Wednesday, April 8, 2009

First Friday Alley Cat - April '09

Coming off of the 2nd place win, out of 98 people, in the previous weeks MMI race I knew I would have to place well for this race. I joked that everyone would ridicule me but I knew I had to place well personally. MMI wasn’t a fluke, my work has paid off but I also had to win one of the Friday night races soon too. The weather was a little warmer than MMI but it was still cold. The wind was strong form the north and had been all week. The snow that had accumulated on the night of MMI was a memory. Danny was unable to race due to working at the bike shops special blow out sale that started the day before and Matt had called me a hour before to let me know he wasn’t working. It would be fun to race with Matt and I rode from my house to downtown to meet up with him. He asked me to bring along my bike pump to he could top off his tires. He thought I was brining my car but I chose to ride and loosen up my muscles.

I met Matt in front of the office for my day job, so I would be able to store the pump at my desk. It was Matt’s first time racing on his new bike which was purchased for racing on the track. It was also my first time racing with pedals and toe straps ever. I had sold my clipless pedals earlier in the week in anticipation of riding different pedals. I was unable to get the new pedals and had to rely on a pair of platforms with straps I had laying around. I had been trying to get used to them to little luck. I was just having too muck trouble flipping into the straps. That was going to be a hindrance as well as riding on a different saddle than I am used to, as I swapped saddles with my real racing bike as well.

One of the prizes I had won at MMI was a brand new Brooks saddle. I promptly put it on my bike, didn’t like it and sold it. I had been planning to swap saddles with my real racing bike for a while and went ahead and did that while I was monkeying around with them. It is a good saddle, just a little different from the Fi’z:k I normally ride. I put all this behind me and planned to ride the best I could.

We met up and took off to the bar, chatting the entire way. It was cold but I was fine wearing just my cycling hat and race gloves. We were both in high spirits. We pulled up to the bar and were greeted by Nicole, Gallagher, some guy I have never officially introduced myself to and one of the guys responsible for a brand new messenger company, whose name I continue to forget. Quickly talk turned towards MMI as Nicole congratulated me on my placement. She said that she was proud of me when I came in saying, that’s Steve; he’s at all of the Friday races. It was cool and the conversations were good. We ordered beer and began discussing track racing, this years Riverwest 24 race and possibly doing a bike ride in Italy in the next few years. Soon Eric showed up and a few other messengers, the conversations were good and the beer flowed. Gallagher took our money and soon it was 7:30. We didn’t start right away, the field was pretty small and everyone in it was a messenger aside from Matt and me.

In talking with the guys whose name I keep forgetting I found that he and his new business partner wanted me to work for them in their new messenger company. But didn’t ask me when they asked around and found out I worked a decent desk job. I was really flattered about the offer and if I could afford it I told him I would have taken him up. We then went on to discuss the differences in being a big biker as opposed to a skinny one as the both of us share a similar shape. Gallagher decided to hand out the manifests and we started plotting the course. We revised it a few times and in the end Eric came by after I joked that I was going to suck his wheel for a while. He asked where we would go first and Matt revised our course and said South Water as our first stop instead of the one I had chosen. When I scanned the manifest again I realized that he was right. Eric looked at us and said ‘how about I go my way and you go your way and we meet back here’. We agreed and that was that.

Around quarter to 8 the race was called and we shuffled outside. Gallagher said the race started when the light at Michigan and Water turned red. Matt came up to me and asked if we wanted to take the alley. I agreed and when the light changed and everyone scattered we cut down it quickly. I only had one foot in the strap and mildly tried to get the other one in. Halfway down the alley I gave up and rode on top of it. As we neared the end alley we could see the coast was clear and flew onto the street. We turned left towards Water and hit a green light, which was good because part of our view was blocked with construction from the northbound lanes. Matt pulled in front of the construction while I rode around it, fighting to get my foot in as another racer came up on my right. All of us pounded down Water Street into the Third Ward.

Our first stop was on the south end of Water Street, deep into Walkers Point. We would have to cross the bridge and turn onto it before the road turned into 1st street. Friday night traffic was heavy and as we neared the turn off oncoming traffic blocked me. I slowed down considerably as other racers blew past me. Matt and another guy had already shot down the street and when I had a break in traffic I had to work hard to catch up, still fighting with the toe strap.

The street was darker compared to the well lit main thoroughfare we pulled off of. I feared hidden pot holes on this unfamiliar rode and gingerly went on, trying to catch up with Matt and the other racer. Fortunately the path was pretty straight forward and empty. Matt hit an intersection as a car crossed it and had to swing wide to avoid it, by the time I got there I didn’t have to change my course. We rode on into the dim industrial lane, crossing a large section of potentially dangerous train tracks. We all slowed down but didn’t run into any problems and once again took off to get to the stop.

