Monday, January 12, 2009

Milwaukee Messenger Invitational VII

I loaded up my bike and gear then drove down to Fuel Café in the Riverwest neighborhood. I had around an hour until I had to get downtown to register for the biggest Alley Cat race of the year in Milwaukee, the 7th annual Milwaukee Messenger Invitational. I wanted to stop at Fuel for two reasons; one was to load up on the only coffee drink I consume, the Milky Way, and to have my car near the ending point. The forecast called for mid to upper 30’s with steady, slightly strong winds out of the north and east…great. I left my gear in the car but locked my bike up out in front of the café. I went in, got my drink and tried to waste time. I noticed a large group of messenger type people in one of the corners. Guessing by the short leg pants (knickers) and footwear that they were more then likely out-of-towners here for the race. I wondered where there bikes were parked as mine was one of 3 outside. I drank my coffee and read the paper while waiting for quarter to 1. At the allotted time I slipped out, grabbed my bike and headed back to my car. I geared up, choosing to wear a bandana under my helmet instead of the usual stocking cap. I did this for two reasons; the helmet fit better with the bandana underneath as it is really hard to adjust the chinstrap, which is let out to compensate for my stocking cap. The other reason is eliminate over heating produced when I wear the stocking cap or balaclava. Since I had been biking in cold weather for a while by this time, 38 degrees felt wonderful after you worked up a sweat. I mounted my bike and headed for downtown.

As I traveled south down Humboldt I passed by a car stopped at a red light, I noticed the bikes on the back of the car, fixed gears, they must be driving to the start location, time to see if how far I could lead them. I took off while they had to sit at the red. As I neared North Avenue they passed me, but got caught at the red light at that intersection. I took the initiative and crossed when the coast was clear. I tucked and flew down the Humboldt hill; I was way ahead of the bikers in the car. I turned down Water and shot towards its intersection with Brady Street, the car passed me up. I got a good look at the passengers and the bikes and knew for sure they were going to the race. At the stop sign with Brady the car was caught behind 2 other cars, I squeezed in-between them and the right side curb and skipped ahead once again only to be passed a 3rd and final time right before Water and Pleasant. I watched them cruise into downtown. No matter how many times I passed them in technical hold ups they would always come out ahead in the end due to their speed. As I passed by the remains of the Pfister and Vogel factory complex I could smell the stench of the years of treating hides as the machinery removed the ruble, it was pretty gross. I though to myself that I hoped the race didn’t take us past this way; I didn’t want to deal with this stench more than once today.

At Juneau I ran into a red light and decided to take a right and travel up to 3rd. As I crossed the river I shot ahead of traffic and got into the left turn lane. At the light I had to stall for a minute due to a large volume of traffic. The next block down, which has a horrifically jumbled cobblestone intersection, I ran into another red. There was a minivan that stalled like a deer waiting for me to make a move. When ever a car in the cross lane sees you and slows down it really puts a hamper on what you are trying to do. I was well prepared for the car to go at normal speeds and had planned my immediate course for this action, instead the middle aged man driving the grocery getter stared at me…you have the green buddy, move, I screamed in my brain. I motioned for him to go, which took a few seconds to register with him. I had to swing further out and around, making me travel across more of the messed up cobble stone then I really wanted to.

Word of advice, if you see a biker looking to cross the road when you have the green, just go, the biker has already put your movement into the equation

My course came back on line and I headed towards the start location. I swung around the block, as the northern portion of the alley in question had no access. I knew I was in the right place when I saw a number of bikes lined up on both sides of the alley and a number of messenger and messenger type people loitering. I pulled up to nods and one guy lighting a pipe. I put my bike against a dumpster and attached my helmet to the frame. Now it was time to wait for registration and the start of the race. I only recognized some of the people here, there was no one here yet that I talk with during the Friday night races so I just stood around watching everyone socialize and pounding down beer. Riders came in, in small groups and soon the alley was full of bikes and people. At one point one of the Breakaway guys made an announcement that everyone had to remove their bikes from the chain fence on the opposite side of the alley. The fence was part of the boundary of a parking lot that took up the southeast portion of the block. Apparently the people who manned the lot were pricks and made a big stink over bikers in the alley. As the crowds amassed I began to wonder if we would attract any sort of law enforcement. It would be kind of a sticky situation, sure people were drinking beer out in the open, but they were all on private property; the offices of Breakaway. Would they or could they do something about everyone loitering around? I’m sure they would just ask everyone to leave the alley but you never know. The people gathered here are probably not the most respected by the law, at least if you judge by the way people are dressed. I was lightly harassed by a cop for not signaling as I made a right hand turn at an intersection the week before. The police officer decided to follow me for a couple of blocks until we both stopped at a red light, I knew the cop was there. She questioned me as to my knowledge of the hand signals. When I told hr I did and apologized for not signaling when I took a right turn she told me to remember to do so. I waited until she left so I could cut across the intersection illegally only to notice that my rear tire was completely flat…thanks.

More and more people showed up, more and more beer was consumed and more people were yelled at for putting their bikes on the chain fence. Eventually more people I recognize from the Friday races where showing up, including one I have been bull shitting with lately, Matt. After a while the guy who runs Breakaway came out to announce that the manifests would be available once they came back from being printed up. Everyone stood around some more and drank, people filtered in and out of the offices and I stood around trying not to get too cold. At one point I decided to go inside the office as well, to see if I was missing anything and to warm up a bit, my feet were starting to get numb, which I didn’t need before I even started biking. The office was pretty punk rock and people were swarming a fridge with a tap in it to fill their plastic cups. I noticed a line that led to the back of the space and got in it, people were starting to come out of the line with T-shirts and manifests. It was registration time. I heard someone say you can study the manifest all you want but it’s not going to help you. I got to the main office and scrawled my name on a release waiver then I paid the owner of Breakaway ten dollars and he handed me my manifest. When asked what size shirt I wanted I told him fat, he asked if large was good enough and I told him I’d wear it eventually. I crawled my way back to the alley. I leaned up against the chain fence and began to study the manifest.

