Friday, September 6, 2013

Hood to Coast 2013 - The Monkey Butter Express Rides Again!

It's like having a baby - all the pain, suffering, lack of sleep, sore muscles.......all is forgotten when Hood to Coast comes around again.

Ready to roll!

For those that have never heard, the Hood to Coast Relay is the first and oldest relay race here in the US.  The race starts at Timberline Lodge, high on the slopes of Mt. Hood, and continues 198 miles west to the Oregon Coast town of Seaside.  It's run in teams of 12 people, divided between two vehicles (usually large vans).  More of the race details can be found in a in a blog post I did back in 2011.   And for more Hood to Coast background, check out this video.

Lindsay prepares the monkey

I've been very lucky to be a member of the Monkey Butter Express team for the past two years, and was overjoyed to return for year three.  After being in the first van, running leg 6 both times, I was happy to draw the assignment of van two, leg 7.  My chance to see the other half of the course!

Rick blows up one of the many monkeys

Meet my van two teammates:  Lindsay and Ashley, van-mates from last year reunited; Rick, van-mate from the first year - super-happy have him as teammate again; Karl, one of the founding members of team Monkey Butter, and owner of the awesome red VW van that would be our home for the weekend; and Hyla, a late addition to van 2, she was our blazingly fast final runner.

My van two teammates

The first thing I liked about being in van 2, was the later start time.  Our team's van 1 had to be up at Timberline Lodge for a super-early 7:45 am start.  Van 2, by comparison, didn't need to arrive at the first exchange until noon.  That gave my van-mates and I plenty of time to sleep in, grab any last-minute items, and decorate our van.

Final decor touch-ups

Van decor is an important part of Hood to Coast.  Most teams paint their vehicle's windows and some also attach different types of ornamentation.  Our team had the free world supply of blow-up monkeys, which were applied liberally to Karl's red van.

Ashley secures our monkey

Then my teammates and I loaded up and drove to our first van exchange, a Safeway store in the town of Sandy.

One of the many funny vans

Van exchanges are wonderfully fun places to see all the other tricked-out team vehicles and crazy costumes.  (I took more funny van photos that I'll share in a later post - this one's already too photo-packed.)

Lindsay and Hyla apply temporary tattoos

We got a great parking spot, right in the middle the action.  My teammates and I strolled around, taking in the atmosphere, snacked, applied temporary tattoos, and made endless visits to the huge bank of port-a-potties.  (Especially me, 'cause I was first to run.)

Have monkey - will run

Having been the last runner in my van for the past two H2C relays, it was kind of nice to be first for a change.  I laced up my running shoes, and awaited the arrival of van 1 and their leg 6 runner, Eric.

Van one arrives

Van one, creeping through a monstrous traffic jam, finally pulled in to the parking lot.  They warned us their runner wasn't far behind.  Okay - I'd better hustle to the exchange.  It was showtime!

Eric coming into the exchange

Standing in the exchange, watching runners hand off to each other, the excitement was contagious.  Teams were cheering and music was blaring.  My adrenaline began to pump.  Finally, I heard our team number called, and glimpsed Eric speeding towards me.  Yahoo!  Bring it on!  I was never so ready.

Farm scenery and friendly volunteers

Eric handed off the "baton" (a flexible wrist bracelet) and I was on my way.  Super pumped, I took off much too fast.  I charged down the side of a busy highway, following the other runners.  My first leg, number 7, started on Hwy 26, but soon turned off to a narrow country road.  I was instantly immersed in a stretch of lovely farm country.

Ashley rings the cowbell for me

My first leg, total distance of 6.32 miles, was my longest.  I'd studied the elevation profile, and on paper, it hadn't looked too bad.  Then I got on the course.  There were hills!  Lots and lots of hills.  They weren't long but, oh were they steep!  Luckily, all the hilly hikes I'd done this summer helped me power up them.  On one hill, I got special satisfaction out of passing a guy.  Roadkill!

