So here's the setup... When you enter a Great Urban Race, you and your teammate receive twelve clues, and the two of you run around the city to find the answers for the clues (also known as "checkpoints" or "CPs"). You can take public transportation, such as buses, but no private transportation, such as taxis. In 2008 the Great Urban Race ran events in 19 different cities, and if your team finished in the top 25 at any of the qualifying cities then you were invited to race in the National Championships in Vegas for $10,000.
My teammate David Bogle and I qualified for the championships when we won the race in Dallas. Then our friends Marcy Beard (my sister) and John Beard (her husband) qualified when they won the race in Denver. And then we qualified several other teams of our friends in the race in Austin. So altogether, six of our teams decided to head to Vegas to try our luck at the National Championships (Kip/Dave, Marcy/John, Jim/Rob, Richard/Chris, Art/Robyn, and Gail/Sandy).
The championship team would be determined by two races on the same day in Vegas. In the morning preliminaries, all the teams would compete in a race with the same format as the qualifying races. The top eight finishers from the morning race earned the right to race again in the afternoon finals race, for the $10,000 prize.
The Morning Preliminary Race
So here we all were at the starting line, which was an Irish pub called McFadden's, located inside the Rio Casino. The race directors handed us all sealed envelopes, and then yelled "Go!", and we were off! Well, we only ran to the other side of the casino floor at first, as we needed to open the envelope and read the clues. We took photographs of the cluesheet and emailed them back home to our crack clue solving team:
Also inside the envelope was a bunch of puzzle pieces, which we had to put together to solve clue #2. It was an easy puzzle, so we quickly discovered that it showed one of the pirate ships outside of Treasure Island:
While doing these things, we were also skimming the clues, and at first glance they all seemed to be on the main Las Vegas strip. Since it was fairly obvious at this point that running east towards the strip would be a good plan, we gathered up our gear and headed for the door. From our prescouting we already knew there was a Brahma shrine (CP #3) in front of Caesar's Palace, which was conveniently due east of the start line, so we headed directly there. We passed several other teams on the sidewalk along the way, and then settled in right behind Marcy and John, who were also headed to the shine. Always nice to get an easy clue out of the way quickly to get our confidence up:
You might think that we do nothing but follow our other teams to the checkpoints in these races, but in actuality for the most part we pretty much each race our own race, even though we're working together. Marcy and John headed north from the shrine, while our phone contact Chris told us to run east, to the other side of the strip. Some dodging of traffic ensued. Then it was a search for the small O'Shea's casino for CP #12. We briefly entered the wrong casino, but quickly corrected our mistake after several folks answered our yell of "where's O'Shea's" by pointing us the right way.
There was a GUR staff member at the entrance to O'Shea's reminding us about the "no running inside O'Shea's" rule. No problem... we speed-walked our way inside, and asked the first casino guard we saw where the "beer pong" was, and he pointed us to the back. This challenge was actually pretty easy, as there were ten cups setup at the end of the table and all we had to do was throw a ping pong ball into any one of them. It still took me a couple of tries, which I blame on the fact that we hadn't drank any beer yet, but we were soon enough done with that challenge and on our way again.
