Monday, January 12, 2009

Streets You Never Knew Existed Race - January '08

January’s race was a bit warmer and cleaner than Decembers. I arrived at the bar about 6:45, registration was supposed to be at 7 sharp, with a race start of 7:30. The race was titled “Streets You Never Knew Existed”. So far the only people for the race were myself and James, the man putting tonight’s race together. I ordered a beer and waited out my time. Soon more racers began to filter in, mostly messengers. It looked like a small crowd tonight. James was at a corner table talking with two middle aged men. I went over and paid him by 5 dollar entry fee. He handed me my manifest and one of the men asked me what the logo on my hoodie was for. I told him it was for the bar Hi Hat, which I used to bounce at. I went back to my spot at the bar, ordered another beer and began pouring over my manifest, trying my best to visualize it.

Since the first race I have done, which went pretty well, I have been having an increasingly hard time visualizing my manifests, which hampers my abilities in doing well in the race. The manifest was set up like a crossword puzzle. There were 7 questions, each question listed an intersection. We had to fill in the names of the streets that were at these intersections, the person with the most correct answers and the fastest time wins. The majority of racers were messengers, so this was going to be an incredibly tough race, especially when some of them have their crossword puzzle filled out already. I begin to wonder about my chances of placing well.

One kid came in, a non messenger, and he was holding a piece of paper, he announced that the race hasn’t even started and he’s already getting ticketed. I think he was the kid who got stopped during November’s beer race. During that race he was pulled over for running a red light and the cop asked him what was up with the beer in his bag. The wrote him a ticket, confiscated the beer and the kid decided to head home instead of finishing the race. This time he got stopped at Water and Juneau for running a red light and got a warning from the cop. Great, there looking for bikers tonight.

One of the guys I have talked with before passes by me saying something, I missed what he said but I ask him if it’s almost time. He replied yes. I headed into the bathroom to make sure I don’t run into any internal problems for the race, I have already had 2 pints of beer and 2 glasses of water in the past 45 minutes. Unlike last month, I'm pretty clear headed after all that., it must have had something to do with all of the high alchohal content beer I had been indulging in since the holidays. This normal alcohol content beer seems not to affect me anymore.

Once I was done inside I headed outside in order to get ready and suited up, most everyone else was too. One of the middle aged guys had a professional camera out, may be they are here to write some sort of article, weird. Another one of the bikers also has a camera set up. I head to my bike, unlock it and pull out everything I need for the race, I think everyone is waiting on me to get ready, sorry guys, had to go to the bathroom. I put on my balaclava, which greatly hampers my hearing. James started talking about the race. He says that at some of the stops, we don’t know which ones, there will be people looking for us, to guarantee that everyone goes to all of the stops. He glances over at the intersection of Michigan and Water and says the race starts when water turns green. I pulled myself into the street, to try and clear everyone. The light turned red on Michigan and we went. This was going to be fun, having to pull into water on a green light with heavy Friday night traffic.

I routed out my manifest to start on the south side then swing back through downtown, shoot west, then back over to the east side then back to the bar, and I am determined to follow my plan, unlike all the other times. Half of us head south on Water, and 3 or 4 racers blow through the red on Michigan and swerve between traffic to get in the right hand lane of water. I take a slightly conservative route and pull into the oncomming lane instead, with plans on pulling over when possible. This causes me a bit of a problem due to me having to face down an oversized van leaving me no room between it and parked cars. I had to slow down to let the opening come up. I pushed ahead and had to deal with the car behind the van squeezing me and honking as well. Oh well, I’m sure the guy would have really been freaked out if I would have cut in front of him instead of pass by him. Before I reached the next street I saw that one biker had taken the round about way to safely get onto Water, he dashed across at the intersection right away. I thought about following suit, but the oncoming cars were coming too fast, I didn’t have the window he did. I followed on the wrong side until St Paul then cut over and road the median for half a block. I cranked south on water with the racer ahead of me setting my pace.

I caught up with him just south of third ward and began trying to figure out who it was. My initial thought was that is was Eric, and veteran messenger who is one of the founders of the magazine Cog. He’s holding a steady pace on his track bike, probably biding his strength, part of me questions if it is him or not. Pacing him allows me to coast a bit and I start thinking he might be one of the 2 female bikers. I continue to pace with him all the way down 1st street. We pass by one of the questions, which I have marked as stop 2 on my manifest. There are 2 questions for 1st street and I marked the furthest out one as the 1st stop. I note the street name for stop 2. There isn’t even a street, just the sign, weird. These really are streets you never knew existed, ones that don’t even really exist at all as well.