I wasn’t sure what was what at first, but the longer I looked at it the more it began to make sense. At first I thought it was split up between 2 different routes we could take, 6 stops each, but then, to my horror, we had to hit all 12 stops. The longest race I did was the first one for Center Street Daze and that one was only about 18 miles, with Miller Brewing being the furthest stop you had to take. This manifest had us going as far west as 68th and Burnham as well as Miller Park. This was going to be a really long race. I hoped I was able to finish it. I began to memorize the locations and mentally plot out the route I would take. As opposed to the Friday night races, which are populated by locals, this race had people from other cities so each location on this manifest was pretty straightforward and easy to understand, no real riddles to this one. I spent a lot of time memorizing my route with only the last few stops in question as to where I was supposed to go. We got the announcement that the race would start in 15 minutes, it was after 2pm, and the flyer said registration was at 1pm, oh well, that’s how these things go. We were told that the race would not start until we all had our spoke cards. Each card had a number on it and at some of the stops we would have to regurgitate our spoke card number. We had to have the manifest, stamped at all 12 stops, and our spoke card to finish the race. We would all be taking a group ride from Breakaway over to Cass Street School, on the south end of the East Side. At the school we would all get our spoke cards and then the race would begin. It would end at the Polish Falcon bar in Riverwest where there was a room rented out waiting for us with free food and beer.

We all flooded the alley, 5 to 6 riders abreast, waiting for the signal to begin the ride out to the official starting point. When the magic word, go, was shouted, we poured onto Wells street like a great flood. I am always awestruck at the mass starts of the Friday night races, but this was about 10 times larger. Traffic literally had to stop for the flood of bikes that came pouring out of the alley on the unsuspecting sleepy mid Saturday afternoon downtown streets. It is truly an amazing sight, I can easily see how critical mass rides can become addicting.

Due to my positioning near the head of the pack I was somewhat in the lead. We rolled through a long yellow at 2nd street but met a red a Plankinton, traffic stopped and we all kept rolling forward. The lead of the pack ended up going south on Plankinton at the red and some people near me, my self included, all questioned where they were going.

The flood continued on to Water Street. By the time we got there it was a green and we carried on. I ended up being near the head again and quickly climbed the hill into the eastern side of downtown, I knew exactly were I was going. This was the point that everyone became scattered to the winds. I zigged my way through red lights and one way streets, making my way as easy as possible to the north and east. On some blocks I was alone, on others I was not. I ended up heading north on Van Buren and when I came up to a red light at Juneau I was greeted by cross traffic of about 20 or 30 riders, I quickly turned onto Juneau and joined the pack. As we turned onto Cass Street I ended up next to one of the Matt, and when he complained about his cold hands I offered to let him use a pair of gloves I thought I had in my bag as a spare. He was wearing thin gloves that had the thumb, index and middle fingers cut out. The wind was brisk and chilly; so his hands were getting hit pretty hard, mine where too, even with my liners. The pack rolled through a stop sign at Ogden Street were cross traffic had the right of way and no sign. Traffic stopped, much to my surprise. As I was planning to go around the back end of the car, tt stopped, I changed my course and everyone flowed through the intersection. There was a moment of false alarm from some of the pack as they thought the first school we passed was the correct one, I knew it wasn’t and most others did too, we kept rolling two more blocks.

At the correct school the flood began to converge and was faced with the task of everyone going single file onto the sidewalk. I took my turn, as everyone else did, with no incident. The thing that took me off of my bike was the large patch of snow/ice at the entrance to the park. I hopped off and walked it into the park, stepping into a nice mud hole at the same time. I laid my bike down in the snow and quickly checked my pack for the spare pair of gloves, but came up empty handed. Everyone gathered around one guy in the playground area and announcements were made. They reminded everyone to be safe and obey all traffic laws. There was a special additional part to the race that was just for messengers and ex-messengers. They all grabbed their manifests, which included package transportation and such. There was also a Poker run going on as well, 5 of the stops had cards and beer for those who wanted to participate. We all got our spoke cards; odd shaped laminated cards featuring a mutant Michelin man sporting MMI on his knuckles. Everyone clambered to get a card with their number on it, many people shouted out requests, which slowed the process down as the guy handing them out tried to fill requests. I was one of 3 people who told him I didn’t care what number I had. On the back was my number, 102, easy enough to memorize, I just kept thinking of a crappy local radio stations call numbers. I shoved my card into my pocket to ensure that I didn’t lose it. My manifest was folded in half and tucked away in the stomach pouch of my hoodie. Once the cards were distributed we all moved out into the open area of the park.

A great mass of bicycle mounted humanity swarmed around the blacktop of the playground, kind of like a bait ball. All was quite, waiting for the race to begin, we heard one of the most dreaded sounds, a pop followed by a brief fizz. Collectively we all said awww. Someone’s tire blew. A spare was handed out and the rider quickly went to work repairing the flat. I wondered if a refund would be had if the flat was unable to be repaired. I also wondered what the best way out of the park was. Once I knew where I wanted to leave I scouted out one of the Friday night racers, Joe, so I could see the bike he was riding today. It was a frame by the Japanese Keirin builder Kalavinka, which is a personal favorite of mine, so it would be cool to finally see one of these great frames in person. I circled around the group to get to him and just as I approached someone shouted GO!

Instantly everyone jumped and headed for the same exit. Due to moving around to the other side of the pack I ended up in the front fourth of the crowd and only ended getting slowed down by another snow/ice drift. As I crossed the rough patch two things came into my head, I hope this doesn’t mess up my already wounded spokes and I hope I don’t fall. All was cleared as I hit the road. I quickly turned right and shot out, with everyone else, to the first destination. The first stop on my route was the bar that all the Friday night races start and end at. It was time to get from the lower east side to the south end of downtown.

