It's always a lot of fun when the Great Urban Race comes to visit our hometown of Austin, and this year was no exception! Over 300 teams gathered at the starting line (Stubb's Barbeque), and awaited the countdown to the start. We positioned ourselves near the courtyard exit, and just after noon we were released into the wild.
Dave and I crossed the street to get away from the massive horde of racers, and then stopped briefly to take pictures of the clue sheet. After emailing the pictures back to our crack clue-solving crew, we paused briefly to scan the clues. We noticed #10 would have us visit the Mary Lee Foundation, which was far to the southwest, so we figured that would be a good one to start with.
Now, our team has a long-running tradition of hardly ever catching any decent public transportation during these races... instead, we almost always wind up running miles and miles while other teams point at us and laugh from the comfort of the bus. Fortunately, we managed to break that tradition this race, as we caught an awesome bus right at the start. We ran six blocks west to Colorado Street, and caught a bus from there that took us directly to Lamar Square, which is where the Mary Lee Foundation is located.
Starting off the race on the bus also gave us the rare luxury of being able to read all the clues while sitting down, instead of our usual method of trying to do it while we were running. During the bus ride our phone contact Chris continually relayed us information on the checkpoints that our crew had solved, and we scribbled the checkpoint locations onto our race map. When we hit a lull in the information exchange, Dave and I decided to tackle the word search puzzle for #3. It was easy enough, and it only took us a couple of minutes to figure out that the answer was "Music Makers". So we relayed the answer back to Chris, and he found the address for it, and that was one more checkpoint solved. Hey, Dave and I actually solved a clue, that's another rare occurrence!
By the end of the bus ride at 12:23 we had almost all of the checkpoints solved and mapped already, which felt pretty darn good. We exited the bus at Lamar Square, where there was a handy convenience store for any teams that still needed to buy canned goods to donate. After a short jog into the Mary Lee Foundation complex, we found the volunteers. We donated our four cans of food, and the volunteers stamped our sheet, and we were off. One checkpoint down, only ten to go!
The next point was just across the street. We waited for a break in the Lamar traffic, and then dashed over to the donut trailer that was #8. The guys in the trailer weren't quite ready for us, but when we announced our arrival they quickly hustled to round up the donuts for us. One of the other teams we were working with, Marcy and John, were here at the same time as us, so our teams helped each other out by taking each other's photos. As required by the instructions, the pictures had to feature us feeding the donuts to each other in front of the trailer. The vendors inside seemed to enjoy being in our photo!
Next we ran north on Lamar, downhill to #3. Inside Music Makers we (along with Marcy and John) were given guitars, and we had to shake the picks out of them. Dave shook the guitar around for a few seconds, and I was about to suggest him letting me try sticking my hand inside, when out popped the pick. Well, that was easy enough!
From there we had to go west on Barton Springs a few blocks to Shady Grove for #2. There was a cowboy there, and he told us we'd have to lasso a "roping dummy" to continue. Dave stepped right up and managed to lasso the fake bull on his very first try. Dave was making the special tests look easy today! At least, so far... (Foreshadowing!) We got our clue sheet stamped to show we'd been there, and then headed back east on Barton Springs. We'd been racing right alongside Marcy and John for most of the race up to this point... but our paths diverged here, as they crossed to the other side of the street in hopes of catching a bus while we just ran (as is typical for us). We wouldn't see them again for quite a while.
We had just finished the four points that were on the south side of Lady Bird Lake. The rest of the points were either downtown, or further north on the UT campus. We figured it would be nice if we could catch a ride up to the campus, so we asked Chris to look and see if there were any buses heading north that we should try and catch. We jogged north on Lamar while he worked on that, and we started reading the requirements for #12. This clue required us to get three different pictures out of nine specified possibilities, and it could be any three pictures as long as they formed a tic-tac-toe in the grid. We immediately decided that the center square would be a good one to get, as it allowed for lines in many directions. And it seemed easy enough, as all it required would be for us to find a dog to shake hands with. And, hey, we were about to cross the pedestrian bridge alongside Lamar, which is part of the hike and bike trail, so there's always folks walking their dogs on it! How convenient!
