Monday, January 12, 2009

First Friday Alley Cat - October '08

Two days before the October race I was biking to work. As I stalled at an intersection to wait for cars to pass then took off again. As I did I heard a weird *tink* noise. I looked down to see what hap happened, maybe I dropped something, only to notice that the seat tub was actually no longer securely connected to the rest of the frame. I got off to inspect the damage. I had cracked the tube clean through were it joins with the bottom bracket shell (the part the crank goes through). Well, I knew the bike was going to have to be retired soon, was hoping to do it in the spring, but apparently it didn’t want to see another winter. So I grudgingly walked my bike back home to get my mountain bike. I was faced with two choices; get a front brake on my track bike and race on that, or race on my mountain bike. I didn’t like option 2 but since I didn’t want to spend any money and my road bikes brake wouldn’t fit on the track bike I was left with that option.

Octobers race was not looking promising for a good placement seeing as I was forced to ride my heavy fixed gear mountain bike, already geared up for winter riding with fenders. I originally built the bike last winter as a bike to use for polo. Once I had the bike finished I found myself no longer having time to play polo so the bike gets little use. I geared it up to be used for wet conditions and for running through slush and snow when that comes around. Luckily I thought along time ago and took off the knobby mountain bike tires and replaced them with the thinnest slick tires I could find…one and a half inchers, a great deal bigger than I normally ride, thus making for more contact area, thus slower speeds. I had recently replaced the entire crank set since I broke the previous one and this one had a larger chain ring, so I had a higher gear ration. The bike also weighs about 7 or 8 pounds more than my now defunct road bike. Plus the frame is actually a bit too small for me. Regardless of all of that I chose to race, that’s just not an option. Besides it would be fun to show off the killer bee, as I call it, due to its color scheme.

So I drove downtown, as not to tire myself out, and parked. Mounted the urban assault bike and headed to the bar. It was already starting to get darker and I still had yet to replace my lost headlight…oh well will have to make due. The ride in was uneventful but it did show me that downtown was incredibly busy, busier then I can remember racing in, this would be interesting. I arrived at the bar to find that a few people were already here, and I was early as it was. I arrived just after Jordan did so we met up outside as well as a guy who works at another Wheel and Sprocket. We went in and ordered beer. I knew that Eric, who won the previous race, was not putting this one on, but I wasn’t sure who was running this race. We sat down and began bullshitting and drinking, waiting for the start of the race. One of the people there was someone I haven’t seen for a number of months, Joe, who is one of the messengers and a member of the polo club. It was good to see him as I don’t run into any of these guys anywhere else, usually. I showed him my ex-polo bike and we talked shop for a bit. Jordan and I tried to get a hold of Danny to no avail, guess he wasn’t going to be showing up after all. We soon found out that Gallagher was the one running the race. As soon as I found out we paid. When I paid he apologetically asked what my name was, as he always kept forgetting it. I said it was fine and gave him my name. It struck me that, even though I don’t socialize too much, people are starting to remember me, which would make sense as this marks a year I have been doing these races. It was still a nice thing to know because these were some nice and fun people. I’m just not good at socializing with people I’m not familiar with.

We sat around a little bit more then the call for the race to start was made and we all headed outside. I grabbed my bike and readied myself. Gallagher asked if that was my bike and when I said yes he said he saw it a few times at the Journal. The bike was definitely memorable. He handed out our manifest, I noticed one dropped on the ground so I swooped to get that instead of waiting for the crowd, but was told it was blank. It didn’t mater anyways because I was handed one right after that. I grabbed it and began trying to comprehend the information in front of me. I don’t know why but it takes about a minute or so for the manifests to sink in, I’m too frantic in the beginning trying to figure out my course. The race started right away but I waited to meet up with Jordan. As I was doing that my phone rang, it was Danny wondering were the bar was again. I told him were it was that the race was about to start and asked him were he was. It took a little bit to realize that all the other racers had already left. I studied the manifest, looked at Jordan and said lets take off. I told him we would hit the City Hall stop first, we should run across Danny since he was on Wells and what I assumed was Water. After that, well how knows. So we took off.