Exiting O'Shea's, I was on the phone with Chris as he tried to describe where we should go next. A couple of Vegas tourists saw us with our racing numbers on and came over to ask what we were up to. Dave gave them our usual answer "we're doing an amazing race", as that's usually a quick way to get the point across and get folks to want to help us out. And giving a more complete and detailed answer takes more time than we want to spare while we're racing. Unfortunately, these guys weren't content with the short answer, and they crowded us and begged us for more info, like "Are you going to be on TV?", and so forth. This made it hard for me to hear Chris on the phone, as these guys were drunk and loud (at eight in the morning... Viva Las Vegas!). So I yelled to Dave to try and quiet the guys down, but that didn't work well as the guys were quite large, and of course happily drunk. Ok, plan "B"... I yelled at Chris to "hang on a minute", and Dave and I sprinted north, and across a side street. One of the guys actually kept up with us for a bit, asking questions all the way, as he was oddly really keen to be involved with our whole race experience, but we finally lost him when we plowed through/over a fence on the other side of the street. Ok, we'd finally reached a spot of silence... sometimes, it's the small victories that matter! Chris told us to continue heading north, and across to the other side of the strip again, heading towards Treasure Island for CP #2:
We briefly saw Marcy and John again as we took our picture in front of the pirate ship. Then as we continued north we encountered the other ship. We were fairly sure this second ship wasn't the same one as in the puzzle we put together, but figured, what the heck, it couldn't hurt to take the picture just in case we were wrong (as you can always delete bad pictures before crossing the finish line)... and so we did:
Now Chris told us to run north to Circus Circus for the mandatory CP #6. As we were running along the sidewalk, we came across a guy standing there wearing a Great Urban Race shirt. I wasn't sure what to make of this, but fortunately Dave had read the clues better than me, and knew that we were supposed to ask him for a playing card (CP #9). Good catch, Dave! We learned after the race that several teams saw the guy and kept running right past him. And while we didn't need to take a picture of him, we continued in the spirit of "it can't hurt", so here's a picture of Dave with Tim:
Glad to get that one marked off our list, we continued on to Circus Circus. Though once inside, it soon became apparent that finding meeting room F wouldn't be a gimmie. We kept running from one casino employee to another, asking where the meeting rooms in Skyrise Tower were, each time being pointed slightly closer to the destination. I had already reread the cluesheet to confirm that there wasn't any "no running" race rule within Circus Circus (or anyplace other than O'Shea's), so we ran the best we could through the early morning gambling crowd. After quite a circuitous journey, we finally arrived at the right meeting room. Here we had to string a bunch of beads onto a cord until it was a certain length. The beads were tiny, so it took a while:
While we were working, Marcy and John arrived (hi, guys!), as well as another team that wasn't from Austin (grrr...). We worked as quickly as we could, with each of us threading the beads from a different end of the cord. I would have liked to have been talking to Chris while we worked, getting a "data dump" of the rest of the solved checkpoints, but we pretty much had to use of all of our hands to tackle this problem efficiently, and we weren't using earbuds with our phones. And we didn't want to converse by speaker phone, as that would give our solved answers away to the enemy team. The non-Austin team, on the other hand, wasn't concerned about such things... they did use their speaker-phone, so we could pretty much hear the answers to all the clues that their team had solved. Well, I guess that was the next best thing to hearing them from our own crew!
A couple hundred beads later, and we were done the challenge. We charged out of there, and spotted Chris and Richard heading into the area, so we pointed them the right way to the meeting room. Since the path we took into the casino to get to this spot was so convoluted, we decided that there must be a quicker way to get back to the strip. So we went out the first building exit door we saw. Which was... no faster. Instead of running through the maze of the casino, we instead had to run through a maze of parking lots, and a KOA camping area, all surrounded by many walls and buildings. To get out of the camping area we scaled a huge wall, so high that we risked twisting an ankle as we jumped down the other side. Hey, it was either that or run a minute out of our way to go to the actual exit, and if you haven't figured us out yet, we're firm believers in taking the direct route, no matter how treacherous!
