the 3rd best U.S. city to live in, really?

or how I survived, then escaped Fayetteville, Arkansas.

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

tandem tacos

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.

Then I arrived in the desert.

windmills as far as the eye can see

There is not much to see driving east on I-40 across New Mexico. But as soon as you hit north Texas it is just miles and miles of wind farms. I find it quite beautiful and peaceful too. It does seem to go on forever at times though, so we broke it up with a fun little run in the country. But where to stop? Can I get a sign perhaps? Oh hey, how about at that gigantic cross on the side of the highway? Okay!

We can safely say we understand the wind farm situation. At least we chose to run into the wind on the way out and just coast back in with it at our backs. Except Tom had to spend about 10 minutes wrangling the sweetest dog that escaped her pen and was jogging down the country road with us. Finally he just knocked on the door and asked the owner to keep her inside while we left. Good grief. I’m sure we looked like lunatics to all the farm vehicles zipping by but it was a much needed workout and the scenery was kind of stunning. I felt like I was on that road in Forrest Gump where they deliver the angel wing packages. Cotton bolls swirled around me and I even got hit by a tumbleweed that escaped some barbed wire fencing. Big sky, I heart you.

The random overnight in Oklahoma City was unremarkable. Tom found an RV Park just off the highway and the highlight was a nice chat with an employee who refilled our propane tanks. As we pulled out for the last long day of driving to Memphis, Judy called. Early that morning Granpa had gone home to be with Jesus. He was at peace in his new perfect heavenly body, basking in the vision of a lifetime, where there is no pain or suffering. We will miss him terribly and I can only hope to honor him by spending the rest of my days running to the cross of Christ. Some days it might look a lot like a windmill.

Scottsdale RV Ranch

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.img_2870 Then we drove over to Hole in the Rock to run on pink paths around Papago park in the hot sun. img_2843We 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.

South Forty RV Park (Tucson)

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the illegal parking job

Our first night in Tucson actually involved an illegal parking situation in my friend’s neighborhood that resulted in some pissed off HOA folks and a tow notice. One of my Vanderkitten teammates generously offered for us to stay with her and assured us the trailer would fit in her driveway (she even measured it). Apparently another friend had parked their RV in the drive in the past. What she didn’t tell me, and I failed to ask, was the accessibility – like the street situation. I had been nervous about it all day but was busy driving and didn’t contact Michelle to ask for more information. Sure enough, we pull up to the house and the cul-de-sac is crazy steep. I could probably drive up it but there was no way I could maneuver to back the trailer into the driveway. It would literally tip over and I’m not even sure what would happen at that point. Does it just rip off the hitch? Does the truck go down the hill with it? There were no good scenarios running through my head. It was about 8pm so not entirely too late to go find an RV park, but getting close. Michelle suggested we park it in a big flat gravel area next to the neighborhood entrance and promised us she’d seen people park trailers there before for days at a time. I was doubtful but figured it would at least be morning before someone came to harass us.

So we unhitched it and went back to her house to have some [wine and] dinner. I stayed in her guest room and Tom went back to guard/sleep in the trailer. It was nice to have some space, especially considering he had a nasty cough. In the morning we made our way across town to meet Hillary at the Smashfest Queen office for some gab time and shopping. Then we planned to swim at UofA nearby. But when we got in the car I saw a ton of missed calls and frantic messages from Michelle. Apparently the HOA was up in arms and threatening to tow so she was babysitting the Airstream in case they tried to make good on their threat. Now it would actually be quite challenging to tow it off because A) there’s a hitch lock on the ball and B) all the jacks are down. I’m not sure what kind of liability a towing company would take on if they attempted to haul her off and manage to rip it apart in the process. Needless to say no one had shown up but we calmed Michelle and moved her back across town to South Forty, which is really more of a long term resident mobile home park than an RV park. No matter, we weren’t hanging out there. The little old lady checking us in must have been new on the job as she did a celebratory dance upon successful credit card processing. She failed however to return Tom’s driver’s license, which he wouldn’t realize until we got to the campus to swim. Hillary had made a point of telling me we HAD to have ID to get in. He said if they wouldn’t let him in then he’d just go run while I swam. On the sidewalk we ran into my friend (and former bike mechanic) James who had moved out from Charlotte back in June. He gave us his take on the Mt. Lemmon climb (we’d already heard similar versions from Michelle and Hillary), then we made our way to the rec center. Despite signs stating they absolutely required government issued ID for a day pass, they let officer Tom in and we got our outdoor swim on. img_2811It was heavenly. I’m feeling good in the water these days which is nice – especially since I’m running at a turtle’s pace and absolutely dying on the bike.

