Louisiana

Louisiana felt different from the moment we crossed the state line. It sounded so exotic to our British ears. Its name echoed of Southern Gothic, evoking thoughts of  Truman Capote, Spanish moss, antebellum plantation homes, a dark history of slavery and racial turmoil, voodoo, graveyards, alligators, swamps, hurricanes, levees. It sounded so mysterious and exotic…but it also looked so familiar. The green, lush vegetation along the roads made us all think of the UK, if we hadn’t built on every square inch of the UK, so we also kind of felt at home here. We didn’t SOUND at home…so many people commented on our accents, but we wholeheartedly complimented them back on their own wonderful southern accents.

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We chose not to stay in New Orleans, the goal of our time in Louisiana, but rather to stay about 45 minutes north in the small town of Covington. I have mixed feelings about this, but it was the right decision. We were there at the weekend, and July 4th weekend too. Hotel prices in the French Quarter were astronomical – we saved a lot of money by staying further out. But part of me ached a little to be at the heart of what we’d come to see.

We arrived in Covington late on Friday night, after a very long drive that took longer than we’d expected. We’d crossed the mighty Mississippi river, which was much less thrilling than I’d hoped – wide, grey, murky and busy. But Covington was a lovely little town, lush and green.

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We somehow got out of our hotel by 8.30am on Saturday morning (a miracle!) and drove over the 22-mile causeway across Lake Pontrarchain. As we got closer, the gleaming towers of modern New Orleans appeared out of the haze. I hadn’t realised how isolated New Orleans is, floating on lowlands at the very bottom of the country. We also hadn’t quite grasped how modern and impressive the new city is – it was very different to our expectations.

We arrived in the French Quarter at about 9.15 and parked up (super-expensive!) for the day. We had a few things we wanted to do but our overall plan was to wander. So we wandered, and the wandering was some of the best wandering I’ve ever done in my  life.The buildings are wonderful. Wrought-iron balconies, lush vegetation, cobbled streets. I took too many pictures.

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We did as we had to and queued for café au lait and beignets at the Café du Monde. The queue moved quickly and we were grateful to sit in the shade for half and hour. The coffee was excellent and the beignets were delicious.

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We explored the lovely shops. There was excellent shopping! We did tacky gift shops, classy gift shops, ridiculously expensive antique shops and astronomically expensive jewellery shops. I tried on a $15,000 diamond ring. It looked awesome on me. We had lunch at Cafe Soule, which was deliciously gothic and had good food! Most food in Louisiana seems to be deep-fried. Then we went to see the Mississippi River.

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We went to the excellent Louisiana State Museum for some history of the state. It was very good and surprisingly fun.

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Apparently I participated in the Battle of New Orleans against the British…

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There were some things we avoided – the voodoo/creepy stuff which is NOT my thing at all, plus the raucous party streets. We made it one block on Bourbon Street before gracefully recognising that we are no longer party people and sloping off down a side street. Royal Street, with its cafes and shops (and where Truman Capote used to live, squeal) was pretty much perfect for us!

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By 4pm, the heat and humidity had beaten us – it must be called the Big Easy because it’s too hot and humid to rush around! New Orleans was wonderful – I loved it so much and the boys all liked it too. I’ve wanted to go there for so long that I wondered if it would be a disappointment but no, it was gorgeous. I loved it.

The next day, before we drove out of Louisiana we went on a swamp tour! The swamps have been incredible to see as we drive past – vast swathes of swamp-land stretching out across the country. We really enjoyed our boat ride. We saw loads of alligators and something I didn’t even know existed – swamp pigs! We saw houses on stilts, some of which are permanently inhabited, some of which are weekend retreats for fishermen, some of which had friendly diamondback river snakes on the doorstep!

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And then we were back in the car, heading across the border into Mississippi, the state with the most Fun-To-Spell name. I regret not being able to spend more time exploring Louisiana, but we had a great few days there!

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Louisiana, thank you! Alabama, here we come!

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Texas (and a snippet of New Mexico)

I was very curious about what Texas would be like. I have to admit, its image is pretty much everything I dislike about the US and the very opposite of everything I love about the Bay Area.  So I was intrigued to see what the Lone Star State was like in reality. It was also notable because this was the first state we were driving through that we hadn’t visited before – it felt like we were branching out into new territory!

On the drive from Colorado, we drove a few hours through a corner of New Mexico, another new state for us. We saw only the briefest glimpse of the Land of Enchantment, but New Mexico was much greener than I’d expected, an enormous endless plain stretching out into the distance. It was empty!

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New Mexico! I didn’t expect the greenery!

Texas was also pretty empty for two solid days of driving. We stayed overnight in a sad hotel in Amarillo (we drove into town singing the Tony Christie song at the top of our lungs) and then drove on to Dallas. The land was flat and green. Roads stretched for literally hundreds of miles, dotted occasionally with tiny towns devoid of people. Where WAS everybody? Each town had an enormous grain silo and one of those iconic water towers. We saw nodding donkeys in fields, town names like ‘Boys Ranch’ and trucks aplenty.

Then we got to Dallas. The husband had found us a bargainous hotel – the Cooper Hotel which was ridiculously swanky and ridiculously great value. It had an incredible gym, a mile-long running track around the hotel grounds and our room was amazing. The boys wanted to stay for a week! The running track got put to good use. That night, the Husband and Big Brother ran 5k and Big Brother went sub-40 for the first time (his first ever 5k in May was 46 minutes). He was rightfully proud. I ran 5 miles on the path both mornings. It was hot and humid even at 6am but so nice to run safely in the grounds of the hotel.

