Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Milwaukee Messenger Invitational VIII

The 8th annual Milwaukee Messenger Invitational was scheduled for the end of March, as opposed to the middle of the month like it had been previously. What might have been the weekend you could have counted on it being on was a very nice, spring like mild one. The one it was actually on was a throw back to winter. There was an enormous weather system rumbling into the Milwaukee area that had already laid waste to the Plain’s States by dumping ungodly amounts of snow. The news was calling for rain to start mid to late afternoon turning into snow with an accumulation of a few inches to a foot, depending on area. On top of all that the temperature was briskly in the low to mid 30’s and the wind howled out of the north-east. Added to that I was slightly under the weather, having developed a head cold late Tuesday night. I took off of work the following day to try and rest and had scheduled a vacation day that Friday as well. I was able to rest up pretty well and was feeling ok by Friday and early Saturday. I also spent four and a half hours that week de-winterizing my road bike. Completely disassembling it, replacing anything that the salt had damaged, tightening everything down and re-greasing what required so all to usher in spring/summer and to make sure my ride was in prime condition for the race.

Last year’s MMI was the first race that Matt and I rode together and we placed 13th and 14th out of 70 or so. Matt was unable to make this years race, much to his disappointment due to familial obligations. Danny was planning to race. At around noon on Saturday I gave him a call to find out if he was still racing and to coordinate meeting up to head to registration. He backed out, so I was on my own. Originally I wasn’t concerned with trying to win the race, I was going to enjoy the ride with Danny/Matt and I was bringing my mother-in-laws camera with to get some race shots. So I wasn’t totally focused on cranking it out as fast as I could. With the idea of being solo on the table I reconsidered doing the best of my abilities. I had been keeping away from hard training all week so I would be ready to ride the 30 or so miles needed for the race. The only thing holding me back was my cold, which was doing well, and the wind.

I packed up and rode from my house to the offices of Breakaway Messengers to register and wait for the start of the race. I figured the 5 miles ride from my house would be a good warm up ride kept at a relaxing speed and help me make sure my clothing choice matched the weather. The ride downtown was rough and slow due to the strong wind coming out of the east. This was just a preview for what I would be facing in the race it’s self. I arrived at the office, locked my bike to it’s self and leaned it against a dumpster in the alley. There where close to 20 or 30 people already here which was a promising sign. I had been wondering all week what the turn out would be like given the weather that was imminent. I didn’t recognize anyone outside so I hoped onto the loading dock and went into the office it’s self. As opposed to last year this time I felt more comfortable wandering around the office, I knew most of the messengers and they all knew me from the Friday night races. I noticed a line of people that started with Eric, who was passing out this year’s. I figured I would queue up and see if registration was actually taking place already. I got Eric pretty quickly and once he spotted me he pulled out the t-shirt I had requested earlier in the month.

At the First Friday alley cat I asked Eric if he could special make me an xl shirt for MMI since larges don’t fit me quite right yet. He hadn’t made the shirts yet so I was lucky. He came through for me and I am pretty grateful for his effort. I asked him how much extra I owed him and he said not to worry about it, that it was just going to cost me ten like everyone else. I walked off and bagged the shirt, figuring it wasn’t registration time yet since all I got was the shirt. I had purchased a fine Belgian beer and a fine cigar to celebrate the race with and to christen my bikes bottle opener. I figured I didn’t want to drink a beer that had been shaken up for a few hours and decided to drink it before the beginning of the race. I pulled the brown paper bag containing the small, but potent, beverage and wondered if anyone though I was bizarre for busting out a bottle of beer like I was a wine-o living in a park. I went out side, turned my fork around and popped open the beer with my handy, knee cracking bottle opener/headset spacer. With how much frothed out with out being shaken too badly I was glad I had chosen not to wait until the end of the race to drink it. I headed back inside, sipping the beer.

As I came back into the punk rock office space for the couriers I noticed that a line had started forming and people were ponying the cash up for registration. While waiting in line I noticed people snapping photos left and right, including an official one that was required after registering. I got to the head of the line and one of the two people who were registering asked if my name was Steve to confirm she remembered it. I told her it was and spelled out my last name. I was then handed a release waiver and my spoke card. They both wished me luck and I headed over to the photographer. I put the beer next to my head and smiled wide for the shot. I then headed over to a table, signed the waiver and handed it back in. I spent the next half an hour or so going back and forth between the office and the alley, talking to people I knew a few people I didn’t know and generally waiting for the race to start. I finished the beer pretty rapidly and thought about hitting the beer fridge in the office for more brew but decided not to. I also started to ready the digital camera I had borrowed to start taking pictures but noticed it wouldn’t turn on, chocked it up to having a dead battery and put it away. Oh well, I was afraid I would have damaged it some how anyways. Now I had nothing holding me back from going all out for the race. The only thing that would hold me back would be my routing, which is one thing I like about riding with other people. I may have a good layout of the city in my head but I sometimes misread things in haste and having an extra set of eyes on the manifest has helped me a few times recoup from mistakes.

