Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Wet Hot Oregon Summer, Part Three: HOOD TO COAST!!!

How on earth am I going to write about Hood to Coast?!!?!

That is what I keep thinking right now. But I really need to start writing this down before I forget it. It was one of the most amazing, wonderful experiences of my life, just as I thought it would be. The memories I made this weekend will stay with me forever, and I absolutely cherish them.

I find that words are really not sufficient enough to describe how amazing this experience was, but I'm going to write a lot of it down anyway, because I'm stubborn and I want to capture as much of the magic as I possibly can before the little details start to fade. To summarize Hood to Coast, it's a relay that this year was 198 miles long, and goes from Mt. Hood to Seaside. Two teams of (usually) 6 people each run three legs each, for a total of 13-19 miles each over up to 36 hours. As an Oregonian this race was really important for me to run and a rite of passage as someone who still holds Oregon so close to my heart. Although, interestingly, before last year I'd never actually considered running it. You can read my pre-HTC blog post for more on that.

It had been a while since I'd had a grand adventure. I really wanted to have one. And this race, which is "the mother of all relays" was just what I wanted. The greatest challenge I've had in my life since shooting a music festival in the middle of Germany two years ago, certainly.

My team this year was Van 2, and my best friend from high school, Stefanie, is the one who got me into this mess in the first place. She took most of the photos in this post, by the way, so you should definitely go check out her blog, which is really awesome and inspiring (just like her!). Her husband Zach was also on our team, along with friends Jason, Aubrey, and Scott. New to all of us was Kim, a really great lady from Southern California, who was friends with at least one person in Van 1. I really believe we had the best van of people ever this year, the perfect match of people, and I can't imagine going through this trial by fire with anyone else:

Zach, Aubrey, Jason (back), Stefanie, Scott (front), me, Kim (back) 
Stefanie and I had gone on a trip up to Centralia, Washington, to get our van on Thursday, the day before the race. Although we had to spend a day doing that, it was really great friend bonding time. We've been friends since 1996 but until now, we'd never run together. Whoa, right? This was really special for so many reasons, none more than that. To get to do this with Stefanie was priceless.

The night before the race, we converged at the house of our Team Captain (from Van 1) in surprisingly hip North Portland. We had pizza, hard cider, and talked logistics, as well as receiving our t-shirts, race bibs, and screen printing a TON of clothing with our team's logo. I realized at the party that I'd failed to get any of my food ready for the race. Oops! This caused a bit of stress in my mind, but given that we were in the second van (and therefore started later) I knew I'd have time to put everything together in the morning. That being said -- I didn't get back to my mom's house that night until after 9:30pm, and I was pretty worked up about having time for everything. Anything I could manage to worry about, I was worrying about. What if what if what if? But honestly, I did know that everything was going to work out. This was just part of the adventure.

Friday dawned warm and muggy: race day! Well, one of them, anyway. I spent the morning getting all of my stuff packed, making sandwiches, shopping for food, and had more than enough time (thank goodness!) We all converged at Scott & Aubrey's apartment at noon, loaded up our gear, decorated our van ... the important stuff:



And then ... we were off to the first exchange. We were meeting Van 1 in Sandy, the first major van exchange, after they'd run all of their first legs. This was my first introduction to the vastness of Hood to Coast. When we pulled into the parking lot at Sandy High School and I saw a literal sea of vans, it took my breath away. We got to hang out there for a while, so I was able to take a few photos and walk around in circles and generally get antsy about the weather, about life, about everything. We walked around and got our first look at the other vans, many of which had clever names and dirty names and were generally amusing. We ate a sandwich. We got our gear ready. We paced about. But thankfully, eventually Van 1 finished their first legs, and we were off!



Leg 1

My first leg was supposed to be "pretty easy" -- a slow downhill on a paved trail, and had a moderate ranking. It was 5.5 miles, which is a distance I consider myself able to run easily. It was not easy, however, and this was my introduction to the giant mind fuck that is Hood to Coast.

