San Francisco Duathlon…. Warren style..

Where is the real Kathryn and what have you done with her?  

Running?  On holiday? Well, as one of the run directors of the new Maesteg parkrun, when I realised we would be in San Francisco on a Saturday – I wondered if there was a parkrun here…. A quick check of the US parkrun website, sure enough – San Francisco has a parkrun at Chrissy Fields down on the waterfront.

The fact that I haven't yet run my home parkrun, and that I'm still only half way through a Couch to 5K plan wasn't going to stop me. Armed with our new 'his and hers' parkrun armbands, we jumped in a taxi to the course at Chrissy Field.

Now, I love Maesteg, I really do…. but running along the pacific coast with views of the Golden Gate Bridge would be pretty hard to beat…… except the mornings in SF are eerily similar to a wet weekend in Maesteg. We stood at the start line shivering in the cold mist, unable to see anything of the iconic bridge that supposedly was out there in front of us.

We set off in to the mist, and I soon warmed up, although Paul ran the entire 5k in his fleece! There were no marshalls on the course, so we did take a bit of an accidental detour, adding on at least another 0.5k to the run. I ran almost all the way, stopping to walk for about two minutes, so was quite pleased with that and it felt brilliant to cross the line of my very first parkrun.

We joined other runners and the organisers at a coffee kiosk in the park, where we ate the best donuts I've ever tried.

A quick dash back to the hotel to shower, then it was time for the second leg of our Duathlon. We hired bikes from Union Square, then cycled right through the city to Golden Gate Park. From here we headed to the Golden Gate Bridge. Cycling across the bridge is on the bucket list of many. I don't really have a bucket list, but if I did, this would now have been on it. It was a fantastic experience, if not slightly scary at times. On weekends they keep all the cyclists to one side of the bridge, so you have cyclists coming in both directions on a narrow path. This is fine until you get to the really narrow parts around the base of the famous arches. There was also a couple of times when the wind gusted so strongly we were almost blown in to the railings. The wind, noise and spray whipping across your face makes for an exhilarating experience. That said, I was relieved to make it to the other side in one piece. The clouds and mist were starting to clear, the sun began to shine, and we finally had some beautiful views of the bridge against a blue sky. Opened in 1937, it was the world's longest suspension bridge at the time and remains an incredible feat of engineering. One of the towers was sunk 30 meters below the surface in open waters 345 metres off shore.

After catching our breath, it was a downhill ride to the fishing town of Sausalito. We were headed for a restaurant that I'd come across online – Fish. I'd drooled over the menu, which as indicated by the name – was 95% fish and seafood. I'd also been impressed with its sustainability credentials – they work to support local fishermen and protect wild fish populations, winning awards for their leadership in this area. It was also very popular, with the queue out of the door. We enjoyed the sunshine while waiting for our lunch – which was as good as I'd hoped. Fish tacos for me and a squid salad bowl for Paul.

After lunch, we followed the coast further round to Tiburon. By this time, it was actually quite hot, and the route slightly more undulating. We made the ferry with minutes to spare, and enjoyed the evening sunshine and great views on the short voyage back to San Francisco. After another few miles, we dropped off the bikes. Exhausted, we headed straight to Chinatown for dinner.

5k run plus a 25+ mile cycle. Duathlon – Warren style.

One of the best days of my life.

San Francisco in numbers

3 extra layers of clothing required due to cold morning mist
3 layers of clothing removed as the sun came out and it turned in to a gorgeous day
2 cable car rides
1 cable car ride involving hanging on for dear life on the running board, just like you see in the films
20 times stood on a street corner saying 'look how bloody steep that hill is'
1 bus ride through from down town, through Chinatown, and to Fisherman's Wharf
1 trip to Alcatraz
2 cheesy photos pretending to be locked in a cell
1 tired blogger who is too lazy tonight to write in full sentences
7.6 miles walked today
2 pairs of tired feet
1 gorgeous supper in a lovely little Italian
4 times listening to San Francisco by Scott Mackenzie

Riding the Coast Starlight

On our coffee table at home is a book called Great Railway Journey's of the World. We love travelling by sleeper train. It will always be hard to beat the ultimate, epic trip we took on the trans-Siberian railway from Moscow to Beijing in 2005, but as soon as we had planned to visit the West Coast, I jumped at the chance to include a trip on the Coast Starlight. Ever since reading Kerouac as a teenager, I've been fascinated by this railway and the tales of adventure as 'Sal' and his friends hopped on and off these trains as stowaways up and down the pacific coast and beyond.

