Thursday, March 26, 2009

First Friday Alley Cat - March '09

The March race saw some pretty decent weather. Just 5 days after a freak lake effect snow storm brought over 10 inches to the downtown areas a 2 day stretch of 40+ weather eliminated almost all of the snow. The roads were bone dry but full of plenty of wintertime debris. I had 2 flats (the second one 2 hours before the race) due to just such debris and was slightly nervous about riding with no spare or CO2 cartridge. Never the less I drove downtown and pedaled over to the bar to drink beer and race.

Danny was unable to race do to working but Matt has taken off of work to party. The ride to the bar was easy and quick as I safely crossed through red lights. A disgruntled motorist chased me for about 5 blocks before finally turning off on Wisconsin. There were a few people already at the bar when I got there and I found a spot and ordered a drink right away. I chatted with a few people and when more showed up I moved over to a table and waited my time out. Matt showed up, beers were bought, registration was paid and we waited out the start. Soon after 7:30 the two minute warning was called, we suited up and headed out side. Everyone gathered around the guy throwing the race, Feih, as we awaited the manifests. He told us it was going to be a short and simple, easy race, which was comforting as the last few have been a bit grueling. Upon getting the manifest it didn’t look very simple, as there was a sheet full of questions. I quickly started to scan the paper to build a route. I focused on one portion of the race which seemed to have a few questions near by. Matt asked if I knew where Mineral was and I said I had heard of it but couldn’t picture where it was. I thought it had to be somewhere in the 3rd Ward or Walkers Point. We settled on hitting the stops near the Pabst Mansion and figured out the basic route we would take to get there.

Feih nonchalantly said we could go; I paused for a second and then took off, catching everyone except for Matt off guard. We took off towards the red light at Water and kept going once we skirted southbound traffic. From there we sprinted, with Matt in the lead. I passed him near 3rd but staled at the red at 4th and he passed me as he caught a brake in traffic I missed. I was half a block behind him as we pounded up the hill to 6th. I was feeling the soreness from training all week and Matt kept ahead of me. I caught up to him around 10th as I kicked it into high gear and hit around 31 in a sprint. I decided to ride with my new cycle computer this time so I could track my stats. The sprint killed me and my aches compounded as we took the slight up hill to our first stop, at the corner of 19th and Clybourne, Katie’s Dinner.

We stopped in front of the restaurant and began to search for the first answer, which was what brand is on a beer sign on the west side of the building. We jotted down the answer of Leinenkugal and I was ready to take off again when Matt mentioned we need a second answer. I was unaware that each stop had multiple questions. The next answer related to a reserved parking spot in their parking lot. Neither of us was familiar with the parking lot so I told matt to check to the west of the building while I checked to the north of it as I noticed a driveway that way. I headed up the sidewalk and turned into the driveway, climbed a short but sharp incline to an unpaved lot. I could see the top of the restaurant and down on Matt as he checked what was the real parking lot for the place. He asked me what he was looking for again and I explained it to him. He told me what he found, Bell Ambulance, and I headed to a parked car to use to write the answer down. He came around the building to meet me and I told him to go to the Pabst Mansion stop while I went to the one near by.

I walked my bike out of the mud and gravel, mounted once on black top and flew down the incline back to the street, hoping no pedestrians were crossing. We headed the block and a half up 19th and turned onto Wisconsin. As we did I saw two other racers head west on Wisconsin, Pete and Joe. I wasn’t too concerned with this as we took off first and already had one stop done. There was a good chance this was their first stop. Matt crossed the street and headed up to the mansion; I mounted the side walk and scoured for the next stop. As I found it Pete and Joe kept going up the street another block. This made me even less concerned. I read the answer and began franticly scouring the windows of the book store for the answer. I was looking for a sign that had some proverb on it and contemplated asking Matt if he knew it by heart, given his collegiate focus. I squashed that time wasting idea, found the answer and wrote it down as accurately as possible all while wondering if the store had an alarm sensor on their windows and if I would/could set it off. I looked at the question for Pabst and noticed it had at least 2 parts, one part talked about were you could park if their lot ran out of room and the parking was across the street, my side. I looked up the block and saw a funeral home with a large lot, figured that had to be it and when I noticed Pete and Joe circling the lot I knew it had to be it.

I rode to join them for a second before deciding to head over to Matt, I was concerned it was taking him too long to find his answers. As I did Pete and Joe headed to the book store. Matt was double checking his information when I pulled up in front of the historical building. I asked him what he had and he gave me the address and the year it was born. He said he was having trouble finding the info on the additional parking and I told him what I thought it was. He continued to search, not wanting to be incorrect and eventually did find a sign that stated the funeral home provide additional parking. We jotted down our answers and Matt asked about the answer to a second question from the book store. I didn’t notice the question so we had to cross the street and find it. As we pulled up Joe and Pete were coming to the mansion and a few other racers had arrived at the book store. Our lead was lessening so we hurried to find the answer. Mat found it, whispered the answer to me and we took off, headed to 8th and Wisconsin.

