Tuesday, February 10, 2009

First Friday Alley Cat - February '09

February’s race almost didn’t happen to me given that a few weeks previously I put the tooth of a cog through my thumb and messed it up pretty good. I hadn’t ridden a bike outdoors afterwards until the Thursday before the race, as a test run. Upon finding that I didn’t have any problems with gripping the bar or pulling the brake lever anymore I was set to race. This was a good thing since Friday brought the start of unseasonably ‘warm’ weather to town.

With the temperature in the balmy upper 30’s, expected to increase into the low 40’s through out the evening and night, I drastically changed my attire to suit the warmer weather. My top layer consisted of a cycling hat with a head band over my ears, a long sleeve shirt with a t-shirt over and gloves. The bottom layers were shorts with thin long johns underneath. Even with this set up I was still sweating during the race.

I was excited for a for reasons, the weather being one, my thumb health being another and the return of an old racing friend, Matt for the event. I parked my car, loaded up and took off among the crowded Friday night traffic, past milling basketball fans and on to the bar. I arrived just as Gallagher did and found Eric outside. I had run into him earlier in the day while he was delivering a package to my work and showed me his new wheels. Cog had been given a pair of brand new wheels from high end manufacturer HED to test out for 6 months. Eric had them for the first two months. Nice wheels, meant for the velodrome, but what better way to test their strength and abilities then on the streets underneath a veteran messenger. It was actually pretty funny to see them on his bike as they probably cost 3 times as much as the frame.

I locked my bike up and contemplated using my new cyclo computer during the race. The last one I owned I had lost in a race because it was not housed in its bracket securely and I was having problems with this one staying put. I decided against using it for the race and pocketed the computer. I headed in side for a beer and to talk with some people. As I milled around with a small group of other racers more people streamed in. I went outside to do something to my bike and Danny showed up. He locked up next to me and we went back into the bar. Soon afterwards Matt showed up, introductions were made and plans were hatched. We all registered and waited for the start of the race.

It was close to quarter to eight before we pilled outside for the manifest and start. The race was small but filled with strong bikers. It was a bit surprising that it was such a small field given the relatively warm conditions. Upon reviewing the manifest errors were found by the pack. There was some playful ribbing at first over the wording and spelling but then it came down to errors with the addresses. The main one was our first stop, National. The answer asked for the business at 530 West, but we were told the correct answer was 540 West, dully noted. Matt came by Danny and I and we discussed which way to head. We decided to hit south first then cut out to the furthest west then back to the north side. We positioned ourselves to go through the alley next to the bar. The guy putting on the race casually called start and we took off.

All three of us crowded through the alley way. Matt pulled out front and was able to get onto Clybourne before oncoming traffic. He yelled back to let us know there were cars going. I pulled out and hung a sharp left, warning Danny about the cars, which slowed down when they saw us. I slowed down to let them pass so I could cut over to turn south on Water but the cars slowed even more. Frustratingly they finally passed and we crossed over, Matt was already half a block ahead of us. As I pulled onto Water another racer came up from behind and passed. I stalled for a second at the red on St. Paul as he and Matt pulled ahead of me. I took off once I was sure the intersection was clear, glancing back to see where Danny was.

