Saturday, 31 October 2015

"Excuse me sir, haven't you found a key by any chance?"

Friday, going to LA.
After checking out of the hotel in Vegas I realized, I've got plenty of time to my flight.
The airport in Vegas is really close to the city center, so I thought - I can actually walk there. The day is nice, I'll have a chance to have a look at all the interesting places, maybe visit Egypt on my way, have a beer, enjoy myself.
If you're ever in Las Vegas and this idea also strikes your mind - do yourself a favor, and forget it. Take a cab, a bus, a helicopter, but do not walk to the airport. Really, there are many idiotic ideas in the world, but you don't really have to subscribe to that list.
Ok, are you curious why it's such a bad idea? Let me tell you.
I think I've mentioned that Americans aren't really a walking nation. It resonates in their approach to civil engineering as well.
In the city there are pavements (or sidewalks, as they call it). But it didn't occur to them, to build some on the roads leading to the airport. So if you start walking there, at some point you'll find yourself in the middle of a busy road, with no sidewalk, just some stones and fences to your side. It would be probably ok, if you weren't dragging your freakin' suitcase with you.
So you're there, you're too far to turn back, there is no place for a taxi to stop, if you wanted to get one. You have to carry on, dragging this bloody suitcase (why it suddenly got so heavy?!) with you, amusing drivers. They have probably never seen anyone trying to walk to the airport before...

As I said, the airport is not that far, so eventually I made it there, but the views and joy of hiking in Las Vegas airport area are definitely not worth it. Don't do it.

After about 40 minutes flight, I arrived at Los Angeles. It's funny that you can travel 400 miles in 40 minutes, and then it takes you another 3 hours to cover 20 miles in the city. Using public transport this time.

Finally I arrived at the place I was about to stay. It's in Fairfax, I think it's still a part of Hollywood. It's about 40 minutes walk from Hollywood Boulevard.
My host left a key for me in the keylock. I got in, said hello to the cats, left my bag and went for a walk in the Hollywood.
The area seems really nice, plenty of nice bars and restaurants, interesting shops and galleries.
Then I decided to take a bus, and go to the Hollywood Boulevard. After 20 minutes of waiting for the bus, I was about to leave and just walk there, when the bus arrived. So I got in, and took a short ride. I could walk that twice already, but hell yeah, never been on a bus in LA before.

A few minutes after I left the bus, I realized I've lost a key to the place I was staying. Awesome, it had to slip off my pocket in the bus. I had a timetable for this bus line with me, and I figured out, that the same bus will be coming back in about hour and a half. So I went for a walk. After about half an hour I was passing near the bus stop - and there is my bus coming! Well, the same line bus at least. I run after it, but it was just leaving the stop. That's ok, I can catch it at the next one. The stops are not far apart, and there is a lot of traffic, so you can easily get from stop to stop faster than a bus. I got it on the next one, and started searching. No trace of the key on the seats, so I'm asking the driver:
- Excuse me sir, haven't you by any chance found a key here?
- No
- How long ago you've been going the opposite direction?
- About an hour. No, 2 hours ago
- Ok, so I think I left my key on the next one. It will be coming back as well, right?
- Yes, it should
- Cool, thank you

I got off the bus, and walked back those few stops to my bu stalking headquaters. I've got about 30 minutes to the next bus, but won't risk going for another walk. Instead, I'm starting to think what I'm going to do if there is no key on the next bus. My host could be away the whole night, it's a Friday night after all. In Hollywood.
And even if she's at home, it kind of sucks to lose the key you've been given just two hours ago... I decided to check my email just in case she send me a message that she's not coming back home or something. Ok, there is an email from Airbnb, from my host:
"Hi Bart Please leave key in locker all the time. Other house members use it also. Thank you"


Here comes the bus. Getting in, looking at the seats - nothing. Under the seats - nothing. Between the seats and the window - nothing. Well, plenty of interesting stuff, but no trace of my key.
To the driver, my last hope.
- Excuse me sir, haven't you found a key, by any chance?
- (Long pause - all the major events of my life are flashing before my eyes. Good no one else can see it, so embarrassing...)
- What color?

Thank you, thank you, oh thank you, Great Spaghetti Monster! Thank you for proving one more time, that this world of ours sometimes works in a predictable and logical manner!