I was pretty relaxed, which is usually not the case as I have usually been pretty jittery before races. But this time I was calm and only worried about getting too cold. I had to go inside of the office repeatedly to warm up after spending time in the alley checking out everyone’s rides. I was showing my bike to an old acquaintance who I hadn’t raced with since I got it. As we talked about riding with brakes a young and somewhat idiotic kid showed up and said something along the lines of ‘fuck brakes’. We both kind of ignored him and carried on with our conversation. Around the same I had been part of a conversation with two messengers, one being Joe, about how stupid one of the racers was for riding his bike brakeless while pushing such a big gear. Most of the messengers who ride brakeless ride on smaller gear ratios, which are easier to control with their legs.

I went inside again to warm up and talked with Eric for a bit. At this point Wayne from Breakaway began soliciting some of the racers to do the ‘masters’ race, at which they would go back to office and start 20 minutes after everyone else did. One guy was joking that they would just head over to Brady Street and start hitting all the bars. I wasn’t sure if it was a joke or not about the ‘masters’ race but he asked a few other people as well. The five minute warning was called and people started shuffling out into the alley. As I came to my bike a guy who parked behind me went to his and started complaining about someone messing with his bike. They had taken his handlebars and turned them upside down. He was trying to get an allen key to get them back into place and his friends were making fun of him, calling him a DUI biker. Then everyone started taking off. I hadn’t heard the signal or where we were headed so I asked people around me and was told we were meeting at the Discovery World Museum. I turned my bike around hopped on and took off.

I pulled onto Wells and noticed that they had parked a line of cars to block traffic off for the start of the race, to enable everyone to get out safely. That ended rather quickly as we hit 2nd Street and a red light. The crowd was to far dispersed and chaos ensued as cars tried to go on their green while small packs of racers kept going through the red and swarming around stopped cars at the next intersection. I followed the pack and rolled through the light and turned right onto Plankinton instead of continuing on Wells. As I neared Wisconsin the light turned red and more chaos ensued as the groups of racers was even smaller at this point. They could no longer stall traffic and people had to wait or maneuver to continue on. I pulled onto the north sidewalk of Wisconsin and rode that to Water. Water had a green and I pulled into the intersection off of the sidewalk and flowed with traffic legally, wondering if I would run into anyone who was turning onto Water from Wisconsin. From there the group built up a little more and at Michigan the light was green, but on coming traffic caused people to stall long enough to turn east. I heard a few car horns behind me as racers weaved in the light traffic. I didn’t want to get caught up in any erratic movements of cyclists so I tried to stay on the inside as much as possible. As we rolled down Michigan at times I was in the left hand lane.

I picked up the pace in order to make all of the green lights. At Van Buren a car hesitated to turn in front of me and I passed by him. As I cleared the US Bank building I could see the intersection with Lincoln memorial, which was unusually busy with cars. Everyone was converging on this intersection so traffic didn’t know what to do about all of the bikes and everything just kind of stood still. I rolled through on a green and followed a few people up to the museum. As we neared it I could see a group of people gathered already at the entrance but more people were continuing out onto the parkland. Some one yelled out that we were going further and I kept riding, looking at confused expressions from the people already gathered. Leading the pack was Nicole from Breakaway, who was one of the main people for the race this year. She stopped all of us on a bridge in the park but as more people arrived we continued onward to a large open space. There we all stopped, some people dropping their bikes and standing around, others straddling them, everyone waiting for the manifest and the official go. A number of guys ran off towards the lake up a small incline in the park to urinate. Soon more followed and there was a small line of racers on the horizon of the hill looking out towards the lake urinating. Some one mentioned how they looked like border security or something. Someone then came up with the bright idea to have everyone line up on the hill to take a nice group photo. I dropped my bike and started heading into the cold wind. I started thinking about how I was probably standing in someone’s urine when I got to the top and a few people mentioned the same idea. It was cold and windy, probably one of the coldest spots in the city at the moment. A few people complained about this as we waited for a series of photos to be snapped. Then Nicole hauled out a huge stack of sealed Fed Ex envelopes and everyone swarmed her. I waited patiently as the throng attacked her, grabbing aimlessly at the stack. I ended up being one of the last people to grab one, but I wasn’t concerned with that. I was just going to wing it and do the best I could. What I was concerned about was what to do with the envelope. Nicole had sealed them all up the night before incase there was going to be rain at the start of the race. As I opened mine one of the other Breakaway riders yelled at everyone about littering. I contemplated putting it in my bag but I didn’t want to deal with all of that so I just quarter folded it and shoved it in my left cargo pocket. I then began to pour over the manifest.

