Reach the Beach Relay - 2003
The Running of the Moose - A middle of the pack account of the Bull Moose team
Posted Thursday, 2 October, 2003
Michael St. Laurent - email@example.com
Bull Moose (Alces runna Americana): The most imposing beast of North America, the Bull Moose, weighs up to 1800 pounds and sport antlers up to 6 feet in width. In the wild moose may roam upwards of 20 miles per day to forage or for a good race. Low rumped and slab sided they can easily straddle a compact car with their long slim legs that end in sturdy cloven hooves. A heavy compact head ends in a long nose and mournful-looking grin spouting soft flexible upper lips that fill the forest with a long soulful primitive "MOOOOOSE" call.
I awake to the smell of fresh coffee and the sound of other moose moving about the condo. A white sheer mist is twisting and drifting gently over the green mountainside. It spirals and teases the freshly groomed fourth green of the Bretton Woods golf course. Overhead a flock of early southbound Canadian Geese rises with a gentle breeze to see the panorama of Washington Valley. Loudly they honk, surprised at the site of thousands of runners and hundreds of vans invading the Ski Lodge race start. It's 8:00 am and the adventure race "Reach the Beach" is about to begin. Billed as 200 miles of scenic New England roads (208.8 for you running log junkies) and 24 hours of racing, figure on about 28 to 30 hours if you are on the Bull Moose team. Touted as a race for twelve of your "closest" friends (we mean that figuratively of course), Reach the Beach (RTB) is a demanding, grueling soul-testing epic, much more than a race, much more than an adventure.
Our Bull Moose team, twelve strong masters' men are roused and ready for the runt. I'm a last minute alternative, a newbie moose, and the indentured scribe. I am small by moose standards but I eagerly answered the moose call. The Bull Moose are infamous veterans of four of the last five RTB's.
With our team picture taken in the backwash of the Bretton Woods Base Lodge, we bask in the shadow of the first leg of the trek "the toughest 5K you'll ever run". To the tune of Bruce Springsteen's "Born to Run", Jenkins, our lead off Moose lopes up the grassy, moguled ski trails to the cant of our "MOOOOOSE" hoot. 10:00 am and the Moose are loose!
RTB teams follow a staggered start every 20 minutes from early morning to 5 Pm. With 22 other teams we are ranked by our expected mile pace for the event. A staggered start figuratively as Moose Jenkins staggers up the 1500-foot elevation gain. No Bunny slope here! This first "real hill". Mt. Rosebrook is already separating the men from the boys and women from both as they test their legs on 3.1 miles of sheer beauty and torture.
Blessed with a brilliant sunny fall day, clean, sharp mountain air and temperatures in the low 70's we await our first moose at the transition point. Teams members scan the steep hilly dirt road to see their first runner stream down. For now it feels like a 5K race, with all the pent-up expectation, sweaty palms and nervous anxiety. I try to settle my nerves and enjoy the view as I still have four hours of driving and waiting before my chance to run. Moose Jenkins comes in sporting the infamous moose double-handed antler pose. With smiles and a high five he hands off to Moose Bellevue for his relatively easy 2.4 miles leg.
It's 10:30 am, Friday - 3.1 miles down, 205.7 to go.
We split into our two travel teams, Van #1 for legs 1-6 and Van # 2, legs 7-12. Like the "Dukes of Hazard" in red Mini-vans we split out of the parking area behind the "Bad Asses On Board" van and with team "Texas Road Kill" on our tail. Moose Bellevue is just passing the Mt Washington Motel, this grand dame of the White Mountain resorts. She sits like a sparkling white diamond in a green emerald setting against the majestic Mount Washington. If you squint you can still imagine horse and buggy carriages dropping off wealthy guests. With their leather trunks and twirling bright parasols they start their summer haunts. The old dame looks great considering she opened back in 1902.
