I must interject into my reminisces of North Carolina to update you all on the second annual March of the Belle Brigade! The Purple team was out in force over the weekend, rocking dog tags and tulle and only a few blisters.
The Hood to Coast relay race is one of the biggest things that happens around here, the biggest relay race in the whole world, if you believe their website. It’s international, and there are hundreds of 12-person teams and 18,000 total participants. There is a lottery to be allowed to race, and the slots are always filled on opening day. Those who don’t want to run the 200 miles from Mt. Hood to the Pacific Ocean can instead join a speed walking team to walk the 130 miles from Portland to the Pacific. (Organizers time us so that runners and walkers end up on the beach at sort of the same time.) My team is a walking team.
I was lucky enough to know these ladies because they were co-workers at the Department of Veterans Affairs in Portland before I retired. Two members are spouses of VA employees, and our drivers are also VA employees.
Last year was our first time in the race and it was a big deal because we formed the team in 2018 but missed the deadline for 2019. We stuck together and decided we would apply for 2020. We won the lottery and were invited to participate in the 2020 race, but then – yeah, no races that year. So we had been preparing and getting anxious for three years by the time we raced in 2021. This year we knew what to expect, we were better prepared, and it was twice the fun.
Van 1, with the first six walkers, started us off in Portland at 4:00 am. That left Van 2 with the opportunity to sleep in. Because I live closer to the start than anyone else, some of the ladies stayed over at my house that night. We had a fun evening chatting and drinking and eating and we managed to get to bed before midnight, which was very responsible of us. Despite having the luxury of a late morning start, I couldn’t sleep. Too excited.
The next morning was even more enjoyable at my house. We woke to cool fog and deer in the yard and plenty of rich, dark, Peets coffee and we all organized our piles of purple gear. We thought of camouflage because of our military backgrounds, and briefly had considered pink camouflage but settled on purple instead. That turned into purple anything became a team colour. Purple streaks in hair, purple tutus, purple watchbands, purple headphones, purple leggings and sport bras, you get the idea.
It’s tradition for all the teams to decorate their team vans, and naturally we did that too, with old photos of us when we were in uniform, purple streamers, and inflatable eagle pool toys on top to make our vans easy to identify in a sea of other white vans. The walking teams, which are usually more relaxed than the running teams, tend to have more costumes than the running teams.
Like last year, at the start we’re provided with a wrap-around bracelet by event organizers. The ladies walk their routes with the bracelet, then when it’s time for the next woman to take over, we slap the bracelet onto the next person’s wrist. Each of us has two legs we are responsible for, with lengths of 3 miles to 8 miles long, and varying degrees of difficulty due to gravel roads, hills, traffic, etc. Last year one of the women had to stop and wait for a train. Some of the route is on city streets in the heat of the afternoon, some is in very desolate mountain country in the middle of the night.
After Van 1 was done the first time, they handed off to us about noon and they had seven hours or so to rest. We finished up about bedtime and handed off to Van 1 again and tried to sleep as best we could in a field of blackberries that had been roughly hacked down for the event. It was soaking wet, as the rain had begun around 6pm in the evening and continued heartily until about 7am the next morning. We set our alarms for 3 am and laid out a tent and sleeping bags on the blackberry stumps. Just as we were dozing off, an event organizer came through and yelled at everyone to move our tents to a different place. So we moved them up a hill to a different area of blackberries and tried again. It took me about 4 hours to wind down enough to sleep. Then my alarm went off. Ho hum.
But off we went again! Genevieve was the first to walk and she told us she wanted to be met with coffee at the end of her walk. So we bought coffee and when I went out to take the bracelet from her, the others handed her coffee, and I took off in the pitch black morning. I felt grateful for my second leg. At first it was difficult for me because it really was dark and along a narrow road through a forest. So very dark that it was hard to see the road or even what was off the edge of the road, when a car came by and I had to get out of the way. I was grateful to spot any walkers or runners ahead of me to give me a sense of what direction the road went ahead of me. But after about half an hour, the sun began to rise in a foggy, rainy morning and I was treated to the most beautiful rural scenes of barns, and horses, and fields and trees and streams around me as I walked. By the time I ended, it was full daylight and I had no problem seeing my team cheering and waiting for me at the end of the leg.
We finally sent Stephanie off on the final leg on Saturday and both teams drove to the town of Seaside, Oregon. We gathered on the beach with our friends and family. We knew to expect Stephanie to hit the finish line about 1:00pm, so we began walking closer to the finish. There is a person on a high platform with a megaphone who gets the runners and walkers team numbers as they round the corner for the final stretch, and calls the numbers out to the teams waiting. When you hear your team number, you can line up in the stockades and wait. When your person arrives, the whole team is allowed to go out and join them, and thus the whole team crosses the finish line together. It’s pretty cool.
There was a giant party planned at the beach with complimentary food and drinks and music. None of us made it back. We were all in the mood for a nice mellow evening and a good night’s sleep.