this storm it had stranded night tours on Alcatraz island, and it wasn’t until a brief lull in the storm after midnight that they’d been able to get a boat out quickly to rescue them. We were lucky we were only driving through it.

Unfortunately, as we were in the middle of nowhere the food options were very limited. The best option we had was the Embassy Suites hotel. Sadly the service was quite poor here. After a ten minute wait my friend decided to find someone to ask them to take our order, and at the end of the meal he had to do the same to get someone to give us the bill. I was picking up the bill for this one and eventually gave up waiting and went to the bar to pay. The food however, although small, was very good.

It’d been a quiet day after a couple of heavy walking days, but it was a chance to rest after our long hike, and before a day of walking around San Francisco and Alcatraz.

 

2.67 miles walked

Utah Day 3 – Hiking the Upper Yosemite Falls

With a long hike planned for the day, our second day in Yosemite was another early start. We’d decided to set alarms for 06:30 to give that little extra time in hope we could get breakfast early and get on the road that little bit sooner. It worked out that we got on the road ten minutes earlier, and by the time we got to the start of the trail up to the Upper Yosemite Falls it was a little passed 10:00.

The start of this trail zigzags up the side of the mountain for some time before eventually straightening out a little. It eventually crosses a number of waterfalls, though even with the amount of meltwater we were encountering they weren’t too difficult to pass without getting wet. I was in shorts and t-shirt, and carrying a 10kg pack with one litre of water along with camera equipment. This made the climb harder work as it meant I was getting warmer quicker, though even though we’d had a brief stop by this point, we were making good time.

After passing these waterfalls the path then goes back down until you approach Yosemite Falls. Here, depending on the wind, you’ll get a little wet from the spray being blown around – but it wasn’t bad enough to warrant waterproofs. It was a little refreshing.

This area is a great spot for photographing the upper Yosemite Falls and is possibly the best view of them. We stopped here for a while which gave me the chance to use my tripod and capture some of the rainbow arch that appeared through the water. Once passed there the climb continued on to the top, a lot of it without shade, and eventually through streams and snow. We’d taken our time though, and reached the top in 2hr45.

The snow across the last part was quite deep, but the viewpoint area itself was clear of it. A few people were sitting around at the top, but not many were going down to the Yosemite Falls Overlook. These steps were narrow and had a handrail you could cling to in order to avoid falling to your death should you slip. My friend’s fear of heights didn’t help him there, but he made it down. The overlook however wasn’t really worth the effort as you can’t see anything.

Back up the stairs we went looking for the trail to Yosemite Point, but we decided the path was inaccessible without better equipment so we sat and ate lunch. We were after all in shorts, t-shirt, and trainers – not the ideal clothing for hiking across snow.

After lunch we found an alternative route down to the bridge across the falls, and for the most part managed to stay dry despite the snow. Once over the bridge the climb became far steeper, and was actually very difficult in trainers. My friend went on ahead, so far in fact that I eventually lost sight of him. I was slipping down in the snow frequently, and on one occasion had to backtrack to pick up my lens cap that had been knocked off my camera. Eventually he waited, and I caught up with him – though it was difficult to not show how angry I was about it. If I’d injured myself when sliding in the snow I’d have been on my own – nobody else was in sight.

From there we continued the climb at a slower place and eventually reached the top where we found a rocky outcropping that was free of snow. This was Yosemite Point and had a good view the Yosemite Valley and Half Dome.

Our route back down was much steeper, though we tried our best to keep to areas where people had left footprints in the snow previously. By this time my feet were feeling very cold from the amount of snow that had gotten inside my shoes whilst traipsing across the snow. Even though I was wearing shorts and t-shirt the rest of me wasn’t anywhere near as cold. On this descent my friend slipped on a rock, and grazed his arm – leaving a trail of blood.

Back across the bridge we then paused and looked back at where we’d been. To look at it, it was incredible just how steep it actually was and to know we’d climbed and descended it in the snow. From there we climbed back up to the path down the mountain, crossing the streams we had done previously.

