Posted in Los Angeles, Running

Legends Triathlon Race Recap

In October 2019, I did my first-ever, grown-up, in-the-traditional-order, open-water-swim, triathlon: the Legends Triathlon. Here is my recap.

On the morning of the race, I got up at 5:00am, had undercooked oats and a cup of tea for breakfast, then got ready and packed the car. I had pumped up my bike tires and put the bike in the car the night before.

We drove 25 minutes east and south to Bonelli Park in the dark and parked at the Park n Ride at the junction of the 57 and Via Verde. At 6:30am there were still plenty of spaces.

Sunrise at the park

We unloaded and walked down into Bonelli Park (no $10 park fee for us!). We headed over to the registration/packet pick-up tent by the swim beach just as the sun was coming up. The race packet consisted of a nice t-shirt, some Cliff bars, and a variety of sticky numbers.

Registration as seen from Transition

I stuck the first number to my helmet and the other to my bike then headed into transition. I found a good spot on a rack, remembering to find a landmark to line up with so I could find my bike after the swim. I laid out all my gear then went to get my number drawn on my arm. With that done, I turned around to find that the Pasadena Triathlon Club, of which I’m a member, had its own rack right by the entrance to the transition! So I picked up all my gear and moved it. While this was a closer spot, it was perhaps less ideal as it underfoot was gravel so everything got filthy pretty quickly.

Transition set up – pre-move

After setting up we wandered down to the beach and checked out the swim entrance/exit, the run exit, and the finish line. Then with 30 minutes to go, it was time to get the wetsuit on.

I don’t have a tri-suit, so I just wore my Target running shorts and a sports bra under my wetsuit. We lined up for a group photo then headed down to the beach. We noted immediately that the shoreline was lined with duck poo, but since there was nothing to be done about that we got in the water and splashed around to get wet. It was thankfully not too cold.

Swim beach – the sand was surprisingly cold

At 8:00am the people doing the Olympic distance headed off, and then at about 8:10am, once they had got sufficiently far away, those of us doing the Sprint (“Express”) were given the green light.

Getting ready to swim!
Swim start!

I stayed at the back of the crowd because I knew I would be slow. Despite having practiced in this lake in the summer, I was unprepared for the chop that the other swimmers stirred up. After getting a couple of lungfuls of water and making a few attempts to swim properly, I decided I was going to have to go to my backup plan of swimming with my head out of the water (like I was ‘sighting’). It was slow going, but I knew I would eventually get there.

On my way I heard people hacking and coughing, one guy asked to hang onto the board of one of the safety kayakers, several people were going breaststroke or swimming on their backs. As we made our way to the swim exit, the first swimmers of the Olympic distance came zooming by.

I was very glad to get out of the water but my plan of running up the beach and the hill into transition didn’t happen – my legs weren’t working! I fast-walked to the top of the hill and once I was on the level, I managed to run to my bike.

After the swim my legs were barely working

Getting the wetsuit off was yet another challenge but I didn’t fall over so I considered that a success. I got my shoes on, got my bike and ran out of transition. Thankfully, no sooner was I on my bike than I was overtaking people everywhere.

Swim (300m): 11m 72s

Transition: 3m 55s

I would consider the bike to be my next weakest section after the swim so I was surprised how well things were going. I’m sure I can thank my training with the Pasadena Triathlon Club and all those hills we had to do. I was also very pleased that I had previewed the course in summer so I knew about the big downhill with the sharp right into a steep uphill that caught out someone who was trying to overtake me.

Heading off on the bike
Returning from the bike leg

I only had time for a few sips of water on the bike, mostly to clear out the taste of duck doos from my mouth, then I was back into transition.

This is where I knew I’d gain time because I was riding in my running shoes. All I had to do was dump the bike and my helmet and get going.

Bike (12km): 30:11 (16.3 mph)

Transition: 1:43

Heading out on the run

Anyone who has run off the bike will tell you, it’s really hard. However, having practiced this as well, I knew that while it feels hard, you are usually running faster than you think. I wasn’t too worried about this feeling, I just kept going, despite the long slow uphill for the first mile and a half. That said, after about a mile I was feeling a bit spaced out so I choked down a GU chew with no water. It did the trick.