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A gym with a 3-lane running track round the inside!

We had a really good day in Dallas. We started off visiting Southfork Ranch, home to the Ewings and the location of one of my favourite childhood TV programmes. I was very very excited to visit and Skyped my Mum from the front lawn. She was also excited!

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Bobby Ewing and his midget British third wife, Cathryn!

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We then headed into downtown Dallas to visit the 6th Floor museum where Lee Harvey Oswald hid to shoot JFK. The museum was excellent, one of the best we’ve ever seen – if a seven-year old is enthralled about the assassination of someone he’d never heard of before he walked in, you know it’s good. It was also very sad. Made you wonder what could have been.

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To cheer ourselves up we walked the half mile through some dodgy streets to see the fantastic cow stampede sculpture at Pioneer Plaza. We loved this!

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thoughtful thinking

The next day, we very sadly left our wonderful hotel and drove to Austin. Everyone in the Bay Area had told us we’d love Austin and we really did. Big Brother didn’t feel very well the day we arrived, so the Dude and I left him and the Husband in our hotel room and headed to the gorgeous Zilker Park for TexMex and then kayaking!

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My chilled-out kayaking buddy

That night, with Big Brother fully recovered, we drove back into Austin to see the bats. There’s a bridge across the river which hosts about 1.5 million bats and as dusk comes, they all fly off. We joined the sizeable crowd waiting for sunset and sure enough, once it grew dark, an endless stream of bats flew away from the bridge. They were tiny and fast, darting through the night sky. Impossible to photograph but really quite magical.

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Just a few of the crowds that came bat-watching

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Just a few of the bats that came people-watching

The next day, we headed back into town and rented bikes. Big Brother learned to ride a bike only a few weeks ago in Hawaii, this was his first actual bike ride, but he was a champ. We cycled about 10 miles on the fantastic hiking/biking trail along the river. It was generally cool and shady, there was a fabulous stretch on a long fixed path on the river itself. All the bridges across the river had bike lanes. Austin is a fantastic place to cycle and we had a great time.

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So happy to be back on a bike again

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Ai Weiwei’s wonderful bike sculpture, featuring 1,300 bikes!

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Big Brother delighted to have done 10 miles on his first bike ride.

That afternoon, we got back on the river. The boys rented single kayaks – the Dude did a decent job by himself despite my worrying – and I rented a paddleboard. I’ve done SUP once before so I was excited to do it again. It was a lot of fun (and I managed to stand up for a good amount of time) but I decided I prefer kayaking!

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Thought you might enjoy this photo of me struggling to stand up!

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One day, I will be one of those effortless girls in bikinis on a SUP. Today was not that day.

We really liked the vibe in Austin – it felt like a really livable place. I wish we’d seen more of it but one of the challenges of travelling with kids is that you really can’t do the hipster coffee shops/cool bars/quirky shops for very long before they get bored so we didn’t explore that downtown area at all. But we loved the open spaces!

On that note, there were some cracking places to run in Austin in case you ever go. The trail along the river makes for splendid running – shaded by trees and scenic. Also near our hotel was the Pease District Park which we drove past, and that looked great too. I opted not to tackle the terrifying Austin traffic in the early morning dark in order to drive to these places and instead I chose to run in a slightly dodgy area near our hotel (before reverting to the safety of the treadmill when too many dogs barked at me) but those trails looked awesome! Also, Austin runners look amazing! Fit, fast, toned and totally unsweaty despite the fierce heat and murderous humidity. Swines.

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The running/biking trail we explored

The next day, we made the long drive to Nassau Bay, just south of Houston in time to visit the NASA Space Centre. I’m not a massive space fan but the boys all are, so they had a fantastic time. It’s a great museum – we stayed until they literally shooed us out the building at 7pm.

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Small boy, massive rocket. Saturn V

I ran the next morning in the streets around our hotel. At 6.30am it was 27C/81F and 90% humidity. The whole thing was a sweaty slog but I got it done.

I was delighted to finish June with 100 miles in the legs. That had been my goal initially but by the 20th, I’d only done 57 miles and 100 was looking unlikely. But I’d promised myself that I’d run every day if necessary to make that goal and today, I made it and I was pretty proud of myself. It’s hard to prioritise running and exercise when you’re travelling with other people, especially with kids, so there have been a lot of early mornings to get those miles in. I definitely feel better for it.

As we drove out of Texas, I reflected on what I’d found. Six nights in a state is definitely not enough to form solid ideas but it was a good start. There were some things we loved about Texas – people are really friendly! They like chatting as much as I do. They have awesome southern accents. They have great value hotels with excellent free breakfasts, which we, on a budget, appreciate enormously. Petrol/gas is amazingly cheap.

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On the flipside, Texas isn’t  a particularly beautiful state. The countryside we saw was almost entirely flat, it was a far cry from the splendours of Colorado. The cities seemed enormous, the empty spaces vast. I didn’t see guns everywhere as I’d imagined beforehand – although one hotel receptionist assured me, when I asked if it was safe to run in the neighbourhood, that I didn’t need to worry as ‘everyone in Texas has a gun, you’re totally safe’. Hmmm…that’s not a British perspective on safety. But I’m not in Britain and it was interesting to hear that point of view.