I pounded down Water, through the Third Ward, catching up to the other racer, dreading going over the wet grating of the bridge out of the Ward. I tensed up crossing it and felt my rear tire slip like it always did. I tried hard to not cross the grating sideways and safely made it into Walkers Point. I rode the wheel of the other racer for a while, resting, drafting all while contemplating when to pass. He was moving slower then I was but the race had just begun, it might not be bad to conserve my energy. I was a bit worried following him as my view of the street was cut short and I couldn’t see hidden dangers in the road, all I could do was trust him and follow his path. We all pulled onto National, swinging wide, mindful of the wet paint lines. I signaled our turn to Danny who was a bit behind. As we rolled through 2nd street I pulled into the driving lane and passed both the other racer and Matt. As I rode past Matt I confirmed the address we were looking for. At 5th I ran into a red light, slowed slightly making sure the coast was clear and mounted the sidewalk. I rode down the sidewalk, passing a pedestrian, scanning the addresses. Matt pulled past me on the street and stopped at the corner. The other racer casually rounded the corner and kept going. We stopped, got off our bikes and began to search for our address. Danny showed up and we all began debating what to write down. We crossed the street to see if by some fluke it was on that side. I wondered if it might have been the empty lot that was an old restaurant that had collapsed last spring, but doubted it. The final address on the block was 538, and was a restaurant. The name of the restaurant didn’t totally jive with the theme of the race so I doubted that. I rode down to see what 530 was, the original address on the manifest and noticed it was Mr. P’s Tires, a familiar cheap used car tire service. I shrugged and figured that made more sense. We agreed and went over a quick route to the next stop then took off again.

Our next stop was on Vliet Street, deep in the hood. We biked down National uneventfully until we got to 16th. From there we turned north and crossed the viaduct. On the viaduct I opened up and went full bore, not being concerned with loosing either Matt or Danny. Matt knew the city pretty well and Danny was keeping pace with him, so I wasn’t concerned with loosing Danny. I had to stop at a red light halfway through the viaduct, as traffic from Potawatomi pulled onto the street. Once the coast as clear I took off again, but with less gusto as before I stopped. I had expelled a lot of instant energy and needed to wait for the stocks to replenish themselves before I could sprint off again. I didn’t have my computer mounted so I couldn’t begin to guess what my cruising speed was. At the other end of the viaduct, at Clybourne, I stalled at a red light, even though there was no traffic. Danny and Matt were pretty far behind at this point and I didn’t want them to lose sight of me. The light turned green and I was satisfied with their distance and took off again, sprinting up a short incline to Wisconsin. I slowed down again once I crossed Wells, wanting them to catch up more. Once we merged into 17th I took off again, confident in their ability to see me. I sprinted up the 3 blocks to Vliet, slowed before the light, signaled long and turned onto Vliet, sprinting again.

Riding down the one street I ride the most I began thinking about how I was riding the same path 3 hours previously. I also thought about how close home was to the next stop, how tired I was getting how much I needed to hang on and keep pedaling. As I neared 27th I pulled out the manifest to double check the address. I pulled off my right glove to do so and held that with my left hand on the bars. I flipped through the small folded sheet and found the stop. As we rolled down National I was trying to visualize the stop, I had originally thought it was a small bodega on 28th, even though I knew the stop said it was in the 30’s, street wise. Then I had realized I was wrong and tried to think of what there was. I checked to make sure I still had the right address in mind, 37th street was my target. Right before the intersection with 27th I spotted a racer heading towards me. I pointed at him and as he passed I realized it was Eric, I grinned and wondered how many stops had he completed all ready, as he took the northern route. He might already by heading to the final stop, as the northern stops were all relatively close. I tucked down and kept going. I knew that Danny and Mat were behind and wouldn’t loose me but I didn’t know how far behind they had fallen. I crossed 35th and sped up the last two blocks to the next stop. The other racer I had passed on National was at the stop. He was busy stripping off his top layer of clothing and stuffing it in his bag. As I waited for the other guys to show up I scanned the question and tried to figure out the answer. Soon Danny and Matt showed up and we worked on the answer, debating what it was and finally deciding on something. Before we took off another racer showed up and a bum wandering around was having fun asking us weird questions. It must have been an odd sight to see 5 or 6 white guys on bikes standing around a closed/derelict business in the middle of the hood.

