Monday, January 12, 2009

Wheres Waldo Race - June '08

Junes first Friday alley cat race did not get rained on, instead there was intense humidity and strong winds to deal with. All in all I was going to make this a fun race, not only was the weather nice and warm but a co worker from my part time job at Wheel and Sprocket was racing tonight. I met up with him at the bar were we both drank and waited for the beginning of the race. Soon afterwards Matt showed up. Introductions were made and we went over the manifest for the Where's Waldo race. This one was pretty straight forward. We had 5 stops we had to go to were we would get a sheet of paper with a letter printed on it. Then there was a 6th bonus stop. I speculated that the bonus stop was actually another bar and it was going to end there instead of back at the Swinging Door.

After 7:30 the guy in charge, not Joe oddly enough, yelled out that the race was starting and we all made our way outside. I grabbed my bike, readied myself and prepared for the beginning. Our first stop was actually about a block away, so I positioning my bike to head off that direction. The head of the race came out and went over the rules; at each stop there were sheets of bright green paper with a letter written on them. We had to get all of the letters, which spelled Waldo, and hit the bonus stop to complete the race. Fastest one wins. There were 16 sheets at each stop and 15 racers, so everyone should be able to complete the race. Some said that it should be a friendly race, no taking all of the sheets. Then someone reminisced about a race earlier in the year in DC in which someone during the race at ripped a sign off of a wall that was part of one of the questions so everyone else could not complete that part.

Go was called and everyone exploded, heading east on Michigan. Unfortunately the light at Broadway was red and full of cross traffic. I was 3rd in line and watched two of the racers blow through the intersection. I stalled for a second to make sure I wasn't going to die and went through. I had left my helmet at home so the only thing protecting my noggin was a cycling hat…so I had to be extra careful for this race.

We all flew into the alley between Broadway and Milwaukee, heading north. No one was really sure what to look for so the pace slowed down a bit. The leads stopped about halfway down near a dumpster. I started to scan for the paper but didn't see anything until I got to it, about the time everyone else showed up as well. Everyone flooded the dumpster, bikes and all, grabbing sheets of paper out of a plastic sheet protector taped to the side of the dumpster. In the melee someone said, "Is this follow the leader?" and more shoving for position ensued. I let the crowd thin slightly before I jumped in; this also bought my partners in the race some time to catch up to me. I saw and opening in the crowed and grabbed three, shoved mine unceremoniously in my pocket, handed them theirs and we took off, back down the alley to Michigan.

Some racers headed north and some headed south, we were headed south. I could see about 4 or 5 other racers headed the same way, we passed the bar and ran into a red light at Water, once again I found myself heading southbound in the northbound lane of Water Street, with pretty much everyone else. As traffic allowed, everyone moved over into the appropriate side of the street, sometimes horn honks came from frightened cars. I was in the end of the pack and when everyone started to turn west on St. Paul I yelled at Jordan and Matt that we were heading straight. Part of the problem was the red light we ran into caused so some of them the have to round the corner to avoid cars on their way south. One kid ended up spilling his bike in the middle of the road with a bus coming on him. I'm not sure what happened but he quickly mounted and took off. Matt and I got back on track and Jordan caught up.

We pounded down the street, heading out of the Third Ward and to our next destination. Before the race we tried to go over the stops and visualize where they were. Our thinking was the next stop was on a commercial stretch of northern Bay View, so that was were we headed. Aside from the southern wind being pretty strong we did not run into any sort of wind tunnel effect as we passed the Allen Bradley building, which is usually not the case. As we turned onto KK I tucked into the slight decline and picked up my lead, only to be stalled by a red light at Beecher. Our stop was about half way between Beecher and Lincoln so as I crossed the intersection I slowed down and began the frantic search for the next letter. During our briefing at the start of the race we were told some of them might not be easy to spot. As I slowed and scanned Matt pulled up behind me and said it must be further up. As we neared the intersection with Lincoln we both realized we were on the wrong block. We both forgot that this was actually KK and 1st was to our west. We signaled to Jordan who was pulling up behind us and we took off down Lincoln to hit 1st.

As we rounded the corner and began going northbound Matt commented on why some of the others headed down St Paul, they were probably going down 2nd to get here. I spotted the next stop and saw two racers there as well; these were strong bikers so it put my fears of lagging behind at ease. As we came up to the next letter 2 other racers, one of which had bailed on St. Paul, showed up as well. I stalled for a second to let the others catch up and pulled out our sheets. Everyone had there's and we took off to the next stop, heading north on 1st street. As we rolled I began to formulate the path to take to the next stop.

The next stop was located on the west side stairs leading from the 16th Street viaduct to St. Paul, for whatever reason I had the mental picture of the staircase just east of Potawatomi and planned our route accordingly. I figured instead of going back through the Third Ward and around we could hop up 6th street and take that straight out from there…no back tracking.

