If growing older gives someone license to reminisce, Cindy Hiester and I took full advantage of our years when we looked back on an event we helped hatch 22 years ago, the Great Columbia Crossing. Both of us were members of the initial race committee that got the Crossing going.
In fact, Hiester is probably the least-celebrated key figure in the history of the GCC. For the first 10 years the event was happening, she and her business students at Knappa High School processed event registrants and tabulated results.
"I've always thought that real work is the best training students can receive," says Hiester, now in her 27th year at Knappa. "And the Crossing was the first real-life training used in Knappa High business classes." In lieu of Crossing involvement these days, Hiester's students operate and manage an actual bank, the only high school branch of the Bank of Astoria.
Here are a decade's worth of behind-the-scenes fond memories and memorable moments from past Great Columbia Crossings to ponder and laugh about while you're training for this year's event.
Besides getting permission from the states of Oregon and Washington to stage a race across the Astoria Bridge (walkers weren't part of the event until a decade or so ago), the first race committee was charged with the task of devising a traffic plan acceptable to all the state, county and municipal agencies involved with the event - no small task. Local dentist Jeff Leinassar fashioned a strategy that has stood the test of time, even though almost every other detail of the GCC has been revised.
No one knew how many participants to expect for the first crossing. When more than 1,500 showed up, race committee members were simultaneously gratified and horrified. Fortunately Mark Steinberg - then a Knappa High School science teacher and now a Seattle-area resident - was in charge of the finish line, the most problematic part of the event. Wary of electronic timing, Steinberg designed a manual check-off system for finishers. It didn't work perfectly, but it was the only arrangement we had at our disposal when our timing apparatus arrived from Salem on race morning out of order.
I was aboard the first bus that transported runners from the Port of Astoria (race headquarters the first year) to the starting line at Chinook County Park in Washington. This was back when the Astoria Bridge cost money to cross. Problem was, no one told the toll booth operator we were coming. I had to hop out of the bus and guarantee payment before that conscientious State-of-Oregon employee would allow our group of howling runners and one exasperated driver to pass.
Three days before one of the early crossings, Hiester and I staged an all-night race packet stuff-a-thon at Knappa High School, assisted by former English teacher Susi Brown and Oregon State Forestry employee Steve Skinner. Our foursome toiled from 10:30 Thursday evening until 8:30 Friday morning. And we got more than 1,000 packets completed in time for pickup Friday night.
The weather in 1985 wasn't just bad; it was atrocious! Winds crested at 60 miles an hour and nonstop rain fell in sideways torrents. The rallying cry among that year's participants became "I survived '85." Runners in the lead pack said they regularly switched places because none of them could stand straight for very long running into the wind and rain.
That same year, I volunteered for traffic duty on the Astoria side of the interstate bridge. After more than three hours exposed to the horrendous weather, I was so wet and cold that I hustled home and took a hot bath with my clothes on.
After yet another wet crossing, results were tabulated on computers at Astoria's Clatsop Community College. Hiester's students were imputing results, but they could barely decipher the result sheets because the pages were wet and stuck together. No problem for that group of inventive teens: They used hair dryers to blow-dry the papers and make the names and times legible.
In one of the late-'80s Crossings, a handful of volunteers - four students and one adult - were inadvertently left on the Washington side of the interstate bridge without a way to get back to Astoria. Seems the driver of the "sweeper" bus mistakenly passed them without stopping. In desperation, the volunteers hitched a ride from a motorist.
Walkers used to get a head start in the Crossing. The years Hiester participated as a walker, she fondly recalls being passed by flocks of runners and shouting encouragement as they raced by.
Lois Kiljis and Andy Piercy, two Tacoma, Wash., residents, met at the first crossing and became fast friends with the ever-hospitable Hiester. Now married, Kiljis and Piercy have participated in every crossing, and they visit Hiester every October in Astoria.
Richard Fencsak is co-owner of Bikes and Beyond. His column appears the second and fourth Thursday of each month in The Daily Astorian.
22nd annual Great Columbia CrossingWhat: A 10-kilometer (6.2-mile) run or walk across the Astoria Bridge from Washington to Oregon.
When: Oct. 12, 9 a.m.
Cost: $20 by Sept. 30, $25 thereafter.
Info: Astoria-Warrenton Area Chamber of Commerce, 325-6311; online at www.greatcolumbiacrossing.com