Our illuminated orbiting friend was still up when I got out and about super early. I'd given myself this early start as I have an aversion to death by exposure in most desert environments and the Sonoran desert is no exception. I'd planned to run a marathon, unsupported through said area. This wasn't a deliberate test of strength however, just a necessity to avoid an extra 24 miles by road. I felt it was do-able and to be honest, I was a bit excited about it, almost as if it was a race and my opponents were my bottle, the terrain and the weather. There was also the complete unknown over whether I would get to a point and not be able to continue because of a barrier or scary trespassing signs. This was what had made me strangely quiet and unusually prepared in advance. I Got my morning run out of the way – a little 7 miler which weirdly got me to the settlement of Mobile. The thought of finishing, or being finished in a place that bore the same name as my start point was not lost on me. It was a strange place, seemingly only consisting of a fire station, a primary school and a huge landfill (I think?) site, with no real signs of houses. I'd budgeted for 4.5 litres of water, carried in a rucksack and waist pack bladder and a bottle for emergencies. I joked it'd be easy to fill with the last of my clear-looking pee in case of real strife. Half-joked? I carried 6 Nakd bars and 8 SiS gels as a nutritional source and set off, avoiding an area that had a faded “No Trespassing” sign and headed down the sandy road, towards Highway 85. The marathon distance by the way (26.2 miles) was completely co-incidental! The road did exist the whole way, bu by “road” I meant, slightly defined sand/trail track alongside the Espanto Mountain Range which a hosted a grandstand of onlooking Saguaros. I elected not to have breaks as such, to limit time in the sun and just walked my refuelling stops. The run felt fairly tough, but no major obstacle to my passing occurred and towards the end I felt good enough to do a bit of fun filming. After 3 and a half hours or so, I worked out that the shimmer in the distance was in fact the 85, about 3 miles away and managed to get there in a sub-4hr pace, before Nads and Beer. I ran out of water right at the end, which doesn't seem like a bad thing, but I'd probably not taken enough with me as I was starting to feel a bit rough by lunch, though this was temepered by my high spirits at being alive and also my pace, so I was more than happy to do another 6 or so miles with Beer to a lovely quiet off-road spot, just south of the Gila River and what looked like a lot of greenery in the distance. Nads pulled out a winner with a proper cowboy dinner of sausage/bacon and pasta and we toasted life in general. Very nice.
Start: Estrella Sailport. Finish: Highway 85, just south of Gila River. 39.95 miles
I was worried how I'd pull up this morning, with doing such a big stint without a rest yesterday, but there was no major soreness, which I was happy about. What I wasn't happy about however, as I crossed the Gila River was my initial balloon joy at seeing two different species of heron – the first time I'd seen waterbirds since early Texas, being popped by seeing that the Gila River was pretty much two puddles. The upset wasn't immediate, as I'd seen enough dry rivers in Arizona, New Mexico and Texas to last me a lifetime, but the fact that the greenness was in surrounding farmer's fields, where huge canals had diverted the water to fuelled a mixture of sadness and a fair bit of anger. Now I have to qualify this by admitting I don't know how long the farmers had been there and whether they always used to be able to use the Gila's water and upstream projects had taken away the volume they needed, rendering them blameless, to an extent, but regardless, someone has to surely answer for this. In my opinion, we can't just put water where we want it to be just because it's convenient or facilitates settlement of arid areas. Leave them alone, live somewhere else, or live within the means of the system, don't start water-intensive industries and think things through before acting. I've also recently found out that the Colorado River, which shaped the Grand Canyon doesn't even reach the sea any more because too much water is taken out of it before it gets there. Isn't this incredible? How hasn't something been done about this? Anyways, solutions for problems such as this are a bit beyond my limited non-running schedule currently, so I'll solve this after the run.
