After spending the first five minutes getting sand out of all my trainers, I was ready. Despite it not being mega early, the frequency of me needing to start the day wearing a long sleeved top when the sun was already up is starting to hint at chilly times to come. The most important thing to have gotten ready was to have The Joshua Tree lined up and to have my finger hover above “Play”. I'd waited for this moment since the start of the run and the excitement over something sounding so silly to many had been off the hook for the last couple of days. I started up the hill, then remembered I'd forgotten my GoPro (Calling my first “faff-out” of the day) and started again. As I got the park boundary...organ playing the atmospheric notes of Where The Streets Have No Name acting as a stage for Edge's delay pedal guitar...slowly building...Adam Clayton's bass slide and BOOM. All in euphoria. It was hard to stifle screaming “Yesssssss!!!!” at loud, but my face would have said it all. This is the first song of what I reckon is the best three song opening of any album, ever, with I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For and With or Without You up to bat next. The rest of the album isn't too shabby at all and would be in many people's top 10. This album has been called Bono's love letter to America and I was feeling the love – you may have guessed this by now. As I was still climbing effortlessly with aural assistance, I chanced upon two students from LA, Rick and Sam who'd driven 2 hours to Joshua Tree to camp out overnight and they'd been taking photos of the Milky Way all night. Sounds like this place has got everyone wrapped around its little finger. The uphill continued, as we were ably informed by a park ranger before a descent into the Pinto Basin gave the feeling of being in a huge coliseum and I was able to see Jenny from about 4 miles away, before we started the climb up the walls of said coliseum. It is amazing how much being in a good frame of mind helps when attempting something tough like this and the miles were flying by as I bumped into an interesting chap called Craig from Pittsburgh, PA, a peace activist in the 60's and 70's, who was travelling around with his wife and was today wearing a fetching Trilby with a badge bearing the phrase One Love. I told him a lot about Peace Direct and he already knew the WWF well, so he was very pleased to hear about the run, certainly more so than he was with the recent political events, for sure. I left him to plough on towards the Cholla garden. Hang on...aren't they the evil cacti from Teddy Bear Mountain? Yes. Thousands upon thousands of them, I didn't know if I was hyperventilating due to a flashback or the increasing altitude as we left the Colorado desert and entered the cooler, higher, Mojave desert. Once I'd convinced myself that I didn't have to wade through them this time though, I was grand.
After lunch, I'd sent Nads ahead to check campsite availability as a thing called Thanksgiving was happening apparently in a day or so and even though it's meant to be a time to sit around the family table and have arguments over a turkey, it transpired that many people had decided to come and thwart our Milky Way viewing. As I'd reached the end of the fifth playback of The Joshua Tree and the end of the day's running, Nads confirmed the worst and after getting a LOT of photos of our first actual Joshua Trees as well as some of the interesting rock formations in the area, we descended in darkness and sadness to a nice enough RV park, but you know...it wasn't the night in God's Country we'd expected. It was still one of, if not the best days of running I've had so far.
Start: South entrance, Joshua Tree National Park. Finish: White Tank Car Park. 32.79 miles
As a result of not getting the result we'd hoped for yesterday, my plan of running in darkness through the dawn was somewhat scuppered. Nads must have been feeling similarly as well, as it was a unanimous decision with no arguments to get up early to be where we finished last night for first light, despite Nads' understandable dislike of driving in the dark in something as big as a cruise liner. Amazingly, our organisation was superb and no faff-outs were called, leading to us being comfortably back at White Tank to see an amazing sunrise. I'll give Thanks for that.
I didn't want today to be only about running and wanted to take a bit of time to actually see some of the Park at a slower pace and as a result it led to a bit of a staccato feel to the day. I had 7 miles up first and lined up play number 6 of TJT, and got ready for day 2 of Joshua Tree frenzy. Joshua trees are really quite remarkable organisms. They replace the Saguaro cactus as the dominant large plant in this area – indeed I haven't seen a single Saguaro since leaving Arizona. They grow up to about 40 feet and can live for up to 500 years and were described by William Collins O' Kane (Good Irish name!) as an “adventurous yucca that has embarked on an endeavour to find out in how many directions it can grow”. In many instances they give out the impression of a man throwing his arms to the heavens, with that fact leading to a resemblance in some eyes to an Old Testament prophet. Obviously Joshua must have been a bit of a shaggy mess and subsequently had his name appropriated! After seeing only two, by the time we'd stopped the previous night I was in for another of the many treats I've had so far on the run, as I selected an off-road route to save a couple of miles. I ignored that this route ended up being deep sand, uphill into a headwind and concentrated on the sheer number of these contorted wonders that were growing either side of me. "Joshua Trees, on the 'ill sir. Thousands of 'em". I didn't take a map, but felt that if I kept the sun at my back and the wind in my face, I'd have a decent chance of popping out on the road at the right place. Despite not knowing what way the wind was meant to be blowing that day, it worked out alright in the end! As well as the plant life I have no trouble encountering I was lucky enough to see a couple of long-eared jackrabbits and a ground squirrel. Nads had even seen a coyote the previous night, and had called for me to come and see, but I actually heard her (apparently) whistle and shout and thought it was in fact, a coyote in the distance and didn't think there was any point in getting up to check. That my friends, is irony, right there.
A quick drive to the freaky Skull Rock proved a big old break for a mere three mile run to our next sight, but this was a slightly more taxing affair, with a 3 mile round trek up and down the 5,457 foot Ryan Mountain, which gave an unbelievable panorama of the Park and distant mountains. Ominously, one of them – San Gorgino had a good amount of snow on top of it. I think I deal with heat a lot better than cold and it put a shiver (no pun intended) down my spine, once the initial excitement had subsided. Two more runs awaited after the descent and I wish I could have had ten. I knew that the Park boundary was approaching and concentrated on keeping my head up and absorbing everything around me as you never know if you'll come back to a place, even one as special as this. A queue of cars at a barrier was the sign that this all-too-brief chapter of the run was at an end and on the 8th play, a track that you may not have heard called Exit comes on. This is a song that I wish would go on longer and get bigger and bigger, but I think U2 realised that if it did, the world would probably explode, so they put a lid on it. It was still long and beefy enough for me to get very excited and I decided to put the hammer down increasingly to see what fast felt like again. 7:00, 6:30, 6:00, 5:45 and finally 5:30 min/mile came up on my watch and I held it there for half a mile or so, slowing as Exit exited and was surprised to see I didn't feel tired. That was nice to see and also fortunate as I still had another 7 miles or so to go and it was going to be another finish in the dark, with me foolishly not wearing white or carrying lights. It sort of felt right though for me to have a genuine reason not to like my first run out of one of my new favourite places and we were brought down to normality with a bump when we arrived to a Walmart carpark where we were staying overnight to see it was absolutely packed at 6pm on Thanksgiving Thursday, or so we thought. Despite our phones and watches confirming that it was, still indeed Thursday, we were informed by a store attendant that it was Black Friday and the aisles were clogged with queues of people who'd decided to abandon family time to come and get $10 off a teddy bear and have a fight over a plasma screen. The last part was obviously true due to the heavy security and POLICE (!) presence in the store. When asked if we had any electronics by a staff member as we left I replied “No sorry, we're a bit weird. We just came in to buy some food.”
TAKE ME BACK.
Start: White Tank Car Park. Finish: Crossroads of Palomar Avenue and Yucca Trail. 34.33 miles. Total: 2,077.45 miles