I'll Show You A Place...High On A Desert Plain, via the Highway to Hell. Days 81-82

This was a first for an RV park (Boulder Creek) – Free muffins and tea/coffee in the morning, in the toasty warm clubhouse complete with aviary! This put is in a good spot for the day, which began with a trip to Keeler, a once thriving spa resort and now a virtual ghost town with a population of 50. We had a little nose around including the old gas station which is now a junk art installation and saw a surfboard pointing out “Keeler Beach”. Keeler has taken a big hit with the Owen's Lake debacle and most people moved out due to the crippling dust storms that hit after the water exited stage left. It made me feel pretty sad that people's lives had been affected so badly through no fault of their own. We returned to out finish point the previous day and I set about confirming our first meet point which was to be near the site of the actual U2 Joshua Tree. I was looking at conflicting information from maps and images and realised that it wasn't the 5 miles away I thought, but it could have been only 500m away. I decided to head out and check and after a bit of searching, I saw it. High on a desert plain, just like the song. I knew that the actual tree had fallen down some years ago, as they tend to do after 200 years or so, but it has been turned into a bit of a shrine and there is a new tree growing just to the south. There is also a bronze plaque, set in place with an image of the original tree in its pomp, with the words “Have you found what you're looking for?”. I had. I left my own message in the ammo case near the trunk of the fallen icon, touched the tree and was suddenly overcome with emotion. It took me right back to the time I spent in Joshua Tree, reminding me of what we've achieved so far and also my true love for the band...it felt like a real epiphany and I was glad I'd found it on my own, so I could just let it all sink in. I returned to get the others, enjoyed their reaction to the scene and whilst we were there, we were joined by Yuli, a U2 fan who'd made the pilgrimage from Miami after winning tickets to the gig there in the summer. I tried for tickets for London, Dublin and Chicago...but no joy. I will be at one of them though, by hook, or by crook!

I returned there on my own after the others had moved on and said my goodbyes… On leaving, amazingly, I bumped into J again and had a proper chat, asking how he got by in the desert. He is an artist who makes petroglyphs (Etchings on stone), primarily, and he showed me a lot of his work in a photo album, including the famous glass tree! This time I grabbed a photo and he even got one of me when he worked out how to use the camera on his new phone… He told me the whereabouts of a lot of cool sites in the area, but as is often the case, they just weren't on my route. A route that I was severely lagging behind due to my extended period at the tree. I had another 1,000 feet to climb before I would see the mothership again and just as I was running out of water, a Californian Road Crew driver called Brad pulled up and replenished me. He had hands like shovels and I'm surprised he ever needed to use the snowplough he was driving as I'm sure he could have shifted a snow drift quicker himself. He has already become a keen follower of the run, which is ace. Now were on the downhill as we entered Death Valley National Park proper and 3,000 feet of descent awaited before Panamint Springs in the glorious January sunshine, occasionally being buzzed again by one of the F-14's training n the area. I clocked the RV at Father Crowley's lookout car park and the three of us headed to the rocky outcrop and stared in amazement at the valley stretched out before us. I looked at the road to Panamint Springs, winding its way down the steep gradient, like a Top Gear presenter's frisky dream and decided I couldn't be bothered with that and set off down the precipitous drop off the side – I didn't die and cut off 3 miles with only a few scratches. Win! Almost beating the girls to the end, but not quite, I reached our stop for the night, noting the presence of a bar. We headed over for a massive feed and met Mike, the manager, a gregarious chap, full of stories, with a mission to become a serious runner, travellers all the way from St Louis who were off exploring in a Jeep and eventually Brad, a local boy and two time Badwater (Maybe the hardest race on the world – 135 miles of about 14,000 feet of climbing in 125F heat) veteran who was heading to Phoenix the next day for a 100-miler. As you can imagine, the major subject of conversation was running in general and it was nice to be able to talk about running in general and not just my run! This is probably one of the few locations in the world you can walk into with a tale like mine and people acknowledge it, but aren't overawed by it, as this is real lunatic runner territory! The food and beer were great, with offerings from Sierra Nevada, Kirks and Founders hitting the spot. Mike also promised me a present if I popped in at breakfast time. I don't think he ever sleeps. I can't believe we managed to get so much in one day...so apologies if this blog has worn you out...you may tell that I enjoyed myself a bit.

