Eugene Weekly : Movies : 4.7.11

The Trail to Transcendence
A documentary on the longest relay race in the world
by Dante Zuniga-West

Hood to Coast: Directed by Christoph Baaden. Produced and Co-Directed by Marcie Hume. Executive Produced by Bill Campbell. Produced by Anna Campbell. 101 minutes.

Nearly two hundred miles of plodding pain, 12,000 runners, 1,000 teams, it is a gauntlet that no single person could do alone. You need vans, coolers full of water, fruit, sandwiches, Powerbars. You need willpower and grit. You need a little bit of crazy, too, in the right way.

The film Hood to Coast, directed by Christoph Baaden, follows the nonstop overnight Hood to Coast relay race, the longest relay in the world. Taking place in Oregon, the race snakes from Mount Hood to the Pacific Ocean in Seaside. Documenting the quest of several teams as they traverse this physically punishing race, the movie is a reflection of everyday people and their self-inflicted personal right of passage. Long distance relay running is just the vehicle; these people are driving themselves towards something far greater than the contest of running. Kathy Ryan, 67, retired school teacher and survivor of 17 Hood to Coast runs, embarks on yet one more of these epic relays after suffering a nearly fatal heart attack during the 2007 race. Her doctor insists that she wears a heart monitor to regulate her pace; she still insists on running.

A collection of mourning family members take on the relay in tribute to their deceased loved one ã at times communing with the dead man while the lonely torture of the race takes its toll. A group of men over the age of 50 (some of whom look like leathery, ass-kicking man-beasts), who call their team “The Dead Jocks in a Box,” treat the race like a circus as they gripe about the pain of aging yet place in the top six of their division annually. As with most sports, the physical act is not what makes severe participation worthwhile. It is the need for transcendence and challenge that beckons people to do this.

Watching the film, one cant help but cheer on each team. Even “Team Thunder N Laikaning,” a group of animators from Portland who insist on eating burgers and drinking beer all the way up to the onset of the race, evoke a sense of affection from the viewer as multiple 3 to 5 mile legs of Hood to Coast eat away at the runners. This relay is a mythic feat for its participants, and watching the film as it follows the onset, progress and conclusion of the race forces the viewer to face a cultural reality of our generation(s): We dont have an overarching national/cultural right of passage, we only have bits and pieces of individual subcultures that we use to define ourselves. These subcultures vary in extremity, from Burning Man to cage fighting and everything in between.

The runners of Hood to Coast are yet one more beautiful band of weirdoes choosing to haze themselves in the baptism of their own religion: running. They run into the sunrise and all through the night. It is nothing short of excessive. Their teams support them, but each runner must battle the topographical rollercoaster of Hood to Coast alone. Baadens film captures this and more, leaving the viewer in awe and fear of what can and cannot be achieved by those who seek to define a life beyond normalcy.

Hood to Coast opens April 11 at the Bijou. Ticket prices vary.