Picnic tables and Paradise!

Our next stop after Arlene’s involved a small detour. We headed inland, away from the coast to a town called Solvang. We had read about Solvang during our research for this trip and it looked a little different from many of the places we had visited so far, and so it proved to be. Solvang is a town founded by the Danish community over a hundred years ago in the middle of a beautiful wine growing region. Over the years it has developed into a tourist attraction and to be honest has probably gone a little too far.  The town has effectively become a stereotypical Hans Christian Anderson style village and gives the feeling of being in the middle of a theme park. It was definitely different to everywhere else we have been on this trip and for anyone who has been to the EPCOT park in Florida, it would have fitted in seamlessly there.

Solvang. Town or theme park?

We were soon back on our bikes and making our way back towards the coast. With just a week or so left to cycle there was a definite feeling of excitement between us especially when we looked on the map and saw that the next two days, both of 60 miles, appeared relatively flat. Day one went perfectly according to plan and after an initial 15 miles of up and down we hit the coast and an almost pan flat route for 45 miles. We were flying along and with the reduced weight of a few kilos we were averaging our highest speed of the trip, almost 15mph. The sun was still shining, spirits were high and we were closing in on Mexico fast.

This is easy!

Then came day two. What a difference! We expected a repeat of the previous day but that’s not how it worked out. The Santa Ana winds had blown up overnight and they were blowing at a steady 35 miles per hour straight into our faces and with gusts of 55 mph it was tough from the start. Throughout the trip so far winds have not been a factor, they have generally been light and either a tail or a cross wind and on the occasions we have ridden into the wind they have provided a cooling respite from the heat. But not today.

Stopping for a break at Point Magu.

Central and Southern California are in drought, we have seen evidence of this many times, especially in the dry Central Valley and when the Santa Ana wind blows it creates many problems not least of which is the threat of wildfires. As we pressed on very slowly into the wind we saw fires burning in the hills. In the city of Ventura smoke was spreading along the highway and we saw Police patrol cars positioned on major junctions presumably waiting to close the roads if it became too dangerous. Our progress was pedestrian like at best, long straight open roads (sometimes six miles in length) were draining us of energy, then we would have a short respite as the road made a short couple of turns before heading into the wind again. We checked the map and saw that Point Magu Naval Base marked the junction in the road where it turned South and we would have the wind at our side …. that was almost 40 miles into the day. We moved slowly on, our conversation became non existent, the only focus was battling the wind. Eventually we made the turn and with a huge amount of relief we headed south towards our campsite in Malibu.  Unfortunately this was also the part of the route where the flat road subsided and became a rollercoaster up and down road which would normally not have caused us any issues but with tired legs the road seemed to go on forever. “Will we ever get there?”

You can see the “Smoke on the water” in the distance.

Eventually, after two hours longer than the previous day and an average speed of 10mph, we pulled into the campsite utterly exhausted. We didn’t speak, we rested our bikes next to one picnic bench and Sarah lay down on the seat part of another, Steve lay down on the top of the bench and we both fell sound asleep, in the middle of the afternoon on a busy campsite.

Our Malibu campsite with comfortable picnic tables!

We didn’t see too much of Malibu, our site was in a fabulous location but by the time we woke up, showered, put up the tent, cooked and ate food it was dark and time for bed. Tomorrow was a big day, 50 miles across the metropolis of Los Angeles.

We both slept very well, no surprises there, and we were back on the bikes as the sun came up. We had planned to do this ride early on a Saturday morning and had built it up in our heads from other people’s experiences as one of the most difficult days of the trip, in the end it was nothing like what we expected, we had a great day.

With the sun coming up, very little traffic and the Santa Ana winds subsiding, we flew along Highway 1 into Santa Monica where we picked up a wide cycle path. It weaved it’s way next to, and in many places through the beach where we had sand on both sides. We cycled past the famous pier at Santa Monica, onto Venice Beach and Muscle Beach, passing runners, skateboarders and walkers and chatting to other cyclists. We were having a ball.

All quiet on the cycle path past Santa Monica pier.

The horrible experience of the day before was forgotten, well forgotten in our heads but maybe not our legs. Next came the Los Angeles Airport where we cycled, still on the beach, past the end of the runway before two more great beaches in Hermosa and Redondo. Twenty-six miles on a bike path, on the beach. Amazing.