First -- at this point I'd waited all day to run. The downside/upside of being in Van 2 is that the race starts, for you, much later in the day. I had a ton of stuff still to do that morning (like get my food and beverages together, and pack!) so it was great in that regard. But I was also really eager to run from the moment I got up on Friday morning, and it just wasn't going to happen. The theme of the day was "hurry up and wait" and I am not exactly good at that.

I was also runner #10 this year, which meant I was 4th in my van to run, when we were running our legs! Things did go quickly, but for this first leg, I was burning energy just worrying about when I was going to get to run already, and that turned out to be a bit of an issue. Also, speaking of issues ...

This was our only major fuckup of the race, but we totally got confused and went to the wrong exchange after Zach (right before me) started his leg. Thus began a 40 minute stressed out journey to the wrong exchange, and then backtracking to the right exchange so I could start my first leg! Needless to say this did nothing good for me and I was super stressed out to the max before my first leg started. As a result, I started out of the gate too fast, wound up and tight. This actually stayed with me the entire 5.5 miles and really impacted my mental state for most of it.

The weather was also a factor with my struggles during this first leg. The major storm we were expecting hadn't quite moved in yet, so it was still really warm (80) and really, really humid. Humidity is so hard to run in and really beats you up. I felt really mentally challenged as well as physically challenged during this leg. It also wasn't much to look at, relatively, though the course smelled heavily of blackberries -- a "summer in Oregon" favorite that I absolutely loved.


I managed to finish this leg with a pretty fast pace (10:54) because I was running out my anxiety and emotions about basically everything under the sun. Silver lining? Heh. See, in hindsight, I realize now that this is how Hood to Coast goes, and I had just received my initiation.

One surreal and awesome experience that I really want to mention here is about the second major exchange, off of Water Avenue, under the Hawthorne Bridge in downtown Portland. We got there after it had gotten dark. Major exchanges are CRAZY because everyone is there -- both vans. And they have this atmosphere that reminds me of a huge campground at a music festival. That's the only thing I can relate it to -- it's surreal and the vibe is absolutely electric. People everywhere. People screaming and cheering on their teams. This was one of the few times we got to actually interact with Van 1 and I felt really bad telling them that we'd fucked up the exchange point a few legs back, and I was involved with it. I know it wasn't my fault, but I still felt so stupid saying it.

After we handed off the bracelet to Van 1, we in Van 2 got to rest at Scott and Aubrey's apartment in SE Portland for a couple of hours. This is where amazing things like showers and spaghetti and a nap happened. It was wonderful. This is where foreshadowing of things to come began, though. As we lay in the living room trying to sleep, I remember being woken up by a really bright flash, with a sound that mimicked that of a camera flash. I knew what it was: lightning.

That was just the beginning of our weather-related fun.

After "napping" badly for a couple of hours, we were up and back on the road to the next major exchange, in St. Helens. It was 2 in the morning when we got there. We were already loopy. We were also entering a huge zone where we would no longer have any cell phone service, something that made me simultaneously nervous and relieved for various reasons. It was also here that it began to rain in earnest. It was so dark and there were people everywhere and we were making jokes about the Sausage King (he's a false king! Where did he get his crown?!) and man, I was glad to get back in the van after we bid Stefanie goodbye for her leg. I was amazed, absolutely amazed, that we did not lose anybody at this exchange, considering how dark and crazy it was.

Leg 2
"The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep."
--
Robert Frost
I had been very nervous about leg 2 for so many reasons, leading up to the race. First, I had correctly calculated that I would be running this leg in the middle of the night, and I am a 33-year-old person who is legitimately afraid of the dark. I knew I'd have my headlamp, but my biggest fear on this race was being out there alone at night and getting lost. Everyone assured me beforehand that this was basically impossible, but the fear of the unknown really bugged me out. I was really wigging out before I went out for this leg and I was super neurotic and unhappy, as you can so CLEARLY in this photo Stefanie took right before I went out in the dark:


Second, this was my longest leg. Could I do it? How exhausted would I be? Would my knees/IT band hold up? Third, I knew I wouldn't have cell phone service. Four -- as it turned out, the weather situation had become exactly what I'd feared and (of course). It had been raining like crazy. Two legs before mine there had been an insane lightning/thunder/rainstorm that we had been afraid would shut down the race. Jason was running his leg during this time, and we were pretty damn worried about him, though every runner I've talked to has said this time was "awesome" and "really fun" so maybe we're all just crazy people after all? I mean, we're all out there doing a crazy endurance challenge in the first place, and I keep getting the feeling we all loved how wacky the weather was, because it made the challenge even crazier.