At National we hit a red light and I took this chance to solidify the new route. I cut hard and shot down the wrong lane on National, signaling as best as possible for Matt and Jordan to see while cutting a path through the oddly heavy traffic. The other 2 bikers who were riding with us continued northbound. Matt and I stalled at 2nd street, trying to make sure Jordan spotted us, when he did we took off again. We turned down 6th and pounded north, heading towards the roundabout and the viaduct. At the roundabout I skirted clockwise and ended up catching up to a car that had passed me at the intersection with Virginia. I slowed a bit to make sure the other two knew were I was going. After riding on the correct side of the street I decided to pull over to the other side to be able to make the upcoming turn with out waiting for oncoming traffic, which was also unusually heavy at the moment. Matt and I turned down the street and took off. I kept my eye out to our backs making sure Jordan made the turn as well. I wasn't worried about losing anyone on this stretch and knew that anyone could catch up as I searched the next stop for the papers.

Further up the road I spotted what looked like the other 2 strong riders and felt confident in our progress but was too preoccupied with the people I was riding with to track them. We crossed 13th and headed towards the 16th street viaduct overpass just east of Potawatomi. As I neared the overpass I mounted the sidewalk and hopped off my bike to begin the search, slightly concerned that I wasn't seeing anything and did not even see the other 2 racers. As Matt passed by me he shouted out that we were on Canal street, I swore and mounted my bike. Now it was time to backtrack to 13th and head north to St. Paul. We ended up meeting Jordan as we did. I shouted out to him that we were on the wrong street and turned north on 13th. Cursing my error I pounded down the street and then turned west on St. Paul. I didn't see anyone down the road and could already feel our time slipping away. I scanned the overpass and shouted back to them to check the north side while I checked the south side. As we approached I noticed the Southside was the only one with a stair case and waved them off. I hoped off the bike and began to franticly search for the sheets. Matt and Jordan continued westbound on St. Paul, but I wasn't concerned, I know that they would be back; if anything I would shout out to them.

I began to climb the stairs, much to my dismay as I have a crippling fear of heights, in search of this stops letter. I noticed a bike locked to a landing half way up and wondered if it was up on the bike. I began to ascend when they made there way back and shouted out to me that it was up near the landing, grudgingly I climbed, slowly, keeping my eyes on my feet, willing them not to slip. As I reached the stack, which was taped to the side of the overpass I gingerly counted out 3 and grabbed them, heart racing with fear. As I began to make my way back down I heard someone shout to grab 4, when I questioned that I noticed another racer, one of the guys from Breakaway was there as well. I complained but went to get one, he joking shouted out to me and ran up the stairs, we met near the top and I handed him one. He bolted down and I followed, happy as hell to be back on the ground.

I dolled out the letters, we exchanged info with the other guy, he was doing the course opposite of us so we all parted ways. As we headed back down St. Paul, I jokingly bitched at the other 2, that of course it had to be the one who is afraid of heights to get that letter. Matt sincerely apologized but I waved him off saying it was ok, which it was. I made a quick decision to route us through the 13th street construction zone just below the freeway to avoid going through downtown, I figured it might save us sometime, even though we would have to run our bikes over the construction site. We turned into the site and hoped off. I shouldered mine and began to jog, but stopped due to being too exhausted. Matt had mounted his bike and rode on. I shrugged and did the same, Jordan followed suit. I wondered if I would bail out in the mud/soft ground but powered on, my bike definitely was not made for non black top surfaces. Matt shouted something about remembering our off road experience in MMI. He reached Clybourne first, hopped off his bike and started climbing a short staircase in the back of Marquette. We followed suite and got back on out bikes at the top of the stairs. I uttered some profanity as I cursed my large gearing and trying to start from a dead stop on this slight incline. We picked up speed as we entered the campus with Matt at the lead. He suggested we take 12th street all the way to Commerce/Walnut. As we rode on something happened and my headlight dropped to the ground, I heard it break into a few pieces, glanced back and said "it's gone now" as we rode on.

We came to the sidewalk at Wisconsin, Matt hopped the curb. I didn't want to do that but upon scanning down the block didn't really see any choice. I said a quick apology to my bike and hoped it as even as possible, Jordan was on my heels. We all took the turn onto 12th at a red light and pounded down the street. I caught up with Matt at Well's were we were running a yellow. We made it and a looked back in time to see Jordan clear it just as traffic started to role. We were home free from here on out and I put my head down and cranked. North of Vliet we passed two gutter punks on cheap rode bike conversions. They seemed kind of startled as we blew past them. As we took the corner at Walnut I wondered internally if we would win by default if we just stopped right now at Speed Queen and brought back some BBQ.