As I scanned it I began to try and mentally picture where each stop was in relation to each other. Then I got hung up on a stop, a street I had never heard of and the question had no clues to its where-about. The place was Ravine St. and it said something about the old bridge. Nicole asked if anyone had any questions on the manifest and I contemplated asking where Ravine was but pride kept me from doing so. I thought I would follow a group of people and they would lead me to it. I decided against that too and thought maybe I just wouldn’t be able to get to that stop. I looked at the blurry map on the other side of the manifest for a second and didn’t notice anything of any help with that. I looked again at the manifest; noticed people started to take off already and settled on my first stop being Palominos in Bay View, the furthest south point from what I could figure. I would figure out everything else from there. I folded the manifest in half so that the addresses were on the outside so I would have to do is pull it out and flip it to read it. I took off following two racers I didn’t know southbound to get back into the city. It seemed that a large portion of the racers headed north out of the park but I knew from last year that south would lad me into the south end of the Third Ward, because this is the exact way I went to hit the stop at Palominos last year.

The wind was very helpful in heading south, I found it took little effort to hold a 20mph pace out of the park, which I tried to hold back since the pathway was winding and I knew the road I would get onto eventually was horrible. I followed behind one rider but as we pulled off of the trail and into a parking lot behind the Marcus Amphitheater I pulled ahead of him. I closed in on the other rider and rode his wheel through the alleyway that I remember being worse last year. The alley dumped us out in front of the ritzy restaurant Riptide and a road closed due to construction. I followed the other biker onto the sidewalk and hoped it wasn’t under construction at some point.

As I came to the next street and pulled off of the sidewalk I imagined a car pulling out of the blind alley and taking me out. I pulled onto the street unharmed and spied more racers further down the street working through a controlled intersection. I slowed down as I neared the red light, checked for traffic and turned onto the cross street. I noticed a large group of racers crowded on one side of the bridge and figured they had stopped to route their map and coordinate their efforts. I then spotted Eric, which surprised me because I thought he helped plan the route. I quickly caught up for him and he greeted me by asking why it is we always run into each other during races. I told him I used him as my benchmark and we had to concentrate on the upcoming intersection with water Street.

The light was red and bikers scattered like roaches, weaving around the obviously stunned traffic. I was on Eric and Pete’s wheel but they through me for a loop and took a hard right at the next intersection. I figured they were hitting another stop that was closer. The corner was too sharp for me to make at the speed I was going and that was the last I saw of them until the end of the race. I kept going on to Palominos following a large group of racers. The wind aided me well heading south which made me dread the ride back north. I was easily clocking mid 20’s in my speed and rapidly catching up to a small group of riders. I worked on keeping up my frantic pace and passing them, not wanting to be help back by them just to get some unneeded rest. I knew that I needed to take advantage of the tail wind as much as possible and the group was traveling slower than I was capable of. I passed the pack over a series of blocks as we all headed south on Water. The front of the group was lead by what looked like a semi pro road racer as opposed to some messenger hanger-on. I quickly over took him and continued on with my hard pace, wondering if he would chase after me, like I had offended him in some way. I held on and kept the pace going all the way into Bay View.

By the time I hit Mitchell I was feeling the stain of holding the hard pace for over two miles but didn’t want to give up my lead due to the wind I would soon be facing and pride. I thought as I rolled into Bay View about how at this point in last years race I had a crank arm that was loosening it’s self up and how I was chasing after Matt. This time around I was all around, I glanced back as I crossed a bridge to see who was behind me but could not see anyone approaching. At Bay Street I cut across the road and headed the wrong way in the turn lane then cut over to the correct side of the street. As soon as I came out into the eastbound lane I felt the wall of wind hit me. My pace slowed down by about ten miles and hour and the fatigue set in from the past few miles of hard effort. I knew this was just a taste of what I would experience for the entire race and grimaced at the task ahead of me. I fell down into the drops of my handlebar and tried to get as low of a profile as possible and kept pushing hard.

As I neared the onramp to the freeway an SUV sped up past me like it wanted to turn in front of me. Instead they hit the stop sign, stalled and I blew past them as the intersection was clear. The truck apparently made a u-turn and I was once again alone to my own thoughts and pain. After I hit the curve and was once again facing south the wind only slightly backed off. Now it was tackling me from the east and only slightly holding me back. I saw another racer further down the street and held my speed, trying to catch up to him before he hit the next intersection. I didn’t look back to see who was chasing but figured people from the pack had closed in on me after the slow performance heading east. I imagined the roadie passing me with smug determination. No such thing happened and I slowed considerably at the end of Bay, checked for traffic and chased after the guy in front of me. At the first intersection on Russell I noticed what appeared to be a racer hanging out at the intersection. I figured he wasn’t racing, looked like he would be and was just watching the entertainment as the stream of bikers sped by.

