We set off from Moab and headed South towards Arizona. One of the first things we noticed was the complete lack of internet signal. Other than the rare opportunity to access free wifi, which was generally so slow it wasn’t really worth for the next 6 days we were without Google, WhatsApp and all those other 21st century essentials that we have come to rely on.
We passed through a couple of small towns positioned the usual 60 to 70 miles apart where we could buy fuel (almost always), coffee (sometimes) and size 8 thin running socks (never). Steve has worn his out and has resorted to stealing Sarah’s.
Our first stop after Moab was in Monument Valley. Anyone who is a Western movie fan will have no doubt seen Monument Valley many times as some of the greatest Westerns ever were filmed here. The valley floor is a vast, flat expanse in the desert with a series of huge red rock stacks which are scattered across the landscape. It is also the place where Forrest Gump ended his run across America in the movie. The part of the highway leading down into the valley has become known as ‘Forrest Gump Hill’ and there is even a sign by the side of the road identifying the position where he stopped running. Sometimes we have found that in many places the lines between fact and fiction become a little blurred. Forrest was a character in a movie? Right? 🙂
Steve has run for most of his life, that’s a lot of miles and without doubt the line most shouted at him from the side of the road (either for encouragement or sarcasm) has been ……yep, you guessed it ……”RUN FORREST RUN” and so he felt almost entitled that he should get out of the car and run straight up the middle of the road on Forrest Gump Hill.
We continued into Monument Valley which is actually in a Navajo Indian Reserve. Several months ago we had managed to secure one of the 30 pitches at a campsite right in the valley itself, in some sand dunes overlooking the rock stacks (or buttes) as they are called. We pitched our tent with what was an unobstructed view of a classic Western film set and then set off to drive a 17 mile dirt road around the valley bottom. There were plenty of signs advising against driving in low clearance vehicles and motorhomes were banned. There were tours available for people with those vehicles, but in a four wheel drive vehicle we were able to explore on our own. We had a great time driving in an amazing location on the dirt, gravel, rock and sand. We did get stuck a couple of times in the deeper sand but got out without too many problems.
Back at the campsite we noticed the majority of other campers were equipped with tripods and big lens cameras as were many of the other people who had paid to enter the reserve for the day. As sunset approached we understood why. Utterly amazing. Our 8 megapixel cameras were woefully inadequate for the task but the memory of it will well and truly stay with us forever. On top of that we were also treated to a full moon rise! Something you don’t see that often.
The following morning Steve was up at 5.30. He was off for a long run into the valley at sunrise, he stuck his head out of the tent and immediately went back in and dragged Sarah out of her sleeping bag. “You have got to see this”. Sunrise was equal if not better than Sunset. We couldn’t think if we had ever seen green mixed in with the usual orange and reds. Steve set off into the valley as the sun emerged and Sarah continued with taking some photographs. Two hours later Steve returned a big smile on his face and some great photos too. “I’m so lucky to get to run in these amazing places”.
We left Monument Valley and headed…… somewhere! We hadn’t made any plans for that night and without any internet we set off with open minds. We headed towards The Grand Canyon but were not due there until the following day. A couple of hours drive with no real towns of any size along the way brought us to Page, a good sized town with the Golden Arches!!!! a McDonalds! We were not excited about the prospect of a triple supersize cheeseburger with a bucket of fries and a barrel of coke, but the chance of some wifi was more than we could resist. The wifi was super slow but it gave us enough information to identify a first come, first served basic campsite about 50 miles away. Off we went. It turned out to be an amazing place in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. Glen Canyon is a little bit forgotten about as it is off the route towards it’s big brother The Grand Canyon. It has some fabulous scenery and when we were there it was pretty much deserted so we had a fabulous site for our NEW tent which was overlooking the Colorado River.
Ever since we cycled into San Francisco we have discussed many times about how we could cut back on weight for the next section of the cycle. Our red tent has been excellent and served us well over the last couple of years and has always kept us dry. It is, however, heavier than we would like and, having packed it away several times on some damp mornings in Washington and Oregon, it has left signs of damp inside. This can’t have helped when we have been suffering with colds, so we decided to give the inside a good clean with disinfectant. Off we went to Walmart, Sarah’s new favourite place in America, however, once there we saw tents for sale!! “Sarah, twenty quid gets us a new tent that’s over a kilo lighter than our current one”. “Sold” came the reply and just like that we bought a new house!
We walked for a few miles along the side of the river at Glen Canyon and then went paddling at Lees Ferry which is the very start of the Grand Canyon which then stretches for the next 277 miles to the Grand Wash Cliffs. The following morning Steve couldn’t resist it and was off early again for a run. It had been almost 40 degrees the day before and it was soon heating up again. We are starting to run out of the fantastic wipes Erin gave us back in Washington State, surely showers would be readily available soon!!
