Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Roxy's Race - December '08

Once again the racing conditions for December is snow filled as the metro area received a few inches of the white stuff over the week of the race. On top of that the temperatures plummeted, freezing much of the snow in place, which made for hazardous side streets to bikes. With the temperature around 12 degrees or so I was nice and bundled up, which affected my peripheral vision and hearing…prices to pay for keeping body parts warm. There had been a flurry of activity on MySpace leading up to the race. At one point Eric, who was hosting it, sent out a hint saying it was the Roxy Race, which made no sense to me. Another post talked about how the winner was going to get a free Eighth Inch frame and fork courtesy of Cog Magazine. Eighth Inch is a small brand that my part time employer started a few months earlier as a way to tap into the fixed gar road bike popularity. I wasn’t interested in the frame, I could get one relatively cheap any time I wanted, but I always want to take first place. I figured if I won I could give 2nd place the frame.

I drove my bike downtown and parked in the usual spot. I readied my outerwear and began riding to the bar. Downtown was bustling with activity on this brisk late fall evening as all of the winter events were in full swing. As I rode past the Bradley Center a family was cutting across the street to go watch a basketball game. The father yelled out to his young son to watch out for cars. The group proceeded to dodge out of my way while the son retorted that it wasn’t a car, it was a biker.

The rest of the trip into the bar was uneventful. I had to stop briefly at Water Street as cross traffic was quite heavy. Once I could I broke across the street and up to the bar. At first I couldn’t see any bikes but as I got closer the first thing that caught my eye was a ‘bike tree’ made up around one of the poles. Someone must have done it for entertainment purposes as there was plenty of parking room. There were also a number of bikes locked to them selves leaning up against the front of the building. I hoped off on the street and walked my bike through the slush and onto the sidewalk, taking my normal parking spot. I walked into the bar and greeted Eric and the others that were already there. I was greeted as the guy who didn’t need to win the frame. As I sat down I handed in my registration fee of which I was handed an Eighth Inch brand sticker. I thought that it was a bonus for the race but I think I was the only one to get one, interesting, thanks man. I ordered a dark beer and began chatting to pass the time. As time went no one really showed up, for a while I was the only one even racing, everyone else was just there to hang out. I didn’t care; I would race even if it was only me and another person. I knew that at least one other person would be showing up, Jordan, my co-worker from the bike shop. Before he arrived a few other people showed up, including a fresh face to the First Friday Alley Cat’s. This was his second alley cat race, the first having been 2 weeks earlier called Cranksgiving, which was collecting donations for the Hunger Task Force. I found out about this race after it happened and kicked myself for not knowing about it sooner.

As 7:30 drew near a few more racers, including Jordan showed up. Eric announced that it was almost time to race and went to try and convince a few people there who were on the fence to race. I had Jordan help me finish off my second beer and we went outside to get ready. Eric was standing near the street as were two of the racers. As Jordan and I headed towards our bikes he yelled at us to leave them locked up and take our time. Everyone was soon gathered outside and the instructions began. We were quickly eluded to the Roxy Race hint from earlier in the week; Eric’s friend Roxy was having a baby shower that night. He wanted all of us to take the money we put in for the race and go buy her baby shower presents. Once we dropped off the presents at the shower, in Riverwest, we would get our manifest in a sealed FedEx box. The person back at the bar the fastest and with the most correct answers would win the frame.

With that we took off. Jordan and I unlocked out bikes. I told him we would hit TJ Max, located in Grand Avenue mall around 2nd and Wisconsin. I walked my bike out to the street and mounted, heading west on Michigan. At Water we ran into a red a light, I hit the intersection right as the light changed and was able to get ahead of traffic. I slowed down at the turn, not wanting to lose traction and headed towards Wisconsin. Half way down the block I glanced back through my ski goggles to get a view of the traffic and to see were Jordan was. I took a small break in the cars and pulled over to the left hand lane, signaling that I was taking a left at Wisconsin. The light turned red as I began to slow down, I signaled to Jordan and gingerly got onto the sidewalk at the intersection. As I crossed the bridge over the river I began to doubt the intelligence of riding the sidewalk which was covered with ice and snow.