The next block up I followed the racer in front of me’s lead and hoped onto the sidewalk. I slowed down, squealing my front brake, at the entrance to Palominos and leaned my bike next to a telephone pole and headed inside. I went in, found the checkpoint was at the first table got stamped and headed back out side. As I did the large group I left behind was pulling up, I quickly scanned the manifest for the next stop and noticed that the map actually started to make sense. When I looked at it closely I noticed that I had passed up a stop I should have hit on my way out to this one. The group of racers on the bridge was the stop I rolled past. I cursed the mistake and figured a good placement in the race was lost. Luckily I needed to head back in that general direction, since the stop Eric headed off to was close by, and I would not be wasting too much time back tracking. I took off ahead of everyone, with fear of the encroaching pack spurning me on and faced the grueling northward trek.

I pulled sharply back onto Bay and hit a wall of wind. I held on and tried to keep a steady pace around 18 mph. The entire time I was thinking about how slow I was going, how the pack was closing in, how little time I had spent lately doing long rides and how rash I had been in missing the stop. I chugged forth, not looking forward to dealing with these conditions for the majority of the race. As I headed back west the wind did not let up, which didn’t bode well for the rest of the race. If the winds were also shifting from the west, due to the on coming storm system, this ride was going to be a heavy beating. Half way to KK two female racers rode past heading toward the bar and shouted out at me with glee, too intent on pedaling all I could manage was a quick wave from the drop. I reached down and took a sip of juice from my water bottle and kept going. When I hit KK I noticed a group of 4 racers, they appeared to be the rodies I had been running from. Know their experience would blow away mine and I would fall behind. Luckily they got caught at a red light and I took the turn lane, this time taking it properly, and was able to get a small lead on them. Unfortunately I pulled behind a city truck that was slowing down to turn before the bridge, which caused me to slow and the other riders to catch up.

I lead them across the bridge and as my steam began to slow down out of the hill and onto 1st street they passed me by. I was actually fine with this and took the opportunity to ride the last guys’ wheel and rest a second. A few blocks into that I could no longer tolerate his slower pace and passed him, pulling in behind the third guy. I quickly passed him and soon found my self tagging the second guy. Both he and the lead racer kept looking back ever so often, not at me but past me. They were checking on the progress of their team mates, who where falling behind. I spent a few blocks working on passing them. Construction held me back at first then they turned onto a street and finally got out of my way. I hunkered down and pushed forward, knowing they were headed to the stop I should have been heading too instead of back tracking.

I took the turn onto Pittsburg. As I rounded the corner and saw the bridge I noticed two people standing at the south end of it. I came up to them and handed the girl my manifest. As they stamped it I smiled and said I missed this one on my way out. She asked me if there was anyone else following me and I said I didn’t know. Just as I took off and told them to stay warm another racer showed up, so at least I wasn’t the only one. I headed back to Water, with my eye on the next stop which I had figured out by looking at the map and comparing it to the manifest.

I swung back south onto Water and then hung a hard right onto Oregon where I last say Eric. I knew the stop was underneath the 6th Street viaduct. After 3rd street the road became loose gravel and I gingerly traversed the rest of the ‘street’. I didn’t have to guess where I as going since there were already a few racers leaving the check point. As they took off I forced them to dodge me as I was more concerned with not hitting any pot holes. I came up to the two people waiting under the bridge, smiled dumped my bike and pulled out my manifest. The girl at the stop stamped it and the guy, whose name I can’t remember but I have known for many years now, handed me a bottle of whiskey to see if I wanted to warm up. I smiled, took the bottle and knocked it back while I looked for the next stop. They asked if I was going to the stop on 6th and Canal, when I said I was they told me I could cut across the train tracks if there weren’t any trains. I noticed the long line of cars moving and agreed with the idiocy in that maneuver. I handed back the bottle, pocketed the manifest and wished them warmth as I took off to the next stop.

I pulled out of the gravel as another group of racers showed up. At 2nd I swung turned south again and then headed back west once I hit Virginia, thinking I should have turned down Florida instead and cut across the Harley Hotel. As I crossed 3rd I had to pull into the eastbound lane as westbound was closed down with construction. As I did I passed two racers heading towards me and we greeted each other. When I pulled out onto 5th and into the round-about the wind picked up and I fell back into the drops. Another racer had come from 6th street and was going against traffic in the round about. I followed behind him as we climbed up and onto the viaduct but soon over took him. I spotted another racer further up the road that looked like Joe. I passed the other guy, but into the southbound lane as traffic was filling up at the intersection and I didn’t want top be slowed down waiting for it to cross. I pulled up behind Joe at the stop and we both got stamped. He took off and I followed his lead. We pulled off of the sidewalk onto Canal and had to cut through traffic. I felt the urgency for speed as a few racers had pulled up to the stop behind us. I yelled out to him that I was going to ride with him for a while and we hunkered down to fight the wind on our way to the next stop.

