Why I hate the Hood to Coast Relay Race
I hate Hood to Coast.
That would be the annual onslaught of relay runners who bombard us every August. That would be when this event's 12,600 mostly naked-knee participants pound the pavement in one overwhelming group invasion of our area. That would be when their 2,100 vans — Honk! Honk!— clog our roadways and stop and go and stop and go and drive super dangerously, sometimes weaving here and there, often too slow, disrupting our normally safe (as it can be) vehicular local traffic flow.
Highway 26, as well as downtown Sandy, I know you feel my pain.
And let's not forget about our local fire districts as well as police and sheriff's departments who are also hammered by the annual assault of this human and vehicular Hood to Coast hurricane. (More on this considerable impact to our emergency services folks in a bit.)
At least our local grocery store merchants lucky enough to be located near the undertow of one of the many Hood to Coast Relay runner exchange points can get these intruders to open their wallets and dump some cash into our local economy.
As far as I can tell, that's the only upside to this annual invasion that clobbers us poor under-siege local residents with so many negative downside impacts.
The only other benefit I can imagine might be for the spattering of residents whose abodes front Highway 26 who enjoy sitting on their fannies in their folding chairs to root-on the wide array of runners as they stride by.
But I can guarantee you that for every one of these looky-loo individuals there are 5,000 or more other local denizens who really wish Hood to Coast would simply bid us all a good farewell and relocate to California . . . Mt. Shasta to Arcata, anyone?)
Think again my friend
Now, if you're thinking that I must be a non-runner who just doesn't understand the true joy of participating in such a non-stop, 24-hour-plus relay run, think again my friend.
I have run the Hood to Coast Relay Race three times.
Sure, I loved the special camaraderie that bonds you with your fellow runners. Successfully enduring an around-the-clock, almost 200-mile diverse up-and-down topographic course with your sweaty brother and sister teammates is a hard-to-beat communal runner's high.
But, believe me, that camaraderie and overall experience was even better realized on the nonprofit overnight long-distance relay races that my team also, thankfully, entered.
This was the late 1980s and early 1990s. Besides the ultra-popular for-profit Hood to Coast, my team also happily participated in the more low key "Butte to Bay" (Eugene to Newport) and "Mt. Rainier to the Pacific" (Mt. Rainier to Ocean Shores, Wash.).
Both of these nonprofit events were sponsored by local area track clubs. And, I swear, they were so much more enjoyable than the super-hyped, always over-booked, far more commercial, for-profit Hood to Coast.
Too darn big
Of course, in the beginning, like so many things in life, Hood to Coast was so much more desirable than today's behemoth monster event that has degenerated into jamming and ramming far too many 12-person running teams onto its roster. And, thus, onto us.
Just ask Phil Burks who grew up on the mountain and graduated from Sandy High School in 1983. Phil ran in the second Hood to Coast that same year. There were 64 teams.
This year's Hood to Coast that — warning! — starts Friday, Aug. 25, and will unapologetically assail and inundate us with 1,050 teams.
And, just like today's mega-teamed Hood to Coast, they initially started at Timberline Lodge. But back when Phil and his team ran in six back-to-back annual Hood to Coasts, rather than sprint down Timberline Road to get to Government Camp, the runners bushwhacked cross-country down the rugged Glade Trail!
That's also when the Hood to Coast course ended in Pacific City rather than today's Seaside destination.
"Back then, we ran mostly on back roads," Phil informs. "We kept off all the major highways as much as possible."
Case in point, in those early Hood to Coast days, the runners turned off Highway 26 in Rhododendron and ran on the old gravel Road 19 (now a pedestrian/bike trail) out to Lolo Pass, then turned down Barlow Trail Road to Marmot Road, continuing through the two-lane backcountry all the way down to Dodge Park and on toward Portland, totally avoiding Highway 26 and Sandy.
Phil's Hood to Coast team, called "The Sandy Sweat Socks," was comprised of fellow Sandy High School graduates who, like Phil, had competed in track and cross country there.
Phil explains how back in those early low-key more folksy days it was super fun to run in Hood to Coast.
"You didn't get lost in the thousands of runners like they have now," Phil says, confirming that he and his teammates stopped doing Hood to Coast because "it just got too darn big and way more rule intensive."