At the intersection with Plankinton I slowed down, not wanting to loose it heading onto the street and visioning another cyclist coming around the blind corner. Neither happened and we both crossed safely onto the next block. I hopped off at a bike post nearest the entrance to the store. I locked up as Jordan arrived and ran to the door. The door unfortunately was locked and had a polite sign directing us to the mall entrance a little further down the block. I shouted this information at Jordan and headed inside.

Once inside I began searching the foyer for a friend of mine who works with the Downtown Ambassadors. This is the staging area for the Jingle Bus that tours some of downtowns decorations and my friend was working there when my family went. I thought it would be funny to run into him during a race, as I had a habit of running into him on my bike all the time. He wasn’t working though.

I headed to the entrance to the store and glanced back. Jordan was still outside so I headed back, to make sure I didn’t lose him. Right as I got to the entrance he came in saying something about trouble with his lock. We headed into the store. I began scanning the area, trying to find any kind of baby shower present. I thought I had seen some in the back corner near were we parked our bikes. Jordan got the bright idea to ask a passing clerk and we were directed to the back corner. As we navigated the isles and display tables I saw another racer already heading for the check out lane. Jordan and I wove our ways to the back of the store and began searching for a baby shower gift that was within the five dollar budget. While looking I remembered that I had forgot to put on the neon green t-shirt I had with me over my hoodie, for safety. I grabbed a funny looking bib and headed towards the cash register. On the way I swung around my bag and was about to pull out the t-shirt when I realized I would have to take my helmet off first. Not wanting to disturb the layers on my head I said to hell with it and swung the bag back into place.

I got to the check out lane to find one cashier working with a slow customer. Just what I needed, held up in line by a stereotypical customer. I only waited for a few seconds and heard a page over the intercom system that I could be helped at the next counter. The cashier caught my attention, waved me to her and I gladly obliged. I tossed the merchandise on the counter, handed her my five, contemplated telling her to keep the change and braced for the question as to why bikers are buying bibs all of a sudden. She handed me back my receipt and change which I pocketed and thank her. I hurried out of the store, Jordan next in line with the woman and contemplated what to do with the bib.

Once I got outside I put my goggles back in place, stuffed the bib in my cargo pocket and unlocked my bike, waiting for Jordan to come out. He came out shortly after and I told him the plan of action. We would head down to Water, head north and take that until it ended. As he unlocked his bike I mounted mine and began heading down the sidewalk. The light at Plankinton turned green and I crossed onto the street its self, not wanting to revisit the treacherous sidewalk. As I crossed the grating on the bridge I braced for slippery conditions and envisioned myself slipping over and spilling out into traffic. At Water the light was red; I pulled into the left hand lane, paused to make sure the coast was clear and turned left, making sure Jordan saw me. I pulled over to the right lane, wanting to make sure I had some safe road to travel over. The traffic behind me would have to go around because the shoulder/parking lane was pretty ugly with snow and ice that had not been plowed thoroughly.

The trip north on Water was uneventful and quick. I only crossed through one red light and was able to keep up with traffic. Near Juneau I glanced back, which is hard to do well with my ski goggles, to try and find Jordan. I couldn’t see his headlight behind me and figured he might have gotten caught at some more red lights. I kept going, confident in my directions. As I neared Pleasant I glanced back harder and still did not see any sign of him. I crossed Pleasant on a red but doubled back half way down the following block. I was now facing on coming traffic, which was still stalled at the red, scanning the multi-block expanse before me, searching for Jordan’s blinking light. I caught site of it a few blocks away just as the light turned green. I headed back down the block towards him and once I crossed back over Pleasant he caught up with me. I turned back around and waved him up Pleasant and we both humped up the short hill to Van Buren. From there we crossed in a lull in traffic and headed north. We made the green light at Brady and continued north across the bridge that connects Holton and van Buren. From there the next pause in our speed was a short red at North Avenue then it was hard tempo to Center Street. At North I told him we would be taking a right at Center.