We had managed to book 3 nights at the campsite in The Grand Canyon National Park. As you can imagine this is a popular place to camp and the pitches are released on a monthly basis, 6 months in advance. It’s a bit like trying to get tickets for a major festival or sporting event. You have to be there, logged in, finger on the “Buy Now” button when the sale begins.
We have been lucky enough to visit The Grand Canyon before as we visited there a few years ago after Steve had been racing in Utah, just a few hours drive away. We had walked the 10 mile South Rim Trail and had a fabulous day, but Steve had seen a trail, twisting and winding its way down and out of sight into the canyon below. “I wonder where that goes” was his initial question. After a little bit of research he discovered it was The Bright Angel Trail, a 9.8 mile route into the very bottom of the canyon across the Colorado River to Phantom Ranch Campsite. It was immediately added to his bucket list and we had returned here primarily to tick this one off the list. The information at the Visitors Centre said in red letters “Do not attempt to hike to the river and back in one day, this is dangerous”. Steve’s response was “They always exaggerate things here, I’ll be fine”.
Sunday, 15th September 2019 was a bucket list day for Steve. The alarm went off at 5 am and we both got out of bed. Sarah had offered to drive the 2 miles to the start to save Steve’s legs a little bit. We parked up and had some breakfast. It was still dark as Steve packed his food and drink and we walked together to the trailhead where we were met with another sign,“Do not attempt to hike to the river and back in one day, this is dangerous”. Steve’s response was, “I’m not hiking I’m running, I’ll be fine”. As the first rays of sunlight filtered over the eastern edge of the Canyon Steve set off, 9.8 miles and almost 5000 feet down and then turn around and come back 9.8 miles and almost 5000 feet, back up to the starting point.
An entire post could be written about Steve’s run to the bottom of the Canyon. The views of the canyon as the sun rose, the twisting winding, dirt, uneven track, the people he met along the way, the temperature changes between the top and the bottom, the altitude effects of running up a 10% gradient at nearly 7000 feet when you are exhausted, the view of the Canyon from bottom to top.
Steve emerged back at the top of the canyon after running for less than 5 hours. “I told you I’d be fine, I could have done it loads quicker if I hadn’t stopped to talk to people along the way”. Everyone Steve saw on the route that day was taking two days to do it with a camping stop overnight. He made it back for a well deserved mid morning ice cream! He’d never say it but he is quite proud of himself, sometimes he forgets how old he is!
The rest of that day was spent relaxing in the Grand Canyon Village (and having a lovely hot shower!) before sitting by a campfire in the evening. Sometimes we do have to stop and take a few minutes to remind ourselves where we are and what we are doing and then absorb it all.
The following day we did the same walk along the South rim that we had done the last time we came here. It’s a relatively flat walk but gives some outstanding views of the Canyon. We took it nice and slow and Sarah continued her new hobby of finding some of the best locations in The World to stop for lunch!!
If we are honest we both left the Grand Canyon feeling pretty exhausted. It’s been almost non stop since the beginning of August. We had planned down time at Lake Tahoe but we were both under the weather there and didn’t really benefit as much as we had wanted. Our next stop was in St George, Utah, a place where Steve raced a few years ago and we loved it there. We had a one bedroom apartment on a residential complex with a pool, close to where we stayed last time. Our intention was to slow down, put our feet up and relax a little.
It was unbelievable, one of the best most unexpected nights we have had. We laughed until our sides hurt. We sat open jawed in amazement at some of the things we saw and we “Yee Haa’d” with the best of them. What a night. Bucking Broncos, Barrel Racing, Bull Riding, Lassoing cattle, kids riding sheep and monkeys riding sheepdogs, while rounding up sheep onto the roof of a HGV cab????? (That last one was just plain weird).
What made it even better was that particular night was in support of breast cancer and all the Officials including the local Police were wearing pink shirts.
As we were queuing to get into the arena a huge guy dressed in full cowboy outfit, Stetson, cowboy boots, pink embroidered shirt, the whole 9 yards stood next to Steve. “Nice outfit” Steve said without thinking. Luckily the guy was pleased with the compliment and asked Steve our names and where we were from. As the evening progressed in between the different events an announcer was thanking sponsors and people in the local community who had helped in some way with the show. Then he announced that there were 2 people in the audience all the way from England attending their first rodeo. “Stand up Sarah and Steve” he called over the tannoy. Up we stood and 3000 cowboys and cowgirls were cheering and clapping at us. It turns out the big guy in the “Nice outfit” was the event announcer!!! “Keep your mouth shut in future Steve”, Sarah mumbled!
So now we have a few more days in St George to relax……Let’s see if that one works out!!