Being joined by Richard Beer is always a good way to improve the mood and it was a buoyant Dickie that put on his racing boots as he was about to break the 100 mile barrier of his trip as we passed by a town (Gas station) called Hassayampa, which he said made him want to run like Bez from the Happy Mondays in a tribute to legendary Manchester nitespot, The Hacienda. He didn't by the way, because we forgot. Ho hum. He saluted his century in time honoured cricketing style, raising his bat (shoe) to the assembled crowd (Me and a fertiliser factory) and getting on with the run, like a true professional. People were heard to remark it was a gritty century, devoid of flair, but one that got the job done. Like a true pro. Our second run (I told you he was getting good) was spent often looking over our shoulders at a guy hanging out of a helicopter in some sort of military exercise, with the chopper looking like something out of the A-Team opening credits. Beer must have been feeling like he was Hannibal (though I felt Murdoch more likely) as, after I'd done another quick solo run, he decided it was time for a THIRD run to give him 18 miles for the day and aid his quest for 140 miles by the end of his stay, if he got another 6 miles in that night. He was feeling better than me for sure, as the exertions of the previous day were starting to just get to me. My legs felt a bit heavy and I just felt a bit weary “inside”, but those miles were still part of my plan and we headed in the direction of Salome along the Highway. Now after a couple of miles, the highway engineer had decided that it would be a better idea to tarmac the side road (taking 13 miles to I-10), rather than the actual highway for some reason which was four miles shorter. Beer reminded me that Nads would not want to take Jenny on there and I called it quits, as I had no intention of doing an extra four miles that night that would still leave me 9 miles to go to the same point as if I started at the dirt road the next morning. Impeccable logic and one that my legs fully agreed with. I'd also had a “shoe-off” moment today, as I passed the distance it would take for a crow to fly from Mobile to Santa Monica – 1790 miles. This called for a night out. Fortunately where we stayed, at the crossroads settlement of Wintersburg there was a great little Western bar called the Tin Top which did the nicest steaks (and tiniest side salads), super staff and a great jukebox. Dirt road disappointment would not dominate our evening.
Start: Highway 85, just south of Gila River. Finish: Junction of Courthouse Road and Salome Highway. 28.55 miles
The aforementioned disappointment returned slightly in the morning as I was four miles behind a schedule that no-one knew about. I was determined to get to the Arizona/California border before 11am on Saturday so we could completely cross a state with Beer and I was equally determined to get to a town called Quartzsite for Friday night. I'd resolved to put in some big miles and felt a 40+ miler was doable, despite the niggles I'd been having. The dirt road itself was great to run on, I only saw two cars and could run in the middle of the road with no issues. Nine miles later, I met the guys, getting to the meeting point first. This was a meeting point to remember, despite it being a non-descript gravel lay-by. This was the first place I'd seen a sign with an arrow pointing towards Los Angeles. It suddenly all felt very real – I'd not really had a feeling like that since the first day, heading out of Mobile thinking “What am I doing?”, but now this was more “What have I done?” in nature. Whether it was this, or just the shorter day yesterday, I was feeling great, unlike Beer, who after a big meal and a bad sleep felt sluggish and really enjoyed the 7 mile run being converted early on by me to 9 miles up a constant 2% gradient. I thought some music was in order and put some Stone Roses (A Beer favourite) through my phone speaker. I then thought that he needed something stronger, so played Si's motivational playlist that I'd found amazing in the Guadalupes and through this and a good amount of bloody-mindedness, he (of course) got there.
The W. Salome Highway was marked in the style of many other major US roads in that it counts down the miles to the end point and on this run I passed the 26 mile mark, a visual reminder that there was still a marathon to go even after 16 miles. I wasn't worried or inspired by this to be honest, I'd taken a view that what needed to be done, would be done and got my head down. It's hard to keep your head down, however, when the scenery around is just so great and to be honest I was in a great mood and not really feeling like I was doing much. So much so that when the Long and Winding Road came on, it hit me like a sledgehammer and gave me whole body goosebumps. I'll take these moments whenever they come as it's not always like this and I was in such a giddy state I spent the next ten minutes taking amusing photos of cacti coming out of my head, as you do. I was joined by a determined but flat Beer for the last run into Salome and felt a bit sad that while I was buzzing off the amazing red sky over the mountains in the east as the sun went down, you could tell that this was a run that he just wanted done and dusted, so dusted it was. I think I'd frustrated the guys by doing a big stint today as Nads doesn't like finding somewhere for Jenny in the dark and my remarks that there had been adequate time to find one earlier in the day - despite being true - didn't go down well, but after I'd done a final mile as they headed to a likely spot to drop, there seemed to be no fall-out and I think everyone had written it off as just another on-the-road issue that wasn't worth stressing about. I'm glad we can do this, as despite a couple of mini bust-ups, it's been pretty harmonious most of the time!
