Friday, October 5, 2012

The City Challenge Urban Adventure Race

We were hiding in plain sight. Lots of us. Milling around, outside a Hawai'ian restaurant waiting for the magic hour when we could go inside and get our fix. Surreptitiously Admiral Karen and I checked out the other people. If it came down to it - could we take 'em? Could we do what was necessary to get what we desired? Nay, what we CRAVED?!

The door opened and a waitress waved us inside. All the teams magically appeared and shuffled in, all of us avoiding each others gaze. We all knew why we were here.

We looked around the dining room for the stuff that we needed, but the waitress kept walking. "You people are in the back" she said over her shoulder, before peeling off into the kitchen.

We kept walking, heads down, hands and arms tingling with the upcoming sensation that soon, very soon, we would be holding our fix, right in our hands. Farther into the back, past the booths, past the bartender, past the lifesize tikis - each of which seemed to watch us file past, their mouths frozen in rictus of terror at the addicts that now passed too close to their sacred features.

Bib Number on right. No, lower. Yeah; there.
We knew where to go: The dark, back room. Where our suppliers were waiting for us. Each of us said our names in whispered tones and then we were handed it. IT! The bib number for the City Challenge Urban Adventure Race!

Admiral Karen and I raced outside and pinned our bib numbers on. There is something magically energizing about wearing a number on your person. You feel important, privileged; with a number emblazoned on your torso you literally count, in the grand scheme of things.

We warmed up, stretching on the sidewalk, oblivious to the stares of the passersby. Like any true addict, once we have our fix, we are blind to anything else in the wide world. All we cared about was the race. What would it entail? Where would we go? What would we have to do?

"Find a pendulum downtown". Like this?
For that is the magic of the Urban Adventure Race: The UNKNOWN. You pay your money, you show up for a race, you pin on the sacred bib, and up until the last minute you have literally no idea what the race is. All we were told beforehand was that the City Challenge would be 5K (3 miles) on foot (although there was a half marathon variation available), and we should bring a pencil and a smartphone and some form of digital camera. Other races I have done require a bicycle and warn you that you WILL get wet during the race. But for Santa Cruz they were keeping it short and dry.

A few minutes before noon the organizers herded all of us back into the back room of Hula's Restaurant and Scott Hegness gave us some pointers.
1) Do not do the clues in order. Figure out the most efficient route yourself.
2) Teams cannot split up and do the race in half the time - no "Divide and Conquer"!
The picture that we got that 'certain' others did NOT get.
3) Four hours is the time limit. After that, the race is over. (I learned this one the hard way last year at the Oyster race where my team was out for 7 grueling hours total.)
4) Speed is important, but the deciding factor is always whether or not all of the clues were solved correctly. (That's foreshadowing!)

We tried to listen to Scott, but all of us were so pumped that I think only about every other word made it through. All we wanted was the clue sheet! Gimmegimmegimme!!

And then we are finally handed our clue sheets and the teams are OFF! In all directions! Scatter - poof!

Shaky smile after the long hidden staircase to get here.
The gimmick here is that you have to go to twelve different places around downtown Santa Cruz and take a picture with your bib number next to some unique destination. Then you hurry back to the Hula bar and the judges note your time and look at all of your photos. First one to do 'em all correctly and make it back wins!

The 12 destinations were hidden inside all manner of clues, from mazes, to crossword puzzles, to keywords that you would have to look up online. Karen and I quickly squared off into our "Adam & Jamie" (from Mythbusters) personas. She wanted to solve everything first and I wanted to spaz out and just head to the first thing we figured out.

Sue's shirt says "Strong is the new Skinny"
We quickly reached a compromise, working our way slowly up the Pacific Garden Mall, with her scribbling furiously and me frantically looking up Architectural styles on my iPhone. We took pictures as we found things, trying to be simultaneously efficient AND fast, even though these concepts don't usually play well together.

At the top of the walking mall who did we see but Sue and Jennifer. Sue was one of my teammates at last years Oyster Race in San Francisco. Ah, but now she was on another team, and they were going to be the team that lost to us. We jockeyed for position at red lights and tried to direct each other down wrong streets. All in good fun, cuz, you know, we're not competitive or anything.

Together the four of us figured out a difficult clue at the Clock Tower and then it was off, up the steep hill to the Santa Cruz Mission. But here Karen and I invoked our rights as locals: We knew of a hidden staircase up the hill. Ha-ha! But, at the top, there they were! Taking pictures right next to us. Turns out they actually RAN! Hey, no fair!

Note: Admiral Karen and I are Racewalkers. We only run when being chased by zombies.

Team "Do or Do Not. There is no Tri" at last years
Oyster Race, with Kirsten Jones. Ah, but that was last
year, when we were teammates. Now? All bets are off!
Back down the hill to downtown Team Local sneaked down another hidden staircase and regained the lead. (Sue and Jennifer had to scale a chain link fence! Ha-ha!) Now we had to get all the way to Beach Hill, by the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. And here we may have bent the rules a little. One of which is that we are required to follow all local laws with regards to traffic, sidewalks, crosswalks and pedestrian crossings. Well, in our bloodlust we may have considered some of those laws to be more a set of guidelines.

Part of the problem is it's very hard to walk fast, solve crossword puzzles, and negotiate a roundabout on foot at the same time. We ended up kinda taking turns being the eyes and ears of the team, one of us watching out for the other as they stumbled along, cruising the intertubes on their phone. In any case, we arrived at Beach Hill in one piece and climbed the grade to take more pictures of Victorian houses.

That done, we hurried down the hill and headed back to the Hawai'ian restaurant. On the way we passed another team that was just then heading for Beach Hill, and they weren't laughing nearly as much as we were. No sign of Sue and Jennifer!

Angus & Karen, Sue & Jennifer
We racewalked to Hula's, ducked into the back room - and damn! There they were! They beat us by 5 minutes. Darn ol' runners anyway. No fair! So, Karen and I came in third, Behind Team Cheat, and a duo of genius gazelles who completed the whole course in one hour, flat.

But wait! What's this? They screwed up one of the clues! No picture! And us? We had 'em all in order, bright and sparkly! Please hand over OUR 2nd place medals, thankyouverymuch. Woo-hoo!

The City Challenge Urban Race was very well run, with a maximum amount of fun packed into a small space and a short amount of time. Team "We're #2!!" finished in only 1 hour and 13 minutes, and yet we were TOAST for the rest of the day and we were in bed by 8:30pm that night.
Second Place! 2nd! Dos! First runner up! Us! Wow!

Urban Adventure races are satisfying because they utilize your brain as well as your muscles. And they are exhausting for the same reasons. Sign us up for next year!

Angus McMahan                  

P.S. And to the teams that staggered in an hour after we finished: They TOLD you not to do the clues in order!

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