Though I am most experienced with running, this leg was hard work. The uphill for the first half was quite a challenge but during the downhill on the way back I was able to make up some time.

Finishing the run and the race

Run (5km): 29m 03s (9:21 /mile pace)

Overall: 1h 16m 39s

I came 10th out of 15 in my age group so I have something to improve on next time!


Posted in Los Angeles, Travel

Paso Robles, Morro Bay and Hearst Castle – California Road Trip

Back in late August 2017 mum came to visit us in Los Angeles. As part of her visit we went on a mini road trip to California Wine Country, Morro Bay and a famous tourist spot: Hearst Castle.

Being August the temperature was in the 40C’s (100F) and bush fires were burning around LA. We set out in my car from Pasadena on Saturday afternoon and drove up the I-5 before heading cross country to Paso Robles – a town of many wineries. According to the car, the outside temperature on arrival was 46C/115F.

We headed to Le Vigne Winery which had been recommended to us. Glad for the extra-strong aircon inside the tasting room, we shared a simple tasting with a paired cheese (the “cheese flight”). The wine was fairly average, and the experience of standing up at the bar in a very noisy room was not great. Overall it was not a very interesting experience (for example, compared to a good experience at Pfeiffer Winery, Rutherglen, Australia), so we left fairly quickly and headed to our accommodation – Americas Best Value Inn in Atascadero, which was also not very interesting but was the only place for miles around that had any vacancies. Actually, the interesting thing about the Inn was that the guy behind the reception was so unbelievably rude that it amazed me the place was still in business.

Le Vigne Winery
The Cheese Fridge at Le Vigne Winery

Since Atascadero had a lake, we headed there for a walk before dinner. The lake was beautiful and the temperature had dropped to manageable levels. There were a few people jogging, and others strolling around. Back at the carpark we paused at the little zoo which had flamingos in an outside enclosure.

Atascadero lake
Flamingos – yes, they are real!

We had fish and chips for dinner at Pier 46 Seafood Market in Templeton. Afterwards we got beer from the local Trader Joe’s then headed back to the hotel for the night.

The next morning, Sunday, we drove towards San Simeon and Hearst Castle. The coast road was very scenic and strangely quite empty. We stopped off in Cambria to get closer to the water. Scrambling down a small cliff with limited stairs we found a rocky beach which was actually more rocks than beach. After looking at the water for a while we headed on to Hearst Castle.

We arrived at the visitor center at the base of the hill at opening time. Like pros we went straight to the gift shop to get postcards – something which is pretty close to impossible to find in Pasadena ­– then got coffee.

As we had prepaid our tour tickets online via the California State Parks Reservation System we thought we were all set, but little did we know that those tickets are useless without also going to, yes, the ticket counter, to get them exchanged for…tickets. This wouldn’t have been an issue if we’d known when we arrived and the line was non-existent. However, by the time we found this strange fact out the ticket line was literally out the door: 100 people long. Luckily once we had stood in the line for about 20 minutes we were good to go.

Hearst Castle, as seen from the visitor center

We boarded the bus which drove us up the steep and winding road to the villa on top of the hill. On arrival we were greeted at a wide set of steps by a number of volunteers, all pleased to see us. Just for a second it was easy to imagine arriving as a VIP.

Our guide was extremely knowledgeable about all aspects of the villa, and she took our group on the “upstairs suites” tour. William Hearst Sr. apparently loved to entertain guests at the villa, and had differently designed bedrooms for guests. We were amazed by the amount of European art and sculpture in each room. We also saw the spectacular dining room and library.

Living Room
Guest bedroom
Another guest bedroom
Dining Room
View to the Pacific Ocean from inside the Villa

After the tour we were able to wander around the grounds. We enjoyed the piazza and the wonderful views before heading to the last stop which was the swimming pool, tiled in azure blue and gold leaf mosaic tiles. It looked so inviting it was hard not to jump in.

