Thursday, August 28, 2014

"Hood to Coast with Nuun" -or- "Long Read - #soary" or "Do HTCers Dream Of Any Kind Of Sheep"

There are few happenings in my life that deeply impact me. You know, the events that cause sadness and depression, in a good way, when they are over because you miss being there and miss the people you were with.  Prior to this past weekend, the one adventure that has impacted me like this has been volunteering as “Uncle Jim” at the Royal Family KIDS Camp that my church holds each year.  The bonding with the other camp volunteers and the foster children campers never fails to leave me either in tears or close to it at the end of the week when I go back to my normal life.  I can now add another adventure to that list.
I was one of the lucky Nuun Ambassadors that was selected by the folks at Nuun Hydration to participate on one of two 12 person teams in the Hood To Coast relay, a relay that starts up on Mt. Hood and finishes 199 miles later on the beach in Seaside, OR.  The five short days I spent with my, now, friends at Nuun, both employees and fellow ambassadors, has left deep imprints in my psyche.
Everyone...

I have known I was going to HTC since early this year which kicked in my introverted nerves and they only grew stronger as the date to fly to Seattle drew close.  What was I doing flying solo to Seattle to meet 19 other Nuunbassadors and the Nuun HQ staff?  I consistently avoid meeting new people.  I am an observer first and foremost and typically do not choose to engage with people until I get to know them better.  There are few people other than family that I am comfortable enough with to let my true self come out.  It did help that I had the chance to connect via social media with the people I would be meeting and hanging with prior to heading to HTC though.
I flew out early so I would have a chance to take in some sites in Seattle, but mainly because the Sounders were playing on Wed night and I couldn’t pass up the chance to go to their game.  From the moment I arrived in Seattle, the Nuun staff went above and beyond taking care of me, which was absolutely wonderful. Yes, I attended the Sounders game, which was *awesome*!!  In addition, Nuun set us up on a tour of the new Brooks HQ.  Very nice place.  
The night before we were to leave for the trip to Oregon, Nuun hosted us at their place for a dinner get-together where we were able to meet some of the Nuun employees that we hadn’t met prior to then.  It gave us a chance to get to personally know each other.  At the end of the meal, it was time for each team to decorate their vans giving us a chance to start bonding as a team and giving me a chance to start gathering information, aka observations, on the 6 people that I would be sharing the next ~40 hours with in a van roaming around the Oregon countryside: Kevin being Canadian, Kim being the brownie pusher, uh, I mean specialist, Joe being the graphic designer, and on and on.  This decorating also gave my nerves the chance to escalate when thinking about being “stuck” in this van, which, mind you, included the Chief Electrolyte Officer (CEO) of Nuun, the aforementioned Canadian.  Have I mentioned yet that I am somewhat introverted?  I was worried about how I was going to interact and engage with them because I didn’t want to come across as stand-offish.

Sophia and the Van

The next morning came quickly and I was in the last of the 4 vans to leave Seattle with my half of Team Nuun Energy Lemon Lime.  As soon as we were on the road, my van started the process of getting to know each other better.  Stories from overcoming breathing issues while swimming to military service and recovering bodies of friends killed in service, excitement of an engagement and impending marriage, cool crafted chairs, multiple sets of twins for children, medical research jobs, Sanskrit yoga names, and French minors started us off as a van full of social media acquaintances on our way to becoming true friends.  In addition, it was a chance for me, a relay newbie, to gather some information from my teammates about their past relays and what drove them during the relays, like “roadkill”.  This really helped to settle my nerves and I was looking forward to when it was our chance to run our first legs.



