Monday, January 12, 2009

Center Street Dayz Alley cat '07

On Saturday September 22nd I competed in my first alley cat race. The Milwaukee Bike Polo crew put the race on during Center Street Daze in Riverwest. On Friday night I was pretty apprehensive about doing that race. I wasn't confident in my skills to be able to be fast enough and know the cities layout enough to do this race and not come in horribly late, dead last.

The day of the race I had finally talked myself into doing it, I knew I would regret it if I didn’t. I ended up choosing to bike down to the race, as a way to warm up, but I also feared that I would get too tired to actually do the race. Either way I headed off on the 5-mile journey to the Riverwest neighborhood. I got there before the beginning of the race and needed to waste some time. I filled up on some coffee, to help with some extra energy and then wandered around the street festival. Around the reported registration time I mounted my bike and rode up and down the strip, trying to find anyone who might know what was going on with the race. After a while I did end up finding someone, gave him my entrance fee and put my name on the list. I was told the race would probably start in about a half hour or so. Since I had even more time to kill I decided to ride down to a near by gas station and get some sports drinks. I also stopped at a Walgreens to pick up a package of pens for the race. After my short errands were done I returned to the fest and quickly found the crowd of racers and onlookers.

We lined up just outside of the festival on Pierce Street, north of Center and were handed our manifests. There were 9 questions/hints/stops on it. The questions related to various historical markers located through out the city. On the markers we would find the answers to the questions, some of which were riddles. We started going over the questions to make sure that no one was completely lost as to the vicinity of some of the locations, which was good because I wasn't sure were 2 or 3 of them were located. As we discussed this I jotted down on the sheet what order I wanted to do them in. I realized I still had a pretty good visual picture of the city even though it has been a few years since I have been a courier for the Journal.

Then we got lined up by birth date, even numbers pointing north and odd pointing south, to determine which direction we would start off from. They didn’t want all of us taking off from the same location, possibly for safety reasons’. This sucked for me because I was pointed in the opposite direction I wanted to be. I knew I would have to backtrack because I was convinced my plan of attack made the most sense. Because of the festival there were all sorts of barricades blocking the side streets and plenty of foot traffic. As go was yeller and we all took off the first obstacle was a car. Everyone I was grouped with rocketed down the street and blew through a stop sign right as a car was crossing. The driver freaked out and stopped in the middle of the intersection, luckily for me I was turning and the car stalling for everyone else made it easier for me to take the turn. So I back tracked all alone, because everyone I started with headed the other way.

My first stop was located at the intersection of Booth Street and Glover Avenue. As I flew down Booth Street I saw the other group a few blocks ahead, already converging on the first stop I was going to. I got there and saw 4 or so other racers looking for the marker. I was looking at them and they were looking past me, the damn thing was behind me on a light pole. So I whipped out my manifest and pen and began scanning the marker for the answer to the clue. I was a little put off by the question and put the names of the people, who the cross roads were named after, down as my answer.

The next question was close by on the Marsupial Bridge, which is just north of Lake Front Brewery. I saw some people hike down stairs to the bike path that led to the bridge so I followed suit. As I tentatively went down the stairs my debilitating fear of heights was trying to stop me in my tracks. I told it to shut up and got to the path. I mounted my bike and shot over to the bridge. I headed all the way to the other side of the bridge, the East Side portion, trying to find the next clue. I stopped and began looking for a marker, one racer flew by me without stopping; I decided I was in the wrong place and must have missed something back further on the path. As I crossed back over the bridge a pack of racers flew by me, man was I falling behind. I cranked all the way up the path back all the way up to the first question, part of which I bypassed going down the stairs, looking for the marker. In frustration I realized I must have missed it, I started thinking that I was not going the be able to answer this question and when I rounded the first turn going back down the path again I noticed the marker on the ground. I got that answer.

Now I flew back down the bike path and across the Marsupial Bridge once again. This time I could keep going but had to stall for a speeding car, flying down the Water street extension. Once it was safe I turned down the street and headed for downtown. I remember blowing by a car filled with two gangster guys at the intersection to get onto Water Street were Brady Street ended and they had weird expressions on their faces as we made eye contact. I must have looked like some deranged lunatic.