I once again found myself zigging and zagging through the streets of downtown, sometimes with other riders, sometimes with no one in front of me, with only glimpses of some riders crossing my path further down the road. While heading south on Astor Street I ended up passing a girl on a clunky looking single speed. I took it upon myself to signal to her and anyone else behind me if intersections I was going through were clear by waving my hand forward so they could see it clearly, it’s only courtesy. Sure we are competing against each other but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t help each other out. As I got into the heart of downtown I ended up trailing a threesome of messengers. I lost them at one intersection as they made the light and I didn’t. Due to traffic I turned instead of continuing straight. I caught up with them again two blocks later. We all mounted the sidewalk at the bar and hoped off of our bikes. I ran mine into the alley and found an empty space on the next building to lean it up against. I ran to the entrance of the bar, fishing out my manifest, only to get stuck in the doorway. The bar was more packed then I had ever seen it before. The entire portion closest to the door was swarmed by bikers and everyone was slamming beers. I pushed my way in and made it around to the wait staff area of the bar, which was clear. I ended up next to Matt and we both pulled out money to order beer as the guy in the corner table stamping the pads was telling everyone to buy a beer and then they would get stamped. The hurried bartender didn’t focus on Matt or myself for a while so we had to stand their and get passed up a few times. They couldn’t keep up with the demand for PBR. Someone ordered a soda, I thought that might be a good idea, I wasn’t sure what the price for the beer or the soda was but was dreading if I had to buy a beer at every single stop that was at a bar, I looked into my wallet and said I didn’t think I had enough money. Matt said that this was how they probably planned to break up the pack, it made sense, and everyone flooded in but trickled out. Matt laid down a 20 and ask for a Pabst and 16 in change, we both thought the beer was 3.50, we then found out it was 1.50 and matt quickly amended his order, he got his and I got mine. I quickly grabbed my change and jammed it in my pocket while drinking half of the can in one gulp. I grimaced, said this was gross and slammed the second half. With the beer down I joined the crowed at the guy with the stamp. One girl in front of me had lost her manifest. She ran outside to find it and pounded on the window to show she had it. Just as I was about to get mine stamped he took care of her and explained why, I said that was cool and then got mine stamped, crushed the can, threw it on the table, took my manifest and poker card with number written on it and went outside. I ran to the alley and grabbed my bike, I saw what looked to be Eric, who I had been trying to spot all day, paused for a second to wonder why he was just standing in the middle of the alley and took off to the next stop.

I headed east on Michigan to hit the next checkpoint, which was the newly built island and lagoon area east of the Summerfest grounds. I got stalled at one stop light due to heavy cross traffic but was able to remain unstalled afterwards all the way to the check point. At Van Buren I thought a car was going to do a rolling turn at his red but he ended up noticing me at the last moment, much to my relief. I even caught a green light at Lincoln Memorial drive and followed a group of bikers out to the lagoon. I ended up passing the girl on the clunker bike again going across a foot bridge, she must have gotten out of the bar quicker then I did. As I crossed the bridge I saw a familiar messenger that I used to chat with many years ago at Fuel about music. He was now living out in Portland from what I heard and he was heading back the way I came from on the path. I kept going, rolling over some thick snowmelt, grimacing at the brief splash of cold water on my legs. It wasn’t too warm that we should run into a lot of sloppiness, but there was going to be some and I had better just cope with it, as long as I wasn’t going to get too wet. I contemplated rolling through the checkpoint but knew I had to stop. I fished out my manifest and handed it to one of the 2 people manning this stop. I got it stamped, thanked them and took off. I saw Matt further ahead of me and my goal was to catch up to him and ride with him.

I swung to the south end of Summerfest, unsure of were exactly I would end up; maybe the ex-messenger I passed had the right idea in mind. These thoughts grew quite loud as I rolled onto a rubble-strewn parking lot at the south end of the path, for a moment idiocy prevailed and I thought it was a dead end. Then reason kicked in and I knew the truck parked here didn’t get there by taking the footpath, there was a road around here that would get me out. As I pulled around the corner and skirted the southern most end of the island that Summerfest rests on I ran into some pretty horrible terrain and had to slow down to avoid hitting any hidden dangers. I didn’t want to end my race this early. I crawled my way out to cleanish pavement and kept going, I was getting pretty tired already and I had barely begun the race, this was going to be a long haul.

After going around the southern edge of the island that houses Summerfest I was once again on friendly streets. The pavement was no longer a minefield and I could pick up my pace. Now my task was to get to 1st street as efficiently as possible. I had never been this far south into the depth of the 3rd Ward but wasn’t too far off from the area’s I had been. From my recent studying of maps of this area I knew what street I had to get to, to cross the river to my south. As I turned a corner I saw Matt up a block and a half, he was maintaining a steady pace down the street. I saw him pass one intersection; I wondered if that was the one I was looking for. As I passed through it I looked to my left and saw the tail end of the Riverwalk, no thru street there. I watched Matt take the green light at the next intersection and turn left, which was the street I had been looking for. By the time I got to it I had a red light. With traffic crossing I took a hard left and ended up going against the flow, the street cleared and I was able to move over to the proper part of the road before I crossed the bridge.

Every time I cross a bridge downtown I think of the organization that helped to lobby for these less destructive metal gratings. Back in the 90’s the metal parts of the bridges downtown would chew up or even swallow a tire, lobbyists that actually have made a difference for the common people, thanks.

I came out onto Pittsburgh and headed one block west to 1st street. I watched Matt get caught up in a red light facing heavy traffic. He pulled into the intersection and continued left traveling south in the northbound lane, I followed suit. He was able to pull all the way over to the proper lane early but I had worse timing with the traffic and had to wait until I passed the overhead rail road tracks before I could cross. I was home free from there until I had to cross over in the north part of Bay View.

