We've known about the Oyster Urban Adventure race series for a while now, but for one reason or another we always found an excuse to skip it. But then the Oyster folks contacted us and asked if our team would like a free entry into the event. Well, we find it hard to turn down free races, so we had no more excuses to not try it!
The format was a bit different from a traditional adventure race. It was for three person teams, or if you entered the "relay" category you could have more folks on your team and send out any three racers you wanted for each different leg. The main transition area (TA) was located in downtown Austin (at 6th Street and Wood Street, by Shoal Creek Trail). There were no paddling legs, and there would be a bit of clue solving to figure out where you needed to go on the course. Accessing the internet and calling friends for help with the clues was allowed. Public transportation was also allowed, but with this being Austin we figured that that would rarely be the quickest option to get to most destinations.
They handed out the first passport to all the teams, and told us the race would start in two minutes on bikes. We had assumed that they would start off the race on foot rather than send a huge mass of bikes off through the downtown streets, but looks like we'd guessed wrong! We quickly studied the passport:
Jason knew right where Zilker Theatre was, and told us he could get us there. Since the passport said we wouldn't be coming right back we stashed a map in a backpack, as we had no idea where else they would make us go. We managed to get into position at the front of the starting line with our bikes, and then... we were off!
Right off the bat we tried to be clever by taking the railroad bridge along 3rd Street to cross over Lamar. If the lights at 6th and Lamar had been red this probably would have been a great way to get over the traffic, but as it was by the time we made it back down there were several other bikes already on Lamar ahead of us. Guess nobody had gotten held up by the lights, darn! We cut onto Barton Springs and then into Zilker Park, and headed down to the theatre along with several other teams.
On the grassy hill behind the theatre they'd laid some long tarps, and doused them with water to make slippery slides. One of us had to climb up one of the tarp slides (they had a rope to help pull you up) and then slide down another. Since I had gotten off my bike first I volunteered, and up and down I went. It was easy enough, but unfortunately the slide down wasn't quite slippery enough to work on gravity alone, so I had to scoot along with my hands to make my way back down.
The volunteer then punched our first passport and handed us the next. Along with it came a puzzle sheet we had to complete:
We got to work solving the puzzle clues. The first one (bats) we knew because everyone who lives in Austin knows this. The second one (Denver) we guessed at... I knew that the Oyster was based out of Colorado, and Denver seemed like a reasonable guess. The third one (twenty) we already knew because we'd paid a bit of money before the race to get one of the clues ahead of time... that's one of the Oyster twists (all the money from the clue-purchasing goes to a local charity, in this case the Austin Parks Foundation). The fourth one (carnitas) I initially guessed wrong, but then Dave corrected me. The fifth one we knew the states pretty quickly, but apparently we weren't very good at matching up the answers with their correct number of letters. The sixth one (Vermont) I knew because I grew up in Vermont (yay!). And the seventh one (Rick Perry) everyone in Texas knows this, whether they like it or not.
So now we knew we had to bike to the Chipotle location on "Bee Cave" Road. Dave called Michelle to find out exactly where on Bee Cave we were heading to, and Jason again knew how to get there. We could either take Bee Cave all the way there, or cut parallel to it on Rollingwood Drive. Jason wasn't sure which way would be faster, but at least we knew the traffic would be lighter on Rollingwood, so that's the way we went.
We had been pretty quick solving the puzzle so we were probably the first team to get biking again. On the way to Chipotle a couple of teams overtook us. We were riding mountain bikes, which probably weren't the best choice for this race that was all on paved roads, but we're kind of silly like that.
At the Chipotle the volunteers tied our team's hands together with zip ties, and then we had to use some Chipotle ingredients to make guacamole. Ok, not too hard, just dump the ingredients in a bowl and mush them up with a fork... done. The fact that our hands were tied together didn't really make this test any harder. In fact, it took the volunteers longer to tie our hands and then cut the zip ties afterwards then it did to make the guacamole, but we never complain that the tests are too easy!
