Monday, January 12, 2009

First Friday Alley Cat - September '08

The September first Friday night alley cat race found me racing on a fixed gear for the first time. The week previously I had rebuilt the rear wheel for my trusty road bike to make it a fixed gear. After riding on the track in Kenosha a number of times I realized I needed to beat out all of the habits I have developed due to a lifetime of riding on a bike that can coast before it gets me killed on the velodrome. So, since my road bike is the bike I ride the most and train on the most, I knew I had to convert it. So, with all 3 of my bikes being fixed gear, I no longer have the luxury of coasting…whatever, that was the point in the first place. Augusts also so another guy from the bike shop being inducted into alley cat racing, a primarily triathlete directed guy by the name of Danny. Dan started working at the shop the same time I had, but all of us took it upon ourselves to corrupt him in the ways of single speeds and friendly make fun of his tri habits. It eventually worked and he broke down and bought a fixed gear road bike from another coworker and has pretty much fallen in love with it, I’m still working on convincing him to switch from tri racing to track racing. But regardless, the first Friday night in August found him racing his fixed gear bike in downtown traffic, welcome to Milwaukee. He had just moved to the city from the suburbs for college, so he didn’t know what to expect on a bike.

We met up near the PAC and proceeded to the bar. As we arrived he told me I was crazy for the way I rode, I think I was subconsciously showing off but didn’t do anything terribly stupid. He noticed right away that the place was unmistakable on race nights, as he marveled at all of the bikes locked up out front. I was a little disconcerted as to Dan not having both a bag and a lock but he’ll learn. We stepped into the bar and were greeted by Armahn, who was apparently putting on tonight’s race. We both paid and put our names on the list. The bar was semi full, and I ordered a beer and a water, Damn got a water. As I sat down at the table Dan stated he was surprised I was going to leave my beer on the table until after the race. I looked at him and said, what do you mean, as I began to drink it down. A little horrified he asked me if I was drinking it before the race. I told him that was the point and he asked if I was setting the right example for him…I smiled and said yes. After I finished off the beer and the water I refilled both. I pointed out some people to him and went over some of the finer details about how the races work.

Soon it was time to get started and everyone piled outside. Armahn handed out the manifests, which was nicely put together and on thicker paper stock, well done. The manifest pretty big, probably 12 stops or so, bigger than the normal. A few people complained about the size, but everything was pretty much located downtown, so it wasn’t a lot of long distances. As we went over the rules I franticly worked on plotting the course. I marked down a few of the stops and informed Danny of that info and before we could get farther it was time to go. Everyone took off, I directed Dan down the alley between the bar and another building. We were headed into the 3rd Ward and we came out onto Clybourne. As I pulled onto the street Danny pulled onto the sidewalk, I yelled at him to stay off the sidewalks. As I came out to Water Street I ran into a red and the majority of the racers passed me, as they went directly to Water from the bar. It was pretty impressive to see about 10 or so bikers pounding down the street at full bore. I’m, sure the drivers were pretty freaked out by it. I didn’t have time to be awed as I needed to accomplish 3 things right away; I needed to get into the southbound lane of Water, make sure Danny followed suit and did so with out getting killed. I made it over, but lost sight of Danny, it was getting dark and the split second I had to look behind me only showed me a lot of bikers and some headlights. I was behind the lead person of the pack, riding on right. As we approached St. Paul a thought crossed my mind that the guy in front of me, that I was quickly passing, was going to turn into me to get to St. Paul, were as I was continuing south on Water. I should have shouted out passing on the right, like normal bikers would do, but I tried to will him not to turn into me. As we crossed into the intersection and I began to pass him he began to turn into me. I freaked, stopped pedaling for a second, bucked my right foot, kept peddling all while clenching my bars and shouting coming through 2 times. As I passed his front end brushed slightly with my back end. It was pretty intense and got my heart pounding, I looked back to see if he was stable, which he was and I kept going. I'm sure that was entertaining for anyone watching. I don’t even know who it was and never found out. I just pushed forward and cranked out. I was now leading a group of bikers into the 3rd Ward. I had the street name for the first stop repeating over and over in my head. Every once and a while I shot a glance back to try and find Dan but was unable to discern him from the rest of the riders.