Once we cleared the train tracks I pulled up next to him to verify that his next stop was on the 16th street viaduct. As we neared the overpass I asked him which side we should climb up. I pulled to the south side of the street to ascend up the old rickety stairway but Joe motioned for me to follow him to the north side of the street. I was stalled by casino traffic and two more racers caught up as I watched Joe hop off of his bike and climb up an enclosed modern stairway. I headed over, shouldered my bike and began climbing, wondering why everyone else left their bikes down, since I would have to be on 16th to get to my next stop.

At the top I second thought my choice to bring the bike with as I was faced with a turnstile. The check point was on the other side of it and as I began to try and get my bike through someone put a handful of saltine crackers through the bars. I said no thanks and they replied that it was part of the stop. I grabbed them, took a small bit and shoved my bike in one portion of the turnstile while I got into the one behind it, leading the bike through to freedom. I got through thankfully and began munching at the crackers, thanking my insight into bringing a water bottle. I plowed through them as everyone else was chewing and running to the south stairway to collect their rides. I finished the crackers, handed off the manifest to get stamped and slammed some juice. I took the manifest back hoped onto the street and shot across it just as the light further south turned green. As I pulled over to the northbound lane a small group of racers were pulling off of the bridge into downtown. I pushed forward, exhausted, into the howling north wind.

I glanced at my computer as I pushed forward, huddling as low as I could in the drops and noticed I was going around 15 miles and hour. I felt the strength flow from me but continued to push forward. I still had to head out to Miller Valley then climb out of it. At Clybourne I had to stall a few seconds as cross traffic was heavy. Once I had a break I pushed onward, up a small incline through the Marquette campus and on to State. As I rolled between Well’s and State I remembered that this would make about the 5th time I was in this neighborhood, which is significant because a friend of mine lived on 14th and wells. I remembered how I contemplated calling him up during my first race and asking him for a glass of water.

I pushed forward and turned onto State ahead of traffic and tried to push as fast as I could in the wind to try and clear the next few blocks of single lane construction. I made it through and crossed 27th with ease, hugging the parked cars as I dodged any malign looking disturbance in the road while trying not to be clipped by inner city traffic. At 35th street I crossed on a red in a lull in traffic and sped down the hill. I both hate and love the hill into the valley. I can pick up a lot of speed and carry it all the way to 40th, but right at the bottom of the hill is a patch of broken up cobblestone. I slowed down as I approached the cobblestone, gripped the bars and ran across it hoping to not catch my wheel and thinking about the Pair-Roubaix race. Once I was clear of that death trap I tucked down and pounded away, knowing I always get a good lead out of the Miller Brewing complex. Thanks to my wife’s’ job at UPS many years ago I knew exactly where the next stop was. It was a street called Monarch that only exists for a couple of blocks and only can be gotten from via State Street. As I passed the Miller Visitor Center and pulled into the east bound lane to make sure I wouldn’t be impeded by traffic. I turned left onto 45th Street and crossed the tracks to Monarch. As I did a minivan pulled in after me. I pulled towards a warehouse looking for the check point and when I couldn’t spot anything I headed back. The minivan had pulled in behind me and I could see someone from inside waving me towards them. As I neared they waved me south behind another building. I made a round about entrance down the street to avoid pot holes and as I cleared the corner of the building I could see a large group of racers at the east end of the building. I pushed forward, wondering what task I would have to do as I saw half of the people with beer in their hand. I pulled up, found the people at the check point and got stamped. As I checked for the next stop the large group left. I homed in on my stop and took off behind them. As I crossed the train tracks back to State the turned east to climb out of the valley. I decided to take a different route and climbed up 46th street to get to Vliet. My ascent was slow and painful as the hill was steep and the wind was strong. Luckily I was in a moderately sheltered area with all the houses and trees or else the climb would have been painful. I chose to take this route over climbing up State Street because I figured this would be less drastic. While it wasn’t as steep as State it was longer and as I pulled onto 43rs Street to head out to Vliet I felt it as I climbed a gradual incline over the last 2 blocks.

I pulled out onto Vliet and headed back east, into wind yet again but had a minor break as I headed downhill into the ghetto. I was now on home turf. I joked to myself about biking home, hopping in the car and driving to the next stop, but by the time I would do that I would have been done with the stop and on to the next one. I have biked both sides of Vliet hundreds of times as it is my route to work everyday. I know the street and the lights like the back of my hand. Once I crossed 25th I hunkered down into the drops and mentally counted down the five minutes it would take me to get to 12th street. I used this time where I didn’t have to think about the road to plot how I would get to the next stop and what I would do about the rest of the race.

