Wine and running madness, this was a very special weekend for the Benson Stone family! Very special weekends always include wine. In fact, all weekends include wine, but this was special in so many ways.
On Sunday, October 22 Neal turned 70 years old. If you know him at all, you know that 70 is REALLY just a number. To celebrate his 70th birthday, Neal decided to run a marathon. Mind you this is not his first marathon, in fact it’s his 15th or 16th. He has also run seven 1/2 marathons this year along with two 200-mile relays. Remember I told you, 70 is just a number.
Neal trained hard for the Columbia Gorge Marathon in Hood River Oregon. His running buddies — Carrie, Michelle and Rhonda — spent the past year supporting him toward his goal. His running coach, Joe Henderson, encouraged him every step of the way and I, well, let’s say I supported him throughout his journey toward the finish line.
We arrived in Hood River on Saturday morning in the midst of what felt like a typhoon. There were alerts on the radio and on our phones about potential flooding and landslides. That’s something to look forward to for 26.2 miles! We met up with our friends Mark and Deborah, who had come to Hood River for the weekend to celebrate with Neal. They are our wine drinking buddies as well so it was a perfect combination.
We started out our Saturday tastings at Marchesi Vineyards and Winery. What a wonderful place to start! We were surprised to see so many cars in the parking lot but learned that it was their wine club pick up day. The tasting room was cozy and warm, but it was also full. The tasting room is surrounded by outdoor seating, lots of heaters and blankets for an extra layer. In spite of all that, we were FREEZING! Shortly after we tried to cozy up in an outdoor love seat, one of the tasting room staff came out to tell us there was a space available inside. WE TOOK IT! Our friends arrived a few minutes later so we settled in for a tasting and a snack. This was a very special place.
The staff wanders around the tasting room and its surrounding seating areas with a wine basket filled with all the wines they are pouring so that you never have to leave your seat for your next tasting. Each seating area features a small table and yummy bread sticks. There are also charcuterie plates available and they are lovely. Marchesi is best known for its strong Italian influence. All wines are made from grapes grown in the Pacific Northwest except for the Prosecco which is imported from Italy to the owner’s specifications. We did not try a single wine we didn’t love, but the Sangiovese stood out for us. The 2015 vintage was awarded a ‘Silver Medal’ at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition in 2017.
Our next step, on our server’s recommendation, was Phelps Creek Vineyards. It was a short drive in another downpour. Much to our surprise, this tasting room was smack dab in the middle of a golf course. It couldn’t get any better, unless of course, the skies cleared and we had brought our clubs.
Following these great tasting experiences, and in the pouring rain, we headed for lunch at Hood River’s most famous brewery and brew pub, Full Sail Brewing. Full Sail’s brew pub sits above the Columbia Gorge, offering a spectacular view even on the dreariest of days. We were hoping to catch part of the Oregon Ducks and Miami Hurricanes in the Saturday games and we were lucky enough to find a seat in the bar to find both games on the TV’s. We had a great lunch, great brews and a Miami victory. Unfortunately, the Ducks didn’t give us the same outcome.
Following lunch we headed to our hotel to check in. The Hampton Inn was located about a block from the finish line of Sunday’s race. This brand new hotel is stylish and spacious. Our room was larger than my first apartment! One look at the comfy beds in the room made us long for a nap!
After a restful afternoon, we headed for dinner with Mark and Deborah. We chose Brian’s Pourhouse for dinner knowing that Neal could have a good dinner prior to his Sunday morning race. We were not disappointed. This intimate dining spot offered everything we could have asked for, a varied menu, warm setting and quiet ambience. We brought a special bottle of wine for the occasion. This 2014 Denison Cellars Pinot Noir was light and fruity and complimented the array of meals we selected. Denison NEVER disappoints!
Once dinner was over, the focus shifted to the following morning when Neal would be taking on hills, open roads, trails and rain for his birthday Marathon. Remember I told you 70 is just a number!! The night-before ritual is one of preparation, nerves, anxiousness. I know to just stay out of the way 🙂 Neal managed to get a great night’s sleep and was ready to go in the morning. The only challenge was deciding which raincoat to wear.
We headed for the finish line tent where Neal would be boarding a bus to the start about a mile and half away. We kissed good bye and off he went. It was still raining and incredibly dreary. I had a change of clothes and shoes, food and good wishes in my car for when I met him at the turnaround. The 1/2 marathoners were starting from the finish line about 30 minutes later so I waited around to see them start. Shortly before the gun went off, the skies cleared and a bright and beautiful rainbow emerged. That’s simply good karma! Neal ran 26.2 miles without a drop of rain. We saw him several times on the course, each time looking strong and confident. I cannot describe how proud I felt each time I saw this amazing man running toward us. He is, simply put, a STUD!
Neal finished the race flanked by his running pals, Michele and Rhonda. These two ladies deserve much of the credit for Neal’s success. They never let him give up, they stuck with him all the way. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts, ladies!
Following a wonderful race and hugs all around, we headed back to Full Sail for a celebration brew and some much needed nourishment. Neal and I hugged and kissed everyone goodbye as they headed back to Eugene. The two of us had decided to stay an extra night to give Neal’s legs a chance to rest up, great decision! We napped, visited the hot tub, napped some more and felt more like John and Yoko than Neal and Alyse as we spend the next 15 hours under the covers.
For those of you who have never experienced an endurance event like a marathon or half marathon, the feeling of euphoria that follows is incomparable. There may be tears, there may be laughter, but there is always unbridled joy for the participant and the people who love him. This weekend was no exception. My heart is filled with gratitude that my husband is strong and healthy enough at 70 to put his body through this and that we have friends who love us enough to be sure he has the support he needs to make it.