Day #84 24.03.16

My car was a lonely sight this lunchtime when I went up to Leckhampton Hill for a lunchtime run (perks of working from home), although it was cold, windy and raining, so it doesn’t surprise me I didn’t see anyone else.

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Day #82 22.03.16

Today was a stressful day. I don’t normally get stressed but the job I’m doing now isn’t the easiest for a variety of reasons. So tonight my body NEEDED a run. Not just for the exercise but the solitude and the head space. Original plan was a flat, long run through town. I changed my mind after a couple of minutes and headed up towards Leckhampton Hill. I needed to beast myself a little bit and make myself run upwards, and also I wanted the top-of-the-world feeling.

Tonight I managed to run ALL THE WAY without stopping up the steep tram-track thing from Daisybank Road. I’ve never been able to do this before, only watching on while Rachel went all the way to the top while I always walked the last bit. Not this time! Amazing what a bit of stress can do!

It was a wonderful run, one that made me think about other runs that I had chronicled in my Runs Around the World posts and how much I enjoyed thinking about runs in a way so that I’d be able to write about them afterwards. Makes me think about stuff much more in depth, and I’m much more present in what’s going on rather than being distracted elsewhere.

Like the feeling tonight of being on top of the world in one of my favourite spots on the top of the hill, and how I looked around and couldn’t spot a soul. I had the whole hill to myself as dusk was drawing in. So peaceful and serene to be up there watching the world go on down below. Tiny lights of cars and streetlights start to pop on and move around but they’re miles away from me and my thoughts.

Like how by the time I ran back down the wooded path it was pretty dark and I didn’t have my headtorch. I could just about make out the tree roots but it added to the adventure. I love running in the dark. Usually I’d have my headtorch but sometimes the moon is nice and bright. Not tonight. I wasn’t worried about axe murderers or dodgy people, I’m not nervy anyway. I was feeling pretty strong at that point so I’d probably be able to outrun them. All the films I’ve seen the axe murderers are pretty rotund and rely on weapons. As long as I didn’t trip over while flapping my arms around trying to run away, I reckon I’d be safe.

I feel less stressed now. That’s one of the beauties of running, or exercise in general. Man, it helps with shit like that. Either to take your mind off it, or just release some beautiful endorphins to make the whole world seem a much better place. Tomorrow is another day, and I know what shit awaits me, but for now, I’m thinking of hilltops and dusky running.

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Day #71 11.03.16

Another Friday, another walk up Cleeve Hill. Although this one was definitely slower as Sian and I dragged our weary, Hell Week-broken carcasses up the not-so-steep way to the top. Still good to get outside though (and the tea and cake afterwards makes it pretty worthwhile).

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Day #64 04.03.16

There’s nothing I love more than being outside. And being on top of a hill. It’s like being on top of the world, and there’s just something beautiful about sitting and gazing at the world below. I moved to Cheltenham for the hills (amongst other reasons) so I try to go for a walk up them as often as I can. Today was one of those days. Me and Louise went for a 5 mile stroll up and around Cleeve Hill having a good old catch up on life and marvelling at the views. Being outside in crappy weather isn’t in my top list of things to do but I still do it, mainly because it’s one of those things that makes you feel alive. And that’s a truly wonderful feeling.

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Day #38 07.02.16

Back home in Cheltenham today and this afternoon I got myself up to Leckhampton Hill for a run around. It was a beaut of a day (SUNSHINE!) and after spending most of this week cooped up inside feeling like shit I needed to get outside.

It’s amazing what a run around with a view and green stuff does for the soul. This picture shows a happy face to be up there and outside. I’d spend the majority of my time outside up a hill if I could. One day.

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Auckland and out.

Last stop in New Zealand was Auckland in the North Island, which is the biggest city, but <boring fact alert> is NOT the capital (that’s Wellington).

