The team arose around 5:00a Thursday at our rented house in Seaside and drove to the turnaround on Broadway. We nervously milled around and took some photos in the predawn light, and then it was time for Dave to get our adventure under way. He started his leg at the turnaround rather than on the beach to avoid running the whole way with sand in his shoes, but that was one of the only deviations from the official course (besides running it in reverse).
We loaded ourselves back into our vans and set off. As we passed Dave on the quiet city streets, he was sporting a huge grin, ecstatic to finally be immersed in our crazy project.
Our team captain and the mastermind of the whole scheme, Steve Strauss, had scouted out the course and made notes of things to look out for, one of which was the possibility that the temporary bridge over Highway 101 would not be completed by the time we started. Sure enough, we were greeted by the bizarre sight of the span hovering over the highway without its ramps. Dave had anticipated this and was running the alternate route on a surface street one block south.
Our vans took turns waiting at each intersection, making sure our runner knew where to turn, and soon we were gathered at our first exchange, ecstatic that a large bank of pristine Port-a-Potties awaited us, ready to be christened. Dogs in the timber office parking lot let us know we were a day early, and running the wrong direction. (Several dogs along the course were similarly confused, their owners not yet having sent them inside or to doggie day camp for the duration of the normal Hood to Coast schedule).
Dave emerged from the woods at the end of the gravel road and let out an excited and relieved whoop as he handed off to Jim, glad to have nailed his first leg and finally able to put the nervous anticipation behind him. Jim headed off on Leg 35 Eastbound, which took him along the paved road rather than the familiar gravel trek through the Weyerhouser property, which was being logged.
We stopped near a bridge to give him some water while Lance munched on a banana and peanut butter sandwich made with Dave’s Killer Bread, one of our sponsors. As I looked around at the trees and the creek, I began to really appreciate the quiet and the isolation, a huge contrast to the cacophony and crowds still to come during Hood to Coast itself. It was nice to have the whole team able to stick together, and both vans convoyed for most of the journey to Timberline.
Jim took a swig of water and continued on his way, and then it was time for our only relay rookie, Todd, to take the handoff and begin Leg 34 Eastbound. On a Thursday morning there weren’t many people around, and the only spectators were a few curious cows who wandered a little closer to see what all the excitement was about.
Todd sped into the exchange, his first-ever relay leg under his belt, and handed off to Mike. Now, after months of preparation, expectation, and suspense it was finally time for me to run. As the fifth runner on a nine-man team, I was the only one to be running the same legs coming and going, so my Coast to Hood legs were a preview of my westbound legs on the return trip.
Mike came charging in, and I took off along the sunny asphalt road of Leg 32 Eastbound, knowing this was only the first of many runs and trying not to push it harder than necessary. While it was hot and the running was an effort, I made a point of enjoying the solitude and admiring the quiet rural surroundings. Part of me was also wondering what the locals were thinking when they saw a lone runner huffing along the road in the heat of a weekday morning.
Having memorized the course map, I mentally clicked off the landmarks as I passed, and looked forward to the only major intersection, which came near the end of the leg. I rounded the corner and saw the vans parked next to the bridge I would be crossing. I drew some laughs when I feigned a wrong turn up the side road, but continued straight across the bridge.
My teammates warned me about an enthusiastic dog at a house up ahead, but he was a no-show by the time I passed. In fact, the only thing I had to be cautious about was the occasional log truck barreling by with a full load.
I made the final climb, rounded the corner near the Olney store and kicked it in toward the exchange, handing off to Kevin and turning things over to Van 2 for the next four legs. Though it was hard running, I hadn’t intended to run the pace I did, and my teammates ribbed me about leaving something for the rest of the race.
In Van 1, our excitement at having completed our first set of legs was tempered by the realization that we still had seven legs each to go. Still, we relished our short respite, and drove back to the Olney store for morning snacks and drinks.
The proprietress and her daughters were awaiting a busy and exciting couple of days with all the hustle and bustle of thousands of runners, and were impressed with the novelty of our project, though it understandably took a minute or so for the concept of starting in Seaside to register.
Several coffees, a breakfast burrito, a bag of sea salt and vinegar potato chips, and a chocolate milk later, we saddled up and hit the road again to catch up with Van 2 and continue our journey. Fueled by our breakfast snacks and Dr. Will Bars, another of our sponsors, we settled into a comfortable pattern of running, refueling, and running again.