I crossed the river and passed into Walkers Point, the first stop was 200 something Seeboth, for the life of me I could not think of why that street was so familiar to me. As soon as I saw Seeboth I remembered that it does not go through from 1st to 2nd, so I would have to go up to the next block, Pittsburg and swing around. That would be why some of the riders went up St. Paul. I figured they were hitting the St. Paul stops first. I hit a red light on Pittsburg, but cross traffic was nonexistent so I quickly turned right, with another biker close behind me. Went down the dip and took another right at 2nd. I could see more bikers coming southbound towards Seeboth and remembered why I know this street, it’s were the HQ for MMSD resides. I pulled out my folded up manifest and quickly found the stop on it while riding and began to read the requirement. There was a question relating to a sign on warehouse that we had to copy down the answer from. Everyone crowded around the entrance, hastily scribbling and then heading off again. It was at this time that I finally saw Dan again. Somehow he had made it with one of the groups, probably mine and was next to me finding out the answer. Everyone headed towards Seeboth and Dan and I followed suit. We al crossed 2nd and flew into the dead-end. Everyone began hopping off of their bikes, shouldering them and running through the walkway to get to the other side. I did the same but was too out of breath to fully run, I didn’t care…I’ll really need to work on that if I want to start cyclocross racing next winter. I took this off bike time to scan the manifest to find the next stop, which I knew was near here. Most everyone has begun heading off and Dan waited for me at the exit. I got on my bike and began to go forward, searching for an address. I paused and said that the stop is right over there and everyone is missing it. We headed down a small offshoot of 1st street, which some kids were skateboarding in to get our next answer. I wondered if the skate kids were wondering what was going on with all the crazed bikers. As we pulled up to the next stop, a warehouse, to get our next answer, another one of the racers came back. I asked him if he realized he almost missed on too, he said he did and didn’t have any clue were all the others were going. After our answers were filled in I quickly went over the manifest trying to figure out the next stop. I found it and we were off.

As we pulled out onto Water many of the other racers were heading back to get this missed stop. Traffic began to pick up right as we got to the intersection, a truck was coming closely in the northbound lane and I decided to take the chance, but I shouted back at Danny not to follow me, as he would not have safe room to make it across the street as well. I pulled out and the truck began to slow down, I looked back when I got into the lane to see Danny fall to the grown in front of the truck, not cool. I swung around, as traffic had come to a stop in our lane and came back to assist Dan. He was picking himself up when I reached him and I asked if he was ok, he said he was, but I could tell he was a little freaked out. We quickly kept going and waved an apology to the truck. As we crossed back into the 3rd ward Danny explained to me that he fell while trying to wave on the truck. What at happened, I found out later, was that he heeded my warning, but the truck slowed down anyways. He waved it on, the truck waved him on in return (I’ve bitched about this before, most of us plan our course of action around the vehicles continuing to move, while it may be the nice thing to slow down, you have the fucking right of way, so keep going!!!) Dan didn’t want to play the Mexican stand off game and accepted the invitation to go, right as he waved thanks to the truck driver his front wheel, for some unknown reason, went sideways and over he fell, out onto the street. Our next stop was just up the street and we pulled onto the west side. As I found and address we realized we were a half block to far so we had to go back a bit. This question was on a historical marker on a building right next to the river, I don’t remember the details but it’s this kind of stuff that is fun about these races, finding out all the obscure historical facts with the city. We got our answer and I quickly located our next stop. We took off again, but this time traffic was pretty heavy so we stuck to the sidewalks, heading northbound on Water again. I told him to take the street as soon as he was able to but to stick in the southbound lane, against traffic, because we would be turning soon and it was best to avoid being hampered by traffic to turn. After a block I jumped onto the street but yelled for him to stick to the sidewalk, traffic was petty dense and was riding close to the parking lane. After another block he was clear and we went the last block north before we turned onto St. Paul. I grinned as I recounted almost getting run into a few minutes previously at this same spot and pounded out westbound ahead of the traffic.

