I just woke up after 13 straight hours of being out cold. In an actual bed. After an actual shower with water, and soap. I’ve got a little bit of time to tell you about my race before I get ready to head for the airport and my big trip to Italy/Slovenia with Pedro.
The Hood to Coast/Portland to Coast is a big big deal around here. I hear it’s famous around the world for runners, but since I live here, it’s hard to tell. I joined a team of walkers, and the walking part of the race is a big deal too. Both kinds of teams have 12 members, plus two drivers, so the teams can split up into two Vans to carry the racers. Though twelve of us were walking, two of us were driving and they suffered a lot of what we were suffering: not enough food, not enough sleep, craziness and mayhem. But they also got to join in our fun, and we had SO MUCH FUN. In addition to the two drivers, we had volunteers. Volunteers are necessary for this thing to work, since it’s so huge, so every team is required to provide three volunteers or they are disqualified. When I asked Pedro about it, he immediately agreed to volunteer for us! He worked from 4am-9am directing traffic at an exchange point. Thank you, my love. ❤
I tried to grab a few photos that will give you a sense of our last two days. Our first walker from Van 1 began at 1am on Friday August 27th. There were six walkers, who handed a wrist bracelet off to the next walker, one at a time, till it was Van 2’s turn. Our first walker started at 11am Friday. I know I’ll forget some of the best stories and leave out some of the best photos (because I’m using only my own and some from two other ladies), so trust me that it was even more than I say here.
Runners were more serious and did not seem to get as crazy as the walkers for their team outfits. I don’t blame them because they were focused on winning the race. Team names were friggin hilarious. Oreo Speedwagon. Legs Miserables. But the walkers really got creative with their team outfits. Our uniforms were a hoot. We chose the team name Belle Brigade to let everyone know we are all women veterans. Since we were military, someone suggested camouflage, which we liked. Then someone said how about pink or or purple? And we loved the idea of purple, and from there the purple mania spread out. Ladies were getting purple workout gear and purple iPhone cases and purple backpacks. Genevieve ordered dog tags for everyone that say our names and our blood type – just like our military dog tags – and also PTC 2021, and Belle Brigade. The little rubber protectors don’t come in purple, so we got pink, as you can see in the photo above. Alexandra found a place that sells light-up purple tutus, and most of us replied, “Get one for me too!”
Exchanges on the route were so crazy. This is the largest relay race in the world. Walkers and runners together make up 18,000 participants. With them are the many many people needed for support. Imagine the strategy needed to park all the vans supporting these teams in the same place. Imagine piling out of the van and trying to figure out when your team member is going to show up, all while in the middle of hundreds of people doing the same thing at the same exact place at the same time. It’s chaos! Because of peoples’ different speeds, the vans are pulling into and out of little parking areas (in church parking lots, in open fields, along the edges of narrow roads), and harassed volunteers are out there trying to make frazzled drivers park in the right places and to keep walkers and runners safe and on the correct part of the road so they don’t get run over, and then telling drivers that when they pick up their person they need to get the heck out of there because there is a line of new vans waiting for a space to park so they can get their own person. It’s honest-to-goodness chaos, when everyone’s running on adrenalin and not enough sleep, and some jerky and a cookie from the cooler in the back. This was Pedro’s job. Now you know why I’m so proud of him. :o) I was sad that he worked a Van 1 exchange so I didn’t get to say hi. But the ladies on Van 1 saw him!
We had an awesome team Captain in Tanya. She was so on it. I mean, really on it. Almost every single miniscule thing we needed and didn’t even know we needed, she had for us. This is particularly amazing because she had never been in this race and just had to do research to figure it out. One of the most brilliant things she did was to have a sheet ready to track racers times, with estimates of how long they would take on their leg, based on their average walking time. It was the best tool we had and was nearly perfect. It was like magic. We would say, “Ok, Crystal left at 4:22 and should take one hour and 20 minutes, so Amy needs to be out at the exchange point at 5:35 or so.” And viola! I would walk through almost exactly as predicted. “Almost,” because every single one of us met or beat our average time. We completed the race in 33 hours – a full hour faster than the Portland to Coast organizers predicted.
There were no restaurants along most of the route, and we didn’t have time anyway, so we brought granola bars and cheese sticks and bagels and energy gels and jugs of water and just ate when we could. There were a few groups having fund raisers, like the high school boys sports team at one place was grilling burgers and hot dogs and we hungrily bought some and inhaled the actual food. One exchange had breakfast burritos and mocha coffee. I think that was another high school sports team raising money for uniforms. Both of these were exchange points at high school parking lots, so that made sense.
