Back in the beginning of the year when Nancy suggested I join her team for the Hood to Coast Relay if she described the trip to be a 5 day adventure in which we would have no idea what would happen day to day and it would be spent with total strangers…well, I may have passed. Instead, she just asked if I might want to go to Oregon with her for a few days and do this relay and I thought, sure. I had heard great things about Hood to Coast, I love distance relays and I had never been to Oregon. Let’s do this. Fast forward several months and we were suddenly on a Jet Blue flight heading to the west coast for what would be the adventure of a lifetime.
We arrived at the Portland Airport around 11:30 Thursday morning and our teammate Elise would be picking us up. All we knew is that she would be in a dark blue Nissan Juke wearing a bright green hooded sweatshirt. After grabbing our luggage we piled everything into the Juke and our adventure began. Elise had already planned to take us to McMenamins for lunch which she said was ‘very Oregon’. The food was terrific and we took the opportunity to experience our first local Oregonian beer. We spent the time getting to know each other and learning a little bit about the team. It was clear early on that if the rest of the team was half as fun and hilarious as Elise, we were going to be just fine.
She dropped us off at our hotel nearby and told us that she and another teammate, Scott, would be back around 6:00 am the next day to pick us up for the race. After a quick check in, we realized it was still the early afternoon. Nancy and I had discussed the possibility of visiting a winery while we were in Oregon especially since the region is known for its delicious Pinot Noir – my favorite. We decided to call a cab and picked what we thought might be the closest winery with weekday tastings. Cooper Mountain Vineyards was a good 25 minutes away but as we drove up the driveway passing goats, a sheep, and about a dozen chickens we were already laughing hysterically we knew it was going to be a great time. We met DeDe in the tasting room who told us all about the vineyard and introduced us to several of their wines. After the tasting and chatting with DeDe we decided to purchase bottle of Pinot Noir ‘Life’ (appropriately) to enjoy outside. Sitting out at our little picnic we had a gorgeous view of the vineyard and were entertained by the chickens running around. Friend of the winery, Kathy, joined us and was so happy we came to visit that she shared lots of ideas and advice about visiting Oregon. We took some photos with everyone we met (even the chickens) and promised to keep in touch.
Nancy and I headed back to the hotel and while we weren’t at all hungry after our big lunch and maybe a little ‘spirited’ after our wine excursion, we knew we would have to find some dinner before going to bed. Our hotel recommended Golden Valley Brewery, which was a great choice since it was walking distance and offered several small plates. We easily felt like we had plenty to eat and headed back to go to sleep early. We had a long couple of days ahead of us and no idea what to expect.
Elise and Scott arrived early the next morning and we drove over to pick up more teammates, Mary and Steve. Steve was one of the driving forces behind this team and our name comes from an obstacle race he has developed called Epic Grind. Mary was going to be our driver for the race. Unlike what I’m used to at Reach the Beach, HTC teams have designated drivers in each vehicle who do not run but play a very important part on the team. Another difference from RTB that I had to get used to is that barely anyone uses the passenger vans. We took a truck! Most often when someone was running Mary drove with someone in the front passenger seat, two people sat in the back and two were in the bed of the truck – which was covered and furnished with a lawn chair and blankets. I had my doubts at first but we made it work.
At a nearby Home Depot we met Adrian who rounded out Van #2 and we made our way to the first Van Exchange Area in a super market shopping plaza. Lots of vans (or trucks or whatever) were beginning to arrive waiting for the other half of their team to finish the first 6 legs of the race. There was music blaring and people decorating the vans to pass the time. An hour or so later our Van 1 arrived it was time for our first runner, Steve, to begin our first legs.
We were so excited to get started and begin our portion of the race. Another big difference in the races is that HTC is much larger with almost 1500 teams total (including the PDX to Coast walk relay and the HS relay) while RTB has closer to 400 so there are many more vans on the road within the same course. For this reason it is not unusual for the vans to take a different route than the runners. Also, unfortunately, the directions were confusing for the vans so we ended up at the wrong exchange location. It was a simple mistake and easily corrected but obviously frustrating. We were careful not to make the mistake again but it was confusing more often than not…especially as we grew more tired! When we made it to the correct exchange, Adrian was next to run. He had a quick 4.5 mile run and was faster than anticipated so very quickly it was my turn to take on my first HTC leg. Looking at one set of distances my leg was 7.73 miles but another said 6.9 so I wasn’t sure what was ahead of me. The first leg of a relay is always exciting so I took off with a spring in my step to enjoy the Oregon landscape. Soon into the run I realized I was running through a town called Boring. I found that amusing and wished I had brought my phone to take some photos of the signs like ‘Welcome to Boring’, ‘The Not-So-Boring Bar and Grill’ and my favorite, a sign telling the community about an upcoming community event – “A Boring Celebration”.