I’d decided not to travel the North Island. Mainly because I found I couldn’t push my flights back (well, I could have, but it would have cost me a few hundred quid instead of being free) but also I’m not sure I really wanted to. I’m getting towards the end of my trip now, with only a few weeks to go and I’d done so much on the South Island I kind of felt done. So I decided to keep the North Island to do at another time, perhaps with someone else one day, maybe in a campervan and with more money.

So, I flew from Christchurch to spend a few days in Auckland before heading to San Francisco. Luckily I had somewhere to stay; with my friends Ross and Emma who I met in South East Asia. We all met in Laos at the start of the 2 day slow boat journey down the Mekong river. Unluckily for Emma (but luckily for us) she had been ill and they’d delayed their journey by a couple of days, meaning that we got to meet! Me and Nick then bumped into them (literally, while walking down the street) another 4 or 5 times after that throughout Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia. I then tried to arrange to meet up with them in Australia and the South Island but every time we tried to plan it we were always a few days out of being in the same place at the same time!

So what do you want to know about Auckland? It’s nice. Hmm, that’s one of those words that’s just a bit, well, shit isn’t it? But, it sums up Auckland perfectly for me. It’s a nice city. It’s got a good feel, there are some pretty areas, there’s beaches nearby and hills to climb up to get a good view. There’s a decent amount of shops and loads of places to eat. I could live there. But, I don’t feel strongly about it. I don’t feel passionate about it. There was nothing that really stood out as it being different or totally amazing. But, there’s nothing really bad about it either. I suppose I’d maybe say it’s a bit indifferent, I don’t really feel one was or another about it. Well, I’m more positive for sure. And, I did find that the longer I stayed there the more I liked it. So maybe I would love it, were I to stay a while.

I didn’t do the whole tourist thing. I wasn’t out and about every day, filling each second with something (I’ve been there, done that, and frankly after 11 months of it, it’s exhausting and quite often unnecessary). It was nice to stay with friends in their apartment and just hang out. It was like being back with my friends in the UK. Get up, chill out, watch TV (especially the Come Dine With Me omnibus – YES, just like a lazy weekend at my brother and sister-in-laws), surf the net, eat, chat and repeat. Interspersed with little trips out for a few hours. Oh, it was bliss, and a nice little chill out before my last leg of my travels in the USA.

But, I did go to Devonport and Takapuna, Mission Bay and Mount Eden. I did go and watch a rugby game at Eden Park (Auckland Blues vs Sydney Waratahs), I did go up the Skytower for cocktails. I did go for a stroll round the Viaduct and CBD. Oh, I actually did quite a bit really. The best of both worlds.

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And so Auckland marked the end of my New Zealand trip. Just under 2 months here, which has probably gone the quickest out of all of my travels. A magical wonderland with scenery that is so stunning it doesn’t look real, and skies and clouds so colourful, vivid and clear they could be a painting. A wonderland filled with lovely, kind people and hardly any traffic. A land where driving is a pleasure; something to be enjoyed. A land where the pace of life is slow and relaxed, not rushed. A land where life is lived, not viewed through a window because you’re too busy.

Thanks to everyone that I’ve met along the way who’s made it a trip to remember.

Now Dad, when do you want to go?

New Zealand road trip: part two.

Queenstown and Wanaka. Two similar but wildly different places. Like they’d say in SE Asia, same same but different.

Legendary Queenstown. Home of everything adrenaline. Home to everything big. Big burgers, big mountains, big shots and big hangovers. In your face, busy and bustling.

Wanaka. Laid back, chilled and understated. A place to relax and enjoy and eat fresh cookies at the cinema.

In Queenstown I met up with Marsha again, who I’d first met in Christchurch through a mutual friend. What followed was a fuzzy week of friendship forming, non-stop alcohol, shots, hangovers, lots of laughter, hill climbing, grass sitting, food eating, film watching, sandwich cooking, men watching, life-sorting-out stuff. We met the delightful V from California too, who made us crack up laughing almost every minute with her crazy stories and theories.