The descent was slow, partly because my friend isn’t keen on heights and so looking down was not doing him much good. We paused a few times as our feet were getting sore from the dampness and the amount of walking we’d done. I also ran out of water eventually and was starting to feel dehydrated.

As we got near to the bottom I slipped on a rock and jarred my neck, though by the time we got to the bottom at 17:05 it had eased off. From there it was a short walk back to the car, from which we drove back to the Yosemite store to buy food for tomorrow’s lunch.

It took 1h20 to get from the store to the hotel, and after dropping off our cameras we headed over the the Sweetwater Steakhouse. I went for the New York steak – it wasn’t bad but there was a lot of fat in the meat which meant although it was sizeable there was quite a bit left over. This with a drink they kept refilling came to $60 with tip.

 

11.6 miles walked

Utah Day 2 – Hiking the Yosemite Valley

I slept quite well, at least better than I normally do at the start of a trip. I awoke once at 02:00 and thought it was light out. I looked at my phone, and then my laptop and it didn’t make sense that there was light coming in through the window. I then realised it was the light from the corridor, and fell asleep once more until 05:00.

This time when I woke up I decided that although it hadn’t been long since the marathon, I’d go out for a four mile run to loosen my legs. It was still dark when I left out, and a little cold, though there was still the occasional car about. To start with I ran along the pavements on the same side as the hotel, looking at what buildings there were as I passed. I’d decided it’d be a good idea to see what food places were around for later in the day.

Although none of the pavement was particularly well lit I eventually ran out of pavement so decided to turn back and go the other way passed the hotel. Going in the opposite direction I noticed that a new hotel was being built, but also that there was a nice-looking barbecue place over the road – a potential place to eat in the evening.

After a quick shower I went for breakfast, though this was incredibly basic – as American places out on the road often are. I was then able to quickly sort out my camera and what I’d need for the day and we were on the road a little after 08:00. Only twenty minutes later we joined a queue which seemed to not move forever, however in reality we were going again after about fifteen minutes. It seems the queue was something to do with single file traffic whilst they were performing some logging.

We found the park entrance was forty-five minutes from our hotel, and the permit for entering although US$30 would be good for seven days. It was then a long drive down into the Yosemite Valley, though once you’ve passed through the long tunnel the places for stopping become frequent.

One of the first stops along this drive is a great viewing point for imposing rock face of El Capitan. The backdrop to this includes other sights of note such as the iconic Half Dome, cathedral rocks, and Bridalveil Falls. El Capitan can also be seen from at least one other stop, and at this later one you can get a little closer should you wish to.

Most of the places to stop after this are either viewpoints for waterfalls, or are camping sites. Eventually we did park up and went on our first hike of the day. For this we walked along a closed road section and reached a crossroads where we could either go to Mirror Lake, or do the Misty Trail. We decided on the latter.

The Misty Trail can be considered to be a relatively tough trail, especially on legs that had been for a post-marathon recovery run. Some parts of the path are quite steep, but once you’ve crossed the bridge at the bottom of Vernal Falls the path also becomes uneven and rocky. As this trail goes on it also becomes a little damp – damp enough in fact that a coat is recommended.

Once you reach the point of the trail where the wind blows the mist across the path, you then encounter a cave as well – I found this area to be particularly cold as the water vapour cools the air considerably. The path then gets steeper and even wetter. For those that aren’t keen on heights, after this point the path does have a handrail – so this helped my friend get to the top.

Once you reach the point of the trail where the wind blows the mist across the path, you then encounter a cave as well – I found this area to be particularly cold as the water vapour cools the air considerably. The path then gets steeper and even wetter. For those that aren’t keen on heights, after this point the path does have a handrail – so this helped my friend get to the top.

At the top of the falls there is a rail around the edge to stop you going too close to the edge, and also to stop you going into the water due to it being fast flowing. We spent a few minutes there taking photographs back along the canyon, but if my friend hadn’t had tired legs there was also the option to carry on walking to Nevada Falls. This however would have added a few extra miles on to the journey, and my friend was also getting hungry.