Guest suite?
Hearst Castle swimming pool
Hearst Castle swimming pool
Hearst Castle swimming pool

That afternoon we drove to Morro Bay and arrived at our accommodation (Morro Crest Inn) to discover it did not have aircon. Luckily it was only 100F at that point so we had a cup of tea then went for a walk along the bay to look for birds and other wildlife.

Black-crowned Night-Heron

Along with various sea birds, sea otters and seals we saw a pretty spectacular sunset. We had dinner at Blue Sky Bistro and enjoyed the evening’s cooler temperatures.

Sunset and Morro Rock
Dinner – clam chowder

The next morning, we had breakfast at the same place then after checkout drove along the bay to spot the local sea lions. These are extremely noisy creatures and we found a big group of them sitting on a yellow contraption in the middle of the bay, honking at each other. At Morro Rock we saw a great group of sea otters, and upon walking around the Rock we saw some interesting birds and lizards.

More sea lions
Western Fence Lizard
White-crowned Sparrow
Black Phoebe
California Ground Squirrel
Sea Otters


After this we set our sights for Pasadena, heading along Highway 1 as much as possible. We stopped at Solvang on the way and found it to be a very touristy experience. We sampled the famous aebleskivers and were underwhelmed!


This was quite a low-key road trip as in total we drove about 550 miles in three days. I would like go back to Morro Bay to explore the area more, and I think Hearst Castle is an interesting place for out-of-town tourists – but I wouldn’t go out of my way for Paso Robles!

Posted in Los Angeles

Garden update: SoCal winter edition

Winter has kind of arrived in Pasadena.  Not that it’s exactly that cold: it was 25C (77F) yesterday. There have been some changes in our garden since my last garden post in September, and this long weekend seems like the perfect time for an update.

Garden beds

Thanks to Dad, we now have beds in our yard!  After much head-scratching and grovelling around in the dirt with the tape measure we decided on two octogons, 4ft on each side.  We had to plan around the sprinkler system and the lemon tree which I planted a few months before. We got pressure treated planks from from Ganahl Lumber.

Dad pick-axed out the necessary 64 ft of rock-hard dirt to bed the planks in about 5 inches (of 10 in total).  We nailed them together (I may or may not have also hammered my finger) the watered the dirt to help it set.

Here’s the ‘before’:

Back yard - lots of space

And here’s the after:

Beds are in!

Dad went back to the UK, needing another vacation.

I then did a calculation and ordered 2.5 cubic yards of soil (not topsoil, but planting mix) from the Lincoln Avenue Nursery which duly arrived on the back of a tipper truck and was dumped in our driveway.  I had to then move this 2.5 tonnes (?) of soil the 10-20 ft to the beds. One. Shovel. At. A. Time. (And yes, I should’ve just bought a wheelbarrow, but where’s the fun in that?)


Some considerable number of days later, this was the result:

The final result.

But, then we went to Australia, then I got a job as a driver helper, then it was Christmas and I couldn’t really walk because of the aforementioned job, then I started another new job, and now somehow it’s mid-January and not much planting has occurred.  Weak, I know.

New Things

Meanwhile, here are some other things going on in the garden at the moment:

(1) Flowers on the Jade plant. I never even knew these flowered!

(2) The plant I thought was a wisteria turns out to be a powderpuff and has also flowered. These were my second favorite flowers as a kid in Australia (after the Frangipani, which I think is called something else in the US).


(3) Several of these massive green things have appeared and are getting bigger by the day. Scary.


(4) We got a bird bath thanks to my grandmother. I’ve even seen birds in it!  The other day I found the top on the ground – I think a cat or something tried to get in it.


(5) We acquired a couple of lovely big pots which I’ve put filled with some easy-do flowers and herbs and a gardenia.


(6) From the same source we also acquired a very spiky plant which came complete with corks covering the spikes.  It’s awesome but I’m not entirely sure what do with it, so I’m leaving it in it’s crumbly pot at the moment…

(7) I got a compost bin from the city.  It’s full but I haven’t dared check if we actually have compost yet.