A little over halfway through the run we moved onto the Springwater Trail which was nice and flat. The driving directions may have been rough but for the runners there were lots of volunteers along the course making sure we were headed in the right direction. I felt safe knowing how many volunteers were on the course and 99% of them were awesome. I picked up my pace when I thought I had about a half mile to go but I soon realized that I was not approaching the exchange which meant the first distance was right and I had another 3 quarters of a mile left to go. I did my best to keep my pace and finish strong so when I finally made it to the end of my leg I was definitely ready to hand off to Nancy. After Nancy’s run, Scott and Elise finished off the afternoon legs and we were finished for the day. Our team captain, Erica, had arranged for us to visit her father at a nearby marina where we could have dinner, take a quick shower and get a little bit of sleep before preparing for our night runs. The shower felt great and I think it helped me to relax a little bit making the quick nap a little easier. There were some tents set up and though it wasn’t even dark yet, I had fell asleep pretty easily. The alarm went off about an hour and a half later and it was time to pack up and head to the exchange area.
In most cases, I love the night run of a relay race. It’s just incredibly unique to any other run or race that I would normally do. My night run at HTC was my shortest of the three legs and although I was a little anxious about running in the dark I had high hopes. The description read that it was mostly downhill but it was on gravel and there was a note that read: **A bandana or scarf is recommended to ease breathing due to dust on gravel road. (Very dark during night run). Awesome.
I borrowed a bandanna from Nancy just in case and got ready for my second leg. As soon as I got started I knew it wasn’t going to be a great run. Running on the gravel was tricky and since I couldn’t see much, even with the headlamp, I was being very cautious. It was very dusty and misting a little bit so most of the time all I could see in front of me was the dust flying around and the mist made it look kind of trippy. On top of that I couldn’t keep the bandanna comfortably around my face so breathing was also a challenge. Every once in a while the air would clear a bit and I was more comfortable speeding up but I decided to just be careful. It wouldn’t be worth it to fall and get hurt on the side of the road in who-knows-where Oregon and wonder if anyone would find me in the pitch black. I thought it would be best to just take my time and enjoy the insanity of running a 5 miler where I couldn’t see or breathe. That’s the stuff that builds character, I’m sure of it.
Nancy followed with her longest run just under 7 and then Scott and Elise had some short runs to finish off the 2nd set of our legs. I’m not sure what happened in all that time because as soon as I changed out of my sweaty clothes I fell asleep in the truck. Every once in a while I woke up at an exchange or while we were cheering someone on but I could barely keep my eyes open. The rest of the night before the sun came up was a bit of blur but we found a spot where everyone could get some sleep before it was time to prepare for our final legs. At some point we pulled over to a stand where a family was making egg sandwiches. Everyone woke up to check it out and it was well worth it. We were hungry after the night runs and those sandwiches tasted delicious… also we were totally delirious but I’m sure the sandwich would have been amazing either way.
While it was cool in the early morning as the sun rose it became very warm. My legs were feeling tight from my two previous runs but I still had one more ahead and it was long and difficult. Just under 8 miles and some rolling hills would normally seem very manageable but with barely any sleep and muscles fatigued from the other runs and traveling, I was a little nervous.
Nancy and I walked a ways up to the exchange area where we would wait for Adrian. Since we didn’t see him much on the run and he was averaging faster than expected all weekend we weren’t quite sure how long it would be. Volunteers with walkie/ talkies were communicating which team numbers were on their way. I heard them yell 805 and looked around but didn’t see Adrian. It took a few moments until I spotted him barreling up the hill more than ready to finish his final leg. I took off for my last Oregon run of the weekend. As expected, it was very tough. I had little gas left in the tank and had already put a lot of mileage on my legs the past couple of days. I decided in just the first few miles that I would not focus on my pace or performance but instead enjoy this run. I took in the beautiful landscape and scenery that could have easily been an Oregon postcard and thought about what an amazing opportunity this trip was. It was a crazy adventure and not everyone would jump into something like this with a carefree attitude but that’s exactly what I did and I was proud of myself for not only going for it but loving every second of it. About half way through the team was pulled over to give me some water, cheer me on and take some photos before driving to the exchange area.
It was very warm at this point but a young girl and her father were handing out bottled water for the runners. The little girl was so adorable and friendly that I think it was the best bottle of water I’ve ever had. I was taking my runners high to a whole new level and when I finally made it to the exchange area to pass on to Nancy I thought I might tear up a bit. I started to tell her how beautiful my run was and that I was thankful she invited me on this trip but she couldn’t wait to get her run started and had no interest in hearing my sentimental crap. It’s cool, I told her again later.
After Nancy finished off her quick 3.3 mile leg we were pumped up to finish this race. We spent the remainder of time cheering on the runners and blaring music for everyone to enjoy. It was so fun to drive by the runners yelling for them and see them smile. Finally we made it to Seaside near the finish line but we had to slam on the brakes…we were too early. We had underestimated our paces and were in danger of arriving at the finish so early we would have been disqualified. Luckily members of our team had a beach house just a couple of blocks away where we could pass the time until it was okay for us to officially finish. With the massive amount of teams running this relay I certainly understand the need for regulating how many teams arrive to the finish at once but it was disappointing to make it to the beach and have to wait for so long. The finish line party at the beach once we officially finished was worth it.