I wasn’t too terribly quick, I knew I wasn’t going to win and we had gotten a late start. He got onto Water Street quickly and headed north towards City Hall, all the while I was trying to look out for Danny. When we got to the entrance Jordan took the lead, it was our second race that stopped here, so he knew where he was going. We were looking for an exact date off of the monument. We got our answers and took off. As I pulled out of the entrance, I lost Jordan. He had gone out to the street before me and I scanned the area and did not see him. I did however see Joe coming down the street, heading towards me. I decided to take off and follow Joe. I would call Jordan when I got to the next stop, get the answer to him and meet up with him at the 3rd stop. We both cruised up the 3 blocks to the next stop pretty smoothly. The stop was on the west side of the street and Joe got over to it faster then I did, but he hesitated on the corner, trying to figure out exactly where the stop was. I crossed and headed were he was heading, which was a doorway near the corner. We had to write down the phone number to the apartments on the 2nd story of the building. As I jotted down the phone number I thought about how I could easily have read it from the median. Just as I finished up and was about to cal Jordan my phone began to ring. It was Jordan. I asked him what happened and then told him to meet me at the next stop, Uhle's Tobacco. I gave him some general directions and took off, planning to give him the answer to the stop I was just at, that he missed.

Traffic was quite heavy on Water Street now, there was some event going on at the PAC. As I went with the flow of traffic a car in the lane next to me attempted to turn in on me as they tried to get into the parking structure of the PAC. I yelled hey loudly and stepped up my pace. Tonight I was plenty visible, so there was no excuse why this car would not see me. That’s just the way it is though, many drivers don’t pay attention to the world around them. Fueled with my near accident experience I took the corner onto State Street hard and pounded down the road. I wasn’t going to stick on Water Street anymore, not with all the lights and heavy traffic. I was going to sneak around the back way to get to the cigar store. I mounted the sidewalk and ended up turning into Pier Marquette Park, mostly due to pedestrians in my way but also to save some time. As I wound around the park I noticed a group of skateboarders filming themselves doing stunts around the gazeboes. I wondered what they though of me as I went flying through them and wondered at the oddity of running into skateboarders in the past two races. I quickly exited the park and found myself hopping the curb and heading the wrong way down Plankinton, which was fine. Due to construction the only traffic I had to deal with was that heading towards me, which was non existent. At the intersection I passed Jordan, coming towards me. I also mounted the sidewalk as well and yelled for Jordan to follow me. I’m not sure what was going on, probably something at the Riverside Theater, but the sidewalk was pretty packed. I screeched to a slow crawl and yelled for the pedestrians to get out of my way. As I navigated the tightly packed sidewalk one guy commented something cheeky. I ignored him, my eyes set on my goal, Uhle’s Tobacco shop. I hopped off of the bike and waited for Jordan to come around, to make sure he knew were I was headed. Once I caught site of him I headed inside. There were a few young guys puffing away on cigars at the counter when I came in, they must have been slightly shocked by the sight of me, but I obviously wasn’t the first racer to show up. One of the counter girls signed my manifest for me. As I left, Jordan got his signed. I waited outside for him.

Once we both mounted up I told him the first part of our next stop. He took the sidewalk exit, I on a mountain bike, just hopped the curb. We cut through the lull in traffic and shot down Plankinton. At Michigan we hung a left and then headed south again at 2nd street. From there we headed west on St. Paul, right behind two racers. Due to the construction I mounted the sidewalk and prayed that a car wouldn’t come zooming out of one of the many driveways and hit me. I had pulled ahead of Jordan so I waved for him to follow me. We pulled up to the front entrance of the main Post Office. The two other racers kept going down the street, they must not have known exactly were they were going. We ran inside the building, with our goal being 1 complete mailing box each. We searched the rack and grabbed our boxes as the other two racers came in. I quickly built the box up as I headed out of the door. I swung my bag off, shoved the box in and realized I would have to let the shoulder strap all the way out to take care of the extra bulk. Once I got everything secure we both headed off.