Matt got the lead and was about a block a head of me. Not wanting to lose any possible lead we had I tucked in and kicked it into high gear. I glanced at my computer and noticed I was doing about 30, I could definitely feel it in my burning muscles. I passed Matt and kept going, not wanting to stop but after a while my legs would no longer carry me and a large part said to just unclip my feet and rest, but I had to keep going. If I couldn’t go this fast for a mile or so how would I be able to compete on the track?

I screeched to a halt in front of the army surplus store, hopped off the bike and ran to the front door, panting like mad and aching all over. I quickly found the answer to the question and was writing it down when Matt showed up. I told him what the answer was and began to try and plot the rest of the race. We had a few stops we were unclear about and Matt went to ask some people at the bus stop if they knew were one of the streets was. I decided on one stop, thinking it was in the 3rd Ward and took off, telling Matt were to go as I passed him and the people he was talking with. As I rode down Wisconsin I pulled out the manifest and went over the next stop again, doing so made me realize that there were a few stops we could hit on our way to our target stop. The target stop was a parking structure at Jefferson and Jackson, which confused me a little bit and as I scanned it again I picked up on it being between those streets. Immediately my thought was of the Third Ward near the Jefferson Block Apartments. As I neared Water I knew I would had to make sure that Matt saw me turn down that street instead of heading further east to Jefferson. Due to my jump on him from the last stop he was a bit behind me and I didn’t want to risk slowing down. I rounded the corner at Wisconsin and Water and slowed slightly to make sure that Matt saw where I was, peering back at him coming into view on Wisconsin. Once I was confident he saw me I took off again.

As I passed Michigan I wished that I was done already. Rolling up to the bar, but alas we where only half way through. The riding I had been doing all week and the 2 high speed sprints I did up to this point in the race had taken their toll on my muscles and I ached all over. I needed to get my conditioning better or else I was going to get my ass kicked once track season started.

I pounded down Water heading into the Third Ward. I knew at least one of the next stops was close by, a building on the 200 block of north Water. I slowed down half way down that block to scan for the address until I found the café that was the stop. I hopped onto the sidewalk and read through the question. Matt showed up as well and we both started scanning. We had to find 3 colored benches inside of the business, but from what we could see there weren’t anything that resembled a bench and anything close did not come in quantities over two. I reread the question and picked up that it might actually be behind the business on the Riverwalk. Matt began searching for the second question at the stop which dealt with what kind of coffee they sell there. I told him I was going around the back to find the benches.

I mounted the bike, pulled into the alley and quickly traveled to the rear. I found the three benches plain as day and got off the bike to better examine my query. I had to note the color of the benches, and until I got back to them I figured they were the same color. I was mistaken and had to figure out exactly what colors to put. There was little light in the back and the benches were oddly colored, weird pastel shades that could be one thing or the other in the darkness. I debated their color for a while and heard Matt either talking to himself or me about having trouble with his question. I made up my mind and chose three colors that I assumed the benches represented as Matt came back by me. He was frustrated about not finding the answer and began searching the back of the shop. I was starting to get worried that we were wasting too much time at this stop and reviewed the manifest, to find the best routes.

In reviewing the manifest I discovered that the Jefferson stop was not in the Third Ward that we had passed by it to some extent on our way here. It was located off of Mason between Jefferson and Jackson, near the bar. We had also missed another stop that was just north of us along the river and Water Street. Then there remained two stops that were further south. For a second I was going to go to the stop 2 blocks away while Matt continued to look for the coffee question. As I decided against it he found it, Alterra, we should have guessed. With that we had 4 stops left and had wasted too much time. I made an executive decision and we split the remaining questions and decided to meet up downtown to share answers. I had a better idea of the unknown street on the south side and asked Matt to take the river and parking structure stops. We rode out to Water and I headed south as he headed north.

I took off with a vengeance, wanting to make up as much time as possible and knowing that Matt would get done with his questions before I did so I didn’t want to make him wait to long. I didn’t even flinch as I crossed the bridge into Walkers Point and quickly cut right onto the half block portion of Seeboth that is split by the train tracks. I stopped and read the question. I was looking for a potter. A quick scan of the eastern portion of the train tracks revealed no potter. So I picked up my bike and jogged through the walkway to the other side and saw a large planter with an evergreen of some sort. I leaned my bike against the curb and began to try and search for the name of the plant.

