Absolutely one of the coolest places I’ve ever been. Not that sand dunes in and of themselves are so remarkable – I grew up playing on them at the Jersey Shore, Cape Cod, and Lake Michigan. But these dunes aren’t near a body of water. They are in the middle of the desert. Sandwiched between some mountain ranges actually. At 4500′ of elevation. Next to Hollman airforce base and the NASA Missile testing facility. The park website has a bunch of warnings about possible road closures due to missile testing (and specific dates you won’t be able to access the park). Luckily today was not one of those days. I did get to hear and see some pretty sweet jets doing some fly overs from the base though.
There’s a 16 mile round trip road you drive on through the park. It passes all the trails and picnic sites and had a bunch of big pull outs to just go run around (or sled down) the dunes. I wanted to hike the Backcountry Trail and didn’t realize until I parked that they have campsites on it. I was under the impression that you can’t camp there, but I was wrong. Now, you can’t have fires, and the sites are literally just a stake in the desert, so I’m not exactly sure what the point of it is, but I did see (and hear) one couple that had set up a tent at one of the “sites.”
First I recorded some of the drive through the park. You can see some of the restrooms they have set up. There is zero water in the park but they do have some [presumably] dry bathrooms. Fortunately I tote my own personal bathroom around with me so I never have to worry about these inconveniences. And I have a nice full tank of potable water as well. #airstreamlife
I had fun playing with the GoPro in the dunes. I hiked for about 90 minutes excluding a few stops. I could have gone all day – it was heavenly, especially off the main trail. I wore my GoreTex Salomon backpacking shoes to keep as much sand out as possible and they worked like a charm. Five minutes in my Saucony running shoes and I was full of sand so smart move to switch before the main hike.
Such a magical afternoon making footprints in the sand.
In my last post I was trying to make the best of a waiting game. I pretty much failed miserably. So after a full week in a very remote and uninteresting RV park 30 minutes from anywhere (including downtown Fayetteville where the “action” is), I cut my losses. The house sitting gig was postponed at least a month and I was already bored out of my mind and going stir-crazy in the trailer, cooped up because of the nasty weather. I tried to see what was out there – spent an afternoon exploring the cute old downtown
area with its quirky shops and plethora of food/drink establishments. I even popped in the art center and perused the free gallery. I drug Tom to the Crystal Bridges museum up in Bentonville, which is very well done (and free!) but the outdoor spaces were hard to enjoy in the constant gray drizzle. Aside from checking out a local bakery for lunch after a bike ride my last day, we ate at home, so that’s boring. I ran around the golf course where we were staying 3 times and the neighborhood across the shoulder-less street once. We used our free 3 (or if you’re lucky 4) day pass at the Fayetteville Athletic Club then ventured to the rather strange Jones Center in Springdale. The sun finally came out so I rode the famed Razorback Greenway which was fine but is probably better the opposite direction.
But by the time I even rode the greenway and found the great bakery, I was leaving. I’d paid for my last night at the RV park and Tom had moved all his stuff out of the Airstream. He wanted to stay, had a little part time job lined up even. Not I. I’d spent the week emailing people about house sits, looking for camp hosting gigs, and checking out campgrounds on the Texas Gulf coast for a temporary distraction. In the end I decided to head back to Tucson and interview for the CPA job and see what happened. Of course I wanted to take my time along the way, no 9 hour drive days, no creepy parks by the interstate. Naturally that means a slightly more circuitous route.
First stop: Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, a whopping 100 mile drive for day 1. An old marathon maniac friend of mine promised plenty of curb space and a spare bedroom. She even agreed to go for a bike ride with me and color my hair! Full on girls weekend complete with lazy wine filled movie nights and puppy snuggles on the sofa. I did go for a run around a park in Tulsa and managed to swing a free lap swim at a super nice new YMCA. The plan was to run at Turkey Mountain on my way out of town but a nasty cold windy rainstorm called for Plan B. My friend scouted a trail at Lake Texoma (obviously on the state border) while I headed south towards Dallas.
It was a SUPER windy waterfront locale but at least the woods offered some shelter. I was scared just to leave the truck/trailer in the parking lot (at the boat ramp) while I ran and envisioned returning to find it twisted on its side.