Our moose spots a trail of blue smoke that cuts through the green mosaic of the mountains. Below the Cog Railway is slowly chugging up the steep grade of Mt. Washington. It's traveling much slower than our charging moose below. The rugged green Twin Mountains of white pine and birch and sheer walled granite faces fill our window as we descend the miles into Crawford Notch for stage two. We catch our Moose and lean out to yell "MOOOOOSE" in perfect harmony. The uninitiated hears our soul searching call bounce off the mountains for the first time. We stop at the Crawford Notch general store and campground and find a stuffed moose man. We surround the moose man for a Moosilicious photo opportunity keeping the runners and mountains in the backdrop.
Other teams stop for their chance for a picture with the moose man while van #1 runners' stop for an early dip in the mountain-fed chilly water of the Sawyers River.
Entering the Crawford Notch Park we are treated with a rare clear glimpse of the towering peak of 6288 foot Mt Washington. Soon we pass into the tiny town of Notchland. Our Moose Gravelle is stomping sub 8's on leg three from his handoff at the Eisenhower wayside rest in the Gorge. On either side of him reigns the majestic White Mountain range. He passes through the shadows of Mount Echo, then Mt Tom and Mt Avalon, each over 3000 feet. On his left is the beginning of the Presidential range: Mt Pierce 4275 feet is named after New Hampshire's only President and then there is Mt Jackson. At 4012 feet this is the most southerly peak of the "Presidents".
On a long downhill he descends to his handoff at the historic Wiley House. Here hikers on the Appalachian Trail have just come down from a night at the Zealand Falls hut to watch the race. Take a right here and you can hike 1900 miles on the Appalachian Trail to Springer Mountain in South Carolina. Go left and you could head 200+ miles to the end of the Appalachian Trail - Mt. Katahdin in Maine. Our moose points his knobby antlers towards the coast 200 miles dead ahead.
Moose Gotha will take over for a 5.4 miles roller coaster trek that will bring him out of the Gorge starting from the Willey House transition point. Sadly, this site is marked for a sudden rockslide in 1826 that buried and killed the Willey family. To the Davis Path he heads where backpack-laden hikers stand ready to hike Mount Crawford. They may even decide to cut over to Arethusa Falls. The largest waterfall in New Hampshire, it plunges more than two hundred feet, tumbling over shimmering gray granite. He passes by the Frankenstein Cliffs, far above sits a popular jagged lookout used by Native Americans. He resists a silly urge to drag his leg like Igor. Our Van rumbles past. "MOOOOOSE". Beware; a herd of moose in a mini-van is slipping out of the wilderness and into civilization.
The roving Moose Buyak thumps the second longest leg of the relay.
A hilly 8.6-mile leg that will follow Route 302 through Harts Location and then into Bartlett. It ends on a long uphill at the popular Attitash ski area. On a long gradual bend in the road our van enter Harts Location. Population 36, the voters here are famous for staying up past midnight every four years to become the first to log their patriotic votes in the Nations first presidential primary.
Our ever-smiling team captain Moose Dorr nervously awaits his own 7.2 miles at the next transition. His planning and coordination will allow us to enjoy the day as rambunctious moose. His leg follows the mountain-fed meandering Saco River. With its sandy bed and rocky rapids it's a great summer place to tube, canoe and kayak down.
He runs past the Sawyer Rock picnic area and on to Echo Lake State Park. This state park is famous throughout New England for challenging rock climbing adventures on the imposing Cathedral and White Horse ledges. The precipitous ledges, smoothed and formed by glaciers are made of steel gray Granite and Shist. Callous-knuckled athletic rock climbers cling to the granite and metamorphic thin strands of quartz field spar and green chlorite.
Curiously they peer down from the 800-foot sheer face of Cathedral ledge. Squinting against the sun they will see the migration of tiny ant runners chasing after white sugar cubes vans. Our van is below tracing the black spaghetti string roads on the valley floor. All in a days work, Van # 1 has hoofed out legs one through six for a total of 31 mountainous miles and left the mountains echoing with moose calls.
