Wednesday, August 13, 2008


Vacation is over all too quickly. Here's a recap of the last day and drive from hell home:

OBX Sandbar 5k. Like its name suggests, it is run on the sand on the beach in Kitty Hawk, NC. To be exact, it starts at "MP 4.5." I found out the first day that MP stands for mile post, which is the general way you get directions to somewhere down there. I arrived early to sign up and get a parking spot and was able to park right near a bathhouse and right across from where the race started. It was actually cool standing around waiting at the early hour of 6:30 am, with a steady breeze blowing off the ocean. Waves were a little rough again that day, and I could see that they had actually come through with some sort of equipment to flatten out the sand some that had not already been flattened from the tides.

The race numbers were something different. I didn't know what to expect for timing in a small race--bibs? chips? popsicle sticks? But this was something new. It was an electronic device that fit into a pouch on the back of the race bib that registered at the finish line and then they scanned it as well. And it wasn't disposable, as I had been led to expect from the timing people in Michigan. The electronic device was attached to another piece of paper or something so it was removable and was returned after the race like a regular chip.

It was a long wait to 8 am, and I was actually very sleepy yet, having stayed up later than planned to get the condo cleaned and ready to leave later that day, so I went back to the car and put the seat back and dozed for a while. I had fortunately used the bathroom just before the long lines formed, but also made the mistake of not going one last time before the race started.

I headed back to the beach at 7:45 and saw that people were still arriving and signing up to run. And I thought the cutoff was 7:30?? Standing around gave me a chance to size up the other participants. I figured it was likely more than half were people vacationing in the area. And it also looked like the women were equally divided age wise: half under the age of 25, the other over 50. Quite a few boys/men were not wearing shoes, but it looked like the majority expected to wear what they usually wore to run: shoes and socks. The problem with this though was just walking around in the sand before, my shoes were filling up with sand, so that was going to be uncomfortable running. But I wasn't going to risk going barefoot for that long.

A couple of final instructions--watch out for big holes that people like to dig and leave and fishing lines--and we were off. It had started heating up once the sun came up, and I could feel it immediately when we started running. It was going to be HOT! I started thinking it had been a long time since I had run a beach run, what like 10 years? How about a week since Steelhead? Yeah, that was more like it.

Within less than 3 minutes, someone's number fell off and was blowing along the beach. Nice. Within less than 5 minutes, people were already walking, giving me a chance to pass people right away. I just kept up a steady pace and didn't push it at all. I didn't want to end up being a walker at some point.

Along with maneuvering through the sand, I also was dodging the waves. Wet shoes filled with sand was not an appealing thought. But some people just ran on through. It wasn't that hard to run on the sand, but it wasn't fast either. I decided not to worry about my time since everyone would face the same handicap. Still, I did have a goal, but wasn't sure where the turnaround was so it was hard to judge what kind of time to expect. The turnaround finally came, I guess anyway. There wasn't any cone or anyone standing there that I could see, just a barrel filled with water bottles if you wanted something to drink and it looked like people were turning back then. I had my own so just turned and headed back. I had noticed that returning runners didn't start passing us until after 9 minutes, so even the winning times would be slow. My time at the turnaround was also slower than I had hoped, over 18 minutes.

The return seemed longer and harder and hotter. I just kept plugging along, passing people occasionally, mainly those who were walking. And as usually happens in these smaller races, a cheater. A guy I had passed way back at the start (I remembered his shirt) was now somehow ahead of me?? Not likely. Well I didn't care that much. It was his conscience. But it did make me wonder how many others were doing the same thing.

One woman I came upon walking would walk a bit and then sprint ahead and end up walking again. I just plugged along, wanting to walk too but not letting myself stop. I really had to go to the bathroom badly and knew that walking would only prolong the opportunity to go sooner. I could not see the finish line but started counting down the minutes on my watch: Only 8 more minutes; only 5 more minutes; only 4...I couldn't wait to get done! And then I could finally see the finish line up ahead and made a tactical error and ran up the sand away from the flat beach sand and then it was a struggle the last 200 yards or so, just like running through quicksand or in slow motion. People I had passed earlier were smart and stayed at the beach level until right at the finish and were able to sprint ahead of me. Oh well, too late to change course now, so I just waded through the sand and finally I heard my chip beep. I was SO glad to be done with that! I heard my name called, but there was no one there who knew me so it didn't really matter. They scanned my chip and then removed it from the pouch and then I was finally able to get to the bathroom, only to have to stand around and wait for people to finish changing clothes or whatever. Hurry up people!

Then I headed to my car to take off my shoes and socks, which were full of sand and did get wet once when I miscalculated on a wave. Some guy parked near me asked if I knew how many people were still running. I looked at him like are you kidding me? Instead, I just said, I wasn't counting. Jeez, some people!