Ahead of Matt was a small pack of racers, it was nice to see that I wasn’t lagging to far behind. I continued to pedal to maintain the pace; I had accepted the idea I was not going to catch up until the next stop. Around Allen Bradley I noticed something that horrified me; my right side crank arm was loose. The bolt that secures it to the spindle in the center of the entire crank system was unscrewing it’s self. This is a problem I frequently have due to the type of crank system I have. It’s a great set up but I always have to tighten up the bolts after a few miles of riding. I had tightened up the crank before the start of the race and was shocked at how quickly it had loosened up. I tested out the lateral play with my foot and began to measure the distance I had to go before I could afford to stop and tighten it. My hex wrench was in my bag, secured away, I played with the idea of fishing it out while on the go and putting it in my pocket to help cut down on the time I would need to tighten the bolt while I was stopped. I toyed with the notion that I could tighten it while riding, but pushed that aside as fantasy. They image of what some race teams will do during the Tour De France came into my head when the mechanic in the car will work on the bike while the rider is on it, crazy stuff, I’m not sure how much this really happens, I could have used something like that. I had been stuck in this position one time before, on a normal ride and had to go 4 miles like that because I neglected to bring my tools with me on that ride, never again. That time I maintained a steady pace to try and stem the inevitable lose of my nut, this time I was in a race, I didn’t have that luxury. I could stop and do it, but then that would slow me down…best just to trust it won’t drop out on me before I get to the next checkpoint, at which time I will quickly tighten it. I wondered if this would be a common occurrence during this race. One thing for sure, I should have thought of this in the beginning, I would pocket the wrench so I wouldn’t have to dig it out of my bag in at other times in the race.

We crossed Mitchell street and I thought about how this was the furthest south I had been during any of the other races, I have been much further south than this on normal rides, including to the next stop on many occasions. The image from the Chinese takeout race popped into my head as I came to the last checkpoint on this corner and the guy handed me the menu while shouting for me to go, I paused to look at the time and I was at the deadline with a mile and a half left to bike back. I cruised on, trying to be somewhat gingerly with the crank but at the same time keeping Matt and the rest of the pack no less then a 2 blocks away. As we crossed under a railway bridge I became more alert. I remember the first time down this stretch the prior year and the horrid amount of ruble under it. That time I broke a spoke on my rear wheel a mile later. I didn’t need that happening again. I was already running on poorly tensioned wheels as it was. The had needed to tightened up since the previous fall and I through out part of the rear wheel changing a flat earlier in the week. The last thing I needed to do was aggravate the wheels any more. The road was clear of ruble and I rolled on.

At the intersection with Bay Street everyone moved over into the left side of the road, their destination was the right turn-off from westbound Bay. I followed suit and was well ahead of the oncoming traffic getting the green light. I followed the pack and crossed over to the right lane of Bay as soon as I was clear of the turn lane. I was close to the next stop, but after that I wasn’t sure where to go. I knew it was in the area but I just wasn’t sure where.

As we came around the corner I watched the pack turn down Lincoln and shoot back west. I wondered what they were doing; maybe they were going to the other stop first. Matt kept going forward as well as myself. We past by the Beulah Brinton community center, which I was at mid morning for my daughters tae kwon do class, I entertained the idea of her instructor seeing me zooming down the street like a crazed mad man, but knew they were long gone. Matt was about a block ahead of me and hit the intersection first, I shouted out to him if there where any cars but he didn’t hear me. I had to slow down briefly as a car came westbound through the intersection. I stood up and pounded down the street, 3 blocks from the next stop and me fixing my crank. Hanging just behind him now, we pulled over to the westbound lane and mounted the sidewalk at the start of the block. There were 2 other riders at the bar already. I quickly dismounted and grabbed my wrench out of my bag. I tightened up my crank and threw the wrench in my pocket. With out wasting anytime, I followed Matt into the bar.

Unlike the first stop, there were only 5 of us related to the race, 4 racers and a guy at the first table stamping manifests. He asked us if we were doing the poker run, we both said no and got our stuff stamped. Neither of us wanted to drink that much beer or spend that much money when it wasn’t needed. As we got outside I asked him if he knew where the next stop was, we studied our manifest maps for a moment and decided to team up. Our next stop was near by, but I didn’t know exactly where, Matt didn’t either. It was a place called Shotwell Studio and was on a street I didn’t know in northern Bay View. We headed back up Bay, Street thinking it was near Lincoln and KK. That must really have been why the group earlier had turned off on Bay instead of heading to Palominos. We kept a steady pace down Bay and just north of Lincoln I told Matt that we should have gone down Lincoln, we thought about it for a moment and he said he thought he had seen the street we wanted to go down further back by KK. We continued on past the onramp to the freeway, rolling through a long yellow and into the red, cross traffic stayed put until we where clear.

As we neared the intersection with KK we both noticed that one of the street signs was the one we were looking for. Now it was time to find our address. I spotted one and knew we where on the right block. We had to find 300 east, I had seen one in the mid 300’s. We were really close. The manifest called for us to enter via an alley. We saw one on the north side of the street, what looked like a grouping of row houses. We traveled down it but when we came out the other end we hit KK and had not seen 300. I thought for sure as the final building came into view, the one sitting on KK that that would be 300, but it was 310. Now we didn’t know what to do, by all logic 300 should be exactly where we where. Matt suggested we keep heading west, I agreed but felt uneasy about the choice, and it just didn’t make any sense. We quickly crossed KK and ended up on the continuation of the street we wanted, Ward. We saw two bikers further down the block pull into an unpaved drive. I said something about the location talking about a dirt road, we followed. As we hit the rough and pot holed gravel road I swore and apologized to my bike, the last time I put it through this much pain was in the fall of ’06 while a friend and I tried to scout out the path for a race. We ended up running our bikes through some pretty unfriendly gravel and loose stone pathways along the Milwaukee River.

This driveway, which lead back to some light industrial warehousing was in pretty rough shape. There were tire ruts and large water logged potholes everywhere. It was slow going for a number of reasons; wanting to remain upright, not wanting to hit any hidden dangers and to try and not make that much of a mess. The last one was kind of a moot point. We all headed for a building at the end of the line, the address read 300 like some sort of angelic sign. The riders ahead of us got to it first, with Matt trailing behind; I was being more gingerly with my bike. They opened up the door, talked to someone briefly and turned around. The girl shouted out that this was the wrong one; it was on the other side. We all looked past this building, beyond a fence into another portion of the property. I shouted out in exasperation that we had to go around. I turned around as best I could with out killing my wheels, the two riders and Matt rushed past me to get back out to the street. On the way back out an industrial tow truck came rumbling from another direction into the lot carrying another heavy truck behind it. The towed vehicle was billowing a plumb of smoke and when we rode through it I held my breath as best as possible, whatever was wrong with that truck was not good and it smelled pretty horrible. I just hoped the thing didn’t explode on us...that would be a tale.

