I'm sure Beer was enjoying a bit of schadenfreude, following my rubbing in of that downhill as I got going at 7am after a 2am end to last night's festivities. 20 miles to the border. My fraught relationship with the I-10 and its varying quality of semi-parallel roads would be ongoing that day, but my first 6 miles were great. Tarmac, great views, lovely weather and a record four-strong welcoming party at the end of the run. Whilst Jamie and my wearing of our Liverpool tops couldn't inspire a victory away at Southampton, it did make us look pretty smart for our photos by another sign offering a choice between Phoenix and LA. One way traffic only here, mate. Pretty much as soon as we set off we realised we were about to enter the exit ramp of the interstate so we backtracked to find that we were off-road and heading for the hills. These were like nothing we've had before with gradients of 20% or more in places and I “eased Jamie in” by happily walking them! All the best ultrarunners have walked hills before. That's what I told J, anyway. We had a great catch up over many subjects as we finished our tough, but fun run and this continued on an almost instant third run, where J rode a very fetching green cruiser which caused great amusement on a few occasions where it refused to go through deep sand, like an old dog turning down a walk in the rain. More walking? Suits me fine as any excuse where I don't feel guilty is lapped up. An advantage of wheeled company came in the form of someone carrying my water for me and a sound system, with J's generally great music taste on showcase. The culmination of this run was the biggie however – our final state line before the ocean. I was filming a facebook live, GoPro-ing the forward approach and Nads had the camcorder out in our homage to Silicon Valley. Arizona was done on schedule. I then informed Beer that we were done for the day and he jokingly replied that he never got any half days. Maybe he was only half-joking! My emotions were a little mixed as I crossed, to be honest, Arizona had been good to us and California just seems so...near an ending, of sorts. This feeling will probably dominate the next couple of weeks – it has to. This is where we'll organise ourselves for the next part of the adventure, whatever form it takes. I will however make sure that this is still part of this fantastic adventure and resolve to enjoy every minute. Even the bits that are as big a pain in the ass as a Teddy Bear Cholla would be.
We were pretty tired to be honest after last night and after a quick lunch and a final beer with Beer we headed back to the RV park for a nap, by the banks of the Colorado River (Which still has water in at this point!). Jamie wasn't feeling too great after lunch at all but managed to just about pull through until dinner, when he came round a bit and after a spell in the super toasty hot tub (The luxury!) he was back in the game, but at this point an early bed was on the cards for all of us and we now had new residents of the “Beer Cave”. We were glad to have them. It was with genuine sadness that we said goodbye to Beer as he'd made the transition from a visitor to a real member of the team and we shared many an adventure having run 610 miles cumulatively together during his stay. He can be my wingman, any time.
Start: Pilot Travel Centre, Quartzsite. Finish: Just after the Arizona/California State Line, Blythe. 19.53 miles
Just as we're starting to deal with Beer's departure, it was also time for our hard-working Californian duo to return to Temecula and leave us all alone. This was not before we were showered with myriad gifts including PG Tips, McVities Digestives, the contents of their beer cooler, blister plasters and a bottle of champers, which I hope they'll be able to have some of, at Santa Monica. Coupled with them treating us to lunch and dinner, we felt very lucky and humbled. I know they're our pals and all that, but this really was a gesture that went above the norm and was appreciated more than you can blurt out in a few words. Me and Jamie had a small matter of 11 miles to get done after a welcome lie-in, slightly curtailed by my body clock still being on Mountain Time. This was all on good roads, and even going through Blythe, we weren't really bothered by traffic and I gave J his first real introduction to Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. Strap yourself in and make sure you're seated comfortably Jamie – I've just changed your life for the better! P.S. For those of you wondering how you too can embark on this wondrous journey, I'd say start with The Boatman's Call, Henry's Dream and Push the Sky Away for a fairly wide brush approach, with a Greatest Hits thrown in after you've got the general idea. Then move onto the new album, Skeleton Tree, which is something else. If you manage to do this (hold off on Skeleton Tree) by December 1st 2016, go to your cinema to see the film One More Time With Feeling (Showing Dec 1st only!), THEN listen to Skeleton Tree. It's pretty moving stuff.
After the guys had left, the RV felt very empty and I'm sure it was worse for Nads as I headed out for 80-90 miles over the next three days, off road or on dirt tracks, due to the lack of other alternative routes that would take me in a rough straight line to the southern edge of the Joshua Tree National Park. I'd spent the previous evening fretting about this as even with the aid of satellite images, you just can't tell what these are going to be like and I was resigned to a slog. I'd lightened up a bit overnight and reminded myself that I'd dug deep before and I could do so again. I was just worried that my achilles tendon, which I've always had an ongoing fraught relationship with and which had become upset with the recent 40+ miles days and the last 48h of hills and soft irregular ground, was really going to hate this. A freshly re-taped tendon stepped onto the battlefield, or desert, as most people call it. After meandering a bit to start with, I ran under some power lines, which often have some sort of track by them. In this case it started off pretty OK, though eventually became so sandy that I was on and off it, testing out the surrounding ground, before realising that it was no better or worse and contained far more holes, a couple of which I disappeared into. God knows what lived in them, but I'm pretty sure I didn't tread on anything organic and it was probably best, given the nature of the reptile population in this area. One sign indicated that there may even be tortoises in the area, which would have been amazing if I'd caught a glimpse, but alas. This hare turning into a tortoise over the weeks was plain out of luck. Running through often quite deep and soft sand was such a drain, but I did get to the RV in pretty decent order though, and we're well placed for tomorrow after a good dinner and lots of time sat on my bum. Let the desert trip continue.