I made my way back to the beach, waded out to cool off, then went to get something to eat and drink. My stomach was growling! I remembered then that I had to pick up my race packet, which they gave out after the race. We got quite a bit of schwag for a 5k: a nice t-shirt of course; an OBX sunglasses case (I thought it was a cell phone holder but the kids convinced me it was for sunglasses based on the size!); an OBX keychain; an OBX sticker,magnet, and cup (and to think I had actually bought these as souveniers) and a frisbee type thing in a little pouch that unfolded (I do not know how else to explain this). In addition, they had a beach party going with a beer tent that seemed pretty popular even at 8:45 am. While I'm one who likes a post-race beer party, not that early in the morning and maybe if I wasn't driving home in a few hours!

A radio station that was there also were throwing out t-shirts and other goodies and I actually managed to catch one shirt. After that, I just waited around for the results. I wished I had something to sit on and totally forgot I had a beach chair in the car. It was getting very hot also, but I could see dark clouds off to the west and hoped we wouldn't be driving home in that later.

Eventually, they posted results, in finish order, and after a check of women in my age group, I could see there were more than 3 ahead of me so decided to leave. I still needed to shower and pack, since we would be leaving around noon.

The Drive From Hell, Chapter 10.

I had planned to leave for home on Monday, when I knew traffic would be lighter, but didn't realize Ed and Renee would be leaving Sunday and of all things that his aunt would want her condo back Sunday. I mean, what's with that?? LOL! So we planned to leave around noon. I was dripping with sweat packing the car, since packing the car is my job only, and the temperature was mid-80s. And as usual, we had more stuff going back than we came with, making for a tighter fit overall. Everyone would have more stuff around them for sure.

The plan was to follow Ed and Renee until they split for their route to NJ and we would continue northward to home. I should have gotten a clue of what the drive would be like as soon as we got in the long line of cars departing the Outer Banks, looking like an evacuation route or something. According to Ed, Saturday would have been much worse with traffic, but considering we were in it on Sunday, that was worse to me. I should have gotten a hotel right then and there, stayed on the beach for the day, and then left on Monday as planned, considering we spent THE ENTIRE DAY in traffic. And didn't even get home.

Before we even got out of NC, it started raining on and off, and was so windy it was unbelievable. And not even a hurricane or tropical storm. So this slowed the drive some. And since there is only one road in and out of the area, everyone coming or going had to take this route.

But the real "fun" started once we got to the Virginia Beach area. As soon as Ed and Renee turned off on their route, we immediately hit a traffic jam. Our lane did not move one inch for 20 minutes, yet the other lane never even slowed much. How does that happen?? I do not do traffic jams, if you remember this from any time before, so I immediately start trying to figure a way out of the mess. I could see an exit ahead but could not get over, so I just waited for someone to not be on the ball and when they didn't move ahead, I quickly cut over and made my way to the exit. Once we got off, I could actually see we were on a road parallel with the highway and I could see traffic was moving, so we continued on for about a mile and as luck would have it, another ramp to get back on, so we were able to bypass whatever was holding things up behind us (an accident we found out).

And then the fun continued because we probably didn't go even 2 miles when we again hit another backup! And we found out soon enough that no one was moving now. We would move ahead one car length and then sit and sit and sit. We eventually called the number they post for traffic info and got a recording that said there was a 7 mile backup and to "expect delays." Ya think?? Frustratingly, this took 45 minutes to get across a bridge (Chessapeake Bay?) and then the tunnel, where I still don't know how we managed to either not rear end someone or get rear ended. As soon as people got in that tunnel and could see traffic was moving, they thought it was necessary to immediately drive 75 mph and change lanes as it suited them. It was crazy!

By now it was around 3:30 and I hadn't had anything to eat but orange slices and a banana all day, so we planned to stop somewhere to eat, but that plan went out the window when we spent the next 3 hours in another mess. 64 north is 2 lanes, and we crept along that forever it seemed. And then once you get off 64 north and go to 95 its like 8 lanes of traffic that have to narrow down to 3 so you can imagine what happened then. It was pretty obvious every person in the state of Virginia was coming home from somewhere. It took us 3 hours to go 100 miles. And the most irritating part? We didn't even need to go that way! We could have continued on 64 north until we got to 81, but I was using the directions we took to go south and meet up with Renee and Ed on the way to NC and didn't know we didn't need to go through DC to get home!

Eventually, I was getting so frustrated with this and we were all hungry so I had my daughter start looking at the map and trying to find a different way to go. I just couldn't face another 100 miles of this, and that's what it would be to get us through DC and onto the PA turnpike. We finally figured out a different route and got out of that mess and were on our way. Oddly enough, I realized the route we were now on was exactly where we stayed overnight the week before, so what should have been 4 hours to that spot had turned out to be 6.

