|The monkey van at Crater Lake|
I've run many relays with the Monkey Butter Express - a team loosely made up of folks from a local transit agency, construction company, and other associated friends. I had three Hood to Coasts and one Epic Oregon Relay under my belt. But this year my team decided to try something new - Central Oregon's Cascade Lakes Relay (CLR).
|Diamond Lake and Mt. Bailey at sunrise|
Taking place in late July, this race crosses the heart of Central Oregon's high desert. Starting at lovely Diamond Lake, the route traverses mountain trails, ponderosa forests, arid rangeland, sparkling mountain lakes, and climbs the shoulder of Mt. Bachelor, before finishing in the town of Bend. Runners battle everything from blistering heat, freezing nights, steep climbs, high elevation mountain passes, remote gravel roads, and vicious mosquitoes. A total distance of 216 miles, this relay would be a genuine challenge.
|MBE Van one|
But we monkeys were up for it! The night before, our team of 12 met up at the Diamond Lake Campground. After setting up our tents (and battling zillions of mosquitoes) everyone crashed early.
Morning came way too soon. Our first van was scheduled to start at 7 am, so we did a hasty decorating job on their vehicle. Then I made the guys pose for a group photo. And I couldn't resist a shot of teammate Sam wearing this creepy monkey mask!
|Creepy monkey mask|
The starting line was a hub of activity, even at that early hour. Peppy music blared and crowds cheered as the runners gathered under an inflatable arch.
With about 300 teams participating, the race organizers staggered start times. Waves of 20 teams were released every 20 minutes. The slowest teams received the earliest times, while the faster ones got to sleep in a bit.
|Our starting wave|
Steve, our first runner, took his place with the other participants. Before I knew it, the crowd was counting down, and they were off!
The pack thundered by, on their way around the entire west side of Diamond Lake. We bid our van one teammates goodbye. First on the course, each one would run a "leg," ranging in distance from 5.5 to 11 miles. Once all six runners had completed a leg, it would be our van's turn.
|And they're off!|
With our first group on the course, my other teammates and I busied ourselves packing up the campsite and decorating our van.
|Last-minute monkey adjustments|
Wacky van decorations are a fun part of relays. My team has always done well in this department. Between colorful window writing, witty banners, and the free world supply of small stuffed monkeys affixed everywhere, our red Eurovan was an attention-getter. This year, we even included a real banana! But hot weather was predicted that day, and we all took bets on how long it would hold up.
|This banana stayed put the entire race!|
My team has a tradition of tying a large inflatable monkey on top of our relay vehicles. Sadly, every year the monkey always loses its air. But Brandi had purchased new inflatables, and this time we had high hopes they'd last the entire race.
|Reattaching a few decorations|
As we pulled out of the campground, our decorations got their first big test. Sadly, some of them quickly failed! This necessitated an emergency roadside stop for last minute adjustments.
|Ultra-blue Crater Lake|
Since Crater Lake was close by, I talked my teammates into a quick detour. We had just enough time to drive into the park, find the first overlook, and ooh and aah for five minutes.
And of course, I got few team pics! Here's my van-mates (L to R) Sam, Matt, Brandi, Karl and Turi.
|MBE Van two (minus me) at Crater Lake|
From Crater Lake, my teammates and I traveled to a designated waiting area, a small convenience store and campground beside Hwy 97. Van two wasn't allowed on the course until our first van's runner arrived at exchange four. We all spent a long three hours, eating, reading, and napping, waiting for the phone call. And as we waited, temperatures began to soar.
|How many girls can you fit under an umbrella?|
Today's temperatures were predicted to be the highest of the summer, easily reaching 100 degrees. Every time I emerged from our shady parking spot, the air felt scorching. This didn't bode well for van two. All our legs were scheduled for afternoon - the hottest part of the day!
|Brandi is ready with the sprayer!|
Finally around one o'clock our captain received the awaited call. It was time to move! Our destination - exchange 6 where van one would hand off to my teammates and I.
We took off down a narrow forest service road. The route passed by ponderosa pine woods and wide open rangeland. After 20 minutes, we arrived at a dusty parking area in the middle of nowhere. Dozens of vans crowded a small forest clearing, and a large crowd of people gathered at the convergence of two gravel roads. This was exchange six.
|Turi runs with Michael to the exchange|
Relay exchange points are always people watching at its finest! Many teams were dressed in crazy costumes - one had an "anchorman" theme going with everyone in suits (don't know how they could stand the heat!) while a couple of other guys wore nothing but very tiny tiger-print speedos (which was kind of disturbing...) Every team had some sort of water spraying device, with the tanks and wands used for lawn fertilizer application being the most popular (brand new of course!)