With much relief I made it out to the street in one piece, but the way out had gotten my bike and me pretty dirty. My right shoe in particular was quite mud caked. We all headed further west down the street, to another gravel pathway, this one ran along the train tracks, just like the manifest said. I caught up with Matt and we both huffed our way up the muddy incline. Two other bikers were barreling down the path, leaving the stop; I was over on the left side, somewhat in their way, trying to avoid 1 of 2 large puddles. I shouted an apology to them as they came barreling down towards us. After they passed I heard one of the utter a cry of defeat, I didn’t look back to see what happened, I needed to concentrate on crawling up the treacherous path ahead of me. I thought it might just be better to get off and run the bike, but like always I’m pig headed and can’t admit defeat. I started to think that one of the bikers, who is big into cyclo-cross, had a hand in this stop and cursed him in jest. We spotted the correct location and gratefully dismounted. Not wanting to get my bike any dirtier than it already was I walked it a bit closer to the door to lay it down on the grass as opposed to dumping it in the mud. We ran inside and were greeted by a half dozen people and a photo studio. We where told that we would have to take a picture before our manifests would get stamped. I took the empty portrait chair, sitting in front of a drop cloth and the woman behind the camera asked if I was having fun. She snapped the shot of me in the middle of my trying to say, yes except for the cyclo cross part. She didn’t seem to understand, smiled and said I was done. I thanked her and ran over to the table to get the stamp. When asked if we were doing the poker run we both said no and took off back out side. A group of half a dozen riders or so had just shown up as we grabbed our bikes. We also had gotten out faster than the two we ran into on the other side of the fence. I looked at Matt and suggested that we just pick up our bikes and run back to the street. We shouldered our bikes, mine was backwards, and ran. I regretted this idea a few steps into it, I’m no damn runner but held out for a while and then to my relief he suggested we just mount back up since it was downhill back to the street. I gladly put my bike down and hopped on. I clipped my left foot in and struggled to clip in my right foot for the first couple of cranks. Shouting in mock rage at the peddle and it’s supposed superior mud shedding abilities. I finally got it in place and we navigated the mine field back to solid ground.

We ended up on Lincoln Street and shot out westward, our goal was 6th street then we would head back north and get onto Canal from there. At 2nd and Lincoln I told Matt about my tale earlier in the week with the cop and the flat tire, because that was the intersection I turned down that pissed the cop off so much. We hit the diagonal street between 5th and 6th and I falsely motioned to turn at that street, I quickly amended that and rolled a bit further down and took the right way to short cut onto 6th. We took 6th and now had to deal with the wind. I began to doubt my choice in taking 6th, we faced a mild incline, but it lasted for a few blocks and with this wind it wasn’t any easier. I was exhausted and only kept going out of will power. Matt was starting to fall behind and I slowed my pace so I could act as a windbreak for him, I was used to doing that anyways and was usually pretty good at it. We climbed the hill up to Mitchell, which was slow going and had to stop at a red light with a busy intersection. Matt rolled up and questioned my route. I laid it out for him again and apologized for the incline. We took the intersection before the rest of traffic due to a lull just before the green. We cruised down the street again and hit a green at Greenfield. I forgot that a few blocks later we would have to deal with a stop sign our way but a right of way from the other direction to get over to the freeway. I coasted to the intersection and peered around a truck that was stopped ahead of us, no cars were in sight, so I waved us through it. We came up to National as the walk sign was red and blinking, I knew I might run a long yellow, but Matt was a bit further behind and might not hit the intersection until it was red. I choose to plow ahead through it and would wait for him on the other side. I looked back as I cleared the intersection to see it go red and for Matt to enter it. Traffic stayed put. We continued down, heading towards the round about north of Virginia. There was only traffic on the opposite side, headed the same way we where, so I choose to go backwards instead of rolling all the way around. I stood up and cranked up the small incline and onto the top of the first bridge. I looked back as I headed downhill, towards the intersection with Canal, Matt was falling behind. I slowed my pace and kept an eye on him and on the intersection. Two other racers came eastbound from Canal on to 6th and I waved at them. I wondered how far they where if they were coming from the west. I wondered if they had done the course backwards from the way I plotted it, if that was true they were almost done…not good. The light was red but cross traffic was clear, I signaled for us to pull into the left turn lane and I crossed during the red. Matt made it through before the green and we where clear and free. He caught up to me on the flat away and I asked him if he was all right, he said he was and to not let him slow me down, I told him it wasn’t any problem. He said his calf had started cramping and I winced in pain and understanding.

We kept going and talked shop for a while. Once we crossed 13th street we started to try and figure out where exactly our next stop was. It sounded like a bar to me, but I didn’t know of any bar on the 2400 block of Canal. As we rolled past the western boundary of Potawatomi casino we went through a red light on the T intersection. The old ladies coming back from blowing their pension checks on the slots stalled from turning onto Canal as we rolled through the intersection. As we came up to the city maintenance lot I truly questioned where exactly we where supposed to go, then, standing on the round about ahead of us we spotted the checkpoint.

We pulled up to the east end of the island in the round about and were greeted by two people. They told us that we had to go around twice before we could get our cards stamped. We quickly and happily rolled around the island, which was actually pretty fun; I could have kept doing that. I wondered if they would have given me the stamp if I had offered to go around once the wrong way, it would have been interesting to see us have to dodge each other. Our cards got stamped, Matt mentioned something about the ‘swimming in lake Michigan’ challenge and we all agreed it was probably a bit too cold to do that today. We thanked them, wished them to stay warm and headed on down Canal to our next stop, Miller Stadium.

