Warning... this race report is rated PG-13, for adult language (me cursing), violence (fighting through prickly underbrush), and adult situations (disturbing images). Not recommended reading for children under 13, or for people who can't understand why in the hell we choose to spend our weekends doing wacky races such as this.
We've competed in over a dozen races similar to this (Urban Challenge, Austin Found, Urban Dare, etc.), but this would be our very first attempt at the Great Urban Race. This race series wouldn't come to our home town of Austin until October, and we couldn't wait that long to try it, so we drove up to Dallas to give it a shot. In addition to my teammate David Bogle and myself, we were working together with three other teams: Tom Lane and Spencer Conklin, Robyn Cantor and her son Garrett, and first-time racers Gail Loving and Sandy Kimbrough:
There were 132 teams at the starting line... quite a huge turnout! This race didn't use a staggered start, instead, everyone started at the same time by opening their envelopes and reading the clues. The twelve clues were spread out over five pieces of paper... much more paperwork than we usually get at these events! Initially the clues weren't numbered for us, so we wrote numbers next to each clue to help keep ourselves organized. I snapped pictures of the clue sheets and then sent them by phone to our support crew back in Austin. At the same time, our teams were reading the clues in to our crew (we send the clues two different ways, to ensure they get there). We can't start running anywhere until we get a clue solved anyways, so teams are often just waiting around at the start for a few minutes until they get an idea where they've got to go. Here's some shots of our four teams, doing just that:
But soon enough our crew interrupted us to let us know that they had solved clue #4, so it was time for us to stop just standing in one spot, and start moving:
The sculptures that made up the cattle drive were only about ten blocks southeast of us, so we were off and running. Of course, once we got there, we had to find the correct longhorn out of the seventy (!) in the park. Tom and Spencer were in the area with us, so the four of us went down the line, comparing the cattle to the clue, until we found the correct one. There were several other tourists in the area, taking pictures of the cattle drive, who were quite amused by us as we ran through the cows, urgently inspecting them to find the "right" one!
As we'd been searching the steers, Dave had had time to read clue #3:
As luck would have it, Dave recently moved to Texas from Louisiana. And even more lucky, he happened to be carrying his old Louisiana driver's license! Score! Mark one scavenger hunt clue off the list:
We called our phone contact, Art, to see what else had been solved. So far our known answers were all located far to the northeast. It would definitely take a ride on the Metrorail to get there. Since we didn't yet have any other downtown clues solved, we started heading to the nearest rail station, Akard, to wait for the train. We figured that we could always turn around if another nearby clue was solved by the time the train arrived.
As we waited for the train, I learned that the original pictures of the clue sheet I sent weren't very readable. So, I took the time to reshoot the clue sheet photos, and send in the clearer set. Our support crew needs a good set of data to work its magic on, after all.
We figured out a clue or two in the downtown area, but by that time the train was pulling into view, so we decided just to do the distant northern section of the race first, and get all the rest of the clues after we returned back downtown. Art wasn't 100% sure which station we should exit at, but he told us that Mockingbird was probably the best bet. So, we jumped onto the train and started the ride north.
The train ride gave us time to read the rest of the clues. Clue #6 was a crossword puzzle we'd have to solve at some point:
Normally we'd just let our support crew solve a puzzle such as this, but since we were just sitting there (and we'd lost phone coverage as the train went underground), we figured we'd see how much of it we could get. We didn't know the mayor of Dallas, so we just asked aloud, "does anyone know who the mayor of Dallas is?", and sure enough, several nearby locals piped up with the answer. We weren't sure how to spell it, but then another passenger showed us a newspaper article that had his name in it. Soon everyone sitting near us was getting into the spirit of things, and they all pitched in to help us solve the crossword. We had it finished in no time flat! We thanked everyone, and explained a bit about the race we were doing, and everyone found the whole concept to be quite entertaining. We'd managed to break up the usual monotony of the train ride for these fine Dallas folks.
We exited the train at Mockingbird station, and Art had us start running east on Mockingbird Lane. We kept asking Art how far we should run, and where we should turn, but he didn't have a ready answer for us. So, we kept running. We were now way off the map that we'd brought along for the race, so I'm guessing that was part of the reason our crew was having difficulty getting us good directions for this area. After a while, Art called us back to give us some bad news... it turns out that we would have been much better off riding the train to the next station, White Rock Rail, which was significantly closer to the checkpoint! D'oh! We considered turning around, but we hated the idea of perhaps just missing the blue line train and having to wait another twenty minutes for the next one, so we just decided to keep trudging down the road. It turns out that we had to run a completely unnecessary extra three miles or so to make up for this error. I must admit that I cursed quite a bit as we ran. Plus, my hat blew off in the wind, and I didn't want to bother adjusting it, so I just shoved it in my pack. Well, at least being angry made us run a bit faster.
