Monday, January 12, 2009

First Friday Alley Cat - May '08

April…er May showers bring wet races. The May installment of the Milwaukee First Friday Alley Cat saw an incredible threat of severe thunderstorms. As I rode to the bar to start the race the sky was cloudy, yet not threatening. The wind was a bit strong out of the south but it was humid and in the 50’s. It was the first time I had raced in shorts and a T-Shirt since the Bingo Card race last October. I was excited just to be racing comfortably, instead of being bundled up and restricted by layers of clothing. I pulled up and locked my bike in front of the bar; there were already a half dozen or so bikes there already. I walked into the bar, which was relatively crowded and recognized a number of faces. I wasn’t sure who was putting on the race but greeted people and ordered a pint of beer. I found out who was hosting right away and handed over my five dollars. I talked to some people and waited out the clock, there was a high level of energy in the building between all of the bikers, and it was going to be a good race. After a while, Matt, the guy I rode with in MMI arrived and we started planning for a 24 hour endurance race that is being held in the end of July, we also decided to partner up for tonight’s race as well. As we were waiting for the start a heavily inebriated sales man from Johnson Controls began chatting away with me. Right before the start if the race the man offered Matt and I a drink/shot, seeing as the race was about to begin we took the shot. He wished us well and we headed outside to get out manifest and instructions after downing the whiskey.

As I had been chatting with the drunken salesman, I had noticed that it was raining pretty good outside, too bad I left my rear fender at home. I had already prepared to ride wet anyways and had brought a change of clothes with me for after the race. As we all gathered outside the rain ended, leaving the streets incredibly waterlogged. Even if the rain was done coming down this was going to be a very wet race from the tires picking up the water on the road. I readied my bike while Matt debated about wearing a wind breaker for the rain. We received our manifests, large artwork laden sheets of paper. There was a collage of pictures on it with 5 locations, no other instructions. When everyone was ready the guy putting on the race explained that each location had 2 pictures related to it, one showing where you were supposed to look and the other one showing a specific part of the building. In the 2nd picture of each location was an area that was whitened out. We had to pencil in what was supposed to be there.

After we plotted our course I folded up the manifest and put it and my pen in my pocket. At the end of the explanation, with no warning, the race was a go. Everyone ran to their bikes and took off. I stalled, waiting for Matt, I heard him yell at me to go and we went off, west bound on Michigan.

It was around 7:40, the sky was still light and the traffic was moderately heavy. We got lucky and had a green on Water and got into the southbound lane right away. Matt was leading but I pulled ahead of him as we got into the 3rd Ward. The flow of traffic was fluid and I set the pace high as we pounded down the street. Traffic was beginning to stall south of Buffalo but before it would cause me to alter my path it cleared up. As we crossed the bridge out of the Third Ward I hit the grate crosswise and felt my back tire slip a little, not enough to do anything other than scare the hell out of me and force me to keep my bike parallel to the grates as best a possible. As I rode into Walkers Point I looked behind to see how Matt was doing. I saw a bike about a block or so behind me with its headlight blinking, I couldn’t tell if it was him or not. The headlight reminded me that I never put my lights on; luckily they were in my pocket. I reached in to grab my headlight and clipped that one into place. The tail light would have to wait until I stopped.

By the time I reached KK and Mitchell I had been pedaling pretty much non-stop. I cleared all of the intersections on the way with easy; I made quick time even going into the strong southerly wind. I turned down Mitchell, thinking I should have taken 2nd at some point to help shave off a few seconds. I spotted what I thought was the first stop. As I cleared the intersection on 5th street I pulled onto the sidewalk of the church that sits there. I paused for a second and heard Matt shout out to me from behind that it was 6th and Lincoln we had to go to. He passed me and we both met at the red light, waiting to make a left turn. As we waited, due to traffic, another racer passed us on 6th street. We took off right away, not wanting to fall behind.

As we headed towards Lincoln I took advantage of not having a fixed gear bike and tucked into the hill we cruised down. I quickly caught up to the other racer and paced him all the way to the church. We both mounted the side walk and rushed to the staircase that would lead to the front doors. I leaned my bike against the railing and looked around for Matt, who was just pulling up. The other racer ran his bike up the stairs and dumped it at the top. As I ran up the stairs I started picturing the guy’s bike sliding back down the steps and me having to jump out of its way. I reached the top and rushed to one of the four doors. We both pulled out our manifests and pens and began penciling in the ornate design on the door knob. As we were doodling three other racers showed up and the first one took off. It was our time to go too; I wondered at my sloppy representation and folded my paper back up. My original idea was to head down 6th street to get to our next stop, Marquette Hall on Marquette campus, but Matt suggested we take 16th street. I questioned it going all the way through but he said it did and we took off west down Lincoln, on our way to 16th.