As I went down Water Street I realized that I was already getting exhausted. Part of it was from the fact that I had biked from my house to Riverwest to warm up and biked around some more to waste time before the race started. By the time the race started I had already clocked in 12 miles another part of it was that I was overweight and didn’t bike as much as many other people racing did.

The next stop was on 3rd street, between Juneau and State, I knew were the placard was but for some reason I thought it was just off of State street and when I realized the addresses were too low I had to do a u-turn on 3rd in front of traffic and head back toward Juneau. I got the answer and headed off to the stop I didn't really want to do. The next question I was going to was all the way out in Miller Valley. So, as I always do on the way home from work, I pounded up the State street hill to get out of the valley that is downtown. I only do this hill after work, so I am quite rested up before I take it on, today though was a different story. Already weak, I threw myself up this multi staged climb, doing about 11 miles an hour, which was my usual pace. Yet I knew the real problem would be my power after the hill on the flat away, I usually took it easy but I could not afford to do that this time, I was in a race. I also knew that I wasn't going to be home to rest in 15 minutes, I wasn't even half way done with this race…I had a lot of distance to travel before I could stop biking.

Past the point of exhaustion, because I have been pushing my self and taking a number of hills by now, I forced myself onward down State Street holding about a 17 to 18 mph pace. The last time I had seen any other racers was back at the Marsupial Bridge, I was falling far behind. One thing that hindered my speed was a brisk westerly wind, so I tucked down and plowed forward. It's a good thing when I'm on group rides I act as the wind breaker for the group, It built up my abilities to fight the wind. I made it all the way to 36th and State, hoping that the placard was near the top of the hill into the valley, no such luck. It was down near the bottom at Miller Brewery. The answer to the question was on the placard in front of the historical Plankroad Brewery building; it was what type of wood the planks were made out of. The answer is white oak. So I got my answer then climbed the hill back out of the valley, which actually wasn't as tiring as I thought it was going to be. I started flying back down State Street, going faster because the street is more downward when you are east bound and I had the wind at my back. Around 30th I crossed 2 racers on their way to the Brewery. I think they had done more questions downtown before coming out here. This put some fire in my belly and I picked up the pace, holding around 21mph back to downtown. I also took the opportunity of this nice long straight away to get a sip of my sports drink I had in my satchel. I'm glad I had some previous experience with getting a bottle of water out of my bag while riding.

As I was going down State I was trying to plan how I was going to get over to Michigan Street, I knew that Wisconsin was no go before 27th because of how long the lights are and past 12th it was crazy with construction. I decided to ride out State as far as I could with out having to turn on a red light to head south. I ended up taking State all the way down to 4th. On the way I thought about hitching a ride on a FedEx truck, but just as I was about to plan that attack he slowed and I flew past him through a red on 7th. On the way down 4th I passed another racer and waved to him. Now I had to cross Wisconsin, at a red. Something major was going on, the place was in gridlock and everywhere I looked I saw Illinois plates. I took the red because traffic was stalled and continued down to Michigan, which was also backed up, but only westbound. I took the wrong way of the street and cut in between the stalled cars to get over to the Ziegler Park side of the street. As I came around the east end of the park I saw yet another racer just leaving the placard, thanks for the assistance. I headed up and got my answer. Now I had to shoot down to Water Street and try to find Erie. I wasn't totally sure were it was at first but then hedged my bets on it being in 3rd ward. I took Water all the way down to the bridge at the south end of the 3rd ward. I was on the river side of the street and went down a small launching area for the south extension of the Riverwalk. I couldn't find anything like a placard and thought about calling out to some people on the walk to see if they saw anything. I decided against it and climbed back out to the street and noticed another racer at a placard across the street. Luckily traffic was light and I crossed the street without incident. I got there and the other guy left. As I was scouring the placard to find the name of which band was aboard a ship that sank in the river here another biker came up to me. He asked me if I had the Center Street manifest, when I replied yeah he said damn and couldn't believe it had already started. I got my answer and headed off to my next location. I know had only three more stops to go.

