In our last episode, I believe we were getting ready to leave beautiful Glendive, MT, to continue westward, ho! towards home. The next couple days were relatively uneventful with stops in Bozeman and Helena. We did take a lovely side-trip while in transit from B to H to Louis and Clark Caverns State Park. Here we decided to test the mettle of the kiddos and take the 2-mile, 2-hour cave tour. The next 2 hours were all about survival, let me tell you!
To get up to the cave, we had to climb a steep trail in the blazing sun with our two short-legged charges. Owen got carried most of the way, but Sydney did pretty darn well on her own. Did I mention that she was the only one without decent shoes? I was so impressed with her.
After we got to the cave entrance (red-faced, sweaty and looking forward to the 50-degree cave interior), we proceeded to descend down lots and lots of slippery stairs into the belly of the mountain while trying to keep the kids relatively quiet so everyone else could listen to the tour guide. Fortunately, after the first couple stops, Sydney was entranced and Owen was asleep on Bill's shoulders, so noise wasn't as much of a problem. Sydney even got tapped to hold one of the guide's spare flashlights to shine on various features along the path, which gave her something to do besides whine.
The cave was wicked cool, with tons and tons of amazing structures. It was definitely the wildest tour I've ever been on, with lots of stooping and ducking through low tunnels, climbing down crazy slippery steps and even, at one point, sitting on our butts and sliding down a smooth stone slope. The kids loved that one! I hadn't brought the recommended jacket along but it wasn't a problem - I was just starting to get a tiny little bit chilly at the very end of the tour. Three of us were exhausted by the end of the tour, and one was still ready to go (due to his mid-cave nap - Bill had quite the time trying to crawl through those tunnels while holding a sleeping 3-year-old).
Bill had an afternoon meeting near Great Falls on Wednesday afternoon, so we left for home around 3 pm. We arrived in Portland at around 2 am and crashed, knowing that we had very little time to prepare for our next adventure, the Portland to Coast (PtoC) relay walk, which we would be starting at 6:15 am on Friday. Thursday night, I'd stupidly scheduled myself to be the speaker at the Tigard Knitting Guild meeting. So Thursday was spent getting my submission packet for the Summer '09 Interweave Knits ready and sent off along with unpacking from the trip, sorting through 3 weeks worth of mail and trying to get my head around the fact that I'd be doing PtoC in less than 24 hours. I was not looking forward to it!
To make things even better, my father-in-law (who is half of our much-relied-upon babysitting team and was due to be on duty while Bill and I were busy with PtoC) tripped while trying to keep one of their chickens from being picked on and BROKE HIS LEG just above the ankle in two places. Fortunately my intrepid mother-in-law, who had been grandchild-deprived for three weeks, was still game to take care of the kids.
Thursday night, Bill headed off to cook dinner for his mom, the kids, and his gimpy dad while I drove to Tigard for the knitting guild meeting. One of my PtoC teammates had generously offered to hold a pre-race dinner so I was planning to give my talk and then rush over to grab dessert with the PtoC gang. I stumble into the guild meeting and am smacked with a strong gas smell permeating the Senior Center where the meetings are held. After a few minutes of consultation with the guild president and other members, we decide that we'd be sort of dumb to sit around in a building smelling strongly of gas. We head out to the parking lot while Donna calls the police, who come over to check it out, confirm that it smells like gas, and call the fire department. The fire trucks pull up, confirm that yep, it smells like gas, and call the gas company. At this point, we decide that it's probably time to cancel the meeting. I head over to my PtoC dinner about an hour early, increasingly delirious from lack of sleep.
Dinner was great, the team was psyched (unlike myself - I was busy trying to figure out how to break MY ankle in two places so I could get out of walking the relay), and I tried to get myself excited while driving home to figure out what last-minute preparations needed to be made. It's really challenging getting a team ready for such a huge event when nobody on the team has ever done it before, particularly when you're the captain and trying to keep things from becoming a complete disaster. Fortunately my teammates were really on top of things and so everything managed to fall into place. I had no way of knowing this would happen on Thursday night, however, so even though I knew I needed to get a good night's sleep, I couldn't settle down and so got maybe five hours on Thursday night. Not a good start to two days of sleep deprivation!
The way the relay works is each team has two vans each with a team of six walkers. *Van 1's team walks their six legs, then drives to the next switch point to wait while Van 2's team walkes their six legs. Repeat once more from *. Each walker walks twice, and each van has approximately 8 hours of downtime between walking shifts. These 8 hours are supposedly for sleep, but it's hard to sleep out in the middle of a field in the blazing hot sun (Van 1's issue) or amongst a bunch of rowdy Hood to Coast runners who are more interested in partying than sleeping (Van 2's issue).
