In Search of Giants. Days 54-56

Waking up in the brave new world felt no different to any other. The sun was still shining, my sore bits were still sore and I still struggle to raise enthusiasm for anything within an hour of turning off the snooze button. At least I wasn't feeling as rough as some in the RV and starting a run at the OK Corral, albeit about two hours later than usual couldn't help but raise a smile. I did a loop of the town, because the place is just a little bit special and bumped into no other than Forrest, dressed up very smartly in jeans, shirt and Stetson, to the point where I initially didn't recognise it was him. He was remarkably fresh faced for someone who was still cracking on as we left Doc Holliday's and he was working already. Must be that military discipline! I ran past a group of Buddhist monks posing for a photo with a statue of Wyatt Earp, through the old town and past Boot Hill cemetery and onto the gradual 3000ft descent in the direction of Tucson, via Benson and onto a logistical dilemma. Arizona has a slightly different law regarding cycling on the interstate system, where it is allowed unless specifically stated that it ain't OK. I was of the opinion that seeing as I'd be running faster than some people on touring bikes it shouldn't be an issue and I have already realised I have little concern for my safety on busy roads. As a result I decided I'd give it a go, but first checked with the Arizona DoT and Border Patrol guys I encountered when I asked if I could use their portaloo… The former thought it was fine as long as there wasn't a “No pedestrians” sign (though recommended I should go back and visit Bisbee – of course) and the Border Guards said that I couldn't go on the carriageway, but the grass at the side was fine. After emerging from the town of Benson, that looked like it had unfortunately been strangled a little bit by the big chain businesses at the edge of town, no sign was present, so up the ramp I went. Cue miserable mileage, stumbling on tufts of grass, getting pricked by Mesquite bushes, avoiding all eye contact (mostly because I needed to see my footing, partially out of the feeling I was being a wrong 'un) until I finally got to a road I could run on. Get. Me. Into. This. RV. I'm done. We did get to treat Rick to his first night at a truck stop, which was a bonus. Generally it was a success I think, but the lack of an impromptu game of baseball with the truckers shattered many an illusion of his.

Start: OK Corral, Tombstone. Finish: Mescal. 32.9 miles

I said I was done. Well of course, I wasn't, because that's a long way off. I was done with I-10 though, an alternative needed to be found and via a combination of side roads, unsuccessful door knocking, some gate/fence climbing, dry river beds, service roads and other...err...thoroughfares I cracked it, James Bond style, with only two snags on my shorts and a spring in my step, for my morning outing with Rick, resplendent in the fact that he's now overtaken Paul as second biggest runner on the trip. The way he's going, I might have something to worry about as he's getting quicker and going longer. 10.3 miles today in one go and it was a hilly one! It's quite funny to me, with him not having much of a running background to hear the tales and progress through a range of issues such as knee pain (resolved), sore feet (new issue) and up and down days with muscle soreness that newbies and idiots like myself go through when they ramp up excessively. I hope I am a source of reassurance for the things he's going through and also not a bellwether of doom for what he should expect to crop up. I'll try and stay healthy!

Leaving these two after lunch I spent a lot of time on a cycle path, past a huge solar farm and flanked by cacti which made a pleasant change to a narrow shoulder and being buzzed by cars and gives you more of a chance to enjoy the now, reminisce about the run so far and plan the future. There are a number of potential plans in place, or mooted but they depend on a big number of factors, so I usually just think myself in circles, then have the same conversation with Nads later. The bonus is now I can have the same chat with Beer too. It all passes the time I guess. I'd decided on this run that I couldn't really be doing with a near ten mile run after the fourth run to take me from 33 to 43 miles for the day – the difference between staying at the Walmart and having a short run the next day, or Mr T's truck stop and being in a better place that night. Live for the now, I say, eat when you're hungry and sleep when you're tired. My next run therefore was the princely total of one and a half miles. It was lovely. Cue a dinner of a great veggie three bean chilli cooked by Masterchef himself, Richard Beer. I could get used to him being around.