After I'd calmed down a bit, we started thinking about some of the other clues we still had to get. Clue #7 was an interesting scavenger hunt clue:
Dave had solved the math for this one back while we were still downtown on the way to catch the train. It was pretty impressive that he'd been able to do the math while we were running. Anyways, we knew we'd need to find a building somewhere with the number 225 on it. We were coming up to the 7200 block of Mockingbird Lane, so we figured that 7225 would also work as an answer for the clue. So we checked the addresses for the houses... and the numbers jumped from 7223 to 7227! There was no house numbered 7225! Oh, well, another setback... we'd just have to keep that clue in mind and find it later.
Finally, our long stretch of running was near an end as we entered White Rock Lake Park for checkpoint #10. But as we made our way across the park, it seemed that our luck was suddenly changing for the better. Because in the park, directly in our path, were some folks out flying kites. And why was this a good thing for us, you might well wonder? Well, because this was clue #8:
Score #2! Another potentially difficult scavenger clue had been dropped right in our laps. We ran up to a gentleman and begged him to let us borrow his kite for a minute. It seems that a couple other teams had already asked the same thing of him, because he wasn't surprised in the least by our request. Dave took the string, and the guy even helped him launch it into the air. And then I snapped the picture of Dave recapturing his youth, by flying a "Hello Kitty" kite:
We returned the kite to its owner, and enthusiastically thanked him for his generosity. Then it was a run up the hill to checkpoint #10:
At the flagpole we ran into one of our other co-teams, Robyn and her son Garrett. They'd obviously been smarter than us, and stayed on the Metrorail to the correct station to beat us here. Robyn helped us out by telling us the number of picnic tables in the area (just one!), and then we helped out Robyn's team by lending them Dave's out-of-state driver's license for that scavenger photo. So here's the photo of us on Flagpole Hill:
We jogged north in the direction of the next clue. At the intersection of Doran Circle and White Rock Trail, the other teams that were in the area all ran north on White Rock Trail. However, Art said that while that route would work, it would take us a roundabout way on roads going around the park. Art said it would be more direct if we could just bushwack northeast, through the park. We're never ones to turn down a shortcut, so off into the wilderness we went. I was glad I'd decided to bring my compass! At first, the going was easy. Then the grass got a lot taller, and then there were some pricky vines, and finally we ran into an impassable row of brambles. We followed the brambly section north for a bit, and then found a hole we could push through under some power lines. We popped out in a parking lot, and headed to the road to figure out what intersection we were at: Shoreview and Audelia. Perfect, said Art, now just head east on Shoreview. The shortcut had given me a bunch of lovely scratches on my legs, and Dave had twinged his knee a bit, but it was still worth it! We ran to Ferndale Road for our special test at #9:
As advertised, we entered a Tae-Kwon-do studio for a short lesson. Two other teams were already there waiting when we arrived. But, we were the very first group of teams there, which was encouraging. Master Lee and his staff were debating whether to keep us all waiting until more teams arrived to start the lesson, so we immediately piped up, "there's no teams behind us, so we may as well get started". To our amazement, they believed this bold assertion, and the lesson began. (And actually, our bluff turned out to be true, as no other teams showed up before our lesson was over.) We went through the bowing, and basic punching and kicking, and some throwing techniques. At the start of the lesson we tried to get the forms as correct as we could, but as the session dragged on all the teams eventually decided to just trying to keep the lesson moving as quickly as possible. After all, this was a race!
The scratches on my legs from our cross-country shortcut were bleeding, and the Tae-Kwon-do staff wanted to help out by cleaning and disinfecting my wounds, but I assured them that it looked much worse than it actually was. We adventure race a lot in Texas, so our legs are used to being scratched up. Though, they usually don't suffer this sort of abuse during an urban race! Once the lesson was over, we exited back to the streets, ready to attack any evil-doers we saw with our newly-trained deadly hands and feet! But since we didn't spot any evil-doers, we instead decided to run to checkpoint #11:
There was an inflatable obstacle course thingy we had to go through, and we had to get each other's photo as we went down the slide at the end. I went through first:
And then Dave followed. By the time it was Dave's turn, several other teams had shown up and gotten in line, but they hadn't read the clue completely and didn't realize they needed to be in position to photograph each other. So Dave alerted the other teams to that fact, and as the confused teams scrambled to send someone to the end to get the photo, Dave was able to move up in line to go himself:
Seeing so many other teams at this obstacle was a bit disheartening, but we figured that some of them probably had come to this far checkpoint early on their travels, and they couldn't possibly have already gotten all the checkpoints that we had so far (we hoped). After all, this was our final checkpoint in the remote north section... it was now time for us to catch the train back downtown.
Art started guiding us towards the LBJ/Skillman Station. As we were running, he admitted he hadn't quite figured out the best way to get there. He figured after we got on Plano Road and crossed under I-635, we needed to somehow run parallel to I-635 to get to the station. But there wasn't a convenient parallel road. However... there were train tracks! Could we get on them? Yes, as it turns out, we could. So we ran on the tracks from Plano to Miller Road, then scrambled down and ran across the parking lot to the station.
