Reach the Beach Relay - 2003
The Running of the Moose - A middle of the Pack Moose team account of the Reach the Beach Relay - Part 2
Posted Sunday, 9 November, 2003
At last count, the Bull Moose team was still running strong. They had completed 20 legs of this 36 leg adventure-race, Reach the Beach.
2:00 AM Saturday - I nestle peacefully into our mothership "moosemobile". Moose Digger takes off for a be-sparkled run through residential Gilmanton. He pulled the lucky straw! With his early difficult run, he looks forward to a serengeti-flat four and a half-mile run. As crowded as a Christmas mall, he weaves his way through a virtual throng of runners. Chatty runners kibitz and enjoy the company of newfound running buddies on the darkened road. Companionship on a lonely night course, priceless.
With a lopsided moose smile and dangling headlamp Moose Chaffee is next to be serenaded off on his 6.4 mile moon light stroll. Destination: JJ Goodwins Eatery and Sports Pub, Barnstead New Hampshire. Granted in 1727, Barnstead is home to nine lakes, 3,886 residents and for a short while 1000 noisy runners and six sleep-deprived moose. Early settlers named Barnstead after Cape Cods' Barnstable and Long Islands' Hampstead.
Grinning infectiously, our beam-antlered Moose Chaffee hands the baton and miners lamp headband off to Moose Battye. He heads out squeezing the drenched headband, a small river of sweat the only sign of our stay. It's transition point 22, 3:45 am, damp, and a cold 45 degrees. A thin droopy fog holds the runners like icy fingers in its grip. It obscures the low valleys and fields we pass. Timeline: 17 hours 45 minutes on the road. The van heater blows a warm "ode de Moose" odiferous fragrance over us. We no longer smell it though. Our senses have reach oblivion. We are in odious olfactory denial.
As I slumber, Moose Battye treks 6.8 miles from Barnstead to Dominics Restaurant at 43.249 degrees north, -71.4 degrees west for those following by GPS. On the map, and in more historical terms that's Chichester, New Hampshire. Founded in 1727, it has an air of royalty, named after the Earl of Chichester of England, Thomas Pelham Holles. The Earl swayed prominently in dealings between the American colonies and mother England. Further back you'll find this property was sold by William Penn, the Quaker and "America's first champion for peace and liberty". Maybe he sold this tract of land to fund his utopian experiment in religious freedom? Pennsylvania? A little New Hampshire "live free or die" genealogy lesson.
We continue a night of endless slow motion Chinese fire drills. Out we stumble into the night air, crawling over running shoes, sweatshirts, athletic bags, pillows and empty water bottles. Our tired Moose Connelly comes in and we corral him like boxing ring handlers. I am the scrappy red, bubble-nosed one saying "Rocky, Rocky you can do one more round". We gather our tenuous warrior, massage his muscles, wrap him in a towel, quench his thirst and rouse him with Dunkin Donuts coffee.
It's now about 4 something in the morning. I've lost track! .... Leg 24
(7.0 miles left for the night shift!)
At the darkened "Country Cookin" Restaurant in Epsom we wish for a hot breakfast. (Van #1 does more than wish, they scoff down pancakes, home-fries and link sausages at the Candia fire station.)
Moose Stoner follows the "less runners, more beer" and "last but not least" runners out of the parking lot singing "Working on the night shift, With the forklift, Working on a night shift yeah, yeah, yeah!" It takes more than a 208-mile relay to dampen Moose Stoners spirits! He will toil the night away towards the evenings' final transition - Bear Brook State Park. At 10,000 acres it's the largest developed state-park in New Hampshire with over 40 miles of hiking trails. Its two cold water lakes are filled with silver blue trout happy to have survived another season. While she has plenty of pristine au-natural space, her parking facilities are miserably crowded. We arrive to a bedlam of 300 vans crammed tight against towering pine trees and mass of runners. This is the twilight zone, a narrow park road lit by an eerie pre-dawn light shows runners silently and mysteriously rising out of the shadows. Trudging up the final hill, their strained faces are etched and tired as Appalachian coal miners.
The next runners wait breaching the flimsy transition area rope. Hundreds of team spectators flock to the area making crowd control impossible. Overworked and under staffed, the officials bark repeatedly at the brouhaha of runners. "Move back!" "You will be disqualified IF YOU DO NOT MOVE BACK". "Take their numbers" one shouts over and over with little effect. Our adventure race has hit a technical snag and so have we. Where is Van #1's Moose Jenkins? He's next! With not a moment to spare our Moose appears ready for the pass off. Van #2 punches the clock and heads out! * Authors note, this is my one and only complaint for the entire race course which overall I give an A- for organization and course selection and a A+ for effort.
