The Downeast Sunrise Trail (DEST) relay is one of the great races in Maine. It holds the distinction of being the only overnight relay race in the Pine Tree state and lets competitors enjoy the natural beauty of some of Maine’s quieter camp towns. I was honored to be part of the Central Maine Striders (Streakers?) team with my greatest asset being a reliable (read: available) SUV.
Not only was I new to the race, but it’d also be my first time visiting each town along the trail. Ron spent the drive passing on such geographic gems as Eastport being the easternmost city in the US (because Lubec is technically a town). I listened intently as Ron had won a marathon up there a few years back and his insider knowledge of the terrain was bound to
save us valuable minutes.
After a delicious pizza and pasta dinner, we arrived at the starting point to a mini rave. The Wackos from Waco, a fellow perennial team, were busy weaving glowsticks onto an old mountain bike. This psychedelic figure would always appear at the end of legs; a luminous siren shepherding us to cold water and starchy treats.
The team took off at 10:30pm with me taking the lead leg. The typical start-line adrenaline was magnified by the reality of running into the wilderness in the dead of night with nothing to guide me except the clearance headlamp I got at Walmart 2 years ago (I knew I should’ve sprung for that Black Diamond). After the first couple of miles, I was able to sink into the moment. The quiet and calm of the trail coupled with the darkness made it feel as if I were running through a sensory deprivation tank. I was able to zone out and let my instincts take over as I passed through marshes and woodlands with the moon to guide the way.
With the first handoff to Tiana, the relay was in full swing. Each rendezvous point was designated by GPS coordinates which greatly helped with navigation (save the occasional detour through a blueberry farm). I was eager to pass the baton to our teammates in car 2 and get a few hours of rest before sunrise. I was surprised to see how many local teams rolled up in campers and sprint vans, as if our expedition was taking us around the whole state rather than a 3 hour drive north. However, incredulity was quickly replaced with envy as I gave the captain’s chair in my Toyota Rav4 the airplane seat tilt.
The second half was soon underway, with Brian getting to enjoy the namesake of the trail instead of our captain, Julie (I’m sure she’s already consulting almanacs and time splits to recalibrate for next year =). This sunrise also brought one of the hottest days of the summer; air temps reached the mid 90s and the roads were well into the triple digits. We made our way through Machias as the sun picked up. I cost our team a couple min by being on the porcelain (plastic?) throne as Tracey waited to handoff after running a blistering pace for leg 10, but I think we can all agree the extra facilities on the trail were a huge plus. Great legs by Ron, Tiana, Jess, and Pat helped us extend our lead over the Wackos, our Maine rivals.
We waited in a beautiful park in Eastport overlooking a Canadian island as Pat took us from trail to road and the last exchange. Our closer, Brian, was psyched and ready to go. He slipped into his experimental Nikes that had such rebound, they made Vaporflys look like Bean boots. The heat was beating down on the roads and we stationed our cars along the final stretch to keep our anchorman hydrated and cool. A few minutes later, we crossed the finish as a team to receive some impressive race medals.
The race provided unique challenges and memorable experiences all within the confines of 24 hours. We arrived back in Waterville on Saturday afternoon with a great sense of accomplishment and having seen picturesque locations in some more rural parts of Maine. If you’re looking for a race that will challenge you physically, give you a chance to explore the state, and most importantly spend time with some really cool Striders, look no further than signing up for DEST next year.
Striders L to R
Jess Beers, Ron Peck, Pat Cote, Tracey Cote
Sapan Bhatt, Tiana Thomas, Julie Millard, Brian Morin Brian breaking the speed limit!