Start: Junction of Courthouse Road and Salome Highway. Finish: Western edge of Salome. 42.53 miles
Still able to reach our Quartzsite goal for the evening, another 40 mile day was needed and I was feeling a mixture of relief and huge amusement at the stretch out of Salome which was a glorious downhill via a mountain pass. I asked Beer if he'd noticed it at the first meeting place, a town called Hope, with a big smile on my face. He had. He was less amused by this. I was amused on two counts by the sign on leaving, that stated “Your now beyond Hope”. I'm also now praying I don't misplace any apostrophes for the rest of this blog…
I have a particular routine in the mornings that revolves around the number 2. No-one wants to be caught on a road with no cover and I have to say my routine has been very successful so far. I was only a couple of miles into my run with a rejuvenated Beer, on his last day of running, when I informed him that this morning could only be viewed as a limited success and I was in a degree of trouble. As luck would have it however, as I was almost beyond hope (See what I did there?), I could just make out a Mexican restaurant. Now the thought of a Mexican restaurant being open at 9am in the UK might seem preposterous, but here, it's an acceptable breakfast. This is a concept I now fully advocate in all areas of known ultrarunning activity. They kindly allowed me to use their facilities and I tried to catch Beer fairly quickly as we were going to have another joint musical adventure. However, 500m down the road, I realised I'd left my phone in Dos Amigos and had to return, leaving me with what was probably an unbridgeable gap to Dickie before our scheduled break. I put the hammer down as best I could up a conveniently placed hill, but my speed has taken a knock physically and also mentally, with me being concerned about running out of steam that day and also not wanting to cause another injury, so it wasn't a quick process. Coming up to the 5 mile mark I saw Beer running at one point about a quarter mile in front and realised I'd get him. He reckons he'd slowed down a lot and done some stretching...yeah yeah! I will admit to seeing him running backwards for about 30 metres. I think the sun had gotten to him, or maybe he was just de-mob happy. He was certainly keen to get done, with his second run being immediately after the first, all the way to a mostly RV-park based town of Brenda (Cool name!) where we had lunch. He was heard to say “If anyone sees me near a pair of running shoes ever again, they have my permission to shoot me!”. We know what happened the last time a sportsman said that. Place your bets for Tokyo 2020 now people, you'll get great odds.
After lunch I had a thorny issue with the I-10. I'd worked out a route that had me having to cross it (naughty!) to get on to Gold Nugget Road. The road I followed was a real dirt track special, but my last bit of wild Arizona, so I wasn't complaining and took me alongside the I-10. I checked the map and despite me not seeing any turns I was actually a lot closer to the main road and not on the marked route at all. Sometimes where these roads go across dry river beds the river bed becomes the dominant feature and I'd obviously just followed this and now I was given what seemed like a present. I could make my way back to the road, or I could go UNDER the interstate via a storm drain that I could stand up in. I could make my way across to Gold Nugget Road, where I would obviously find my fortune and fund the next leg of the trip. What a result! However, this wasn't how it turned out. If any of you saw my Facebook live vido I ended up on a ridge stuffed with Teddy Bear Cholla (Actual name!) cacti that Michelle Hawk had warned me about. These guys stick to anything, like fleshy bits and have barbs. They also throw off segments that I now know love running shoes and start their journey into your feet as soon as they touch base. There were also a lot of rocks, holes and I imagined lots of rattlesnakes in the area, so I was not overly happy. I decided to channel this into filming what may have been my last video on earth. Fortunately I eventually escaped this prickly situation and got to the guys, albeit half an hour late. The lateness continued as the final 10 miles stint was on terrain that I would liken to a dune buggy course, but with more loose rock and sun at a height that meant you had to look at your toes to see anything. Not pleasant.
I saw our venue for the evening - a place called Silly Al's (For long time readers, you may remember Crazy Al's, in Louisiana. This was perhaps a slightly more restrained cousin) as I trudged the final mile to the RV, but that was it. Beer was done and I'd made it on time. We were in with a shot of the border. Like true athletes we had a big pasta dinner at Silly Al's washed down with nice isotonic Blue Moons and a special Blueberry ale with added blueberries, because, they contain anti-oxidants and this made it good for me. Nads was getting a bit tired as the awesome two piece band (Gypsy Wagyn) started to play, but was revived enough to stay till closing time. This was a relief as the real reason I wanted to get to Quartzsite was arriving very soon. We'd gotten back to the truck stop and were joking about the fact that supposedly RV's aren't overly welcomed by truckers (We've had no trouble) and I said we'll probably get someone hammering on the door. Cue said hammer and Nads' eyes widening in fright. Enter MY surprise guests – Jamie Wignall (former bandmate, football teammate, eternal mate) and Luli Petersen, his special lady whom he met whilst both studying at LSU in Baton Rouge and part facilitators of my connection to Coach Khadevis Robinson! They'd travelled 4 hours from LA to spend the weekend with us, for Jamie to do some miles and hopefully soften the blow of Beer's departure. It's not just Nads that can do surprise arrivals!
Start: Western edge of Salome. Finish: Pilot Travel Centre, Quartzsite. 40.48 miles
Total: 1911.62 miles