Passing the airport runway in Los Angeles.

Then it was back on Highway 1 for a few miles before we saw the huge cranes, oil tankers, cargo ships and cruise liners that signalled we were entering America’s largest sea port and the city of Long Beach……It’s Marathon time!

Is it still the middle of the night?

Our Airbnb was only a mile from the start of the race. The Marathon started at 6am so we were up at 4.30am and, after a quick breakfast, we walked together in the dark down to the waterfront. There were all sorts of different distances being run so the area was packed with thousands of competitors and spectators. At 6am Steve was off. With sunrise not until 7am the first few miles were run in a dark, red and orange glow as a magnificent sunrise exploded. Afterwards Steve said he had never started a race to such a fantastic sight.

A great place for a marathon!

At the start of this trip he had expectations of running a pretty good time. But as time and events have progressed he has realised that wasn’t going to happen and, after the day of the Santa Ana winds, survival to the finish was the target. In the end he was pleased with his time especially since he found it quite hard from mile six onwards, but he stuck with it and finished in 3 hours 28 minutes (with an emergency toilet stop which cost him 3 minutes!). He came in 127th position out of almost 1800 finishers and managed a qualifying time for the Boston Marathon.

Right. That’s over, now back on the bikes!

We spent the rest of the day relaxing on the long beach in Long Beach and realising that we had only three more days of cycling left. The next morning we set off to start those three days. Steve’s legs were not feeling too bad after the run the day before much to Sarah’s disappointment. She had secretly been hoping he would have trouble walking never mind cycling and was all set for an easy three days. Unfortunately not!

South of Long Beach we started to pass through stereotypical Southern California (SoCal) beaches and we loved it. Beach town after beach town, palm tree after palm tree, wave after wave and surfer after surfer after surfer. We are sure you get the picture. The sky was cloudless and blue…..again. The sun was shining…..again. It was like cycling through a Hollywood surfing movie. We stopped for coffee at Huntington Beach which is where surfing was introduced to the mainland from Hawai’i. Also if you have ever been into a Hollister clothing shop you will have probably seen the live feed of a beach displayed through a webcam. That is Huntington Beach.

Huntington Beach.

Surfing is a way of life in this part of the world. People surf before and after work and school and sometimes during it too. Any opportunity and the surf boards are out. We had to be content with watching for now but if the weather holds out, we intend to have a couple of days at the beach before we fly home. Steve has threatened to hire a board and show off his skills……that should be entertaining to the locals!

We did have to make one deviation from the coast. Camp Pendleton is a big airforce base situated right on the California coast. In the past it was possible to cycle through the camp, but after 9/11 security was tightened and has continued to be tightened still further so that now if you want to cycle through you have to apply months in advance and have fingerprints and photographs taken, almost like applying for a visa. This isn’t practical for most people so the authorities have opened up Interstate 5 to cyclists for an 8 mile stretch around the base. Cycling on a 10 lane Interstate was an experience in itself. Luckily we hit it at a relatively quiet time and the shoulder was very wide making cycling noisy but easy, that is until we came across an unattended maintenance truck completely blocking the shoulder. We had to cycle around it in lane 1 timing it to avoid the fast moving traffic!!

Sarah on Interstate 5.

After a couple of days cycling from Long Beach we pulled into our final stop before the Mexican border, La Jolla. This is an area on the coast which is at the very North of San Diego, 15 miles from downtown and at the Southern end of the Torrey Pines reserve which encompasses the world famous golf course home to where Tiger Woods has had much success. It is a beautiful area with rocky coves, gorgeous beaches and a town centre with great shops, eateries and a village like atmosphere.

La Jolla Cove.

La Jolla was our big treat of the trip to ourselves and as we were expecting to be pretty tired when we arrived here we had booked an eight day stay in an Airbnb. The plan was to stay here until Steve’s son and his girlfriend arrive from the UK. It was a bit of a gamble, eight days living in someone’s house, who we had never met, could have its problems but it looked lovely on the website and the reviews were good.

The first part of our plan was pretty spot on, we were tired, very tired. In fact we have developed a new saying for ourselves (after our windy entrance to Malibu) “How tired are you Sarah,” asked Steve “I’m picnic table tired” came the reply!