Notice how one of the other big green plants is trying to take over the Bottlebrush?

(8) Ok, this isn’t new, but the lemon tree is still hanging in there.



We’ve had a lot of rain (relatively speaking) in the past month or so and the garden has transformed because of it.  I saw a couple of worms (I know, this shouldn’t be news but I was very excited) and we got a lot of weeds and seeds poking up.  Also, thanks to the Chinese Elms and the Oak, the garden is coated in leaves.


So the plan is to get the garden beds planted as soon as possible: pretty soon I’m going to plant some vegetable seeds in one of the beds and in the other I’m going to try to recreate some ideas my father-in-law’s Australian garden. Wish me luck!


Question: any tips for planting in a garden that doesn’t really get a winter?




Posted in Life, Los Angeles

Six Months in Pasadena: checklist check

It’s been just over six months since we landed in LA, bleary eyed, trying not to get annoyed at our immigration officer.  I’ve had an absolute ball over the last half a year.  I love the weather, I love Pasadena, I love our house, and I’ve even made a friend or two.

Pasadena City Hall
Pasadena City Hall

We had a big ‘to do’ list when we arrived and now it’s time to see how we got on:

1. pack up our apartment & 2. say goodbye to everyone – done

Post: California Adventure Begins

In the cactus garden at the Huntington Gardens.
In the cactus garden at the Huntington Gardens.

3. apply for new visas & 4. fly to London to have an interview for said visas – done

Post: Getting an E-3 Visa

London: gotta go see where Sherlock’s filmed!

5. get at least one car – done

Post: Driving in LA


6. find somewhere to live (preferably to buy – so add to the list ‘buy a house’) – so done

Post: Buying a house in Pasadena

Post: Buying a house in Pasadena – part 2

Post: new house interesting mail


7. I have to get a job – not done

So far I’ve put in 14 applications, investigated 3 promising leads, and had one interview.


Aside from the above, in the past six months we’ve also done the following:


  • lived in a hotel for two months [Post: Living at the Residence Inn],
  • moved into our new house, and
  • taken delivery of our storage locker from Australia,
  • and had four separate sets of friends and family to stay at our house.
  • Plus our house was filmed for a TV program! (Battle Creek)
  • We’ve also installed an over-the-range microwave oven [Post: First DIY] and,
  • we (including Dad – thanks Dad!) have made some progress in the garden, [Post: Getting dirty in the garden].

Being tourists:

  • We’ve been to see Griffith Observatory [Post: Griffith Observatory],
  • the Space Shuttle Endeavour (me – four times!),
  • and Mt Wilson Observatory for a viewing night. [Post: Observing Night at Mt Wilson]
  • I also went on a tour of JPL.
  • We’ve been on a road trip to San Francisco [Posts: Pasadena-Berkeley Roadtrip, Sequoia National Park in a Day],
  • and I’ve been on a road trip to the Grand Canyon and Las Vegas [Posts: Roadtrip Part 1, Part 2, Part 3]
  • We’ve been to Huntington Gardens (several times) and the LA Arboretum, and
  • to Beverley Hills and Santa Monica.
  • With Dad, I’ve been to the Hollywood walk of fame (yuck!),
  • to Santa Anita Races,
  • walked along Broadway in Downtown,
  • and taken city skyline photos (with my phone) from various places.

Becoming locals:

For the next six months my plan is:

1. Get a job, or,

2. have a brilliant idea to make a million bucks.

That is all.


Question: What else should we do in LA?


Posted in Travel

Sequoia National Park in a day

We spent a productive week in Berkeley.

A surprising grove of gum trees at UC Berkeley.
A surprising grove of gum trees at UC Berkeley.

I went into San Francisco and had a mooch about: I got off the Bart at Embarcadero and just started walking up the biggest hill I could find (i.e. California), before heading back down toward Powell station to home.

From the top of a big hill
From the top of a big hill – that’s the Bay Bridge in the background.
Another big hill - I walked down this one.
Another big hill – I walked down this one.