We put our prized container of handcrafted guacamole into Dave's pack, and biked back to the TA pretty much the same way we came. First leg done, and so they handed us the passport for the second leg:
We knew where the two target parks were, so we dropped our bikes and started running north out of TA. We hopped down to follow the trail along Shoal Creek to Duncan Park. Here there were several Marines who led us through some strength drills. Since I'm the lightest on the team I got to do nothing, while Dave had to drag me partway across the field and then carry me over his shoulder for the other part. Well, my teammates are used to having to carry me through these races, just usually not quite this literally. Then Jason had to run across the field while carrying some heavy ammunition cases.
We thanked the Marines for their service and ran north to Pease Park. Here there were some ropes strung up between trees that we had to walk across, with a higher rope that you could hold onto for balance, but it had slack in it so it was still a bit tricky. Tricky enough so that I fell off at one point when I leaned the wrong way, but soon enough we recovered and finished the task. Done and done.
As we ran back out of Pease Park, we came across Team Merrell who was heading into the park. Well, it seemed like we were currently in the lead, but not by much! We ran as fast as we reasonably could back to TA and received our next passport:
None of us knew where the south Austin Rock Gym was, or Freidrich Lane. I started to look up Freidrich on the map road index, while Dave called Michelle for the same thing. We got a basic idea where we were heading, and decided we could figure out the rest of the details on the fly, and so we took off on our bikes. As we biked Dave kept talking to Michelle on the phone, and Jason fiddled around with the mapping software on his smartphone, and between the two of them they figured out a decent route to our destination.
We biked the long hill up South Congress Avenue. I'm the slowest biker on the team so Jason and Dave took turns towing me on the bike all throughout the race. The hint for this clue stated that the Rock Gym might be difficult to find in the large business park at the address, and sure enough, it took us a couple of minutes of wandering around the buildings and interconnecting parking lots until we spotted it.
We dropped our bikes and headed inside. They told us we'd have to blindfold one teammate and have him climb horizontally along the wall, guided by the verbal instructions of a second teammate. Dave volunteered to give it a try, and Jason called out where he should move his hands and feet. Remember how I said that we never complain that the tests are too easy? Well this test was definitely not too easy! Dave announced there was no way his arms would hold out, as with every blindfolded reach for the next handhold he was left holding up his body with only one arm for quite a while, as it took some time to find the next handhold when he couldn't see it.
I asked if I could help hold Dave up while he did this, and the volunteers said "sure". Really? Well, that wasn't the answer we were expecting, but OK! That makes the test a bit more doable, then. I got underneath Dave and supported most of his weight on my shoulders while Jason kept giving him instructions. This worked pretty well until the holds got a bit higher, then Jason stepped in and both of us supported Dave as best we could with our outstretched arms to keep him going.
After traversing Dave approximately 17 miles along the wall, they finally told us we were done... With that part of the test. For the next part, a second teammate had to do another climbing section that started on the wall and then progressed across some hanging rings. At least we didn't have to do it blindfolded this time. Jason volunteered to do this section, and again they didn't care if we helped him out, so Dave and I held up most of his weight while he swung from ring to ring.
Whew, we were glad to be done with that test! If we hadn't thought to ask whether we could hold up our teammates while they climbed I think it would have been impossible for us to finish it. We headed back outside, grabbed our bikes. And again we saw Team Merrell heading in just as we were heading out. They were still right on our tail! We noticed that they had different teammates from the time we saw them last, which meant that they were a relay team, a category that allows you to send out a different set of three teammates for every leg. Which meant that we weren't "officially" competing against them, as they were in a different category. But we still hoped we could stay ahead of them, anyways. Even if they did have faster road bikes than we did!