I’m really glad we explored Texas, even in the little we saw of that enormous state. We move on to Louisiana and the deep south today, and I’m really excited to see what THAT’S like!

Texas, thank you! Louisiana…here we come.

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Colorado

The last time I fell head-over-heels in love this fast and this hard, it was with my cat  son. (It took me three months to fall in love with the Husband in case you’re concerned, I do love him very much). But that was how I felt about Crested Butte the moment we arrived.

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Hostel with a view

Our drive from Utah to Colorado was a beautiful one, marked by increasing amounts of green, lush forests and cooling temperatures, which, after days of boiling alive in Moab, was incredibly welcoming. On the way to Crested Butte, we passed a National Park we’d not heard of before – the Black Canyon of the Gunnison River National Park. We popped in, using our annual pass, for our picnic lunch and were completely blown away by the place. What a great surprise.

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The minute we arrived in Crested Butte, however, I adored it. Snow-capped mountains, green meadows and cute cabins, that’s the kind of place I love best. Combine that with wonderful temperatures, bright sunshine and an adorable downtown full of little shops and cafes…I was smitten instantly.

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Pertinent sign for this chicken

I explored it on my own at first – all three boys were tired and napping after t he car journey. As an only child, I really need time on my own now and again, so I relished mooching around downtown in the sunshine by myself.

I got back to the hostel where we were staying and all the boys were still asleep, so I put on my running gear, chatted to the trail-runner girl on the front desk and headed out towards Lower Loop to stretch my legs. The lack of oxygen at 8,800 ft didn’t seem to dampen my enthusiasm as the views stretched on for days. I even risked a bit of solo trail running (which is VERY gutsy for me) and it was kind of heaven.

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Lower Loop trail

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SUPER happy!

The Husband took one look at my shining face when I got back to the hostel and suggested that one night here may not be enough and maybe we should stay for two. Yeah, I really loved him at that moment. So I took him out for a quick drink that evening.

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Staying longer  was a great decision. The next day, we took the chair lift from Mt Crested Butte right up to the top of the mountain at about 12,000 feet, with the goal of running down. Big Brother was both excited and nervous about his first mountain run but as soon as we got running he was away! The Dude was less thrilled by the whole thing but he was game. We managed to run about 3 miles down (stopping regularly to gasp at the views, take photos and drink water) before my small person resolutely started hiking. Fair enough!

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Big Brother excited and nervous before running down his first mountain. He was a flipping rockstar!

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It was further down than we’d anticipated but it was honestly magical. I often ran ahead and then stopped to wait for the boys because I honestly couldn’t handle NOT running the trails, they were so flipping beautiful. We ‘triked’ (trail-ran/hiked, new phrase, people) through gorgeous Aspen groves and down single-track laden with wonderful wildflowers. It was so magical. I was delirious with happiness the whole time, and it wasn’t the altitude.

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When we got back though, we were RAVENOUS. All thoughts of healthy lunches went out the windows and it was BURGER TIME! And Margarita time for me! Tiredness, sunshine, belly full of food and a margarita? Zzzzzzzz.

The next day, before we left, I snuck out early for a final run. I ran up the paved Rec Trail from Crested Butte to Mt Crested Butte. It was almost cold (delicious) and the views were wonderful. Made up for the lack of oxygen. Actually, on the whole I was surprised at how well I felt at that altitude, especially running. I was slow, to be sure, but very happy. My legs tended to feel it more than my lungs!

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This view!

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Flowers and mountains

As we drove out of Crested Butte, we promised the Dude to play mini golf on the way…but alas it would have cost us $60 (!) so we found mini-golf instead at that night’s destination, Colorado Springs.

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It was so nice to wear sweaters again!

We were in Colorado Springs for one very special reason – the lovely Bean. Bean was my original Internet Stranger turned House Guest and Runner Friend. I hadn’t seen her since last Western States, an exact year ago, so it was wonderful to see her, her husband and to meet her gorgeous dog, Max, at long last. Lots to catch up on, lots of trips to Europe to be planned.

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Dreadful photo, gorgeous friend. (Yes, I ironed that top next)

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Someone LOVED Max

Our final morning in Colorado started with a quick run down Bean’s local trail for me (she’s injured, boo) and then we were off, heading out of Colorado to New Mexico and Texas.

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Colorado has a LOT of awesome running paths

I honestly can’t tell you how much we loved Colorado – all of us. The scenery is spectacular, the temperatures were perfect, the people were lovely…it’s definitely one of my Happy Places. I wish we could have spent longer there, but I’m really grateful for the time we did get to spend in that thin air. I ran every day in Colorado and I loved it – I spent a lot of time trying to work out which state I love the most – California, Oregon and Colorado. Could not decide!

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The lovely little town of Salida, where we had a riverside picnic

Colorado, you have been AMAZING. New Mexico and Texas…here we come!

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Utah

Oh wow, Utah!!

Utah greeted us with nothing less than Monument Valley. We could see the incredible rock formations as we drove down the long desert road towards it, but  we crossed the border from Arizona just as we got to the park, so it just squeaked into Utah. We were in the middle of a long drive between Page, AZ and Moab, UT so we opted not to do the additional 13-mile drive around the rock formations but rather see them from the road and it turned out to be a good decision – we saw everything we’d hoped for.

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The drive from Monument Valley to Moab was long, incredibly hot and quite startlingly beautiful. Red sandstone gave way to giant slanting slabs of rock. Dramatic snow-topped mountains could be seen in the distance. It was stunning. And we rolled into Moab in time for the sunset.