Thankfully it survived. My run did not go as well. Maybe it was being cooped up in the car or just not used to steep rocky trails, but I struggled and when I ran into a huge brush pile blocking the trail I wasn’t too disappointed to turn around early.
I finally made it to the house of another old running friend (and coworker) who relocated to a suburb of Dallas 5 years ago from Charlotte. She and her husband were enthusiastic to host an Airstream and I just baaaarely fit between their driveway and the neighbor’s, fully blocking the mailbox. We had a girls’ catch up dinner out and she set me up in the office/makeshift guest room – girl has 3 kids, so full house! I would have slept in the trailer but it probably would have required blocks so I just went with the air mattress and central heat.
The Base Performance guys were in town for a conference and suggested meeting up the next day which meant I definitely would not make the 300 mile drive west to Big Spring. My friend graciously offered to let me crash a second night and I promised to get out of their hair for family activities after school. She did my strength workout with me, then I ran in the glorious sunshine. Afterwards I set up my trainer in the driveway so her 19 month old got the bike ride bug and they all went for a family cruiser ride. So happy to inspire people to be active – she confessed she hadn’t found a group to train with and hadn’t run in years.
I reluctantly unhitched the trailer and drove into the city to meet the guys at the triathlon conference. I crashed the session Matt was speaking at then we all crashed the cocktail party and dinner. It was quite an entertaining evening – from the feisty table mates arguing the merits of retail stores, to the humorous awards, to my new friend who educated me about commercial bee farming. I tried not to be offended when the Active representative informed me my upcoming “ironman” is not an Ironman and I should not refer to it as such. Hashtag no M dot tattoo for me. Bozo.
It was a fun night, however late (mostly due to a zealous Canadian guy trying to teach me how to swim, at the bar in the Fairmont lobby), but I was up and on the road by 8:15 when the family left for work and school. LA Fitness Arlington didn’t know what was in store for them. In order to swim, I needed a pool, obviously, so I parked in like an entire row, which seemed like no big deal at 9am. Of course there was a blue hair water aerobics class til 10am though so I did an hour of HIIT first and didn’t end up leaving til noon by the time it was all said and done (ie. shower and smoothie). The parking lot had filled up a bit but I managed to get out okay, phew! Off to West Texas, finally.
Nothing very interesting about driving I-20 west for a couple hundred miles. I got creative at a very busy Love’s truck stop and even bought my first box of DEF. The West Texas Friendly RV Park I had picked, based on reviews, was pretty far south of Big Spring and nothing remarkable about it. No reservation, no problem. Sweet host couple got me situated and I headed into town for a grocery – praying for better than a Wal-mart, since I’d lost almost all my food due to the fridge not staying cool by using propane like I was told it was set to do… Google Maps directed me through some very dodgy neighborhoods to an amazing new store called Porter’s where I found all kinds of organic and vegan (and overpriced) goodies. A young man even walked my 2 bags of groceries to my car and called me ma’am. Oh my.
The evening passed watching cable and booking campgrounds in New Mexico (and airing out the trailer from the stinky food situation). So much to see, so little time. But why rush it? Maybe I won’t rush it. We’ll see. At $14/night the state campgrounds with hookups are pretty appealing.
Before leaving town I towed the trailer through Big Spring State Park to check out the view. The drive was a bit sketchy – rocky cliffs to one side, boulders and cacti to the other… wind was still pretty insane with no plans to let up. The day would entail long stretches on state highways with nothing to see but cotton fields and oil derricks. It was beautiful.
I had never heard of the phenomenon of Blue Monday until today. I guess I’m a little oblivious to the date, day of the week, and bank holidays since I’m not currently participating in the working world. Pulling up to the gym at 9:30am it was crystal clear that today was not a regular Monday. Everyone with the day off was spending the morning working out – kudos to them! I was irritated that I was late for the 9:30 B5 class I wanted to try but resolved to attend the 10am Hot Yoga Sculpt instead. Who doesn’t love a good sweaty yoga sesh? Well, yoga it was not. I can only begin to describe the torture chamber that was the tiny HOT “yoga” studio they crammed 20 sweaty bodies into for what was essentially a cardio sculpt class. Overachievers-R-Us left me lightheaded and 10lbs lighter. Then I went to swim. Duh. Because bouncing around in a room with wall to wall mirrors for an hour didn’t do enough for my self-esteem, I should definitely follow it up with an hour in the pool slowly pacing back and forth wondering why I do this whole triathlon thing in the first place.