I arrive in Van # 2 at the Echo Lake transition area. Here we find a college frat party, carnival, outdoor wedding and old home-days road race all rolled into one. Past the blaring rock and roll, frisbees and colorfully painted bleeping vans, the runners squeeze through the melee to the transition point. Here I wait stretching and waiting while I face the back of a van with a "Just Finished" newly wed paint job. Its bumper complete with old running shoes tied on like noisy cans.
With fresh legs and our early start, Van # 1 has lived up to their predicted times and more. We are one Bull Moose team split into two football squads. Our "defensive" unit has just put us up by over 7 minutes according to our predetermined spreadsheet. We congratulate them - time to run!
At the end of the quarter: Bull Moose: 7 - RTB Course: 0
At transition points we recognize many familiar team vans. Yeah, there's the Texas "Road Kill Chicks", the "TU TU's", "Dead man running", "Muddy Calfs" and the "EMS Sports" team to name a few. I catch a glimpse of a van that keeps pulling out 15 minutes before our moose arrives. The "Lugnuts" van sports a hand-painted version of our state logo "live free or run". I know these runners . . . . . these "Lugnuts". . . . . . .They must be that team from a neighboring town of Stratham NH. A Bull Moose contest versus the "Lugnuts" is about to begin.
Friday 1:05 pm Leg 7: My first leg and the first for the offensive squad Van # 2. I picked this position on the relay as it had the flattest legs and so happens to have the longest total mileage: 20.6. Leg seven is a flat and fast 6.4 miles that follows Westside Road by North Conway. This is the scenic valley course, the same as the White Mountain Milers half marathon in October. A course I know and love to run. . I await the handoff. The metamorphosis to Moose has not taken place yet. With a goal in mind of seven-minute miles and a large Moose sendoff I clomp after my unwitting "Lugnut" target: Cliff Chase. Oblivious to our goal, my "Lugnuts" prey runs ahead, perfect prey for a Moose to stalk.
Separated by two miles of shimmering hardtop we both silently click off the miles. We pass the same white New England farm homes framed by the blue cloudless sky and hayed fields dotted with weathered cow barns. Tall silent cornstalks stand like sentinels saluting us forward towards the New Hampshire coastline, 170 miles away.
I pass the miles catching a "TU TU", EMS, a "Team With No Name" and a "Texas Road Kill" and other team runners. I cheer them on with a Moose call or a "looking good". At about mile three I get to my water stop and Moose Chant from Van # 2. At about three miles I am just under 20 minutes. Too fast! There are no wheel measured mile markers here, nor red LED digital clocks clicking away. It's you, the hills, the sun at your back and the unforgiving road. I throttle back a bit on the quest to catch my "Lugnuts" and pass a covered bridge landmark by the Swift River into North Conway. Finishing my leg two minutes faster than predicted we are still 13 minutes behind the ""Lugnuts"" and Cliff. Bull Moose are not known to worry; with strong legs and cloven hoofs we have 172 miles to go. The pass off goes smoothly to Moose Digger for leg 8. Labeled the "Menagerie" it's touted as the longest and toughest leg, but that is purely subjective. So many of the legs are just leg numbing, mind boggling tough.
Our Moose, Digger struts off to the winding Tasker Road hills. Three miles of rolling country hills to warm up the legs, followed by the steep Maddok Hill, a graded dirt and gravel road made worse by the choking dust of 300 plus vans and cars. Climbing again, ever more steeply, the runners diverge to a rarely traveled footpath along Ridge Road. This leg has a total climb of 750 feet. "It's not really a road, it's like a rock strewn river bed" Digger tells us later "I swear it goes up forever." Finally, Moose Digger, a Moose in his element, crests the ridge top where he enjoys majestic views and spectacular, unspoiled scenery below.
With no time to forage he lopes a downhill mile back onto the paved road. He follows the course along Crystal Lake shorefronts dotted with summer camps closed for the season. Through the small village of Eaton he bulls his way to the finish at King Pine Sky area for a total of 8.8 miles. Sneaking a look through the trees across the street runners glimpse Moose cooling their calves in Crystal Lake. Moose love water. Life is good.