The train stations are a key make-or-break spot for racers... if you just miss a train, you have to wait twenty minutes for the next one. But we got lucky again... less than two minutes after we arrived, the blue line pulled in to take us back downtown. Looks like our early streak of bad luck was officially over!
On the train we asked Art for a "data dump" of all the remaining clues. We figured we would get everything all plotted out on our map, and then hopefully we'd be able to complete the rest of the course without having to ever stop and call for directions again. Our remaining clues were #1, 2, 5, 7, and 12. #7 was the scavenger hunt clue, to find any building with the number 225 on it. We figured that eventually we'd find a building like that downtown, since the 200 address blocks were there. Clue #5 was the most out of the way to reach, but in this race you're allowed to skip one clue, so we planned to skip #5. Then, we realized... oops, #5 was one of the few mandatory, un-skippable clues! Well, it was a good thing we had this long train ride to figure out all these sorts of things, instead of ruining our race because we didn't read things closely enough! Since we had to visit #5, and there wasn't really any other out-of-the way point to skip, we just decided to skip clue #7 instead, because we had no idea how hard it would be to find a building with a 225 on it.
And with that, our train arrived at the St. Paul station, and we disembarked to find #12:
We found the building soon enough... but we couldn't see the address posted anywhere... we had to check all four sides of the building before we found it. You'd think that a building with an address of Bryan Street would have an entrance on Bryan Street, but nooooo. There was another team there, completely sprawled out on the sidewalk, taking a rest. We assumed that they weren't going to be our main competition. Our high-five picture nicely showcases my wrist compass:
We next ran south down Harwood Street towards #5:
Like the clue says, this Farmer's Market is quite large, covering a few city blocks. We knew that it might be a long, difficult process to find Omar's stand. But another twist of great fortune came our way, just as we were about to dive into the market, a very friendly fellow saw us running, and yelled to us to ask us where we were headed. "Omar's stand, #311", we replied, and this wonderful gentleman proceeded to give us exact directions on how to get there. Perhaps he'd been getting a kick out of helping all the racers find their way, we don't know, but we were sure glad he was there, as he definitely saved us some time. So, here's our photograph for the checkpoint... with my sincerest apologies if this image haunts your dreams:
After that mid-race snack, we headed for #2:
I'd actually solved this clue as soon as I read it, way back when we'd been about to board the first train at the start of the race. You see, we'd luckily prescouted this slowly rotating sculpture thingy before the race, so I already knew exactly where it was:
Alright, we were cruising now, and just one more point... only a couple short blocks separated #2 and #1:
On the train ride back to downtown, we'd queried some more locals, who knew that the Cowboys had won 13 games last season. It took us three tries to get a good picture of us, the "Old Red Courthouse" sign, and our 13 fingers clearly visible in it, but we finally got it:
Ok, nothing to do now but jog the eight or so blocks north back to the finish line, Dick's Last Resort. As we ran, we made our guesses as to what place we were in. I figured there was no way we were going to win the race, as we'd made a huge error at the beginning and ran a whole lot of extra distance that we didn't have to. And we didn't catch a single bus outside of the Metrorail. Plus, we'd been running for over 3 hours... and we'd never seen the winning time for a race such as this be over 3 hours before.
As we approached the finish line, we saw race volunteers flanking the area. The volunteers were excited to see us, and they started shouting to each other as we were coming in. Well, this could be a good sign, we supposed. Then they pulled out a big finishers tape and held it across the line for us to run through. That's another good sign! We ran through the tape, and got the good news... we were the first team there! Awesome!
We stepped up onto the deck and got our camera ready for the photo check. At that point, another team crossed the line! They were only a minute behind us! Amazing, after over 3 hours of racing, that the finish would be so close! We'd never seen this other team during the race... they'd finished all of the downtown section first, then did the remote north section, and finished up by taking the metrorail back to a station close to the finish line.
We held our breath as the race directors verified our photos. Had we gotten all of them correct? Had we read all the instructions right, and properly posed as prescribed (perchance?) for all of them? Yes, yes we had! It was official, we'd won, beating out more than 130 other teams!
Other teams started coming in, each with their own stories to tell. It seems that we definitely weren't alone in running into difficulties out there, and the pattern seemed to be that most of the biggest mistakes were self inflicted. Our other teams came in: Tom and Spencer placed 7th. They'd skipped the Tae-Kwon-do lesson, and instead got the "225" clue by cleverly using the clue papers to block out several digits of a longer number on a building. Gail and Sandy placed 26th, which is a shame, because the top 25 teams earn the right to go to the championship race in Vegas in November. But we're confident that we can help them qualify when this great race comes to our home town of Austin in October! And Robyn and Garrett came in 5th place in the family division.
We loved this race! It was very well setup, and organized, with interesting clues and challenges to complete. We're definitely looking forward to doing many more Great Urban Races in the future! And a huge thanks goes out to our fabulous support crew, for putting up with all the chaos and confusion and guiding us poor lost souls to our destination!
We'll see y'all in Vegas!
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