What is climate science, after all?

So I am done with the conference in Seattle, and it left me thinking about climate science. What are people really doing when they study climate change? What is useful for people who are not scientists – that is, managers, policy-makers, and voters?

There was a lot of great stuff at the conference, but there were also quite a few presentations that were just not my cup of tea. I had predicted that the conference would be a 50/50 mix of on-the-ground science and modeling. Well, I’d say that only about 15 percent of the presentations included actual empirical data that the researchers had collected themselves. Bummer.

It’s not just that I felt out of place in a sea of modelers, but worse than that, I wasn’t entirely sure that I supported so much money and effort being devoted to making computer models. I think there is a place for them, definitely; it is amazingly helpful to be able to predict what will happen in the future, and without models, we would have no way of communicating to the public why, exactly, climate change is going to be bad.

But listening to presenters stand up and present slightly different models of the same thing, using the same data, made me wonder if this was really helping. Instead of competing to see who could make the best model and endlessly tweaking it, couldn’t all these modelers work together, make one good model, revisit it periodically, and devote the rest of the resources to observing what is actually happening.

I discussed this with both Laurel, the postdoc who is my boss, and Scott, the professor who is her boss.

“Modeling is what helps managers,” Scott said  (or something like that). “You show them our data, and they go, well what am I supposed to do with that?”

But in my mind, the response shouldn’t be to show them some computer-generated numbers instead. What was a little disappointing about the conference was that the modelers and the ecologists didn’t seem to have come together in a lot of cases. The models were of temperature and water flow, and were being used to predict, well, weather and flooding, for the most part. But you would think that those climate models could dovetail with on-the-ground science to give us a better clue about how to care for our ecosystems.

There were a couple presentations which were spot on. Dr. Kevin McKelvey of the Rocky Mountain Research Station talked about his work on wolverines. McKelvey and his colleagues had noticed that the wolverines only denned in places where there was year-round snowpack, and hypothesized that the animals also only traveled through these corridors. They did some modeling and some work with radio transmitters, and found that this was true. Then, they thought, how is this going to affect the wolverines when the climate changes? So they found a modeler, made a map of the places where wolverine habitat would be in the future, and bingo, you have data that can help manage wolverine populations.

That’s the kind of work I want to do! Maybe. I’m not sure. But if I keep doing ecology, I want to see more projects like this. It just makes sense – and shouldn’t be limited to wolverines. (Although they are certainly interesting: here’s an article about McKelvey’s work in High Country News.)

Another really interesting presentation, I thought, was by Tobias Kock of the U.S. Geological Survey. Kock studies salmon, and talked about how the downstream migration of salmon through dams will be affected by climate change. In the river where he was doing his research, there is one of the tallest dams in the country, and salmon can’t get around it; if they go through the turbines of the upstream dam, they end up as landlocked salmon in a large reservoir above the tall one, stuck forever. Amazingly, the dam operators have installed a fish catchment system below the upstream dam, and they drive the fish they have caught to below the downstream dam where they can then swim their way out to the sea.

Because catching the fish is a pain in the butt and driving them around is expensive, the fish-catching system isn’t operated year-round, but rather only when the yearling salmon are migrating for a few months in the summer. Kock looked at how many smaller fish get washed through the dam in high-flow situations in the winter (hint: it can be a lot) and suggested that managers in the future might switch priorities and use the catchment system in the winter as more and more extreme weather events come to the northwest. He also suggested adjusting the system so it could catch the smaller fish, which it currently doesn’t do well at.

Again: pretty cool stuff, and useful for wildlife managers!

I found some of the pure modeling/statistics talks interesting, too – for instance, one mapping household water use in Portland by neighborhood – but overall, there were just too many of them. I wanted to see more presentations like these two, or the ones that Scott and Laurel gave about our project.

Overall, I was really glad I went to the conference – besides seeing some interesting science, I got a reality check about what climate science really is these days, and where all of the research money is going. As an ecologist, that’s a little sobering, but it’s good to know.