The second part of the plan, our accommodation, well where do we start? As we cycled into La Jolla we saw that the houses looked pretty smart and the further up into the surrounding hills, the smarter they become. As we were heading for the address we were heading further and further uphill. When we arrived we had to check the address several times. In fact we were still checking it when the front door opened, a guy appeared and asked “Sarah and Steve?”

The house was unbelievable and so was our hostess Marianela. The guy answering the door was her son Jan and he was staying just that night before flying to France for a few weeks. So it was just us and Marianela and we had a great time.

The house by day.
The house at night.

The house had been built by Marianela and her family 3 years ago. It is Spanish colonial and Mexican in style, reflecting the family’s heritage and it was decorated accordingly with fabulous furniture, paintings and photographs. It was a real family home with one wall full of photographs from four generations. It was a huge house and everything was of the highest quality but it was it’s location and view that was beyond anything we could have hoped for. Set into the steep hillside it had an unbroken view out across the golf course and on to the Pacific Ocean. Our bedroom had a balcony facing the same way. There was a beautiful pool and hot tub set in gorgeous grounds and we had it all to ourselves. We had to pinch ourselves everyday we were there to remind ourselves it was real.  It was the perfect place to relax and recover from our cycle and everything else we have done on this trip so far.

Paradise. It doesn’t get much better than this.

Marianela was the perfect hostess. Each morning she made us breakfast, with so many choices. Some of it was traditional Mexican and it was delicious. Often we could not eat again until late afternoon. We cycled into town for coffee and spent the days lazing around in the superb surroundings. Steve did try to do some training on the first couple of days but had to give in as the cycling, running, walking and the marathon caught up with him. We were in and out of the pool to cool down and then into the hot tub at sunset with a glass of wine, before cooking dinner and either watching a movie or chatting away with Marianela for hours. We had landed in the absolute perfect place for us that week. We were blown away.

Steve and Marianela enjoy the hot tub and sunset.

Oh we almost forgot…..there was the small issue of the last 30 miles to the border…..we must do that someday!!……..No… we are only joking. On our first day in La Jolla we were up and off to complete the task. Fifteen miles into downtown San Diego and then across the bay to the Coronado Peninsula. As we cycled along the narrow strip of land that links the peninsula to the mainland we had a great view of the city and it’s huge Naval presence. There were massive aircraft carriers and battleships tied up and helicopter gunships flying overhead. Once off the peninsula, things started to get very built up and very Mexican. We weaved our way through the grid road system and we were soon in the border town of San Ysidro and the busiest land border crossing in the world. It was huge, organised chaos, or maybe not organised, who knows. We struggled initially to find the pedestrian route but were eventually guided in the right direction, down a path, around a corner, up a ramp and there it was, a revolving gate into Mexico.

MEXICO. We made it!

We had done it. What started off two years before as an off the cuff comment by Sarah had been researched, planned and executed. We had cycled from the top to the bottom of the USA, from the Canadian border to the Mexican border. We had cycled 1873 miles (3014 kilometers) carrying all our equipment. Job done.

Even though no photography was allowed we explained our situation to a border official who very kindly took our picture and we walked away from the border with a sense of self satisfaction. We went straight to the public transport station and caught a train, with our bikes, back to San Diego and then at a super slow pace we cycled back to La Jolla where we have spent the last few days busy doing absolutely nothing!

A great place to do nothing at all.

We still have the small matter of two visitors from the UK and a trip to Las Vegas to contend with, so we will do one more post before we fly home explaining how we lost all our money at a roulette table on “The Strip”. Viva Las Vegas baby!

P.S. We normally write these posts together. Steve puts the narrative together and then Sarah corrects his spelling and grammer and then adds a few things herself. After that we sit down and select a few photographs to add in.

This last paragraph is done entirely by Steve so apologese for the bad spelin and gramma!

I just want to take this opportunity to say how proud I am of Sarah and what she has acheieved. Two years ago her cycling consisted of accompanying me on my long runs. 10 to 15 miles or so at 7 or 8mph (sometimes 9mph on a good day)! From the moment she made the off the cuff suggestion “Let’s cycle from Canada to Mexico” she has never failed to impress me. She has prepared so well and trained so hard. Just getting to the start was an achievement. Every ride we have been on she has just put her head down and got on with it. Gradually increasing up to 30 miles, then 50 miles, then 80 miles. In France and Italy I would send her up mountain after mountain and she never questioned it, she just did it and became stronger and stronger.

