Monday, January 12, 2009

First Friday Alley Cat - December '07

Over 12 inches of snow in the 7 days prior to the race did not stop around 25 people from competing in Decembers Milwaukee First Friday of the Month Alley Cat race, myself included. Having just repaired my bike the week previous I had not been able to get as much saddle time in before the race, as I would have liked. Thanks to my planning I was pretty set for the weather though. After getting downtown around 7 at night I geared up and mounted my bike and prepared for a night playing in traffic while trying to keep from freezing and wiping out. On the way there my forehead was freezing as my balaclava got pushed up past my helmet. Other then that, I was pretty well suited for the cold. My biggest concern was slippery road conditions, which were compounded by heavy traffic due to many events downtown. Traffic was heavy most of the trek to the Swinging Door. Again at Water and Wisconsin I took the lead and shot out ahead of the green, getting into the left-hand lane preparing to turn down Michigan. As I approached the bar the massive number of bikes stunned me.

Everywhere you could park one there where at least 3. Some were only locked to themselves, lacking enough space to lock it to anything else. I dismounted while still in the street; not wanting to attempt to ride the bike through the slush covered alley entrance, and walked to an empty pole half way down the block. After locking my bike and helmet to the street sign, I stripped my head and hand gear off and walked into the crowded bar. My plan was to start of with some hard stuff in the attempt to trick myself into being warm. I ordered a Powers Whiskey neat, paid and tipped the young girl who was always tending on these Fridays. The extra layers I was wearing and my bag made me a bit unwieldy and I bumped a couple of people as I made my way to the back of the bar, where most of the racers were gathered. I spotted Newsy, the guy who put on last months race. He asked me if I had my manifest and I noticed he had an envelope and a sheet of paper he was studying. I told him no and he said something unintelligible, I asked him to repeat and he said to get it from the hesher, pointing to the guy putting on this months race who was sporting a bad wig. I went up to the guy known as Evershed, gave him my five-dollar fee, told him my name and got my manifest. I took a seat near by and began to drink my whiskey and study the manifest. It was hard to focus due to my excitement of the pending ride and the bustle of everyone around me. This was going to be huge, the biggest alley cat I had been in yet, and there were some familiar faces and some unfamiliar ones. I couldn’t remember anyone’s name. As I tried to focus and drink it got harder, luckily the guy putting on the race started to explain what was going on.

There were 5 mandatory stops you had to do in order to finish. You had to get the items at each of these stops. Everything needed to be brought back nice and neat in the provided envelope along with the manifest. The winner of the race was determined by who earned the most points. Each manditory stop was worth x number of points. There was a flyer that went out and if you brought it in you got points too. I didn’t get around to printing one out, oh well. There were a number of bonus point activities that we could do as well. It was written in the manifest you would have to do them if you wanted to win. We had 45 minutes to do the race. For being in early you got points, for being in late you lost points. I began to note down what order I wanted to do the race in. I would start out with the mandatory stop that was down at the intersection of 1st and Mitchell on the way there I would stop at the cab place, a bonus was given if you got a Yellow Taxi Co business card (I forgot until later that the taxi shop down on 1st was actually American Taxi). Then I would swing down 2nd street and answer two of the bonus questions, make my way to the downtown mandatory then shoot into the East Side and clear the remaining 3 mandatory stops and the 2 bonus questions on that side. I had it down, I decided not to finish my whisky, I was drinking it too fast and it was starting to hit me, I needed to be somewhat clear headed in this weather. I left a sip or two left in the glass and went outside to ready my equipment.

I finally bought a headlight, a big bulky 12-dollar piece, but hopefully it would do the job. I was going to wear this neon green shirt I have over my hoodie, but was unable to find it. I was in all black and would need as much ass saving power as possible seeing as I had a few near problems last time. I locked on my lights and computer, or I thought I locked on my computer but when I moved my bike by the handlebars it came lose, so I locked it back into place. I threw on my balaclava, liner gloves and winter gloves. With the balaclava on my hearing was significantly lessened. This came into play as everyone else, including the guy running the race, came out to get set and go over any last information. I was on the edge of the crowd and could barely hear anything he was saying, especially with the traffic, one loud muffler car in particular, jack asses. I caught something about the cab company. I moved into the street to get closer to the guy and when he asked if we had any questions I asked him about what he said about the cabs. Around the same time a guy behind me was asking where the company was located, I not thinking yet, told him it was on 1st a couple blocks south of Virginia. The guy running it said the cabs where everywhere downtown; just go and talk to one of the cabbies. When the guy behind me continued to ask where the company was I decided not to bother answering again, he obviously wasn’t listening to me (which, later I realized, was the correct thing to do). A 2-minute warning was called, Newsy was yelled at to get off of his bike and then start was called. Everyone dashed into the street in a mad fury. Not wanting to get tangled with anyone, I decided to pause for a few seconds.