The best part of the trip? Having dinner and ice cream with my old housemate Liz Embick! It was so fun to see her, so exciting, and I didn’t want to say goodbye. Hopefully we’ll see each other again soon!

Because while we know that climate change is taking place – quickly – we still don’t know, necessarily, how the world is going to change in response. We have theories, some of them supported by data and others less so. But it’s really hard to convince people to

Newtons.

 

I have a fig tree in the backyard. How incredible is that? Like apricots, I didn’t even really know you could just, like, eat a fig. It’s crazy world out here.

I started by making some fig jam. And my housemate made some balsamic-fig sauce. And I made a fig frangipane tart. And we ate figs. That used up the figs for a while… and then the second crop came in. They came in and they were almost rotting on the tree. Ack! All of this while we were inundated with blackberries and in the midst of making blackberry jam and blackberry pear sauce. Figs! So good! But what were we going to do with them?

It happened that we had been hiking, and our friend Autumn had been eating fig newtons. Hmmm. That got me thinking… I bet you could make fig newtons. And I bet they’d be really good.

I got kind of curious about what makes a fig newton a fig newton, so I went Joe Pastry all over it and delved into the interwebs. It turns out that fig rolls have been around for thousands of years, and were eaten by sailors around the Mediterranean and Middle East to stay healthy. There’s one myth that newtons are named after a Syrian Jew named Nuhtan who farmed figs in the 15th century, but I’m not sure if I believe it. What is indisputably true is that fig newtons in the form known by American schoolkids were invented in the early 1890s and named after Newton, Massachussetts. The U.S. went from consuming fairly few figs to being the largest consumer in the world based almost wholly on the popularity of the fig newton.

So I didn’t really get my answer about what defines a fig newton, but I did get some interesting history. I based by recipe on one from food52, a wonderful site, and used entirely whole wheat flour in the cookie part.

In the end, they were pretty much what I was hoping for: fig newtony, with a cakey cookie and a sweet, sticky filling, but more grown-up, and a lot more tasty. The fig filling had orange juice and spices in it; I am not sure what Nabisco puts in their newtons, but citrus and spice is a very nice thing to pair with a fig. It was GOOD.

I’m pretty sure that you could make fig newtons using dried figs and just soak them in boiling water until they plump up, then cook them. No promises, but if you have nostalgia for the snacks you had in your lunchbox in elementary school and don’t live in a figgy locale, I’d say try it!

What a great after-work snack. Yum.

Fig Newtons

Adapted slightly from a recipe by vrunka at food52.

Cookie/Cake Dough

5 tablespoons butter, melted3/4 cups packed brown sugar2 eggs1 teaspoon vanilla extract2 cups whole wheat flour1/4 teaspoon baking soda2 teaspoons baking powder

Stir together the melted butter and brown sugar, then add the eggs and vanilla. Mix in the flour, baking soda, and baking powder, and chill in the refrigerator for about an hour. In the meantime, make the fig filling.

Fig Filling

12 smallish pound figs
1 pear
3/4 cups brown sugarzest from 1 orange
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

Cut the figs and pear into very small pieces and place in a saucepan with all the other ingredients. Heat over low heat at first until the sugar dissolves in the juices of the fruit, then heat over medium heat, at a low boil, until the mixture is thick and jam-like. It will gel further as it cools, so you don’t have to wait until it is completely thick; don’t turn it into cement! Let the filling sit and cool for half an hour at least before proceeding.

When you’re ready, divide the dough in half and roll each half into a large square. From here, you have a couple of options. If you want to be fancy, cut each square into thirds, so you have six long rectangles. Put the fig filling down the middle of each rectangle in a strip and then fold the sides up over the top, just overlapping in the middle. Cut into squares and you have your fig newtons – place them on a greased cookie sheet. If you want to be lazier, line the bottom of a greased square or rectangular baking dish with some dough, spread some of the fig filling on top, and then top with another layer of the rolled out dough. You can cut them into squares after they are baked. That’s what I did. The original recipe instructions say to bake for 10 to 15 minutes at 375 degrees; I baked mine in a cob oven, so I can’t comment on baking time and temperature!