I really do wonder why I do sports versus fitness. All those moms in the torture chamber class look way better than I do – are definitely bouncier than I am – prob have more energy than I do – and feel a lot more confident. This is a legitimate posturing. I mean, yay me, I can finish an Ironman in 12 hours on 3 months of serious training, but I am still in double digit clothing sizes and am appalled at 99% of pictures and videos of myself. I guess I’m just not motivated by what I see in the mirror. I mean, to a degree I am, like I want to see a strong, healthy body. But I have some genetic limitations that [minus surgery] aren’t going to change at this point in my life. Moreover, this gets at a deeper issue. Why do I do triathlon? Running was more obvious. I love running. I saw progress in running. Triathlon feels like a consolation prize. How can I ever be good at something that I don’t even appreciate that much? What is my hang up? Hmm, food for thought.
Back to Blue Monday. Maybe I got out most of my moodiness over the weekend so today wasn’t particularly glum. We are in a weird holding pattern that doesn’t make me happy. The weather hasn’t helped. I was so looking forward to sunny Florida after the holidays but we’ve ended up in northwest Arkansas instead. And it may not even be working out. So I’m confused and frustrated and exploring alternatives and trying not to get bogged down in the what-ifs or second guess doors I closed for this house-sitting gig that may or may not pan out.
Today the sun came out. Today I finished that horrendous class I accidentally took at the gym. Today we checked out a local brewery for lunch. Today I vacuumed under the bed and every cushion and in all the storage spaces in the trailer. Today I had a good hair day.
Hey, sometimes it’s the little things right?
One foot in front of the other.
(Sweet new collapsable travel chairs make me happy)
The drive across northeast Arizona was gorgeous. I think it’s called high desert? At elevation the landscape changes dramatically. It’s quite green. Of course I was driving up or down 7-10% grades most of the time so it was literally exhausting my right calf and I couldn’t take any pictures, but just google images of Tonto National Forest to get an idea. We were supposed to go for a bike ride or something so I had Tom find somewhere scenic on our route where we could hop out and go for a quick jaunt. Turns out we would be driving right through the middle of the Painted Desert. Perfect!
Or not so perfect. By the time we arrived there was a crazy storm brewing with really high winds, and the temperature had dropped significantly. And the park closes at sunset, which we were rapidly approaching. We had a nice chat with a ranger who suggested we just drive through to Blue Mesa and maybe walk the path they just built. There are pull-outs throughout the park, most suitable for RVs (they are plentiful in these parts), but she pointed out one or two we should avoid. We wasted too much time at the lookouts on the northern edge of the park not realizing how magnificent the Blue Mesa would be and we ended up getting chased out of the park by the rangers at dusk. And while we did not manage to avoid the rain storm, we were also there for some magnificent [double] rainbows. It was just about a mile path down into and around the Blue Mesa. The perspective of looking back up at the rocks is much more powerful than standing on the rim looking down in. The water running off the rock down into the canyon was actually this pale purple-mauve color. There was also some petrified wood which I don’t think I’d ever seen – but it’s basically big pieces of tree trunks that look like sparkly rocks.
Although clearly we weren’t the first people to wander off the path to this particular piece of petrified wood, it was also clear that we were walking on quicksand so we quickly returned to the path as the sun was setting over the horizon.
A local college hosts a charity bike ride through the park in the fall to raise scholarship funds. I’d love to come back and ride here on a slightly less windy, cold, stormy day. I caught this shot quickly as the ranger chasing us out stopped to close the gates behind us.
As we approached Albuquerque our plan was to stay overnight at the Camping World on the west side of the city. Upon arrival we discovered this was one of the few locations that does not allowed overnighting. Womp womp. It was past 9pm and too late to call any proper RV parks or check in to any campgrounds. We drove through the city and my hopes of running around Sandia Crest the next morning were dashed as we passed all the exits near the park. There was a Harvest Host site up the road I thought might work, but reviews mentioned something about being locked in behind a gate so that was out. In the end we resorted to a Wal-Mart parking lot in a little town just off the interstate. We weren’t alone but it was past 10pm, cold and windy. No point in unhitching, just dropped some jacks and made a little dinner. By the time we woke up all our neighbors were gone so we had a quick breakfast, hit up a grocery store Starbucks, and headed on. The view wasn’t terrible but it’s a shame we did zero exploring in New Mexico.