I walked the first leg, starting beneath the Hawthorne Bridge in downtown Portland. We walked along the river, across the Steel Bridge, and up through the industrial area for a total of about 4 miles. I got to the checkpoint totally psyched because I was able to do it without too much agony and kept myself almost at my goal of 15-minute miles (I was closer to 16, but since we weren't really pushing ourselves for time, it didn't make a difference to anyone but me). At each exchange, the next walker would meet the current walker and we'd record the leg time and cumulative walk time. The next walker would take the wristband that identified the active walker and head for the next exchange. Along the route, our van would stop at regular intervals to cheer our walker and make sure she had everything she needed (like snacks, water, moral support, etc). In Van 1, we were lucky enough to have Bill as our driver, meaning that he was focused totally on getting us to where we needed to go so we could focus on our walking. Van 2 shared the driving, and it sounds like it went just fine but I think we definitely had the better deal!
After we got our first six legs completed, we grabbed some lunch at Burgerville and headed into the countryside to wait at the spot where we'd be meeting Van 2 for our second walking shift. We spent the afternoon knitting, relaxing, trying to sleep and worrying about how we'd find the second van when the time came. We had rough estimates of when the van would arrive (and we were actually pretty spot-on), but for awhile it was total chaos with a gazillion vans and walkers. We were worried that we wouldn't find our other group if they were walking faster than we'd estimated. Then we started to worry when they didn't show up, even though they ended up arriving right on target. I started my second shift at around 9:30 pm in pitch black darkness, which both delighted and terrified me.
At this point, the walkers were pretty spread out and we were at the end of the pack since we were a relatively slow team. There was a faster walker ahead of me who I could see for awhile, and then I was all by myself, in the middle of nowhere, in pitch blackness. Sure I had a headlamp, and there were vans driving by pretty regularly (along with Sherrif patrols and the Rose City Motorcycle Club, who work the route during the relays), but I still had visions of being taken off the road by the Wolfman or Bigfoot, never to be seen again. I grew up in the country but I haven't lived there in a long, long time! I did get to see some incredible stars and heard an owl hooting in the woods. I eventually relaxed and enjoyed myself, particularly when my feet started to hurt enough to take my mind off the horror-movie scenarios!
The night shift was totally draining even when we were in the van because we tried to keep a close eye on the walker so she wouldn't get too freaked out in the dark. We'd stop every tenth to half mile and wait for the walker to pass and then fade out of sight in front of us. We spent the rest of the race laughing about one stop we made around 3:30 am - we were all pretty much delirious at that point except for our walker, who was chugging through the most difficult leg on the entire relay. I'm dozing away in the front seat, when suddenly we hear a voice from the back asking if our walker had passed by yet. I look at Bill, who is blinking sleepily back at me, and we both shrug. We had no idea where our walker was! We'd all fallen asleep as soon as we'd stopped. Fortunately we had walkie-talkies and we called her to see if she'd already passed us - she had and mentioned that she'd wondered if she should've tapped on the window on her way by! At the next few stops, she made sure to wave at us to make sure we were still alive.
The last Van 1 walker finished her shift at dawn (complete with rooster fanfare somewhere in the distance) and we headed to the beach to try to find a place to crash. Bill was barely able to keep his eyes open for the drive, but we managed to find the middle school in town where we parked and spread our sleeping bags out on the grass. The school was open and offering showers, and McDonald's was right around the corner. I crashed out and slept the hardest two hours I've ever slept in my life. I finally got up when the sun was beating down on me and I got way too hot to stay in my sleeping bag any longer. An iced coffee from McDonalds along with a new skirt and underwear from Rite Aid set me up great, and we hung out the rest of the morning knitting, enjoying our first cell phone coverage in 24 hours, and waiting for the other team to come into contact range (much of the middle of the course is literally in the middle of nowhere and way out of any cell phone coverage zone).
Van 2 arrived right on schedule, and we all walked down to the finish line on the beach to meet our last walker. It's set up so that the team members all cross the finish line together. We then get our finisher medals and have team pictures taken. It was so fun to celebrate our accomplishment - we walked a total of 32 hours and 4 minutes, covering 127 miles. A big shout-out to my fabulous teammates Jean, Sara, Leslie, Mary Ann, Lucy Anne, Melody, Melissa, Amanda, Kathleen, Lise and Chrispy! I can't wait until next year!!!
I slept about 11 hours last night, and I finally feel human again. Apart from a huge blister on my right heel, I feel pretty darn good! I'm hoping it will motivate me to get out there and walk again (I'm ashamed to admit I barely trained for this relay at all, and hence walked a couple of the easiest legs), and I still have my eye on walking the Portland Marathon next year. Yes, I am continually unaware of how much free time I actually have as compared to how much I wish I had!