Thielsen rocks.

It took me quite a while to dig out after last weekend, as you can tell by the fact that I didn’t write about Hood to Coast for days after the race. With all the running and so little sleep, I needed that time to recover. Plus, I was gone for two and a half days and missed my weekend around the house; I was running behind on all sorts of chores, e-mails, etc. On Thursday, I finally managed to clean out my room and wash all the laundry from the weekend. Yeah, that’s kind of gross.

I knew I had a three day weekend coming up and that I should do something awesome with it, but I just wasn’t in any sort of shape to make plans. As the weekend drew closer and closer I figured that I would improvise and figure something out.

Luckily, my housemate Laura came to my rescue! She and her friends wanted to go climb Mount Thielsen, down in the southern part of the state, and asked me to come along. Hooray!

We left town around 6 on Friday and drove down to the Umpqua Hot Springs, which were some of the best I’ve ever visited. By the time we got to the parking lot it was dark and we were starving, so we sat on the bumpers of our cars and ate leftovers and drank beer. Two of our friends had brought their dogs along, who were happy to finally be out of the cars. It didn’t last long though; we put the dogs back in the cars and hiked the steep quarter-mile up to the hot springs.

When we got there, the main pool, which has a roof over it, was full, and there were a few people in one of the side pools as well. But with quite a few pools to choose from, there was plenty of space for us. We immediately jumped into the hottest one, which was quite a shock, and lay back gazing at the stars. We eventually had to move down the hill to a cooler pool because we were cooking ourselves. The whole spot was lovely – and I can only imagine how pretty it would have been in the daytime!

After we finished soaking, we hopped back in the car and drove a few miles until we found a nice camping spot under some big trees. I slept like a log – still exhausted, a week later, from Hood to Coast!

The next morning we got up early and headed south towards Mount Thielsen. We only got one glance at the mountain on the drive, but it looked just as it had been advertised: really, really pointy. But after that one quick view it disappeared into the trees and we didn’t see it again until we had hiked a few miles.

From four miles out, it looked incredibly steep and also very far away. By the time we reached the intersection with the Pacific Crest Trail, the mountain looked closer and also not quite as steep. We paused for a snack – the apple tree in my front yard has been producing the most amazing sweet, crisp, white apples – and other hikers admired the dogs as they went by.

When we started climbing again, we realized that even though it hadn’t looked quite as steep as before, it was actually even steeper. We had all known this in the back of our minds, but things got serious pretty fast after that initial four-mile hike in. For a while, we were still in the trees, which was nice: it was shady and the trail was solid.

Then we were above treeline and heading ever-upward through loose dirt, scree, and boulders. Cyrus eventually had to stop with his dog, Zula, because the eight-year-old lab was having trouble scrambling up the loose slope. Cyrus eventually rejoined us after tying Zula to a tree, but she didn’t like the whole situation and even after we reached the top of the mountain we could hear her barking occasionally.

Autumn, unlike Cyrus, decided to take her dog Marley all the way to the top. Marley is a young Australian shepherd, and had no trouble finding his footing; he had more energy than the four people and Zula combined! Unfortunately, though, he didn’t have our understanding of hiking safety, and a few times set relatively big rocks rolling down the screefield towards us. While it was great to have him along, it probably wasn’t the best place to bring a dog.

As the climbing got more and more difficult – I am ashamed to say that I started to feel the altitude, too, and to get a little shaky – I sometimes tried climbing up the actual bedrock outcroppings, since they were more solid than the scree. In some places, the trail was great; in others, it was barely a trail (or maybe we had lost it!). But eventually we got close enough that we could see people sitting up on a ledge eating lunch.