Throughout this trip she has been rock solid. Never complaining, even when I knew she was so tired she could cry she just kept going. The day we cycled 90 miles out of San Francisco, the day it rained from morning until night in Oregon and the day of the Santa Ana winds are just 3 days that spring to mind.

She camped in the cold, the heat the dust and the damp and each morning got out of the tent packed it away and set off on the bike with a smile on her face.

I know this will be a major achievement in her life and so it should be.

Well done Sarah. I am so so proud of you. You are amazing.

P.P.S. You can no longer say “I’m not a cyclist” You are and you are a bloody good one!

Staying at Arlene’s.

Wow!! What a week that was. Not one we really expected. In our heads it was going to be back on the bikes, see a few nice views and move slowly on South camping as we went but in the end it turned out to be slightly different.

Here we go again! Haven’t we been here before?

We had planned to drop the car off back in San Francisco and then do an optimistic ride of around 75 miles towards Santa Cruz (quite a long one for our first day back) but we were fresh, right?….. wrong. The two big walks in Yosemite had left some tiredness in our legs and when we set off we both felt a little sluggish. After a quick stop at the only Decathlon store in America (it wasn’t that great, but Sarah did manage to get a new bikini) we set off from the centre of San Francisco at 10.30. By 11.30 we had only covered 8 miles because we were constantly being stopped at endless sets of traffic lights for minutes at a time. Steve was becoming more and more frustrated, with a long day ahead we just wanted to get on with it. We naively thought going South out of the city would be as simple as coming into it from the North, with the great bike paths through well kept suburban streets. It was just the opposite, six lanes of traffic, the endless traffic lights and neighbourhoods that didn’t look that great. We eventually emerged from the main city area into the edge of Silicon Valley and then onto a bike path. At last no lights!  We had cycled less than a couple of miles on the path and found our path blocked by fences and no diversion signs. We fumbled our way through small residential streets back onto the main highway and with three hours of cycling we could still clearly see the skyscrapers of the city where we had started. It was getting hot and we were getting tired.

After a reload of calories at a “Denny’s” restaurant we eventually turned inland to cross the peninsula, only to find another road blocked due to an old landslide. The day was starting to drag on! We went back to a small town we had passed and called at the local fire station to ask what was going on. One of the fire officers lived close to where we were heading and directed us up a hill called “ Old La Honda”, a hill we will never forget. It went up and up, steeper and steeper, 57 minutes later and at 4.30pm in the afternoon Sarah got to the top after more than 2600 feet of climbing. We were both exhausted and with sunset around 6.30pm and 30 miles still to go, we were destined to finish this ride in the dark. The sun went down, and the temperature dropped like a stone. Eventually after more than nine hours of cycling, cold and exhausted and 90 miles after starting we arrived at our destination. Not the start we had wanted. With two spoons we demolished a huge blueberry pie and got some well deserved sleep.

The next day we were off again, through Santa Cruz where we stopped for a massive breakfast to catch up on calories.

Calorie catch up in Santa Cruz.

Soon we were back into the countryside and enjoying the cycling, through miles and miles of farming and agriculture. California provides much of the food for America. We have passed fields growing an unbelievable array of produce, from artichokes to zucchini and most things in between. That along with Silicon Valley, tourism and many other industries it isn’t hard to see that if California was an independent country it would be the world’s sixth largest economy (bigger than that of the UK).

The main theme of the next few days was the cold nighttime temperatures. Sarah was sleeping in seven layers of clothing and was still cold as it dipped down to two degrees. Not ideal when our sleeping bags are only rated down to 15 degrees!!!  

It’s going to be another cold one.

We were glad to get cycling in the mornings to warm up! We cycled around Monterey Bay and then onto a part of the coast we had been looking forward to for a long time. From Monterey to San Simeon is almost 100 miles and it’s renowned for spectacular scenery which has been featured in countless films. It certainly lived up to it’s billing.

This is what we came for.

The road is carved along steep cliffs, that fall sharply into the Pacific Ocean, and follows the contours as it dives into small bays and back out again.  Anything too severe and it is spanned by a bridge, most of them built in the 1930’s and are consequently decorative in nature. Rock and sea stacks of all sizes are sprinkled along the coast adding more to the already incredible scene.