As we neared Matt asked what the address was, I pulled out my folded manifest and called out the number. We passed by a building that marked off the start of the block we were looking for and we slowed down. Matt found the address of a building further down and we realized we had the wrong one. We were looking for 50 when the manifest asked for 20. We turned around and the other racer was no where to be seen. As we rounded the corner and into the buildings parking lot we could see him near the entrance to the business, we both pulled into the gravel driveway. As we stopped he took off and we quickly wrote down the answer to this stop and double checked the next one on the list. I had to remember that we were a number behind on the order since we skipped the original 1st stop per Matt’s genius. I found the next stop, fearing that we would have to travel all the way back to the Third Ward, then come around down 1st street. We pulled out of the driveway and the intersection directly north of us was what we were looking for, National Ave. I didn’t know that the street gone that far east and thanked Matt for his insight and the fact we didn’t have to back track anymore than a half a block.

We quickly pulled onto National and found our next stop a block later. We noted the answer and took off to the next stop on east Greenfield. We pulled down the next intersection, which was still east of 1st and took that down a few blocks until we were stopped by the empty lot that a foundry used to reside on. We had no choice but to head west to 1st, but I pulled a hard left and stuck into the left side of the road, facing oncoming traffic, more than likely scarring them. I stayed there for two blocks then turned left onto Greenfield. I hit the green but Matt hit the red/yellow and got stalled with a car. I took to the correct side of the road and pounded the two blocks to the next stop.

I arrived at the dark and empty building just as the other racer we followed on water was taking off. I dumped my bike on the side of the road and ran to the front door of the building, pulling out my manifest. I scoured the entrance looking for the next clue, which was a web address. It was dark and seemed hopeless when at last I noticed a small sticker on the door that said Flickr. I yelled the answer to Matt who asked if it said dot com as well, I told him no and took off to the next stop. I wasn’t shocked with the website as Flickr is well known as a repository of photos by fixed gear enthusiast. We shot back west on Greenfield.

We crossed 1st street on a red in between traffic and took a left on 2nd, avoiding construction. I took off as Matt got caught in the red light on 2nd and pounded hard down the street. I was chasing the other racer, who I knew would win if we couldn’t pass him, yet he was long gone. We quickly came up to the next stop. I pulled down the decline to the dead end of second, pulled out my manifest as I neared and noticed that the building we were looking for proudly stated it was the headquarters for the local bike gang The Outlaws. As soon as I saw that and al of the activity with the establishment I quickly turned around and confirmed the answer with Matt. We got out of there as fast as we could, not stopping to write the answer down as we could do it later.

Climbing franticly away from The Outlaws headquarters we turned left onto Mitchell. At 6th we took a right and shot up the block to Lapham. Instead of dealing with the red light I cut through a gas station on the corner and rode down the eastbound lane for a block, checking the westbound lane for a brake in traffic so I could cut across. I watched the signs on the cross streets, keeping my eye out for 12th. At the next controlled intersection I paused then cut through the red, Matt yelled something after me and I swung around thinking he was telling me that this was our stop. I noticed the street sign, told him we were looking for 12th and kept going west. The next block down I pulled over to the south east corner of the intersection and began to search for the answer. Matt pulled up from behind and said that there was a cop at the intersection I rolled through.

We had to find an answer to the question of who wants you to smile. The buildings on the other corners were residential but the commercial building I was next to was not a dentist. As I searched I saw the garage across from me said that Jesus wants you to smile on it and as I wrote it down, using a stop sign pole as a table Matt joked about the answer. We took off west to 13th and Matt said that he saw a cop again. I looked around but it wasn’t actually a cop and we kept going.

Our next target was 1600 Bruce Street, I was positive it was located between Greenfield and National. As we traveled north we stuck with 13th street which was trying at times. The street was dark and the neighborhood is not the best but we pushed forward into the north wind. I pulled out my manifest a few blocks up to check the address, continuously scanning the cross street signs. After we passed Scott and started running into state named streets I knew I had made a mistake. After I figured that out I shouted out to Matt that I had made a mistake and we had to hit the stop on Caesar E Chavez first. I swung right at the next intersection and pounded hard to get to 16th. I pulled out the manifest to find the address we were looking for but in my frantic actions I continued to miss the listing. I was trying to go as fast as possible, check for clear intersections and read the manifest in pools of light from street lamps. I continued to flip the manifest back and forth, trying to find the listing for the stop. Finally after a number of attempts I found it and noted the address we were looking for. We would have to backtrack all the way to Greenfield and go at least 2 blocks south as the stop was on the 1600 block.