What's really great is that this turned out to be my favorite leg of the race. I did end up having to begin in pitch black dark of night, at 5:38am. And right after Zach handed off to me, I was directed by a volunteer to go up a steep gravel incline, into nothing but darkness. I was terrified. There were volunteers telling me where to go when there was a corner in the darkness, but after I was on the main road that I'd stay on for the duration of my 6.7 miles, there were no more volunteers. And in case that wasn't scary enough -- I was alone out there. There weren't any other runners around me at that point. I had to swallow my fear and remember that Stefanie told me I needed to deal with it and get through it. And this was one of my proudest moments -- getting through this period of running in complete darkness, by myself, with only a headlamp to light a few feet in front of me.

Fortunately for me, starting at 5:38am meant it was only 40 minutes until official sunrise, at 6:20am. And the sun begins rising long before that, as you may know. So the terrifying darkness was only about 10-15 minutes of the total run. After that, it grew increasingly light. At the same time, the weather, which had hovered around "light rain" began to improve, and by the end of the run, we had some legitimate sunbreaks! Seeing this beautiful world light up around me, the hills around Vernonia with their beautiful forests, low hanging mist, a wet world fresh with rain -- wow. I mean, there is absolutely nothing like this for me. This is the reason I ran Hood to Coast, to have this experience.

It was incredible. And I couldn't take any photos because I was running and I was trying desperately to maintain a good pace and not slip on any wet leaves or trip on anything. Also, about halfway through I caught up to this guy who was running around the same pace I wanted to run. Instead of making a point to pass him for roadkill, and out of a sense of loneliness on the course, I decided to match pace and keep with him. We ended up running the rest of the leg together, almost entirely in silence until the end, when we acknowledged each other and I thanked him for letting me share the morning with him. It was a really neat runner's moment. I love running. That's what I kept thinking. My knees/legs were really locking up near the end, but I felt absolutely fantastic as I finished.



It was really my favorite leg, by far. How funny, right?  I mean, I guess it does make sense. It was a leg where I had to triumph over some things that scared me, and had a spiritual experience in the woods, exactly the experience I'd wanted to have. This was my Hood to Coast.

After our second legs were finished, we continued on to Mist, which is the home of Tent City. We'd really hoped to be able to sleep and rest here, and we were seriously fading by this point. We arrived when the weather was starting to get really nasty, rain wise. We actually got tents easily at Tent City, probably because we were so late (the tents are usually used by Van 1 people), and very miserably dragged our sleeping bags and pillows to our tents. We were plagued by wind and rain and leaky tents during this period of time, but did manage a bit of terrible sleep. We then had to get up when Dick's Sporting Goods (who provided the tents) began breaking down the tent city, but it was just as well, because we needed to be on the road to our last major exchange, at Leg 30, outside of Astoria.



We reached the exchange and the mud/rain/wind situation was definitely deteriorating. The really cool thing about this exchange is that it was literally in someone's yard. There is a house at exchange 30 that has been serving HTC'ers food and beverages out of their garage for the last 19 years. 19 years! Multiple generations of this family have been involved! It was so cool. The storm had knocked out their power hours prior, so they were unable to do hot coffee, but they were grilling burgers in their garage like a boss, so I wolfed down a veggie burger in the rain -- something that was great at the time, but I'd sort of regret later due to heartburn ... whatever. I mean, really. Totally worth it.

Then, we began our third legs. I felt we were all starting to get pretty frayed mentally and emotionally at this point, so I was eager to get it all over with and move on to the eating and drinking beer part of the event -- something we'd been daydreaming about for hours already! I was also really worried about the weather, something that turned out to be completely valid.

Leg 3

When I watched the Hood to Coast documentary before my trip last week, I remember a quote from someone talking about the third leg:"Nobody can run the last leg with just their body. It has to be their mind, because the body doesn't work anymore."