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We stayed at the ACT campground, where we rented a cabin-room. The campsite was great and comes hugely recommended. Moab itself is super-cool – it’s outdoorsy and laid-back, full of cafes and restaurants. It’s a real hub for mountain-biking and is nestled between two National Parks, so I was looking forward to our time here.

It was flipping scorching whilst we were in Moab. I know there was a heatwave all over the western US and even in the UK, but we melted here. We had to get up and out super-early to beat the heat, then we’d go back to our cabin for the afternoon before venturing out again in the evening.

We spent one day in Aches National Park. It was, of course, beautiful. We got there early (along with lots of other people) as it’s open 24-hours at the weekend and did the 3.5 mile round-trip hike to Delicate Arch. The Arch was beautiful, even if my husband doesn’t believe in zooming when taking a requested photo.

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See me and the Dude in the middle?

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We loved Sand Dune Arch, which is accessed through some rocks, hidden from sight, and provided cool respite from the heat.

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And we loved Skyline Arch and Double Arch, before admitting defeat and going home to cool off.

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We spent another day at Canyonlands National Park. Canyonlands is somewhat harder to get your head around. It’s the second biggest park in the US, it’s seriously enormous so they’ve split it into three distinct sections. We explored the most accessible section, Islands in the Sky. We started at a nearby state park called Dead Horse Point, which is where Thelma and Louise drove their car off the mountain at the end of the movie. We did a 5 mile hike round the loop trail and even though we began at 7.30 am it was very hot by the time we got back to our car. It was beautiful though.

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The blue is a salt reservoir

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I wondered how the park got its name – I imagined a romantic story of how a horse sacrificed its life for its rider. However the reality is pretty grim. A long time ago, cowboys drove wild horses to the edge of the cliff and corralled them in there. They chose the horses they wanted to keep and then rode off with those horses, leaving the other horses corralled at the edge of the world. Starved of food and of water, the horses all died. I know. Spoiled it for me too.

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Islands in the Sky is a easily accessible park – one main road, lots of stop-off points to see the beauty. On a cooler day, there were many hikes we would have done but we’d done our baking-hot desert hike for the day so we drove through and stopped to see the key sights. The one thing I wanted to see was Mesa Arch. Pictures I’d seen beforehand made this place look amazing. Reality was still beautiful but somewhat smaller, less fragile and less spectacular than I’d been lead to believe. I was a little disappointed.

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In between Arches and Canyonlands, we had a lazy day, trying to avoid National Park burn-out. We mooched round Moab and explored the shops and then chilled outside our cabin reading and playing on the iPad. I’ve taken up cross-stitch, that most uncool of hobbies, lately and I have to admit that sitting there in the shade was rather relaxing.

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In terms of running, I have to admit that I chickened out a lot. As we  had to get up early in order to explore, I wasn’t up for getting up EVEN earlier to run. So I tended to run in the evening although it was close to 100F even at 7pm. I ran along the pretty Mill Creek Path which was a pleasure although I had a nasty surprise when I was charged by a barking Pitbull as I ran back to the campsite. There was a moment of complete terror when I realised I had nothing to defend myself with and I screamed so very loudly that the dog actually stopped his charge and slunk away! I was a little shaken up after that. The next day I ran on a treadmill because it was 110F/43C and it would have been stupid to run outside.

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Disclosure: This is a totally staged photo I made the husband take ‘for the blog’

I have mixed feelings about our time in Moab. I really wish we’d come at a cooler time of year because it’s a great little town and I would have loved to make more of the opportunities here. Also, there is LOADS of outdoors stuff to do (hiking, mountain biking, rafting, jeep expeditions etc) but those things all cost money and we’re on a budget. I also longed to run some of the trails here (check out this article about Moab being a trailrunner’s paradise) but I didn’t want to run them alone or in the heat. So I feel like we could have ‘done’ Moab better! But still…who’s complaining? I’m not.

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One of the dangers of this trip is that we get Beauty Burn-Out. I know it happens all the time and not just to us. People become immune to the things they see all the time. We got immune to the herds of bison when we were at Yellowstone a few years ago. We got immune to ocean views in Hawaii. Now we’re finding we’re getting nonchalant about the astonishing views we’re seeing here. All over this part of Utah are incredible, massive boulders of red rock. Cliffs of the stuff. Massive walls of the stuff. And we’re barely looking at them any more!

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This is a standard road in Utah!

Which means that it’s time to move on.

In the distance, during our time here, we’ve seen the beautiful grey La Sal mountains over near the border with Colorado. Festering in the shimmering heat here, I’ve found myself looking at them longingly, thinking of how cool the air must be there. I’ve LOVED our time in the red deserts of Nevada, Arizona and Utah but the mountains of Colorado are calling and, as John Muir said, we must go.

Utah, you’ve been spectacular. Colorado, here we come.

 

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Arizona

My word, Arizona. You really are spectacular!

We spent just two nights and two days in the Grand Canyon State but it really blew us away. The drive from Las Vegas was somewhat dull – the landscape was vast and empty, enormous plains that stretched away to desert mountains in the distance. One thing that has struck me again and again on this road-trip is just how big America is. It’s SO big! But eventually we rolled up at the tiny town of Valle, about 20 miles south of the Grand Canyon and stayed in a cute Bed and Breakfast overnight.