So yeah, a team can’t do a 130-mile relay race during only daylight hours, so while Van 1 began in the dark, Van 2 eventually had to walk in the dark too. Van 2 had to start some time in the wee hours, picking up the bracelet at whatever time the last walker from Van 1 showed up. It was not an exact science. Based on our time so far, and average speed of our walkers, we guessed some time between 3 and 3:30 am, so Genevieve, our first walker, had to get some sleep and get ready. We suggested a 2:30am wake up, but Genevieve said she was setting her alarm for 2am just to be safe. We all did the same, except for our driver, who set his at 1:45am because he was our Van Dad, and taking care of us. We were in the mountains and almost never had phone signal, so messages were not going through very well, if at all.
We were directed to an enormous empty field with orange tape and cones set up in between blackberry brambles, and in the gloom our driver Chris deftly managed to get our Van into the back portion where it was darker and quieter and right next to an area designated for sleeping bags. It was summer and we were limited on space, so no one in Van 2 brought a tent. Four people didn’t want to sleep outside, and chose the reclining seats in the van and three of us opted for sleeping bags in the grass and blackberries under the stars. I really wanted to say goodnight to Pedro, but with no signal I just turned my phone to Airplane mode.
The night was rough. Our quiet place turned into a raucous party apparently. Other teams had no respect for the designated sleeping area, and played loud music and cheered and honked horns for their walkers and runners all night long. Every ten minutes or so. Vans came in and out of the parking area, with headlights on, shining them onto the sleepers constantly all night long. There was one crazy woman who was protesting the race, and from about 11pm to 1:30am was blasting an offensive song proclaiming “F*** You!” over and over and over. She played the same exact song on repeat for over two hours, pausing every so often to scream at the sleepers that they were spreading COVID during a pandemic. Then someone began setting off fireworks. And guess what, our entire team is ex-military, so we all immediately thought it was gunfire and were on instant alert. I saw the bursts of lights in the sky and relaxed, but the people inside the van were not sure what it was till we told them later. But at one point when I woke up, I opened my eyes and looked above me at the Milky Way and ten billion stars and it was amazing.
My alarm went off at 2am. I looked over at the other two who were not awake. I thought I’d take a moment or two to rest before the craziness of the day kicked in, and switched off airplane mode on my phone. A text came in “We’re here. Ready for you to take over.” WHAT?! I messaged frantically Wait? Now? Is this an old message from yesterday that just now came through? But cell signal was gone again and my frantic messages were not sent. Genevieve’s alarm went off and my first words to her – walker #1 – were: “I just got a message from our captain that it’s time to walk.” “WHAT?!” I tried to reassure her that it was probably an old message from the day before, because it came through the moment I turned on my phone – what are the odds? But just then, the next message came through “Chantel is here. We’re waiting for you.” Oh no!!! Van Dad, who was already awake, was not on the group text and did not get the messages and didn’t know.
Van 2 kicked into pit team mode! All of us were immediately getting Genevieve dressed and ready, with reflector gear and headlamp and filled her water bladder and found her a facemask and told her to leave her sleeping bag and we would gather all her stuff. A couple of us grabbed her and went toward the road, in the pitch black through blackberries, and tried to clear the sleep from our eyes. We stumbled onto the road with orange cones and vans driving and people cheering and blinking lights and had NO idea where to go. I tried my phone again and I had one signal bar and tried a text. “We’re here. Where are you?” Nothing. We just stood there in the dark, frantic but dazed, wondering what to do. How do you find your teammates in the dark, among two hundred people standing around? Finally got a text back, and found them and the bracelet and got Genevieve off. Oh my gosh. We lost 17 minutes there. Dang it. But bless her for rising to the occasion.
The event has a system set up so that you can cross the finish line as a team. When a walker got close, they radioed in the team number, and the whole team lined up. Then when our walker showed up, we all spilled out onto the sand and walked over the finish with her. It was really exciting and the weather was perfect. The beach was packed with people! Family members of walkers began arriving, and our group was getting bigger and more excited.
And then we heard our number called and we lined up! Then we spotted her and started jumping up and down and cheering. When we finished, we all walked over to the photo area and had professional photos taken (the one at the top of this post was taken by a friend who was nearby).
Our purple camo REALLY stood out on the beach and it was clear that we were a team. We had so many people during the race come up to us and ask about our team, and especially on the beach, lots of people came up to talk to us because of our uniforms. It was a good choice and we were already so proud of each other it was a great excuse to tell strangers who we were and to brag about each other. Did we win it? No way. How did we rank? I have no idea and I think none of us really care. We finished and we finished well and that is pretty damned cool.
I came home and did the three number one things on my list: eat, shower, and sleep. I slept 13 hours. I feel human again.