We had known that the last 100 feet or so of Mount Thielsen is especially tricky; it calls for actual rock climbing. We had heard conflicting reports about whether it was simply class four hiking/climbing/scrambling, or something you actually needed ropes for. I guess it’s all a matter of perception. When we reached the “chicken ledge” below that last pitch, we saw a large group of people setting up ropes on the rock. It looked totally climbable without ropes, but they had taken over and were throwing ropes back and forth, sometimes knocking off rocks in the process, so we didn’t want to try to climb up in their midst. It was a little disappointing, but not too much, because even from the ledge below the view was spectacular!

In one direction, we saw Diamond Lake and Mount Bailey, which despite having almost the opposite shape as Thielsen is actually roughly the same height. To the south, we could see Crater Lake, somewhere I haven’t been yet but is definitely on my list. There were wildfires burning in several places so the sky was a bit hazy; the pictures don’t do justice to the amazing views.

We spent a long time sitting on the ledge enjoying our lunch at 9,182 feet. Occasionally we would see another hiker coming up and get a sense of what we had just accomplished. Looking down and watching their slow progress really brought it home exactly how steep the climb had been.

And if you looked off the other side, you would see why the group was using ropes: even though the rock was craggy and there were plenty of handholds and places to stick your feet, the consequences of any errors would have been pretty horrendous.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It wasn’t just steep from the top of the last pitch to its bottom (left). There was also a thousand-foot sheer drop-off  below (right). Would I still have climbed it? Yes, absolutely. But as it was, we ate our lunches and chatted with the other hikers who were stymied by the group with the ropes. Meanwhile, I thought about how nice it would be to have a mountain dog, even if he did kick rocks down on my sometimes.

Finally, it was time to leave, and to go rescue the increasingly distraught Zula. Another hiker suggested that instead of taking the trail down, we hike down a steep ridge until we got to a screefield made up of small pieces of pumice. While it wouldn’t be solid, the pieces of rock were so small and light that you could run or “ski” down them, sliding along with them, and it was much easier and faster than tediously stepping down the rock piles on the trail. We took her up on her suggestion and headed off.

I didn’t think it was so bad, but I have a bit of experience both in scree and glissading on snow. Autumn did not enjoy our route. Luckily, we all ended up back with Zula without any accidents, so it all turned out fine in the end! I got to check out some more cool geology along the way – look at these awesome striations in the rock.

When we finally made it back to the parking lot, sore in a million different places, the temperature had soared to the high 80s. We took a five minute drive to the picnic area on Diamond Lake and jumped in! It was really shallow for a very long way, so it was a little anti-climactic to have to wade and wade and wade until the water was finally waist-deep, but it was really nice to cool off and the dogs loved it. On the way home, we stopped at the Brewers Union Local 180 in Oakridge, where I got a pint of Black Wooly Jumper straight from the cask and some fish and chips – well, fish and sweet potato fries, even better!

So: it was Saturday night, and I had already packed more into the weekend than I possibly could have hoped. What a great Labor Day!

The most grueling all-night party.

This past weekend I had the chance to do something totally amazing: the Hood to Coast relay. I literally cannot believe, still, that after only two months in Oregon I managed to get on a team – there is a lottery system for teams to get entered, and it’s a huge deal. I didn’t know everyone on my team, far from it, but a few of my good friends were there, and I drove up to Portland with one of them to meet up with our van. Neither of us had ever done a big relay before, and we didn’t know what to expect. The trunk of Heather’s car was stuffed with sleeping bags and pads and more food than we could possibly consume (so we thought).

Hood to Coast is a 200-mile race, where teams of twelve people run three legs each. The event starts at the Timberline Lodge on Mount Hood. As we drove up the road we were quiet with anticipation, and occasionally gasped as the mountains revealed themselves. We weren’t in 24-hour race mode yet, and we hadn’t opened up; it was still hitting us that we would be spending more than a day in this very van, pretty much nonstop except for running.