Once we’d made it back to the car we set off looking for a place to get some food. The map suggested a couple of places as an option but detours meant we weren’t taking the most direct routes there. Eventually we decided the best option was to use the Yosemite Store and buy things for making lunch with. Rather than eat this in the car park there, we drove on to the car park to Yosemite Falls and ate there instead.

After lunch we went for a walk to the Lower Yosemite Falls, and once again got wet from the wind blowing the spray from the waterfall across the path. This was another area where there was still a considerable amount of snow about, even though it was now in the low twenty degrees Celsius. At the waterfall I was careful, and managed to keep my camera and me mostly dry – even risking some longer exposures on the shots.

We then thought we could quickly do the Upper Yosemite Falls as the map suggested it was only a couple of more miles and didn’t indicate and level of difficulty. On the way to the path though we asked a ranger how far it was and was told the trail takes about seven hours on average but can be anywhere between five to ten. We certainly didn’t have time for that, so instantly made the plan to do that as our hike for the following day.

As we still had some time left we decided to loop back around to where we’d come from and hike across to Mirror Lake. The signs though for this are completely wrong – at one point it says 1.2 miles and approximately half a mile later it said one mile. In reality it was more like two miles across uneven terrain so does take close to an hour to get to.

The Mirror Lake is a fairly scenic area, and finally gave me an opportunity to use my new lightweight tripod – proving that it was not just worth the purchase, but worthwhile me carrying it along on these hikes.

By the time we’d arrived back at the car we’d covered 12.2 miles during the course of the day, but then had almost two hours of driving to go to get back to Oakhurst. When we arrived back we filled up with fuel ready for the next day, and then went over to eat at Alice’s BBQ. I went for a BBQ chicken special with beans and fries. It wasn’t too bad, but I’ve certainly had better barbecues elsewhere.

 

12.2 miles walked, 4.2 miles run

Utah Day 1 – Birmingham to San Francisco

Due to a combination of not having much time, and also a bit of poor planning on my part. It meant that at 02:15, just fourteen hours after finishing the Greater Manchester Marathon, I needed to get a taxi to the airport. Sleep that night had been the broken sleep that you’re rewarded with following some effort in a long run. My legs didn’t ache, I’d been lucky for that to not last long, but I was tired.

The taxi ride there was quick, and it felt like the driver thought he was a reincarnation of Ayrton Senna. He was taking the roads and corners as quickly as he could. No mercy. No surrender. When I got to the airport I found that the check-in desk wasn’t opening until two hours before the flight so I had some time to sit around.

I hoped that for once I’d be able to sleep on the flight – though the first one would be too short to as I was flying to Frankfurt first. Getting through Frankfurt Airport was stressful. In addition to having to rush from one terminal to another I then had to go through security again. This time though they swabbed my camera gear and camera – and this tested positive for explosives. They called over some armed security guards, and noted down my flight number and my passport number, then got me to prove my laptop was working. They then retested my backpack and laptop – this time, thankfully, it was testing negative. That was a stressful few minutes though.

I got to the gate with time to spare and was soon boarding the flight to San Francisco. On this flight they served a snack fairly early on, and then served a warm meal. During this time I watched “Arrival”, and then after closing my eyes for a while I watched “Passengers”.

Before we landed in San Francisco they served another snack, and then eventually another warm meal. Even though we’d left Frankfurt thirty minutes late we’d been told that we would still get into San Francisco on time. We did however get stuck in a holding pattern for fifteen minutes which meant we landed late.
Immigration was relatively quick, and the baggage collection was even quicker. From there I took the AirTrain to the rental desk and met up with my friend. We upgraded the car to a Kia Sorento – something that might be more comfortable, and began our journey.

We left the car rental place a little after 15:00, but found that the traffic was awful. It wasn’t just getting across San Francisco that was the problem, but most of the way to Oakhurst. It was really hard to stay awake during this time, but I managed to until we reached a Burger King in Merced. After I’d eaten I felt more awake until we arrived at the Yosemite Sierra Inn.