Sure enough, right as we got to the bridge we came across an owner walking his dog. We quickly introduced ourselves and explained that we were on this grand scavenger hunt and we needed a photo of us shaking a dog's hand, and would he be ok if we used his dog for that? The owner thought it would be fun and he had no problem with going along with our little stunt. The dog, on the other hand, didn't like this idea one bit, and was terrified of us. We tried to talk soothingly to it, but it backed away from us every time we tried to reach for its paw. We were about to give up on this petrified pooch and switch to another one along the trail that would be more agreeable, but then the owner just grabbed hold of the dog and forced it to play along with us. We took the photo and then released the relieved pup. Thank you, kind sir, and we hope we didn't traumatize your poor pet!
Chris thought that there might be a bus along Lamar we could catch to take us north to UT, so we headed up along that street. We hit a bus stop and asked Chris when the next bus was scheduled to arrive, and that's when he announced that his computer had crashed. Hmmm, that's not good. There wasn't any schedule posted at the stop, so we kept jogging on. The situation was the same at the next bus stop: No posted schedule, and Chris's computer was still down. Well, we were getting to the point where Lamar would start to curve away from UT anyways, and since we had no idea if there would be a bus going in the right direction anytime soon, we decided to abandon Lamar and cut generally northeast towards campus. Back to our usual fine form of not having much luck catching buses!
We hit Guadalupe and headed up The Drag to 24th street. #6 was at Mellow Mushroom, where one of us would have to play Mary had a Little Lamb on a recorder. Dave had played a recorder in his youth, so I continued to loll about and let him do all the challenges for our team. Dave practiced the notes with the fingering chart they provided, until he got the song down pretty well. He went to the volunteer to play the song for credit, and got half way through when the volunteer suddenly said, "oh, you can't look at the note sheet while you're playing the song for credit... you have to have the song memorized!" Ah, well, that would be a bit tougher, then. Dave went back to practicing, trying to memorize the song. Since Chris was able to talk to us through Dave's earpiece, Dave tried to have him read the notes while he played, but that method turned out to be useless as it was too hard to play and hear Chris at the same time. So Dave just kept at it until he had it memorized. We finally got through the song, got the stamp, and then they let us keep the recorder and told us to bring it to the finish line, so we shoved it in my pack and headed out of there.
We headed southeast onto campus, to the turtle pond. You see, the instructions for #7 told us to look in the Austin American Statesman classifieds for further instructions. By now our crew had had a chance to search through the classifieds to find the clue: "Great Urban Race Clue #7: take a picture of all teammates w/ at least 1 real live turtle. HINT: U have T ons of options." So, yeah, the UT turtle pond it is, then! I was confident I could guide us right to the pond, as I actually got my degree at UT. However, I guess that was too long ago, or I never approached the turtle pond from the north before, or "insert some other lame excuse here", because I ran us right past the pond. We had to turn around and backtrack before we found it.
Ok, now we just have to find a turtle in the pond. We weren't sure if they'd be sitting out sunning themselves, or if they'd be hiding from all the racers who'd been bugging them all day. As we approached the pond, we saw another team picking a turtle up to take their picture with it. There was also a third team in the area, so all three of us worked together to take each other's photos along with the turtle. Alright, so far this race we'd managed to annoy a dog and a turtle... what species would be next?
We ran a little south, then east across campus to the Martin Luther King statue for #1. I assured Dave I knew exactly where this statue was, but after my inability to find the turtle pond he wasn't convinced, and he asked Chris for precise directions just to be sure. For once I was actually right, and we ran across the east mall directly to the MLK statue. But we didn't realize until too late that the grass leading up to the statue was sopping wet and muddy, so we got our shoes soaked along the way... drat!