The following day we went to the Grand Canyon. I’ve been twice before – once on our honeymoon and once when the Dude was just one. However it doesn’t matter how many times you’ve been – every time you first see that canyon it’s just jaw-dropping. It was brand new for the boys and they were incredulous as well.

We’d been given a secret heads-up to check out Shoshone Point, an unsigned viewpoint known only to locals. So we parked up and headed up the trail for a mile. It was 10am and already hot. But once we got there….just wow.

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We stayed there about half an hour, sat on the bluff, just marveling at the place. We had it more or less to ourself, just a few others were there. It was amazing.

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Photos of the Grand Canyon never do the place justice. The light was too hazy, the colours aren’t true to life…but still we try to capture its beauty.

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We didn’t even scratch the surface of the Grand Canyon!  The Husband and I would love to hike down into the canyon and camp overnight, but with a small kid (and a big kid) and when the temperatures were dangerously high, we knew this wasn’t the time.

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What’s more, our time at Shoshone Point was pretty much perfect so we were content with what we’d seen. So we drove on to Page, further north, site of something I was really excited to see – Horseshoe Bend.

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By the time we arrived there it was 4pm and it was over 35 degrees C/104 degrees F. The entire South West (and further afield, I believe) is going through a heatwave at the moment and temperatures are crazy! We knew that coming to the desert in the summer would be ‘hot’ but we’d underestimated HOW hot it would be, and how the heat would drain us!! At Horseshoe Bend, there was no shade, the heat was merciless. We slogged the half mile to the viewing point. It was so hot I secretly wondered if it was worth it…but then we saw it and it was honestly one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen.

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We spent the night in Page, a small town with blessed air-conditioning and in the morning we set out for another thing we’d been dying to see – Antelope Canyon. We were VERY lucky to get in – we hadn’t realised that most people book onto a tour and there’s limited availability, so if you go without reservations my advice would be:

  • Get there as they open. We were there 10 minutes before they opened and were 5th in the queue.
  • Take cash, there are no cards accepted. It’s about $50/adult and $30/child.
  • You can only take in water and a camera. NOTHING else.

It was, however, jaw-droppingly incredible. No words to describe its beauty.

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We loved every expensive second of our Antelope Canyon tour! It was wonderful!

And then we drove a long way through a very, very hot Arizona desert to the Utah border where more astounding scenery awaited us. But that’s another story!

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Vegas, Baby

We arrived in Vegas on Monday afternoon. Vegas was my son’s dream city – he’s wanted to come here for years (NO idea why). When we drove down the Strip and he saw the crazy buildings, his eyes popped out on stalks!

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Our hotel, the Jockey Club Suites, was a bargain. Nestled in between the elegant Bellagio and the cool Cosmopolitan, it seems tiny – you can’t even see it from the strip – but the location is second to none, our mini-suite was perfect and the price was very reasonable! We also got free access to the 14th floor roof-top pool at the Cosmopolitan which made me feel both super-fancy and very frumpy and middle-aged.

It’s quite hard (in a first world sense, of course) being in Las Vegas when you’re on a road-trip. Other people swanned around in excellent outfits, looking beautiful. Having lost my decent flipflops, I had to wear my dirty old Tevas out for cocktails one night. It’s a miracle they let me in 🙂

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Celebrating…but what? Find out later!

The Husband wasn’t particularly well during our days here, so he spent a lot of the time asleep and I took the boys out to explore. We visited a few of the bigger, crazier hotels…

…we ate at Cafe Rio, a fantastic chain of restaurants that we don’t get in California. The food is amazing and I was especially weepy when my son asked me to dance to one of our favourite songs when it came on…..

One evening, we drove to the Glow Zone, a fantastic indoor amusement place. We originally planned to play black light mini-golf but there was a special deal on so we signed up for the two hour unlimited play. It was SO much fun. We did indeed do mini-golf…

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…the Husband tried his hand at their American Ninja Warrior course and did pretty decently…

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…we did a fantastic ropes course high above the ground. I have talked before about being a bit of a chicken at heart, and on this trip I am purposefully practising being brave. So up I went. On the whole I really enjoyed it and pushed myself out of my comfort zone a few times, including the zipline. I nearly didn’t do it, I couldn’t quite step off the platform into thin air, but finally did it and of course, it was amazing.

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They also had this intriguing thing where you get roped up and then climb up these poles before jumping off. I wanted to do it so badly but couldn’t quite pluck up the courage. Having done the ropes course, I knew I could handle it so off I went. Not only did I do it, I also loved it. Slowly getting a little braver!

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Super-proud of myself as I flew off the highest step!

The other fun thing we did was the Slotzilla zipline at Fremont Street. Despite it being significantly higher than we’d expected, once we got up there, I was so chuffed that I wasn’t freaked out at all. We did the zipline and it was amazing. We all fancied doing the higher one, but they had no availability and frankly we couldn’t afford it either!

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L-R – Big Brother, me, Husband, teeny-tiny Dude

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However after a week of Disneyland, Legoland and Vegasland, the Husband and I were more than ready to get out of man-made wonders (the boys less so) so we headed over to Red Rock Canyon to hike. We ran a half-marathon there two years ago and loved it, so we were keen to hike. Unfortunately we were late leaving the hotel (for a good reason, more in a few minutes) and by the time we got there it was crazy hot. So we did a bit of clambering around and exploring before we admitted defeat and came home! We learned a big lesson that, in the desert, we need to get out EARLY if we want to do anything outdoors!