We turned onto 16th and started swimming against the current, hugging the curb and parked cars as northbound traffic sped towards us. We had to dodge debris and rough road at the same time as dodging oncoming traffic. The trip back south was hectic and filled with urgency and my apologizing to Matt, along the way I also noticed a number of police cars. At Greenfield we got the green right before we hit the intersection; I stood up and sprinted a bit to close the time gap. I started scanning the buildings for any sign of an address to pinpoint or exact location, I knew that Greenfield was 1400 south and that our target was on the 1600 block and on the east side of the street but wasn’t sure how quickly the addresses changed on the extended block we traveled.

Halfway down the 1600 block I finally noticed we were near the stop. Once I found an address I turned around and yelled to Matt that we passed it and we began scouring the address signs as we back tracked. Just as we found it a squad car with flashing lights pulled over a southbound car right across from us. I didn’t heed any attention to it, because it had nothing to do with us and hoped off of my bike in front of the large building to try and find the answer we needed. We had to find a mural that had a horse and a dog on it and jot down their names. As we franticly searched the outside of the building I became worried that the mural was inside and we would have to peer through the front doors to try and find it. Matt started talking with an older woman who was standing by her car near by and she directed him across the street to a monument, right in between the cop and his query. Matt pointed it out to me and we both ran across the street, Matt, wisely went behind the cop car, I on the other hand ran between them, hearing the officer ask his query if he had any form of legitimate ID on him. He must have pulled over a suspected illegal immigrant and was trying to find a valid license. I thought as I ran in front of the squad that I shouldn’t be doing it but that was over ruled by the idea that the cop was more occupied with his query and aside from jay walking I hadn’t done anything illegal.

I came up to the monument and quickly found the mural on it, but both animals looked like dogs, with one being quite a bit smaller than the other one. I looked again and noticed the larger one was horse like so I jotted down the names in the appropriate locations on the manifest and took off back across the street, this time behind the cop car. As we got on our bikes Matt thanked the woman for the help and a man who had come out to with her was joking with us and they asked what we were doing, we told them it was a bike scavenger hunt and then took off, thanking them for the help. Matt questioned my intelligence about running in front of the squad car and I agreed with it but told him I wasn’t concerned.

We now headed back north, even though I kept telling Matt we were heading south, which confused him at first since he knew we were heading north and thought I truly meant south. I noticed my error and corrected it. We had to stop at Greenfield at a red, but traffic soon parted and after checking quickly for cops we took off. I took the center of the lane for a while, since traffic was behind us and hoped the middle of the lane was less treacherous than the shoulder. Matt commented about how much he hated the stretch of road and we pounded on. I could feel time slipping away as I reminded myself of my error and how much back tracking we had to do, we could have been done with the next stop by know and almost home free.

At National we hit a red but cross traffic was non existent and we swung a wide right. I was mostly positive that Bruce was the street that ran just along the train tracks that skirt the south end of the valley. Our goal was the first cross street we came upon with National. I tucked into the drops and pushed forward, trying to stay ahead of traffic. At about 13th street I pulled into the oncoming lanes to keep from being stalled with traffic heading towards us, Matt followed suit. The first intersection we hit was 11th street and I swung a left onto it, hoping a car wasn’t coming up fast. We descended rapidly into the south end of the valley two blocks until the street ended. From there we hung a left and I was trying to find the street sign for this road.

From memory I thought we were looking for something on the 1200 block and I slowed when we hit that stretch. I pulled the manifest out and found that out stop was the 1600 block and I took off again. Matt was ahead of me and I anxiously scanned for street signs to confirm the road, I yelled out to Matt to check for them as well. Matt said we were on the right road just as he found the building we were looking for. I pulled past him and circled around as he stopped to verify the address.

The stop looked like it was an old tenant house that had been converted into a business. There were 3 people standing in front of it on a smoke break. As we stopped to get our answer I asked them if they had seen any other bikers, one of the women replied she had seen one or two recently. The man jovially asked us what was going on and we told him a scavenger hunt. We got our answer, jotted the info down, wished them a good night and took off as they wished up luck. There were now two stops remaining and I used the slight westerly wind and sprinted back east. I pushed myself hard and when I glanced at my computer I was hitting 30mph. I held it for as long as I could and a block before the next stop I had to drop off.

I slowed down as I came up to where Bruce breaks off into Virginia and pulled out the manifest to find the next address. The next stop was on 9th street and I figured it had to be around the area but wasn’t sure where 9th actually existed. Matt caught up as I circled into a gas station parking lot and we instantly saw the address on the building behind it being our target. We pulled out of the gas station and into the buildings drive way and approached the front door. The question asked for what kind of fish was on the outside of the building but the business didn’t have anything to do with seafood of any sort. Matt spotted it on their door and told me it was the Jesus fish, which instantly answered the part of the question that said we could draw it too. I leaned against the building to write the answer down and confirmed the final stop.