This was the first time I had biked down this new street, which is also known as the Hank Aaron Trail. I have wanted to bike down it for a long time now but never took the opportunity. The road was incredibly flat and even, the incline we ran into made no impact in our pace. When I told Matt that this was a bike trail he mentioned maybe that meant we should ride on the large sidewalk. I scoffed at that idea and we continued to take up the entire right lane of the road. The best way to stay alive on the road is to be alert and make your self as visible as possible. Hugging the curb for fear of getting hit will do nothing but get you killed. Drivers see you better if your in a lane. Act like a car when it’s needed to ensure your safety. I take a lane whenever I can, if the people behind me have a problem they can go around.

Matt complimented how nice the road was and we neared the entrance to the stadium. We were looking for ticket gate 7; neither of us knew where that was specifically on the grounds. As we rounded around the last corner we wondered if we should have taken an exit that we had just passed that lead to some unknown buildings near by in the far eastern parking of the stadium. We continued west and took the footpath to the stadium instead of the car over pass. I knew where the over pass ended up and I knew we would be better on the footpath. As we pulled up to the sidewalk I panicked for a second, as I couldn’t find any even incline to the walk, but at the last minute I did and headed onto the footbridge. The entrance to the footbridge was covered with a glacier so I had to skirt all the way over to the right side to avoid going over it. We ran into another glacier at the opposite end but this one was unavoidable, the only thing I could think of was that I wanted desperately not to fall. We cleared it and were now on the open promenade of the stadium.

We headed for the nearest ticket booths, matt noticed that the numbers were in the 30’s and descended in a clockwise fashion. I was about to head counter-clockwise and he suggested we go clockwise. It made sense to me and we switched back and came around the south end of the building. As we passed the entrance to the offices I feared that our course would either end at a railing or a staircase. I was actually a bit frightened to round the last corner, expecting to hit something unfriendly by surprise, when we only rolled onto more flat expanse. As we came around to the northwest side of the stadium we saw our target. On the right, at the ticket window, were normal people lined up to buy baseball tickets. On the left, near a small statue were two guys forming the checkpoint. At the same time the ex-messenger I knew from many years ago came to the checkpoint from the same direction. We got our manifests marked and I began to scan for the easiest way out as Matt chatted with one of the checkpoint guys for a second. We all wished each other safety, luck and warmth then I pointed out where we were going next. We had to get back to the road that wrapped around the west side of the stadium; our next stop was 68th and Burnham. I knew the path to take from a trip I made this way the previouse fall. We rolled on to get onto the parking lot, I didn’t see any decline so I rolled off of a small curb onto the parking lot, Matt on the other hand went up a little bit more and found a nice decline. I apologized to my bike and we headed straight towards the street. I yelled out that there was no easy access near by and we would have to walk it to the street. We both stopped and picked up our bikes, I ran mine over a glacier, Matt was further south of me and was able to mount again right away. I dropped into the street and mounted there as traffic was coming from both ways. The northbound traffic, which was some sort of small tour van, stopped from Matt being in the way and the minivan coming my way slowed considerably. We both pulled onto the right side of the road and headed out. About two blocks later I spotted the pathway that would take us to the north side of the VA instead of out onto the last bit of south 41. I told him the plan and he said he was wondered if I was leading him to the freeway.

At the entrance to the path we rolled through a small glacier, I feared falling and messing up my tire. As we climbed up the hill onto the VA grounds my front wheels spokes began to complain, I explained what that was to Matt and at the top of the hill we stopped for a quick drink. As we finished the ex-messenger came up as well. I told him the way we where headed and we all shot out into the grounds of the VA. The ex-messenger was in the lead and when he hopped the curb I followed suit, silently apologizing to my wheels and begging them to hold out for me. We turned west onto National and headed out. The pace was good, I was keeping up with the ex-messenger, coasting at some points and Matt was sticking with as well. The drink did well for us along with the nice even riding to the stadium. Now we were back on pot hole filled city streets.

My thought was to take National all the way to 68th then cut over to Burnham. At 62nd Matt said he was just going to spend the rest of the day at a bar called something like Six Point that was at the 3 street intersection. The ex-messenger questioned where we were going, I told him where and he pointed out the road closed sign further down National, we all turned onto 63rd and headed south. I took the lead and coasted quickly down the slight decline. I knew exactly were to go and took the lead. I lead us onto Mitchell Street. As we rolled up to 68th street we saw a small group of bikers heading north, they just came from the stop we were heading to. We quickly turned onto 68th and shot down the next 2 blocks to the bar. I spotted it and signaled to the others where it was. I rolled onto the sidewalk, dismounted and leaned my bike against the building. I waited for the other two to get off and we went inside the place called Mug Shots. I remembered the name all of a sudden as one of the sponsors for the Milwaukee Bike Polo team, I always thought it weird that this bar out in West Allis would have anything to do with the east side polo players, PBR unites all I guess.

The check point was a table with 3 women in the back corner, they asked us if we were doing the poker run, Matt questioned it and I told him we had already missed some of the stops. Just then the ex-messenger punctured the can and shot gunned his, getting all of us a bit wet from the spray. Matt and I quickly exited, leaving behind the ex-messenger and headed out to our next stop, 51st and Vliet, my neighborhood. I told him that we would have to shoot over to 70th then take that all the way out to Wisconsin. From there we would catch Hawley to Vliet. Then from the next stop we’d take Vliet all the way back downtown to the stop after that. We were 7 stops into the race but the worst hill was yet to come.

I explained to Matt why we could not get all the way north via 68th, then told him that I knew these streets pretty well due to being a vehicular courier for the Journal for over 4 years. At this point he was just happy I knew where I was going. The ride down 70th was grueling due to being exhausted and heading into a strong wind. There were just 5 more stops to do. We continued uneventfully down 70th street and did not have to slow down until we got to Bluemound. I watched with amazement as a car cut around the turn only curb at the intersection to continue heading north on 70th. We quickly skirted to the north side of Bluemound ahead of traffic and cut down 68th street. We then turned east on Wisconsin at a red light. I chose to head up one block further to Wells under the assumption that the incline was less severe on that street. By this point Matt was about 2 blocks or so behind me, I slowed down so he could see that I was turning down 63rd and then turning east on Wells.