Then traffic happened…

Congestion?? Really? We hadn't noticed (Photo Cred: @trails4life)
I should pause here to state that my van hit traffic pretty much as soon as we hit the southern part of Seattle and we really didn’t get out of traffic until we parked at the condo in Seaside.  And, no, I am not exaggerating.  The traffic getting from Seattle to the first major van exchange was enough to give us all mild stress and had us all calculating our expected arrival time and comparing it with the updates on the arrival time of our team’s Van #1.  These van exchanges, by the way, continued to be stress inducing events for the most part.  No one wants to let down the other half of their team!  Luckily, I wasn’t having to worry the actual driving or navigation for our van.  Our self-proclaimed “token Canadian” had the dubious honor of sitting behind the wheel for the vast majority of HTC, and, for that, I am eternally grateful.


See, I told you... (Photo Cred: @Clean_Lantern)
Once we arrived and delivered Lauren, our van’s first runner, to the exchange zone, the relay became a blur of activity in getting to the next exchange, getting the next runner in place, using the port-a-potties, aka “honey buckets”, whenever and wherever, eating snacks, drinking Nuun, sharing Nuun love with other teams, more conversations, cheering for runners, and “vandalizing” other team’s vans with “I ‘heart’ Nuun”.
I enjoyed this frenzy of watching our runner take off, hurrying back to the van to get to the next exchange before the runner did (did I mention the traffic?), and walking the next runner up to the exchange when traffic was backed up.  The best part was when the van caught up to our runner and we could holler, honk the horn, and provide encouragement to them.  From the first runner in our van to the last, I was becoming so proud of how my teammates were running their legs, in awe of how strong they were on the very hilly or hot legs, and celebrating with them when they finished their runs.
Mixed in that first set of legs was my first run – the 10th leg for my team and 4th for my van.  I had come into HTC still recovering from a calf injury that had me out for several months and almost sidetracked my whole trip.  My calf and how it felt was always in the back of my mind and now it was time to put it to the test.  I have to say that the stories of racking up the roadkill being addictive could not have been more accurate.  Given this, I ran this leg faster than I should have.  It was also my turn to get the boost when I heard Kevin beeping on the horn, and then heard the yelling from the van knowing there were 6 people in there pushing me on.  Arriving at the end of my first leg and seeing my team cheering for me as I handed off to Kim was great too.  I am not one that easily accepts praise and I tend to downplay any accomplishments, part of the introvert in me.  It does impact me for the better, though, just know that.
Then it was off on the “exchange frenzy” again.  The next major van exchange arrived and we handed off to our other van in Portland.  It was great getting to see the other members of our team and talk to them about how they were doing.  As I stepped out of the van at the exchange though, my calf was pretty tight and sore from my first leg followed by sitting in the van.  As we left this exchange and made the drive through the evening to the next major van exchange where we would attempt to get some sleep (unsuccessfully for me), I began having anxiety about my aching calf and whether I would be able to run and finish my second leg.  I don’t know if the rest of the van noticed how quiet I had become, afraid to even mention that it had started to hurt after my first leg and had become worse each time I stepped out of the van.  I quietly massaged it with our massage stick, donned compression socks, and rubbed Biofreeze on it, trying to keep it loosened up.  After we rested for 3 or so hours, we were awakened from our sleep/dozing by a “They will be here in 5 minutes!” alarm.  Poor Lauren had to be ready and to the exchange area in no time flat.  I tried to make it there in time after putting my stuff up but was disappointed that Lisa had come in and Lauren had flew out right before I made it to the exchange area.  I vowed to never miss another exchange if at all possible.
Over the next 3 legs, I had enormous pride for Lauren, Sophia, and Joe and how they ran their 2nd legs over long hills and dusty roads in the middle of the night.  Everyone in my van had become my team and no one was going to mess with my team!  I loved that Kevin was dying to run with one of us during our legs.  I knew he wanted to do more than drive the van, which he was doing so well, making the whole relay stress free for those running.  My exchange was upon us and my nerves rose again.  As I stood in line at the port-a-potty for the umpteenth time, I heard someone calling my name.  In my sleep deprived state, in the middle of the night, in the middle of Oregon, I was quite confused as to who in the world would know me around there.  Turns out it was Megan, our fearless Ambassador “leader” from Nuun and from our other team, Team Wild Berry.  It was actually quite stress relieving seeing her at the exchange.
My life at the exchanges