At 18th I pulled out the manifest to review it a bit, do a little planning. I wanted to figure out the best course of action for the stop after the next one. Nearby was a stop on the Marsupial Bridge. I had originally planned to hit that stop last as the end point was somewhat close by. But as I began to study the last few stops I realized that that course of action was foolish. From there I had two choices, one stop was way out on MLK and the other was in Riverwest. By the map MLK was far out and I should hit that then swing around and hit Riverwest, so I chose that course of action. I passed the point where Matt and I had run into a fell racer named Cat as she was walking a flatted bike down the sidewalk. We stopped to help her and we all finished the race together. This time there was no one here and I was on my own.

I pulled onto 12th street and tucked into the wind, Walnut being my target. At Walnut I hung right and had to slow down behind a puttering junker car as it decided what it wanted to do. I didn’t want to pass it on the left incase it decided it would continue going forward and jump a bit. It finally turned off at 10th street and I was able to pick up my pace again, taking advantage of the slight decline into the Schlitz Park area. I caught the light at 3rd street and took off down the hill pulling into the left hand lane and passing a car turning. I slowed down and pulled hard into Palmer.

At first I was confused as no one was standing outside in front of Heroine Salon, last year there where a bunch of people out there and Matt and I had gotten apples after doing the hill climb. I pulled onto the sidewalk and hoped off just as someone came out of the store front. A girl asked me if I liked beer and my response was that I did but didn’t want one. She slapped a PBR into my hand and said I had to as part of the stop. The guy who first came out told me to deflate my front tire and defensively I asked him what for. He informed me that was also part of the stop. I popped the beer open and quickly emptied out my tube as I drank. I asked if that was good enough, someone took a picture and said it was. Another guy brought out a pump but I told him I didn’t need it, that I has a CO2 speed loader. The guy who took the picture said something about someone finally being intelligent and as I pulled it out and threaded in my CO2 cartridge I got a round of applause. One guy commented, somewhat defensively; that I wouldn't be able top fill it up all the way. I countered telling him the 16gram cartridge would get me 130 PSI in my 23c tire. Just as I toped it off Joe pulled up and took a beer. He commented about being hit by a car and I partially listened to his story as I studied the manifest again.

It was disturbing to hear that someone had been struck during the race; Joe seemed ok but was visibly shook up. He mentioned something about the guy hoping out of his car to see if he was alright and Joe got on his bike and said yeah, but I’ve got to go. I decided to wait for Joe to finish and the guy with the pump filled his tire back up for him. Joe took off and I said I’d follow him again and we both circled before climbing up the hill on Palmer. From there Joe led me on a zigzag of side streets until we came to the Holton Bridge and crossed onto Glover Ave, which was the sight of the very first stop I did during the Center Street alley cat. Joe pulled onto the bridge and I kept going forward. I hopped onto the sidewalk and then off of my bike. I shouldered it and ran to the stairway to the bike path.

I had mistakenly taken this way during the Center Street race but this time I figured this was the best way. My fear of heights didn’t grip me as it did before and I got down quickly, mounted up and took of to the next stop. As I approached the bridge two pedestrians got in my way but as I squealed my brake they moved to clear the way. I heard shouting from the other end of the bridge and put my head down and pushed forward across the wood boards. I came out to the other side and hoped off of my bike, handing the manifest to one of the girls manning the stop. As they stamped it I took a swig from a whiskey bottle. They handed it back just as Joe showed up. He got his manifest stamped and crossed the bridge back to the other side of the river. He said he took a different staircase and I told him what way I took. As we neared the stairs I descended I hopped off, but got back on as he flew by and said something about a park. I thought he meant that we were going to cross over the park near North Avenue and we took off. I took the lead as we pulled onto a condo’s parking lot and took a hard left onto Garfield. I headed west towards the park while Joe continued up Weil. I stuck with my decision and climbed the steepest hill of the race.

As I climbed up Breman Street past the COA facility I cursed my ignorance but completed the climb, which at times was only 7mph and came out on North. From there I shot down Weil, remembered that there was a stop at Gordon Park on the corner of Locust and Humboldt, and realized that Joe meant that as the next stop. As I cruised down Weil I knew that Joe was ahead of me and I pulled out my manifest to try and decide if I should hit the park or hit MLK first. I decided on the park and headed east on Center Street then north on Humboldt as traffic was virtually non-existent. As I neared the start of the park I couldn’t see Joe. I pulled into the parking lot and remembered the Roxy Race from a few months ago in which the woman in question was having her baby shower here and we all had to get her a gift to get out manifest. I hopped onto the pathway through the park and spotted Joe at the corner. I picked up the pace and took the path back out to the sidewalk then swung down after him on Locust. As I pulled up to the stop I looked at one of the guys that were operating a camera. Joe was no where in sight. I asked what I had to do as I got off my bike and the people actually manning the stop told me I had to go down the path to the river and get stamped. I ran to the path and started running down it and decided just too briskly walk and rest my legs. My thigh had started to threaten to cramp on me since I left the Miller Valley stop and I was hoping that the walk would straighten it out a little.