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Does. Not.Do.Justice

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I did get some running in though this week. Twice I ran on the treadmill at our hotel. I could only handle half an hour both times, so I threw in some speedwork to make it go faster and it wasn’t too awful, especially as I got to watch my boys playing table-tennis.

On the last morning, I ran down the strip to see the famous Las Vegas sign. Running down the strip is not fun – it was seriously hot by 6am, there was little shade and no water fountains and simply heading south involved running in and out of casinos to access road-crossings, plus many stairs up and down to get to them. It wasn’t the most fun but I was excited to get to the sign and get my photo taken! All in all, I managed 11 miles over the three days, so I’ll take that.

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If you follow me on Instagram, you’ll know the reason we were so late heading to Red Rock Canyon…we have bought a house in the UK! (We were busy transferring funds, which took forever). It’s not a completed deal yet, we’ve just exchanged, but we’re now fairly confident it’ll happen. We haven’t seen our new home – we sent my observant, hard-to-please mum to see it for us – but we are completely thrilled with it and can’t wait to settle there after the end of our trip. It’s in a village surrounded by countryside just a few miles from the lovely market town of Marlborough in the beautiful county of Wiltshire where I grew up. It’s 20 miles from my parents and a few hours from my husband’s. We are beside ourselves with excitement!

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This will be the view from my daily run! I kid you not.

But we won’t be there until late August/early September, because we have a long way to go yet. Today we left Las Vegas and driving into Arizona. We stopped on the way at the Hoover Dam (and nearly melted from the heat) before driving across the border!

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These next ten days are the bit of this trip that I am most excited about. We are heading into the desert to see some of the most spectacular outdoor scenery that God created. There will be much hiking, running and general outdoorsy-ness and I am super-stoked!

Vegas, you’ve been…unique. Arizona, here we are!

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California

It felt very very odd to come back to our home state. We landed last Tuesday evening at SFO and I was totally bewildered. Was I home? Was I not? Why were we heading north up the 101 to stay with friends rather than heading south to Foster City. I missed my cat. I suddenly felt very unsettled.

Luckily that feeling didn’t last too long so I was able to enjoy our bonus day in SF. We stayed in Brisbane with dear friends, but to make life even better, the lovely Lisa drove up to meet me at some ungodly hour on Wednesday morning for one final morning run! It was Global Running Day so it felt particularly special to squeeze in four miles of running hills and catching up, but it was horrible once again to say goodbye.

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That Bonus Day, the boys headed off to do indoor skydiving as we had unused vouchers. They had an awesome time….

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My friend Jenny and I went into the city, for one final coffee at my beloved Warming Hut under the bridge. Karl the Fog was out to say goodbye. It was grey and cold, the warming hut was snug and warm. It was perfect.

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We left on Thursday morning for the start of the road-trip part of our journey back to England. We’re heading across the Southern Tier of the US and there are so many places I’m looking forward to visiting as we head east. But Thursday took us a long way down California to Anaheim for a few days at Disneyland. I have to admit that theme parks are NOT my jam. I don’t like rollercoasters, I don’t like the crowds and the whole theme park ‘thing’ but my boys LOVE it and I love my boys, so off we went.

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Over the next few days we packed in about 24 hours of Disneyland action! I know! We all preferred Disney California Adventure, which was much less crowded as well as newer and cooler. I got slowly better at rides (I’m a big chicken). We  all loved the Cars Land ride and the fantastic Soar above the World which takes you flying above beautiful places on earth, I could have stayed on that all day.

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My new ride!

The Dude lived out the Husband’s childhood fantasy by doing Jedi training and then fighting some bad guys…

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That small jedi is my dude!

…and then the Dude plucked up all his courage to go on the terrifying California Screamer, leaving me tearful at the bottom watching him go upside down. I learned a lot of lessons about facing your fears by watching that little face try to decide whether to ride or not and I burst with love at his delight when he got safely down to earth again.

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And then I found the fake redwood grove and my world was happy.

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We were pretty much done with the Mouse Kingdom by Saturday so we drove down to Oceanside for a day at Legoland on Sunday. I squeezed in a quick morning run and then we headed to Legoland. It was excellent but we’d missed peak Legoland visiting time by two years, so whilst we enjoyed it, we didn’t love it. If you have a 5-year-old though, they would LOVE it. Best of all, the lovely Kate, of Crazy Cat Lady fame, came to meet us for the day. It was fantastic to see her again and get to hug her once more before we left.

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Our time in California ended on Monday morning, fittingly with a trail run. I took the Dude and Big Brother on what was intended to be a 1.3 mile loop at Lake Calaveras, near our motel. Alas, we got slightly lost and ended up doing 5km but it was fantastic. The trails were pretty and although there were numerous rather scary rattlesnake warning signs, we only spotted one non-venomous slitherer. This MADE Big Brother’s day, he’d never seen a snake in the wild before so he felt like a real trail runner! My new Brooks Cascadias felt great too!

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Lake Calaveras, Oceanside

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They’re kind of getting into this!

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And that was it. We got in the car and drove east through vast swathes of empty high desert. It got more arid and less populated as we drove until I found myself wondering how on earth we were in the same state as San Francisco or the lush redwood forests of Humboldt county. The size of California never fails to astound me, as does the variety of land within its borders! People assume that California means SF and LA, it means liberal politics and granola – it’s easy to forget just how immense, varied, beautiful and truly diverse the Golden State is.

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And then, suddenly, we crossed the border and we were in Nevada. No more California.