We had 2 stops on St. Paul; I pulled out the manifest while riding to double check the address of the first one. This stop was just west of 2nd and located on the building of an old furniture store. We had to mark down what was in the 2nd or 3rd story window, if my memory serves correct. We did that and continued down St. Paul, to our next stop, which I dreaded because the stretch of the street past 6th was in pretty bad condition and it was dark enough that I would not easily be able to spot pot holes. Regardless I took off, with Danny behind. He was having problems putting his manifest away quickly, his only pocket was the one on the back of his Ireland flag cycling jersey and he is not adept yet at quickly getting his manifest in and out of holding, which does hold up the momentum a bit, but that is what learning and experience is all about, refining your techniques that are critical. The next stop was on a sign posted on a warehouse near 13th and St. Paul. Gallagar once again showed up as we were there. We quickly jotted down the answer and I headed of to the next stop, Danny lagged a bit with his manifest and got caught in sudden traffic. I stalled for him at 13th and we both headed north. Once again I found myself having to run over the construction sight under the freeway on 13th street, or so I thought. They had actually laid down all the concrete for the road but still had it blocked to traffic, we squeezed through the concrete barriers and quickly headed for Clybourne. Again we ran up the stairs at Marquette and took the sidewalk, like I learned from Matt the last time I raced with him. We came out onto Wisconsin and I informed Dan of were we were going, as I was worried about colliding with him during the turn. I made a quick decision at the street and decided to risk damaging my bike and hoped off the curb as opposed to going down the block and doing a quick turn on the pedestrian ramp. The street was pretty empty and we took a red light at 12th and headed north again. Our next stop was about a half mile up. As we got to Wells I pulled the manifest out again to double check the address and noticed another stop on 15th and Kilbourn. I led the way down Kilbourn. At 14th there was a huge line leading into a Marquette frat house, must have been some kind of mixer for the New Year. Bad hip hop blaring muffled out of the house and a line down the block of desperate college kids, it was a pretty funny scene…I wondered when the cops would show up, but they generally only do if there is a problem. We came up to the stop and quickly jotted down the answer then doubles back to 12th. As we passed the frat house again I thought that I should tell everyone back at the bar about the party and see who would want to crash it, but I forgot about it later.

We pulled onto 12th and I opened up. It had been a while since I had a clear straight away in the race were I could really hammer and not worry about having to slow down or stop. By this time my legs were pretty exhausted from not only all the racing but from going to and from work and then down to the race. I still took off and help a decent speed. As we neared the next stop I pulled into the other side of the street, as it was located there and quickly located the answer to this question. Just as that happened Gallagher showed up as well, which was fine, he’s a nice guy and a good cyclist, so I took it to mean we were doing well. We got our answer and I scanned for the next stop, which was near by. I took Danny down Winnebago St. hill that links Vliet Street to Juneau Ave. I told him to hang on and slow down near the bottom, as the road gets a bit rough. We hit the low 30’s going down the hill, as I usually do, and caught a red light at 6th street. I led us against traffic on 6th as we needed to get to the next block. As I was going down the road a car turned onto the block and started heading toward us, they must not have been paying attention because they swerved away in a pretty pronounced manner, even though we were no where near them, some people get pretty skittish around a cyclist, especially when their not expecting them. We pulled onto McKinley Ave and quickly had to double back as we passed our stop and were blocked off by the median. I pulled out the manifest as we were riding and read the question; we had to jot down how many flags were at the location and what color they were. It took a second but I found the flags, which were small non-descript, single colored ones. We pulled into the parking lot to see if there were any flags we missed. Once the total and colors were jotted down we headed off again. I told Danny we would be taking the alley that was just down the block as the next stop was very close.

We pulled down the alley next to the National Ace store and then came out on Vliet, turned left and hit 4th, crossed when clear and shot down to 3rd. We pulled onto the sidewalk heading south bound and went down to the middle of the block to the next stop, which was the exotic fish store across the street from the Time Warner building. We got our answer and headed off to the next stop.

As we pulled out onto 3rd and McKinley, planning on getting east of Water Street, a good sized group of racers crossed out path, heading west. We greeted each other and with a renewed sense of haste took off down McKinley. The next stop was the first one that I wasn’t entirely sure were it was. I had an idea so we took off. First pounding up McKinley, crossing Water, which was beginning to fill up with Friday night drinkers, and up towards Broadway. We found the next stop easily enough but my sense of layout was beginning to fail on me. We had a number of stops left and they were all east of water Street, but I was having trouble mapping them properly. I scanned the manifest quickly and spotted what I assumed was the next closest stop. It was down the street on Mason, which would lead us to another stop on Mason, right in front of the art museum. As we waited for cross traffic at the red, two kids on pulled in front of us, both on bikes, but mountain bikes and there were mostly just wandering aimlessly. We quickly over came them, passed them by and took off again, trying to beat red lights and traffic. We turned onto Mason and at the corner I pulled out the manifest to find the address again, as luck would have it the building we stopped in front of was the next stop. We quickly jotted down the answer, I noted all the bikes lined up across the street and we took off.

As we went up Mason we continued to run into red lights with light traffic, we had to stall at pretty much every stop, but once we crossed van Buren I took off. Our next stop was at the statue of Lincoln on the grounds of the War Memorial building. We pulled up, hoped the curb and quickly began to scan everything around the statue for the answer…which was who the artists was. There were a number of plaques around the base and we scoured those for any clue, but they were dedications and sayings, not any kind of marking for who created it. As we were getting frustrated Gallagher again showed up. We told him we were having bad luck and he hopped on top of the platform and began searching the base of the statue its self, nice idea. We followed suit and all 3 of us began scouring it. After going all the way around it, debating whether the stamp of the manufacturing company was the answer, we finally found the artists name etched into the back left side of the platform. Gallagher asked us if we had one of the answers but the one he needed we didn’t have. He took off and we followed suit.