For the first time in the race the wind was helping. We cruised down Walnut, Matt in the lead again. At 6th street he went through the red but signaled that it wasn't clear. I slowed and Jordan caught up in time for both of us to keep going. I took advantage of the down hill and pushed forward. I passed Matt and tucked into the hill, making myself as streamline as possible. I ended up picking up a large amount of momentum and did not have to pedal for 3 or 4 blocks, ahh the advantage of a freewheel as opposed to the fixed gear my race partners were sporting. At Water Street we all grouped back together, the next stop was close by but we didn't know exactly where. I had seen one racer heading south; I headed north and waved the other two to check south a bit. I mounted the sidewalk and slowly began scanning for any sign of the stop. As I rounded the southbound curve I began to think I was the loser of the search when I noticed the florescent paper attached to a telephone pole. I yelled ‘YO’ really loud, in hopes of attracting there attention as I headed to it. I stopped and counted out three sheets and began to peel them off of the pole. As I did that Evershed came by and yelled out to me, I handed him a sheet as he blew by. Just after that Jordan and Matt arrived. I had folded mine and pocketed it and folded there's and put them in another pocket. I mounted up and we all took off down Brady street. They asked if I had enough for everyone and I said I did.

We were on our way to the last two stops, which were less then a block apart…the race was close to being finished. We pounded down Brady and at the intersection with Humboldt the red light allowed us to bypass the traffic flow. I took the lead and the lane and shot down the street, wary of any vehicles suddenly pulling out of a parking spot. Right before the Walgreens strip mall I thought a car was going to turn onto the road in front of me, but luckily did not. Facing a red light, I pulled into the parking lot as a way to bypass the intersection. Not looking to see if the others were following I pulled onto the other street after making sure the coast was clear. Then it was off again towards the stop. The other two followed suit and were close behind as we headed towards North avenue. Once we got there I pulled into the small parking lot on the south east corner with Oakland and paused at the exit to watch for any cars taking the short street that runs off of North. Once I felt the coast was clear I headed up the block to the final letter stop. I found it right away and ended up pulling the remaining stack off of the telephone pole. Handed Matt and Jordan theirs pocketed mine and handed another one to Gallagher, who had suddenly showed up. I took the last 2 or so, folded them and tucked them under a string tied around the pole. Off to the next stop. Gallagher headed north but we headed south on the sidewalk. We crept down the sidewalk due to foot traffic and wanting to read the addresses.

At the stop, a nick-knack store, a guy headed inside to alert everyone else of our presence. We all went inside and were directed towards the back of the business and offered 2 choices, chug the can or take on the beer bong. Not being experienced with frat parties I chose the can, everyone else did too, even Gallagher, who back tracked, did as well. As they pulled out the beer my heart sank. The last thing I needed was a beer. Since we hit Water Street after the first stop my entire mouth and throat had been drier than a desert. At one point I even contemplated asking Jordan for a sip from his water bottle and cursed my frame for not having a water bottle holder. The fact that is was a tall boy can of Keystone Light was also pretty unsettling. I cracked the can as they told us we had to drink every last drop and not spill any. One of the workers was on the phone with someone about the race and describing one of the racers who has previously been there, it was Evershed. They joked about him being DQ'd for not having a helmet. We all grimaced and swallowed our luke warm beers. The Gallagher finished first and took off. Matt admired a deck of cards and we all gulped the liquid down. We let out some belches, got our manifests marked and headed off. As we hit the sidewalk I told them we would take the bike trail back downtown. Matt questioned the choice and I told him it would be no stops and drop us off right down town. He relented but followed. We took the next block and I lead them to the nearest bike path entrance.

Two women were blocking the sidewalk to the entrance and I shouted out to them to let us through (nicely). I had to stop quickly to navigate onto the sidewalk and Matt rammed into me. We gathered our senses and headed down to the bike path. I apologized for not detailing our exact route; I figured Matt at least knew our general direction. Everything was forgotten as we hit the trail and a wall of cool air…ah relief, enveloped us. The refreshing temperature change and lack of wind gave all of us a second wind and we took off down the trail, dodging pedestrians and heading for home. By the time we reached Michigan Jordan was a bit behind, I signaled long and exaggeratingly to direct him to the final destination. We turned onto Michigan and Matt and I pounded the pavement for the final sprint. A block or so into it he commented on how hypnotic my calves were and we laughed and sprinted to the bar. There were some bikes already there and some shady looking skateboarding youth in the alley. I eyed them up as I leaned my bike against the building and rushed inside to drop off my manifest. After checking in and getting marked down for 5th place I went back outside to cool off and lock up.

After that; beers were consumed, shit was talked, the race was analyzed and I test rode a bike I was thinking about buying that the kid who had bailed in front of the bus owned. The three of us biked over to Matt's house so he could grab his wife's ID then came back downtown and went our separate ways. Evershed, who finished first, was DQ'd for dribbling some of his beer down his shirt. The store was calling about that when we were there. The guy who won it went around telling everyone that next months race was going to be the Canada race…oh yeah it was going to be on July 4th, which would make for an interesting race with all of the people downtown.

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