Phil Burks, the A-shift Lieutenant with Hoodland Fire District No.74, knows first hand the significant wallop with which Hood to Coast consistently whacks us.
He recalls 1996 when the temperature hit the 90s and Highway 26 had just been repaved. "That fresh black pavement was sucking up all the heat," Phil remembers. "So many people (Hood to Coast runners) were going down everywhere. It was mayhem."
All along the Highway 26 course up on the mountain, Phil and his Hoodland Fire District comrades were coming to these people's rescue, cooling them down, and starting IVs.
"In less than an hour, I went through a case of IV fluids," Phil says. "It was the same everywhere. Our chief was driving around and kicking out more IV fluids for all of us. On the highway beside Blue Jay Lane in Brightwood, one runner's heart stopped. Down at Shorty's Corner (just east of Sandy) another runner's heart stopped."
Phil says that after the trauma and drama of that year, the Hood to Coast organizers now provide the Hoodland Fire District with annual funds to feed all of this area's emergency responders — including police, medical, fire, and ODOT — who must turn out to cover and support the Hood to Coast event.
"We barbecue steaks and shish-kebabs and chicken. We spend around $2,000 just on meats alone," reports Phil, who still runs (on his own) and competes in the grueling firefighter skyscraper stair climbs. He informs that this Hoodland Fire District meal service has become a popular stopping place for the upward of 100 Hood to Coast public emergency responders who serve this general vicinity. "One year," Phil says, "I remember looking out into our parking lot and seeing around 15 police motorcycles."
Phil and his Hoodland Fire District are extra concerned about this year's Hood to Coast onslaught.
"The run will be coming through our district this year on the same week of the total solar eclipse," Phil forewarns. He points out how Highway 26 will become one of the state's main transportation routes for the anticipated hordes of people flocking over the Cascades to get to the eastside to view the eclipse. Couple this impact with the guaranteed Hood to Coast pandemonium and, well, you get the unfortunate picture.
(That Shasta to Arcata replacement gig still sounds like a really good idea to me.)
Today's internationally popular for-profit relay race that starts in — and blitzkriegs — our small town/rural/forested backyards in the Sandy/Hoodland environs, has even expanded to the far corners of the globe.
Beginning this fall, there will be a "Hood to Coast" (yes, that's exactly what they're calling it) relay race in Israel. I swear, I'm not making this up. There's more. This July, our Hood to Coast organizers set out to sponsor a relay race that also incorporates the "Hood to Coast" name in China. Yes, China.
Egads! It's like this thing that was first created right here with its innocent, low-impact beginnings is now trying to take over the world.
Therapeutic reasons only
This Aug. 25, I won't be leaving my house.
The last time I ventured out on "Hood to Coast" day, I deeply regretted it.
I needed to drive up and get my mail at the Rhododendron Post Office. But as I crossed over the Zigzag River Bridge I could see what seemed like hundreds of vans that swarmed like locusts into the west end of our poor little Rhody.
I literally could not find an opening anywhere to pull over and stop.
With multitudes of giddy Hood to Coasties cast adrift here and there and everywhere at this runners' "exchange point," I somehow managed a U-turn without killing anyone.
As I drove back down the highway just west of Rhody in the Woodlands area, going super slow in deference to the runners, this guy — without looking or giving any forewarning — suddenly steps out right into my lane on his way to cross Highway 26.
This Hood to Coast entrant wasn't running. He was basically just loitering, meandering over to the other side of the highway where a few Hood to Coast vans had coagulated together just past the official Rhododendron exchange point.
I jammed on my brakes and honked my horn.Smack dab in front of my bumper, this knucklehead stops, turns, and throws his arms up at me. He gives me an angry look that says: "Hey, doofus, don't you know that this road belongs to me?
I thought about pulling over and getting out.
I thought about telling this guy that, yes, I happen to know the rules and roadway etiquette regarding relay race team members.
I thought about scolding him for breaking this oh so important relay runners' rule of respecting vehicular traffic.
I even thought about flipping him off.
But, looking back now — for therapeutic reasons only — I kind of wish I had.
Longtime mountain resident and former Sandy Post editor Paul Keller pens his "Beneath Wy'east" column once a month here on the Outlook's editorial pages.