The scenery was beautiful but on the other side of the road, we could see runners already streaming down the road. With 1200 teams participating, waves of runners start their downward journey in waves throughout the day on Friday. And most of them didn’t look comfortable. Leg one descends two thousand feet in five miles.

Up on the mountain, we scurried around grabbing Clif bars from the promo tent and lacing up our running shoes as confused (and stoned) snowboarders wandered through the parking lot. We decorated our van with paint, put our costumes on, and snapped a team picture:

So I guess I should tell you a little bit about our team. We were the Red Dress Express Too, the rejects from an older team which has been doing Hood to Coast since about 2001. It’s made up of people from Eugene, and everyone wears red dresses and accessories, even the guys. This year, Red Dress Express was trying for a top-six finish in the sub-masters category, which would guarantee them an entry into next year’s race, bypassing the lottery. I’m a newcomer and well below the sub-masters age limit, so I was stuck on the second team… which turned out to be the best thing anyway. I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.

Because, can I say that we had a good time? We had a good time, a better time than any other team, I’m sure of that. Each of us was only serious when we were actually running, which meant that the other five members of our van were goofing off the whole time. We had a photo contest with the other Red Dress vans which ensured a lot of shenanigans. For instance, we had an actual horn which one of my teammates occasionally blew through, and with which we repeatedly chased some members of the Run Oregon team:

This was the fourth runner we terrorized, and she was psyched. She had watched us take pictures of our other team members running after her other team members, and as soon as she saw me in my red dress on the side of the road she started smiling. She really hammed it up for the camera.

Anyway, back to the running. Once we got down off the mountain, it got hot. Our second leg runner finished as a shell of his former self. Even though he had two water bottles during his race, he was speaking unintelligibly and had trouble walking in a straight line. We ran ahead to get him more water and gave him an ice pack to hunker down with in a van. I began to get a little bit nervous for my own leg.

I had told the team organizer that I would take any leg, no matter how hard, as long as it wasn’t that first steeply downhill one. I’m good at running up hills, I said. I do it a lot. And so they stuck me with leg 5, the hardest in the entire race. It’s a third of a mile shorter than leg 9, which my friend Mike was running, but there’s much more terrain. That’s why I was nervous. I had basically acted very cocky, and if I didn’t deliver on my bragging, I was going to be ashamed. More than that, I was afraid that if I went too hard in my first leg, the rest of the race would be really, really unpleasant.

So off I went on leg 5, four miles along the highway in the sun and then a turn into the shade and up a big hill. Almost as soon as I started, my competitive juices got flowing and I took off. At first, I felt great. Then, I felt hot. Next, I felt a little shaky. I had stopped sweating and was almost cold. I knew I was in trouble as I ran along the highway in the full sun, but I also knew that sometime, I’d be turning into the shade. I didn’t know when that sometime would arrive, and wavered back and forth about whether I should slow down, or just try to get to the shade as quickly as possible. Luckily, I had my drinkbelt with some gatorade, and tried to take in as many electrolytes as possible without making myself sick in a different way.

When I finally made it to the turn it was a huge relief. Almost immediately, I felt better. My teammates had stopped the van to cheer for me, and as I went by they dumped water over my head. Whew! I began passing people again instead of lagging. A volunteer promised me that there was a sprinkler coming up, but it turned out that she was kind of lying. I commiserated with another runner as we ran up the hill – which wasn’t that big, just 400 feet or so, but after a long hot run on the highway, it seemed to go on forever. At one point I knew I had only a mile to go, and I started looking for the finish line around every corner.

I also started looking at my watch. I had submitted 45 minutes for my 10k time, and a teammate had estimated how long it would take everyone to run their legs. I was nervous about this. I haven’t done any workouts, really, since March: just perhaps three sets of intervals and one 5k race. I haven’t even been running that much. I didn’t think that I’d have any speed left, just slow-twitch fitness. So I glanced at my watch, subtracting the time from 45 minutes to see how long I thought I had to keep running. Which was discouraging.

