But my Monkey Butter teammates and I kind of felt like that melted banana........
|"Smile! Remember, you paid to do this!"|
We'd survived our first legs of Central Oregon's Cascade Lakes Relay, running in searing 100+ degree temperatures (if you missed part one, you can catch up here.) But my team still had two more sections to go. After an extremely short rest at La Pine High School, we headed back east to meet up with van one and start our second legs.
|Karl is ready to rave!|
We followed a narrow forest service road through lonely woods. This road was part of the relay course, and driving it reverse gave us a chance to preview our upcoming legs. As the van climbed over a particularly steep hill, the guys gave Karl a hard time (he was the unlucky runner that had to traverse it!)
The van exchange was located at a remote campground in the middle of nowhere. But the place was anything but serene - bright lights flooded the area, and a DJ blasted upbeat tunes at ear-splitting volume. People were dancing and shouting. Too much energy for 1:30 in the morning!
|Team "Magnum PR"|
The Cascade Lakes Relay had lots of fun contests. This particular leg awarded prizes to the "ultimate raver." Runners were judged by the amount of flashy lights and other wild reflective items attached to their clothing. The "brightest" runner won. Wanting to get in on the action, my teammates and I decked Karl out with as many blinky lights and glow necklaces that we could find. We thought he looked pretty good - a definite contender!
|This awesome volunteer dressed up as Ms. Pacman|
Karl took off in the chilly, dark night to tackle the humongous hill. Being the next runner, I began to prep myself for the longest of my three legs - a 6.9 mile jaunt down this lonesome forest service road. Donning headlamp and reflective vest (required for all nighttime legs), at the last minute I added an extra long sleeve layer after realizing I could see my breath outside! Then came the long wait at the exchange, trying to keep warm and determine which incoming runner was Karl.
|I liked this team's name!|
Finally a brightly-lit Karl materialized out of the night. I grabbed the wristband from him, and slid into the inky darkness. At first, it took a few minutes for my eyes to adjust to the surroundings. Then, I familiarized myself with peering through the headlamp's tiny light circle. And finally, I began scanning the pavement edge. My teammates had warned me about potholes and crumbling pavement (this was an old forest service road) and the last thing I wanted to do was trip way out here. The shoulder got so bad, I ended up running in the middle of the travel lane. Traffic was no problem - the only vehicles this time of night were other relay participants, and they all knew to look out for runners.
Despite the long distance, I was happy for the cold temperatures. Heaven compared to the previous afternoon's inferno! Once my body warmed up, I began to enjoy the run. This leg was mostly downhill, and it felt as if there were wings attached to my feet. (Gravity was my friend!) The sky above was lit with millions of bright stars. The night was calm and quiet. A few runners passed me in the first mile, but after that I was by myself, only interrupted when other race vehicles passed by. My teammates stopped twice to check on me, but after assuring them I was doing great, they moved on to the next exchange.
|Gorgeous Elk Lake|
In all the relays I've run, the night legs have always been my favorite. This time was no exception. Feeling totally redeemed from the afternoon's miserable leg, I was almost sorry when the "one mile to go" sign appeared. Well....almost!
Passing off to Brandi, a wave of relief washed over me. Two down, only one to go!
|Chilling sore legs|
The rest of the night passed quickly. Brandi's leg took her back into La Pine, where the guys and I awaited her arrival at the local McDonald's (where despite my dislike for their food, I couldn't pass up a hot Egg McMuffin). Then we followed Turi through La Pine where he handed off to Sam at a local church, who opened up their doors and restrooms for us tired runners (thank you!!).
At this exchange, I began to notice some of the faster teams starting to pass us. "Magnum PR" was one of my favorites. The guys all wore Hawaiian shirts and had grown their mustaches to look like Tom Selleck. At each exchange, someone would tote in a large speaker that blasted peppy music. Once their runner approached, the music switched to the "Magnum PI" theme song. This team was a lot of fun, and unfortunately I only saw them at two exchanges before they got ahead of us.
|Rick represented well in the costume contest|
The next exchange, where Matt waited to take the "baton" from Sam, I chatted with a super-enthusiastic volunteer. She was dressed up as Ms. Pacman and her costume was so creative, I just had to take a photo. After the handoff to Matt was complete, our van of sleepy monkeys drove into the rising sun, happy to be almost done with our second legs.
|He ran two miles in this getup!|
Our next van exchange was near the shores of Wickiup Reservoir. We piled out of our now impossibly messy van and loitered around waiting for Matt and van one to show up. Things got a little bit tense as Matt's estimated arrival time neared and there was still no sign of our van one teammates. Then, at the last minute someone spotted their vehicle pulling into the parking area. We flagged them down, and Steve hurried to meet us. Good thing, as Matt came steaming into the exchange shortly thereafter.
|Waiting for van one at Mt. Bachelor|
Now my van mates and I had another well-deserved break. And after being up all night, we needed it! Rumor had it there were places to rest at nearby Elk Lake. Karl guided our van towards this lovely resort area. Matt, Turi, and I were so tired we fell asleep en route, and Brandi got a photo of us dozing in the back seat.