Down at the bottom of the winding path I could see a small fire pit and Joe talking with the guys at the fire. By the time I got to the bottom of the path Joe had started to climb his way up through the underbrush back to his bike. I got stamped told the guys to stay warm and followed Joe’s path the best I could. As I was clambering up the side of the hill, fighting with the brush, I thought about how ridiculous I probably looked and wondered if I slipped if I would stab myself on a used needle. When I finally made it to the top Joe was gone and a new group had just showed up. The guy with the camera asked where I was going and I told him the MLK stop then I had two more after that. He got really excited and told me to get moving because I was definitely in the top 10. I mounted back up and rode back west on Locust following the sidewalk.

At the intersection with Humboldt I cut through some traffic and rode the wrong side until it was clear for me to cross over. I pulled out my manifest to verify the cross street and judging by the map it was well north of Locust. I decided to cruise down Holton until I came upon the street I was looking for. I tucked down and took off, racing traffic to Holton. I reached the intersection on a green and took a wide turn northbound and pushed even harder. The wind was howling and my muscles ached but the encouraging news from the last stop was pushing me ahead. I wondered why Joe had taken to the other stops instead of hitting the MLK stop first but didn’t have energy to waste on that idea. I still wondered if hitting the park first then MLK was a smart move as I would be doing some back tracking but I was locked into the path and had no other choice but to do it the fastest I could from here on out.

As I travelled down Holton, ever cautious of potholes, I started thinking about how sketchy of a neighborhood this was that I was flying down. How many other racers had these people seen already and did they wonder what was going on. As I passed an old Kohl’s grocery store now made a Lena’s I gangster nodded to two guys getting into a hooptie. From a history of biking the ghetto I knew I was pretty safe from any outright aggression as most people will just look at you and shake there head muttering something about a crazy white boy.

As I neared the industrial area that skirts Capitol I started to get worried that the street I was looking for would not be that easy to find. At the next major intersection I pulled into the left lane ahead of traffic, stalled for a second to let oncoming cars go and headed west to MLK. The next intersection I came to was a 4-way stop sign and as I rolled through it the car next to me followed suit, have to love the hood. I pounded down the street, fearful of getting clipped by someone flying unheeded down a cross street. As I crossed 3rd I could see that MLK had shifter westward out this far. I pulled onto it as it broke off from Green Bay Road and took that 2 blocks up to the next stop, which was at Vienna. I knew it was the stop because of the other racers. The group that was getting ready to leave was the same group I ran into back in Miller Valley. Eric was also there and this made me nervous, I didn’t know how many of the stops they had hit, was I behind them or ahead of them? I hoped off the bike at the corner and handed over my manifest. One of the guys told me to do 10 push ups and I hit the cement, bag and all and cranked out 10 of them. While doing so I thought if I should show off and do clapping push ups but decided not too as I needed all of my energy to hit the last two stops. I thanked them, told them to keep warm and took off down Vienna.

The pack was a few blocks ahead of me already and I marveled at the sight of a group of crazy messengers rolling through the ghetto. I zigzagged back to the street I had traveled west on, Keefe, and tried to make up for lost time. As I neared Holton I could see that the pack was a few blocks ahead of me. After the four way stop on Keefe I passed a biker who looked like one of the roadies I had traveled with way back on 1st street. I easily overtook him which gave me a boost of confidence. As I turned south on Holton I kicked it into high gear and took advantage of the wind finally aiding me again. As I passed Lena’s a car pulled out into the street and I stared them down to make sure they knew I knew they were there incase they went a little to wide. I mildly feared for some form of adverse reaction to my stare and compounded that thought by blowing past them at a light.

Catching the wind I hit upper 20’s as I pounded towards Locust. A block before hand I pulled into the left hand lane, preparing to turn. Traffic was stalled with the changing of lights and I hugged the corner tight, praying a car heading west wasn’t going to roll into the intersection and hit me, as I pulled onto Locust. I know had about 2 miles or so to cruise down to Lake Park and my final two stops. I had to wait a few seconds at a red light at Humboldt but was able to get a jump on the rest of traffic. As I navigated the minefield that is Locust at this part before the river I saw the group I had just lost stopping at the park stop, which made me push even harder. I knew they would be delayed at this stop for a second but then they would be on my tail. I waved out to the people at the stop as I flew onto the bridge over the Milwaukee River and into strong winds. On the East Side I struggled up a small incline to Oakland and kept pushing, dropping as low as possible. The wind was strong, my muscles were weak and threatened to cramp on me, but I kept going, knowing that a large group was just behind me. I looked back as I crossed Murray to find any signs of them but did not see anything. I pushed on.

