By Lou Karl (Limericks by Bob Mow)
For those of you looking for a new challenge or tired of fighting the crowds at Hood to Coast, Hells Canyon just may be for you. This was their inaugural race and it did not disappoint. The organizers did an outstanding job for a first year event, the local communities of eastern Oregon made everyone feel welcome and the sheer beauty of Hells Canyon was breathtaking!!
If that doesn’t fire you up, add in smoke from the wild fires coming from Sisters, highs soaring well into the 80s with lows down to the high 30s, altitude topping 6500 feet, a cattle drive right in the midst of the race (and the middle of the road) and something truly unusual; cow pie bingo. Thankfully, that one is now safely checked off of the bucket list:
Quiet Stan spoke barely a word,
but when it came to running his third
his true grit he showed,
facing cows on the road,
that he knows how to handle a herd.
The race starts in the town of Baker City and takes a counter clockwise route heading east through the town of Halfway, turning north through Hells Canyon, passing through the towns of Joseph, Enterprise, Lostine and Wallowa, and finally turning west through Elgin to the finish in La Grande. 210 miles in all.
One of the advantages of smaller relays (only 33 teams in this inaugural event) is you tend to start early in the day. In our case that translated to an 8:30am start. For those of you who have not participated in a relay before, the down time is often the biggest challenge. If you are one of the last runners, it may be many hours after the gun goes off before you even get to lace up your running shoes.
We were the Brothers, Family and Friends team, better known as the BFFers. Jeff Malmquist had recruited me to the team and, including Gary Adams and Bob Mow, Lizards made up 4 of the 12 team members. In spite of having a full complement of runners, we were somewhat beaten up from the start. Gary was suffering from a calf injury and shopped around for doctors until he finally found one that agreed he could run. Mary R was recovering from a broken toe and was supposed to limit herself to driving, but couldn’t resist the challenge and also ran:
Mary R went out and damaged her toe,
so her doc to the relay said no,
but when her team on their knees,
begged her, “Please, Mary, please!”,
she was more than willing to go.
Captain Jerry had rented a couple of houses in La Grande and we drove out Thursday afternoon. Since many of us had never met, we bonded over pizza and beer at a local watering hole. It turned out to be hootenanny night and some 12 – 15 musicians entertained us with some fine bluegrass. After copious amounts of beer, we felt ready for our big adventure.
Early on I discovered why Jeff had been such a regular at the Goose Hollow run this year. His first leg was a 4.9 mile ascent that rose some 1100 foot and it did not faze him:
Leg 9 ascends to the sky,
causing grown men to whimper and cry.
Once the Monster was slain,
Jeff was heard to exclaim,
“Holy Sh*t, that was something, oh my!”
There were other tough portions of that first leg and it got very warm, but everyone’s spirits were high and the sun was still shining when those of us in Van 2 completed our runs and took a siesta in the town of Halfway. The folks in Halfway arranged a pasta feed for us at the local school and allowed us to bed down on the school lawn.
The sun began to set during leg 2 and the temperature began to drop. The route takes you through the Hells Canyon Scenic Highway. This is a little used and remote road that gets downright eerie once the darkness closes in around you. It was in this section that Captain Jerry opted to do both parts of a 10.5 mile climb with a 2300 foot ascent (stage 17a and 17b). Somehow he persevered, but there were rumors of really bad words being muttered towards the end:
On 17b Jerry’s leg it gave out.
Making him walk like an old man with gout.
“We’ll ‘Stick’ him”, Kim said.
“He’ll wish he was dead,
but he’ll run his last leg have no doubt.”
By the time your author ran his 2nd leg it was around 4:30am and the temp was somewhere in the high 30’s.
As the new day dawned and we began the third leg, our confidence rose with the sun. For us in Van 2, we had the luxury of a solid couple of hours of sleep in a small park in the town of Elgin. This did wonders for both our morale and our energy levels. The day passed quite quickly and by the end temps were back up in the 80’s, but it didn’t matter as we knew the finish was near:
“I love distance,” said the Pirate Belite,
“so more miles would be quite a treat.”
The five guys in her van,
malodorous to a man,
bothered her more than the heat.
I had the good fortune of getting to run the final leg. Although it came at a price as there was a monster climb early on. However, words cannot capture the euphoria of turning a final corner and seeing all of my teammates standing in front of the finish line in two rows that formed an arch that I was able to run under before crossing the finish line.
Afterwards we retired to the house for badly needed showers, followed by copious amounts of beer and pizza at another local establishment. Eight hours of sleep later we were ready for the drive home and the start of our plans for another Most Excellent Adventure next year.