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rivers are dry beds that only fill with water during monsoon season

Before the trailer fiasco the plan was to drive out to Sabino Canyon and do a trail run but we were running out of time because I had a much anticipated massage at 5:30. Michelle had told us about The Loop – the bike path that goes all along the “river” img_2812so we resorted to doing a short run on it from a lot near the massage studio. I was pleased to discover a soft sandy trail next to the paved bike path so most of the time we ran on that. I had been referred to this massage therapist by another Vanderkitten and he’s definitely one of those “out there” types but so so nice and really really good at what he does. It was exactly what I needed but I was quickly deflated by Tom’s frustration with my appointment running over which left him waiting in the truck for 30 minutes. We haven’t done much on our own since we started this trip and I so needed that massage, physically and mentally. But having only the one vehicle means a little coordination and in this instance it left him a little pissed off. So I made a frozen pizza, drank some wine, and stayed in the guest room again, while he went back to the RV park.

There is a group ride on Thursdays that heads up Lemmon – pretty much no one ever goes to the top, but people go as far as they want then turn around. Michelle and her boyfriend were going so we planned to join them to get an early start on the day, but I had a bad case of insomnia and felt nauseous when the alarm went off at 6:30 am (after only 4 hours of sleep) so begged off. Tom finally came over around 10 to get me and we drove to the shop where they were all enjoying their post ride coffees and pastries. Somehow it was 11:15 before we finally got started. Kelly had put it in my schedule as a 4 hour ride, which I figured was a little optimistic for 60 miles even if half of it was straight downhill. But still, we had 6 hours of daylight, so we should be fine, even with a img_4057cookie stop at the top. Boy was I wrong.

Take it easy to the bottom they said. The first 3 miles are the worst they said. It’s really over by mile 19 they said. Stop and enjoy the views they said. Don’t look at the mile markers they said. There’s no water till 19.5 they said.

The 4.5 miles to the start of the official climb was still a climb. The first 3 miles were fine, because it’s the beginning. There was no noticeable difference after mile 3. By mile 6 the fun was over. I was going 6mph and was only 1/4 the way up. My expectation of a 3 hour climb just catapulted to 4 hours. Did I have enough nutrition? Fluids? It was clear I didn’t have enough positivity. I started pulling over for breaks not at the scenic vista points. I had to tell Tom to be encouraging. Seriously? I was literally cussing into the canyon.  img_3053I had done a complete 180 from marveling at the gorgeous scenery in miles 1-6 to not giving a flying f^@k where I was. I was bargaining with myself about how far to go. But the closer I got to mile 15 (a point I’d determined would be acceptable) the more I realized I had to keep going just to get more water (I wasn’t completely out though). At mile 12 I texted Kelly and said there was no way I would earn a cookie (mile 24). Mind you, the grade isn’t terrible, but it’s unrelenting. And the wind. Oh my God, the wind. Plus the elevation. Pretty much over 6000’ I disintegrated. My attitude mostly. I was shaking, dizzy, tearing up. Yet there were 60-70yos descending with smiles on their faces. So clearly THEY had made it to the top. Why couldn’t I? Because I’m fat. And pathetic. A loser. These are the things I was sure of as I ground out 5mph at 60rpm. A disgrace really. Now it made sense why everyone got this grave look on their face when I said I was going to summit Lemmon. I’m not a pro. I’m not a podium finisher. I’m not even in-season in shape. I’m a big fat nobody who has no business trying to bike her way 8000’ in the desert.

fullsizerender-2But apparently I’m also quite stubborn. And somehow in the middle of all that cussing and self-pity I ground my way to mile 19.5 where we hand pumped some water into our bottles and turned down the ride home from an old guy who had just called his “driver” to rescue him. And all I could about was calories. If there was a vending machine, a general store, anything, I would get a coke and a candy bar and head back down. Turns out the reason everyone talks about the cookie hut is because it’s all there is. So you have to keep riding another 5 miles to Summerhaven to this random little hut that sells pizza, gigantic warm cookies, and hot beverages. It’s rolling, so another mile up, a freezing cold mile down, another mile up, another freezing mile down down down. The thing is, when you can alternate, the ups aren’t nearly as bad. It’s the constant, steady grind that killed me. We were popsicles. I had packed arm warmers, gloves and a vest in my pockets but removed my shoe covers and skipped the base layer Michelle suggested.img_2819 I had barely stopped shaking when we forced ourselves back out into the cold (seriously, it was 37* up at 8000’ plus the wind!) and at least the climb out of Summerhaven warmed us a tad. I was absolutely serious when I told Tom to find us a ride down, hitchhike, call uber, do whatever. But the one truck he did ask was one driveway away from home and politely declined. Also the officers aren’t allowed to pick up strays so the sheriff guy turned us down too. Commence freezing. The sun was just behind every corner and the shade was extra chilly. I made us stop a few times to take some pics (and unclamp our hands).

sunset at Windy Point - brr!
sunset at Windy Point – brr!