5:00 a.m. Dawn is trying to crack open the abyss of the dark Pacific blue sky. Alone with my thoughts I drive the back roads from Bear Brook to Kingston State Park. My fellow moose snore in blissful unison. . (Yes, Moose snore, remember that snowzer!) One of them wakes long enough to groggily ask "ya ok to drive?" and dozes back to sleep.
Kingston State Park: 44 acres of silver meadows, pine groves, wide picnic tables and a Kodak-moment beach. We arrive early before the onslaught of other vans and bed down on soft pine needles and sweet smelling ferns. Down for the count, we capture three hours of blessed dreamless sleep.
Saturday: 9:00 a.m.
I wake to sunlit shafts illuminating the grass with beads of dew like shattered glass. Colorful mummy bagged runners are everywhere, like Easter eggs waiting to be collected by a near-sighted giant. Strolling to the beach I wiggle my toes and cool my calves in the lake mirroring the clouds above. The rest of the herd awakes and we treat ourselves to a breakfast buffet served by the Girl Scouts. They selflessly gave up their Saturday morning sleep -thanks girls! Touring the grounds I search in vain for the "Lugnuts" van. They must be long gone? I am curious to see how much further they are ahead of us now. I smile as I notice "Texas Juicy Booties", "Guns and Horses", "Glutinous Maximus", "Faux Finishers" and "Dallas Dirty Dozen" teams. Will a humorous name help you finish this adventure? You bet! Achy and sore all over, I am ready for a final nice, relatively easy 7.2 mile run.
The Moose team stretches and rests up for the final reach-the-beach effort. I use "the Stick" on my quads and hamstrings. (Caution: shameless promotion ahead) "The Stick" is a pliable plastic do-hicky with two handles on the end and movable rollers. Moving it up and down over your exposed muscle mass loosens those gritty, grizzly, hard to loosen knots. Curious runners stop and ask if it really works? Moose Chaffee is quick to initiate and beguile a few shapely calves of the female persuasion! Sure does! Moose have an affinity for calves.
Saturday 12:00 Noon 70 degrees (26 hours - but who's counting)
Time to run. I jog easily to the starting line and blink my eyes in disbelief. . . . . . "The Lugnuts"
- they're here? Is this too good to be true? Or, too true to be good? I spot Cliff and my head spins in disbelief like Wiley the Coyote going over a cliff. Beep Beep, there goes that Road Runner again.
In comes Van #1 to update our race position. "5 minutes out is Moose Dorr" they report. The "Lugnuts" are just in front . I look at Cliff, his Paul Newman blue eyes sparkle and he nods his noggin as if to say OK here we go again! "Cliff I am cranking 7's till I drop" fair warning, and in comes the "Lugnuts" runner. I start my watch as Cliff peels out. His red singlet flutters in the breeze and he fades away quickly down the street. I wait. 30 seconds . . . . . 45 . . . . . 1 minute . . . . . 1 minute 20. Here comes our Moose! 90 seconds back I start. No easy run today!
Cliff is just far enough ahead for me to see his shirt snap in the wind, but not close enough to catch. We are an inseparable duo, tethered together by a 300 yard long bungie cord. It's elastic swings me up and over the hills. It kareems me around the corners like the end skater on a whip. At each uphill the cord stretches taught drawing me upward. On each downhill I reel in the tether, looping it around my shoulder. Begrudgingly, I let it out again. Two miles out...The MOOOOSE call sounds. "You're still 90 seconds back". Three miles goes by.. 21 minutes.. 4 miles . . . . . And there you go - nothing left! . . . . . Mind and body have reached an irreconcilable difference. The once pliable quads are stumps, cold pistons being pulled forward only by will and by the tether Cliff so graciously let out. Ready to say "uncle" I come upon the "Lugnuts" team. With camaraderie and enthusiasm they cheer me on with a "MOOOOSE" call. Such is the spirit of relay. I hold on precariously to the fleeting image ahead.
Two to go. On to mile 5 I struggle, entering Exeter NH, my birthplace, my running alma mata. I am intimate with the soft curves of the road, each gently incline, every crack in the road. Here I am again on my favorite high school six-mile loop. One summer day as a sophomore runner I ran this exact same course - barefoot. I was sorely mistaken thinking it would make me fast like Abib Bikila, the barefoot Olympic Marathon champion. They say muscles have memory? But will they remember 33 years back? Like the final miles of a marathon I focus intensely and finish - depleted, exhausted, but welcomed by the MOOOOOOSE tabernacle chorus. 7.2 miles - 50:40 seconds. . . . . . . . inexplicably, . . . . indubitably . . . . . unbelievably . . . . 90 seconds exactly . . . . behind Cliff...... That's one tough lug! Like drunken sailors we empty our water bottles as champagne over each others' heads. Grinning madly I declare a tie!