Got my key, and went home, it was already 11pm. I have a race in the morning. In Long Beach. Which means - almost 3 hours travel. Then I realized I actually don't know what time is the race. I had a vague memory that it was at 8am - so stupidly early - but wasn't sure. Checking my email, checking the race website - no information anywhere. Shit. I send a message to the organizer, set my alarm to 4:20 am and went to bed for a short nap. It's going to be a hell of a race, I can see that. My leg still hurts, and I'll be so well rested...

Got up at stupid-o-clock in the morning. Feel like shit, just want to go back to bed. But a race is a race, no excuses. Quick shower, putting all the racing clothes and shoes to the backpack, some drinks and food are already there. Putting some clothes on, and just a quick look at my email, hoping that there is a reply from the race organizer, saying that the race starts at 11am, what would give me another 3 hours of sleep.
Hurray! There is an email. I'm opening it, it's quite short. All it says is:
"6:30 AM".

So that's probably my shortest race report ever.

Thursday, 29 October 2015

Las Vegas

Las Vegas is not the best city for running. There are several reasons for that.
First of all, there are too many people. That is, if you want to run on the Strip. It's doable, probably between 5 and 9 in the morning, otherwise - way too crowded.
Although, it's ok to run on the side streets - there are almost no people there. One may think that Las Vegas consists only of one street - that is, if you removed countless cars from all the other streets.
In general, seems that Americans do not walk. Tourists do walk sometimes, but locals apparently don't find walking an interest-worthy activity.

The second reason that Vegas is not a running city, is that you usually don't feel physically fit for that. I arrived at Vegas on Wednesday evening. Since I already did my easy Wednesday run in Flagstaff in the morning, I went on exploring the city. It's a really interesting place, in a way. I mean, it's extremely cheesy, but it's cheesiness is mastered to the level when it becomes a form of art. It's just amazingly well done. Everything is nice, shiny, colorful, all over the top.
And also it seems quite pragmatic. You don't need to travel the world, all you need to do, is go to Vegas, and you'll see pretty much everything there is to see in the world.
You dream of Paris - here you go. They have one here. Ever wanted to visit Rome? Longed to visit Coloseum - look no further. Statue of David? Sure, they've got one, forget about Florence. Or maybe you fancy New York, with it's skyscrapers and Statue of Liberty? Why, there is one here, just a few minutes walk from Paris. Seems the only significant landmark that is missing, is Warsaw's Palace of Culture and Science.

But back to running. After walking a bit, I got thirsty, so I stopped at Hard Rock cafe for a pint (or two). That kind of refreshed my vital energy, so I decided to visit the (apparently) only really cool pub in the city - Double Down Saloon. It's not on the Strip - actually, it's about an half an hour walk. Seriously, if you're ever in Vegas, go there. Super cool, laid-back rock/punk pub. Not too many people, nice, relaxed and friendly atmosphere. Apparently quite popular among Vegas' dancers to come for a drink after a night's work. Good selection of beers too (although it seems to be the case in quite a few places in Vegas).

After visiting Double Down I went home, as I was planning a half-session on a track next day.
And here we're - finally - getting to the point. Seems that there's something wrong with the air in Las Vegas (maybe it's the hotel's air-con?). One wakes up in the morning, and feels tired. His head hurts, he's thirsty, doesn't really feel like running. Or like getting out of bed, to start with.
So it took me some time to get myself into the mood for running. Finally I set off to the track (there is one at University campus, about 2 miles from the Strip - really close to Double Down Saloon. Later on I've seen a couple more from the plane).
Since I was supposed to race on Saturday, I decided to do a very light workout, just 5x400m, accelerating the pace from about 10k to something fast in the last lap. With generous 400m jog recovery.
It didn't went well. First of all, I was still under the weather. Second of all, it was windy as hell. And finally, my leg is still not very well after the fall...
I did 5x400m, accelerating from 1:26/lap to 1:14/lap, which is not really fast (in my last 1500m race I was doing 69s/lap on average...), and I jogged back home. Actually I had to walk the last bit, as my leg was quite unhappy about me forcing it to run...

More walking and taking pictures in the evening. For some reason I didn't feel like drinking beer on the second night, maybe I had too high minerals concentration already?

All right, and here are some pictures. I don't really know how to take a proper picture at night when there are neon lights everywhere, so most of the pictures are quite blurry. Sorry about that, but it actually gives you a good idea of how Las Vegas appears to a visitor...

