MK Marathon Weekend 2017 Part 1 – Rocket 5K

Marathons and 5Ks are very different events with very different strategies. With a marathon you hold back for most of the race in the knowledge that later in the race it will benefit you. I find when I run this distance that I plan different paces throughout the race as I know I’ll tire too much towards the end – it’s all about discipline. With a 5K it’s very different – you put everything you’ve got into it from the start, and keep pushing for as long as you can, hopefully for the full 3.11 miles.

Last year I decided to try out the Rocket 5K event that Milton Keynes added as part of their marathon weekend. I could tell that it was a fast race, though I felt I didn’t push as hard as I could have (especially when I walked some of it). I came short of a sub-19 time and that was something I’d wanted to achieve. For 2017 I set my running goals as:

  • sub-19 5K,
  • sub-39 10K,
  • sub-89 HM,
  • 3:15 mara,
  • completing 100K race.

Up until this point I’d had three races booked to have a go at three of those goals, though for each of them I fell short. For one of them I did actually move my PB a little closer to my goal, but not close enough. The MK Rocket 5K seemed like the perfect opportunity to have a go at beating that sub-19 time again, though admittedly with how close I already was to it I should probably have been aiming for sub-18:30.

In reality my chances of getting a PB, or attaining my goal was slim due to having had two weeks with almost no running whilst in the US in the preceding weeks. I still wanted to have a go at it though so on the Sunday morning I drove to Milton Keynes to see what I could do. When I got there I spent the next twenty minutes trying to find my way to somewhere I could park. Fortunately I found somewhere about a mile away that only charged 50p per hour, and I used the distance to throw in a light warm-up run.

For the majority of the next hour I stood around in the relative cold waiting for the race to start whilst the DJ played classic hits such as Elton John’s “Rocket Man”, and David Bowie’s “Space Oddity”. This being a “rocket” 5K meant they were keeping with the space theme for both the music and the race number background. As the time approached it started to warm up and I wandered close to the start line. I stood around watching as the pen filled in around me. One of them just in front of me was talking about how she’d like to go sub-30 on this run. I’m no expert, but I think if the pen was organised it’d mean that wanting that sort of time wouldn’t put you two strides from the start line.

Once the race started quite a few people shot off like a rocket, weaving passed those near the front that had set off slower. The first section of this race was up a 3.5% hill to a crossroads where the route then begins it’s (mostly) downhill descent along Saxon Gate to the MK Dons stadium.

I didn’t look at my running watch often, but at the top of this hill before the descent I saw that my time was 06:43min/mile – far from good enough, and slower than my training during the week had been. During the first mile my pace was all over the place – it peaked at 5:41 but didn’t stay there long before my speed started to drop once more. There was some wind, but not that much, and I was finding I was wearing out quicker than I normally do. My thoughts at this point turned to wondering how I was ever going to manage a marathon in the morning. At the end of this first mile I glanced at my watch for the penultimate time, seeing that I’d done it in 06:06 – six seconds slower than what I’d seen as the worst-case scenario. It wasn’t looking promising.

I used this to try and push on after my pace had dropped to 6:43min/mile and for most of the second mile I managed to average close to the 06:00min/mile pace I’d wanted. It was tough going, but I couldn’t make up for the slow start to the second mile and finished this second one even slower. I didn’t look at my watch but after being overtaken by a couple of people I realised that my pace must have dropped. In actual fact I’d managed to slow by another six seconds, and I was now starting to struggle.

Over the next mile my thoughts were focused on having walked last year and missing my goal by a couple of seconds. This year I didn’t want to do that, I wanted to keep running no matter what as I knew I wouldn’t be happy with my time if I’d walked any of it. It was a constant battle, but something of a relief when I saw the “4K” sign, and the first glimpse of the MK Dons stadium in the distance.

I saw the point where I’d started walking last year and ran straight passed it – I wasn’t going to walk this time. Eventually the route turned right into the entrance of the stadium, and another runner passed me. I looked at my watch and saw that it was 18:43. It was just over ten seconds slower than what I’d wanted to finish in, but I thought maybe if I could get up to speed quickly I might just sneak in at under 19:00 and complete the first of my goals for the year.