This was the deepest I had ridden through Barrio so I was a bit out of element. I was used to riding through the North Side and knew how the traffic flowed and the neighbors operated, but the deepest I had been in the Mexican hood was 6th street and a lot of them were businesses. Luckily, due to my history as a vehicular messenger I knew the south side pretty intimately. I took us down 13th street when we hit a red light. I had a feeling that 16th was going to be a pain in the ass and said so to Matt as we came to a red light a block later. Matt cleared the intersection and I followed suit. We cruised northward, clearing the stop sign/light intersections like a 2 man SWAT team. I was in the lead for the majority of the time and would slow down until I was able to see if the coast was clear then I would pick up the pace again and shout out ‘clear’ to Matt. At Lapham he shouted out to turn left to get to 16th. There was a small hole in cross traffic and an oncoming vehicle was waiting to turn. Not wanting to deal with dodging a number of cars at once I barreled through and began to slow down to turn around but decided that was useless and kept going. I shouted out an apology and we turned west a few blocks later. We shot up the next couple of blocks in this quite residential area, no traffic or pedestrians anywhere, we rounded out in a break in traffic to get onto 16th.

As Matt passed me up he said something about how Milwaukee streets were bad, but that the south side streets were the worst. I reminded him how horrible North Avenue was and we continued onward, dodging both potholes and traffic. We got stopped at a few lights, much to our dismay but only had to wait the duration of one, Greenfield. At National we cut across half way through the red and were home free. I pulled ahead of Matt as we raced across the 16th street bridge, back to the north side. At National I began to pull out my manifest to double check the address of the next stop but Matt said he knew exactly where it was. We ran into a red light at Clybourne but traffic was almost non existent, my pausing to make sure the coast was clear allowed Matt to catch up some and we sprinted up the next 2 blocks to Wisconsin. I made the corner on a yellow and traffic stalled long enough at their green for matt to swing around too. As we approached 12th I pulled onto the sidewalk and slowed a bit, checking the building names, matt flew by on the road, yelling at me that it was the next one. As I looked down the sidewalk I picked out the racer that we met at the last stop among the milling students.

I wondered what these college kids thought of all of us hoping madly onto the sidewalk and standing in front of one of their campus buildings. Matt and I showed up as the first guy was taking off and the other 3 from before showed up as well, they must have gone down 6th street. This race was pretty close between all 6 of us and made for some good competition. We all quickly jotted down the likeness of what was in the stain glass panel above the front door to the building. I had broken off the clip on the pen cap so I just had to shove the pen back into my pocket. We mounted up, ran into the street and took off.

The next stop was a garage on the MATC campus. I shouted out the address to Matt and we headed down Wisconsin to 11th street. We took 11th up to Highland and turned eastbound. On the way Matt questioned the course, he thought we had to go to North Avenue, not N. 8th. I told him the correct location and we took a right on 8th. When I found the nearest address I realized we were a block off, we needed the 1100 block and were on the 1000 block. We turned around and sprinted up the block. The target was on the west side of the street. As we pulled up I laughed and said this was typical. The logo on the door we needed to draw was the Pabst Brewing emblem. As we jotted it down the three racers showed up as well. Everyone took off to the next stop at the same time.

