Monday, January 12, 2009

5th Annual Aqua Leader Race - August '08

The weather for the August alley cat, the 5th annual Aqua Leader race, was perfect. Light wind, warm weather and no precipitation. Out of all of the warm weather races this one has the best set up. Jordan and I met up in the Riverwest neighborhood. There had been a message posted on the MySpace sight that said the race would end there. From there we rode down to the bar. Even though Pete, aka Aqua Leader, did not race in July’s race, Augusts’ race was his and had been for the 5th year in a row. At the bar a number of racers were already blowing off steam from a week of work, ready for the weekend of partying. Pete had not yet arrived at the bar. As we waited to register we talked shop and I socialized with a few of the racers I knew. Pete showed up near 7:30, I gave him a memento from a now defunct newspaper he freelanced for in the form of a pen. He seemed happy to except it. We then paid our fee and received nice laminated spoke cards and the manifest, which was also nicely produced. There were a large number of stops on the manifest and I began the daunting task of routing out this large race. I worked with Jordan on this and we both marked down the order on the side of the manifest. Pete called everyone outside for the start of the race.

We all pilled out of the bar and into the beautiful August weather. I readied my bike, waiting to kick some butt, considering the past few races I had been coming in at the top 6 spots. It was a far cry from the abysmal performances in the beginning of the year when I was hard pressed to finish a race properly. As we gathered around Pete explained the race to us. At each of the stops listed there were a random number of colorful craft flags. Some had 1 and some had more. Each different color represented a different point total. The point-color key was on the bottom of the manifest. The goal of the race was to get as many points as possible and make it back to Pete’s house were there would be beverages and food. It seemed like a perfect race all around; great weather, easy run and awesome hospitality.

Go was called and everyone flew into action. Right away I yelled out to Jordan that we were taking a different course and to follow me. Originally when I thought we had to hit every single stop I had plotted our course to head into the Third Ward, shoot west then come back through downtown and into the east side, ending up in Riverwest. Instead, seeing as the largest pack was headed south, I decided to take us north and see what we could grab.

We headed west on Michigan, crossing Water on a green and continued to head west. We stormed down the street with a fury. At each red light I slowed, then called clear when the intersection was safe to cross. We took a right onto 2nd street, which had us going against the flow of traffic on this one-way street. We had to stall at Wisconsin, due to heavy traffic, and continued on northward. After Wells Street we crossed over into the last bit of Plankinton and were finally with the proper flow of traffic. At 3rd we took a hard right and continued north, crossing State Street. Traffic was moderately spaced but a car wanting to pull out of a parking spot along 3rd caused me to swerve out of the way. At the intersection with Highland I called back to Jordan to follow my exact path.

During a bid to try and bring this historical neighborhood back to its original state as possible they decided to make the intersection of 3rd and Highland brick. It looked nice at first but as time wore on and the drastic temperature changes we face at times took their toll the brick became disjointed. Some of the spaces between the bricks can grab a skinny bike tire and the entire field is uneven. The best course of action, when crossing this intersection, is to pull into the far right side of the road, cross a small section of the bad bricks and then you end up on a smooth and unperturbed section that is part of the crosswalk. At the other end you have to cross another small patch of bad brick and then you’re clear of the intersection.

Fate would have it that the crosswalk was occupied and I had to lead Jordan over the brick minefield, hoping that neither of us popped a tire in the jarring onslaught. Once through the intersection relatively unharmed we crossed to the west side of the street and prepared to look for some flags. As we neared the end of the block we pulled onto the sidewalk and had to slow down to avoid a number of objects placed there by a bar. Some of these objects were orange flags, that didn’t look exactly like the example Pete had, but crossed my mind. Even though they were more then likely valet markers, I could see them as our targets as well, very tricky. We scanned for the address we needed but were having trouble finding it. We rolled to the end of the block, then turned back. We had gone to far, the end of the block did not actually contain any marked address owning building, so it had to be further back.

The end of the block had once contained an auto repair shop, which had been unused for many years before they finally tore it down and razed the plot. In more recent times there had been weird and mysterious shipping containers placed in the lot. Those were replaced after a while by more of them that were formed into some sort of modular representation of an apartment. Apparently there is some organization that is planning on putting some high rise apartment complex on the plot.