I got up to 4:00 min/mile pace as quickly as I could and soon overtook the runner that had passed me moments before. I wasn’t  sure how long I could hold the pace for, but the finish was not only in sight, it was fast approaching so I just had to hold on that little bit longer.

When I crossed the line I looked straight at my watch and saw that I’d just missed sub-19:00 again. For the second year running. This year though I was two seconds slower at 19:03. A few seconds later I received an SMS confirming my official time as the same. This put me in position 44 of 1,569 overall finishers (first 2.8%). This also equated to being the 42nd male, and 25th in my age category.

It was a shame as I thought this was the one goal I could beat this year, but I couldn’t. I’ll need to work harder and try to get that sub-19 time at a parkrun later in the year. Someone I know on Twitter raised a good point – perhaps I’ve reached a plateau. It’s entirely possible, but as Bruce Lee apparently once said:

There are no limits. There are plateaus, but you must not stay there, you must go beyond them. If it kills you, it kills you. A man must constantly exceed his level.

What this means is that I’ll need to figure out how to push passed this – I really want to get that sub-19 time. To start with I’ll try just working harder and trying to get a few faster mid-week training runs in every two weeks. At the minute they’re slower than I could manage so perhaps picking the pace up on those may help. I’m also considering beginning a run streak on the lead-up to Race to the King and Race to the Stones, but I may try one parkrun before that. Just in case.

After the race I did a slow cool down run back to my car ready for the one hour drive home to try and relax before another day of running.

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Utah Day 14 & 15 – Going Home

It was an early start to the day – up at 05:00 to catch the 05:30 shuttle to the airport. After the previous day’s experience with the shuttle we weren’t taking any chances. When dropping my bag at the baggage drop I was asked if I would like to take a later flight in exchange for a US$200 voucher. I immediately turned it down as I couldn’t see how that was going to work with two connecting flights following this; the final being international.

Once through security I had breakfast at the cafe at the side of it, though it was hard work asking them if they’d make it without egg. Their mother tongue was Spanish, and unfortunately their English was limited, though probably not as limited as my Spanish.

The first of my flights was to Houston and took 150 minutes to get there, though for the geographically inclined it might be noted that it’s in the wrong direction! This was because I couldn’t get a flight directly to a hub airport that would connect to Birmingham and so with what options were available the best option was to fly south first.

When I arrived in Houston I found my next flight had been delayed enough to mean I had only thirty-three minutes to get to my connecting flight out of Newark and on to Birmingham. By the time I’d spoken to the service desk to make sure this tight connection would still work it had then been delayed further meaning I had only seven minutes. The international flight wasn’t going to happen, or at least was unlikely to.

I spoke to the United service desk again, and they were less than helpful as they said they didn’t know how they operate in Newark, but then wouldn’t call them to find out. The best they could do was to put me on hold for another flight out of Newark, but it was one which would not include my checked luggage. Why it wouldn’t I had no idea as an extra thirty minutes should be enough to transfer a suitcase – it has been in the past.

After a while I decided to speak to a different United representative at the gate, and they told me the reservation was a waste of time as there was too little difference in time between them. Instead he got me a confirmed seat getting me from Newark to Heathrow – not the ideal airport, however it was a way back home. Whilst having this conversation with the service desk the flight was delayed by another sixteen minutes – proving I’d made the right choice.

The flight took off ninety-one minutes late and upon arrival I found that the flight to Birmingham had been delayed by forty minutes. There was a chance to make it. Thankfully some kind passengers let me in front to get off the plane quickly, though even with that and running to the gate it was closed when I got there.

However I still had a backup plan to put into effect – I went to the service desk, and got given a new ticket that would get me to London Heathrow instead. I just needed to get a seat assignment at the gate, which after a short wait was soon confirmed. I was going home.

It looked like the airline staff were pushed to their limits though in trying to cope with the situation caused by the high winds. A lot of passengers seemed unhappy with their seat assignments, but to their credit the staff kept their cool.

It was a long flight, but they served both dinner and breakfast during the course of it. For some passengers the faulty entertainment system was an annoyance for them that they continued to complain about. I’d seen the issue with the system though and potentially knew how to fix it – but doubted I’d be allowed to due to regulations; unlike the time I disinfected the computers on a ship in Antarctic waters.

