Last weekend, a team of four runners braved an early wake-up time and oppressively gentle mist, and prepared for a day that would test their mettle… Ahh, overblown drama. You’d expect that from an all-family event… but not this time. 😉
The Prosecutors, consisting of Brian Bixler, Anna Naef, Angela Anderson, and me, had decided over an afternoon of wine tasting to run the Gorgeous Hood to Hood Relay. Ten exchanges, totaling 48 miles, starting at Government Camp and finishing in Hood River, awaited us. Angela’s son Connor, and my son Julian, would volunteer at the finish line.
And so, that drizzly morning of June 11, we set out from a cabin at the foot of Mount Hood and headed up to the start line. Our team had been given a 7:15am start. We arrived to find that the rain had stopped, and the cold morning air, enshrouded in low clouds and a steady breeze, wasn’t so chilly as we’d thought it might be.
Picking up our bibs, I chatted with Traci Manning, one of the Gorgeous Race Directors. She said that Kerry, the co-Director, reported that the weather improved dramatically after the first exchange.
With a brief welcome and introduction, we were off! About 20 teams were in the first wave. We set out East through Government Camp, and onto Highway 26.
The road at first dropped several hundred feet, then began rising as I came into Exchange 1. I was slated to run the first two legs, and continued on through. The second leg rose more than 1,000 feet, crossing White River Canyon, which made for a great selfie, before rising to 5,000 feet elevation at Bennett Pass.
As I reached Exchange 2, I handed off to Anna, and she headed out for a smooth 6 miles downhill along Highway 35, around the southeast flank of Mount Hood. The road had wide shoulders, and a large storm channel along the shoulder made for open space and excellent visibility.
We checked in a couple times with Anna, stopping every few miles as we do on relays. She finished strong and with a smile, and she handed off to Brian at Exchange 3. We checked in with him at several points, as well. This was their first relay ever, and we wanted to be sure if they needed any support, we would be there for them.
Leg 4 was split in two, so as Brian finished the first half, we all loaded up into our cars and drove through a narrow, winding portion of the road. A little more than a mile later, we turned off of the highway and onto Cooper Spur Road, which began Leg 4B.
Anna was feeling ready to head back out, but no one realized the road was about to climb upwards. We switched Brian back onto the course, and in genuine Bixler fashion — a healthy dose of salty sailor metaphors and unabashed stubbornness — he came into Exchange 4.
Now it was Angela’s turn. As she took off, I managed to peel Brian off of the asphalt, and we drove off to catch up with Ang. The look on every runner’s face told us this leg was perfect! A gentle downward grade, along a quiet, winding, tree-lined road, made this leg stand out in my mind as perhaps one of the best on this race.
I was up next. We’d lost a little time, and at Exchange 5, Kerry greeted us and gave us the option to leapfrog, to help us make up time. It’s something I’d never done before. It works like this: I would leave before Ang arrived at the exchange. When she got in, they would drive to the next exchange and optionally, Brian would leave from Exchange 6 before I came in. It would mean two runners on different legs at the same time.
And so, that’s what we did. Anna took our boys to the finish line so they could help out, and I set out on Leg 6, which was more or less straight and gently downhill. Around mile 2.5, Ang and Brian drove past me, and as arrived at Exchange 6, Ang met me. Brian had already left. We drove to Exchange 7, and Ang departed, while I waited for Brian. I knew the last mile of this leg, steadily uphill, was going to be a challenge for him, but he finished strong.
I prepped for my last run. It would be legs 9 and 10, and more than 10 miles. By this time, we’d more or less caught up with the other teams, but fatigue was setting in and my pace had slowed considerably. Heading out, I passed a single runner. I wasn’t sure where the others were.
Nearing the end of the first leg, I was struck by the beauty of the rolling hills, lush and green, which framed Mount Hood in the distance. The road headed uphill and into Exchange 9, and I gave thumbs-up to my team and continued on.
It was towards mile 7 that I hit a wall and walked for a few minutes. I stopped long enough at our rig to down some apple juice. I was getting very close now, and by mile 8, realized the course emptied onto the same route as the Columbia Gorge Marathon I’d run last October.
It was a steep descent! Then, it was the last mile, and then, I saw the race volunteers, including Connor and Julian, who guided me into the final turns and the waterfront park overlooking the Columbia River.
The Gorgeous Hood to Hood Relay is a fun, safe, family-friendly event. If you’re looking for a one-day race or are new to relays, you should check it out, or consider another of Gorgeous’ many great events held throughout Oregon!
For more information, visit http://www.gorgeousseries.com