The Spokane to Sandpoint Relay, or S2S, is a 200-mile relay race that starts on top of Mt. Spokane, descends to the Spokane River, cruises nearly the full length of the Centennial Trail to Coeur d’Alene, and finishes on the beach of Lake Pend Oreille in Sandpoint, Idaho. This will be the event’s12th year, occurring Aug. 16-17, 2019. Relays like this are typically designed for teams of twelve people, but S2S has options for an elite team of six ultra-runners or combining two teams of six: a “six-pack.” Over its lifespan, the relay has had three owners, undergone several route changes, added additional safety measures, and endured tragedy.
Race History: The Orth Brothers
The S2S was founded by twin brothers, Bart and Ben Orth. The Orth brothers were both competitive runners who enjoyed adventure running and participated in various extended races. The brothers also had a passion for entrepreneurship. According to Bart, Ben approached him one day with the idea of combining their passion and hobby by starting a race from Spokane to Sandpoint.
The focus of the race was really about building lasting memories. “Life is about making memories,” said Orth. He asked, “What can we do to make this [relay] something that stands out and makes it memorable?” Their answer was to focus on team camaraderie.
Efforts included costume competitions, timed trials, and a stop at Silverwood Theme Park in the middle of the night to ride the Tremors rollercoaster!
In 2010, the event’s third year, tragedy struck. Early in the morning a driver hit two race participants, killing one and seriously injuring the other. Police believed that alcohol was a factor. The day prior a woman was hit crossing Newport Highway. The driver in that incident was not believed to be at fault.
“200 miles is a long way and you can’t control every variable,” reflects Orth. “The Centennial Trail only goes so far so you have to go on the manmade roads.” The Orth brothers added additional safety measures to the course and ran it for one more year before deciding to sell the event to Cascade Relays.
When asked about their decision to sell the relay, Orth answers, “The weight of [the accidents] was a factor,” but both brothers also had families and full-time jobs.
The Cascade Relays Years
Scott Douglass, co-founder of Cascade Relays based out of Bend, OR with his wife Carrie, agreed to take over the event in 2012. Douglass, who was familiar with the Orth brothers as fellow independent relay organizers, attempted to revive the relay.
“Over a 6-year period [we] took a race that was struggling and used resources to help it grow,” says Douglass. “We rebranded everything and changed the course to make it a safer event.”
In 2008, the first year the relay was held, there were just over 50 teams registered. Over the years, registrations peaked at about 90 teams and settled between 70-80.
“These races are a logistical juggernaut,” says Douglass about coordinating such large-scale events. At this time Cascade Relays also launched their Beer Chases, which were growing, while S2S remained stagnant. “We made a business decision to invest in the beer chases,” said Douglass, and in 2017 it was announced that S2S would run its final year.
One month later, the event was sold to the Alaska-based North by Northwest Relays (NXNW).
North by Northwest Rebirth
NXNW is a series of relays based out of Alaska owned by Nathan Luke and his father David. “We think it’s important to have an event like this in the area, and we want to keep it,” says Luke. “We really want S2S to be a permanent fixture in the community. Something the average person living in town is aware of and maybe has on their bucket list.”
The Inland Northwest has access to miles of trails and beautiful scenery, which makes it a picturesque venue for an adventure relay. “The centennial trail network system is a huge asset to the area…and City Beach is one of the most beautiful finish lines to any relay across the nation,” says Douglass.
Three-time participant Shane Fuller loves the event. “It has been both a pivotal and extremely positive influence for my fitness journey,” says Fuller. “The sense of accomplishment coupled with the friendships built and memories made are things I’ll always cherish.”
Despite the changes in the event over the years, the original dream of creating a relay that builds camaraderie and makes memories remains constant.