One tough masters' runner from the Chesterfield College runs by with a neck strangely bloated. At mile 8.5 he swallowed a bee. Aggravated by being in the dark, the bee stings the inside of his throat! He gets to the EMT's just in time for a Benadryl cooler. RTB relay runners know the value of a tough teammate!
Leg 9: 27 legs to go . . . . .5:00 pm
The shadows from the afternoon sun stretch long on the asphalt, as does the winding course. Bull Moose Chaffee has taken off for a hilly but relatively short 4.6-mile leg through the little hamlet of Madison. Here the sugar maple trees are so wide their branches overlap the center of the road. Sparkling sunlight spotlights the runners glistening bodies, as they seem to tiptoe through the shadows. The edges of a few leaves show just a hint of the blazing burnt orange color and the spectacular fall season to come.
Moose Chaffee puts in a bullish performance, passing runner after runner. On a long uphill he follows "Texas Road Kill". These attractive female Texan runners are wearing short distinctive "flag of Texas" shorts. True to the states' colors, the left cheek is one large blue star, the other a large red stripe. Moose Chaffee follows ever so closely up the hill. (Moose are near-sighted).
Star . . . . . .Stripe . . . . . . Star . . . . . .Stripe. . . . . go the undulating shorts "Seems like he should be passing her soon?" we ask?
Our Moose averaging 7:30 miles turns the last corner and approaches the finish. Within 50 feet of the finish line amidst a chorus of moose calls he stops dead in his tracks. . . . . . . puts down his head, splays his hands on his ears for a 10 point antler spread . . . . . paws the ground furiously . ............and charges the finish line to the sound of the "MOOOOOSE" ensemble.
A Moose charging a finish line is a spectacle to be seen.
Meanwhile . . . . . . . Back at Bretton Woods 5:00 pm:
It has been a long day of staggered starts. Seven hours and a distant fifty miles behind us the last batch of runners takes off. The "Bucknell Alumni Reebok Distance" team, "Bucknell Alumni FCP", "Harvard College Honor Goats" and "Bucknell Alumni Fossils" to name a few. Each team is ready to run sub six-minute miles for much of the distance. "Bucknell Alumni Reebok", the eventual winners will average 5:42 per mile for the entire 208 mile distance!
Sprightly and efficiently they run. With each mile they slice three or more minutes from our lead. Seven hours back . . .Now 420 minutes, now its 417, . . . . 414 . . . . 411. . . . 408 minutes, it's not a matter of if, but a matter of when they will catch us. Gloooop . . .Gloooop, the smiling Pac Man runner has caught and swallowed the first two team runners. This never to be released Reality TV show for running fans will follow 2000 contestants as they race to stay ahead of the Smiling Pac Man. During the day they are speedy competitors, but soon, darkness will fall and they become the phantom runners of the night.
Moose Battyee takes over next past Silver Lake and through the Chocurua Village. A quick short stride belies his surefooted pace. This course ends with a hill that leaves 5 out of 10 runners bent over walking to the summit, (including the "walking and proud of it" team). Not so our sure-footed sturdy Moose Battye. He approaches the transition point, appropriately positioned at the "Our Lady of Perpetual Help" church. Here he hands off with great pomp and Moose ceremony to Moose Connelly who tackles 5.3 miles of leg 11. It's a wonder Moose Battye had any energy at all. He has just become the proud father of a baby girl two days before. The Moose team is proud, the other Moose wife's think - we won't go there!
At White Lake State Park, a gem of the New Hampshire Parks we meet up with the "Lugnuts" team again. They gleam about their still 12-minute lead, but deep inside we know they respect the ever-charging Moose team. Half joking they explain " We must have a few screws loose. We let our captain have the shortest relay legs, because he has really short legs!" We plan to see them at the next transition at Checkers Restaurant in Tamworth where they have a dinner reservation for 6:40 pm - 20 minutes before ours at 7pm now that's confidence.