But when I finally saw the finish, it was not discouraging. I was ahead of my seed time, and more importantly, I was done running. For now. I snapped our bracelet onto my teammate Brian’s wrist and sat down on the pavement. My teammates ran up to me and gave me hugs. Then we piled into the van and drove toward the middle of Brian’s leg so we could cheer him on and give him water.

Because this is the thing about Hood to Coast: there’s no warming up. There’s no cooling down. Maybe if you’re serious and you manage everything perfectly, you might be able to do it on some of the legs. But there’s bigger issues. You have to get to the next exchange, and there’s six of you to keep track of. After two years of micromanaged warmup routines and making sure I ate exactly the right thing at the right time, the concept of just jumping in a race cold terrified me.

After Brian finished, we handed our clipboard off to the other van of six runners and headed into Portland, where we crashed at my teammate Nice’s house. We changed into new, dry red dresses and walked to a nearby (excellent) Mexican restaurant, where we got a LOT of strange looks as we ate our tacos. Heather and I split a margarita. It was delicious. We tried to nap on Nice’s floors and sofas, but it was only 7 p.m., and we couldn’t sleep; soon enough it was time to head to the next exchange to switch off with the other van.

By the time we got there – a big concrete road exchange under a bridge in Portland – it was dark, and everyone was wearing headlamps, reflective vests, and blinking red lights. There were runners everywhere and we had to push our way through the crowd to the actual exchange zone. It was great to be reunited with the other van, and we had a good time hanging out. I felt lucky not to have been stuck with the first leg – not only would I have had to run down Mount Hood, but I wouldn’t have been able to enjoy the van exchanges as much.

Leg two for our van turned out to be one of the more grim sections of the race. Heather got to run through downtown, along the river, but after that it was out through the industrial edges of the city. Especially in the dark, it wasn’t fun. Just gray, lonely, and a little bit dirty. We would still stop along the side of the road to cheer for each other, but it became impossible to tell which blinking red light was our actual runner. Many of the legs were on the long side, too, so it felt like the night was going on forever.

It was finally my turn to run, and I embarked on a seven-mile journey along pancake-flat Highway 30. I have never run in the middle of the night before, really; it was disorienting. Even with my headlamp to guide me, I only roughly knew where the edge of the road was. I followed the river of blinking lights in front of me, but unlike on my first leg, there weren’t many people to pass; everyone was my speed or faster. But I could see them, so I was tempted into running harder and harder to try to catch up.

“I feel like I’m being chased by an army of fireflies,” one runner said as four of us ran past in a pack.

When my teammates greeted me at the halfway point with a waterbottle holding a mix of coca cola and coffee, I said to myself, shit. I glanced at my watch and knew that I had been running much too fast. I shouldn’t have covered three and a half miles so quickly, especially in the (non)-shape that I was.

How long could three more miles be? I told myself that everything would be fine, that the caffeine would do its job and wake me up, that I should just keep going. But after another mile, I began to drag. I’d pick a runner and match their pace, and then I’d slow down, unable to keep at it. I actually caught a guy in an orange shirt who I had also passed on my first leg, but after running with him for about 30 seconds, he pulled away and over the last mile but 20 or so seconds on me.

By the time I was turning onto the road towards the high school for our exchange, I was suffering bigtime. Not only had I started out too fast, but I was wearing racing flats, a questionable move after 13 miles. It had seemed like a good idea at the time, but my calves were seizing up in a serious way. As soon as I handed off to Brian, I lay down and didn’t get up for a few minutes.

But soon, I was standing up and joking with the orange shirt guy’s team. They were from Seattle and in one of the masters’ divisions. Honestly, I was a little pissed that orange shirt guy had run away from me; he was just a guy, how was he so fast? But they were great and we had seen them so many times at the exchanges already that we fell into a long conversation.