Start: Mescal AZ. Finish: Mr T's truck stop, Tucson. 34.7 miles

Oh the joys of running miles that you could maybe have done the day before. My favourite. Actually it's not as bad as driving back to a place to run those miles, so small mercies and all that. More mercies arrived in the fact that there were two things to look forward to today. The first happened halfway through my second run, where I was joined by Tucson ultrarunning legend, Michelle Hawk, who, only last year won the Flagstaff to Grand Canyon Stagecoach Ultra (100 miles – count em!) in a course record, amongst her many other baubles! This wasn't going to be a jog, for sure. We met on the outskirts of Tucson and chatted over a few miles, before we were joined for the second half by Beer. I was wondering if it was going to turn into the sort of run where all sorts of people joined us, but it was more likely to have been people wanting to run with Michelle. We heard of her adventures cycling round the USA, Asia and Australia and I was persuading her to have a go at running across the USA. She seemed so fit and strong, she could have a go at the record, in my opinion (See – I'm still persuading!)… Her local celeb status got us a great photo with the Drexel Heights Fire Crew and her local knowledge warned us of certain types of airborne cacti bits, snakes and also of the excellent Sonoran Desert Museum, which was our second thing to look forward to. We parted ways unfortunately at the entrance to Tucson Mountain Park, already starting to be surrounded by the giant Saguaro cacti which were popping up on the hills and mountains like silhouettes of ancient Native American warriors, in ever greater number. It was up to me and Beer to take 'em on and this we did, up an unrelenting hill on the hottest day since he'd arrived, with my constant stopping to take photo of our large pointy green friends every 100m or so, providing an opportunity for some interval training as Beer is like a locomotive when he runs: Steady and solid progress preferred with inertia on restarting an issue!

I decided on actually spending some time not on the road and joined the guys on a tour round the pretty cool indoor and outdoor museum, so cool in fact I realised it was getting prettttty late and I separated from Nads and Beer and legged it round the last half of the park so I could get on with my run. I had 14 miles to go to our hastily designated spot for the night and as I left the car park (which had a sign pictorially informing you not to give Coyotes cookies), the sun was already dropping like a stone. I went on one of my “I don't think this road is really closed” missions, which allowed me a little more cross country and peaceful look at the Saguaro National Park than the actual road would have allowed and got away with it. I cannot tell you how unbelievable this experience was. The Saguaro (Or Giant, as you may know them) cacti grown to over 40 feet tall and here's some more handy facts for you: They only start throwing out arms when they're about 70 years old and about 12 feet tall and those with five or so arms are usually around 200 and can easily weigh 10 thousand kilos. You also get certain types of woodpeckers making nests in the ultimate high-rise, high-security des-res apartments. The rent must be extortionate – 2,000 berries a month or something. Anyways… being surrounded by these behemoths as you run is less intimidating than you'd think, seeing them massing on the hills and as the fading sunlight cast shadows on the road, the feeling of being somewhere very special was all pervading. Nadine has her favourite cacti also, by the way, but I'll let her tell you about them.

As I left my special private wonderland to rejoin the main road, it was getting pretty dark and a quick RV with the RV led to me getting my lights on and setting off for the last 8 miles, tired and visually impaired. The road was still pretty busy, but pitch black, with irregular surfaces on the shoulders so it was a combination of squinting, the old army trick of closing one eye as a vehicle approaches to stop it being light blinded and sometimes just having to stop that prevented a twisted ankle or worse. I didn't enjoy this run at all. So much concentration was needed that I had a bit of a headache when I got back to the RV (or maybe just a good bit of old fashioned dehydration) and found that we were by an airport, where unfortunately a terrible accident happened at the turn of the century where 19 Marines died in a training flight. It felt slightly strange being there and of course, being a military facility we were worried about being moved on, but I guess we were there for the right reasons and maybe Karma was in our favour this time.

P.S. Special mention to Baggins' coffee shop, which was unfortunately closed as I went past, first thing. I was hoping for An Unexpected Journey, but alas...

Start: Mr T's Truck Stop. Finish: Marana Airport. 35.1 miles

Total 1683.14 miles