DUSK ‘TIL DAWN
When we last left our heroines in Tutu Much Fun, three-quarters of the ladies from both teams were all converged at what Ragnar Relay refers to as a “major exchange.” It is where the last person in a van hands off to the first person in the next. I completed my first run and Renee was just getting Bad Ass Mother Runner van 2 off and running.
I was pretty hot as I started walking around exchange 6. It was like a big party going on with vendors and tents and samples of running products. Jill was on top of making sure that I got anything I needed and snagged me cups full of Nuun from their samples table. I was still hot and needing to cool down but the ladies in my van were really wanting to get some warm food. They plotted out the closest Chipotle and started to drive to Hagerstown.
Just as we were pulling out of exchange someone in the van said, “Hey, there’s Charles Manson!” Riding shotgun again, I rolled down the window and yelled to him. He broke out in a big grin and limboed (yes really limboed) under some traffic control tape over to our van. We cheered for his spirited dance and he gave me a high-five exclaiming that flashing my “Bad Ass” booty shorts was the best thing on their drive down the mountain. Runners on the Lam enjoyed a good laugh and I was pepped up by their spirit, a win win moment.
Our van had down time as van 2 ran hard for hours. After our burrito run in Hagerstown, we made our way to Clear Spring High School at Exchange 12 to wait for the hand off. The school grounds included lawns and practice fields. Hundreds of tired relay runners had found shady places to drag out their sleeping bags and catch some shut-eye until they started running again. I realized I had no energy to set up my hammock and joined my teammates on the grassy knoll.
I spread out my sleeping bag but my body smelled so bad that I gathered my stuff up and took advantage of the school offering $1 showers. The line for the private showers was long and just wasn’t moving. Someone said, “There is a communal shower that has no wait.” I looked in and it was true! After piling my stuff in the locker room I took advantage of what felt like the best shower I had ever had. The water was searing hot, the spray was forceful and the shower head at just the right height and angle to help knead out my trapezius. Because there were many open shower heads in the communal area, I didn’t feel like I was holding anyone up and took as long as I wanted. I had been battling a headache since the starting line and the shower made me feel like a new person.
Back on the grassy knoll, I finally laid down on my sleeping bag and shut my eyes as the sun’s angle became more acute. The bright white of the day was changing into a golden late afternoon with a sky that was so blue it made my heart beat faster. My eyes kept opening to look a the chittering swifts that were flying high overhead and I had another of those, “this is what I will remember,” moments. Sarah was sleeping beside me and my other team mates gathered back on their sleeping bag to chat just beyond her. This time was meant for sharing and I scooted over to chat.
The rest of the time spent at exchange 12 was that of camaraderie. We got to know each other better, ate Nuttzo on bananas, drank Nuun from our Ultimate Direction bottles and laughed at the silliest things. As the rest of the van got showers, I read tarot cards for Bethany and Schuyler then showed them my LED get up for my tutu.
In my last post I mentioned I was never comfortable with the tutu. It made me look as wide as I am tall so I tried to make it fun for me by adding Bad Ass booty shorts under it or pinning strings of lights to it at night. They made for a great unified team costume, were awesome for spotting team mates at a distance but it made me look pretty damn dumpy. I kept it fun by holding it out and posing in a curtsy. Laugh clown laugh.
When the rest of the team got back from the showers, they were laughing and had stories to tell. Sarah had braved the communal shower to find that a fan of her writing approached her as she stood there in the buff. They also said they knew why it was my favorite shower of all time; the shower heads were about 4 feet from the floor. Oh yeah, I forgot that might matter to the ladies that are close to 6 foot tall.
Leg 13 – Disco Balls
We had been getting updates from van 2 and got ready to be running again around 9:00 PM. I hadn’t slept a wink and still felt pretty darn good. Shenanigans and hilarity kicked into high gear as van 2 rolled in and Schuy got to set of on her second run of the day.