Speaking of treacherous, it was time to cross the six lanes of traffic of "the strip" again, to get to the Riviera for CP #5. Two things worth noticing in this picture... One, in the reflection of Dave's sunglasses, you can see another opposing team that was also at this CP. And two, Dave is participating in the Vegas tradition of rubbing the statue for luck:
Chris had us head back down south again, towards the Fashion Show Mall for CP #8. We saw several other teams heading up the other direction, towards Circus Circus, so we were happy to be ahead of them. And we also didn't see anyone else heading back south yet, so we felt pretty good about that. It turns out that at least one of our other teams had already found the checkpoint (the "Mariposa" sign), so Chris was able to give us exact directions on where to find it... which was very nice, as the Fashion Show Mall area is pretty large:
Back across the strip (again!) to the east side for CP #7, which was located in the front of the Venetian. I'll bet we crossed Las Vegas Boulevard (the strip) more times than any other team that day. At least they announced at the pre-race meeting that there was no rule in this race that required us to follow all traffic laws, as we definitely didn't. Let's just say that if we ever do get on a televised show such as The Amazing Race, our camera crew is going to have a fun time keeping up with us as we dart through traffic and jump over walls. Mom, ignore that last part... we were actually quite safe at all times. Where were we... oh yes, the weird blue clock that is CP #7:
Back across the strip (again, again!) to the west side for CP #11. Chris informed us that this fountain was located at the north end of Caesar's Palace. We passed a fountain that had no label, and took a picture of it just in case even though we figured it was probably wrong. Another team coming by us in the other direction tried to reinforce that mistake by exclaiming "oh yes, that's definitely the right fountain". I applaud them for their attempt at deception, however, I must say that such statements aren't very convincing if you don't at least stop to pretend to take a photo of it yourselves! Anyways, a couple hundred feet later, we turned the corner of the building and found the correct fountain:
On the phone again with Chris, we had a discussion about the remaining checkpoints. CP #1 was at Bill's Gambling Gambling Hall, which was actually right across the street from us, but would mean that we'd have to cross the traffic of the strip (again!) twice more to get there and back. Not fearing the traffic, we were about ready to move again, but then Chris confirmed that our ground support crew had the remainder of the scavenger hunt items back at the finish line. Or, at least, they should be there by the time we get there. Well, since we're allowed to skip one checkpoint, we decided to skip the (short) out-and-back that was CP #1, and instead just sprint west to the finish line back at the Rio. In hindsight, that was probably an unnecessary risk, since it would have only taken us a couple of minutes to get the photo at Bill's, and that could have saved us if anything was amiss with any of our other photos. But I guess we were still in full "gambling mode" at that point.
On the run back to the Rio over the pedestrian bridge, we saw nobody ahead of us. And nobody behind us. We figured that we must be doing either very well, or very poorly. We entered the casino, and ran back to the finish line at McFadden's. Danny, one of our awesome ground support crew folks, was waiting for us, and he handed us a tennis ball for CP #4. And then for CP #10, he produced a bunch of hats that Jason had bought for us and a bunch of helpful bystanders to wear for this photo:
Hooray for the awesomeness that is our crew! With those two checkpoints checked off in one fell swoop, Dave and I stepped onto the finish line mat. And we were the first team to arrive! Yay! And all of our photographs checked out as good! Double yay! We called our support crew and let them know the good news, and told them we could help guide the rest of our teams around if anyone is having trouble locating things.
Soon afterwards, Marcy and John crossed the line 2nd (yay!), and Richard and Chris came in 3rd (yay!). A non-Austin team came in 4th (grrr!). Art and Robyn came in 5th (yay!), and Jim and Rob came in 6th (yay!). The top eight teams get to advance to the afternoon finals race, so there was just two more spots open for our final Austin team. Unfortunately, two other non-Austin teams just beat Gail and Sandy to the finish line (Awh!). But still, having five of our six teams make it to the Elite Eight is pretty darn good, so we were pretty psyched up.
The finals race didn't start for a few hours, so we had some time to relax and recover. We ate, hydrated, and Dave and I even changed into a new set of race clothes. And then... it was time to begin the insanity all over again. Bring it on!
The Afternoon Finals Race
We had been warned that the format for the finals race would be a bit different from the morning race. When they didn't hand us any clue sheets at the starting line, and instead just walked us as a group towards the casino exit, we knew the strangeness was about to begin. Sure enough, they had the Elite Eight teams board a bus, destination unknown. Once inside the bus, they collected all of our phones and other electronics, and had us put on blindfolds. Fun!
We drove in the bus for over a half an hour, so any attempts on our part to try and guess where we were driving were futile. Still blindfolded, they walked us off the bus into a house. They finally told us we could remove our blindfolds, and we saw bags of puzzle pieces lying on the floor in front of us. The race would start with us putting together our puzzles, and once we were done we'd receive back our phones, as well as the first half of the race clues.
Joe the race director asked if anyone had any questions. Turns out that everyone had the same question, and it wasn't one that Joe was expecting... "Where's the bathroom?" So the race was delayed a few minutes while a bunch of overhydrated bladders were emptied. And then, finally, it was time to start.