Check-in took a while as my friend decided to talk to the owner about India before getting the room keys. Finally though, at around 21:15, 27 hours after I’d gotten up in Leicester, I was in the hotel room and able to go to sleep in California.

Greater Manchester Marathon 2017

Last year the Greater Manchester Marathon was a PB race for me, despite having had a 50K ultra marathon thirteen days before. I’d hoped with a solid winter of training I’d be able to improve upon this further and I’d once again set myself three different goals using the same naming technique as before:

  • Gold: 3h10
  • Silver: 3h15
  • Bronze: 3h20

When I got back from the Nepal International Marathon I found that it took a bit more work to get back into longer runs, probably because I’d had a week off running whilst I was in Nepal. This then offset my training plans by about a month, and then in January, to fit running around work, I shuffled some runs around and this resulted in an inflamed achilles. This meant I wasn’t running at all for a couple of weeks, and it was a few more weeks before I could get back into long runs. I adjusted my training plans accordingly but it meant I’d be about two months behind where I wanted to be, and catching back up wouldn’t be easy.

With about a month to go before the race day I was back to getting in long runs at the pace I wanted to be doing Manchester at; but by the time of my longest run, which was only 22 miles, I could only sustain the required pace for 17 miles. It was looking like I could finish a marathon with some walking, but I wasn’t going to be getting a PB. This then left me changing my goals to some that were more realistic.

  • Gold: 3h19
  • Silver: 3h25
  • Bronze: 3h35

Towards the end of training I also squeezed in a 10K and half marathon race, just to try and work on getting some of that speed back. Neither of these went to plan though, and were far slower than I’d have liked.

 

Pre-race Day

Once again I’d decided to take the train up to Manchester, and with an early start it meant I’d have the afternoon spare to look around the city. I decided that it’d make sense to get one of the £5.80 weekend travel cards again to make it easier to get around. The main difference this time was that I didn’t have any friends to meet-up with so would have about eight hours to waste before a group meal in the evening.

I wandered around the city for a time, trying to avoid the rain showers. Eventually though I was able to check into the hotel and lay my kit out for the morning.

The hotel was well situated, not far from the start and finish lines, and also not far the Tollgate Inn where the post-race meet-up would be.

After a wasted afternoon I headed back into the city to meet the others at Frankie & Bennys. It was busy on the trams due to a football match having just finished. It was sunny though, and showing signs of it warming up.

A common pre-race meal for a marathon is spaghetti bolognese so I didn’t disappoint and ordered it without looking at the menu. It was good to meet up with some familiar faces for food, and the restaurant staff were entertaining.

After a short tram ride back to the hotel it was an early night ready for the big day ahead.

 

Race Day

The hotel was noisy as from my room I could hear a 50th birthday party, and also the drone of an air conditioning unit. Eventually I got some sleep but still awoke at 04:00. I took advantage of this extra time to check in for my flight in 24 hours time. After taking my time to have breakfast and get ready, I relaxed for a bit and headed over to Hotel Football for a group meet-up.

There were quite a few of us there for the pre-race photo – a mixture of new and familiar faces.


The start line was in the same place as last year so it felt very familiar. Though this time the pens went along a different road. I could see the 3:15 pacer a long way in front of me and I knew I wanted to catch up.

By the time I crossed the start line the 3:15 pacer was about a minute in front of me. Almost immediately I spotted Chalky and had a chat with him – he was going for about 3:00.

Last year the course looped through Media City and I remembered that bit well as I’d taken that bit too quickly. This year the course had changed and instead went through a housing estate – which I think was better for crowd support.

Running felt good and to start with I was putting in the miles at an average of 07:00min/mile. Around mile 3 the route passed the hotel I stayed in this year and then shortly after it passed the hotel from last year.

After that I’m not sure how much, if any, of the route differs to last year. Done hits definitely felt familiar though some of it also seemed alien.

By 5.5 miles I’d not only caught up with the 3:15 pacer, I’d over taken him. It felt good and it felt like I could continue at this pace for some time. It’s what I’d trained for, even if I hadn’t had the amount of practice I’d hoped for.