My van passing me on the road

Although we had overcast skies, the air was warm and muggy.  Trudging up that endless hill parade left me sweating bullets.  Luckily, my wonderful teammates stopped part-way and offered water, lots of loud cheers, and cowbell ringing.  As they passed me on the road, honking and waving, I snapped this action shot (yes, I ran with my camera - I'm such a geek!) which prompted Lindsay to yell "Linda!  Quit taking pictures and run!"

Loved this team's sign and name

There were lots of team vans parked alongside the road, waiting to cheer their runners.  I really liked this team's sign and name (those of you who watch the "Portlandia" tv show will get it).

This team was really getting into the spirit

But finally, I began to see a long line of vehicles backed up down the road.  This meant only one thing - the exchange was near and my leg was almost over.  Yahoo!  I urged my tired legs to give it their all, and stormed into exchange 8, where Lindsay awaited my arrival.  I handed her the sweaty wristwrap, and with that, my first leg was in the bag!

Lindsay crushing her first leg

With Lindsay underway, my teammates and I jumped back into the van, heading for the next exchange.  But we did take time to stop and give Lindsay a rousing cheer near the halfway point of her leg.  While waiting, I was entertained by another team, who stood by the side of the road and formed a tunnel with their arms for participants to run through. 

More monkey business!

Pulling into the next exchange, I stayed in the vehicle and chowed down a sandwich, while Lindsay and Rick did the switcheroo.  With Rick underway, we got stuck in a massive traffic jam trying to exit the parking area.  After twenty minutes of out-maneuvering the other vans, we finally emerged back on the road again.

The colorful crowd at exchange 9

Rick's leg was almost entirely on the Springwater Trail, a regional bike path that had few street crossings.  With no opportunity to cheer him at the  halfway point, my team motored on to the next exchange.  Friday afternoon traffic was getting thick, and traveling there took us nearly the entire time.

Rick prepares to hand off to Karl

But we arrived with about 10 minutes to spare.  Enough time to walk to the exchange area (it was a long trek) and take in the local color.  Then Rick came steaming down the path, and it was Karl's turn.

Amazing - no lines!

One of the frequent complaints about Hood to Coast is the long port-a-potty lines you encounter at every exchange.  Imagine our surprise when, upon pulling into exchange 10, we witnessed a bank of honey buckets with nary a line!  It was like a ghost town.  Hyla and I were so amazed, we almost lept out of the van right then and there, before we were even parked.

Here we dropped off Ashley, and picked up Karl.  And then once again, we wound through the busy streets of southeast Portland, off to our final exchange.  Hyla, our last runner, was ready to go.

Ashley passes the baton to Hyla

Hyla was a super-fast runner.  And, at three miles, she had one of the shortest legs.  After Ashley passed the baton to her, my van-mates knew we'd have to motor to get to the next exchange before she finished.  Van one was already there, ready to start their second legs.

Hyla is gone in a flash

But in relay races, nothing is guaranteed.  Our van got stuck in a huge jam of rush-hour traffic.  Would we get to our runner in time?  Or would she be left waiting, lonely and team-less, at the exchange?  For those answers, and a recap of leg two, tune in for my next blog post, the night legs.


  1. This looks like a great race !
    The ride there looks fun too ... looks like as much fun as a van full of monkeys ;)

  2. What fun. I love the idea of the relay - shares the pain.

  3. What amazing fun! Love how you were taking photos even while running!
    My husband found there were killer small hills in the 10k he did - sounds like yours, not showing up on the elevation map.

  4. After doing the river-to-river in Southern IL capped at 250 teams, I now get the relay business. The port-a-potty lines...the van delays...but in the end, I would do it again! Maybe we will get our crap together and find a team looking for 2 in Oregon!

  5. Linda, you are so awesome and such an inspiration to me!

  6. FUN post, and LOVED the monkeys!!!
    Have a great Sunday:)

  7. I've never heard of Hood to Coast, but it looks like a blast! I love how everyone gets into it with decorating their vans. Such a fun time!

  8. This looks like so much fun!!
    And a cliff hanger, too! :)

  9. You left us with a cliff hanger! ;))

  10. That does look like fun, and certainly a beautiful place to run.


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