I rolled into the end of Locust in the middle of Lake Park and started to scan for any street signs. I had to hop off of the bike as the road that leads into the park it’s self was the next block up. I walked my bike onto the parkway as a jogger passed by and took off, searching for the next stop, the only one I didn’t know, Ravine Road. I pulled out the manifest and quickly read the question, it mentioned something about an old bridge and the only thing I could thing of was the winding road that leads down to Lincoln Memorial Drive. Seeing as it is a steep and challenging hill I knew that had to be the stop…bunch of sadists.

I came to the start of the road and confirmed my assumption when I read the street name. I sucked it up and took of down the hill, winding down all the way to the bottom. Immediately I saw the bridge and the checkpoint. Off to the north side of the wooded area next to what appeared to be an ancient rail bridge were 3 girls huddled in blankets on camp chairs. I hoped off my bike, got my manifest stamped and wished them warmth. I took off, knowing I had one stop left but had to climb this insane hill first.

The climb was grueling but I made better pace than the wrong turn after the Marsupial Bridge stop. I topped the hill and took off towards the final stop. As I did I saw two other racers I hadn’t seen before heading toward me. This gave me more fuel and I put all my energy into it. I pulled onto the sidewalk, thinking this is where I could catch up with the pathway into the south end of the park. The stop was just north of the lighthouse in the park, which was a stop on my first alley cat as well. I realized my mistake and pulled onto the parking lot and headed to the real pathway. As I got on the pathway I could see the final stop, two guys bundled on a bench. I quickly rode to them, saw that I couldn’t continue south and hoped off. They told me to do 20 jumping jacks which I did immediately. I handed them the manifest, got it stamped and told them to stay warm. They retorted that that wasn’t going to happen and I told them I was done and they said good luck.

I didn’t want to go all the way around the golf course to get back out to Lake Drive so I decided to cut across the course instead, which was an instant mistake. The ground was saturated with water and it made my tires sink into the soft fairway/rough areas. As I rolled to a green it only improved slightly. On top of all of that I knew I was damaging the course. Half way through struggling to traverse the wetlands I hoped off and briskly walked to the street, getting my right shoe sopping wet. I hoped back on in the street and took off again. Two things made my acceleration incredible; the first was that I had just bikes halfway across a wet lawn the other was the tail wind aiding me once again. I flew down the street, not stopping or slowing down until I hit the intersection with Downer. There was a northbound car that saw me coming and, even though they had the right of way, they slowed down and waved me on. I ignored the offer and passed them on the right, heading down the wrong way. I continued that way for a while, as traffic on the correct side of the road was keeping pace with me. I slowed for a second and swung in between a small break in the cars to the correct lane. They all had to stop at North but I turned right. The way was clear up to Murray, which traffic was stalled at a red. I pulled right then took the light and lull in traffic to head south on Farwell.

As I pounded down the road I knew that I only had minutes left in the race, I had to top one short hill then the rest was down hill and only blocks from my destination. As I neared Brady Street I contemplated pulling through the Kinko’s parking lot to skirt the intersection but decided against it. My gamble paid off as I hit the intersection on a green. Checked for stay cars/pedestrians and pounded the last two blocks to the bar. I flew onto the sidewalk and saw one of the guys from a stop. He told me to hurry up and go check in that he would watch my bike. I asked him which way and he told me to take the center door. I ran in and turned left into the Hi Hat. It was dark and quiet. I peered over the railing to see if anyone was at the bar then turned back to run to the Garage portion of the bar. I ran into it and the place was packed and noisy. I couldn’t tell where the end was. I looked down a row of tables and the second one from the left motioned to me as I approached with drawn manifest they pointed to the table behind them. I saw Nicole from Breakaway and handed her my manifest. They checked it over and told me that I was 2nd; I asked them to repeat as I didn’t believe it and they said that I was the 2nd person to check in. I asked who was first, they told me and I staggered out of the bar. I told the guy outside, who I had known from years ago hanging out at Fuel CafĂ© that I got second and we talked about the race. He had manned the stop under the bridge and told me the cops had shut it down after the property owners reported stupid racers hoping the tracks in between the moving trains. Eric showed up shortly after to clinch second and soon more people showed up. Everyone started taking excitedly and I pulled out my cigar, thankful I actually had reason to celebrate.

I stuck around for a few hours until the awards ceremony was over, talking with everyone getting congratulated and congratulating others. It was unbelievable that I took 2nd place and actually beat out all of the current messengers. The night was good, but I was sore and went home a victor…I just had to keep up the wins for the Friday night races or else fear friendly ridicule.

Check out the standings and photos here http://youngblood.typepad.com/my_weblog/

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