The wind picked up as we headed east bound witch did little to help our efforts. I rolled through the yellow light at Hawley road and Matt pulled through just as it went red. We now headed North on Hawley, crossing the bridge that spanned the west end of Miller Valley. The wind picked up considerably since the bridge is out in the open. As we crossed the middle of the bridge I thought about letting Matt know that Saz’s was right below us, but he didn’t look like he would care either way and the wind was eliminating any smells the restaurant was producing. Once we got to the other side of the bridge it was time to climb. Two years previously I had taken the sharp incline from Saz’s up to Hawley road and utterly destroyed my crank system. The incline up to the bridge from State Street is incredibly steep and I would have gone faster by getting off of my bike and walking it. Even though the incline on the bridge is no where near as steep it is still long and hard. We where barely going faster than a brisk walking pace, the wind was wiping at us with a fury from hell. I remember shouting out ‘fuck’ really loudly in frustration. This hill was killing our energy.

At the top of the hill we both were completely spent of energy but had to continue going, barely faster than walking. Matt asked where we were going again and I pointed out past us and said about 3 blocks that way. I knew an easier route to where we were going; going down a hill on a fixed gear bike is almost as bad as going up one. I didn’t want to subject Matt to too much more intense peddling. We zigged to our stop and came out partially up the incline on Vliet. We ran up the next block and stopped at what I thought was the stop, Gietl Printing.

We paused for a second and realized this was the wrong place, this spot was 53rd, and the one we really wanted was at 51st. I apologized for the error and we road the north side of the street up the 2 blocks to the proper location. We can around the corner and saw our mark, there was a fixed gear bike chained to a pole and a balloon on the door. We parked the bikes and went inside. I noticed an empty water bottle in the lawn and wondered why someone would just dump their water here. I also noticed the nice poster for the race plastered on the outside of the builsing. We went inside and were greeted by 4 people. They looked all nice and toasty, bundled up in their coats sitting in the room; we must have looked like hell. We all exchanged greetings, got our manifests stamped and were offered water and cookies. I quickly and heartily agreed to both and ate the cookie in one bite. I went out side, popped the water open, put it in my mouth and squeeze half of the contents out. I drank some, breathed some and spilled some. My throat hurt from the abusive action but I didn’t care. After I emptied my mouth I did it again. Matt came out and was drinking his too. Mine had a swig left, I finished it and put the empty bottle in my pants pocket, Matt went back in side to dispose of his. As we mounted up he commented on the color of the tires on the parked bike. We took off, headed back downtown, close to the end.

Matt took the lead but I quickly passed him and swung back into wind breaker position. I told him we would take Vliet all the way to 20th then cut over to Walnut and head east to our next stop, some bar on the corner of Fond du Lac and Walnut from what I could guess. He asked why we wouldn’t take 12th but I remained steadfast with 20th. I thought, why back track. I wondered what kind of bar in that neighborhood would be friendly to some bike messenger people…but didn’t care; I just needed to get in there and get stamped. I know this stretch better than any other piece of road with my bike, it’s the way I bike to work, the only thing I don’t have down are the lights, especially on a weekend.

We got caught at a red light briefly at 35th, but were able to roll through it before it went green due to a lack of cross traffic. We made the green at 27th and before we hit 20th I made the decision to keep going until 12th street. I was visualizing the road that we would take if we caught Walnut at 20th. There is a messy and large intersection at Fond du Lac and the freeway that we would have to deal with. I knew the spot we had to get to would most likely be on the northeast corner of the intersection and it just made more sense to attack that intersection from 12th instead of dealing with the lights coming from the west. We zoomed past 20th and then got the green at 17th, which I realized was the intersection I had originally wanted to go down, not 20th. We kept going to 12th. At around 15th I saw a racer walking their bike on the sidewalk; I slowed down and asked her if she was ok. Her reply was that she got a flat; I sympathized with her and wished her good luck. I rolled down a half block and remembered what neighborhood she was alone it. I made a u-turn in the street and started to head back. As I came around Matt was just stopping by her. We both stopped, Matt gave her a spare tube and we waited for her to change her spare.

We all bull shitted while she quickly changed the flat tube for the new one, Matt complimented her on her jersey, she was for one of the local racing teams. They both told me about the best tires to buy, which I made note of mentally. We were stalled by about 5 or 10 minutes, we both marveled at her ability to change a flat. I remember watching her get the old one off, then I blinked and she was already pumping up the new flat…unbelievable, it made my slaughter of a tire change earlier this week, which took me about 20 minutes, some out of whack spokes and having to take a break in the middle of it due to pain in my fingers and utter frustration, look like I was retarded, blind and had no dexterity at all. The rest was welcomed and we all mounted up and took off together. The girls name was Katie and I took the lead. She quickly passed me as we pulled northbound onto 12th street. We got the green light at Walnut and all pulled into the westbound lane. I was scanning the buildings to our right, trying to spot a bar of some sorts when I noticed 2 people standing on the island in-between the turn lane and the rest of the road; that was our stop. We pulled up, greeted the 2 guys on the island and got our stamps. They asked us if we came from 12th and Vliet, which we all acknowledged. We wished them well and to stay warm and swung around the intersection to get into the eastbound lane of Walnut. Katie once again was in the lead but I ended up passing her. As I passed her I asked her if she knew exactly where the next stop was, Heroine Salon, she said she did and that it was a stop in last years race. She briefly explained where it was to me and I took the lead. We cruised down Walnut and entered the Schlitz Park area. As we rolled down the hill past 2nd and 1st street I slowed down and turned to Katie to find out exactly where it was, she yelled it was just ahead. I pulled into the next street and noticed this was the right one. Half way up the block I saw a group of women outside of the business, waiting for us.