Once I hit Center I glanced back to see where Jordan was and noticed he was a block or so behind. I was confident in the instructions and that he could see me turn right. I headed down center, slowing my pace up a little, glancing back about once a block to see when Jordan turned onto the street. When I reached Humboldt I paused and turned around to meet up with him, I told him we were taking a left on Humboldt and took off through the red light at that intersection, which was empty of traffic. As we rode the block to the building the shower was being held another racer passed us heading south bound and we saw one pulling out of the parking lot. I was getting discouraged that we were this far behind in such a small field.

I slowed down significantly while pulling into the parking lot of the pavilion due to the pile of snow in it. Slowly we crossed the lot and got onto the sidewalk leading up to the entrance of the pavilion. There were a number of people in the entrance way, one of them being the messenger we had to meet with to get our manifest. We both rode up to the entrance and leaned our bikes against the foyers pillars and headed into the lobby. The mood was festive but I wondered at why they were all standing there without coats on when it was obviously cold in the lobby. I pulled out my bib and exchanged it for a sealed FedEx box and thanked the woman. I headed outside ahead of Jordan and just as another racer was pulling up. I heard the messenger say that we could go over the manifest inside as I tore open the envelope and began to pour over the sheet of paper.

It was a daunting list and as always I couldn’t focus right away on the information, my brain was too overwhelmed and I started to franticly scan the paper. After a bit I decided to focus solely on the addresses to try and build a mental picture of the stops. Jordan came out and I changed my logic to finding the closest stop then going from there so we could get moving ahead of the other racer. I scanned the manifest again and found our first stop. I told Jordan about were we were heading and we mounted up, ahead of the other racer, which was probably the last one at the stop. We pulled out of the parking lot and onto Humboldt, heading back downtown. From the looks of it most if not all of the stops on the manifest are located downtown. The trip down Humboldt was uneventful. I asked Jordan if he had his brake attached to his bike, as he doesn’t use it much and sometimes removes it. He said he did and I warned him that we had a steep hill we would have to deal with coming up. Once I hit the hill I didn’t take a look back and turned onto Commerce once it was safe. Passing through Commerce I turned left onto Cherry and looked back, I could not see Jordan’s had light anywhere. I rode down to the bridge over the river and decided to turn back. As I turned around I still could not see his headlight but as I pulled back onto Commerce I saw him about 2 blocks down. I quickly caught up with him and turned around to ride next to him. He didn’t look good at all. I asked if he was ok, thinking that he had thrown up. He said he felt like shit but not to worry about it. I said ok and we pulled onto Cherry.

From Cherry we turned south onto Water and pounded down the street into downtown. I waited for Jordan at the light with Highland and we rode down the next 2 blocks to our first stop. At the PAC I flagged him into the left turn lane at Kilbourn. We cut across the street and mounted the sidewalk in front of Red Arrow Park. I pulled out the manifest and began to scan for the instructions on this first stop. We walked out bikes down the sidewalk looking for the answer. Once we got it I studied the manifest for the next closest question. The next stop was across the street. We quickly ran across to the building next to eh park and began searching through the windows for their display. When we reached the northern limits of the entrance we figured we had to go to the other side and turned back. We found our answer and mounted up to hit the next stop.

The next location brought us to Cathedral Square. We rode against traffic on State and pulled along the park on its north end. We circled the park searching for any signage that would tell us who sponsored the decorations. Fearing that we had gone the wrong way around, I was relieved when we found the answer on the south east corner. I hoped off of my bike to run up the snow and ice covered sidewalk to the sign as a small group of sight seers were wandering by, I wondered what insanity they thought we were up to as we hastily began writing down the answers. Checking the manifest again led us to the US Bank building. We had to count the number of decorations in the windows. We stopped a block down and counted them from afar, not wanting to waste unnecessary time. Once we decided on our answer we headed west on Wisconsin to the next stop.