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We made the rather fantastic bar Cowboys our local. It’s like the Wild West. The bar stools are saddles, there’s other table stools that have sides (perfect for me), the pumps are guns, there’s a good supply of cowboy hats to wear, a full size grizzly bear to meet you at the door and even a mechanical bull. Yep, a mechanical bull. I didn’t ride it because of my rib, but I spent many a time watching all the other drunkards have a go (when I say have a go, I mean spend ages trying to get ON the thing, only to be promptly bucked off in half a second. Especially if the guys controlling it were feeling mischievous – that happened a lot to cocky blokes who thought they’d be the one to give a good show. Fail.). It also played the same music all the time, although I only clocked onto this after a good few visits, when I realised there was only so many times I could watch Jessica Simpson strut around singing about boots made for walking and wondering what the relevance of her washing a car in a bikini was to the song.

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We drank a lot of shots and met a lot of people. Nearly every night in our hostel someone was drinking, pre-drinking or going out. Most of the nights just started innocently with a drink or two. None of our nights out were planned. The best way. An average bedtime was around 3am, after a legendary Fergburger, which, after a night out, is the BEST THING EVER. I’m sure it’s good sober too, but I never really experienced that. My hangover food of choice was Noodle Canteen.  They did wicked chicken fried rice in a little cardboard noodle takeaway box, great when eaten in the sun on the grass near the lake, chatting about life, the world and the size of men’s appendages.

I rediscovered jager bombs and tequila slammers, mainly thanks to Damien who would always buy a round of shots quite early on. And well, from then on, you’re committed.*

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It was in Queenstown (well firstly in Wanaka but again in QT) where I also met Johnny, an Irish guy I went on to travel with for a week. We all went out for a ‘few drinks’. Ended in a Big Night Out, lots of shots and not a lot of sleep. We all slept in hammocks in the garden in the sun the next day. He did the Nevis bungy jump. Poor bloke.

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But Queenstown wasn’t all about the drinking or nightlife (although, that’s a huge part of it for all travellers, and it sucks you in). I couldn’t do any of the adrenaline stuff (and you can do pretty much anything here. Bungy jumping, jet boats, paragliding, skydives, etc, etc) but I could appreciate the natural beauty of the place. It’s often described as one of the prettiest places to visit, and they’d be right. It’s in a great setting, on the edge of Lake Wakatipu with The Remarkables and other mountain ranges surrounding it and the Queenstown Gardens jut out in the middle, full of trees. In autumn, they are all a glorious mix of red, yellows and greens and well, my eyes had a treat every day I was here. As anywhere in New Zealand, there’s a few walks dotted about, and the views from the top of Queenstown Hill and Bob’s Peak are pretty special, and worth the walk/climb (also helps sweat out the alcohol and burger from the previous night).

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Queenstown was also the place where I used a hairdryer for the first time in months. This might not sound a lot but, oh my, this was a Big Deal. Such a treat! Smooth straight hair for once. It’s the little things in life you know.

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Marsha and I also hopped across to Wanaka for a few days (pretty nice drive in/over the Crown Ranges) to have a bit of a chill out from the madness. Wanaka is like Queenstown’s more laid back cousin (and apparently is what QT was like 20 or so years ago). Just as pretty, just as many hills and mountains to climb but much less busy, less frenetic and much less drinking.

We both loved Wanaka. It was really nice and chilled and we spent a great few days walking, trundling around, eating, drinking $12 cider (Marsha), shopping (Marsha), being propositioned in the supermarket (Marsha) watching very random open mic/karaoke nights (Swedish/english rap anyone?) and visiting what is possibly the best cinema in the world (but possibly not the best film in the world – Pompeii). Cinema Paradiso is a small independent cinema, that has all kinds of seats. Couches, cinema seats, cars (yes, you can sit in a car), bus seats etc. They also sell homemade ice cream and bake cookies in the first half of the film, so at the intermission you can buy warm cookies (whose smell wafts into the cinema near to half time. Mmm freshly baked cookie smell.) for that cookie-induced sugar coma for the second half of the film. Oh, and they’re also licensed so you can buy wine and beer to take in with you, although at nearly $10 a glass it;s not cheap. Lincolnshire people, it’s like the Kinema in the Woods on steroids.