Gutsy Moose Connelly hands off with our now famous "MOOOOSE" call to Moose Stoner for the final journey to our dinner destination, the Checkers restaurant. In coming out of the checkpoint he smiles as he reads another humorous van sign "Honk if you like the Runs". Just the type of humor Moose Stoner needs as he has misses his hilly Moose habitat living down in Florida. He will rely on his thousands of years of genetic Moose makeup to get him through this hilly four-mile course and the ones to follow.
Friday 7:00 Pm - 62 degrees and pleasant - 9 hours on the road.
With dusk settling in we gratefully pass the baton to Van #1 and stop for dinner. At the Checkers restaurant we meet teams from all over the USA. Each team a story in the making. We talk with a woman master that has done 100 marathons and looks ready to do another. Her teammate has recently run another Pikes Peak! They smile as we talk about "our hills" and talk about real hill training.
The restaurant nearly runs out of food after serving wave after wave of runner from previous teams. We are waited on expertly and sarcastically by the smart quipping, sassy Michele. She appreciates our need to Hydrate! As a roller blading fanatic she explains how she loves to "feel the burn". She cocks her hip and confides unabashed that it's even better than (well sex). We are Moose, who are we to contest? We await our food for hours and finally resort to serenading Michele with the ballad "Michele, My Belle". Singing Moose can certainly speed up your meal! We load up on carbohydrates and skip off to the leg 19-transition point. We hope to get an hour or two of shuteye. Team "Lugnuts" is long gone before we finish - Moose eat a lot!
Meanwhile - Van #1, the defensive unit slices through the cool night air. Through the Lakes Region they proudly run past the hard to pronounce, Lake Winnipesaukee, Lake Wauken and Lake Squam. On past the popular Wears Beach they slip through picturesque lake towns of Sandwich, Meredith and Center Harbor with only the sound of rubber soles and cloven hoofs clipping through the night. Through the steam off "The Big Lake" they can just make out the MS Mount Washington cruise ship. Large enough to cart up to 1250 passengers a day across the lake it sits in silent reverence.
We are oblivious to their pain and struggle as they meet the darkness and challenge the formidable hills. The course can eat you up, yet Moose are tough, Moose do not fear the night!
Their speedy morning effort catches up to them and the pace slips ever so slightly on the grueling course. Still after over 101 miles and 14 hours of riding, pacing, cheering and running, they approach. At transition area 19 they are only ten minutes over our predicted time.
RTB Course: 20 - Moose: 10
The mother of all transition areas is our sleep destination for Van # 2, the State of NH Vocational Technology School. Here a total of 380 RTB team vans criss-crossing through the day are all now converging like moths to a flame. The staggered start is designed so that most teams reach this transition area between midnight and 1:10 Am. Allowing for a crossover of teams here keeps the traffic in any one spot at a minimum - in theory. At the Vocational Technical Center, Van # 2 moose doze fitfully out in the dewy mowed grass forming a rarely seen wild moose den.
Hundreds of Vans arrive squeezing out straggled groggy runners into the school. I am due to run at 1 Am so I defer any attempt at sleep. Silhouetted only by the light of the red exit sign I peer down hall corridors lined with giant mummy bags, hotdog buns garnished with tangled running shoes. Strolling through the school halls and cafeteria I see runners sleep and snore fitfully. On tiled floors, lunch tables, benches, even under fooseball and pool tables they fidget and snore. Rudely they awake each other with their chiming watch alarms. - Time to run!
Saturday 1:20 AM . . . . .HALFWAY - 18 legs run - 18 to go
I go outside to wake the rest of the team. It's a pleasantly brisk fall evening. At 48 degrees you breath in that wondrously pungent fall smell. A full harvest moon shines over tall white pine trees. You can clearly see the canals and serrated ridges of the pale moon surface. The eerie moonlight casts long bouncing shadows on the pavement as runner's stream by. There shadow exaggerated by the van headlights as they wait for a space in the parking lot.