I told Matt we would take Virginia down to 2nd then head north to Pittsburg. As we rolled I corrected that and said we would take 3rd instead. We rolled forward, getting a green on 6th. We passed through the construction I had run into during MMI going the opposite way and I cursed as I thought the construction was going to impede our travel on 3rd. I took a chance and pulled north onto the street, gingerly watching out for any dangers in the road.

Half a block north the construction ended but was barricaded against vehicles, there was just enough room for a cyclist to get through against the curb and as I pulled through I grimaced against the pile of rubble. We shot down the next street and I swore when I found that it wasn’t Pittsburg. We pulled right to 2nd street. At 2nd I complained that I hated this portion because the road dipped down to accommodate a rail over pass and the road is always terrible. I then said I was pulling onto the sidewalk to avoid it and did so, hoping as I did the last time I crossed this way heading south, that I wouldn’t hit any broken concrete. I pulled safely off of the sidewalk to find that the next street wasn’t Pittsburg either, for a second I panicked thinking I was wrong but kept going forward, sticking to the west side of the street.

The following black was Pittsburg and with relief I pulled into it. Matt followed close behind and we slowed down to find the address of any of the buildings. I scanned the south end and he scanned the north end. We weren’t sure what the addresses of the buildings were that we were looking at but we knew we had to find the number of ‘numbered’ dock doors. One building had dock doors but I remembered we weren’t far enough down the street, we were still on the 200 block and when I glanced west towards the MMI stop that got shut down I noticed another building that would be in the 300 block and pointed it out to Matt.

We rode forward and slowed down as blacktop ended and gravel began. Matt mentioned something about cyclocross and we cautiously approached the building. Matt noticed the numbers on the dock doors and mentioned we should check the other side. I rode up an incline to an outside dock area on the south end of the building to get a look behind it. As I neared the west side I saw grass and no road and assumed there would be no docks. I turned around and headed down the ramp to the gravel again, dodging some weed growth. Matt asked if we should count them to make sure and I said don’t bother. We jotted down 18 and headed back out to pavement and the final stretch.

As we pulled onto the 200 block Eric showed up and was searching the same buildings we had originally searched. I knew this was his last stop too. I shouted out to him as we passed by and took a hard left onto 2nd behind Matt. With the bar being out next stop and Eric right behind us I pushed hard again and pounded past Matt. There was a red at St. Paul and I slowed down enough to make sure the coast was clear before resuming my frantic pace. At Clybourn I could see far enough to know that traffic was not coming and blew through the red. At Michigan I slowed down as I made the right hand turn on the red to make sure a car wasn’t coming down the right hand lane. At Water I had to wait for cross traffic as the light turned red just after I crossed the bridge. I put my foot down for a second, scanned the street for traffic and cops and took off the last stretch. I pulled onto the sidewalk at the alley entrance, jumped off of my bike and noticed few bikes back. I knew I wasn’t first but couldn’t tell how many racers had made it back yet. I waited a second for Matt to show up then ran inside and handed Gallagher my manifest. I asked him what number I was in and when he said second I turned around to go outside and cool down.

I passed Matt who was double checking his manifest at a table and I tapped him on the shoulder and aid third. As I passed by him I thought he might misunderstand my meaning and I said for you after as I went through the door. I stripped off my bag, hat, gloves and hoodie just as Eric was arriving. He ran inside to check in. I was sweating pretty well from the exertion even though it was in the upper 30’s to low 40’s. The cool weather felt good and I left my stuff piled up on the floor and locked up my bike after Matt came out to do the same. Eric came out and said he got 4th place, at which point Matt thought he got 4th. I clarified for him that he got third and Joe showed up. With in a few more minutes everyone else showed up and we all started talking about the race. Two guys had gotten yelled at by a bouncer at The Outlaw stop. Joe joked it was a good thing no one bothered him as he tends to mouth off on his bike which prompted Matt to joke about Joe becoming the first gunshot casualty of the races. Eric said he knew he wasn’t going to beat us after we ran into him at the last stop and we found out the other racer we followed at the beginning actually came in sixth. The entire time I was chasing after his ghost and he was the last person in as the seventh racer lost his manifest and was unable to finish. The person who took 1st went the opposite way we did.

After cooling down we all pilled back into the bar for beer and awards, at which we all received prizes. More beer was downed and Eric told me I had better win first in May’s race, Matt second that saying he was sick of getting in third all the time and wanted to take second for once. Great, now I had 2 more people wanting me to win one of these. Time to train even harder.

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