More of the same please.

The whole stretch is a pleasure to see, great to drive and a dream to cycle. We spent the best part of three days making the trip. We cycled in the mornings before the traffic built up and were then sitting on the beach in the afternoons watching the surfers do their stuff. The advantage of the clear, cold nights were the clear, hot days that followed. We have had unbroken blue skies all the way from San Francisco, not a cloud in the sky for over a week.

Sarah stops for another healthy snack!

One morning we met a guy from Canada who was also cycling to Mexico. We stopped for a drink and sat together at a fantastic spot overlooking the Pacific at the only cafe stop for miles. We chatted for ages about different places we had cycled and experiences we have had. We never asked him his name so have christened him Canadian Cliff because of his nationality and the location we met him!  It made us realise how lucky we are to be doing this together and sharing the experience. We have met several people who are doing it alone and that must be hard in so many ways.

Steve and Canadian Cliff swap stories.

The area is also famous for the whale migration south to Mexico. Unfortunately, we were at the very beginning of the season and we were told there would be little chance of a sighting. That didn’t stop Sarah being on whale watch for three days! “It’s a whale” became a regular call that Steve would hear from behind. “No Sarah, it’s just a wave breaking on a rock”.

Always on the lookout for whales.

As we neared the end of this stretch we could see the landscape change in the distance as the cliffs ended and the low level rolling countryside started again. We both agreed it had been the most picturesque three days of the trip so far. As we started descending the last hill Steve heard the familiar shout from behind “It’s a whale”. He glanced over and there it was about 250 metres out to sea, the unmistakable sight of the water spouting from the blowhole of a humpback whale, then another, then another, then another!! A pod of about eight whales feeding in the bay. We sat and watched for about half an hour but unfortunately our mobile phone cameras were woefully inadequate to capture anything decent. We wished we had brought our better camera but space and weight have been at a premium on this trip, so we will have to live with the memories instead ….at least that way we are sure the whales will get bigger and more numerous overtime!!!

While we were sat watching the whales a group of women cyclists went past us, going up the hill, they were all saying hello as they went and commenting on what a beautiful day it was. They all seemed to be in their 50’s and 60’s and having a great time. One even offered to stop and take our photograph.

Eventually, all whale’d out, we got back on our bikes and continued on our way. We had planned to stay at a State Park about 10 miles away but it was a beautiful day, the roads were quiet and pretty flat and we had a bit of a tail wind so we decided to press on. We stopped to check a map on our phones for possible places to stay further along the coast and as we set off again the group of women cyclists had turned around and caught up with us, so we cycled along with them. Steve was chatting to a lady called Ann who was giving him tips on what to see in the area and Sarah started cycling with Arlene!! It turns out that they had been volunteers for a charity cycle ride the previous day and they were out to do the ride themselves that day. They were then stopping for lunch together at the end of their cycle. The ladies pulled off for lunch and Sarah caught up with Steve and said “Arlene is fantastic, she is 77 years old and flying along, she even said we could camp in her backyard and have a shower!” We both brushed it off as a nice gesture but had no intention of imposing on her. We continued on for about an hour and as were were still feeling good we decided to stay at the campsite we had initially scheduled in for the following night. “Let’s do 80 miles and then have a complete day off tomorrow” had been the conversation. Then things changed….quite a lot!

Why don’t we just cycle all day.

A car came past us and pulled off the road in front of us. A woman in a bright coloured cycling top jumped out and frantically started waving her arms in the air. “What is going on here” thought Steve, whereas Sarah immediately recognised her new cycling buddy Arlene. We pulled over and Arlene straight away reinforced her offer of camping in her back garden. “You’re from the UK, you’re too polite I knew you wouldn’t accept at the first offer”. It was the thought of a warm shower that swung it for Steve as we hadn’t been on a campsite with showers for three days. Arlene gave us her address, which was only a three mile detour from our route, in a place called San Luis Obispo which we had seen on the map but knew nothing about. She then jumped back in the car with her friend Judy and off they went. They even offered to take all our panniers which Sarah was well up for but Steve could see the scenario of “Well Officer it’s like this… We gave all our belongings to these two 70 year old ladies we just met on the side of the road and told us to meet them at this address which doesn’t exist”!!