We picked our next stop, discussed the first part of the route and took off, back down Vliet. Danny and Matt were able to cross to the right side of the street before traffic arrived, but I wasn’t as lucky. I rode against the flow and remembered how I hated being in that situation on that street but had no choice. I traveled that way for about a block until I was able to cross over. I caught up with them as we crossed 35th and started to go over what might be the cross street for the next spot. Matt and I thought the address of the next stop was 2300 N MJK (3rd street). I wasn’t thinking to clear so it took a minute for me to realize that 2300 was North Avenue. I spotted the racer who I had passed before a few blocks ahead of me so I picked up the pace. I caught up with him after 27th and passed. At 17th I stalled as the light turned red, he pulled around to the far left of the road and was able to skirt traffic while I had to wait for it to pass. Once the coast was clear I took off again, but decided to rest behind him this time. At 12th I turned north, making sure that Danny and Matt saw me, even though Matt knew where to go and the other racer headed down the steep hill into downtown.

As I turned the corner I saw the unmistakable flashing lights of cop cars at my target intersection. Luckily I was legally turning that spot and wouldn’t have to sit through a red light with the authorities nearby. As I neared the turn onto Cherry I glanced back to see how far back Danny and Matt were. I signaled long and turned right. In front of me was a horrid sounding 80’s compact that pathetically lurched across the bridge spanning the freeway. I was afraid to kick it into high gear and pass him, since he might suddenly decide to turn into me. I waited for it to limp around a corner then I took off. At 6th street I glanced back to see were they were and decided to turn north, to try and avoid the slight incline at 3rd. I was originally intending to turn down 4th, but jumped the gun and didn’t realize I was on 6th until it was too late. I slowed down before I headed east on the next block so as not to loose them. If they continued to go north on 6th they would actually be run into 8th and have to deal with a number of messy intersections coming back down North to get to MLK. At the next street I slowed and pulled onto it, somewhat shocking the pedestrians that were also wandering the road with my squealing front brake. I slowed to a near stop to make sure they turned the corner and could see where I was headed then took off towards 3rd.

Matt and Danny caught up with me as we hit 3rd and we all pulled onto it, heading north bound, ahead of traffic. As we rolled down the street I pulled out the manifest again to double check the address. It was actually 2700, Center street. I shouted back to them that it was on Center and pushed on, through North. As we neared the intersection I saw another of the riders leaving. I noted the business name and turned onto Center, not stopping. I could write down the answer at the next stop. Again I passed Eric and started laughing to myself. I pulled out the manifest again to check the next address, which was a few blocks east on Center. It occurred to me to check the question from the stop I just passed. Upon reading it I noticed it wasn’t asking for the businesses name, but the 3 things the business specialized in, written on the side of the building. After I climbed the hill into Riverwest I slowed down, circled around and caught waited for Matt to show up. I told him I made a mistake, that we needed info off of the side of the building. Not knowing what to do I gritted my teach and turned back east and continued to head to the next stop. Along the way I debated what the three services were, I could think of two but had trouble thinking of the third one. I was planning to head back and have the guys head to the next stop and then we would all meet up at the last one.

I pulled up to the next stop, a bar on the corner of Humboldt and Center as the racer I passed earlier and another racer were taking off. I parked my bike and waited for Matt and Danny to show up so we could figure out what to do. Matt had a slow leak in his rear tube and needed to use my CO2 cartridge pump to fill it back up. As he worked on that we debated the last stop and what to do with it. We figured out what the 3 things might be and decided to jot them all down. We headed into the bar but were uncertain of what to do. The question told us to get something from a guy, yet upon looking around there was no one who immediately stood out as a messenger, or someone who would take part in an alley cat. We went back out to search for the address and decided to go back in, Matt asked the bartender if he was our man and he produced matchbooks with his name signed on them. As we were leaving I told him we needed another one but when he hesitated I yelled out the door for Danny to come in and get his matches. As we waited for him we planned the next step of the route. Our stop was on the far northern end of Water street, but there was a good chance the bridge on Humboldt, directly before Water was still under construction, yet none of us knew. If we couldn’t take the bridge we could always hop on the small bike path extension nearby and cross the Marsupial foot bridge over to the street, as opposed to going all the way around on Commerce and having to climb a nice sized hill. We took off down Humboldt.

