This crammed van is home during the relay.
We arrived at Timberline Lodge to the typical madhouse of H2C excitement. Every 15 minutes there’s a countdown and huge cheer as a couple dozen teams officially start their relay adventure. Something about Timberline felt different this year. It wasn’t that we got to pull up to the front to a rock star parking spot. We always get that after we point to the blue disability placard hanging from the rearview mirror. This time it truly felt like everybody was checking us out as soon as we got out of the van. We had our wigs and capes on as we made our way towards the registration tent. People started asking to take our photos. Then more people wanted to have their photo taken with us. A news crew interviewed us. The on-location news team was initially drawn to us by our pimpin’ getup, but then they got more interested when they saw a wheelchair user participating. Funny that this was my fourth year doing the race but the first time a news crew had ever come across a disabled athlete. I’ve seen other wheelchair racers and handcyclists every year. I guess nobody really gets interested unless you wear some ridiculous wardrobe.
Everyone decorates their team vans with window paint to illustrate their team names or team members’ names. Another custom is to record the number of runners you pass on your particular leg, called roadkill, and mark it on your van. It’s always fun to have a goal of catching up and passing other runners. Most wheelers are faster than a majority of runners already. They don’t even allow disabled athletes on wheels to participate in the first two legs because it is so steep and dangerous. So when the wheeler gets to roll legs three or four in Van 1, they get to do some major sleighing. I handcycled both legs three and four this year in just over 30 minutes, averaging around 25 mph as I enjoyed an elevation drop of nearly 2,000 feet. It was a blast and easily the best part of the race. My roadkill on those legs easily crept into the triple digits. I almost felt guilty. But I knew that my next legs wouldn’t be so easy.
After a Koi Fusion burrito and a quick nap in Portland, it was time to start our middle legs. I did legs 15 and 16 along the rolling hills of Highway 30. No more cruising at 25 mph down Mount Hood. This was payback. It was a beautiful time of day around dusk, but that didn’t make the hills any easier. I can even keep a decent pace on the flats, but get me on the slightest incline and I slow down to a crawl. It’s just impossible to generate that much power with your arms. It was my turn to be roadkill going up those hills, but I got lots of encouragement as runners passed me by. After cresting each hill I would gather speed and start reeling all of those runners back in. I always cheered them on as well, shouting “I’ll see you on the next hill!” as I rolled on by.
As a C6 quad, lacking triceps, I’m really not doing any pushing on the hand cranks. Instead, I spend all of my energy pulling the cranks. Because I don’t have any finger dexterity or strength, I use adapted handles — appropriately named QuadGrips — that have shifters attached to them. I can shift gears while spinning my cranks. I also use a special coaster brake without taking my hands off the cranks. The invention of these devices is like learning to fly for lower functioning quads who lack finger dexterity but have always wanted to use a handcycle. Not having to take your hands off the cranks to shift is huge, because you can keep your momentum and adjust the gears continuously as the terrain changes.
I have been hit twice on training rides by cars that didn’t see my low profile handcycle. I probably could have prevented those collisions if I’d been able to stop quickly. Now that I have a coaster brake, I’m a little safer on the streets. I still wear bright clothing, use a highly visible flag, and have blinking lights on the front and back. It’s definitely worth being able to cruise the streets in a human powered vehicle, even when you’re as slow as a turtle on the hills.
There’s a joke about going through the town of Mist: if you blink you’ve missed it. The town is definitely a small place in the Coastal Range, but its name comes from always being soaking wet. It also is where Van 2 exchanges back with Van 1. That means that when Van 1 finishes their legs in Scapoose, they drive ahead to Mist to get some rest and wait for Van 2 to finish their legs.
I drove through the winding backroads in the middle of nowhere while others tried to sleep on the futon in the back. It’s better to sit in the driver’s seat than fall back and forth in my wheelchair as the van speeds up, slows down, and makes sharp turns. We finally arrived at the huge field/parking lot and scored a parking spot close to the bathrooms. Not that I can get into them. I drain my bladder into a portable plastic urinal and pour it out where someone hopefully doesn’t decide to step.
Sleeping in the driver’s seat simply doesn’t work. I try to put my legs up on the dash but they just spasm and hit the horn to startle everyone. Plus, one of our runners uses a CPAP machine to prevent snoring. Unfortunately, it’s not portable. He’s the only one that gets any true sleep. I wanted to get horizontal in the back on the futon but that would only put me closer to a snorer who seemed to want to saw down the whole forest.
Because there is no cell phone reception in the exchange area, we use walkie-talkies to communicate with the other van when we start approaching the expected time for the next runner. So we’re trying to sleep as the rain is pelting down and the walkie-talkie is turned on to listen for our other Pimps ‘n’ Gimps van. “This is Pimps ‘n’ Gimps Van 1, are you out there Van 2?” Unfortunately, there are a thousand other teams doing the same thing. You can imagine the conversation we had with a non-native English speaker who was trying to locate his team. “Uhhh, no pimps … uhhh, no gimps.”
The Finish Line