There was beer, food, a live band and lots of excited runners. When it was time to leave we stopped by a new restaurant owned by friends of Scott and his wife Lauren, The Crabby Oyster. We were all so tired we barely spoke but we were starving and the food was great
After some complex decision making between Nancy and I we had three different accommodations for the next couple of nights including a crowded beach house, a Portland hotel and two spare rooms at Scott and Lauren’s. Scott convinced us to stay with him when he made promises of breakfast in the morning and an afternoon of vineyard touring. Both were very convincing but not as much as the fact that we would be sharing the house with their puppy Rhone. I had been without my dog for over a week and definitely needed some puppy time so I was sold.
Sleep came easily Saturday night and when woke up Sunday, Scott and Lauren had coffee made and just as promised began making breakfast. I played with Rhone and their other two dogs Cody and Teddy while we planned our day. There were several wineries they were excited to show us and Nancy and I were in for a great day in Oregon…also I was promised there would be absolutely no running. None.
We began at Tualatin Estate Vineyard in Forest Grove. The vineyard was gorgeous and we were treated to a tasting flight with several different types of wine. I always gravitate towards reds and especially Pinot Noir but I really loved trying some of the other types I normally wouldn’t choose. It was at this particularly winery that I started to master holding the stem of the glass. I think by the end of the day my fingers were cramping. I left this vineyard with a bottle of the Hannah Pinot Noir, very close to what I usually enjoy and super tasty.
Our next stop was David Hill Vineyard and Winery also in Forest Grove. Here we found more insanely beautiful views and a fun atmosphere too. This tasting room was busier and we met a few people that had also run HTC. They also had a room full of merchandise which in situations like this is my kryptonite. After my first wine, The Estate Gewurztraminer, I began poking around the t-shirts and sweatshirts trying to stay strong. I don’t need another hoodie or t-shirt nor do I have room for one but with each new wine I would gravitate back to the merch room. I knew the more I drank the weaker I would become so I eventually gave in and chose a cute fleece pullover with the BlackJack Pinot Noir logo. It made me feel much better when Lauren and Nancy decided to buy the same one and we were given Lauren’s membership discount but I still remain a hopeless sucker for tourist merchandise.
Our final stop on the tour was the Solena Estate Winery in Yamhill. The tasting room was beautiful and of course offered more incredibly views. The girl working in the tasting room had also run Hood To Coast and was excited that we had stopped in so she could talk about her race with some other runners. We really enjoyed this last winery and I left with a Cabernet Sauvignon and a Chardonnay – I enjoyed both of these very much during the tasting and wanted to think outside the Pinot Noir.
Monday was the final day of our west coast adventure. Elise would be picking us up in the early afternoon to take us to Portland before dropping us off at the airport. Our first stop was lunch at a Vegan establishment called Casa Diablo. And that’s all I have to say about that.
Next Elise brought us to Powell’s Books in downtown Portland, the largest new and used bookstore in the world. The place is crazy huge and very easy to get lost in. The coolest feature of the store was the rare book room, an elegant gallery with rare and early edition books. We walked around the room several minutes looking at the books and spotting some of the more pricy copies. I purchased David Sederis’ latest book for the plane ride home and we moved on to our next spot. Portland City Grill is a restaurant bar located on the 30th floor of the US Bancorp Tower. We were there for their famous happy hour early enough to grab a table at the window to enjoy an incredible view of Portland. We spent some time there enjoying their fun drink menu, having some girl talk and taking lots of shameless tourist photos.
Our last obligatory tourist stop was the world famous VooDoo Donuts. From up high at the Portland City Grill we had watched a crazy line grow for the famed treats but since we were the luckiest girls in the world that week the line was super short when we got there. There is something very ‘soup nazi’ about the staff so I got a dirty look for not ordering quick enough but the donut was freakin amazing and in the shape of a voo doo doll so I got over it fast. I thought I was going to be sick after finishing almost all of it but I found my strong and ate the whole donut. It was a proud moment.
The three of us walked around a little bit and tried to visit the Food Carts but they were all closed. It was getting late and time for our trip to end. Elise drove us to the airport and when we got there I said to her ‘Hey, remember last time we were here and you were a stranger’. We all laughed … it seemed so long ago.
It’s a sign of a great trip when five days goes by so quickly yet it seems you have been gone for so long. Nancy and I truly packed it all in to our west coast adventure leaving few stones unturned in Oregon. We got to see the state’s beauty in all forms: its landscape, its city, its style, and most of all, its people. Oregon and my friends there now all have a piece of my heart and I hope I get to visit with them again before too long.