For dinner I had one of the worst tasting curries I’ve ever come across, and for breakfast they served a croissant with a yoghurt. During the flight though I know I actually managed to sleep for at least thirty minutes based upon the songs playing from my phone that I’d missed.

United may not have been able to get me back to my starting location, but I’d finally made it back to England with my luggage. From a trip that had finished it’s first week with a break-in and it’s second week with a missed international connection. It was certainly an eventful trip, and in this time we’d hiked over ninety-five miles, and driven for many more. At least now though I’d seen everything I wanted to of California, and of Utah.

Utah Day 13 – Salt Lake City

On the last full day of this trip we had to drive back to Salt Lake City so got up early so we could be on the road as soon as possible. It was a long drive to Salt Lake, and we still wanted to see a viewpoint in Snowbird, and to see the Mormon temple in the city.

The drive was just under four hours with just one short stop to top up on fuel, and to use the washroom there. Once we’d dropped off our bags we then headed out in search of the Snowbird resort we’d been given tickets for.

Finding the resort wasn’t that straightforward to start with as the satnav wouldn’t direct us there, but got us some of the way. From there we used the offline maps on my phone to direct us the remainder of the way up into the mountains around Salt Lake City.

As we got higher the temperature began to drop and I started to question my choice of wearing shorts and a shirt to a ski resort. It may not have been the best decision to make. When we got there we couldn’t find any parking so decided to use the valet parking – it was expensive, but the tickets for the tram were going to be free so it didn’t really matter.

Inside the Snowbird ski resort we soon found our way to where the ticket office was located, though to our surprise the lady who had offered us the free tickets in San Francisco was standing at the top of the stairs and spotted us. It turned out she’d done an extra day of volunteering there and by chance we just happened to bump into her.

We thanked her again for the tickets and headed over to the ticket booth where we handed over some ID and was presented with the reserved tickets. The tram as they call it is actually what in England we’d call a cable car. It amused me that in comparison to this, what they called a cable car in San Francisco was actually a tram.

We weren’t the only tourists boarding the tram as it’s possible to take a ride up there for US$20 per person. Tourists enter the tram first, and then following this the skiers and snowboarders eager to get to the slopes pile in afterwards like on a busy London underground train.

At either end of the tram there is a permanently open window which makes it easier for taking photographs out of. As we got higher though I soon found that a cool breeze blowing through the window was just too cold so instead I tried to stay warm.

At the top we disembarked last and wandered around the summit building taking photographs of our surroundings. Up here the wind was almost non-existent and the sun was warm which meant that walking around in shorts and shirt wasn’t actually that bad. My friend though was still in a thick coat and a woolly hat.

Outside on the deck there are a few tables so we sat and had our packed lunch before continuing to explore. The place was busy with people using the slopes, and watching them was pretty fascinating – especially with how fast some of them were able to turn.

When we decided we’d taken enough photographs we headed back down to pay the US$16 for the valet parking and to collect our car. From there we drove to the Temple Square which has a number of religious buildings surrounding it, and in particular the mormon temple we’d been told about. The parking though was a little on the expensive side at US10 even though we only needed it for less than an hour.

Whilst wandering around we noticed an incredible number of wedding photography sessions happening, and we wondered about the quality of some of their shoots when we could see they were clearly shooting towards the sun.

The Salt Lake Temple is a relatively impressive structure for a modern church, though it’s one we couldn’t go inside. Instead we wandered around outside looking for what interesting photographs we could take.

When we returned to the car we found the parking machine wasn’t working, and the parking attendant disappeared. He obviously realised the complications of this as he’d left the barrier open so people could still leave. Unable to pay for the parking due to this we headed on to the airport, filling up with fuel one last time on the way.

Once we’d dropped off the car we called for the airport shuttle and that’s when the fun began. The hotel told us to wait by passenger pick-up six and the shuttle would be along shortly to pick us up. Time passed and there was no sign of it, so my friend called the hotel again and was told to wait a little longer.

It was getting cold though as the sun dipped closer and closer to the horizon. The waiting and telephone exchanges happened for ninety minutes before we spoke to another airport shuttle driver and they told us that airport shuttles can’t stop at where we waiting. They thought that the hotel had probably meant door six instead. This was a completely different area, but eventually after almost two hours of waiting we were able to get a shuttle to the hotel.