As usually happens with relays, things start to become a bit of a blur after the first set of legs, so my memories become a little less vivid at this point, but the fun continued as the vans stayed together and we were all able to cheer each other on. Kevin, Mark, Lance, and Steve completed solid legs. In Hood to Coast tradition, we created a toilet paper “finish tape” for Lance as he crested the hill on Leg 29 Eastbound. At one point we noticed a buzzard circling, but we took it as an opportunity for humorous comments rather than a serious omen.
Somewhere around this time I spotted a peculiar object under the front passenger seat, and reached down to investigate. It turned out to be a petrified avocado, an object strangely at home in a Hood to Coast van, although the van’s owner Jim shifted the blame to his son. (Sure, Jim!)
Having only nine runners may seem to increase the challenge and effort of a relay, but it fact it makes it flow more quickly and reduces the customary downtime that sometimes makes a race seem to drag on. So I was ready to run when Leg 23 Eastbound came along.
I took the handoff at the Natal Grange in mid-afternoon, and ran the gently rolling hills in a mix of sun and shade. The only spectators were a trio of dogs who made their presence known by chasing me down the road for a few hundred meters. The two large ones finally headed home, just in time for the little one to get up the courage to give me a few perfunctory yips. Again, they probably were just confused by a runner going the wrong way a day early, since I saw no sign of them on the way west Saturday morning.
I knew I had less than a mile to go once I made the turn onto Apiary Road, but it was uphill and hot, and it seemed to take a long time to spot the vans and hand off to Kevin for the second time.
As we followed the course toward St. Helens, it was nice to get a different perspective on the route. Most years I’ve experienced much of the coast range at night, and it was interesting to see it in the daylight and in the opposite direction. For example, we got a fantastic view of Mt. St. Helens coming down one of the dusty gravel hills. In all my years of Hood to Coast, I never knew such a view even existed, since it was always behind me and in the dark.
We were the only people around when we rolled into the Columbia County Fairgrounds late Thursday afternoon, and it was a strange sight to see the vast open fields and all the empty space. The only signs that a major event was about to take place were the long banks of Port-a-Potties and a hand-colored sign with the UltraLords logo that a mysterious supporter had placed near the entrance.
Soon Steve appeared and handed off to Dave to begin our third set of legs. Leg 18 was one that got a major overhaul this year, with lots of potentially confusing turns through the town of St. Helens, so both vans again waited at each intersection to ensure our runner stayed on course. But Dave had done his homework and had no problem navigating his way along.
As we waited in a McDonald’s parking lot for Dave to arrive, a car pulled in and we were greeted by an enthusiastic trio. It turned out to be a friend of Dave’s, his girlfriend and her sister, who had left the sign for us at the Fairgrounds. They also brought Dave a spaghetti dinner, which was eagerly accepted.
Dave handed off to Jim and greeted his friends. When we stopped halfway through Jim’s leg to give him water, Dave’s friends joined us to cheer him on. Their presence and support was a great boost, and made us feel like we weren’t doing everything in total isolation.
Day turned to night as we continued south on Hwy. 30 toward Portland, and by around 10:30p it was time for my third leg, Leg 14 from Linnton along Hwy. 30 to Georgia Pacific on Front Avenue. Equipped with reflective vest, flashlight, and blinkers front and back, I took the handoff from Mike and started down the road.
I appreciated the cooler night air and settled into a comfortable pace along the shoulder and sidewalks, checking for potholes with my light. I was disappointed when I couldn’t get the electronic radar sign to register my speed, but a car passed me just as I was passing the sign.
I ran under the St. John’s Bridge, and began to see the Portland Marathon mile markers painted on the road. As hard as it was to be running my third leg in 16 hours, I was very glad I wasn’t running a marathon. At least I got to stop after six miles!
Before long I could see the highway signs for the turnoff to Kittridge Avenue and I looked forward to nearing the end of the leg. But I soon realized those signs were a long, long way off, and they weren’t getting closer very quickly. I’m not exaggerating when I say the signs must have been visible at least two miles away.
It was a long haul, but I finally reached Kittridge and made the climb over the bridge and onto Front. From there it was just a quick sprint to Georgia Pacific… right? Well, not exactly, as I found myself running past a never-ending series of Gunderson buildings, straining to spot any sign of the vans up ahead. Finally, I saw some tiny lights in the distance, and pushed on in to the exchange.
One of our concerns about Coast to Hood was running the legs along the Springwater Corridor late at night without the benefit of having crowds of other runners around. But despite a few interesting encounters (human and canine) those legs were mostly uneventful, and our runners sped through them efficiently.
Check back tomorrow morning for Part 2!