If my mother ever asks, we stayed at a campground, definitely NOT in a parking lot.
The whole point of coming to Scottsdale/Tempe was to volunteer at the Ironman – otherwise why put ourselves through 3 long long days of driving to Memphis in time for turkey right? I asked Matt if there was room for me in the BASE team house but it seemed pretty full – so he said we could park the Airstream in the driveway and just hang out in the house, use the showers, etc. But after the situation in Tucson we played it safe and booked a spot at a proper RV Park. After another successful parking job by yours truly we hopped on our bikes (my triathlon bike actually) and headed out to ride the race course. The park was only a block or two off the course which worked out great, except the route didn’t have good bike lanes or even shoulders for some high traffic sections and the first 20 minutes were a little nerve wracking as jerk drivers honked at and buzzed us. Out on the Bee Line Highway we had a nice wide shoulder but we also had headwinds and a 10 mile false flat. We missed the markings for the U-turn and found ourselves out by a military base and caught in some traffic for a rodeo. After cutting across 4 lanes of divided highway we were headed back.
We missed the turn for the bridge across the river to the Ironman village and were again honked at and buzzed before pulling off onto a pedestrian walkway (maybe for bikes?). We said hi to the BASE folks then chased daylight back to the RV park – happily on a proper bike path thru a park. We were conveniently located 3 miles from the village on a good bike route.
There were a ton of athletes from Portland in town to race including several of Tom’s former teammates, the Ironheads, and Summit Coaching clients. They invited us to their hotel for dinner and we hit up a Hispanic grocery for a sad wine selection en route. I know it was nice for Tom to have some friends to hang with after we’d spent a few days with all my gal pals in Tucson. Karen and Bob RV too so lots to talk about – and if any of my Seattle friends got caught in a 4 hour interstate closure at SeaTac back in July I know why lol.
Saturday we had to swim, bike, run so we started off at a nice outdoor aquatic center nearby, bumping into Hillary, Alyssa, and a bunch of Smashfest girls. Then we drove over to Hole in the Rock to run on pink paths around Papago park in the hot sun. We had to do another loop on the race course but with some TT efforts but first we rode to the village where I bought some new Hokas and chatted with my Base Salt peeps. I even forked over $10 to the mechanic tent staff because my headset was rattling around again and I didn’t have my multi-tool on me (hello lazy!). I thought I was feeling good and excited for a little workout on the P3 but I quickly realized that my Wahoo was paired with Tom’s power meter (my battery was apparently dead) so I had no meaningful data for my intervals and with the crazy winds I was beyond frustrated. Plus apparently Tom has been holding back on our rides and is way stronger than me when he actually tries so it was demoralizing to watch him ride off into the distance. He waited after #2 though so we could cross the highway together to head back towards town with the wind at our backs for #3. I got caught at the only stoplight though and started chatting with a 2 time IMAZ finisher who was volunteering too and out for an easy picture snapping ride.
After the ride we headed to the BASE house for team dinner and hot tubbing. Indeed the driveway would not have worked for the trailer seeing as how it was gated and had a decent pitch to it. The place was awesome however and we enjoyed hanging out until it started to get cliquey (as all triathlete gatherings eventually do) at which point we bowed out. The clique-i-ness continued the next day as we arrived, by bike, to help set up the salt party on the race course. It was still important to be there for the racers though. Just before dark I decided we needed warmer clothes and I hadn’t gotten in my run for the day so I ran the 5k back to the trailer. Stuffed a few extra layers into my hydration pack and ran back to the aid station. Most of the racers I knew were finished and it was turning into a stream of exhausted walkers. Not long after, I got really tired myself so we packed up and rode back. We had a long day of driving ahead of us and needed to get a little rest.
Except for feeling like an outsider with the crowd that we actually came to hang out with and support, we really enjoyed Tempe/Scottsdale and hope to return soon. Of all the Ironman venues I’ve been to though, this one felt a little different, a little snottier. Maybe it was the hateful drivers, maybe it was the abundance of athletes set on punching their Kona tickets, maybe it was the wretched wind, maybe it’s just a west coast vibe, but it didn’t make me want to come race in Arizona, that’s for sure.