We keep going, blowing through the red at Lapham, on our way to the next stop. I hate this stretch of 1st; the road is horrible and filled with pot holes, to make matters worse the street lights are pretty much out. I can see the other bikers further up ahead, I blow past Eric. Just before the bridge I swing over to a building to check the address, I think I’m looking for 2000 S 1st street. The address is 1900 something, I swing back around and pass Eric, I shout out the address to him, he swings around as well. I cross the bridge, think for a second and stop. Eric has already headed back north. I pull out the manifest, 1900 something is what I am looking for, I must look like an idiot. I go back to the building, pull off my gloves and pull out the manifest and pen. I find the question and quickly fill in the answer; I am wasting a lot of time. I quickly put everything back where it belongs and take off, heading back north.

No one else is stopping and that is hurting me, because I am, now I have to play catch up; I don’t even no how much time I wasted. I fly down 1st street, taking note again of the answer I had previously passed, repeating the name in my head while trying to spot Eric or any other racer, nothing. I have fallen incredibly far behind and do not know if I can make this time up with all these messengers on the field. I hammer out like I’m riding a fixie, not coasting, just peddling, this is a race after all, and I need to go all out. I hit Third Ward and am already exhausted, my legs are sore, which is my entire fault since I have barely ridden since the last race, I’m still out of shape. With the pace that I am keeping I hope that I run into someone, but as I scan the blocks ahead of me I don’t see a single rear bike light at all, and I can see about a half mile ahead of me down Water Street.

The next stop is the street that The Safe House is on, which is actually more like an alley, but I do know that it is technically a street, just don’t know the name. I hit a red light at Wisconsin and pause for traffic before running through it, keeping one eye out for any cops. I’m already over heating with my balaclava, the thing just does not breath at all, but I don’t want to waste time taking it off and getting my ski cap out of my bag or risk needing to put the balaclava back on later in the race, I bare with it. I pull into the left hand lane heading north, ahead of an SUV, forget him, he can go around or hold pace. I’m going pretty quick, maybe 20mph, but can’t say for sure due to losing my bike computer in the race last month. I spot an opening at Wells and turn in, fighting traffic, to get to the Safe House. I scan the name of the street, commit it to memory and head to the leg of the ride I’m dreading, getting out of the valley that is downtown to head westbound.

My next stop is a street that intersects with 17th and state. After crossing the bridge over the Milwaukee River I run into heavy oncoming traffic in my lane, one guy even beeps at me as he doesn’t notice my existence until the last minute. Yeah I know I’m going against traffic, but the guy can pay attention to where he is going. I end up making my way to State Street, which I didn’t want to do, but no turning back now. I have to climb this damn hill, which I’m used to, but still hate. I run a red at 6th street and start humping my way up the multi tiered monstrosity. Half way up I make up my mind that I will pause at the top to write down the 2 spots I just passed, as I have been memorizing their names. I get to the top, exhausted and quickly strip off my gloves and pull out my pen and manifest, I write down one name and forget to write down the other. I grudgingly suit up again and head off down State. At about 15th I pass 2 other racers, they started off in the north; one of them was the guy who I talked to earlier. How far behind was I? I was half way through but I still had a ways to go. This was looking bad. I swerved over to the left side of the street to read the street name of the target, Range, got it. I take off north on 17th street.

This stretch is pretty wide open and flat, so I pick up the pace quite a bit, but I am still exhausted and over heating. I switch back and forth between breathing through my balaclava and not, in order to help cool myself down. When the cold air starts making my lounges ache I put the balaclava over my mouth again. I run into an unforeseen snag in my plan at Fond Du Lac ave, it cuts off 17th, so I have to backtrack a bit down Fond Du Lac and cut across 15th. I take this quite residential ghetto street all the way to North Avenue. Down this stretch I notice that my headlight isn’t working. The batteries are dead,. Now I’m the black ninja on bike again from the front and knee deep in the hood…this should be mildly entertaining. I cruise east on North Avenue, which is pretty busy with Friday night party activity. There is more foot traffic than there was downtown and I wonder what I look like, flying by on my bike, the only skin showing is a little oval of my nose and eyes. These people must think I’m crazy. There probably right, but I’m having fun, or I keep telling myself that. My moral is pretty low right about now, my legs ache incredibly and I know I am far behind. It looks like the DFL prize is mine tonight. The only thing keeping me going is that I only have three more stops left. At around 13th I have to cross the freeway. In 2006 I blew a tire hitting an unseen pothole on this stretch and had to walk my bike all the way to my work on Brady Street. I imagined what would happen if I had to walk all the way downtown, or at least to my car. That would be funny. Show up at the bar an hour later, yeah I blew my tire and had to walk from 13th and north all the way to Water and Michigan. I paid special attention at this stretch but got caught up in freeway exit traffic before I could run the red and cross the bridge. At the other side I blew past stopped traffic which didn’t catch up to me until 7th or 6th street. I got caught again at 3rd street but broke away before the green. I was fast approaching my stop; I pulled out the manifest to get the precise location. I had to find a street that intersected with 3XX E. North Avenue from the south. I found what I thought was the street, began to pencil it in, but the word was wrong, too short. I looked again, cutting around again to double check the addresses. I wasn’t finding a close address and the street walker at the other side of the street was looking at me oddly. I found what I thought was the right one and began the mantra again. Saying this street and the last one in chronological order, not wanting to waste anymore time, I only had two stops to go and it was in the east side.