Katie and Matt pulled onto the sidewalk from a driveway further down the block, I kept going, hoping there was another driveway at the salon, I couldn’t tell due to a parked car. As I rounded the car my fears went away and I went up the drive and onto the sidewalk. The women welcomed us and ask if we wanted to do the hill climb challenge, I was about to decline when Matt took off. Not wanting to be outdone, I followed suit. We had to go up the hill to the second stop sign then back down before they would stamp our manifests. The climb was slow and grueling, not because it was that steep, but because we were so exhausted. I passed Matt near the top and asked him if we were sadists for doing this. As we turned around at the top I said sorry to him and coasted back down the hill, he had to keep peddling due to being on a fixie. I got stamped and took an apple they gave out. I wished them well and took off to follow Katie. As we left a girl I hadn’t seen since the beginning of the race was also taking off. Matt grabbed an apple too and began to eat it as we rolled; I shoved mine in my pants pocket. I noticed Katie had dropped a sharpie; I picked it up and held it in my left hand, waiting to catch up to her to give it back to her. We shot out onto Walnut again and kept going east. The next stop was the only one I had no clue about its destinations. Katie said she knew a short cut, so I followed.

At the intersection with Commerce she was a half a block ahead of me, the others were a bit further behind. She waved us on into the turn, but didn’t realize how far back we where. I got to the intersection during a green and shouted out car for those behind me. I turned onto Commerce, trying to catch up to Katie to give her back her pen. After a block or so of clutching it in my hand while riding I shoved it in my pocket. I shouted out to her about a block later to let her know she had dropped it and that I picked it up. I also asked her if we where going to a foot bridge that spanned the river just north of North Avenue. I knew about the bridge from plotting that race course with a friend of mine 2 years earlier. I looked back to see how far Matt and the girl where, but I didn’t see the girl. I followed Katie and made sure to stay close enough to Matt so he could see where we were headed.

As soon as we hit the foot bridge the bottom of my left thigh began to cramp. This was not good; I had a few miles to go and didn’t want to have my leg cramp out on me so close to the end. I noticed that the check point was actually on the other end of the bridge and breathed a sign of relief that I could stop for a moment to try and message my thigh as well as the idea that we might not have to take the unpaved pathways. We got stamped and Katie pointed at a stair case on the east side of the riverbank, where we were. Matt pointed back to where we came and said we should take that one instead. The people at the check point agreed and said a lot of people had been having a hard time climbing the east stairway due to all the snow and ice on it. We headed back the way we came, my leg still threatened to cramp and I tried to work it out as best as possible. At first I didn’t know where Matt had pointed too but half way across the bridge I saw the steep wooden stairway built into the bluff. I though the idea of going up the stairs would help work the cramp out of my leg. We stopped, shouldered the bikes and marched up the stairs.

Matt said that this was his neighborhood so he knew all the secret ways, he also talked about a friend of his living in one of the condo’s next to us, insane living expenses…must be nice we agreed. At the top of the stairs we found our selves on the small northeast bend of Commerce, we quickly mounted and road it out to North Ave. My thigh was only slightly relieved but as we crossed North Avenue Bridge it began to act up again. Katie was pulling ahead of us as I tried to nurse my leg. At Oakland we caught a red light which was also manned by a squad car; we all stopped briefly and waited for the light to change and the cop to go. We turned onto Oakland and headed north to our next location, Riverside Park, our last stop. I kept a steady pace down Oakland, with Katie pulling ahead. I tried to rub my thigh as we rolled and to not peddle as much, my muscle seized with every down stroke, but I knew in order to fight it I would have to stretch it out. Katie pulled into the park, just south of Riverside high school during a lull in on coming traffic. I wasn’t so lucky. I spotted a two car space between two vehicles and decided to take the opportunity. I pulled in-between both cars, with the latter one honking in surprise and fear as I crossed the road in front of them. I waved at them and smiled as I pulled onto the sidewalk. Katie was already half way through the park and I slowed down to make sure Matt saw where we where. I came up to Katie, who had stopped and we both scanned the park for the check point. We didn’t see it and when Matt caught up we decided to check the west side. We went around the east side of the school and rode the sidewalk along Locust. I shouted out that I think it was a park further north, over at the border with Shorewood. We found one of the streets in the description of the stop and headed up it. A block later Katie turned around, saying this wasn’t right, all three of us shot back to the school. We crossed Locust in a miraculous lull in traffic and headed for the entrance to the bike path west of the school. Katie shot ahead a bit and lead the way around to the south side of the park, there was a tennis court there and I could see 2 people on bikes. That was our check point. We rolled in and they asked us if we wanted to do the polo challenge. I said no, I just want to get some beer and we took off again.

We had hit the last stop; all that was left was to climb the annoying hill into Riverwest via Locust Street then shoot over to the ending location. Katie took off, in a lull of traffic and got back onto the westbound lane of Locust. Matt and I were less fortunate and took the east bound lane instead. I didn’t bother crossing over to get in the right lane because I would need to take a left soon anyways. I gruelingly climbed the small but draining incline, all the time wincing as my thigh got ever closer to cramping up on me. As we turned south on Humboldt my pace slowed considerably from sheer lack of energy and the cramping thigh. Matt caught up and we continued on to Center, we turned left, and rode up the street. A block from the next turn I saw Katie, who had continued to go west on Locust, cross our path. Thanks, I wasn’t totally sure which street to go down. We turned down the street she crossed, went down one block and I shouted out to him that was it as I saw the sign for the bar. We rolled up to the bar on the sidewalk and looked for a place to park. There were not a lot of bikes, but there was no place near the bar to lock up to. We walked across the street to the bodega and locked up there. Matt shook my hand and thanked me for the great routing. With incredible relief we walked into the bar and checked in with the man heading the race. Matt asked him what place we were in, 13th and 14th out of 70. We were both amazed, what was also amazing was that we were about 40 minutes or so behind the leader. We grabbed food and beer and sat down to rest and reflect on this long race.

All in all, the race was around 30 miles and by best estimates it only took us about two and a half hours or so to complete it. After winding down for a while I left the bar to head back home. Unlocked and mounted my bike and rode it the 2 blocks back to my car. Forgetting to put on my gloves I damn near froze my hands off, it was getting cold outside, I couldn’t wait for next years’ race.

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