The next answer was in Juneau Park. I got there by weaving through the east side of downtown, first back up Water. Near the Milwaukee Public Market I thought about skitching a tralier that was being towed behind a pick up, but I ended up blowing past it as it got stalled in some construction. I followed behind a Honda up Water and thought about grabbing onto it but couldn't find a place to grab onto. There was a red at Michigan so I hooked right onto it and got stalled at a red on Broadway. When it was clear I made it all the way up to Milwaukee and took a left instead of waiting for traffic. I got onto Wisconsin and zigged my way up to the park and started looking for a marker. I checked out a huge statue in the middle of the park to no avail. In frustration I scanned the question again. It said something about a replica log cabin, so I scoured the park for this building, just before I was going to ask park goers if they knew were it was I found it. Now I had two more stops to make.

I shot up Prospect Ave on my way to the 'light house' just south of St Mary's at the end of North Ave. I was making great time going down the street, because it's mostly down hill. After dodging a car that decided to turn in front of me I cranked up North and hopped my bike onto the grassy knoll that housed what I thought was the light house…the damn thing is actually a water tower. I re-scanned the marker to make sure I wasn't mistaken and headed off to Lake Park, unsure if I would even find the lighthouse. I had heard them talking about how it is somewhere in Lake park between Locust and North and someone said it was under construction. So I headed into the south end of the park apprehensive as all hell. I kept trying to see a tall building through the trees but to no avail, when I stumbled upon it with sheer joy. I got my answer and booked off to the final stop. I had an obsticle in front of my on the path though, 2 kids on mountain bikes being lazy and some old people strolling, I said to hell with it and took my road bike around them through the grass praying I didn't hit a hidden pot hole. I got back on the path and into the parking lot, past the pitch and 3 par golf course. I was thinking about how I would much rather be doing what I am currently doing then what the stuffy polo sporting fucks at the course were doing, even though I love golfing too, this is much more entertaining.

I zigged my way to Maryland Ave and flew down to the point I thought bisected the final park I was looking for. The park is along the river in the south end of Shorewood next to the border with Milwaukee, just off of Oakland and Edgewood. I flew across Oakland Ave into the adjacent apartment buildings parking lot. I was not exactly in the park yet, and rode my bike down a grassy embankment. I went into the park and was at river level when I started looking around. I wasn't sure were the placard was but there was a clue about a building for a club. The building was on top of a terraced hill. I picked up my bike and started humping it up the steps, all of a sudden my right calf started twitching like it was preparing to cramp on me, I told it to cut the shit out and kept going. I dumped my bike at the base of the final stair case in preparation for my hastily exit. I climbed the steps, got the answer and was back on my bike in no time. I had to squeeze past some old man in the small pedestrian tunnel and figure out the best way to get out of the park. I knew I had two choices. Back track to the street and have to deal with some hills on Oakland, or bike back up the grassy hill and shoot down to the bike path and get out on the street that parallels it, exiting at Locust Street. I took the second choice. I was amazed at how well I made it up the hill, but just at the crest I had to unclip my foot and push myself over the edge. I then cranked across the soccer field and headed onto the bike path, which didn't last long because the exit to the street was just a hundred feet or so later. I flew down the street.

As I headed towards Locust I began thinking about how long it was taking me and how late I was going to be. I said to hell with it and kept pushing myself onward, I didn't know if I would have enough energy to make it back to Riverwest let alone home but I wanted to end the race. I turned onto Locust and pounded up the final hill into Riverwest. I was home free. I zigged down a few streets making my way back to the start. I crossed the finish line and said, am I last? The guy who took the time said I was 5th but if my answers were right I was 2nd. I was blown away. Out of 17 people I was technically 5th and officially 2nd. I swallowed the remainder of my drink and just as I did the guy checking the answers questioned the answer to my first question. I thought the answer was the peoples names, it wasn't. Everyone told me to hustle back to the marker and get the right answer, so I did. I flew down Booth Street, read the marker and flew back. About 3 blocks from the finish I almost ran over a squirrel, which freaked me out, that would have been an interesting delay in the race. I got back, got timed and was now officially in 5th place. So after all of that, I was 5th.

I was pretty amazed that I did that well, even with all the problems I ran into. After the race I recouped for a few minutes at a friends house pounding down water and eating bananas…then it was off back to my house. All in all, the race was about 18 or 19 miles and I ended up doing a total of 35 miles…I would feel that one in the morning.

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