When we saw the driver he insisted he was waiting there – which he was, but he didn’t seem to understand or want to understand that we’d been told to wait in the wrong place. It seemed the confusion came from the hotel receptionist organising the hotel shuttle telling us the wrong place to start with.

For the evening meal we ate at Amelia’s restaurant again where I had one last steak. Back at the hotel I then packed as well as I could ready for an early start the next day.

 

3.5 miles walked

Utah Day 12 – Kolob Canyon and Coral Pink Sand Dunes

Having completed our hiking of Zion a day early we were in need of something else to do. During the course of the previous day we’d come across two possibilities: Kolob Canyon in the north, and the Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park in the south.

Kolob Canyon was covered by the same entry fee we’d paid for Zion so we were able to drive straight in and start the five mile scenic drive. We didn’t do this all in one go however as at one of the viewpoints there was also a trailhead for the Taylor Creek Trail. This trail goes past two wooden huts from the 1930s and crossed the Taylor creek many times as it winds through the valley. The trail is easy, and the total distance is supposed to be five miles.

At the end of this trail we reached what they call the “Double Arch”, though it was more of an alcove really – but with really great acoustics. We had gotten there very quickly as my friend had set a reasonable pace with no time to look around and enjoy the environment. It was okay though as the purpose of the hike was to reach the arch.

Along the way we’d heard that there was a waterfall less than half a mile passed it, so we continued walking through the creek until we reached a small waterfall that was situated inside a crevice. I thought this was an interesting one as it was quite different to the other waterfalls we’d seen on this trip.

After having had some slow days in Zion I thought that Kolob Canyon had redeemed Zion somewhat. On the return hike we stopped briefly for lunch, but still made it back to the car quicker than the guide time suggested.

The car wasn’t too warm, not like it was when returning from hikes in Zion itself, so cooled off nicely by the time we reached the top of the scenic drive. At the top of this there is then a viewpoint which overlooks the canyon.

As we’d now finished we drove on to the Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park, stopping for fuel in Hurricane along the way. The road to this state park goes into Arizona briefly before turning off onto an unpaved road for a good portion of the last ten miles of the journey as it changes direction back into Utah. This meant progress was slower, but we still made good time.

The entrance fee for this park was US$8 for the day for the vehicle, though there was very little to do unless you’ve got an off-road vehicle such as an ATV or dirt bike, or if you’re camping there.

One other thing there is to do there however is to hike. This isn’t that easy though as if you’ve not got sandals or similar then the easiest way is to walk across the orange sands – not as pink as the name would suggest. When we found a good place for this we left our walking boots at the car, and started our barefoot trek across the sand dunes.

For the start of this trek it was a mixture of smooth sand, and places where there were stones which made it uncomfortable to walk on. Once we reached a fence we were then in a section where we weren’t alone – we had to be careful of off-road vehicles driving at speed around these dunes.

It looked like most of the drivers and riders had common sense though as they stayed away from the areas where hikers were passing through – which was mostly to the largest of the sand dunes.

The largest of the sand dunes was steep and was hard work to climb up – but it was worth it. This gave a better view of the state park, and also made it easier to take photographs of the sand. After briefly watching some of the off-road vehicles dash across the sand we made our way back to the car.

From there we drove back into Arizona along the dirt road, and finally back into Utah once more. This time we passed many ATVs speeding along the unpaved roads creating massive, billowing clouds of dust as they went.

Eventually though we made it back into Hurricane. After picking up some more supplies for the remaining days, and dropping off our cameras we headed out for dinner. We once again ate at JB’s where I had their turkey and stuffing dinner followed by an apple and cinnamon pie. It tasted okay, but I’d had better elsewhere before – it was certainly good enough though so left a reasonable tip.

As our final day of the trip was approaching I then spent the evening making more of an effort to pack my suitcase ready for flying as tomorrow would be spent driving to Salt Lake City. It was now Good Friday, and we’d be spending Easter Sunday on flights back to our respective countries of origin. I gave one of the Easter eggs I’d been carrying around the USA to my friend, and ate part of the other one myself.

 

8.8 miles walked

Utah Day 11 – Hiking Zion Day 2

We knew that there was little left for us to cover in Zion, particularly with my friend’s fear of heights limiting which paths we could take. With this in mind we knew we could have a fairly late start to the day. The breakfast at this hotel was probably the worst we’d had – typical that it was the place we were at for the longest amount of time.