At first I circled the planter, trying to see if there was a plaque of some sort. When that proved false I began to search the plant it’s self for any kind of stick in tag that would have that information on it. As I couldn’t find anything outright I began to search through the plant its self. As I spent more and more time searching for the name of the plant that was making me smell more and more like a Christmas tree (I hate pine of any sort by the way) I began to think a few things. The first and most prominent was that someone whop had hit this stop earlier had decided to be a prick and stole the sign. I have heard of it happening in alley cats but have not experienced it first hand. This aggravated me and my search became more frantic. I also started to think about just making up some name for the damn plant. While I was doing all of this I also thought about what anyone watching me would think, I would probably get the cops called on me or yelled at, because know one would immediately understand the context, they would just think some crazed biker was busting up their plants. It didn’t help that the planter was located in front of a renovated warehouse space that held either/or businesses/apartments and the front lobby was nice and lit. I thought to check for any signage on the buildings glass façade, but was out of luck there too. After a number of times debating what to do I noticed a non descript and somewhat small plant sitting on a plank of wood strapped to the railing blocking off part of the entrance to the pedestrian tunnel under the train tracks. The entire time was wasted searching the wrong damn plant. I quickly grabbed my bike and headed to the correct plant, found the name written on a piece of plywood, noted it and took off towards 2nd street.

I had just wasted valuable time searching in the wrong place when I should have taken 10 or 15 seconds at the stop. I decided to take 2nd south for a while to avoid running through the tunnel again and to avoid the heavier traffic on 1st. I still was uncertain as to the whereabouts of the next stop, Mineral, but had an idea. I ended up mounting the sidewalk for part of my trek southbound on 2nd since I wanted to stick in the northbound lane. There is an underpass on 2nd that is treacherous and I have never traveled the northbound portion of it. I figured the wide open sidewalk would be a bit safer. As I crossed a number of streets I noted the names and kept going. Before hitting National I pulled east and got onto 1st. The street was open and clear and I took off, scanning the signs as I went. I knew that I had to get east of 1st based on the address so some streets were ruled out. I crossed National and felt I was close, hoped I was anyways; otherwise I was going to be off by a lot. Two blocks later I found the street.

I joyfully took a hard left, paused to check the addresses and took off for the next block. I quickly found the building, pulled up and read the question. I had to note what was above the entrance to the building, which was a fall out shelter sign. I double checked, wrote it down and took off; hoping Matt wasn’t waiting too long. I pulled right onto 1st, tucked into the drops and took off, pedaling hard and steady. Traffic was unusually light allowing me to safely dodge hazards in the bike lane and some minor construction. As I neared the train track underpass, which narrows considerably, I sensed cars a few blocks ahead of me. Not wanting to deal with the squeeze and traffic at the same time I stepped it up and sprinted through the underpass. I had to stall for a second at the stop light following the tracks then I took off again, the lane to myself. I swerved around some parked cars, rubble and mild construction to get onto the bridge back into the Third Ward. I contemplated stopping at the stop along the river and Water Street to not have so many ‘cheated’ stops but decided against it. I had been taking a long time and Matt was probably already back and waiting for me. I cruised the last few blocks and got worried when I didn’t see him waiting at the bar. As I hoped off my bike another racer who I didn’t know previously pulled up as well. I started to think that I couldn’t just stand here waiting for Matt, that it would look bad. Also, with this racer back, how many others were already back? I could see a few other bikes I knew. I was positive Eric was back already as well. I slowly locked my bike up, tried to ignore the other biker who also loitered around and soon Matt showed up. I quickly got the info I needed from the other stops, shared my info and we both went in to check in.

There were a few racers already back from what I could tell. We handed in our manifests and at the last minute I realized I hadn’t written my name on mine. I jotted it down and turned it back in. Now it was time to wait out the results. We ordered beer and went out side to cool down and talk with the other racers. A group of us went over our experiences and compared note on the questions. After a while of that we went back inside had more beer and waited. The results were finally announced after a while of Feih pouring over the manifests. Gallagher took first place with being in the fastest and having the last amount of wrong answers, everyone railed him for not knowing where Pabst Mansion was. Second place was taken by Eric and after the placements were made Eric went of to fiend Feih about how Gallagher took first when he had more wrong answers than Eric. I didn’t find out the outcome of that one. Third was given to Matt and myself as a tie. Feih also mentioned that he has noticed how I have been placing well lately in the races and congratulated me on that, which was pretty cool. The rest was a blur after that, Matt and I had a final celebratory beer and then went separate ways. Now it was time to prepare for MMI and I was going to be riding a bigger gear once again on my bike. I had some training to get to.

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