Balancing a bright blue inflated couch high in the air and sporting colorful lamp shades on their heads, Walter Doll, 66, and Sylvia Strong, 69, made their way down Sonoma Avenue on Saturday.
The volunteers for The Living Room, an organization that provides a safe place for single women and their children during the day, were two of thousands of participants in the 31st annual Sonoma County Human Race on Saturday.
"This is our community in action," said Eunice Valentine, executive director of the Volunteer Center of Sonoma County, which organized the event. "It's very heartwarming."
Doll managed to walk a mostly straight line while the oversized white lampshade festooned with purple flowers partially obstructed his view.
"It's kind of bobbly, but I'm bobbly anyway," Doll said.
The lighthearted vibe reverberated through the crowd outside Herbert Slater Middle School as families, teams and costumed groups sauntered or ran across the starting line at 8 a.m. Their goal was to raise funds for causes that ranged from helping newborn babes to providing comfort at the end of life.
"We are rocking Sonoma County!" an emcee shouted as the crowd cheered.
But the actual funds raised didn't quite meet the expectations of organizers, who estimated that the event raised a total of $670,000.
"It's a bit under last year, but we're hopeful that more will come in in the next couple of weeks," Valentine said.
Last year on race day, organizers estimated that the event had raised $830,000, and when donations filtered in later the total reached about $870,000, Valentine said.
Also this year, 80 restaurants have pledged shares of their profits to partner organizations, and that could boost the total, Valentine said. Last year only 17 restaurants signed on.
Contributions to the annual fundraiser reached a peak of $1.1 million in 2006, fell during the recession, and slowly inched back up until this year.
About 8,000 walkers and runners participated this year. The fastest runners led the way through Howarth Park to Spring Lake Park and then making their way back to the school, covering 10 kilometers, or about 6.2 miles. The shorter course through Howarth Park was 3 kilometers, or almost 2 miles long.
Lucy Barnett, 68, a fundraiser for Sutter Care at Home, was the leading link in a "human centipede" of volunteers in ponchos and sombreros connected by colorful papel picado banners.
"We usually win &‘most spirited centipede,'" Barnett said.
The Threshold Choir walked under the shade of oaks and madrones, their angelic voices wafting through the air as they crested a hill in Howarth Park. The choir, singing gentle Navajo prayers and original compositions, sings at the bedsides of those who are ill or dying, said Maria Culberson, 42, of Sebastopol.
"The idea is that we sing people across the threshold," Culberson said. "We sing a very simple song, in the hope that it's comforting."
Further down the path, Sonoma County Taiko entertained the crowd, beating large drums with dramatic gestures. The youngest performer, Zachary Matsumoto, 7, danced with the rythm as he played.
Corinne Neuman and her daughter Shelby, 8, sparkled in purple dresses and colorful striped knee highs and gloves. Neuman, a PTA secretary, was raising funds for Dunham Elementary School.