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If you’re visiting Wanaka and only do one walk, do Roy’s Peak. It’s 1578m, so just over 200m higher than Ben Nevis (1344m), the highest mountain in the British Isles. It’s a hard climb, very steep and tough, but, well, well worth it for the view. It’s just incredible. I did gasp when I saw THIS in front of me:

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Definitely a “f**k me” moment. It didn’t look real. The colours, the texture, the view. It was like a painting, stretched out in a technicolour 360 degree view. It’s the middle peak in this picture, by the way:

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We also walked to the Rob Roy Glacier (after a near miss with a cow on the way) and Mount Iron, as well as around the lake. Pretty active yet chilled out few days.

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Then of course we went back to Queenstown and hit it hard that night.

 

 

 

*Disclaimer/note to the parents, I was quite sensible and never got completely rip roaring drunk or put myself in dodgy situations. My rib is still intact and I didn’t fall over once. I think.

 

Runs around the world #7

Manali, Himachal Pradesh, India

So, my second run in India was in Manali, further up into the mountains in Himachal Pradesh. I’ve certainly not been running as much as I would like in India. But, in my defence, it’s been hard terrain everywhere so far. I know, I know, it’s a weak excuse, and perhaps you’re thinking I should have just got on with it. I do love running on all different surfaces and climates right? But really, it has been tough. Hot and so incredibly humid in Delhi, then foggy, hilly and full of people staring in Shimla. So what about Manali? Well, I’d already decided to run early in the morning to stop the stares, so that’s that issue taken care of (although there’s always a few people out who will stare; it’s inevitable). And the weather here in Manali has been much better than Shimla. No fog and not much rain. Nice and cool in the mornings, and then sunshine later on most days. So, should be good for running right? Well, yes. But.

Yep, you know there’s a but. Bloody hell is it hilly here. Well, it is in the middle of the mountains of course, I know that. The scenery here is just stunning, but hills make it hard to run, if that’s the only running you can do. Sure, hills are great as part of a training program, to be added in with long runs, flat runs and speed work. But hills all the time? Hard work, right? You bet. Because it’s not just little gradients. Lincolnshire people, they are like Steep Hill. First, imagine running up Steep Hill. Then, make Steep Hill about 3 times as long. So, run continuously up that. Then down. Then up again. Oh, and make it at 2000m altitude. Now, what do you reckon. Easy or hard, haha?

I’ve been here a week and will have done two runs. That doesn’t sound like a lot, and it isn’t. I’m disappointed in myself really. But, to be honest, I’m not quite sure where the days have gone, and why I haven’t run more. A couple of mornings I’ve enjoyed a lie in. I spent a couple of days on long, hilly scrambles walks up the mountains and so my legs were aching. I did yoga one morning instead. I do wish I’d done more running. But, you know what? I’m proud of what I have done. It’s no secret that hill running isn’t my favourite. So, getting to the top of the hill at the end of 3 miles, of which the latter half was uphill, lungs bursting and legs burning, was a great feeling, almost an achievement. Sure, it’s a short run, and sure, I’ve done hill sprints before but this was different. This was long, continuous steep gradients. A total elevation climb of 540ft. This was difficult and challenging and I did it!

I have to class this as one of my most scenic runs so far. Running past tree-covered mountains in the background and along the Beas River, the roar of the rapids in my ears.  Running through the Manali nature park, marvelling at it’s tall trees stretching as far as I could see to the sky, the rocks on the ground smattered with the morning sunshine. Running past people meditating and doing morning yoga, oblivious to my presence. Propelling myself up the hill, I glanced over my shoulder to see the mountains in the distance, hazy in the morning mist. I stopped to take a picture, all the while thinking, lucky me. Lucky, lucky me.

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