Monday, 26 October 2015

Grand Canyon - day 2

The plan for today was simple - go down to the Canyon, and get back before 6 pm, to catch the shuttle back to Flagstaff.
There is a trail called Bright Angel Trail, that connects South Rim with the North Rim, over the course of 37 km and about 1500m down and up.
My original plan was to do this trail one way on the first day, and come back on the next day. But the North Rim Lodge closes in mid October, and it requires booking well in advance (I suppose half a year isn't too much). So in the end I decided to explore the South Rim on the first day (which I already did), and just go down and up on the second day.

There are several points along the Bright Angel Trail, that guides are recommending to hike to. In the official Grand Canyon guide they are all listed, with distances, estimated times to complete, and difficulty level. The hike to Indian Garden (925 m down, 14.4 km) is described as "very difficult", and - according to the guide - takes 6 to 9 hours. Then, from Indian Garden, you can continue to Plateau Point - total of 940 m down, 19.5 km, 9-12 hours, "very difficult" as well.
From the Indian Garden you can also carry on on the Bright Angel Trail, towards Colorado River and Phantom Ranch (which is just across the river). You can stay there, or you can continue to the North Rim. Or you can come back. But, there are those signs everywhere:

Well, I didn't need any more encouragement to go to the river and back. The guide also says that you should allow more-less twice as much time for coming up, than it took you to get down.

So I thought, if I leave at 8 am, I have 10 hours to do the round trip. Should be enough.
And it was. Sorry to disappoint you, but there won't be any dramatic events, nothing that would make your heart stop. It was very pleasant hike, the weather was fantastic, the views were breathtaking.
The whole thing - about 33 km, 1500 m down, 1500 m up, took me about 7 hours. 3:15 to get to the Phantom Ranch, and just under 3:30 to get back. I was quite surprised that going up was almost as fast as going down, probably altitude training before that have worked after all.

Have some pictures first, and let me tell you more about hiking the Grand Canyon:

Basically, it's all the time either up or down. I'm actually glad that my initial plan of doing rim-to-rim and back didn't work out. I was planning to run this, but - unless you're a mountain runner - it's not the best place to run. Not only going down (or up) all the time, but also quite easy to trip, twist an ankle, fall off the cliff, or get run over by a mule. So definitely not a good training ground for a non-mountain runner.

The first part - about 7 km - takes you down to the Indian Garden. There are a couple of rest points in between, where you can get some water. Then the area around Indian Garden is reasonably flat. The Garden itself is amazing - it used to be cultivated by Native Americans for centuries, as it has a reliable source of water. It's a true oasis - you get there, and suddenly you're surrounded by beautiful, thriving green plants.

Until Indian Garden, you can meet quite a few people. I think I was passing hikers every couple of minutes. From Indian Garden, if you decide to go towards the river and Phantom Ranch, there is almost no one on the trail. A few people coming from the other direction, who camped at the Ranch.
It's actually a shame that so few people choose to continue towards the river, as I think this part of the hike is even more scenic. The landscape is more dynamic, after every turn there's something new and different, constant play of light and shadow.

Finally, there is Colorado River:

From there it's only half an hour walk across the bridge to the Phantom Ranch. There are a few lodges for hikers, and a camping ground. It seems like a popular resting point for people doing the rim-to-rim hike. Again, as with the North Rim Lodge, it requires booking well in advance, if you want to stay at the lodge at Phantom Ranch.
Also, as all the guides say, if you're going to go down to the canyon for longer, you should take a means of treating the water, as the pipes are breaking from time to time. That was the case when I arrived at Phantom Ranch - there was no drinking water there. Fortunately I had enough with me to get me back to Indian Garden.

On my way back, I took a rest at Indian Garden. Met a squirrel there. There are signs everywhere, telling you to "Keep the wildlife - wild" and not to feed squirrels.
Clearly, it's not the hikers who should to be the main audience of those signs, as that's squirrels that fail to recognise their wildness:

Squirrels are even more common than mules here. And mules are common. At least judging by the amount of mule shit on the trail. I met only one group of mules on my way - a group of tourists on a popular mule ride down the canyon, but probably it's enough to leave their trail, if they're doing this every day.

On the way back, my main occupation was to watch how the Canyon is changing depending on the lighting. It looks quite different in the morning light, in the high sun of the midday, and in the lowering sunlight of the afternoon. That alone is worth spending a day down there.

I got back to the Grand Canyon Village just after 3 pm, so I had enough time to learn the day's lesson: 16-inches pizza is _almost_ too big for one person.