A couple of hours later we arrived at Arlene’s address, which did exist, in fact it very much existed, it was a huge house in a great part of a great town. Arlene answered the door with her friend Marcia, who I think had come over for her protection, and had envisaged the scenario…”Well Officer these two strangers I met on the side of the road and brought home have taken all my possessions”!

We soon discovered Arlene was a liar…. she was never intending for us to camp in her garden. We were given the Royal treatment. Guest room and our own bathroom. It was magnificent. Then she said. “You two look pretty tired, I think you should stay two nights”. As we had cycled 76 miles that day and had planned to have the following day off it took Steve less than two seconds to accept the offer.

Over the next couple of days we had a ball and we laughed until our sides hurt. Arlene is a true character. She is funny and feisty and a real member of the local community and involved in all sorts of things from cycling, to yoga, to book club. Originally from Brooklyn she moved to California many years ago. She was definitely a case of “you can take the girl out of Brooklyn but you can’t take Brooklyn out of the girl”. “What the hell is this soap still doing on the knives” she would say to Steve while giving him a little slap as he tried to wash up!

I’m doing my best Arlene.

On the first evening Marcia stayed for dinner. She had been to many of the places in South America where we had visited earlier in the year, so we chatted about that. The following morning her friend Shirley popped in for a visit. Shirley is 65 years old and a Rotarian who has raised an enormous amount of money for charity and is off to Vietnam in a few weeks to help with cleft palate operations on children there. She is also a cyclist but does not cycle with Arlene’s group as she is too strong so she cycles with the men!  On the second evening her friend Judy came to dinner, she was also well travelled and great fun and we had another fantastic evening, eating great food and drinking cold beer.

Girls in the kitchen.

When the time came for us to leave. Arlene loaded us up with some of her delicious banana bread and a stack of energy bars for our onward journey. We did meet up 14 miles down the road for a goodbye coffee in a lovely little town called Arrayo Grande. On the way there we passed a group of cyclists coming the other way.  As we crossed one shouted out “Safe travel guys” … it was Shirley motoring along with the men.

No Arlene you can’t come with us!

The whole experience was inspirational. It shows what you can do if you put your mind to it. If you are reading this Arlene, “Thanks, we had a blast” (I wrote that last bit with my best Californian accent, with a little twang of Brooklyn!)

So it is on into Southern California and in many ways the last leg of our cycle, but we still have Los Angeles to negotiate and Steve has the small matter of a marathon to run. “Do I really have to do it Sarah? My legs are sooooo tired”.

“Yes you do. If a dog can surf, you can run a marathon”!

California. Where anything can happen!

Up and down. Hot and cold!

The remainder of our time in St George turned out to be partly relaxation and partly just the opposite. After enjoying the rodeo so much Sarah enrolled in a bull riding course ……. OK maybe she didn’t!  She did however spend a few hours each day making good use of the sun beds by the pool, enjoying the 30 degrees plus heat and Steve joined her for some of the time. Actually he joined her for all of the time! He also did quite a lot of running as he has a marathon coming up in a few weeks and his preparation hasn’t been going quite to plan. We also dusted off the bikes and had a few hours here and there getting our cycling legs moving again. The return to San Francisco and the resumption of our trip to Mexico is starting to loom large on the horizon.

St George is situated less than an hour’s drive from Zion National Park. This is a fantastic place with incredible scenery and some extremely varied hiking. We visited the park a few years ago and being so close we had to make a return visit. There were a couple of walks we wanted to do, those being Angel’s Landing and The Narrows, but squeezing two trips out to Zion and back around all the sun bathing was proving a little difficult to fit in. After much discussion about which walk to do Steve decided we should do Angel’s Landing….. and Sarah decided we should do The Narrows! Then Sarah suggested “Why don’t you run Angels Landing while I have a coffee and read my book and then we can do The Narrows together?”. Steve thought this was a brilliant suggestion so we parked up in Zion nice and early, caught the shuttle bus to the Zion Lodge and Sarah went off for her coffee and sausage and egg biscuit and Steve headed for the start of the trail. Angel’s Landing is called by some “The scariest hike in America”. It is a fairly steep two and a half mile climb up to a place called Scout’s Lookout, nothing too scary in that bit, it is just tough on the calf muscles. It’s the last half mile that all the fuss is about as it is a very narrow ridge sometimes only one person wide (you have to turn sideways to pass someone coming the other way) with 1500 feet vertical drop offs on either side. It’s defiantly not for vertigo suffers. There are some pretty good videos on youtube if anyone wants to take a look. Steve didn’t get his camera out until the end of the hike!

