Snoqualmie Pass November 77 Spokane NCAA

Had a dream last night back to a time when driving your car in the winter might involve putting chains on your rear wheel drive tires for traction.

What prompted this brain activity well I cannot say for certain, but after bundling up and heading out to play in the official snow blizzard yesterday, my last accessory was the micro spikes the ingenious chains for your feet.

Also, something I was reading probably “National Geographic” involving the cold and high mountains the Cascades of Washington State and a bear sighting.

In November 1977 in the midst of a cross country sojourn temporarily hunkered down in Tacoma Washington, my friend Ronnie and I traveled to Spokane for the NCAA Cross Country Championship.

The trip would require chains for the tires to traverse the nearly three-thousand-foot-high aforementioned pass through the Cascades. We had been on numerous adventures in the Dodge Van since June when we left our hometown of Lowell, MA. Most recently we had spent a few days on the Olympic Peninsula in the rain forest.

I was then age twenty-one and I was letting life come to me for a time and not be dominated and brow beaten into picking some career, just hoboing it around. In 1976 I had run these championships and if I had stayed in college it is likely I would have been running in this year’s edition.

When we reached the mountain pass we pulled over to get the chains on and it was a bit of an ordeal what with the freezing temperatures and snow. My plaid Elmer Fudd jacket looked warm but was threadbare bought at the Salvation Army store. I had socks on my hands for gloves and a thin threaded, ninety-nine cent hat.

We made a stop again at the top of the pass to take a few pictures and do a short hike before getting back on our way. Our hope was to find the hotel where most of the athletes were staying and hang out in the lobby and hopefully I would spot someone who I knew well enough to ask them if we could stay in their room and sleep on the floor.

Otherwise we would sleep in the van but it was going to be a very cold night as I recall, in the single digits. We stopped again briefly to get the chains off and then bombed it out there the rest of the way. We had an impressive collection of eight track tapes I think we may have been in to the band “Boston” then and cranking that way up and singing along to pass the time over that undulating three hundred miles of road.

Spokane was like a different country from Seattle a shock to the system a bit barren or maybe just my impression, when I think of it, I conjure up the “Track & Field News” cover photo of Henry Rono running that scrub brush hill with the Columbia River in the background.
We had previously stopped in Spokane back in September when we were initially on our way to Tacoma. We had spent a few days and visited the Grand Coulee Dam.

A lot had happened in the last two months, unexpected things that I might have even thought were out of the range of any possibility.

Of course, when we undertook this journey after talking about it and planning for a year it was with the hope of breaking free of the regiment of day to day life at our jobs and college.

But nothing lasts.

When we arrived in Spokane I grabbed a newspaper that had all the information we needed about the meet. We headed to the Hangman Golf Course where the race would be held. I only learned later why they called the area “Hangman Valley” the name originating when seventeen Palouse Indians were hanged along the creek during a war. I was studying my country with a jaundiced eye, only later to return to college as an American Studies major having seen and learned many things up close.

We threw on some running gear and ran around the course where there were many athletes some I recognized but for some reason I was too embarrassed to approach them. I had on a very beat up polyester running top with an AAU patch sewn on it and some cotton sweats with holes in the knees and a safety pin holding up the waist like Jethro Bodine.

Not too proud, just felt a bit foolish and out of touch with the collegiate reality and mentality. After our run, we headed to the hotel lobby and cleaned up a bit in the men’s room before pulling up chairs in the lobby. I spotted Dom Finelli from Brandeis a Division III school in Waltham MA. Dom earned his way to the D I race by finishing second in the D III Championship where they took the top four individuals and no teams as eligible for D I.

I barely knew Dom but he was very gracious. His coach Norm Levine was a legendary character who most of us knew and loved for his maniacal dedication to athletics.

It was a fantastic race the next day Rono winning over the Providence College Irish men Treacy and Deegan. Oregon won the team title and no one was swinging from a tree.

1977 NCAA Cross Country Results:

Ronnie and I shook a few hands and then hit the road. I had AAU’s next week in Houston where my team the GBTC was flying me in. But first I had to win us a turkey back in Tacoma at the local “turkey trot.”

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