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Toto, we’re not in California any more

I may have shed a little tear.

Onwards. Nevada, we’re here

 

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The Big Island: Kona side

The west shore of the Big Island is very different to the lush east shore – here it’s stark and arid. Lava fields abound. Black lava is literally piled up across great swathes of land, making it often look like a black bomb went off, which it basically did.  Kailua-Kona, the only touristy town on the entire island, chills out in the shade of a looming volcano.

We arrived on Thursday evening and, having left the bags at our Airbnb, we headed straight to the local running store for their Thursday night group run. The Big Island Running Company is a tiny store but it’s flipping awesome. Within twenty minutes, the guy there had kitted Big Brother out in his first ever pair of proper running shoes. I had the pleasure of running the 5k training run with him and he knocked 5 minutes off his Batemans Bay park run time. We were so proud we nearly burst. The store had 60% off shoes, so somehow we all ended up buying new running shoes. I can’t deny that it was awesome. I got a pair of Brooks Cascade trail shoes for when we get back to the UK!

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The very next day, the Dude, in love with his bright orange New Balances, requested we go for a family run, and Big Brother didn’t look too horrified. So we headed out to Kekaha Kai park as Google Maps showed a path through the lava fields. Reality was brutal – the pathway was entirely made up of small lava stones, it was almost impossible to run there. We did manage a 1.4 mile out-and-back and then I ran the unpaved road back up to the main road. We finished by me hopping out the car 2.5 miles from our Airbnb and running the flipping brutal hill back to the house. So much sweat.

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I also packed in a few other runs – two early morning jaunts down Ali’i Drive, home of the Ironman World Championships (and basically just a street through hotels).But all in all, this week, I notched up 29 miles which is my biggest week for ages. I was super happy about that. I also got 100% comfortable with running in a sports bra (and hiking/swimming/generally prancing about in a sports bra) because it was so hot!

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Yep, sports bra, belly and plumeria flowers in my waist-pack!

The other big deal this week was that Big Brother learned to ride a bike. On Sunday, whilst the Dude and I went to church, the Husband and Big Brother rented one of those hour-rental city-bikes and when they picked us up, they wore massive grins and were super proud of themselves. This is such a big deal, learning to ride a bike. We went back later for him to practice and he was off and away, with a humongous smile!

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What else did we do?

We hiked the 1871 trail at the Pu’uhonua O Honaunau, the ancient Hawaiian place of refuge. It was incredibly hot, we nearly melted…

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…we found the wonderful Hapuna Beach….

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….we ate delicious burgers at Village Burger (they had a choice of TWO home-made veggie-burgers!) and lilikoi cheesecake…

 

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…we headed up to 9,000 ft one night to star gaze up the Mauna Kea volcano (we took warm clothes and were still freezing in June)….

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…we saw turtles…

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…we ate fried ice-cream which was unfortunately the most delicious thing I’ve ever eaten…

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…we splashed on beaches….

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…we watched the sunsets…

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It was pretty lovely.

I have to be honest, the Big Island proved to be my least favourite Hawaii island – and the Husband said the same thing independently. We are all really glad we got to see Volcano National Park and its wonders, but the island wasn’t particularly beautiful (unless you like lava fields) and it proved incredibly hard to find places to run, hike and cycle unless you wanted to go on busy roads or lava fields. This really bewildered us and maybe we just missed some obvious places, but that was what we found. The Husband actually said that now he’s seen Kona, he’s not as bothered about qualifying for the Ironman here…which is somewhat of a relief to his competitors 🙂

We are, as always, grateful for the opportunity to see a new place and for the good time we’ve had here, but if ever we come back to Hawaii, then windward Oahu, Maui and Kauai will be calling our names.

However any time on Hawaii is good time. Mahalo, Hawaii…California, here we come.

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The Big Island: Hilo side

The minute we arrived on Hawaii island (aka The Big Island), it baffled us. The airport was like someone’s back garden but with a luggage carousel. Compared to the city bustle of Honolulu, Kona airport was in the middle of nowhere. A massive brown mountain loomed up in front of us. As we drove our car across the island to the eastern side, we got even more confused. The island was massive and empty. The landscape was more like the Yorkshire moors than the tropical beauty of Oahu. As we climbed up between volcanos to 6,600 ft, the cloud rolled in, the temperature dropped and it was like we were driving on the surface of the moon. Where WERE we? It didn’t help that by the time we arrived at our Airbnb in Mountain View, it was dark. We drove along country lanes for miles, surrounded by high hedges of lush vegetation and as we pulled in, the noise of the frogs in the jungle night was deafening. Where WERE we?

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Yorkshire or Hawaii?

There are a few things we learned quickly about the Big Island. It’s big. It’s empty. Driving distances are considerable. This isn’t your touristy tropical island, it was real and a little strange. Our Airbnb was lovely but it was much more isolated than we’d expected. This wasn’t a problem, just unexpected. The whole island was unexpected.

The main reason we’d come to this side of the island was to visit Volcano National Park and we spent two days there. The first day we explored the tourist highlights and they were indeed highlights. Steam vents, a crater that spat boiling lava a mile away, a short hike in desolate moon-like terrain and a dark lava tube to walk through.

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Spot the lava

 

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Lava lava

Even better, we drove back to the park that night to see the lava by night and it was incredible. You could see the red glow for miles around, it seriously looked like a gateway to the underworld. As we stood at the viewing platform and watched the fire dancing, it was one of the most incredible moments of our lives.