When we got to Zion we decided to pay US$20 parking so we could park closer to the visitor centre, instead of using the free on-road parking further back. This time we didn’t have to queue for the shuttle for long at all and was soon at the “Big Bend” stop to have another go at photographing “Angel’s Landing” with the sun now in a better position.

This didn’t take long so we hopped straight onto the next shuttle and took it back to a stop with a washroom before heading to the start of the Sand Beach Trail. This trail is supposed to take around five hours to complete, though we completed it just under two hours. We did however miss out about a mile of it as you can start from two different places.

The hike was incredibly warm, and was also hard work plodding on through endless mounds of sand. For a good portion of this hike there was no shelter from the sun either which meant the heat was relentless and unforgiving. This trail is also used by horses which was evident not just by their hoof prints, but also by what they’d left behind frequently on parts of the path.

Once this hike was over I’d had enough of hiking and didn’t really want to do any more this trip; especially when it didn’t really serve a purpose. I sat down on the benches at the end of this trail and poured the sand from my shoes – it was incredible just how much of it I’d picked up along the way.

The next few shuttles to turn up at this stop were full so we decided to sit under the shelter and eat lunch before taking one to The Grotto. From there we took the Grotto Trail back to the Lodge and looked around the gift shop there. There wasn’t really anything of interest to me though so we took the next shuttle to Canyon Junction.

At this stop we took the Pa’rus trail which would take us eventually all the way back to the visitor centre. We stopped along the way though to go in the Zion Human History Museum. There we watched a twenty-two minute video about Zion before walking the rest of the way back to the visitor centre and eventually the car.

The video described Zion as unique with nowhere else like it in the world. I think it’s uniqueness is a combination of both the reds of the iron deposits in the mountains combined with the greens of the trees along the Virgin River. Either one of those alone is not unique and can be seen in many places, though together they’re not so common.

We dropped off our bags at the hotel and then headed back out, earlier than usual, to find somewhere to eat. On the other side of town we found a restaurant called Stage Coach Grill where I had chicken, as is often the case, and finished the meal with an amazingly large slice of chocolate cake.

We hadn’t covered as many miles today, but we’d been out in the desert sun for a lot longer. Zion Canyon was now done, but our time staying in Hurricane was not yet over.
9.2 miles walked

Utah Day 10 – Zion Canyon National Park

Our original plans we’d made before we started this trip, had marked this day to cover some of Bryce Canyon and some of Zion. However, in reality as we’d already finished Bryce all we needed to do was to travel to Zion.

After breakfast we paid for the B&B and continued our journey. What I found surprising though was that the place cost us over US$280, when the quoted price of US$210 plus taxes should only have been about US$235.

The drive to Hurricane where we’d be staying for the next few days was under two hours away. The hotel wasn’t yet ready for us to check-in so we just left our luggage there, and drove back to Zion National Park.

Unlike the other parks, this one doesn’t allow people to drive through so we had to park up on the road and walk to the entrance. It was already very warm by this stage, so we applied some sunscreen before heading over.

Zion Canyon National Park, along with Bryce Canyon and the Grand Canyon form some of the most impressive canyons in the country; if not the world. It was also Utah’s first national park and has been a destination for tourists for over one hundred years.

Inside the park it was then a forty-five minute queue in the midday sun in order to board a shuttle bus. We decided the best thing to do would be to take the shuttle to the furthest point, and work our way back over the course of the next few days.

We got to Temple of Sinawava at 13:35 and stopped there for lunch using some of the supplies we’d bought the day before. This stop should have two walks available – the riverside walk and from this “The Narrows”. However the latter of these two was currently closed due to a high water level.

This walk is 2.2 miles and as a guide is supposed to take about 1.5 hours – however even with many photograph stops it didn’t take anywhere near this. In fact, it only took us around fifty minutes. The views weren’t that amazing considering what we’d seen in Yosemite, so perhaps this was a contributing factor to what made the trail so quick. I probably wouldn’t normally call it a trail however as this was a tarmaced path.