I saw that most of the racers were going headed, the way I wanted to go, so I decided to do my route backwards. Instead of heading south on Water, with everyone else, I headed north. I ended up following two female racers who I had seen around before. They stopped at the red at Water and Wisconsin and I turned east onto Wisconsin, blowing past them. Unlike last time I wasn’t feeling out of energy in the beginning, which might be due to being somewhat alone. There was just one problem, I wasn’t sure where the hell I was going to go, I had concentrated hard on the south side portion of the race that I didn’t have the east side and downtown portion in my mind. I was flying blind, aimlessly heading away from the bar. I weaved my way north and east, as usual and caught up with two other riders on Jackson Street. I took this opportunity and followed them blindly, hoping that they new where they were going. I cut across the north end of downtown with these two in the lead, dodging the heavy Friday night traffic on Van Buren, using my maneuverability and slimmer profile to cut around cars that got stalled by impromptu construction. Near the Metro Pick n Save I remember fearing I was going to lose traction as I followed one guy between a parked car and a stopped car through a pile of slush. Just remember not to break at moments like these.

We shot down Van Buren and turned onto Brady. Just before we did, right in front of the new Indian restaurant, the guy I was tailing locks his rear tire momentarily to slow down, fearing he would lock it longer I slowed down considerably and he shot ahead of me taking the corner quicker than I was able to, we both took it wide though. We then pounded down Brady, targeting the sidewalk that The Roman Coin bar sits on. One of the bonus tasks was to write down the sponsor of the clock on one of the walls. I saw the guy I was trailing mount the sidewalk on the outside. I took the inside and realized why he did what he did too late, the first guy’s bike was dumped just onto the sidewalk, and he was inside the bar. I dismounted and ran my bike through the snow bank, expecting to go into the bar. The guy I was tailing headed further down the block, to where the Chinese restaurant that started my misadventure last month was. In front of it were three people, this was my first mandatory check point. One of the girls handed him something that looked like a takeout menu, then they told him he got a prize for being second there, they handed him what looked like a bottle of beer in a brown paper bag. I walked up to them and got my takeout menu. I folded that and put it in my right cargo pocket with my folded manifest. I had neatly put my folder in my bag and had concluded I would straighten everything out in the end, not wanting to waste time with digging in my bag. They said I got a prize for being third and handed me a small round patch for the Milwaukee Bike Polo club, I pocketed this so I wouldn’t lose it and mounted my bike.

The guy I was following either wasn’t sure where to go or was waiting for me, but he almost got hit by a car as he was circling in the street, all of us yelled at him to watch out for the car. He came back to the sidewalk and glanced into the window of the Roman Coin. He muttered to him self that it figured what the company was and we both headed eastward down Brady. I though, to myself, that the answer had to be Pabst. As we exited and entered the various blocks of sidewalk down Brady two things came to my mind, the first was that my mother-in-law had cursed me into riding these damn sidewalks and having to negotiate through the troft's of slush and that it was way safe on the sidewalk right now than the street, which was incredibly busy. We reached the block before Walgreen’s and the other biker stopped and asks if I saw anything drop, I told him no. He says he lost his manifest and I should give him mine and we will ride together. I didn’t give him mine, but I did forget about the manifest being mandatory, good thing I didn’t give it to him in the end. I pulled off both gloves on my right hand and dug out the manifest from my right cargo pocket, pulling out the take out menu at the same time. I told him the next stop was 1700 Farwell and the one after that was 2400 Murray. He took off. I pocketed the manifest quickly back with the menu and mounted, planning on putting my gloves on while riding. That did not work and as he almost gets hit by a car coming out of the parking lot of Walgreen’s. I just cope with it and ride with my right hand bare.

We shoot up Farwell, he ends up on the street, fighting traffic and I stick to the sidewalk. For some reason I have the 1200 block in my head and when I see 1800 I say fuck it and aim towards Murray. As we pass Pizza Shuttle he skips over to the other sidewalk. I lose him and pause at the end of the block, having to negotiate a huge pile of slush and snow to get on the street. At this point I see the other guy flying further down Farwell, headed towards Murray. As I pull onto the street I pull out my manifest, having lost my lead, and see the stop is 1700 Farwell, I passed it and that is why he shot to the other side. I mount up and head back down the street and we cross paths. He shouts out to me that it is Chop Stix, a new Chinese restaurant, and I shout back at him that I knew. I get back down the block and see the amazing amount of snow in the left side-parking lane. I dismount again and hump my bike onto the sidewalk and to the two girls handing out the next round of take out menus. I stuff it in my right pocket, strip off my left outer glove, put on my right liner glove and stuff both outer gloves in my hoodie pouch. I figured if I went this far with nothing on my right hand I would be all right with just the liner gloves on. That way I would be able to better work with the manifest instead of having to take on and off the outer glove.