Dave and I tackled the puzzle. It was much harder than the easy pirate ship puzzle from the morning race. Now Dave is naturally handicapped at this sort of thing because he's color blind. And while I'm generally decent at puzzles, today for some reason I was floundering. So, our puzzle performance was pretty pathetic. Marcy and John were the first team to finish and head out of the house. One by one, the other teams were done as well. Finally the only teams left were us, and one of the non-Austin teams. At this point I glanced about at the other team's completed puzzles still lying on the floor, and realized that our puzzles were all the same. So I slid one of the completed puzzles over closer to ours so we could see the goal picture while we worked. I figured the race directors would stop us if they felt that tactic was out of line, but I'm guessing they were feeling pity for us at that point, and so they let us get away with it. Dave and I had our puzzle down to just two unplaced pieces, and even then we were still trying to put the pieces in the wrong spots. We're so lame! At least we managed to beat one of the eight teams out of the house.
It was so nice to be on our feet and have our phones back again. We called Chris, who had been patiently waiting for us for over an hour since we left the Rio. Our other teams had called in all the first batch of clues already, so at least we didn't have to deal with that part.
We asked Chris which way we should go, but he still didn't know where we were. And we were so far behind we couldn't see any of our other teams anywhere. So we jogged to the nearest intersection and read the street signs, and then Chris figured out we needed to run west to get back on the strip. We passed a non-Austin team that was still standing near the house and debating where they should go, and fortunately they didn't bother trying to follow us. Or perhaps they were just smart enough to realize that we weren't the best team to follow. A car with some of the GUR staff tailed us for a bit, videotaping us as we discussed our plans with Chris.
After a few blocks west we hit the strip, in the desert south of all the casinos. We turned north, and started jogging towards the first big casino, Mandalay Bay, which was also the site of CP #3. Chris had mentioned to us that we might want to get on a bus along the strip to Mandalay Bay, but we could see that our destination wasn't all that far away. And the traffic heading north was travelling at a crawl, so we weren't convinced a bus would be faster than running. So we just kept running north.
We soon passed the site of the traffic accident that was slowing down the north bound traffic. And while the traffic was now flowing freely to the north, we still thought to ourselves that we could see Mandalay Bay "right there", and we'd already crossed over to the other side of the street anyways, so it wasn't worth crossing back just to maybe catch a bus that probably wouldn't save us any time.
I'll cut to the punchline here... it turns out that we'd been suckered into a bit of an optical illusion. We were actually quite far from Mandalay Bay, over a couple of miles. Because Mandalay Bay is so large, and because there weren't really any other buildings or features to speak of between us and the casino other than open desert, it looked like it was much closer to us than it was. This realization had plenty of time to gradually dawn on us as we kept running, and running, and running north, with our goal never seeming to get any closer. The joke on us got even better when we spied a bus heading north, but there was no way for us to cross back over all the lanes of traffic to get to it in time. Then Dave looked back and saw another bus approaching, so we hurried over to the other side to catch it, only to learn that it was a hotel shuttle bus, and that it didn't stop at the bus stops along the strip. D'oh!
At least we were continuing our tradition of crossing over Las Vegas Boulevard as many times as we could during these races. We crossed back over to the other side, as by now the worst of the damage was done, and we finally really were at the point where it made sense to just run and not wait around for a bus. At last, Mandalay Bay began to grow larger as we approached. We had to laugh at the absurdity of the perception problem, but at least that part of the race was done with, and we could now get on with the part where we actually found the clues. Or flailed about looking for them, at least.