This quote was definitely in my mind the entire time I ran this extremely challenging leg, which was listed as an "easy" 3.48 miles through the rolling hills of the Oregon coast. Ha! Easy, my ass. Definitely not easy, for multiple reasons: one -- my legs were pretty much not working at this point, as in my knees decided they weren't really going to bend anymore. I was exhausted. And two -- by this time the wind storm we'd been warned about had arrived in earnest, bringing hurricane force gusts and a sustained wind of 30-40mph. It was not a crosswind, as we were actually running south at this point -- so I was running directly into those winds, on legs that didn't work anymore. Fantastic.

It was really slow going the entire time. My spirit was faltering -- I actually ended up having to walk about half of this leg because the winds were just too much. I felt like I was running as hard as I could and yet, I was barely moving! It was demoralizing and I felt at the time like it was the most difficult run I'd ever done. But I knew I would finish, and that meant I would finish Hood to Coast, so that softened the blow a little. There were a lot of people on this leg who were walking because the wind had worn them down so much, as well, and every van that passed hooted and hollered because they saw all of us struggling out there, so that helped as well. One really lovely thing about this leg was that it smelled frequently of manure -- Oregon dairy farms, I assume!

Fortunately, it really was only 3.48 miles, which I was so incredibly grateful for, and before too long I did reach the exchange, and Stefanie and Aubrey were there waiting for me, and Stefanie was yelling my name, and it breathed so much new life into me. I did it. I did it! It was fucking terrible, one of the worst runs I've ever had, that last leg, but I DID IT!!! 






One crazy and funny and awful thing that happened during our last legs is that the wind was so ferocious, it knocked over a Honey Bucket (a porta potty). Thankfully nobody was in it, but that is a great illustration of the type of winds we were dealing with.

Another illustration of how bad the storm was -- the finish line had to be moved off the beach at Seaside for the first time ever, and the post-race party was moved indoors. I took some photos of the beach after we got there (the beach was definitely closed) and it was absolutely wrecked.



Crazy, right?!?!!? At least nobody thinks we were exaggerating about the storm out there???

Ha. Anyway. We ran across the finish line with Kim, our final runner, after 6pm -- just a couple of minutes off of our expected finish time, in spite of the 40-minute delay we'd had the day before! -- and met up with Van 1 to distribute our medals. It was a triumphant moment even though we were exhausted. I know we were also a bit cranky, and hungry, and right at that moment it started to absolutely pour down rain. And I'm talking about the kind of rain that's blowing sideways in sheets.

Needless to say, the walk back to the car, where we became absolutely soaked to the bone, was NOT my favorite part of the weekend. In fact, it was my least favorite part of the weekend. We decided to drive to Astoria for dinner at Fort George Brewery, which was great because BEER, and warm food, and a warm room where it wasn't raining (though it was dripping on Jason, and we almost strangled a bunch of Jenga-playing hipsters) but also delayed us getting back to Portland for a lot longer. It was at this point that I had to give up my dream of being back at my mom's house before midnight. I mean, I am one of those people who likes things to go the way they are "supposed to" "ideally" and I've been known to get very bent out of shape when reality doesn't live up to my expectations. Fortunately I was so tired at this point that I didn't have much time to get bent out of shape, and after dinner I crawled into the back seat of the van with Stefanie and we both slept the entire two hours back to Portland. <3

I arrived home at midnight that night, at my mom's house, and she was there to greet me, like the awesome mom she is. It meant a lot to me that she stayed up to greet me, and had a bottle of wine waiting there for me! And I will say this: I've never slept better than I slept that night.

This was the experience of a lifetime. I am so, so grateful for this incredible adventure.

And I really, really want to do it again next year.







6 comments:

  1. I seriously need to train more, I would love to participate in a relay!

    GREAT JOB!

    Eleventh & Sixteenth

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    Replies
    1. I highly encourage it! You will come out of it knowing you are stronger than you thought, and with memories that will last a lifetime. <3

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  2. You are so incredible. Love love love this account! <3

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    Replies
    1. THANK YOU!!! I just saw this. It really was one of the most amazing experiences of my life.

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