We continued east towards the stadium for #9. We were supposed to get the picture of the sign that said Texas Memorial Stadium in large brown letters, which is on the north side of the stadium. And we did get a picture of it, but you can barely read the sign as it's at a bad angle and mostly behind Dave's head:
... but we also took a second picture of this monument outside the stadium, which is much easier to read. Between the two pictures, the GUR staff deemed our photos as being "good enough" to qualify us as completing #9:
Time to head south, back to downtown. Would we catch a nice bus to take us there? No, of course not, as we'd used up all our bus luck at the beginning of the race, and it would be all running from here on out. We cut southwest through the Capital grounds, and then headed south on Congress towards the Gold's Gym on 6th Street for #4. Right as we hit Sixth Street, we ran into a great stroke of luck... another racing team had already convinced some innocent bystanders to take their shoes off to pose for a picture! Having a picture with five people holding their shoes was another one of the "tic-tac-toe" pictures we needed for #12, so that was perfect! Dave and I quickly convinced the folks to remain shoeless long enough for one more picture. Quite pathetically, I couldn't easily untie my shoelaces, as they were double-knotted, so eventually I just gave up and yanked them off still tied, so we could get this picture:
Thanks, friendly ladies! This picture, along with the dog handshake picture, and the picture of us by a "Help Wanted" sign that we'd gotten between the lake and UT, gave us a diagonal line on the tic-tac-toe picture grid to complete our three-picture quest for #12. Since all we had to do was cross 6th Street to get to Gold's Gym, we didn't even bother putting our shoes back on yet. We dashed across the street barefoot (that's a first for us!), and headed downstairs into the gym for #4. Here we'd have to complete a Zumba lesson with the instructors, which was basically a cardio routine. There was another group already in the middle of their Zumba lesson when we arrived, which worked out well for us as we needed to put our shoes and socks back on, anyways. And hey, another of our teams, Tim and Zach were there! They had really gotten into the spirit of the day by dressing up as the Greek Gods Zeus and Poseidon!
We finished getting our shoes back on, and the wave ahead of us finished their Zumba lesson. Tim and Zach and Dave and I headed in, and the peppy instructors Gail and Sandy started up the music and guided us through the routine. We were, as usual, as coordinated as the typical white boys that we are, but fortunately this test wasn't graded on how smooth you were. We got the business card to prove we'd completed this point, and headed back upstairs and out.
There were only two checkpoints remaining for us to get, and #5 would be out of the way for us from our current location. Since we were allowed to skip any one point with no penalty, we skipped #5, and therefore never got to see the Lizardman. Too bad, as we heard he was quite a sight to behold:
We headed east on 6th Street instead, to #11, Pete's Dueling Piano Bar. Here there was a bunch of Texas Cheerleaders, who were to guide us through a cheerleading lesson. Sweet! And here's where we ran into Marcy and John again, after having run most of the race completely separately from them. How about that!
The cheerleading lesson was short and simple, so we were out of there quickly enough. It was just a couple of blocks northeast to reach the finish line. We asked Marcy and John if they had all their checkpoints yet, and they said they just needed to get the picture of five people in bare feet for #12. Since there were people near the finish line that they could collect that final photo from easily enough, we decided we may as well wait for them and cross the finish line together. And so, that's what we did... notice that Marcy and John ran the final block to the finish line barefoot, just like our own barefoot running that we'd done earlier!
And our two teams were the first ones to finish! Yay! We went down to get our pictures verified and showed all the required stamps and items we'd collected throughout the race. And the verdict was... Yes, we were good! Our teams had tied for victory at the Great Urban Race!
One by one, the other teams started trickling in after that. Tim and Zach in their Greek God costumes looked the best as they crossed the line:
After all the teams we knew had finished, we decided we may as well have some of the legendary Stubb's Barbecue. You know, since we were all right there anyways!
Then we waited around a bit more for the awards ceremony. We were joined by Dave's wife Michelle and their sons Nick and Logan, who enjoyed playing the recorders that we'd carried with us to the finish:
Tim and Zach entered the post-race costume contest. They were a big fan favorite, and probably would have won the thing if it wasn't for the most excellent Simpson's team! Gotta respect a team for doing the entire race with yellow body paint and huge blue hair!
Then it was time for the awards ceremony. They even handed out some big checks. It's always fun to get a big check! The checks were pre-filled out, so they couldn't neatly account for us crossing the finish line in a tie, but we weren't concerned about that.
What a great, fun-filled race! Lots of fun clues, fun tests, and interesting decisions to be made while racing. It was nice to have a lot of alternatives to satisfy the tic-tac-toe pictures... we liked that twist! Huge thanks go out, as always, to our amazing support crew! They work so incredibly hard to make us look much better than we deserve!
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