I flew back down Farwell, facing down on-coming traffic thanking the stars I bought the headlight. Near Comet CafĂ© I decided to cut over and hit Oakland to take to North ave. As I do this I see the two girls from the start of the race a block or so ahead of me. I pound down the road, blowing through a 4-way stop intersection only slowing down for fear of wiping out around the corner to get onto North. The girls get caught up in traffic at the intersection and I bypass them again. As I plow up North I see the first guy skidding down the opposite side of the street, he’s trying to control his stop at the lights. I keep going, riding the inside of the lane along a bus and a row of cars caught at the light at the intersection of North and Farwell. I turn onto Murray and see the guy I was following. I realize that he and the other guy had hit Jackson, a stop I had missed, right before I ran into them downtown. I yelled at him to see if he did, when he said yes I cursed at myself. These 2 had all but one of the mandatory stops done.

I pounded up Murray and flew into the parking lot just north of Cory the bike fixers. There, standing next to a staircase was a lone girl with another take out menu. I grabbed it and went to the south side of Cory’s building. There is a large mural there of Cory holding a bike. One of the bonus questions is to find out who painted it. To my dismay I could not find a signature of any sorts and the bottom part was obscured with snow, I kicked at the pile trying to find anything and gave up, this one would be a bust I needed to get going. As I went to get back on the street I saw a guy who lived in the house next door standing on his porch swearing into his phone about how he was locked out of his house. I plowed through a slush pile at the end of a short driveway and was back on the street.

I headed south on Murray and illegally crossed North Avenue to get onto Farwell again. This time I was with traffic but was amazingly keeping ahead of it. I glanced down to see if I could tell what my speed was and noticed that my bike computer was no longer on my bike. I lost it somewhere, probably at Cory’s. Oh well, I wanted a newer one anyways, would have to just suck it up and keep going, I was not about to start digging through slush and snow to possibly find it. I didn’t know where I lost it anyways. I put my head down and went full bore down the street, my goal was Jackson Street, the next stop, the one I had missed.

South of Ogden, as I closed in on Juneau Park, I heard a weird noise and looked down, trying to see if I had lost anything, or if anything was out of place. It was dark as hell so I couldn’t tell, but the noise persisted, I just couldn’t tell what it was. I looked up and saw a horse drawn carriage. The noise was the horse clopping down the street. I flew past the carriage and wondered at why anyone would want to take a horse drawn carriage ride in this cold weather; they must be freezing in that thing. Then again, if they saw me, they must have wondered what was wrong with me for biking in this weather. Little did they know I was heating up pretty good. My balaclava was getting steamy and I had to pull it clear of my chin for better comfort, at least until it cooled down, when I put it back in place I noticed how damp it was.

I shot down Juneau in search of Jackson. I weaved south and west until I found it and spotted an address sign that said 500 or so, I needed 700. I had to circle back in the street and head back north. I got to Cathedral Square Park and wondered why I didn’t see it. I stopped at the intersection of Jackson and Juneau, in front of some surprised pedestrians and pulled out my manifest. It was a pain in the ass to separate from my menus so I finally put them in my left pocket. I scanned the folded manifest and realized that I needed Jefferson, not Jackson. I wasn’t sure what hundred block I was on so I began scanning the MSOE campus at the dead-end of Jefferson, just on the east side of Cathedral Square. I figured I was too far north and headed south, on the street. Traffic was stalled on both sides due to people parking and standing so I weaved through them while riding the centerline hoping that no one made any sudden changes. As I crossed Wells I had to remount the sidewalk via a 5-inch wide 5-foot long snow pile. That was fun. I pounded down the sidewalk and saw two girls at the end, one waving a blinking taillight. I stopped and grabbed the menu from a light skinned girl with dreads who said that I was the one who had passed them earlier. She said she had whistled at me but with the balaclava I didn’t hear it. I had to straddle walk my bike off of a snow bank back onto the road. I headed south; I had only one more stop to make.