So, at 8.30 am this morning we arrived rather excitedly at Seattle's King Street Station to board Amtrak Train 11, otherwise know as the Coast Starlight. We would be travelling over 900 miles from Seattle to San Francisco, but the full route continues down to Los Angeles. We checked in our luggage as you would do in an airport, and headed out to the platform. I don't think I have ever seen a train quite so big. Double-decker, and stretching along the platform further than I could see. We found our sleeping coach, and located our room. Surprisingly spacious, the room has a loo/shower, and comfy reclining seats which convert in to a bed at night, with a fold-down bunk above.

The trip to San Francisco takes just under 24 hours. There is little more relaxing than enforced confinement in a 'moving hotel' where all there is to do is stare out of the window, read, chat, and daydream. Oh… and I forgot to mention eat and drink.

The experience on the Coast Starlight couldn't be more different from the Trans-Siberian. On the trans-sib, we were served eggs and steak deep fried in fat that appeared not to have been changed in the whole of the 6,000 mile journey. We were served by an elderly Russian lady, with teeth either missing, or as black as her fingernails. We bought bread and raspberries from the Babushka's on the remote Siberian platforms where we would briefly stop to stretch our legs. The rest of the time, we survived on pot noodles and a box of wine. On the Coast Starlight, we make reservations in the dining car, and are cordially invited to wine tasting in the restored 1950's parlour car. Jack Kerouac must be turning in his grave.

The scenery is ever changing – suburbs give way to vast flat agricultural plains, peppered with saw mills and timber yards. We cross the mighty Colombia river which doubles as the Washington-Oregon state line. We climb up and up through the Cascade mountains. As darkness falls, we rumble through the night, crossing the Oregon-California state line as we fall asleep to the rhythm of the tracks.

In the morning, we'll disembark bleary eyed in to the Californian sunshine. The vast train will rumble on south, sadly without us on board.

Seattle bites

Seattle is famous for coffee, being the birth place of grunge, rain, Boeing and Microsoft. It is also home to the famous Pike Place Market. Keen to find out more, we signed up for a VIP early access tour to get behind the scenes. Accompanied by a local guide, we sampled our way around the market, meeting the stall-holders and their families along the way. Highlights included 3 kinds of smoked salmon, 'biscuits', local cherries and peaches, and schezuan flat breads stuffed with chicken and hot sauce. I was not so keen on the bacon and maple donuts!

What was most interesting was finding out about the history of the market and how it functions as a community today. The market opened in 1907 and is the oldest continuously operated public farmer's market in the US. The market is much more than just stalls selling fresh produce. It has a school, health centre, social housing and community garden. There are strict rules on who is allowed to trade at the market, with the emphasis on local people selling local produce and handmade products. No chains are allowed, and many of the businesses remain in same families. The market is spread across 9 acres and includes 11 buildings and 500 stalls and shops over 6 levels.
The market has FLOSS as it's philosophy – Fresh, Local, Organic, Seasonal and Sustainable. The market encourages resource efficiency, and leftover food is redistributed to the homeless and those in need in the community. It is friendly, vibrant, chaotic and colourful and whilst popular with tourists, is clearly a working, functional place for local people and businesses.

After a coffee (artisan and locally roasted of course), we headed further South to the oldest part of the city around Pioneer Square. Here we joined another guided tour which explored the 'underground' Seattle, which is a maze of streets and buildings that once stood at ground level, but were built over when the city was rebuilt following the fire that destroyed it in 1889.

A quick stop in a brewery, before heading to our final stop of the day – dinner at the restaurant on top of the Seattle's most iconic landmark – the Space Needle. The views were pretty amazing despite the smoky horizon.

We head South tomorrow, but I will be sorry to leave Seattle – definitely one for the 'would love to come back' list. Hopefully next time it will rain like its supposed to!