After crossing the splits mat at 10K I tried to get a bottle of water but fumbled it. A mistake that could have cost me greatly as I knew I’d need to take on water very soon but there wasn’t another official water stop until around mile 9. I got lucky though and over a mile down the road I was given a bottle of water I took a few quick sips from before discarding it.

Around this time I noticed a few messages of support from Twitter appear on my Garmin. It’s amazing what an advantage that is as by mile 8 it had started to become mentally challenging.

The section through Altrincham was probably one of the harder sections for me this year, but I really wanted to complete the marathon without walking. I thought maybe I could get to mile 21 like that – 4 miles further than I had in training.

As we got there the elite runners had just started to pass in the opposite direction – slighter further into the run than when I’d seen them last year, but that could have been down to route changes.

Once the loop through there was complete it was a relief as although there were a few hill climbs I could take it easy on the descents.

Seeing runners in the opposite direction also made it easier as it becomes a welcome distraction to spot other runners I know. I saw a few in #ukrunchat tees but hadn’t spotted most of them early enough to say anything, and a few I didn’t recognise. I then saw Sherie and got to high-five her on passing, and a little way down the road I saw Rachel after she shouted me!

I remembered last year that it had been around this point I had to remove a layer. This year there were no layers to remove, but it was plenty warm. I decided to stick to shaded areas when I could.

At mile 17 I was only two minutes over two hours and I realised at this pace I was on target for a good PB. I also felt like I could continue for the remaining 9.2 miles so all seemed good.

As I got closer to Carrington I started to slow down. It was okay though as I figured even if I slowed to 8min/mile I’d still get 3:15 – my best-case-scenario target. I’d even stopped taking on fuel at this point as jelly babies were not tasting nice.

However after mile 19 the 3:15 pace group stormed through. I kept with them for as long as I could, even whilst the pacer nipped into the bushes to relieve himself. I kept with the group until after he’d rejoined the group.

I was feeling tired but at mile 21 I thought perhaps I could keep on running until the end – a first for me. If I could cover those 5.2 miles in 50 minutes then all would be good. What I hadn’t anticipated was that my legs would decide they didn’t want to continue at that pace. Instead of slowing down, but continuing to run, I slowed to a walk after mile 22. Then I realised how thirsty I was after the long stretch in the sun.

Over the next 4.2 miles it got harder, and each mile seemed to last forever. I took on water in this time, but slowly and in small, infrequent amounts in case I was dehydrated. Eventually the end was in sight and it felt like the longest half a mile ever – it never seemed to get any closer.

I walked a couple of times in this stretch but eventually started to run properly again and picked up the pace. As soon as the guy next to me started to sprint I decided I would too – I didn’t know him, but I wanted to beat him to crossing the finish line. I did.

I’d missed the 3:15 target, but Strava indicated my time was 3:17:12 – a new personal best! I’ve still got a long way to go before I can run Boston, but this was a small step closer.

The support on this race was amazing, and I couldn’t name a single part of the race where there wasn’t someone cheering us all on. I think it’s this that makes Manchester a nice place to visit and race in.

At the finish it was far more organised than last year as the athletes village is inside Old Trafford and the spectators aren’t allowed in. This made the entire process easy and quick.

In the finishers bag there was:

  • Finishers medal,
  • Finishers tee,
  • A bottle of water,
  • An Asics foil blanket,
  • And a mint chocolate protein bar.

From there I collected my bag from the hotel and met up with the others at the Tollgate Inn. By the time the next finisher arrived I’d already eaten, but it was good to see a familiar face. It was great to meet up with @EmaJoyC as well who is a local fitness blogger that I know via Twitter. It was nice to talk to her.


I had decided not to do Manchester next year, but now I’m undecided. I think there’s a chance I’ll be back for the third year running though it will depend on how it fits in with visiting New Zealand.

My official time was 3:17:51 in position 1087 out of 18127 finishes (first 5.9%).

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.