At Holton and North I cut off an SUV heading east, it was stuck behind 2 cars turning my way and I turned with them. I pounded up Holton to Center Street then headed east again. As I passed Fuel Café I peered inside to see it almost empty. On a Friday night at this time that place would be filled to the gills, not anymore after a self imposed no smoking policy. Why would a skuzzy Riverwest coffee house go non-smoking? It doesn’t make any sense and apparently it’s not making any money either, maybe the Empire that runs it will wise up. I may be a year into not smoking but I still support smoker’s rights 100%.

I turn onto Humboldt through a red. Two more blocks until Locust, then turn onto Locust. This part of the street is pretty messed up as well and the lighting is horrible with one side being a park. I gingerly get past it and onto the safety of the bridge over the Milwaukee River. At Riverside high school I pull onto the small side street, my next stop is the street this one connects with, yet another 1 block mystery. I get to it and Oakland and find that the street sign is on the other side of the street, I hustle across the currently empty road and into the parking lot of Walgreens, which was a mistake. I find the street name and add it to the mantra. Then I swing around the ice covered, rutted Walgreens parking lot, slowly, making my way back to Oakland and on to my final stop. I fly back out to the street and climb the last real incline of the race, everything after this is close to downhill.

I keep a steady pace down Oakland, then turn west on North avenue. Back at the Riverside stop I confirmed the location of the cross street I was looking for, for the final question. I was unsure as to it being east or west of Oakland, but knew it was near it. I found it 2 blocks west of Oakland’s intersection with North. I cross the street in order to not have to fight on coming traffic and pull into a pitch black street. The lights are all out over here and barely any house lights are on. I coast up the road, not sure how far I am, I count the blocks and scan for the possible answer. At one point I see a missing street sign for the cross road and wonder if that was it. It makes sense, a bit of a joke, streets that you never knew existed. I hope not, I didn’t want to back track up that street to the next intersection to find its name. I find the one I think is it and add it to the mantra, but just before I turn off I see the correct one and change the final part of the mantra. I know where I am, but it’s very dark and I am unsure of the road conditions.

The course I am following will take me to the northern offshoot of Water Street and then the home stretch. First I have to navigate a steep, dark, snow and car covered hill that leads to a 4 way stop at Humboldt. At once I both hate and relish the on coming cars. They provide some illumination on the road, but they also force me into the snow/ice on the side of it at the same time. I have to take it slowly, the hill is steep, and my brakes are loose in this wet weather. The warm up for the weekend is already coming and the east side is starting to get wet from snow melt. I timed the intersection right and was able to continue going onto Water Street, all the time chanting the mantra in my head of the last 4 stops in chronological order.

Cruising down Water Street was smoothly enough, I was tired, my feet were starting to freeze and I was sweating buckets but it was uneventful until I hit the intersection the kid got a ticket at earlier. Instead of risking running the red I turned right down Juneau and headed to the small street in between Water and the river. I cruised down this quite, shockingly residential block in the middle of downtown and headed against traffic on State Street, coming out on Water Street again. I took that all the way to Wisconsin, where I hit a red light, pulled into the left hand lane and shot across the intersection after cross traffic cleared and I didn’t spot any police. One block to go. I pulled into Michigan with no trouble and saw many bikes back. I put mine against the building, not wanting to waste time locking it. As I did a woman walking by remarked about all the bikes, said something about is there a bike party going on, I kind of smiled and said there was. I went inside. Everyone was already back and the place was busy, I still had everything on. I went to an empty table and stripped off my gloves and began filling in the answers…I began forgetting the names of the streets. I wrote the wrong name down on one and then wrote it in its correct spot. One guy came up and said that Range was Renee; I faltered, wrote down range and tried the best I could. I was out of luck; I couldn’t remember the names and some of what I could didn’t look like it would fit. I went to James and told him I fucked up and explained what as going on. I gave him the manifest and he questioned Range, it was Renee he said. I thanked him for a fun race and took my leave, it was 8:45, and I don’t know what time the race started or how long it took me to do it. I was exhausted and a little miffed about messing up so badly. I guess not as bad as others though, as I left I ran into Joe from Breakaway who asked how I did, when I told him I messed up he said he did too, pretty angrily as well. I said that sucks and went to my bike, time to go home, better luck next time. This time I will get back on the trainer and ride my brains out.

The next day the results were posted, I came in 9th out of 11. the only girl who works at Breakaway won, which was really cool. She will host February’s race.

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