Navigating small town roads at night was a little harrowing but being able to see Schuy’s crazy flashing jelly bracelet and rings was easy from a distance. We were able to cheer for her as she tore it up on her 4 mile night run.
We saw a water stop along the way that would hopefully be helpful for all of the rolling hills she had to tackle. We ended up at a little Mennonite Church, one of the rare exchanges that had no port-o-potties at it. Of course that meant we all immediately felt like we had to pee.
Leg 14 – Skunked!
Bethany got the hand off from Schuy and headed out just after the most memorable team, The Wounded Veterans. They had been staying at our hotel and ate at the same restaurant as we did the night before. Many of them were missing limbs or walking with the aid of metal crutches. As they made their exchange every team around clapped and cheered for them with real passion. I stood beside Nicole, whose husband is in the Army. We looked at each other and were chocked up as two of the Wounded Veterans determinedly set out for their next leg. I believe I said to her, “This Ragnar moment I will never forget.” I have tears in my eyes as I type this now.
The narrow roads leading into Williamsport, MD were congested in both directions. Bethany had no shoulder to speak of, lights of TGIF bar hoppers were constantly in her face and she had to navigate through no less than 6 intersections with lights before reaching the American Legion. Little did she realize the worst was yet to come.
As we waited for her, Nicole got ogled by a patron in the shared parking area. Jill got ready and we watched like hawks for Bethany and listened as this exchange was reading out team numbers. It was very helpful at night when they did that.
We were surprised when Bethany came zipping into the exchange and the Ragnar official says to us, “There’s one of your ‘skirts’.” No number, just “skirts.” This slowed the hand off to Jill down and may have caused another team to skunk us. How frustrating! The official did apologize for the skirt comment but I guess Bethany’s race bib got flipped and the official 1/10 mile out couldn’t read it.
Just as Jill powered out of the exchange I said, “I smell skunk.” Bethany had run directly through skunk spray and could even taste it on her lips. She was able to clean herself off well enough that I never smelled it in the van.
Leg 15 – Like the Speed of Light
Jill’s leg took us out of Williamsport into more rural areas. At one point the runners had to be careful of on and off ramps from I81. We cheered for our speedy and glowing runner as she headed toward more remote roads and some very narrow one lane bridges.
Many vans had been decorated with colored lights on the inside and added to the festive feeling of each of the exchanges. The lot we made it to next to get Sarah ready to run was very congested. We got parked and walked with Sarah down to the exchange chute. It was on the other side of a ditch so only the runners were to be near the hand off area. Thankfully they were calling out team numbers clearly and we could hear (and see) when Jill was approaching. Their exchange went perfectly and we carefully guided Jill around the ditch and up to the van. She had made marvelous time; our van was edging faster than was projected yet again.
Leg 16 – Another Mother Runner
The night was very dark and the line of vans crept along in an orderly fashion. Sarah’s leg blessed her with over 5 miles of rolling hills and narrow county roads. I know we crossed over another single lane bridge and drove along a half of a mile of cornfield soon after we passed her with quiet but heartfelt cheers. It was about 10:30 PM as we joked about how we could hide in the cornfield to surprise her. It would have been a spooky surprise.
Another small church parking lot was the next exchange and we had a hard time finding a space. Just in front of the main entrance to the little Lutheran Church one of the vans was backing out, perfect. There was something very familiar about it but I was getting tired. KNIFE HANDS was long gone and it wasn’t Runners on the Lam, it looked a lot like our van. It was Team Dimity! We were catching up to them!
Sarah came into the exchange and had shaved even more time off of our van’s projected time and we knew Nicole would do the same.
Leg 17 – Midnight
This new moon night was like no other. We we driving farther into the country side and no city lights were polluting the sky out near little Keedysville, MD. It was inky black other than the vans following the runners and they were getting more and more spread out as the night wore on.