Steve at the very end of Angel’s Landing.

Another two and half miles back down and we meet up, with Sarah still licking her lips from her breakfast and having walked along the river bank in order to meet Steve. We then jumped back on a shuttle bus to the very end of the park to start The Narrows walk. This is the signature hike of Zion and can only be done at certain times of the year when the river isn’t too high or flowing too fast and there is little or no rain in the forecast. The hike is very unusual as you follow the river where it has cut a deep ravine through the rock with sheer rock faces on either side which are several hundred feet high.  The distance between the sides of the ravine is very narrow, hence the name. As you move along the hike you have to make several crossings of the river, what makes this particular hike unusual is there are no bridges!! So in order to cross the river you have to go through it!

“I can’t feel my feet”

To be honest it’s great fun. The trail goes on for 16 miles and you can get a permit to camp at the far end and then return. We did a shortened four hour route of which about two hours were actually walking in the water. Sometimes it was only a few inches deep, other times it was above waist height and it wasn’t particularly warm! The river bed is very rocky which makes it a little precarious under foot and we did see a few people fall in. Sarah ended up carrying her bumbag around her neck for most of the crossings. By the end our feet were completely numb, but it was well worth doing….. a great experience. We finished the day pretty worn out. “A day by the pool tomorrow I think” suggested Sarah with no argument on that one from Steve.

Taking a break.

After St George we headed South towards the world famous lights of Las Vegas, but as we hit the outskirts of the city with the mega hotels of The Strip in clear sight our route took us back North. The experience of “Vegas” will have to wait for a few weeks. We shall be returning with Steve’s son and his girlfriend at the end of October. For now it was onwards to Death Valley.

Wow that place is hot! It’s late September and it was still 43 degrees, and so dry! It must be unbearable in July and August when it hits the 50’s. Steve being Steve had to go for a run. So around about midday he set off for 5 miles in the middle of Death Valley! Funnily enough he didn’t see any other runners as it seemed everyone else was enjoying the views from the comfort of their air conditioned vehicles!

Why??

Death Valley is a strange place, with salt flats and a rugged dry landscape and obviously not much lives there. Although it was a great experience to visit (and for Steve to run there) it would have to rank towards the bottom of the places we have visited so far. Maybe slightly above some of the dodgy towns in Washington and Oregon with populations of less than 50 though!

As you approach the end of Death Valley the road climbs high and over a mountain range before descending back to the valley floor. This area is used as a training ground for the fighter pilots of the US Airforce and as we drove over the mountain and started our decent back to the valley bottom we were lucky enough to see one come hurtling along the valley bottom several hundred feet below. We also past some unusual places including the US nuclear test site from the 1940’s as well as coming close to Area 51!

Some people fit in anywhere!

After Death Valley we continued North. We were heading for our next stop, the town of Mammoth Lakes. With Death Valley sitting a couple of hundred feet below sea level and Mammoth Lakes up at almost 9000 feet, the next 4 hours saw an incredible change in scenery. The dry dust of the desert was gradually replaced by the cooler, fresher mountain air. Although we have both thoroughly enjoyed our last three weeks in desert conditions, in fact they have been incredible, we were both looking forward to the change in environment for the next few days.

No more desert!

We arrived in Mammoth Lakes in late afternoon and went straight to the start of one of the trails. We had come to do some walking so we thought we would make the most of our time and get straight to it. An hour’s walk around one of the lakes was a good appetizer and also a reminder of how things are different at over 9000 feet. The lungs have to work that little but harder, in fact everything has to work a little bit harder. At the end of the walk, with a fair amount of daylight left, Steve decided to go for another run and off he went for another four miles. “I probably won’t get the opportunity to run below sea level and above 9000 feet on the same afternoon again” was his excuse!

Two of Mammoth’s lakes!