I took the street on the way back down St Paul, since it was going the way I needed it to and traffic was non existent, which was also good since my line of sight was cut off over my shoulder from the box. We headed north on Plankinton and got stopped at Clybourne but not for long. Out of no where, during the light, another racer blew by us. This caused me to pick up the pace and I took off too, hanging on just long enough to wave Jordan in the right direction as I took a hard right onto Michigan and tried to get back to the bar as soon as possible. Another of the races caught up to me at a red light on Water Street. Once the coast was clear we both bolted across the road and up to the bar. I laid my bike on the sidewalk and waited for Jordan to run in. I quickly pulled out my manifest and pilled my box on top of the already growing pile, after writing my name on it. Gave the manifest to Gallagher, who perused it quickly than gave me the next one, which I started studying. As he perused Jordan’s he questioned why one of the answers wasn’t filled in. I felt a moment of fear grip me as I realized I never gave him the answer to that stop he didn’t make it to. I looked at him with sad puppy eyes, to try and convey my sadness with dropping the ball and not getting him that answer, it was a little late now… I couldn’t read his expression, I wasn’t sure if he was pissed with me but I did see his resignation and he said he would have to do it and that I should continue on. I felt like shit for having failed him on this and shrugged as we both left the bar. I gave him the best directions as I could and deeply apologized for the error. He got on his bike and headed off. In a funk I grabbed my bike and took my time with it, studying my manifest and trying to figure out ho I can aid Jordan. I got on the bike and headed through the alley next to the bar, south bound.

My course was clouded with my thoughts of dropping the ball for Jordan and his having to run the course solo when he has a limited knowledge of down town. I think he also might have wanted this kind of opportunity to test out his solo skills, since he has always ridden with me in all the races. I quickly fought with the heavy Friday night traffic to head to the first stop on the second manifest. As usual Water Street by the Ale House was crowded and dangerous. I took the left lane and quickly passed a row of double parked vehicles in my fight to get south of the ward. As I crossed the bridge I pulled out the manifest to scan the address I was looking for and began to search for any addresses on the passing buildings. The spot I needed was just south of the intersection with Florida. It was a run down, apparently unoccupied white brick building nestled up against the overhead train tracks. I found the address and quickly began searching for the name of the studio that as apparently here. There were no markers other than the address plate and some graffiti on the wall. I kept looking around for a few minutes, contemplating trying to decipher the graffiti, when I turned around and noticed that the building across the street was a studio. I guessed this must have been a trick question, hopped on my bike and went across the road. I quickly wrote down the name of that business after putting “None, but at…” Maybe that would work I checked the next stop and hopped back on the bike. The rest of the stops were back in the downtown area, so I had quickly sped back through Third Ward and into the south end of downtown. The next stop was actually in front of Schwanke Kasten Jewelers on Broadway. We had to draw in a box provided on the manifest what their crest looked like that was on the building. From there I had to go in an alley a few blocks away to write down what was written on a sticker stuck to the door at the back of a building. The entire time I’m trying to figure out ways to aid Jordan, to make up for not providing him with the answer he missed.

My last stop on the second manifest took me to Water and Kilbourn. At first I thought the answer was at City Hall again and slowed down to try and figure out what address I was at. The address was an east one so I assumed it was east of Water. Once I found an address I realized that my thinking was wrong and had to go west of Water. I passed through the intersection and came up to the hotel that sits on the corner down from the Pabst. I tried not to get hit by one of the taxis hanging out in front of the hotel as I searched for the address. I spotted the office complex portion of the building and realized that must be the spot. I confirmed the address and quickly jotted down the name of the building. Then I called Jordan, when I didn’t get an answer I texted him a hint to one of the stops on this manifest. I then mounted up and headed back to the bar to get my final manifest.

