“Only four, no three and a half more hours, and we’ll have been awake a whole two days! 48 hours!” says Seth excitedly.

I peer at him through exhaustion-bleared eyes. “48 hours?” I manage. “What the heck have you been doing for the last 48 hours?” I’ve only been up maybe 16 hours, and I’m ready to drop.

Seth and Eric and I are the “banner team” at the Hood-to-Coast Relays, in charge of receiving hundreds of sponsor banners as they are taken down. We clean them thoroughly, roll them up and tie them, then sort them into bags for storage. They like this job because it’s close to the rock concert and they can dance while they work.

I like it because I get to sit down.

The Hood-to-Coast (HTC) is a traditional run/walk/bike/whatever relay race from Mt. Hood to Seaside, Oregon. It’s nearly 200 miles although most of the 12,000 or so participants do the shorter distance (127 miles), from Portland.

Each participating relay team must supply race staff volunteers in order to compete; my friend Becky’s team asked me to be one of theirs. “You can work at the finish line, logging in runners as they cross, or help us with our computers,” HTC suggested.

And I’m thinking,” Hmmm. A weekend beach party with music? I get front row seats in exchange for a measly four hours of deskjob? Hey, sign me up!” I choose the Saturday 8pm shift, figuring I’d get in on the best music.

So, apparently, did everyone else, which is why I’m now wearing rubber gloves and an “official” red t-shirt, dragging a trashbag across the sand, picking up used condoms and bottles in the dark. Any idea how HEAVY a lawn bag of half-filled beercans and powerade bottles becomes when you’re wading through a mile-long sandbox?

After two hours of this I go hide in a honeybucket, whimpering. My back aches, my calves are about to secede from my legs. Liquid has seeped into my rubber gloves and I’m afraid to identify it. So a perfectly good manicure (OPI’s “Vodka & Caviar Red”) is shot to hell.

Probably a good thing I decided not to become a Marine after all.

The volunteer coordinator tells me these are top of the line honeybuckets–“They even have built-in sanitizer!”–but translated, that means “nasty, smelly old outhouse” and it’s pitch black inside. I use Derrick-the-Droid for a flashlight and, while I’m at it, text Becky: “Babe, you sooooo owe me for this!”

I quickly figure out that the cone-shaped thing in the outhouse is NOT a purse rest and that there is no flat surface clean enough to rest anything, including me.

Yet, if you leave out the if-I-were-an-animal-I’d-have-been-put-out-of-my-misery-by-now part, I’m actually having a pretty good time. The music’s great, the people are nice so no one has deliberately dropped trash on the sand when they see me coming. (If they did, I’d have to summon up my last reserves and stuff them in the bag, too.)

Plus, there’s lots to see. Teams are apparently given prizes for the best-decorated vans, and these guys really go to town. I’ve seen vans topped with vultures, Elvis dolls, baskets of fruit and giant intestines (I think).

My favorite so far belongs to the North American Drinking Society.* They’ve attached two giant pink beachballs to the roof of their van, emblazoning their acronym (NADS) across the second one, and the word “GO” across the first.

Work it out.

Still, I can’t sit in an outhouse until my shift is over, so once I figure out how to unlock the door, I clamber back outside and finish filling up my trashbag. The volunteer coordinator takes pity on me (or figures I’m going to die) and puts me on banner duty instead…which is where I meet Seth and Eric.

Seth and Eric are high school seniors from Sisters, Oregon. They gave themselves this last big beach blowout before school starts on Monday.

“So you’ve been partying for the last 48 hours?” I ask.

“Heck no,” says Eric, scornfully. “First we ran Portland-to-Coast!”

“Uhm….lemme get this straight, guys: You ran 127 miles from Portland, THEN did a volunteer shift?”

“Well, no,” says Seth, “That doesn’t take 48 hours. We finished the race this morning, hung out on the beach for awhile, then went back to the hotel room, took a shower and had lunch.”

“A BIG lunch,” adds Eric.

“Then we came back here about 2:00 and started looking for free stuff. You know, like they’re giving away Powerade and Clif bars and pens and stopwatches and stuff,” says Seth, “We told the Clif bar guys that if they gave us these cool caps we’d help out, so we went around giving out Clif bars for awhile, then went to the other booths and got stuff too.” He points to his green baseball cap with insignias that is, indeed, cool.

“But what we REALLY wanted were the official race t-shirts,” says Eric, pointing to my beer-drenched attire, “and you only get those if you volunteer.”

“So, we volunteered. We weren’t on the lists so they couldn’t let us in right away,” Seth explains, “but the coordinator told us to wait an hour into the shift and look for tired old people and offer to take their places. It didn’t take an hour, it only took about 20 minutes!”

I stand up and bounce a bit, trying not to look like a tired old people. That hurts, so I sit back down.

The band-and-light-show performing behind us slips into a medley of disco tunes, starting with the theme song from Saturday Night Fever. The boys give a happy shout and swing into a near-perfect imitation of the Gibbs brothers, falsetto and all, for a song that was old before they were born.

“You know all the words?” I ask, incredulous.

“By heart,” grins Seth, “We listen to it every day on the way to school. This song is a CLASSIC.”

I watch them turn the volunteer tent into a dancefloor and suddenly feel old and sad. These guys are doing exactly what they should be doing–living life, going all out and having fun.

And a boy about the same age, who waved to me most every week from the bus stop, should have been here too. He should be hanging out with us, dancing like a madman. I wish I could see him having one last big fling before his senior year, delighting in the boundless possibilities.

But I won’t, because some stupid speeding driver ended him. What a terrible waste.

We finish the banners in record time. “You can go early if you like,” says the volunteer coordinator, “You guys were so fast, we’ve run out of things for you to do.”

I gratefully take her up on it, but Seth and Eric look disappointed. “That’s it? Isn’t there something else we could do?”

Solemnly, I hand them a trash bag and some rubber gloves. “You know, there was a lot of trash backstage when I went there last time, and I’ll bet there’s more now.  I’ll also bet that volunteers wearing official race shirts can go pretty much wherever they want…even backstage.”

They burst into wide, headlight smiles. “Really?” And grabbing the trashbag, they tear off into the night.

*Or at least that’s what someone TOLD me it stands for