I lead the way down the sidewalk that leads to the south side of Wisconsin Ave, as this was a straight shot and we would not have to deal with any traffic, just pedestrians if any. We didn’t run into too much trouble and made our way onto Wisconsin. At Cass we turned south and then west again on Michigan, we only had a few more stops left. I pulled out the manifest to scan it again as we went and realized I missed a stop. I swore and turned up Broadway apologizing for having to back track. The frustration and anger made me peddle harder up the incline and we got to our destination pretty quickly. As we did we heard someone whistle from above. Our next stop required us to go to the top of a parking structure across the street. We had to find out what was on top of the building and the only way to do that was from the structure. We waved to the guy at the top and headed into the elevator, bikes and all. It was a nice tight fit with both of us and Danny was a bit surprised we were riding an elevator in the race with our bikes, just another fun alley cat. At the top we met the guy who whistled to us. He said he couldn’t figure out what it was up there and wished us luck. We wished him the same and took off to get to the top floor. The elevator only went to 5 and the top was 6. We crawled up the incline and the switch back and found our selves at the railing. There were no lights on the building and it was night completely night time by now. We strained and strained and Dan tried to shine his bikes head light, to no avail, but could not figure out what was up there. We did spot some weird white wire thing, which actually was more likely reflection off of the building next to it doing some cool, weird pattern. After a number of minutes trying to figure out what was up there we agreed to just write in tennis court. We headed back to the elevator, Danny asked why not bike the rest of the way down and I told him it would be quicker to ride down. At the last minute I decided to take the ramps down. We quickly got to the bottom floor and ended up exiting behind the parking structure. We only had three stops left.

We quickly headed back towards the Third Ward, which housed two of our last stops. The trip back was uneventful and we quickly came up to our next stop, which ended up being the Gloriosos building, which they happen to share with the Red Cross. The question asked for what the sign said people in the building were certified in, I ended up writing nearly and entire paragraph to make sure I got all the info I needed. When we were finished we headed to the next stop, which was only 2 blocks away on Broadway and St. Paul. As we got there another racer had already arrived and inadvertently helped us find the answer too. With that we had one more stop, which was located on the same block at the bar. We quickly returned. I went to the north side of the street, thinking it was there, but soon realized it was on the south side, just east of the bar. We quickly wrote down the info, which was how frequently the barber wanted you to get a hair cut, if I remember correctly the sign said once a week. I said we were done and locked up my bike. Danny didn’t realize were we were and was a bit confused, he asked if this was were the race ended and I said yeah, were back at the bar. He didn’t notice. We put our bikes together and headed inside.

The place was decently filled up; when we went to check in I was surprised to see Armahn write 2 on the back of my manifest and 3 on Danny’s. It was at this time I noticed that Danny had written down his name on the top of his, good thinking, but my attention was more focused on finding out what was on that building. After a few people jumped in we found out it was a lawn. Oh well, strike one on that count. Now its time to see who had what answers correct. We sat down at the bar; both got water, I got a beer and bought Dan a soda. As we drank more racers began to show up and the bar became crowded and everyone talked about the race. After some time, with the majority of the racers in the winners were announced. Eric got first place, he was the first in and had all the correct answers, the only one with all the correct answers. I got second place but since my name was not on my manifest I was DQ’ed from getting that placement, Danny took that. Then some confusion came up and it was a toss up between Danny and Newse, I’m not sure how that was resolved, Danny was 3rd in and 1 answer down, Newse was 1 answer down too and I think 4th or 5th in, but whatever. Danny got some weird tee-shirt and commented how his mom wouldn’t like it. We took off and headed back to our respective homes, it was a good race.

A week or so afterwards I talked with a guy at Bens Cycle who was at the race, he recognized me but I didn’t recognize him. Apparently he tied with Eric, which I don’t understand as Eric had all the answers right and was first in. Regardless, they apparently had a sprint off riding low gears and he beat Eric, thus claiming first place. I’m not sure who really won, seems the guys claim is being disputed, but Eric is putting on October’s race, which will be fun as usual. Although the last race Eric put on was a bit bizarre and had more trivia than biking, but it was also in the dead of winter and just after a guy got killed racing in Chicago.

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