I neared the hotel on Jefferson and saw two parked Yellow Taxi Co cabs, it was about this time I remembered that the taxi company down on south 1st was not Yellow Cab. The driver of the back car was up at the front car talking. I skidded to a stop next to them and asked one of them for a business card. The guy in the car looked confused and the other guy said he had one and headed back to his cab. I back walked my bike to be parallel with his cab as I waited painstakingly for him to give me the business card. I almost asked him to hurry up. When he gave it to me I put it in the pocket with the patch, mounted, thanked both of them, wished them a good night and flew down to Wisconsin. There I zigged and zagged making my way south and west. I decided not to pass the bar and continued down Broadway into the 3rd ward.

At St Paul I went right and headed to Water. I had a red light at Water and decided to ride against traffic to make my way over eventually, which happened at about Buffalo. Now I was home free. I just needed to pound down the road and get my final menu. It was at this point that I finally realized that they were all Chinese take out menus.

This was now my longest stretch of uninterrupted ride, about a mile and a half or two miles worth of straight riding. This is when I really began to notice that my feet were frozen, my shoes were caked in slush and my feet were not warm at all, even through the athletic socks, wool socks and bike shoes. One thing that probably helped this was that my bike shoes had this amazing tendency to actually breathe. So as I’m pedaling my toes are getting refreshing blasts of crisp cold air, the shoes never do this during the warmer months. The other thing that was getting cold was my front torso; I began to start thinking about getting some type of apron to combat this. I think my outer gloves being in my hoodie pouch provided some respite for part of my belly but not enough.

Just before Allen Bradley I passed the first biker who I had last seen skidding westward on North. We nodded to each other. About a block later I crossed paths with the guy I was following for a while. I nodded at him and he gestured the way I was heading at me. I kept going. My plan was to stop at the stop and check the time. This would determine what I would do for the two remaining bonus’ I needed to fill, both of which were on south 2nd street. The guy at my final mandatory stop was standing on a triangle shaped island at the intersection of Mitchell and 1st. As I came up to him I slowed down due to wanting to check my time and because of the nasty shoulder slush. I grabbed the menu and stopped and he yelled at me to go go go. I checked the time, one minute till I was due back at the bar…fuck. I quickly mounted and headed to 2nd street. One question I was not going to be able to answer. It was to write down that was written underneath an address sign. The second one was to name the business at 205 S 2nd street. I pounded down the street, trying to go as fast as possible but was also incredibly worn out by this point. The only thing I was concentrating on was the numbness in my feet and my controlled but labored breathing. The lights were good to me and I did not have think about stopping the entire trip north.

As I neared my question location I started to think it was Sorefs carpet city, I slowed down as I passed it only to see it was 500 or so. I kept going, trying to track the block numbers. Then I saw a notorious gay bar, Cest la Vie and wondered if that was it, nope. I kept going. At last I found it, Prime Leather Finishers. I kept repeating this to myself as a mantra as I made my way down the last stretch. The only other major thing that popped into my head this last half mile or so was that I hope no train came before I was able to cross into downtown. How shitty would that be to be stuck at the railroad crossing by a slow freight train? Everyone would get a kick out of that.

I made it safely across the train tracks and into downtown proper, now I was just 4 blocks from home. As I pulled onto the sidewalk I saw a number of bikes, not everyone was back, but many where. I dumped my bike in the snow bank and ran inside, I could lock up later. I rushed in, pulled out my folder and unfolded everything from my pockets and laid them out nice inside of it, closed the folder and gave it to the guy running the race, time. I was a bit over and he marked it all down on my folder and filed it with the growing pile next to him. There had not been a determined winner yet. I gathered my bag and went outside to lock up my bike.

I stripped my balaclava and gloves off; I was sweating, but not over heating. I unzipped my hoodie and packed everything away. Locked my bike to the pole and packed away my lights. Time to go catch my breath, have a beer and warm up my feet. I went back into the bar and ordered a pint of Spotted Cow and stood around to take in the crowd. One guy brought in his tire and quickly began to disassemble it, reassemble and inflate it, like a soldier field stripping his gun, I was pretty impressed. People were talking about being cut off by cars, wiping out and all sorts of entertaining events. The last few bikers checked in and one of them is a guy I talked with last month names Matt. As he passed me he smiled and asked if I went to Shorewood again this time, I grinned and said hell no. I bought another beer for myself and for the guy who ran the race. Thanked him for the fun race, slammed my beer and mounted up to ride back to the car and go home. In the end I was probably in the bottom of the list but I didn’t know the results that night.

I got the guess on the Roman Coin clock wrong; it was Corona Light, go figure. Now I had to get ready for January’s race, which mostly will involve riding as much as possible, yet this race proved to me that I hate riding my bike in my living room…it’s just not fun.

Later I found out I got 9th place, out of 23, not too bad, but considering that 13 people were tied for 11th it isn’t that good either.

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