Heather broke some bad news to me. “Everyone else is kind of falling apart,” she said.

What? Falling apart more than me? With my cement-like calves, I hobbled back to the van and surveyed the damage. Nice was passed out across the driver and passenger seats, face down. Leah and Kathryn were semi-comatose in the back. Uh oh. Brian’s leg was only five miles, and we had wasted time talking to the other team; we needed to get to the next exchange.

Then Heather confessed that she had a terrible sense of direction.

“Do you want me to drive?” I asked.

“No, no, I feel terrible doing that,” she replied. “You just finished racing. I’m sure I can find my way.”

But I thought about it and decided that me driving would be better. We moved Nice into the back and took over the front. After taking a long time to figure out how to move the seat forward, we were off. Heather fed me Clif ShotBloks one at a time as I drove.

And…… we immediately missed our first turn. The sign for the road was after the actual intersection, and it was dark, and there were runners on the road! What do you expect? So we had to keep driving and circle back. We eventually made it to the van exchange at a county fairgrounds. It was a designated sleeping area, so between the rows of vans there were runners sacked out in sleeping bags and tents. I gave Heather the clipboard to take to the exchange and tried to do a really easy run around the grounds to loosen up my calves, which were cramping worse than ever.

Two things happened on my little jaunt through the parking lot. First of all, I heard some team refer to us as transvestites (don’t buy a Balance Bar; they also opened the door of their van and shouted “fa**ot” at Brian as he raced along). Secondly, I just happened to come across our other van as they packed up from their brief night’s sleep.

“Mike!” I said.

“What are you doing?” He asked.

“I need a hug,” I said, and stopped running.

“Why aren’t you wearing a shirt?”

Oops, yeah, that’s right. My red dress had gotten very hot and sweaty on my run – which had turned out to be a personal best for 10k, the first few miles at sub-seven minute pace making up for the later ones at over-eight – and I had wanted it off. Luckily I had managed to put shorts on, but I was jogging around in the night cold in my sports bra and heart rate monitor (coincidentally, the first time I’d worn it since leaving Craftsbury in March).

Ever the gentleman, Mike walked me back to my van where I found some more clothes, and then we went over to watch the exchange. After saying goodbye to our groggy other van, I got back in the driver’s seat and headed towards the next van exchange, where we would sleep until it was our turn to run.

Things went well for a while. I had a sip of coffee and Heather chatted away to keep me awake. It was only supposed to be an hour or so drive. But as we got close to the exchange, traffic got really bad, and we were at a standstill. I can do this, I thought to myself, inching along at a snail’s pace. Then an hour and a half had passed. I was tired. I was sleepy. Was I going to make it?

I finally decided that it was Brian’s van, and so he should drive, because if any of us fell asleep at the wheel, at least he’d be wrecking his own car. Luckily he was pretty awake. As soon as I switched places with him I fell asleep, and woke up an hour later in a very uncomfortable position. It was a good call to give up driving. I was not fit to drive, not even close.

We parked and unfurled our sleeping pads and bags. It was about four thirty in the morning, and I didn’t even have the energy to take my contacts out. If you looked at us, curled up on a tarp, you would have thought we were having some sort of snuggle-fest, but I don’t think a single person moved an inch or even rolled over between the time we fell asleep and when our alarm woke us up the next morning. We were too exhausted.

Van number two found us again, and it was off to the races. By this time, racing didn’t seem so intimidating. I didn’t even worry about how I couldn’t warm up. It seemed like it would never be my turn to run. Nothing seemed important except enjoying the morning sunshine.

But when Kathryn started running, I knew I had less than an hour before I was faced with my hardest task yet: leg 29. It was six miles, just like my first leg, but gained and then lost 600 feet of elevation. Thinking about the numbers, that didn’t seem like so much, but then again, I was pretty tired and my calves were still wrecked. So I tried to stop thinking about it entirely.