As we shot down the street a strong gust of wind took my breath away and I struggled into the gale, it quickly let up and I could breathe again, but was momentarily chilled from it. We rolled past our next stop, which was at the Wells Fargo building on Water and I shouted back to Jordan that the displays in the windows looked incredibly creepy. This question was more or less subjective; all it asked was if you thought the display was creepy. We continued on, crossing the river, headed towards Zeidler Park. We turned south on 4th street and headed the block down to the park. We paused at the intersection for traffic and quick glimpses to try and find the next sponsorship sign. As we approached the sidewalk I saw two other racers huddled in a nearby bus stop, I wondered if they were sharing answers and grinned as I passed and one of them joked with us. Travelling along the sidewalk was slow going and treacherous as the slush and ice threatened to dump us over. As I rounded the corner slowly, hoping to stay vertical, I spotted the sign and headed to it. As we wrote our answers I scoured the increasingly crowded manifest for the next stop. I told Jordan the rough location of the stop and took off, heading south again on 4th. I knew I would have to come back north on 4th so I wasn’t concerned with getting ahead of Jordan, if anything I could get the answer, swing around and give it to him as we hit the next stop.

I shot down to the end of 4th at St Paul and began to scour the Postal and Am Track buildings. I pulled out my manifest, found the specific request and noted it. As I turned around I could see Jordan pulling up, I shouted out the answer to him and told him were we where headed next, roughly. I took off heading back up 4th street. I took 4th to Kilbourn, paused a second to make sure Jordan so the turn point, and turned right. At 3rd I paused again, made sure he saw me, and then turned left ahead of traffic. I slowed down and began searching Pere Marquette Park for sponsorship signage, to no avail. Once I reached State I circled back and caught up with Jordan, who was also scouring the park. I mounted the sidewalk and slowly rode around the park in a counter clockwise fashion, while Jordan went clockwise. As I rounded the south end of the park and the walkway took me next to the river I became a little nervous about loosing my balance on the sloppy and ice covered sidewalk and falling into the river. I was quite happy to get past the river but ran in to Jordan and neither of us had seen the sign. We pulled onto the state street sidewalk, I stopped and wrote down the sponsor I knew would be on the sign, which was on all of them, so far, Milwaukee County parks. As I finished Jordan noticed a sign laying face down in the sidewalk next to us. We picked it up and saw it was what wee were looking for. I wondered if someone else had knocked it over in an attempt to make everyone else mess up on this stop but thought again when it looked like it had been laying there all day. I turned over my manifest for more room and quickly scrawled the answer down.

We took off for the next stop, heading the wrong way on State again. We turned south on Water and headed two blocks to the M&I building south of Wells. Jordan got caught in a red light and I beat him to the stop. I scanned the interior of the bank lobby, wondering if anyone was watching me with suspicion and spotted what I thought the answer was. Jordan showed up and I told him the answer. I pulled out the manifest and with only a few stops left I decided to split the answers between us. I told Jordan to head south to Wisconsin and get two answers down there and I headed back north to Kilbourn to get one answer and would come around to get another one and we would meet back at the Chase building on Wisconsin. I headed back up Water as Jordan headed south. I pulled ahead of traffic and cut over to the left turn lane, crossing onto Kilbourn on a red and noticed a cop car idling directly in front of me. Too my good luck the police were inside the hotel and I was free this time. I quickly headed to the end of the building and searched through the windows to find the answer to the next question. I wrote down what I thought was correct and turned back to head east on Kilbourn. I slowed down as I passed the police and waited for the green light, like a good citizen. Once I had it I sprinted up the short hill, cut around Broadway and got my next answer. I took a right on Wisconsin and sprinted to meet with Jordan.

He was still searching for his answer when I showed up and found it was I got off my bike. We swapped answers, double checked the manifests and headed the block left to the bar. We locked up and ran inside, thankful to be out of the cold and finally done with the race. I handed in my manifest to Eric and he asked what baby shower present I got. I told him the race was crazy but fun and went back out to lock up my bike. We sat down, warmed up, relaxed and drank beer as we waited for the winner announcements Eric had some questions about my manifest so I showed him where some of the answers were, told him about the sign being down at Pere Marquette. He told me which ones I had wrong and what the correct answers were. He then pointed out that I had missed a question, I looked at Jordan and he said he had it and told me he got it while he was waiting for me. They told me to go back and get them but I said forget it, I was done.

In the end we didn’t win, Jordan got 3rd and I got 5th, not too bad, middle of the pack. The race was small, but fun. I was happy to be over with it since the roads were so horrible and couldn’t wait to see what slop January’s race brought.

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