At least the bike back was mostly downhill, so that was enjoyable. We pedaled back into TA, ready to be off our bikes, when we got a look at the next passport:
Two bike legs in a row? Darn, we'd been looking forward to running again, ah well. Both Jason and I were fairly sure we knew which Fire Tower they were referring to, but we weren't 100% sure that the park by the Longhorn Dam was called "Lakeshore Park", or not. It would make sense, as it was on the lake, but we would hate to go off biking in the wrong direction, so we took the time to verify on the city map that the park was what we thought it was. And it was.
As we biked Jason and I discussed what would be the most direct route there, and though we weren't looking at a map to confirm it we decided that taking east Caesar Chavez to the Longhorn Dam would probably be better than crossing the lake on an earlier bridge. We made it to the Fire Tower, ready to do the water-carrying test described on the passport, but the volunteers said they changed the test, and we'd have to do an obstacle course instead. The obstacle course was nice and quick, so I'm sure it was easier and more fun than the original test. When we were done, they gave us the next passport:
Jason and I both knew where Festival Beach was for the stand up paddling, so we were able to take off immediately. As we biked away from the Fire Tower, for once we didn't see any other teams coming into the special test area right as we were leaving, so it looked like we might have banked a bit more of a lead. The volunteers at the next point told us that one of us would have to ride the stand up paddle board across the small lake (the part that's enclosed within Festival Beach, not across the main Lady Bird Lake), and rendezvous at the pedestrian bridge with a teammate who ran there on foot. The two teammates would then switch running/paddling, and return.
Jason and I had done this type of paddling before (and it's pretty fun!), so we volunteered. They didn't say we had to take our shoes off, so we left them on, preferring to suffer with wet shoes over wasting the time it would take to remove them. While we were off doing that Dave had to flip a plastic bottle that was partially filled with water, and have it land right side up. It took him many tries, but our team's timing was perfect in that Dave finally had a successful flip right as Jason and I were finishing our little run/paddle.
That done, we headed out... only to see Team Merrell heading in right as we were leaving yet again! We just couldn't seem to shake these guys! And we knew that they'd be able to send out fresh teammates to chase us down on the next leg! Argh! By now, we were definitely not going to be able to move as fast as we had at the start of the race.
Oh, well, nothing to do but keep going and hope that we could hang on to our dwindling lead. Back at the TA, the next passport the handed us was green, which meant... it was the last leg of the race! Let's do this!
Well, let's figure out where we're going, first. We looked through the passports and wrote down the bold letters, and quickly figured out that they anagrammed into Waterloo Park. We learned later that some teams didn't read the passport carefully enough, so they didn't notice the "Park" part and headed to Waterloo Records instead! Well, at least that was only a couple blocks from the TA, so it could have been worse.
We started jogging across town east-north-east, taking diagonals to cut off the running distance and to avoid any unnecessary uphills. At Waterloo Park they had a series of Parkour related tasks for us to do. First we reverse crab-walked backwards up some stairs, which was pretty tough. Then we walked along the railing around the edge of a high wooden deck structure, which is fun if you don't mind heights. Then we climbed down the outside of the structure, and weaved our way up and down through several of the supporting crossbeams under the structure. And finally we traveled up and down along some concrete ledges. I'm sure the folks who actually do Parkour would do all these things with graceful fluidity and make it all look effortless. While we were about as elegant as a hippopotamus. Hey, we'd been racing all morning, so give us a break!
Then we were done. And heading back to the finish line. And there were no other teams in sight! Ah, it was nice to know that there was no way we could be overtaken now, unless something truly unexpected happened. Then, as we were running up a hill, we felt our legs start to cramp from all the days' efforts. Ok, then, no more running up hills! Hate to lose the race because one of us collapsed on the ground from cramping!
Fortunately, it was mostly downhill back to the finish. We crossed in under three hours, in first place, even ahead of the relay teams, and also ahead of the race director's winning time estimate. We stuck around to congratulate the other teams as they crossed. And then enjoyed the party atmosphere that the Oyster created after the race, with free beer, burritos, and live music.
We were definitely glad that we finally gave the Oyster a try, as it's quite a fun event. We're looking forward to doing it again next year!
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