We checked the address at the bar next to the empty plot again and found that was pretty much the spot. We slowly rode up and down the sidewalk, scanning intently for the flags. Again I contemplatd grabbing one of the valet flags instead. Then Jordan spotted the flags and pointed them out to me. There, sitting in the midst of a large cement potter, were three colored flags. We knew they were our targets the instant we saw them. We each grabbed on and started to take off. As I got to the bars driveway I turned back around and called for Jordan to wait. I wanted to make sure that we had high point flags and pulled out my manifest to look at the key. It turned out the one I had was only worth one point, so I put it back in the planter and grabbed the other one, which was worth more. Just as we were about to take off again Eric showed up to grab the flag I replaced. He had come from another stop in downtown. As he took off I realized we were heading in the same direction so we followed him.

Our next stop was on Commerce street, just north of Schlitz Park. All three of us headed up 3rd, going through an empty red on Juneau and making a green on McKinley. The next block were we could turn right, Cherry, Eric pulled off. He was going to cut through Schlitz Park. I realized too late what sense that made and continued to head up 3rd street, up a draining hill to the next intersection. Jordan, not wanting to lose me, followed my lead as we climbed the street. At the next stop, Pleasant, we hung a right and flew down the decline, heading for Commerce. A block before we hit Commerce I saw Eric fly out of a parking lot on the right and into the street, we had to pick up the pace unless there was only one flag at the next stop.

We pulled onto Commerce and Eric was no were in sight. That didn’t bother me too much and we continued onward. Just before we were going to get on the sidewalk a car came speeding out of Dock Street and almost hit me. Luckily the guy stopped and I was able to pull onto the sidewalk. Jordan continued down the street, which ended up better since I had to pull onto the grass to pass pedestrians. We came to the front of Lakefront Brewery, which was busy with some event they were hosting. Jordan and I must have been a sight to all of the conservitivly dressed middle aged party goers.

We desperetly searched for address on the brewery. Jordan went further towards the building and asked some of the catering staff what the address was, he came back empty handed. We pulled to the north end of the lot and poured over the manifest. I realized the address we were looking for was actually across the street, except there was one problem, there are no buildings across the street from the brewery.

We quickly rode over to the other sidewalk and began to search through out the underbrush among the support for the Marsupial bridge. After a bit of searching we found them among some weeds. As we grabbed two of the 3 flags, coincidentaly the exact same colors from the last stop, Eric came back from the north. Jordan and I split the flags evenly between ourselves and Eric was left with the remaining one, same as before. I asked him were he went off to and he told me about some ill fated attempt to get to a stop. We took off, Eric heading a different direction than us, to our next stop.

Our next stop was in the far East Side. Our most logical course of action would be to continue north east on Commerce, climb the hill to Humboldt and proceed from there. I had a better idea though, not wanting to tackle either hill. Instead I directed us towards the small foot bridge nearby, the same one that had a stop during MMI. We continued down the sidewalk on the opposite side of the street. I knew from previous jaunts down this stretch that there was no decline from the sidewalk to the street, we were going to have to hop the curb. As we approached the short Commerce offshoot that lead to the foot bridge, I checked for traffic, apologized to my bike, and hopped the curb as gently as I could. Jordan followed suit and we headed down the street.

As we crossed under the Humboldt bridge Jordan questioned my route, I reassured him to trust me and we continued on. I got back on the sidewalk at one of the driveways, thinking that was the one we needed. This proved to be wrong and I followed the sidewalk to the correct one. As I traveled I imagined someone coming around the blind corner from the bridge and running into me. I took a sharp right turn after the last building on the block, Jordan, who had remained on the street, overshot the turn and had to slow down as the street ended to double back. I crossed the bridge, not worrying about losing Jordan.

At the far end I hoped off of my bike, nodded to a father and son fishing and waited for Jordan to show up. When he asked where we were headed to I pointed at the twisting staircase built into the cliff. We started to accend the stairs. I told him about coming to this point during MMI and not being able to climb these steps due to snow and ice. As we reached to top I was plenty out of breath and tired. At the top I walked my bike across a short grass patch and mounted in the street. Jordan came up as I slowly began to pedal away. There were two cars on the street, speeding and not paying attention to us, so we crawled as they made up their minds and got out of our way. I was glad for this momentary rest. Once the coast was clear we sped off.

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