After a long hot wait in the blazing sun, (that red rock gravel road seemed to amplify the heat) we finally spotted Michael, van one's 6th runner, approaching the exchange. Karl, our van's first runner, grabbed the "baton," a slappy wrist bracelet, and took off down the road. Van two was now officially on the course!
|Karl gets a spray from Brandi|
My van-mates and I piled into our vehicle in pursuit of Karl. His leg was 5.5 miles in length and we wanted to stop a couple of times to spray him with water. Although Karl had little shade and one big hill, he took the hot run in stride. I, on the other hand, being next in line, was feeling a wee bit apprehensive about running in these scorching temperatures.
|The pig van - our favorite|
Arriving at the next exchange point, I immediately began to prepare myself, both physically and mentally for my first leg. Although it was the shortest distance of these six, a mere 3.8 miles, I hadn't done much training in hot weather (I normally run in the early mornings). But I carried a water bottle, and draped a wet bandana around my neck. Promising myself to take it easy, I grabbed the slappy bracelet from Karl, and dutifully took off into the heat.
|Boy was I glad to see this sign!|
It didn't take long for the temperatures to affect me. Even though I tried to take things slower than normal, I could feel my body wilting. Not only was my leg entirely in direct sun, it was also a gradual uphill the whole way. Heat radiated up from the asphalt, zapping all energy. My shoes felt like they were melting into the pavement.
My teammates pulled over twice to spray me down and offer ice water (a lifesaver!) and other wonderful teams also sprayed me as I passed by (one even offered me gummy bears!) But halfway through my leg, I started to feel chills and a tiny bit of nausea. That was it - spotting another lady ahead of me who was walking, I decided to do the same. I reasoned there were two more legs to run, and I didn't want to get sick on my first one. Self preservation!
|Turi is off!|
Feeling like a total wimp, I ended up walking nearly half my leg. But I reasoned it was better than suffering heat exhaustion. Just for show, I did finish the last few yards in a slow jog. Never was I so happy to hand off to Brandi!
|We're strong monkeys!|
Poor Brandi - not only did she have to run along the same hot, shadeless, mostly uphill road as I, she had to cover 7 miles - twice the distance of my leg. But she performed like a champ. We stopped a couple of times and I handed her ice cubes from the cooler, while another teammate sprayed water. When Brandi handed off to Turi, she looked beat. But she recovered quickly, and was soon her cheerful self again.
|Turi hands off to Sam|
Turi had the longest leg of this series - a tough 8.4 miles ending with a brutal hill climb. The only saving grace was that the sun went under some high clouds, cooling things off a tiny bit. But Turi, who participates in ultra-marathons, ran a strong leg.
|This exchange was on someone's ranch|
We passed the time making roadside stops to spray off runners, as well as our own teammate. Brandi spotted a good-looking shirtless man approaching, and made sure to give him a misting (which garnered teasing from the rest of us). My teammates and I also were entertained by the creatively decorated vans that sped by. Our favorite was decked out like a pig, with ears, snout, and curly tail. When parked at an exchange, it broadcasted loud grunts and squeals.
|Just monkeyin' around...|
Turi passed off to Sam, who had another hard 7-mile stretch of lonely road. By now, it was early evening, and the sinking sun helped cool things off ever so slightly.
|Matt waits for his turn|
After traveling all afternoon, with no signs of human habitation, it was a shock that the next exchange was located in the driveway of someone's ranch. A dusty place full of scratchy weeds, it was my least favorite.
|Brandi sprays a hot runner|
Matt, our van's final runner, was ready to finish things off. Taking the wristwrap from Sam, he had only a 5.5 mile jaunt to complete. Early evening light was fading fast, and he donned the required reflective vest and blinking lights for nighttime.
|Endless highway near Silver Lake|
After a couple quick water stops for Matt, we approached the tiny, isolated hamlet of Silver Lake, our second major van exchange. It was here we'd pass the baton back to our van one teammates and then have a break. Driving through Silver Lake, the main street was crowded with vans and runners. It was probably the most people the town saw all year!
|Karl and Turi waiting for van one|
With the help of a small inflatable monkey on a stick, we quickly located our other teammates. They'd passed the time in Silver Lake, eating, sleeping, and trying to stay cool.
|The baton is passed back to van one|
Steve was poised at the exchange point, ready to go again. In the day's fading light, Matt finished his leg, slapping the "baton" back onto Steve's waiting wrist. Yahoo! My van two teammates and I had survived our first blazing hot legs!
|Steve runs into the sunset|
And Steve disappeared into the sunset, we bid our van one teammates goodbye, and headed towards the town of La Pine. It was a long, desolate 50 mile drive that seemed to take forever. Everyone was tired, sweaty and hungry. We'd heard La Pine High School had graciously offered weary CLR runners showers, a place to sleep, and a pancake feed. Boy did that sound wonderful!
|Vans reunited - for a short while|
The rumors were true - in La Pine, my teammates and I found the high school full of eager volunteers ready to meet our every need. After a fantastic hot shower, pancake dinner, and use of a real flushing toilet, I bedded down in the football field with my van one compadres to catch a few winks. With only two hours before we had to leave to meet van one, I tried hard to relax and rest.
A million stars twinkled in the dark sky above. The field was quiet and peaceful. But my head was swirling in anticipation of the next leg. My longest of the three, I'd be traversing a remote forested lane for seven miles. What surprises awaited our next leg of this journey?
For the thrilling conclusion, stay tuned for part two of my Cascade Lakes Relay recap!
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