As we rode I saw a car with its reverse lights on in the parking lane, I feared it would pull out or turn out quickly and shouted back to them about it, Matt echoed my warning just before a city bus honked at me to announce its presence. The street was small so I had to slow down between parked cars to let the bus pass, once it did I sprinted past it, thinking about how much I hated dealing with buses while biking. As I crested the small incline to the intersection with North I shouted out that the bridge was out. Matt caught up and we descended the steep hill together. I pulled ahead and slowed down to turn before Commerce, he questioned what I was doing and I told him to trust me. As we turned in he realized where we were headed. We rode down the alleyway to the entrance to the bike path and I wondered if the path was clear. About 30 feet before hand I saw it was anything but clear as I hit the brakes, swore and hopped off before my front tire contacted uneven ice. I hopped off, swore again, shouldered my bike and started running along the ice/snow filled pathway. I ran about two blocks worth of path and slowed to a fast walk, looking down on Commerce with envy but stuck with the path as there was no safe way to descend to the road. I moved to the shoulder to try and get out of the ice but feared that my cleat would get too much snow build up and moved to the edge of the path instead. Half way though I paused to put on my gloves and talked with the others as we trudged through the path. As I started complaining about the quality of service the city provides for cleaning streets/paths/walkways I thought to check for my manifest. After not finding it in either right side pocket I paused and turned back. Danny asked what the matter was and told both of them to keep going, I would catch up with them.

I quickly walked back, scouring the dark ice and snow for my folded up manifest. Just as I was about to give up hope, thinking I had gone past were it might have fallen out I spotted it. With glee I placed it in my shoulder bag and jogged to catch up with Matt. Danny was in the lead and had stopped to wait for us at the bridge. I shouted at him to mount up and take off. When we got to him we all mounted and rode the bridge. I explained to Danny what it was and as Matt sprinted off I warned him and Danny that the path ended sharply at the end of the bridge. Matt must not have heard me in at first or not remembered but as he neared the end of the bridge he saw how it turned to gravel 10 or 15 feet after the end. He slowed down, warned Danny to do the same and they cut the 90 degree turn onto the rest of the path out to the street. I caught up and we crossed the street. In front of Trocadero we checked the address and compared it with out manifests. We headed north down the street, scanning buildings. At the end of the block we came to the last business and the address was wrong, way off. A quick check of the next block told us it was the next number set and we decided to go with the answer we found on the last building, which has the wrong address number. I leaned against a car to both write my answer and provide room for oncoming traffic. Once I was done I looked at the other guys and told them we were headed down Water, to Juneau and 3rd, then took off, muttering to myself the name of the target building and trying to remember anything that would help with the question.

I pulled onto the curve at where Brady turns into Water ahead of traffic and pulled into the bike lane. I realized this was a really bad idea for a few things, traffic was coming up quick, I don’t trust this turn on dry wheel, let alone wet ones and the bike lane had a nice edge running right in the middle of it. Whoever thought that was a brilliant was to set it up needs to be shot. I tried my hardest to keep my tires out of the edge, while maintaining a safe speed in the sharp turn and steering clear of the cars passing me an the parked cars. After I rounded curve and pulled onto the straightaway I still wasn’t safe. Just past the intersection with Cherry the road went to one lane due to construction. I had to wait for the car next to me to pull ahead and I pulled over after a quick glance over my shoulder to see if any traffic was coming. I kicked it into high gear again and tried to pass this stretch as quickly as possible. About halfway to downtown proper I started to let my pedals take me, relaxing my legs, allowing them to follow the flow smoothly, to rest a little bit. I glanced back to see how far Matt and Danny were, but was confident they knew were to go. I slowed down slightly at the first red light into down town, checked for cross traffic and cops and headed to the next light. At is I turned right onto Juneau and cursed the fact I would have to cross another grated bridge. As I did so I tensed up and tried to keep as parallel with the grating as possible all while marveling at how odd the bridges under lighting was as I rode across. I quickly crossed 3rd and soon discovered the answer I needed. I waited and saw Matt soon after. I told him the answer and asked him were Danny was. He thought he was right behind him and didn’t know. I called Danny after a few moments out of concern for his safety and direction. As I called him again Matt realized the answer we wrote down first was incorrect and pointed out a clue in the question. We changed our answers, complained of the riddles sometimes and decided to head back to Water to try and find Danny. I hated crossing the bridge again but did so safely.

