This past weekend, I joined my wife’s team for the Portland to Coast relay, the 129 mile walking version of Hood to Coast. It’s one of those adventures that’s difficult to explain to others, you really need to experience it for yourself. Along the way, we met some great people. One of those people was Eric the Teacher.
We were on our van’s second leg when we saw this guy jogging along the road. At this point, we hadn’t seen any runners, yet, so he really stood out. As we got closer, we noticed he was carrying a plastic grocery bag and a bottle of water. Then, as we passed him, we saw that he didn’t have a team number. As we waited for our walker at the next exchange, he ran past us again. He didn’t stop at the exchange to hand off to another runner, he just kept going.
Although this was only our second leg, we’d already seen some wild things, so we didn’t think too much of it. After our exchange, we continued on only to pass him again. This time, we couldn’t resist and asked him what he was doing. His answer astonished us. We were literally speechless for a moment. He was running the entire 198 mile distance from Mt. Hood to Seaside solo. Solo.
He looked a little disheveled. He’d been running for about 40 hours straight and, admittedly, he said his mind was moving a bit slow. We asked if we could help. He said he couldn’t remember where his support crew said they’d meet him and, considering it was getting dark, he needed warmer clothes and his safety gear – flashlights and whatnot. He simply asked that if we saw them, to let them know where he was. Someone else had been kind enough to give him a backpack, so we gave him more water.
Mind blown, we continued on our adventure, but couldn’t shake the thought of this guy alone and delirious in the dark. Was he okay? Did his crew find him? Did he get eaten by a bear? We kept an eye out for his support crew, but felt like the odds of finding a white cargo van in a sea of vans was unlikely until we actually saw it at an exchange. We asked the woman standing beside it, anxiously scanning every walker to see if her solo runner was in there, if she was the support crew for the solo runner and she lit up with a “YES! Have you seen him?!” It was panicked excitement. We explained our conversation with him and that we’d seen him a couple hours earlier. She was ecstatic and went on to tell us how amazing he was. Apparently, his name was Eric and he’s a teacher.
For the rest of our adventure, we continue to wonder what happened to Eric the Teacher. Would he finish? Would we see him at the finish line? Is he still alive? It was a story we told to everyone we met along the way. We were still in awe. Unfortunately, we never saw Eric the Teacher at the finish line. But, on the way home, as we celebrated our own success, we searched the magic Google machine. And we found him. Eric the Teacher is really Eric Salkeld. And this wasn’t his first attempt, but maybe it was the most important to him.
In 2008, he attempted it and almost made it to the end, but had to stop due to an injury. In 2009, he tried to do it again and finished, but there was no fanfare, no official finish line. He finished on the Sunday after the race and no one was there, but him and his support team. He’d tried to enter the Hood to Coast as a team of one officially, but they wouldn’t let him, presumably due to liability concerns in today’s litigious society.
As I dug deeper, I found more, mostly newspaper articles from 2009 and 2010, but nothing recent until I stumbled onto Eric’s Twitter account. Sadly, his mother was diagnosed with cancer a few months ago. This year, he was running for her. And, to our anxious delight, he finished his own race on Sunday afternoon. Once again, there was no fanfare and no official finish line, but I’m sure he had an amazing sense of accomplishment as he’d just run 198 miles straight for his mom. And we are thankful that, even if it was only a brief conversation in passing, we get to interweave his story with our own.