It was now five of us heading in the same direction, City Hall. This one we had to go inside of the building and I wondered what anyone’s reaction would be to see us all rush in. This was a part of town I knew all too well; the flow of traffic and the lights were second nature to me now. I pulled ahead of one of the other guys and lead the pack down to 6th street. We were all pretty well packed and rounded onto 6th at a red light. I sprinted down the block and took a left onto State Street. I could tell that the other guys weren’t ready for this, that they were going to head up the next block to Kilbourn. At 6th and State we ran into a red light, I pulled into the left lane and cut onto State, fighting traffic. As soon as I could I got all the way over to my right and continued down. At 3rd I debated cutting over to Wells and taking that down, but I knew the lights would be a little less cooperative so continued my course the wrong way on State, with everyone else still grouped together. At 3rd I stalled for a second at the red light, one of the guys didn’t and passed me up, I called clear and picked up the pace again, passing him on the bridge. At Water I slowed down a bit again, called clear and turned southbound towards City Hall. As we turned, traffic was just beginning to go and everyone behind us got stalled for a second. The guy I was riding with ended up continuing down State. I thought maybe he knew that where we had to go was on the east side of the building. I continued to head south on Water, getting caught by traffic, unable to cross over into the left lane. I slowed for a bit and everyone else caught up. At Well’s we ran into a red light and had to dodge the advent of traffic turning onto Water to head north. I mounted the side walk and began to scan for an entrance among all of the construction scaffolding. I kept rolling down, thinking the guy who went up State had the right idea and that I was going to have to circle the block. As I passed the building I heard someone shout out to me and I turned around, passing a pedestrian. I came back to the scaffolding and saw the tight entrance area. I half pedaled and half walked my way into the courtyard where Matt and 2 of the other guys were. We all huddled around a large dais with a mural on it. At first I wasn’t sure what I had to draw but as I looked again I could see the part required. I quickly jotted it down and all of us took off again.

As I mounted back up one of the other guys almost crashed into the scaffolding and Matt made a quirky comment about him trying to kill himself. We all pulled ourselves back out into the city streets and onto the final stop. Matt asked if we were going to take Prospect and I confirmed that. We all headed up Wells, almost running into the pedestrian from before. The other guys were beating me up the hill due to their easier gearing, but at the crest of the small hill into the east part of downtown I was able to overtake all of them and continue my point position. I zigged and zagged my way to Prospect, stalling slightly at intersections and calling out clear when it was. I wasn’t sure who was all following me, and didn’t look back until I crossed Van Buren. The other two bikers had taken a different way but Matt was still there. We pulled onto Prospect on a lucky green light and cranked hard until it hurt.

As I rolled down the road I thought to call my mother in law, who lived further up the street, and tell her to watch out the window for us. I pulled out my cell, slowed up my pace a bit and hit speed dial. Someone answered and I told them to look out side in a minute to see some of us ride by. I found out afterwards I called the wrong number and my sister in law was the one to actually answer, which explained the weird conversation. As I passed the apartment I looked to see if I could see anyone in the windows and kept going, only a few blocks away. Matt caught up and I told him we would hit the next stop, Oriental Theater, from the north side. This would mean us traveling up a block then coming at the theater from the opposite direction, which would keep up from having to go up Farwell the wrong way just south of the busy North Avenue intersection. As I came down the small side street that paralleled North I had to swing out far due to a waiting car. As I was about to swing onto the sidewalk a SUV pulled onto the street causing me to dodge it and slow down more than I wanted to. By the time I mounted the sidewalk I would have been better off walking.

I got caught behind a strolling couple and after a quarter of a block of debating I politely asked them to make some room. I got to the theater first and leaned my bike against the wall. I pulled out the manifest and looked at the ticket booth, wondering if I had to draw the guy sitting behind the glass. I waited a second and Matt showed up, he told me what we were drawing. As I began to fill in the final blank three other racers showed up, 1 of which we had not run into since the first stop. The other two had apparently taken Oakland to the theater.

Once done we quickly mounted up and set out for the home stretch, south on Farwell. The other guy was actually leading on us until I passed him by Pizza Shuttle. Matt and I continued down Farwell and he took a turn onto Brady. I thought that was a bad move since he would be going more round about by hitting Water street. We continued down the road and when it merged with Prospect I pulled all the way into the left lane at a red light. I beat the stalled traffic and was able to take up the only lane available a block later due to construction…wise move on my part, unknowingly. From there we continued all the way to Wisconsin. Around the art museum Matt caught up with me and began cheering me on as I took the corner and started to sprint. I cut down the next block, just east of the US Bank building and then onto Michigan. The lights played in my favor and I sprinted the entire way back to the bar. Keeping up with the traffic flow caused some problem and I had to slow down at the end to cut over and mount the sidewalk. I came to a stop, parked my bike and we both went inside, wet, out of breath and exhausted, to check in.

All in all we came in 4th and 5th or 5th and 6th (I can’t quite remember), our time was 50 minutes and we were 7 or 8 minutes behind 2nd place, not too bad, but I could definitely feel the amount of energy I put in to get in the place I got. The winner, Joe, did it in 30 minutes…like a machine. This month’s race was one of the best ones I have had in a long time, it was concise, ease to do and I didn’t have any major mistakes. I was able to finish the race properly and got a good ranking. Hopefully Junes will be just as fun, I know it will be bigger, with warmer weather on the threshold.

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