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Extreme zoom

On the second day, we did a truly unforgettable hike that Angela had told us about across the smaller crater in the park, Kailauea Ike. We started by hiking through a lovely tropical forest, then descended some steps onto the lava-filled crater of previous eruptions. It was unlike anything else I’d ever seen. Black lava, sometimes rocky and jagged, sometimes smooth, sometimes cracked, sometimes with plants springing from the ground. A lovely red ohi’a plant seemed to be the most prolific plant there, adding this strange beauty to the barrenness of the land. Curiously, the lava sparkled – a green mineral called olivine is found in it, and the lava glittered in the sunshine. We walked across the crater just marvelling at being here, it was so surreal. There was a climb back up to the crater edge through cool, lush forest again. Only four miles but four of the most fantastic miles we’ll ever hike.

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The view from above

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Lava

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What else did we do? We went chasing waterfalls….

…we visited our first ever black sand beach where 12 sea-turtles were sprawled out for our viewing pleasure…

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…we climbed a banyan tree…

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…we snorkeled (with goggles only) in lava tide pools…

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However let’s not forget that this is still, at heart, a running blog, albeit a running blog currently masquerading as a travel blog!

I actually did some good running during our Hilo stay. Our Airbnb was on a long rural road, exactly 3 miles from the junction with the main road. I ran that road every day, notching up 15 miles in total. The road was a constant roller-coaster that drained my legs but it was really good to get some steady running in. Every house had a massive barking dog in the garden, so the first time I ran I was super-edgy but then I realised they were all chained or enclosed, so I plugged in my podcasts and just ran along happily. The humidity wasn’t bad at all and the temperatures much lower than Oahu and I really enjoyed running more miles again.

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My little Hawaiian roller-coaster

Talking of mileage,my mileage has been low for April and May, due to the big move out of California and this month traveling. I miss running consistently, so my June resolution is to run at least 100 miles. I keep searching for races in the places we’re planning to visit but can’t see anything until the end of July. I’ll keep hunting.

In the meantime, we’re heading over to the west side of the island, Kona, home of the Ironman. Really excited to explore the other side of this island.

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Oahu, windward shore

Without a shadow of a doubt, it’s the windward (east) shore of Oahu that I love. We stayed there when we first visited three years again, but I couldn’t find a reasonably priced rental property when I searched for this trip, thus we spent nearly a week on the leeward (west) shore. But the minute we drove through the mountain tunnel towards the east and the spectacular pali cliffs opened up, I just fell in love with this place all over again.

Hawaii Oahu

Windward Oahu is much closer to the rural ideal of Hawaii than the built-up, busy leeward side. The one road up the island follows the coast and you pass golden beaches, aqua oceans and those spectacular green mountains rising sheer above the coastline. It’s a much quieter, more laid-back place and you can feel your shoulders relaxing  by the second.

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We spent three nights in the tiny town of Hauula. Our rental house was simple but airy and light, and we all kind of loved it. In the evening, kids played on the quiet street and we sat on the veranda so we could wallow in the cool air.

Friday was pretty much perfect! We drove down the coast to the lovely town of Kailua, parked at the  beach and went off to hike the Lanakai Pillbox trail. The pillboxes are the nickname given to the WW2 look-out posts dotted around this island. This hike was short – the trail was only 0.7 miles, one mile total with the walk from the car park, but it was steep and technical. There was much scrambling using our hands, there were some ropes in place so we could pull ourselves up bits. It was hot but as long as we stayed close to the ocean, this wonderful breeze cooled us down. And as we climbed, the views got better and better. The colour of the water is the most beautiful colour in the world. As ever, no photos do it justice.

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The two pillboxes gave us the chance to sit and rest and wallow in the views. And pose for photos.

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This came out much more ‘poser-y’ than intended!

Hike done, we had lunch at Buzz’s by the beach. We don’t have the budget to eat out regularly on this long summer trip but we’d eaten enough PBJ sarnies to justify a lunch out and we ate at Buzz’s which was utter bliss.

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Turns out I do like tropical cocktails after all. 

And then we threw ourselves into that gorgeous jade-green water which was warm and beautiful with a gentle slope of silky sand and we spent the whole afternoon wallowing.

 

Hawaii beach Kailua

We also hiked another pillbox trail, the Ehukai Pillbox trail on the north shore. A mile up and a mile down it involved another short, steep climb and then some wonderful views.

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In terms of running, I ran on the ocean road, early in the morning. Running this side of the island is definitely cooler than the other side, mainly due to the breeze, and being so close to the ocean at daybreak was pretty magical. Gladys joined me a few times this week, it’s been lovely having company even if we’ve only run a mile together before separating to run at our own pace/distance.

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We checked out the massive old banyan tree which was featured in ‘Lost’….

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…we ate the most wonderful shrimp at Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck…

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…and we visited the lovely Japanese temple, where the real delight is having the birds land on your hand and delicately peck food out of your palm. Seriously magical.

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Yesterday afternoon, we left Oahu and flew to the Big Island for the next part of our trip and Gladys flew on to Kauai to enjoy the silence that comes from NOT having kids around. I have to be honest, I was a little heart-broken to leave Oahu. I can’t see that we’ll ever come back – it’s too far from the UK, flights are too expensive and there are so many other places to explore. I’m incredibly grateful to have been here twice, to have seen those beautiful mountains and to have splashed about in that amazing ocean.

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Mahalo, Oahu! Big Island, here we come!

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