Since moving to California I haven't been able to race with my beloved Texas crew nearly enough. So I was very much looking forward to visiting Austin for the Great Urban Race. I'd be racing with David Bogle, and our mob would also be fielding two other teams, Robyn and Art, and Tom and Cathy.
I managed to forget to bring my running shoes, so I had to borrow a pair of Dave's old shoes. That would give me at least one decent excuse for not doing well in this race. Our team's other pre-agreed-upon "goto" excuse was that our usual phone contact wasn't available, so we had to settle for a rather inexperienced alternate, John. OK, so John and his wife (who would be Robyn and Art's phone contact) may not have been completely new to the whole "clue racing scene", as they might have been the winning team at a previous Great Urban Race championship (or two). But still, John wasn't really wasn't accustomed to being in the phone contact role. He agreed to help us as long as we promised to keep our expectations low.
As the race started we headed out the north exit of Fado's courtyard, into the alleyway. We went a bit north on Lavaca to get away from the crowd, and then stopped briefly to take pictures of the clue sheet.
We walked north, skimming the clues to see if any obvious addresses popped out. We figured if we saw a checkpoint located to the north, like at the Capital or UT, then that would be a good direction to start. But none of the checkpoints we immediately solved were that way.
So we headed west instead, based solely on the fact that the clue for CP 3 said it was on North Lamar Street. We were walking because we still weren't 100% sure of our destination. John informed us that one of the clue sheet photos hadn't come through, so we stopped to retake and send another picture. A team of girls recognized us from a past race and walked with us, offering to help share clues and such. Right around this point I noticed that CP 5 actually listed its address on West Cesar Chavez Street, and since we were already heading west anyways we decided we might as well go there first.
We started running and I skimmed the rest of the text for our destination. It was fortunate that I did, as it turns out we'd need to buy a couple of items to donate at CP 5. Dave quickly pointed out that Whole Foods was just to the north of us, so we crossed the street and ran inside. We guessed that of the six possible donation items, peanut butter would be the one closest to the entrance door. A helpful employee pointed us towards aisle 12, where Dave found a couple plastic jars of peanut butter, and we did a quick self-checkout and headed back out.
We ran south on the upper section of Lamar Street, towards Cesar Chavez. We saw our fellow team of Robyn and Art running about 100 yards ahead of us, and carrying Whole Food goods as well... they had independently come up with the same initial checkpoint plan. Their slight lead on us was extended significantly when they managed to cross the railroad at 3rd Street, and then a train came by right afterwards, cutting us off. Huh... that was a new one, for us... we'd never been blocked by a train before during a race. The train was too long to make standing-and-waiting a viable option, so we backtracked to 5th Street so we could drop down to the lower section of Lamar Street to go under the train bridge, instead. (With 20/20 hindsight we should have just followed the train tracks west from here instead, and then dropped down at the animal shelter.)
After that unexpected detour to get past the train, Robyn and Art were no longer in sight. We left Lamar and headed west on the bike path along Cesar Chavez. We followed the signs to the Animal Shelter, without realizing that the signs pointed out the most direct route to the shelter by car, and that was not even remotely close to the most direct route when on foot. So we accidentally ran past the shelter, and around all the baseball fields, before circling back around to the desired destination. We were off to a great start... after only one checkpoint we'd already traveled a whole bunch of unnecessary extra distance. As we finally approached the shelter, the team of two girls that had been walking with us earlier popped out of the trees from the north. They'd been smarter than us and taken a much more direct route.
We donated the food, and John informed us that the best route option would be to head directly north, if we could. Well, we'd just seen the girl's team come from that direction, so we figured there must be a way through the brush. We pushed our way through some trees and prickly vines, once again managing to somehow find a way to get all scratched up even during an urban race. We crossed the train tracks and told John that we'd managed to pop out on Orchard Street. Perfect, said John, as our destination was CP 2, Sabia, at Orchard and Fifth. Here we were given a picture of a hair style and told that we had to style one of our teammate's hair to match the picture. So I applied a glop of the provided product to the front of Dave's hair (which stayed there pretty much the entire race), and we got our picture.
We continued a couple of blocks north to CP 6, House and Earth. Here we had to find the numbers that matched up with five different tile patterns. We started searching through the tiles and found a couple of the answers. Then our other team of Tom and Cathy showed up. We worked together with them and managed to quickly locate all five numbers. Dave efficiently took a photo of all four of us as we were working on the puzzle, without the rest of us even being aware of it.
John told us to head west again, to CP 11, Beets. Here the volunteers pulled back the cover from a plate to unveil a mystery ingredient for us, and we had to identify it and find it on the menu. Turns out that it was Kelp Noodles.
We headed north on West Lynn Street, uphill towards 10th Street. CP 4 was the Galaxy Cafe, where we had to blow up balloons, label them as the planets, and then tape them to the wall in the order of the relative sizes of the planets. We had John look up the planet sizes for us as we started blowing up the balloons. This checkpoint could have been organized a bit better, as the supplies weren't very spread out. There were several teams all here trying to complete the challenge at the same time, and it was difficult for everyone to find all the necessary balloons, markers, and tape they needed. Especially since there was only one roll of tape, to be shared by all the teams. Ah, well, despite the chaos we managed to get the challenge done.