I get there pretty quickly as I was able to deftly manage traffic at the intersections, I only got held up at Wells for a few seconds and had a break at Wisconsin during the red light. As I pulled up to the bar one of the racers who had apparently dropped out was still out front talking on his cell phone since I was last here. I dumped my bike and headed in side. As I did I saw Joe head into the back of the bar and a few people cheered him on. I dropped off my manifest with Gallagher and got the final one, he said something about me being close to first. He also told me that one of the questions had the wrong address on it and marked down the correct one. I quickly ran outside, now pumped with being near the lead after all this time screwing around and riding a beast of a bike. I scanned the manifest, plotted my course and took off. The first stop was a block away on Water Street, as I took the corner I heard an odd scraping sound coming from my front tire. I mounted the sidewalk and slowed down about halfway, thinking the stop was the Lady Bug building, it was the one next to it. I had to jot down the design firm that made the building, which took a bit of searching but I found it, wrote it quickly and headed off to the next stop, the corrected on.

I took the sidewalk back down to Michigan and got on the street there, heading all the way out to 10th. I had a renewed sense of energy and spirit by my perceived placement and I took the nice long empty space to open up and really put some speed on. I had to stall slightly at 6th street but was able to cross safely on the red. As I crossed 9th I pulled over into the left side of the street and began the search for addresses. I found the building and noticed the weird noise from my bike again as I pulled into the foyer of the stop. I quickly wrote down the answer and the noticed that one of the metal rods that help stabilize my front fender had actually come undone. I said to hell with it, checked if it could go into my spokes and left it be. I could fix it later and it didn’t seem to be posing any threat to my safety. I hopped on and quickly headed back towards Water Street. My next stop was in the Third Ward, at a building I knew well. At 5th street I headed south and got onto St. Paul. St. Paul was dead again and I shot down the street, my perceived lead still powering me. I crossed the bridge over the river and had a green light as I turned south onto water street. I sped ahead of traffic but got caught at Buffalo with a red light, northbound turning traffic and pedestrians. I navigated through these urban obstacles and headed to my target. As I pulled up another racer was just finishing up. I quickly wrote down my answer and took off for the final stop, which was right next to the bar. As I was leaving another racer came up and asked me if I had any answers, not wanting to give my self unneeded competition I told him that the one address was wrong and he said that he wasted all his time at the wrong one and thanked me for the info. I took off, pounding up Water Street, back into downtown. I was able to ride straight up to Michigan without stopping, pulling in front of traffic under the freeway overpass by the Milwaukee Public Market. I had to stall for a second at Michigan due to undecided pedestrians. They made up their mind and I headed up the block. I hopped off the bike in front of my last stop, considered wasting my time right away locking it up. I chose not to and headed to try and find how to get into the building.

The question wanted us to write down a name from a plaque sitting in the middle of the building. The question said that we could get into the building. Quick check of the front doors told me that as too obvious and that they were locked. I thought for a second and remembered Joe running through the back of the bar. I decided to try it out and went into the bar. I asked Gallagher on passing if I could get into the office building from here, he said yes and I picked up my pace. I went behind the bar and through the back door into the building. I quickly ran to the plaque and scanned the info to make sure I got the right answer. I then headed back into the bar and turned in the last manifest. I asked Gallagher what my place was, he said I was the first one back, but Joe had to double back to one of the stops. So if he got everything right and I did as well he would get first place. The stop was the wrong address one so that makes sense and is in all fairness. I was blown away by my placement, especially on the bike I rode and all the time I wasted. I went outside to lock up my bike and relax. After a bit o cooling down I headed back into to have a drink. Joe came back after a while and we bull shitted about the race. He went to the wrong address in the beginning and was there for a number on minutes before giving up on the answer. I called Jordan and found out he was on his 3rd manifest now. A fiend of mine showed up to share some beer and we waited the results for the end of the race. Once they were announced, Joe got first and I got second, I called Jordan and let him know the race was over with. While I was doing that I missed out on my five dollar prize, oh well.

I waited for Jordan to come back, apologized, bought him a beer and talked about the race. We took off shortly afterwards and headed our separate ways. In the November race I will be riding my brand new bike, with 1st place as my goal…it’s all up to the routing now and how quickly I can find everything. I proved to myself that I can haul on a clunky piece of crap bike, so now with a new and well built one I should fly.

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