Nicole’s leg was a hard 7+ miles of rolling back country roads. She chose to run with a single Knuckle Lights and some of the blinky jewelry that Schuy had provided. She wore a couple of jelly rings on her shoes and I thank her for this. She was easy to pick out as we drove past her and I knew we would have a good chance of seeing her coming to the exchange at Mt. Carmel Church.
Jim and I had scoped out this exchange when we had gone to the Small Press Expo (read in Press On blog entry) but I hadn’t envisioned it across the road for some reason. Silly of me, of course it would be there to run against traffic.
I stood on the church side for a while but had a hard time looking down the road into the van lights. I was also dismayed to realize they weren’t calling out team numbers at this exchange. I flicked on my LEDs that were pinned to my tutu and waited as long as I felt safe until I crossed to the side of the chute.
One team made the exchange in front of me and I saw the new runner smack her ear phones in place and took off. After the church, she wrongly made a left at the next intersection. The official kept yelling and yelling to get her attention but she couldn’t hear because of the ear phones. A van had to chase her down.
Bethany and Jill were on the other side of the road and I yelled over to let me know if they saw Nicole. They said that they saw someone with a Knuckle Lights coming and verified that she had blinkies on her feet. I started my music well in advance and the exchange went very smoothly thanks to my team mates. Nicole always came in quickly.
Leg 18 – Stars on South Mountain
My leg was short but intense. I had been training on a road that led up Nittany Mountain so I was excited to see if my training would pay off. I knew the first couple of miles had significant climbs, the first averaged over a 5% grade and the second over a 6% grade. My local hills averaged about a 4 but I ran them hard and at night.
I was passed by about 4 runners on this leg and all were very friendly. Two men passed me on the way up and two women on the way down. I had the top all to myself and it was glorious! I crested the first climb and could see the horizon moderating through the trees. My music, In the Upper Room by Philip Glass, had settled into the seven minutes of Dance 4. It is a piece that is mesmerizing and methodic with flute trills and trumpet pulses over the signature syncopated violins. More important than that, I saw my son and his company dancing to Twyla Tharp’s choreography in my mind’s eye. It is relentless motion for the whole piece and I pushed steadily as I made it to the first plateau about the time Dance 5 started. A breath of cool air and the sound of crickets blessed me as I prepared for probably the hardest grade I had every tried to run.
The next mile was solid climbing and as it neared the crest it got increasingly steep. My pace was not fast but I was not going to walk. Dance 6 had minor chords that echoed the increasing difficulty and I could envision the parts of the choreography my son had performed. I knew the climb would end sometime and I would not stop. I kept with the relentless music.
My prize was crossing the Appalachian Trail at the top of South Mountain with a sky so dark that I could see millions of the tiniest most vibrant stars. I had never experienced a moment of elation quite like it before. Alone, in the dark, atop a mountain, I was jubilant.
The road immediately tipped steeply down and I was glad for the few vans that soon lighted my way. It was hard to see the angle of the descent with my headlamp and I tucked the LEDs into my waist band so they wouldn’t blind me as I looked down.
As I approached the turn to the South Mountain Creamery exchange, another major one, I could distinctly smell cows. I could also see an official and knew he might want to read my number. He was still quite a distance out and I heard him in a very conversational level of voice testing me, “Can you hear me?” I replied clearly, “Yes I can!” He then told me exactly how he wanted me to cross the intersection and turn then asked my number. I complied and added, “306 coming in!”
I could hear a woman on a bull horn yell out my approach but instead of the team name it was MY name! Renee had her use my name and everyone cheered like I was a star. Me and my glowing tutu buzzed in to hand off to Renee. I was thrilled that I had not walked at all on South Mountain.Was anybody awake enough to get ice cream? Did we ever get any sleep? How did we endure the next day with the heat index reaching near 100°? Return at HIGH NUUN to read about our final Ragnar DC legs and cheer us on to the finish!
Thank you to ALL my teammates for taking photos that I have used here. Jill, Lorraine, Nicole, Schuyler, Bethany, Michelle, Renne and Sarah took so many great shots and I must give them credit.