We continued north on West Lynn Street. John informed us that CP 1 should be just south of Enfield, at Palma Plaza. He hoped. Well, we found Palma Plaza, but none of the locals hanging out in the area were GUR volunteers. Uh oh, our crew's guess for the CP 1 location was wrong. We knew from the clue that it was somewhere in this area (Clarksville), but didn't have much more to go on other than that. The locals informed us that there was another park area a few blocks south, so we headed back the way we came. After a couple blocks we stopped and talked with John about whether we should just skip this point or not, as none of us had any specific idea of where it was. As we were standing there, debating our next move, I happened to notice a man standing less than six feet away from us, in the outdoor patio area of Zocalo Cafe. He was watching us with an amused expression on his face, and I saw that on the table in front of him was a box of magnets. Could it be?
I asked the man if he was a GUR volunteer, and he replied that he was, and this was CP 1. So there you have the biggest secret of our team's success... we just have more than our share of dumb luck. We told John the good news: That our crew could stop trying to solve CP 1, as it had somehow solved itself. The volunteer asked us to demonstrate a couple of stretches, and then we had to take a photo of us doing one of the stretches.
Finally it was time to head east again. This race had more locations west of Lamar Street than any other clue race we've done in Austin. It was refreshing to visit some new areas that we hadn't raced in a dozens of times before. Dave suggested we start getting some of the "Tic-Tac-Toe" photos for CP 12. I'd already skimmed those clues and decided that the diagonal from the upper left to the lower right would be easy enough to get. One of the needed photos for that line was of us high-fiving a stranger, so we convinced this nice lady to take this picture with us.
We ran downhill on 12th Street until we made it to the Woof Gang Bakery. Here I had to fetch a treat from under a pile of whipped cream using only my mouth. Like most food-related challenges, we found this to be no problem, and we were done in couple of seconds.
We headed up to 15th Street and San Antonio Street, and found the Jalopy, this odd eatery within a colorfully painted truck. We examined the wraparound mural to determine which of the given items was missing from the mural, and then got our picture at the back of the truck.
Dave kept us on track with the Tic-Tac-Toe clue by suggesting we ask the folks at a table outside the Jalopy if they'd videotape us "moonwalking", to compete the requirements for the center square. They were happy to oblige us, and they seemed to get a kick out of how ridiculously pathetic our moonwalk attempt was. I don't think either of us are going to give up our careers and try to become dancers anytime soon.
The next location would be the most northerly spot on the course, at 1718 Lavaca Street. Here we had to answer trivia questions, and as we got the questions right or wrong our "game piece" (which was a volunteer on a Segway scooter) would advance or reverse along taped squares on the ground. Once we'd answered enough questions correct to get our game piece to the end, we'd be done. The questions were all Austin-related trivia. Dave had a guess on the first question, and since we figured our game piece couldn't go backwards from the start line we just went with his guess, which turned out to be correct. We didn't know the answer to the second question, so we looked it up on the internet. The third one we were iffy on, but decided to guess and were right. Then we actually knew the answers to the next few questions, and so we had enough right and were done.
Time to do a long run from the north to the south. Fortunately it was pretty much all downhill. During the long run we discussed the remaining Tic-Tac-Toe pictures we needed to get. This discussion prompted our phone contact John to point out to us that we hadn't read the instructions for the "high-five" square well enough... we'd only gotten a picture of us high-fiving, and we actually needed a video of that. Whew... thanks for catching our oversight, John! We found some girls on Congress Avenue that were willing to let us high-five them.
To complete the final square and get three-in-a-row, we just needed to get pictures of two street signs, which when added together made ten. Our southward trek gave us convenient opportunities to get pictures of 6th Street and 4th Street.
There was only one more CP to get, as we were allowed to skip one without a penalty. CP 8 was slightly closer than CP 9. We knew we would have to paddle at CP 8, which could potentially take some time. Since CP 8 was on the way to CP 9, we decided to check it out and see how long the paddle was, and if it was significant we'd just skip it and continue on to CP 9. But it turned out to be a reasonably short paddle, and so we enjoyed having a break from running as we kayaked out to get our photos by the buoy.
As we finished up, Tom and Cathy arrived and started their own kayak. Nothing for us to do now but head to the finish line at Fado's. We made our way back, and there we learned we were the first team to return. Yay! And all of our pictures turned out to be good. Double-Yay! I guess our rookie phone contact did all right. Actually he did awesome, and he saved our race by catching our high-five photo/video mistake before we crossed the finish line.
Not only that, but our team of Robyn and Art arrived next, and Tom and Cathy arrived shortly after that. So our mob managed to sweep the top three spots. Everyone was so happy with the results that all three of our teams have decided that they're all going to make the trip to San Juan to compete in the Great Urban Race championships in December! Triple-Yay! Hopefully we can manage to get our phone contacts, the Beards, qualified as well sometime this year...
And finally, for your viewing pleasure, here's a shot of our three team's legs. Note the bushwhacking scratches, on some of them.
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