For years I have walked with a team from Portland to Seaside, a distance of around 130 miles each year in a relay called “Hood to Coast: the Mother of all Relays.” Runners begin at Mt. Hood and walkers start in downtown Portland. Our team of 8 members divides into two vans. Van One takes the first four legs then passes the walking off to those in Van Two. Kristin, Sandy, Kaitlyn and I were in Van One. Our start time 1:05 am, Friday morning August 27th. I arrived at Kristin’s house at midnight, loaded my stuff into her mom’s Plymouth van named Bessie, and we drove to pick up Sandy and Kaitlyn.
Kristin walked the first leg and I drove to get us to the exchange where I would begin the next walking leg of the route. The route map was on Kristin’s locked phone. We knew the basics, get on Front Street and stay there. We made it across the river.
“Brian, you just went through a red light!” Sandy calmly said from the backseat. I was so intent seeking to follow the van ahead of us who seemed to know where they were going, I had not noticed. It was 1 am. No one cared. I stopped for the next light and lost the van ahead of us.
Because of construction, we couldn’t turn down onto Front and ended up crossing Burnside Ave. and entering China Town. Driving a maze of streets, Kaitlyn sought to find the destination on her phone, Sandy gave directions from the back, as we journeyed, somewhat lost, through downtown. I began to wonder if we would even get to the exchange before Kristin.
“We are now crossing the river again,” droned Sandy’s voice. Indeed, we were on the Burnside Bridge! I got behind another van belonging to the race and followed it back across the river on the Broadway Bridge but again got separated. This time we ended up in the tiny streets by the train station. Sandy mapped us on her phone and found a way to get to Front Street. She gave me directions. I turned left, right, then left again at her word from the backseat, and after about six turns, we dropped down onto Front Street. As we did so, we pulled alongside walkers and to our surprise, there was Kristin! As if we had done this on purpose, we pulled over, Kaitlyn jumped out with Kristin’s water, asked if she needed anything else. It was the halfway point in her five mile walk!
I was the next walker, walking nearly 7 miles beginning at around 2:10 a.m. Walking alone since we were ahead of all the other teams except for one, in the dark, along the river was the best. I loved the beauty of the morning, recited scripture, and prayed. My body wondered why I was up exercising so early, for certain. Kaitlyn took over after my leg walking 8 miles and then Sandy walked the last four miles before we met up with Van 2 at 630 am for them to take over for us. It was a family reunion: big hugs, stories, and shared goods. Sandy, a caterer, had brought food for them, with a pan and butane burner for them to cook up eggs with supplies for breakfast burritos and then hamburgers with gourmet condiments for later on. She had brought the same for us.
We left Van Two behind, got coffee at Starbucks and drove to where we would meet up with Van Two later, parked and waited. I had brought paints with me. Kaitlyn and I painted rocks, and then we played a round of Farkle. This was the coolest pause in the day. Sandy made and we ate a great breakfast. We couldn’t get the hot sauce opened so got creative with a screwdriver and a wrench!
The Hood to Coast organizers had started walking teams three hours earlier this year, due to COVID, but had not arranged for the volunteers who ran the exchanges to get there earlier. As a result, we often were the first van to reach exchanges, often before volunteers had arrived. The race director sought out our team on the course to get an idea when we might cross the finish line, for he wanted to make certain it was open! We estimated 5 am Saturday morning. We crossed the finish line at 4:33 am, 27.5 hours after starting, a few minutes after another walking team, and five minutes before the first running team from Mt. Hood.
It was an anticlimactic finish as our team was announced to the surrounding darkness. Usually there is a beach party with booths, goods, free stuff and food available, but at that hour nothing was set up. So, instead of that relaxing time and breakfast together, we all drove to our homes.
I think back to that first midnight drive to meet up with Kristin after her walking leg, following Sandy’s voice from the backseat. I obeyed what Sandy said. She became the way for me. I did not need to find the way, but needed only to listen and obey what she said.
What a simple picture! Jesus answered Thomas’ question, saying, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6). In being the Way, we need not find a path, but only need listen for what He speaks and obey him. As Isaiah said, “Your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, ‘This is the way, walk in it,’ whenever you turn to the right hand or whenever you turn to the left” (30:21).