The following day we did a couple of walks around Mammoth Lakes. It is a beautiful place, with pine trees all around, crystal clear lakes dotted in the landscape and pockets of snow still clinging to the sheltered crevices of the highest slopes. Mammoth is primarily a ski area with a very long season, in fact they were skiing this year until July 28th!  They are hoping to open the slopes again in November so that’s only 3 months to cram in Spring, Summer and Autumn! We had initially looked at camping here but with temperatures forecast to be below freezing, and hotel costs being simply ridiculous, we ended up in a hostel right in the middle of town. It turned out to be a steal at 65 quid a night!!!! You can imagine the price of a room in a hotel!!

The last of the winter snow in the background.

Mammoth Lakes was a lovely place and once more our visit was over too quickly and we were soon on the move again. This time to quite a well known place, Yosemite National Park. They have a National Parks version of monopoly here and Yosemite has the same purple square as Park Lane, so it is rated highly. We were expecting big things! Did it deliver? Yes……and No!

Cold and early in Yosemite.

The campsites at Yosemite are similar to those at the Grand Canyon in that you have to be there online ready to book when the slots become available. We were lucky enough to secure a pitch for a three night stay over the weekend. We were up and away early from Mammoth Lakes for the two and a half hour drive. We saw the saw sunrise over the mountains and drove into the park. After entering the park it is still well over an hour to the village but the scenery makes the time fly by. We stopped a couple of times for photos, but didn’t stay out of the car for too long as the temperature was barely above freezing! Luckily Yosemite village is situated at around 4000 feet so by dropping down 6000 feet from the top of Tioga Pass, and an hour later in the day, the weather was pretty reasonable when we arrived at 9am. We were too early to go to the campsite so we hit one of the trails straight away. We chose The Mist trail which ascends 3200 feet past two waterfalls which even at this time of year were still flowing enough to make the trip worthwhile. Like many of the trails in Yosemite The Mist Trail is not easy going, with steep gradients and uneven ground it certainly makes your legs work, but the views are amazing and you forget all about the hard going to get up there.

The waterfall still flowing strong.

After a good five hour walk we made our way to the campsite and this was the first time we got a real appreciation for how busy Yosemite can get. The site was in a great location in the middle of some enormous pine trees, it was a big site and it was busy, very busy. The site was completely full and some people had come in quite large groups and had taken full advantage of the pitches, many had four tents to a pitch. The toilet blocks were pretty basic, pretty small and pretty dirty. The showers were in Curry Village a good 15 minute walk away. They just couldn’t cope with the number of people. Don’t get us wrong, we are well used to managing with the absolute basics and even with no toilets at all. We have dug holes in the ground several times this year, but this is a prestigious National Park, Park Lane on the monopoly board! It just couldn’t cope with the number of people.

These views just get better.

The next day we were up early and, although feeling a little stiff from the previous days walk and the cold night in a tent, we set off on another trail this time to Glacier Point. This trail was higher and longer than the previous day so we set off pretty slow but soon got into a rhythm. Once again the views were outstanding but it wasn’t until we reached the top that we got the real show stopper. An absolutely fantastic view of the whole valley. We were lucky it was such a brilliantly clear day and all the sights that are featured in the well known photographs of the park were clearly visible. Half Dome and El-Capitan seemed to be in touching distance. It was a great place to continue the theme of “lunch with a view” before heading back down to the village.

Could be the best lunch view yet?

The trail up to Glacier Point had not been very busy at all, probably because it’s a good six hour tough hike there and back. When we got back down we were hit with the full force of Saturday afternoon in Yosemite. It was ridiculously busy with people and cars everywhere!! We had considered walking to the trailhead in the morning but that would have added two miles to the walk each way and with tired legs at the start we decided to drive and park the car…. Big mistake…. the two miles back to the campsite took just over an hour and a half!  There was just no parking. All the car parks were full and had been closed and the Park Rangers were sending people round a six mile, one way loop which had become full of cars and the whole road network was at a standstill. What really struck us was firstly how well the Rangers were prepared for the full car parks with pre made signs directing people on a never ending loop (which were obviously well used) and secondly it wasn’t even a holiday period. What it must be like in August… we dread to think!

So Yosemite for us was unbelievably good hiking and outstanding views, but you have to be prepared to share the village which has inadequate infrastructure with several thousand others. Or come midweek in November maybe?

Out of Yosemite and time for a shower!

With Yosemite finished it was time to make our way back to the coast for a short stop at the surfing mecca of Santa Cruz before returning the car to San Francisco and getting back on the bikes to finish the trip to Mexico…..oh yes we had almost forgotten about that!