From “Whee!” to “WTH???” – a weekend walking the Portland-to-Coast

Now that I have recovered from this past weekend, I can write about it without feeling exhausted all over again.  Mostly.

As ever, it was a blast.  For those of you who don’t know, the Portland-to-Coast is the walking part of the Hood-to-Coast relay race, held every year in August.  Our registration fees go to fund cancer research–and with about 14,000 race participants, that’s a pretty hefty sum.  I think the organizers received over $600,000 this year.

While the runners start out on the slopes of Mt. Hood, the walkers begin the race on the east side of the Willamette River, which splits the city of Portland in two.  Most of the walking teams leave the start line at between 1 AM (!) and 5 AM.  Our team started out at 4:15 this time.

For once, I was not greeting the dawn with the van that held the first walkers.  Our team does not use the officially sanctioned method of rotating our members, so half of us got to sleep in.  The usual rotation is Van 1, whose passengers walk their first legs of the race, then meet up with Van 2 at the exchange where the last walker finishes.  Then Van 1 drives on up to the exchange where Van 2’s last walker will finish off, and Van 1 starts their last legs.  Then they repeat the procedure when Van 1 finishes.  Our method is different, and we did get a cautious nod from the office to do this:  Van 1 does half the race, and Van 2 finishes off.

This way, we do not have half our team sitting in a mosquito-infested meadow, waiting for the second van in a sea of 500 or so other vehicles, bored to death or trying to sleep.  I have seen people napping in the exchange–how they do it is beyond me, with all of those vehicles starting, stopping, rolling, people yelling, portapotty doors slamming…How can anyone sleep?  They must have earplugs or something.  HUGE earplugs.  Made of concrete.

So, this year I was in the van that pulled the all-nighter.  After fighting evening commuter traffic and waiting for an accident to clear in a one-road little mountain town, we made it to the exchange in plenty of time.  But for awhile, we weren’t sure if we would.

Now the fun really begins–finding the team van, and getting the walker to the hand-off on time.  With no phone service.  No one has cell coverage in the mountains.  We tried walkie-talkies one year, and got hold of the wrong team.  Didn’t try that again.

You really have to have a good number-cruncher on the team.  At least one, if not two.  When I am presented with the statement, “Okay, P. left the exchange at 6:54.  He’s walking at a 14-minute mile, and we passed him at the .6 mile mark.  When will he arrive at the next exchange?”,  I will slide down onto the car floor and hide under the seat.  Problems involving numbers scare me.  I’m so glad we have number masters that take care of all of that for the team.

Using the estimates given by Wunderkind Numberman in Van 1, we knew when to start looking out for their arrival.  But in the dark, unless it has a distinctive light display on its roof (and many did), one van looks like another in that vast sea of vehicles.  So I stationed myself to intercept them in the entry to the parking area.  In the mist, which was threatening to become rain.

My husband made a prediction that it would rain during his entire walk.  It did.

He brought it on himself, I tell ya…

The exchanges can be pretty nice and accommodating, with plenty of parking for all those vans that ply the road during this weekend, but some can be downright nasty.  These are the ones temporarily carved out of the clearings between the trees in the forest–but barely.  Sometimes it is a one-way loop from entrance to exit, and heaven help you find a parking spot before your walker has to be at the hand-off!  And no dropping walkers off before parking either–instant disqualification.  There was one time when we had parked alongside the dirt path they’d put for the cars, and our team member was getting out.  She took one step out the door and disappeared, straight down.  It was like taking the elevator without benefit of an actual floor to stand on.  Fortunately, there was no real damage.  But we’d parked right on a deep ditch–there but for sheer luck, the van would have gone in.

My least favorite exchange was the one where the vans had to drive up a one-vehicle road to the parking lot–and there were cars going both ways.  I counted my paces–it was 3/4 of a mile to the exchange from the parking area!  That was nuts.

Walking in the dark can be somewhat nice, actually.  Nothing but my own flashlight and the moonlight–when it did come out.  And, of course, the lights from the walkers (and now the runners; they’d caught up to us) as they passed me.  The adrenaline is immense–if anyone had startled me at that point, I’m pretty sure the authorities would still be picking up pieces of him even today.

Seeing the dawn–ah, lovely.  I guess.  I’d rather see it on a DVD.  I am so not a morning person.  But I did buy some coffee at one of the exchanges, so everyone in the van was safe from me.

I was the team member who got to walk the last leg this year, and it was so fun to cross that finish line with my team members, who were waiting for me there!

Then the medals, the group picture, the trudge to the beach house, and the collapse.  Some of the team went back into Seaside to play and have a good time.  After 38 hours straight of being awake, I was not one of them.

We had dinner at our usual place–Fulio’s in Astoria–and it was wonderful.  They gave us the back room, and we even got to meet the head chef!  G. and R. are vegan, and the chef was only too happy to make them something just for them.  He came out to see if his dish met their needs!  So nice of him.

The question is, truly, asked many times during the year, as we remember how arduous the race is, the difficulty of staying awake the whole time, the sweat and strain:  “Why are we doing this???”  But then our dinner together, the camaraderie, the good times–this gives us the answer.

This is why we do this.  And we’re doing it again next year.

Whee! again.

 

 

 

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