Once we got back to the start we boarded the free shuttle to get back to the previous stop, Big Bend. This stop is only a scenic stop from which you can see “Angel’s Landing”. This didn’t take long so we were soon back on the bus heading to “Weeping Rock”.

At weeping rock the trail is less than half a mile, though is still supposed to take half an hour. We had this done in about ten minutes inclusive of the time it took to photograph the weeping rock at the end. The weeping rock is where water has seeped through the rocks so that droplets fall in front of a ledge below it.

The next stop was “The Grotto” and here we decided to go for a longer walk. We started off with the Grotto Trail which eventually provides access to the trails for the lower and upper “Emerald Pool” trails. The combination of these trails should be around two hours, but we covered them in half that time. The pools weren’t that impressive however as the water was a murky brown from the sediment, and very little water was flowing.

We got back to the visitor centre at 17:20, and drove back to Hurricane. The temperature by now had reached 83 degrees Fahrenheit, and the water in the car felt like it wasn’t far off the temperature of tea. After we’d checked in to the hotel we went for food at JB’s Restaurant where I had “Parmesan Crusted Chicken”, and a blueberry cheesecake for dessert. This was one of the cheaper meals we’d had as this one with a very generous tip came to only US$40 – even after we’d pointed out to them they’d missed the salad off the bill.

7.8 miles walked

Utah Day 9 – Bryce Canyon Day 2

I’d been keen on going for a run, but I decided in -2 degrees Celsius weather that shorts and a t-shirt wouldn’t be enough. Instead I slept until it was time to head over to the main building for breakfast. This time it was yogurt with pieces of apple in, and french toast with raspberry jam on the top.

As we didn’t have much left to do in Bryce we weren’t in any rush to get going. When we finally left we first stopped by the general store to get enough supplies to last us for the next few days and drove on to the canyon. Instead of carrying on to the end we instead turned off towards Bryce Point so that everything we’d see today would be new.

After what we’d seen of Bryce Canyon the day before, the view from Bryce Point wasn’t that impressive in my opinion, and neither was that from Paria Point or Inspiration Point. From the last of those there were some slightly different views however.

By this point it was around 11:30 and the car park for Sunset Point was full. After one complete lap of the carpark we eventually found a space on the second lap. We thought from there we were heading towards Sunset Point however we found ourselves at Sunrise Point and at the start of a different trail. We walked part way down the trail before deciding to head back in search of the Navajo trail.

At the start of the trail we could see that part of it was closed at the point where it should come up through “Wall Street”, but we decided we’d go the otherway around the route to see how far of this 1.3 mile trail we could manage.

Fairly early on the trail descends through a narrow valley with many switchbacks before continuing along the bottom and along a dried up stream. Eventually after almost 1.2 miles we reached the other end of Wall Street and where the route was blocked off. It meant that most of the trail can be done, but you have to do almost double what it would normally be.

The route back up out of the canyon is harder work, especially when reaching the switchbacks but we took our time as we’d now seen everything we wanted to in Bryce Canyon. In fact, we’d seen almost everything that we could do with the trails that were passable.

On our way out of the park we came across a turning for Fairyland Canyon, though it was a very similar viewpoint to others we’d seen. One thing I did notice here though was that if someone was to park up there they could walk along the rim all the way to Rainbow Point and back without paying for entry. It’d be a very long walk though.

On our way back to Panguitch we stopped a few times looking for trails and viewpoints we might have missed, though even in Red Canyon it didn’t seem like there was much else to see.

Back at the B&B I decided I’d got for a run, and headed out into the mid-afternoon heat. It’s amazing how much harder it is to run when you’re at altitude, but despite wanting to stop before I’d even done a mile I’d finished eight miles in a couple of minutes over an hour. For the rest of the afternoon I relaxed until it was time to go out for food.

For our evening meal we’d planned to eat at a place near Bryce Canyon which was a twenty minute drive away. When we got there though we found it’d be a forty-five minute wait so we decided it’d be better to go back to Panguitch and eat there. We found a small diner called Henri’s Drive-in which served burgers and other similar fast food. It was quick, and cheap, but maybe not the best tasting meal of the trip. As it was a bit on the small side I also got a cake from the nearby general store to fill the gap.

Another day had passed, and on the following day we’d be making the drive to Zion National Park – the final national park of our adventure.

 

7.5 miles walked, 8 miles run

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