Moose Digger takes a most historic run through time on his loop through Exeter. In the 1770's Exeter served as the capital of New Hampshire at a time when the state was the first to break away from England. It produced the States first written constitution. It cast the deciding vote to form the 13 original colonies. It was the Revolutionary capital for a short while and it's arguably the birth place of the Republican Party, formed by Amos Tuck, Oct 12, 1853.
With fierce determination, he runs by austere colonial and brick federal style homes. Next he'll run past the ivy-draped quadrangle of dorms, home to one of the worlds most prestigious secondary schools, the Phillip Exeter Academy. A school that has educated many captains of industry and the sons and daughters of the rich and famous. Robert Lincoln matriculated here in 1860. Moose Digger passes 7 Pleasant Street where Roberts' father, candidate Lincoln, stayed the night in 1860. The next day, Lincoln gave speeches in Exeter and in several other towns that seemingly lead to his being nominated for the Presidency.
Gritting it out, he heads downtown past Folsoms Tavern where in 1789, George Washington visited here on horseback for an early, unexpected breakfast. Most recently, the 13th original draft version of the U.S. constitution was found under some boards in the attic. This priceless document showed original annotations on the border by our founders.
If you are Moose Digger and you glance quick enough you might see your own reflection in the bulls-eye glass windows of the Gilman Garrison house (cir.1680) . Or, who knows, maybe you'll see the ghost of Daniel Webster from his desk, watching your compact stride. As if the town has bipolar patriotism, Digger finishes his loop by passing the Tyco Headquarters.
Moose Chaffee hits the pavement for a modest 3.5 mile run that will end at the North Hampton School. Our friends the "Lugnuts" stay deceptively close, but out of reach ahead. Will this end in a sprint to the finish? This has been a race more in my mind than anyone else. This adventure is a "race" to finish, not to beat any other team. I can honestly say, the competition was more a figment of my imagination than any others. The good-natured fun, the camaraderie, we're here to finish... but . . .It sure would be nice to catch them!
Like the marathon coverage that takes a commercial break right when the lead runner makes a move. . . we miss it. Moose Batty runs smoothly and evenly up on the "Lugnuts" runner.
A mother of three, she is struggling to maintain a steady pace. A novice runner, she has run much farther than she had ever dreamed possible. In the true spirit of the relay, she is cheered enthusiastically by a wild traveling western show. Her family and friends dressed like Western movie extras are there for her at every mile. Several are even decked out in feather boas. She grandly takes one and drapes it around her neck. It's not how good you run, it's how good you look running! Moose Batty waits patiently than passes her with kind words of encouragement. Bull Moose, again the docile ruler of the woods.
Moose Connelly takes us through the town of Rye New Hampshire and into North Hampton. It's only a matter of a few miles now, (6.5) but he has no trouble focusing. This Moose like all the rest of us has traveled 200 miles over 29 hours, through 30 transitions points, 5 counties and 27 towns! Yet we are all in great spirits, still cheering and hooting and yelling (of course ) "MOOOOOOOOSE". (Three weeks later when I go to a race other runners will be yelling Moose at me.)
Moose Stoner takes over for the last flat 5 miles along the beach. The sky has clouded over with temps in the 50's. We still have no idea what place we are in, somewhere in the middle of the pack we hope. The speedy teams finished around noon, even starting 5, 6 and 7 hours after us! Anxiously we all await the sign of our Moose. With a grin from lopsided ear to ear he stomps in. The Bull Moose team tradition started years ago continues with the whole team running the final ¼ mile to the finish, yelling MOOOOOOSE. Smiles and pictures and high-5's are what we came here for. The Moose team some the best of friends, some were strangers. We come from all walks of life, all types of backgrounds, but running somehow bonds us all as equals, bonds us in a way that other sports cannot. Reach the beach - much more than a race, much, much more than an adventure.
Where did the Bull Moose end up? Somewhere between New Balance Chicago II and Boston Cream we finished: 29+ hours - 125th place overall, 4th in our division (out of 4 - gulp) - 8:37 per mile pace. And The Lug-Nuts: 140th place 30+ hours 8:47 pace. In a 5K they would be only 30 seconds back!
Many thanks to the members of the Bull Moose team for letting me be part of their team.
Great guys all. A special thanks to the "Lug Nuts" a fun team to chase after. As for Cliff Chase, yes, that is a real person. I am still trying to catch him, most recently ran behind him all the way in the Mountain Milers half marathon.