Start: Just after the Arizona/California State Line, Blythe. Finish: In the Colorado desert, just off I-10 Jct 217. 26.96 miles
My morning thoroughfare was he awesomely named Chuckwalla Valley Road, which was a road, in a valley, that should be full of chuckwallas – large iguana like lizards that are out and about during the day. The disappointments began immediately. First of all, it technically wasn't a thoroughfare as I soon encountered a newly closed road. Secondly, to put you out of your suspense, I didn't see a chuckwalla all day. I can only imagine that was because they'd seen the sign saying road closed that I decided to ignore and decided to be good citizens and seek an alternative route. The good thing about closed roads, however are no cars, which means you can switch off and just listen to music. This was all good until I got the fright of my life as a utility truck sped past my right shoulder on its way to a bridge repair site. As I approached said site, I ran past the now demolished town of Hell, which got razed to make way for the I-10. To be fair, a town called Hell was never going to take off really, was it? Location, location, location...and don't call your town Hell. I couldn't call this the Highway to Hell though, as under foot was a mix of tarmac, interspersed with rough trail and sand, which had a nice habit of forming smooth surfaces over a hole that would try to push your ankles in places they didn't want to go. Backroad to Hell at best. When you're on rough trails too, you're constantly looking down at your feet so a sharp stone doesn't hurt your feet or even worse, a bigger one doesn't cause you to trip, or roll your ankle. As a result, sight-seeing wasn't really on the agenda. Today was planned to be a bit of a short day, to allow us to enter Joshua Tree first thing of a morning, whilst spreading the miles between two days and the original stopping point was a semi-ghost town, called Desert Centre, which had an abandoned gas station, a temporarily (or more likely indefinitely) closed cafe, which was a great shame and the only signs of life were a post office and a couple of RV parks, alongside the large number of trucks that were turning up for the night. As a result I decided to take up the luxury of three miles of good tarmac to the next junction on the interstate – with Eagle Mountain Road. If ever there was a road to make me feel like Bilbo Baggins on an Unexpected Journey, it was this and we parked for the night at the site of one of general Patton's regiments' old field hospitals from WWII (The only sign of which was a monument), facing down the seemingly infinitely long and straight road towards the eastern mountains of Joshua Tree, with a good amount of miles done. Perfect. So perfect in fact, that a roadwork crew turned up to work on the slip road in close proximity, just as we were going to bed. Would you like some rain for that parade, sir?
Start: In the Colorado desert, just off I-10 Jct 217 Finish: Jct 189 I-10. 29.52 miles
A good thing about those extra three miles and sleeping at the noisy 217, was that the miles didn't need to be done today and we could take things pretty easily. It's great when you've got a definite goal to stop at in a few days and you make it ahead of schedule, as it forces you to have an easy day, something that I struggle to do, unless forced in some way. In fact today we only had to do about 23 miles, which if we run to our usual routine we would do by lunch. Our start got delayed a little when we received a video from Jessica Taloney, the breakfast news anchor at WKRG, Mobile, with a video of the story they did when I was in Mobile that I still hadn't seen and much excitement ensued, of course. It was absolutely brilliant and we watched it a few times. It was very strange seeing myself and how I looked at the start, compared to the bearded sunbaked traveller I appear now. This added a frisson of excitement to the day as this was also the day where we would pass the 2,000 mile mark. This happened on the second run of the day and after 15 miles of more sand, dirt and hills, I saw Nads in the distance, holding a sign that she'd made celebrating the fact. Now I don't know how to feel at moments like this to be honest, having had lots of peaks recently and also with some more to come in the very near future and while, I'm still able to enjoy the moment, I'm just focussed on moving on and getting to the ocean. Maybe this is one of those “it will sink in afterwards” things, I guess. Not knowing where my endpoint will be, whether it is 2,200 miles, 3,000 or five times that amount is also a natural dampener, but getting ahead of myself has led to issues earlier in the run that I'm quite happy to avoid now.
The lack of a marching band coming out of my ears doesn't mean we can't enjoy ourselves though and we decided to “do lunch” after this run, as we were by the last local services we'd see for about 60 miles and one that probably did for Desert Centre, at Chiraco Summit, and we stuffed ourselves silly at the lovely little cafe including pumpkin and cherry pies afterwards. A quirky little incident happened as I was starting my final run where just outside the museum to General Patton, the feted American desert tank commander who had a bit of a friendly rivalry with our good old Monty, a trailer pulled up with a Land Rover with UK plates on, on the way to be refurbished and it was pulled by another Landy with stickers from Devon on the side windows! Yeah! Take that, George! Spurred on by this minor show of British revivalism, I set off not along the shorter main road, but to the base of the Joshua Tree mountains to hug the Park boundary as the sun began its slow, slow, quick descent in the West and as if it knew, One Tree hill, from the Joshua Tree, by U2 came on shuffle. With the amount of music I have on my phone, there was about a 1% chance of this happening for the duration of my run, so it must have been some sort of telekinetic excitement that caused it, or maybe Bono is all powerful after all.
Start: Jct 189 I-10. Finish: South entrance, Joshua Tree National Park. 22.82 miles