When the handoff came, Kathryn slapped my butt and sent me off. The beginning was actually quite flat and in the shade, and after a quite painful first two minutes, I started feeling good. I fell in with a guy from Portland and we ran together, striding easily along a creek. We’d trade off leading and were even chatting away. That’s how easy it was. I felt like everything was going to be fine, just fine.

That’s me, with Portland dude:

Then I got to the hill.

It was not fine.

“Go on,” I told the Portland guy. “I can’t keep up with you.”

“No, I need to slow down too,” he said. “We’ll help each other out.”

That lasted about 20 seconds.

“No, really,” I insisted. “You should just go.”

In the first leg, I had run up the hill like it ain’t no thang. I’m not actually sure I was going much slower than I had been on the flat. But this time around, my calved complained loudly and I was just plain tired. My form disintegrated and I felt like I was shuffling. People kept cheering for me, but I am pretty sure it was just because I was a girl and usually teams don’t have women run leg 5 because it’s so hard. I got a few cheers for my red dress, too, which kept me going, and the Nike France team cheered for me in French as they drove by because I had told them to “Allez, allez!”

On top of it all, we had run out of the shade and into the sun, and it was getting hot again. The hill became a real slog.

I couldn’t have been happier when I reached the top of the “pass”. My teammates were there and held up a roll of toilet paper for me to run through like a finish banner.

In my mind, I was thinking, woohoo, I’m done! But I still had a long way to go… what I thought was two miles of downhill was really two and a half, and after taking off and working it for the first mile I began to question how long I could keep it up. My calves hurt! I was tired! This was stupid! There was nobody around me for the first time in the entire race, so I didn’t even have a chase to keep me motivated. Still, I pushed on to where I knew Brian was waiting for me.

And there he was. I was done! I was free! It was a strange feeling, after 19 miles of running, not to have to run any farther. I climbed into the van and we encountered more terrible traffic. With two and half miles to go before the exchange, we were at a dead stop. Heather and Leah got out of the van and began running down the road; even walking, they could have gotten there faster than we did. In the end, we arrived just about the time that Brian finished. So we handed off the clipboard to the second van and headed for Seaside and finish line.

We met up with the original Red Dress team, who had finished eighth, just missing a guaranteed entry for next year, which was pretty disappointing for them. Their time was fast enough to make the cut most years, but this year was a fast year, and also Coco had left his shoes in Eugene and racked up some huge blisters running in a teammate’s sneakers. Not to blame it all on Coco or anything. Brian, Leah and I ran into the ocean, cooled our legs very briefly, and then got out of there because it was cold. There was beer, and the beach, and much rejoicing as we waited for van number two to make it to the finish.

Unfortunately the second van encountered more terrible traffic coming into Seaside, so their runner actually beat them there. We hung out with her and drank more beer as we waited quite a bit longer for the last of our teammates to arrive. Then, finally, it was back to the finish for our official team picture. I got to hold our race number!

Later that night, we had a bonfire on the beach, and then passed out four or five to a hotel room. It was lovely. Amazing. So much fun. Sunday morning, we got breakfast at a diner. Biscuits and gravy and eggs and bacon hoo yeah. For once I didn’t feel guilty eating a ridiculous amount of calories. I had earned them, bigtime.

Hood to Coast was even more fun than I thought it could be. Part of it was rediscovering a way to race that didn’t stress me out, and realizing that it could be fun. And perhaps it’s better to be fun than to be serious: both my second and third legs were faster than any 10k I had ever run before, something which still puzzles me. Does that mean that I just wasted the last two years of my life? What the hell? But that doesn’t matter now, it’s water under the bridge. What matters is that I had a great time and look at how cool my friends are. I have the best friends. The best teammates. These are good people and we are going to have more fun together. If I don’t get back on this team next year, I’m going to be devastated.

Thanks to Brian and Christina for the photos.

Over and out.