I hadn't made a hotel reservation ahead of time for that night and it was just as well. At least we didn't have the added pressure of having to get to a predetermined destination that night because we never would have made it. I had hoped to get almost to Pittsburgh that day and here it was 7 pm and we weren't even out of Virgnia yet!

We finally stopped at Winchester, VA that night and got a hotel, with a pool for the kids, and right by the highway for the next day. I found out talking to Don that night that we could take 81 to 70 to the turnpike, and a check of the mileage was only going to be about 45 miles. That was a relief!

We didn't necessarily hurry to leave the next day, but were on the road by about 10 am, after breakfast and gassing up the car. Highway 81 was right there where we stayed, but Mapquest and Google both said to take another route first and bypass 81. So we decided to try that since I knew the rest of the day would be turnpike driving, and I wanted to avoid the semis as long as possible.

This other route, however, took us through the entire town with stop and go traffic, through the seedier parts of the town, out to the industrial area, and then the signs disappeared and we ended up back at 81 anyway. So there was a half hour wasted!

Once we got on 81, I didn't realize we would soon be in WV, then MD, and then PA, all within about an hour! And then? Another error. I missed the turnoff to 70 which would have taken us directly to the turnpike (why can't they put that on the sign??) and instead continued on 81, oblivious of what I was getting myself into. Something started nagging at me though and I decided to stop in Carlisle and check the map again. Looking at the map, I could see Carlisle was actually the opposite direction we needed to be going! But it also looked like one of the roads in Carlisle would lead us to the turnpike, so we decided to follow that instead of turning back. Our other option was to continue to Harrisburg, about 100 miles out of our way!

Soon we were on a wild goose chase, looking for the turnpike route and instead getting a close up and personal tour of central Pennsylvania. Lovely scenery to be sure, but roads that were taking us nowhere fast. First we were going north, then northeast, eventually I figured we were going too far east and went west only to end up having to decide where to go from there. Eventually I decided to go back to where we started in Carlisle and get back on 81 and just go the distance to Harrisburg, since we now had been driving around for over an hour. And oddly enough, once we got back on 81, the next exit up would have taken us to the turnpike exit! The map indicated we should have been able to get to this exit from Carlisle, but with 3 exits to choose from, I chose the wrong one of course! So more time wasted, and still about 100 miles farther east than we needed to be!

We finally got on the PA turnpike around 2:30 that afternoon and thankfully we had a smooth ride through there. Where we were and the end of the pike was about 3 more hours of driving, and then on the Ohio turnpike for another 2.5 hours, and then home another 2.5 hours. If you've been adding this up, that meant another 8 hours of driving, when our whole trip from the hotel that morning shouldn't have been more than 10!

If I thought the drive to NC on the PA turnpike was bad, I soon found out that riding through Virginia on a Sunday afternoon, likely the last weekend before school started, was to be one of the worst road trips that would burn itself in my memory forever!

Needless to say, we finally arrived home about 10:45 that night, and after unpacking my car with all of the kids' stuff and heading home, it was about midnight when I got there. It had been a very, very long day! Do you know how many times in all those hours we heard Kid Rock sing "All Summer Long"?? We lost track after about a dozen. I think that song is burned into my brain too. I had done most of the driving because I had more room in the driver's seat than anywhere else in the car. The couple of hours riding in the front passenger seat left me wondering whether I would need braces on my feet to straighten them out after being angled and wedged between bags and coolers we had crammed into the front seat! I could barely walk when I got out of the car!

So soon, it will be back to the old grind at work and training resumes again!


Fe-lady said...

I would have given that guy some arbitrary number when he asked about how many runners...tee hee!

I bet that was a great leg workout!

So sorry to hear your drive home was the disaster that it was...especially seems longer when hungry!

Sounds as if you had a nice vacation though!

chia said...

Oh wow. Did I tell you that we took the Blue Ridge Highway/Skyline Drive home on our trip to VA Beach in March? It was 35mph but we still got home quicker than that mess. I'm sorry that sucked so bad!!!

How was your time on the 5K? I didn't see it in the race report. That had to make the calves burn!

Happy you're home - see you tomorrow!

jeanne said...

That sounds hellish!you went thru d.c. to get to michigan? from nc? yikes!!!

but what a fun run in the morning! and gorgeous photos. i'm jealous!

Christie said...

Oh my! That's one heck of a drive home. Mind you, I assumed you did the drive in a van until I got to the end of your post. You're better than me. I would have killed somebody.

Lisa Slow-n-Steady said...

I would have lost my mind sitting in those traffic jams. Stinks that your vacation had to end on a sour note (the traffic).

cindy said...

Traffic is so annoying. My son says that even my sneezes sound angry when I'm in traffic!

Glad you had a nice vacation minus that part though :)

Calyx Meredith said...

Oh man! Having gone to school at U of MD - I know that stretch of road you were on. Sounds like you got stuck in every possible bad spot. Hope it doesn't taint your memory of the OBX though. Thanks for the race report!