CP #3 was a headless statue of Vladimir Lenin. We ran into Mandalay Bay and asked an employee at a desk where the statue was located. She replied, "oh, you're way behind the team that's winning the race". And we thought to ourselves (but managed to not say out loud), "yeah, we know, now how about you help us fix that situation". She pointed us towards the back of the casino. Turns out the casino goes a long ways back... we kept running a ways in, then losing confidence about our direction, and asking another employee, and confirming, yep, it's WAY in the back. But then, at last, we managed to find our first checkpoint of the afternoon race:
Whew! If all the checkpoints were going to take this long, we'd be racing for an entire day! Let's hope that wouldn't be the case! We knew that the next stop on our list was CP #5, a Hummer somewhere by the Luxor, but decided to exit the noise of the casino before trying to call Chris. Just as we left Mandalay Bay, Chris called us, as he'd been bored silly waiting for us to finish our long run towards the first checkpoint, and he was sure that we were lost or dead. No, we reassured him, we were just slow. Chris told us the best way to get to the Hummer was to go through a walkway that connected the two casinos. Oops, it was too late for that, as we'd already exited Mandalay Bay and were heading to Luxor on the sidewalk. Chris gave us directions on how to best get to the Hummer from the pedestrian walk, as that was all the information that he had. We were resigned to another frantic casino scavenger hunt to find it, but we got lucky... the Hummer was actually located right in front of us, at the entrance to the Luxor, and Dave spotted it right away so we didn't have to waste any time searching for it. Great, perhaps our luck was changing for the better:
Time to do another of our famous dashes through the traffic of the strip to get to the Tropicana on the other side. Here Chris had very detailed instructions on where we needed to go inside the casino to find the "Xaviert Cugart & Charo" picture. Part of the advantage of being in last place when working with other teams is that they've already found everything for you. I had Chris relay enough of the instructions to get through the casino to the general area where all the pictures were hung, and then Dave and I just went down the hallway until we found the right one:
Our next destination was the MGM Grand for CP #4. We took one of the pedestrian bridges over the busy street, for a change, since it was right there and it didn't require us to go out of our way at all. It just involved dodging people instead of dodging traffic. Our super-duper ground support crew folks Danny and Sheila were already waiting for us in front of MGM, ready to help us round up the required twenty folks for the picture. When folks were reluctant to join us, we just yelled out that we were doing "an amazing race", and that got everyone excited to help us:
The final thing we had to do in the first half of the race was CP #2, riding the roller coaster in the New York, New York casino. We crossed over to the casino and discussed a bold strategy. Since we knew we were still well behind the rest of our Austin teams, we figured that our only chance to catch up might be to skip riding the roller coaster altogether. We figured that that sort of thing could take a lot of time, as we'd have to potentially wait in line for it, and then spend more time actually riding it. Plus, Dave wasn't all that fond of roller coasters. We decided that since we didn't really have anything to lose, we might as well go for broke, skip the coaster, and just hope that the clues for the second half of the race were all easy, and close together.
So with that as our plan, we entered the casino. Another of our ground support crew, Jason, was there to meet us, and he said he could show us the quickest way to the roller coaster. But then we surprised him by announcing we were skipping it, and asking him if he knew where the mid-point of the race was (Hudson meeting room #498)? Jason did not, but he helped us track down some casino employees who pointed us up an escalator to where "all the meeting rooms" were. We ran through the hallway of meeting rooms, and, hmmm.... there was no Hudson meeting room there. Nothing to do but find another casino employee. Nobody seemed to have heard of the Hudson meeting room, until we finally found one older gentleman who thought it might be located in one of the other New York towers. He used his radio to talk to somebody, and confirmed the location, and got us heading towards a set of elevators to take us the right way.
Joining us on the elevator ride was the team of Richard and Chris. They'd already done the roller coaster, of course, but at least we were catching up a little with the rest of our group. The four of us got off the elevator, and ran down the hallway, briefly overshooting the conference room before turning around and heading inside. Marcy and John, as well as Jim and Rob, were already inside, working on the mid-point challenge. Each team was given a set of 5 logic problems to solve. We quickly confirmed that everyone had the same problems, and since there weren't any teams in the room that weren't in our group, we all worked together to solve them. Marcy let us know that they had everything except for #1 and #3. I ripped our paper in half, giving #3 to Dave to work on while I worked on #1. The answer to #1 wasn't too hard to figure out... I spent more time confirming that my answer was 100% correct than I did actually solving it. And then someone else solved #3. So all four of our teams wrote down the 5 answers, and we got out of there with the clues for the second half of the race. It's times like these that working together with other folks really pays off.