I started my 2nd run slower to check out my calf.  I had some soreness, but as I ran, it never got worse.  The first mile and a half was uphill and by that point, roadkill obsession took over. Some of the things I remember from this leg: thanking God over and over again for my calf not getting worse and for a beautiful night run, the click of stones caught in the tires of vans, using my headlamp as an arrow targeting the next roadkill’s back, encouraging those I passed and those passing me (fist bumped the 3 guys that passed me) as we were all in this together no matter the pace we were going, running past the long line of vans at the end of my leg, and joy at not letting down my teammates by having to stop and walk.
After I finished, it was time for me to watch Kim and Hyla run their 2nd legs.  At this point, I wanted to walk with the next runner to the exchange area and wanted to meet the runner coming in and take them back to the van.  I just wanted to be there for them whether it was to talk to them or just to be there in silent support.  I didn’t want to miss any of it.
We headed to our last major van exchange by following our own route to get there since the traffic was horrible at this point.  This took us through Astoria which you might know from Goonies, or Kindergarten Cop as Hyla informed us and… there were sea lions. Cool! The rest of the trip was filled with peanut butter filled pretzels and animal crackers washed down with Nuun.  
By now, we had moved from van friends to van family.  We headed into our last legs knowing the end was quickly approaching.  My third leg was in the heat of the day as was most of ours (lucky Hyla).  This last leg was the shortest of my three but seemed to be the hardest given the heat and the hills, but mainly due to my quads being sore from the first two legs.  As we made our way into Seaside to get to the beach, Hyla was finishing.  We missed her finish, but, to me, the finish of the relay was anticlimactic compared to what we had experienced over the last two days.  The best parts were left out on the course.
After a long, hot shower, I sat at the after-relay party and thought about what made the last two days so special. What surprised me, being an introvert, was that in our van we never played any music to fill voids in conversation (unless you count the occasional crooning of a patriotic US song by our Canadian driver), because we never had a void to fill.
How we party... Yoga! (Photo Cred: Carrie Swidecki)

And then it was over…
Thank you Lauren, Sophia, Joe, Kim, Hyla, and Kevin for a truly awesome ride in Lemon Lime Van 2.
Team Lemon Lime Van #2

And thank you Nuun.  I have so much gratitude for Megan and the rest of Nuun for what they did for us and how they took care of us the whole time we were with them.  Our great time was due to them.  I have so much respect for Nuun as a company and for every one of the employees we met.
In the days since I have arrived back home, I have seen responses and reactions from the other Nuunbassadors that are similar to those I have seen after Royal Family KIDS Camp.  Some began talking about it right away while others processed their thoughts for a while before reminiscing. This experience touched us and reminded us that the world is indeed a small place where 26+ people who don’t really know each other can come together and forge a bond over the course of several days, creating friendships that span the country.  To my Nuun Ambassador and employee friends from this 47 yr old introvert, thank you from the bottom of my heart for your conversation, your humor, your listening, your acceptance, your praise, your just being there, and your true kindness.  To me, we won HTC by miles.
My posse...

5 comments:

  1. Jim... you legit made me cry reading this post. Thank you for being such a great teammate!

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  2. Jim, this was such a touching post. I loved reading it and dabbing my eyes as well. Thank you. It was a pleasure to meet you

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  3. Thankful for you being an Uncle at RFKC. I think it's fitting because camp often has "runners" :)

    from a fellow introvert ~

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  4. I love this post-it had me getting all weepy with how heartfelt it is! It's nice to hear your perspective. Clearly you know I'm an introvert too and a fellow 'observer' so it's nice to read a recap filled with your thoughts and feelings during the race-being introverted sometimes makes it hard for people to know what's going on in our heads. You were a great teammate and so speedy! I'm inspired by you and your strength and fast race times!

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