I wait. Bouncing on the balls of my feet ready I am ready to race like a hundred others. My time to face the dark night! I seriously suspect how I'll do? I haven't gone any further than 12 miles in training. How will I hold up running my full 20 miles in 20 hours? My leg number 19 is seven miles long with short steep ascents and descents of up to 350 feet. Like the others racers I am now part Christmas tree, part safety patrol officer. Clad with a blinking red light on the front and back and an orange nightglow vest I can be seen from the red planet of Mars very visible in the sky. As other runners approach, race directors yell like auctioneers to the crowd. "Number 101, Runner Numba 101, Numba 101 . . . . and another blinking red dot disappears up the highway.
Out of the dark my red dotted Moose appears and I take the handoff. The "Lugnuts" I have heard are long gone, now 18 minutes ahead. Tonight it's me and my shadow. The course goes through a congested intersection and then I am alone. I almost miss my first turn to the left. It is a small country road with just one arrow.
The road is narrow and tree trunks lean heavily towards the road blocking all the moonlight. I am thankful for my last minute decision to run with a small flash light. Very high above and way ahead I see two tiny red dots crisscrossing in the shadows. Could this hill be that long and that steep? Time to connect the dots!
I plunge into the night with my dancing beam like a blind man testing the road before him. Before long I catch my first bouncing red dot just at the top. A women runner is stridently pacing through the shadows. We both run into a wide opening in the trees and are greeted by the star lit sky. Like a six year old I recite: Star Light, Star Bright - First star I see tonight - I wish I may, I wish I might have the wish I wish tonight. I glimpse a small smile form on my companion runner as I head off to catch the next red dot.
Unless you've run in the dead of the night, you can't imagine this surreal experience. Objects seem closer, the sky seems bigger and your perception of speed is just off! You feel as you are traveling much faster than you really are. I thought I was flying down those first hills. After climbing for half a mile, I had two miles of gradual rolling down hill to make time.
Accelerating down the hills was important, as I had sensed a phantom of the night, an apparition, a runner from the last staggered start was behind me. The veterans of the race had many stories of faster runners catching them in dark of night. Without warning they come from behind, clicking off 5:30 miles in the dark. They may pat you on the shoulder and say good job, or say nothing at all. With a whoosh they leave you wondering where they came from and how come they get to go so fast, especially up hill. Staying ahead of this presence became my holy grail for five miles as my phantom runner stalked me. I thought I was cranking, running 6:30's. Finally at the steepest hill on mile 5 he passes me but only to stay 50 feet ahead. Glooooop! (Actual pace was 7:30)
Without warning a true phantom runner goes by, passing us both and disappearing over the rise. Like a steady eddy, I crawl up the last hill. This leg has a 650 feet altitude gain. Now, sloping 350 feet down and a half-mile down below is the transition in the slumbering sleepy village of Gilmanton. A Quintessential New England town with a sharp white church steeple, red brick post office and country store, Gilmanton is the famous "Peyton Place" town. The author, Grace Metalious grew up here in the early 1900's and they even filmed the movie here in 1957.
To my herd of Moose below I am still a tiny red dot bounding down the road, a laser red dot undistinguished from the others on the cool moonlit road. It's 2:05 Am. It's a sleepy end of the summer Saturday morning. With every ounce of air I have I belt out "MOOOOOOOOOOSE". Gilmanton . . . . . population 3,060 . . . . is now awake! Down below the Moose herd call beckons me in. I finish elated and exhausted. Miles and miles to go before these hooves rest.
Will the Moose reach the Beach? Will the wheels fall off the ""Lugnuts"" team? -
Stay tuned to Cool Running for Part 2.
Authors note: All attempts have been made to keep this article factual - my apologies to any teams that I say in error that we mentioned as passing. (Meaning you were so far ahead of us how could we have passed you....) Moose out!
(End of Part 1)