I also went to the UC Berkeley botanic gardens, partially to have a look at the flowering Queen of the Andes (otherwise known as puya raimondii) and also because I knew I’d get a view of the Golden Gate Bridge from there.  And what is a trip to San Fran without seeing The Bridge?

Golden Gate Bridge - just!
Golden Gate Bridge – just!
The big 'thing'
The big ‘thing’ – i.e. the Queen of the Andes plant

Happily our membership to Huntington Gardens in Pasadena got me into these gardens for free.


When the conference finished at lunchtime on Friday we wasted no time – we got straight on the freeway to Fresno, which would be our overnight stop before tackling Kings Canyon/Sequoia National Park.

More freeways
More freeways.
Not far then...
Not far then…
Good job we had snacks.
Good job we had snacks.  Mmmm artificial.

After an uneventful drive we arrived in Fresno only to discover we’d have to drive right through town to get to our hotel.  We had the amazing luck to get across the train tracks before the world’s longest train arrived (see video).

We were greeted at the hotel by a bunch of ducks (or geese?).

They seemed largely indifferent to us.
They seemed largely indifferent to us.

The hotel (Courtyard Marriott) was alright, especially once we’d partaken of a couple of happy hour cocktails each; and the next morning we were up bright and early to be out the door at precisely 8.17am.

Fresno is about 50 miles from the park, or about an hour’s drive.  There was essentially nothing useful on the internet about either park so we just had to piece together what we could to make a plan.  Plan A was to go look at the General Grant tree, then drive into Kings Canyon and back out.  Plan B was to drive Route 198 (otherwise known as the Generals Highway) through to Sequoia National Park and out the southern entrance back towards home.  The reason Plan B was in fact, Plan B, was because the Internet told us that the 198 was ‘very twisty’ and ‘difficult’ and you would ‘definitely get car-sick’.

So we arrived at the park at about 9.30am and entered at Big Stump.

Big trees.
Big trees.

We found the Visitor Center and discovered that, even though it’s only a few hundred yards, one couldn’t walk from there to the General Grant tree.  So we got back in the car and drove.  Happily there were loads of parking spaces.

We did a circuit of the trees in the grove and were suitably impressed by how truly staggeringly big they were, and how truly staggeringly annoying a particular bus load of tourists were.  When it was time to leave the carpark was full and cars were circling.

Yep, it's that big.
Yep, it’s that big.

At this point we decided we would tackle Route 198 to Sequoia – we’d already got to 7000 ft so we figured we were most of the way there.  The first part of the route was easy and had spectacular views.  We stopped at many turnouts before getting to the General Sherman tree parking lot at about 11am.  Again, there was plenty of parking.

The views were amazing.
The views were amazing.

General Sherman is supposed to be the largest tree in the world, by volume, if you count the branches.  The sign told us its diameter is 11 meters (36 ft), and it is 275 ft (84 m) tall. It was pretty damn impressive.

General Sherman.
General Sherman.

When we left, the parking lot was full again. We guessed we were about half an hour in front of everyone somehow.

General Sherman marked the beginning of the Sequoia forest area, and the ‘difficult’ bit of road, and we soon started seeing massive trees everywhere – so much so that they became ordinary.  The photos below really don’t do them justice – be assured they are the biggest things we’d ever seen.

Trees! Also, sunroof!
Trees! Also, sunroof!
Just some more MASSIVE trees.
Just some more MASSIVE trees.
Now we're driving between trees!
Now we’re driving between trees!

We think it was definitely worth taking that road, and it really wasn’t that hard to drive.

The downhill bit of the road was also beautiful.
This part of the road was also beautiful…
...with more spectacular views.
…with more spectacular views.

Then it was the long slog back to Pasadena, with a pit-stop at a miscellaneous gas station Subway, back over the mountain of Doom with the trucks, back into LA traffic. We were home (with a stop at the supermarket) by about 5.30pm.

Urg, freeway mountain.
Urg, freeway mountain.