At the intersection with Water I hoped off my bike and leaned it against a shrinking snow bank. Matt had hit a pot hole right before the bridge and thought he had trashed his bad tire. I was ready to give him my spare tube when he checked the tire and found it to still be holding. I called Danny again and we decided to head to the next stop not knowing where he was. Our next stop was Water and Wisconsin and there were two possibilities. We had to hit a time machine and print out our statement or get some repair number if we didn’t have a debit card. Matt thought it was Well’s Fargo but I vaguely remember the numbering on that block to be a bit weird and cautioned it might be the Associated across the street. As we debated this we crossed Kilbourn and a horse attached to a wagon began to try to take off, with its handler telling it to stop. Matt commented how that seemed like a situation out of a bad Christmas movie, we laughed and continue don our course. A few blocks up and we reached Wisconsin. I pulled up to the intersection and stopped to begin scanning for addresses, luckily I was stopping here as a cop was stopped at the light as well. I pulled my bike onto the sidewalk and began walking down the block, searching for the buildings address. Found it and tried to get in from the south door. Matt said we would have to go back to the east door but he wasn’t sure were the ATM was, that it might be up. He stayed outside and I went in to ask the guard directions. He told me it was on the second floor but that I would have to take the service elevators instead of the main ones. As I rushed off down the hall he shouted directions to me about where to go.

I quickly found the elevators and chanced a set of stairs being nearby; stairs are much faster than an elevator. I quickly raced up them; stopping at the first landing to test the knob only to find out it was a guard room. I kept going and ended up on the 2nd floor. I walked hurried past the elevator banks, trying to remember the guard’s instructions. At the same time I started remembering reading about the major alley cat races and how they try to emulate more conditions of the job of the messenger, such as building security giving you the run around and other such hassles. I took a wrong turn and ended up in the landing of the main bank of elevators and quickly turned back around. I wondered what the guard thought if he was watching me on the monitors. I headed back to the freight bank and took the other way, rounded a corner, passed through another set of doors and was about turn around when I saw the atm. I scoured the device, looking for some 800 number, but when I couldn’t find one I decided to take some deposit envelopes instead, hoping that would work. I checked a second time, didn’t find anything and grabbed 3 envelopes, wondering what the security footage looked like. I quickly headed back to the 1st floor, wished the bored guard a good night and ran outside to find Danny talking with Matt. I passed out the envelopes explaining I couldn’t find any number; we mounted up and took off.

Two blocks later we were at the bar locking up. We shouted at Danny as it looked like he was going to keep heading south, but instead he was skirting traffic. Ass he approached he cracked an insult at us, saying he knew where he was going. We headed in and found most of the racers already returned. Matt handed in first; I handed in second but pulled it back to write my name on it. People were telling Danny to hurry up, that he might get in before me, but I turned it back in before he was able to. I handed in my envelope and told him I couldn’t find the service number. Matt handed in his matches, which made me remember mine. Danny couldn’t find his right away and we joked telling him to ride back to the bar. As he gave up and headed to a table he found them and we were all set. As we waited for the announcements we had a few rounds of beers and talked about races, bikes and what not. In the end the guy I passed twice won, he was the only one to have all the right answers, Eric got second, Matt got 6th, I got 7th and Danny got 8th. The race was done, everyone complained about the screwed up manifest. We all took off to warmer air; hopefully March would be just as nice, if not better.

No comments:

Post a Comment