|Final van handoff!|
At the resort, I persuaded a very nice lady to let me use their bathroom so I could brush my teeth and change clothes. Meanwhile, my teammates laid out their sleeping bags in the nearby woods and crashed. Not wanting to go through the trouble of getting out my stuff, I opted to curl up on the van's back seat instead. Although still mid-morning the sunny skies were already heating up. It was gonna be another hot day.
|Waiting for Karl in Mt Bachelor's shadow|
While my van two teammates and I were resting at Elk Lake, another fun CLR contest was happening close by. Leg 28, a mere 2.2 miles in length, was also the famed costume leg. Teams dressed their runners is wacky attire, hoping to win the grand prize. Before the relay, Brandi and I had combed the internet and local party stores for a monkey costume, but couldn't find an inexpensive option. While driving to Diamond Lake the night before, someone got the idea to put our large monkey on the runner's back and have him wear a monkey mask.
|Ready to support Karl|
So that's what Rick, our lucky leg 28 runner, ended up wearing. He did an awesome job representing team Monkey Butter Express - even running with that hot rubber mask on his face the entire two miles! His photo appeared on Cascade Relay's Instagram feed, and our team ended up with a top 5 finish in the costume contest. Not too shabby for a last minute idea!
After a very fitful hour of attempting to rest most of my teammates and I gave it up (ever try to sleep in a noisy parking lot in broad daylight?) A few of us wandered to the lakeshore and cooled our tired legs in Elk Lake's chilly, but refreshing waters. The resort area was filling up fast with CLR teams, and to avoid the crowds we decided to head to our final van exchange, the parking lot of Mt. Bachelor Ski Resort.
|Turi readies his handoff|
The lovely Cascade Lakes Highway took us towards Mt. Bachelor. On the way, we passed runners laboring up the steep grade towards the mountain. My van mates and I all expressed gratitude we didn't have to run up that! But we cheered out the window and rang cowbells to encourage all those poor folks that got the short straw.
|Sam sprints to the finish|
Normally I only visit Mt. Bachelor in winter months, so it was weird to see the ski area without snow. Delighted that their bathrooms were open, I jumped at the chance to use a real flushing toilet (after 26 hours on the road, I was tired of porta-potties). We hung out, ate, people-watched, and listened to the wide variety of music blaring from vans (everything from rap, hard rock, disco, hip-hop, and John Denver!)
|Sam hands off to Matt|
Towards noon, we got the word Michael was heading toward the exchange, so Karl hustled over to accept the wristwrap for the final time. Hand-off complete, the rest of us took off down the road to meet Karl part way. Although a stiff wind was blowing off the mountain, it the sun had begun to heat things up once again. Brandi chose a scenic spot along the road, with a killer view of Mt. Bachelor to park and wait for our runner. Water sprayer and cowbells in hand, when Karl passed by, he got the royal treatment.
|Waiting at the finish line for Matt|
I anxiously awaited my final turn. A mere 2.2 miles, not only was my leg short, it was downhill, AND the Ten Barrel Brewing Company was giving teams free six packs at the end! Grabbing the wristwrap from Karl for the last time, I happily zipped down the highway shoulder. The steep grade seemed to pull me effortlessly downhill and my last run passed quickly. Imagine my surprise when upon finishing, not only was there beer, but a frozen yogurt truck had set up shop. Hot from my run, the frozen yogurt trumped a cold beer, and I had just enough time to enjoy a frosty bowl of goodness before hopping in the van en route to the next exchange.
|Van one guys - Rick, Effren and Mike|
Brandi, Turi, and Sam both took turns running down the shoulder of the Cascade Lakes Highway, heading into Bend. The closer we got to town, the more the wind died down and the hotter the air became. By the time it was Matt's turn it was downright toasty once again. But Matt was our last runner, and once he started his final leg, we were happy to be almost done.
After a couple of miscues, my teammates and I located Riverbend Park, the official CLR finish line, in the heart of Bend. We had just enough time to park, locate our van one compadres, and have a few quick conversations, before Matt was spotted approaching the finish.
|Team photo - we did it!|
The best part of any relay - the entire team joins its last runner and crosses the finish line together. As Matt reached the park, we gathered around him and gingerly tried to keep up as he headed under the inflatable finish arch (lots of sore muscles that didn't want to run anymore!). It was a wonderful feeling to complete a relay, that at the toasty beginning, I wasn't sure I'd survive.
Now - time for some beer!!
|So glad it's over!|
I love running for the Monkey Butter Express - we always gather a great group of people. Brandi did an amazing job as team captain, scrambling to recruit last-minute replacements after nearly half of our runners dropped out. And Effren takes the badass prize for running the longest total distance - his three legs combined to over 25 miles!
I had a wonderful experience - the Cascade Lakes Relay was well-organized, traversed some gorgeous scenery, and there was a great spirit of camaraderie among the participants. Despite the ungodly heat, I'd do it again in a heartbeat.
Not only did my team survive the challenge, as we unloaded our trusty van I noticed that banana, now a very dark shade of brown, still holding fast to the window....