The sunset was gorgeous and the temps did rise back around 6000’ but then it got dark. img_2821There are no lights on the mountain except cars. Our little bike lights weren’t providing any visual assistance. The descent felt just as never-ending as the climb and wasn’t as enjoyable as it would have been if we weren’t popsicles and scared to death of hitting invisible rocks, cracks, potholes. Ironically, the final 4.5 miles in a proper bike lane on the “flat” road back to the truck were the scariest because still no street lights, lots of cars, tons of debris, oh and a coyote!

We hustled to the restaurant where we were over an hour late to meet the
Vanderkittens for dinner. 15109340_10211214557382539_8327357271510303611_nThey congratulated us then scolded us for descending in the dark and not calling someone to fetch us. I downed some wine and started to thaw out.
I was so so happy I didn’t quit but honestly quite embarrassed about my attitude and negativity. Kelly was thrilled with my cookie achievement but the whole thing really made me question my attempt at cycling and wonder how the heck I even finished 2 Ironmans in the first place. Will I ever get the legs for it? Do I need to lose 30 lbs first? Suffer through another 5-10 years before seeing progress? Why do I have so many talented, driven athletic friends that get good so fast? It just plain sucks being bad at something that I so desperately want to be good at.

One more sleep in the comfy guest bed, some errands run, and a short drive to Scottsdale for ironman weekend. If Mt Lemmon didn’t make me feel pathetic and inept then surely a weekend around a couple thousand triathlon junkies would drive it home.

Le Sage Riviera (Grover Beach)

Le Sage Riviera

That sounds a lot fancier than it actually is. But apparently central and southern California’s RV Park off seasons aren’t quite as quiet as those in Oregon. And we haven’t always been that good about advance planning. So our first (and second) choices for parks in Pismo Beach were full up. Tom’s mom lives in nearby SLO or San Luis Obispo, so location was important, and I was ready for some beach time. As it turns out I’m pretty sure we could have stayed at the beachfront no frills (dry) campground nearby, but I wasn’t in charge of reservations. No biggie, but the park was tiny and full of big rigs and we were lined up like sardines in there. Pulling in at night was no picnic either. We had to make a U-turn to get into our “street” which was phenomenally awkward, and Tom was so worn out by it that he literally could not understand my directions to line up the trailer. So I did it. My parking lot practice was paying off.

We set up camp then headed straight to Judy’s house for dinner. She lives in a little four-plex in downtown SLO and had been cooking and baking up a vegan storm for us. We had a lovely time chatting while Tom started our heaps of laundry. Sunday morning I headed straight to the beach to soak up some Vitamin D and quiet my thoughts. It was heaven. Eventually I fetched Tom and we wandered over to see the Monarchs img_2735which were remarkable. Thousands of them migrate to these same trees every year and humans crowd the shoulders of the PCH to stop and marvel at them fluttering overhead.

Unfortunately the days are short, even if the sun is warm, so we hopped in the truck and headed north to Montana de Oro  img_2752

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img_2765  state park with intentions of an easy bike ride followed by a sunset hike along the bluff. Turns out it isn’t a great location for road riding (mountain bikes everywhere though!) so we just went for a much longer hike than planned. The stupidly parked in a lot a mile away from the main beach area where the Bluff Trail is located, and had to schlep through the super soft sandy dunes trails to get there. The cliffs were beautiful and the place got busy for sunset. The Bluff Trail is very tame, flat, well groomed, and well-trafficked. There were families with unattended children running perilously close to the cliff edges, lots of runners, some hippies w their guitars, asian tourists with their selfie sticks, and even a fisherman harvesting something out on some rocks that for the life of me I could not figure out how he got to (or more importantly, how he’d get back!). As the sun set we hustled back up the road to the truck because we were hosting Judy for dinner back at the trailer and were running really late. But as a former full-timer herself (she spent a year towing the kids around the country back in the 70s), she was content to wander around the park and down to the beach in our absence.

We rose early and went for separate beach runs in the morning fog. A few miles south they allow overnight camping on the beach so lots of RVs were digging themselves out of the sand before the day users showed up in their jeeps. It sounds fun, but oh my, just think of all the sand, everywhere, in the trailer, in the mechanics of the truck… plus it gets cold at night! No thank you! We had a long drive ahead of us, including the much-dreaded trek through LA. Tom handled it like a champ and when we were finally able to pull over in San Bernardino we switched. My first pull! On the highway, in the dark, eeee! To be continued…

moments before I start driving
moments before I start driving