Start: Highway 190, 1 mile west of Centennial Road. Finish: Panamint Springs Resort. 22.97 miles

Day 80 Tune of the Day: U2 – With or Without You. Completing my U2 odyssey…

I remembered really feeling the climb up to near the location of the Joshua Tree, so after an unexplained bad night's sleep, I wasn't looking forward to climbing from 1,500 to 5,000 feet in 8 miles. I dropped into see Mike and he had gotten me a “Life is Like a Box of Chocolates” shirt from his days working at Bubba Gump – small world. He also let me know it was going to rain...and that meant snow where I was going...all day. He wasn't wrong as within 5 minutes I'd unpacked my rain jacket and set off towards an ominous looking climb into cloud-shrouded mountains. Very Lord of the Rings. I caught two runners, Ben and Dessie on the way, thinking I might have company over the top, but they were just about to head back and after a quick chat with a lovely visiting Russian family who stopped to take some photos, it was on. Jenny passed me after a few miles and stopped a little shorter than we planned as she was struggling a bit with the gradient. That made two of us. It was quite lucky as a good hot breakfast and an opportunity to pick up my waterproof trousers, gloves and trainers proved to be very opportune. I cracked on again and after bit more off-roading and scrambling to avoid a long windy bend, it really started to come down and very quickly changed to snow, that wasn't even blowing horizontally – it was actually blowing up at times! The bend in the road fortunately changed a headwind into a tailwind and I began to make a bit more progress, which was needed as I was starting to think I was going to be an hour later than planned for our rendez-vous at Townes Pass – the highest point at just shy of 5,000 feet. Snowploughs were whizzing past and kindly lifted their blades whenever they went past me to avoid me getting covered and getting to the top actually ahead of schedule, I searched for Jenny to no avail. It was almost a white-out briefly and I waited for that to subside and in that time guessed that the team had seen that things were going a bit awry and had decided to descend to below the snow line, so I just kept moving. I caught up with them three miles downhill and they'd thankfully had an OK descent, proving the wisdom of the decision. Swapping stories, we commented on how cool the clouds in the valley below looked until we realised that within a couple of minutes, the advancing edge would envelop us! I decided I wanted to get right amongst it, so after getting kitted out with my running light that makes me look like Iron Man, I ran headlong into the fog. Visibility was less than 100m and there was a sense of eerie foreboding as I made my way towards Death Valley – famed for being the hottest, driest place on earth! I imagined that this road could have been an inspiration for the song Highway to Hell and decided to have it on loop...because I'm a bit weird like that, though this certainly wasn't how I imagined it to be like when I envisaged coming through Death Valley. Good kit = happy Rob and the combination of Nike Stormshield jacket, Pegasus shield trainers, Higher State Waterproof trousers and Sealskinz gloves and socks as my barrier layers worked a treat and the beard is also coming in very useful currently. All this ensured a relatively uneventful trip to Stovepipe Wells (What a name!), though the ambulance crews and fire trucks racing in the opposite direction meant that it hadn't been as plain sailing for some. I later found out that everyone was OK, fortunately. The clouds finally started to clear and currently in the words of Nick Cave, the stars are splashed across the ceiling. Tomorrow's going to be a nice day and I'm going to get the unusual situation of running 200+ feet BELOW sea level. Anti-altitude training!

Start: Panamint Springs Resort. Finish: Stovepipe Wells. 30.59 miles. Day 81 Tune of the Day: ACDC – Highway to Hell. They used to say Death Valley was ruled by Satan's beasts and was full of poison gas...maybe it was the closest thing to hell on earth. They should rename the 190...

Total distance: 2494.02 miles.