Each time I have run the Cascade Lakes Relay, I have wished I had something to record the voices in my head (no not ‘those’ voices) as they tried to describe the event, the landscape and the experience of a Relay through the exquisite world that is Southern Oregon. To put this all in context, this year, my fifth time participating in the Cascade Lakes Relay and I came back after the first one because of the sights, sounds and scenery that assaulted the senses from the first hours of leaving Diamond Lake to the final stretches as we rolled into Bend and the finish line. Along the way taking in snowy peaks and the amazingly blue lakes along the Cascade Lake highway. 2013 marked my fifth year of participating in this event, and my new red shirt was quite the surprise as I had not realized that I’d been at it that long.
So, trying to capture my thoughts and feelings and the privilege of running an event such as this, I went back to some of those voices. The ones that have not completely gone away, despite me sitting at my desk and the noise of the regular work day.
The van is loaded and Van 2 team members have it down to a fine art. No extraneous food or personal items that don’t factor into the event. Nothing that we have to dig through to get to what’s necessary. Cots and a collapsible chair, because you know there is no scrimping on comfort . The cooler is a sensible size and the baggage kept to a minimum. Zip lock and Eagle creek bags keep everything in handy grab sized packages. Even my Mountain Hardware down jacket comes along, in a tiny stuff sack of course.
Our first challenge of the event was while loading up; we realized that the pens we bought to decorate the van were next to worthless. Some broken and leaking profusely while others were unable to provide anything more than a dribble of the fluids within. In the spirit of the event we pushed through and managed to get something on the windows and headed out to the first exchange point along Highway 97 and onto the Silver Lake road to meet up with Van 1.
Up on the high desert plateau the air is dry. The sky, a deep blue, decorated with white clouds moving lazily across it leaving dark shadows that tracked their movement. Each blocking the sun periodically to provide a brief but welcome cooling as they silently slipped off into the distance to be consumes in the haze. The constant shape shifting leaving you marveled at the ability for something to large and mobile to float and glide through the sky. The smell of the high desert in the senses, pine rich and sweet permeates everywhere as the tree’s bake in the heat.
My first leg kicked off at mid to late Friday afternoon, and the sun was not yet dropping low in the sky, but the shadows beginning to lengthen slightly, and the countryside quieted by the days heat and waiting pensively for the cool of the evening to come. That moment in the day when everything is waiting patiently for the sun to finally drop so that the evening can begin.
The first quarter mile, uphill, my heart rate climbing steadily before I crested the rise and began the gradual decent on the other side. The road, initially straight, began to twist and turn through a fantastic landscape. To my left, the hill rose a couple of hundred feet. Covered in brush, stunted pine’s, dead trees and a walls of volcanic rock that had been sheered from the ground and left to cool in these long slabs that stair stepped down to where I ran. The ground, sandy and unforgiving, home to the straw colored grass that gave the scenery it’s distinctly dry and parched look. Barbed wire, rusted and sagging in places, all held tight to posts made of rock piles bound into a column stretched out into the distance. To my right, the valley dropped away, past the odd ranch, brush and sparse forest before going back up to the ridge on the other side.
In front of me was even more astonishing. Below, the flat valley floor stretched out into what seemed like eternity. An endless plateau of the same straw colored earth that met the blue and white sky in an indistinct line of dirty white and grey. Dark shadows from the clouds spotted here and there. Large buttes and rolling hills, black and solid lined the sides of the valley left and right funneling the view and drawing the eye to the far distance. I was alone for the most part, in a window of space and time where I was the only person. Hardly a car, van and certainly no other runners, just me, alone with my thoughts, the sound of my breathing, dry and labored in the altitude and low humidity of high desert. The pounding of my shoes on the hot tarmac, the clicks and pops of crickets and beetles in the tree’s, occasional calls from a hawk and the drumming of my heart in my head. Solitude and freedom, movement and persistence, remoteness and connectedness, belonging….this, right here, right now is why I love this state, love to run and love to be outside. I’m four hours from home, running through a completely different landscape. Dry, sparse, yet bursting with surprise and showered in beauty.
Off to my right, a ranch appears. The green tin roofs standing out against the subtle colors of nature. Nothing moves in the heat. Yet still I pound out the miles, one foot driven in front of the other, oblivious to the motion, awed by the world around me. More rock, more road, more tree’s. And then, like an oasis in this hot dry place, a river. An air conditioned space surrounded by tree’s. Small birds, grass, green and lush. A ribbon of life carving through the unforgiving landscape.
The exchange appears in the distance, only a short while later it’s all over. The real world crashes in. Cars, Vans, people, noise…..but I am still out there in my head, breathing in the hot air, feeling the road beneath my feet. Can I get a do over? Re-live the run and the experience. Feel the world around me and connect with that inner self that watches, listens and gives the voices words.
The next runner, off to another exchange. The night is coming there are more legs to run.