Well, we'd managed to catch up to the rest of our mob of Austin teams. And now we found ourselves stuck with another interesting strategy decision. Since the new clues for the second half of the race hadn't been read in yet, there would of course be a period of time where everything got transcribed back to our support crew at home, and they figured out where we should run next. And we were already right next to the roller coaster, anyways, so was there really any reason to risk skipping it just on the hope that all the rest of the clues could be done faster than riding the coaster? Since we'd learned from Richard and Chris that there wasn't really any line when waiting for the coaster, we decided to go ahead and ride it. If there had been any other non-Austin teams near us at the midpoint of the race, we probably would have just helped read in the clues, and do whatever we could to make sure one of our Austin teams won. But since it was becoming apparent that all the Austin teams were way ahead, we decided we may as well try and make a play for the win.
Anyways, to the coaster ride, to finish up the CP we'd skipped earlier. The Great Urban Race staff was there to watch over our bags and phones while we got on the ride. There wasn't any line at the express gate, so we jumped right into the next car. Dave doesn't like roller coasters, so he pretty much just shut up and held on tight. Whereas I enjoyed the ride once we'd made it past the initial big drop. At least it was all over quickly, and Dave managed to keep his lunch down. We retrieved our gear, and called Chris to get us back into the hunt.
Now, the part where we solve this final set of clues gets a little bit hazy in my mind about who actually figured out what. The next four CPs we visited were all very close together, and Dave and I had seen them all a couple of days before when we prescouted this area. I believe Chris told us over the phone that they knew approximately where the red star was for CP #2, and also approximately where the M & M shop was for CP #3, but they weren't 100% sure on the locations because none of our other teams had found them yet. Once Dave and I read those clues, however, we had a very good idea of where they were because we'd seen them in person earlier.
Along this block, there were about a dozen red stars on the sidewalk on each side of the strip. We didn't know which side the "Los Tucanes De Tijuana Singers" star would be on, but we gambled that it would be on the east side, since that was the side where the M & M shop was (and incidentally, everything else). We ended our phone call with Chris halfway across the pedestrian bridge, and jumped down on the eastern side of the strip and followed the stars along the sidewalk. About the fifth one we checked was CP #3; Booyah:
And now we were just a few steps away from the M & M store. We dashed inside, and found the penny flattener machine near the entrance. Our ground support person Sheila had just arrived there, trying to help us save time by flattening a penny for us... but she didn't have any change. The machine needed two quarters and a penny to work. We started a discussion about change... Dave and I had lots of quarters, but no pennies, so I guess we'd have to buy something. That's when a friendly tourist, who'd been listening to our entire conversation and was obviously excited that he could actually help these wacky racers who were running around the city, piped in to let us know that he had the necessary change, and that he'd be glad to give it to us! Wow, what a nice guy! We thanked him profusely, and let him know that he was helping us race for a lot of money, and he seemed to get a kick out of the whole exchange. Dave cranked the machine and flattened our new penny, and we were off once again, while Sheila stuck around to scrounge for more change and flatten more pennies for the rest of our teams.
On the phone with Chris again, and he was laying out a finishing plan for us. He figured that we'd skip CP #1, as that would involve winning a bunch of tickets at GameWorks and he figured that would take too much time, so he was trying to guide us to CP #5 instead. But as we were having this conversation and walking north, we encountered Marcy at the top of the GameWorks steps entrance, and she told us we should go in. We had to decide on the spot whether to go along with Chris's plan and skip CP #1 or not. Dave and I thought to ourselves that surely we could figure out a way to win the tickets quickly, so we hung up on Chris and followed Marcy down into GameWorks.
So I read the clue for CP #1 briefly... we'd need to win 50 tickets here. Several of our Austin teams were in GameWorks at this point, all trying to win tickets. We confirmed that the tickets from all the machines were the same, so it didn't really matter which machine we used. Another of our teams was asking an attendant what the fastest game was to win a bunch of tickets. But then Dave came up with even a more direct route, and he just started offering cash to others in the arcade in exchange for their tickets. We soon found one girl who loved that idea, and she quickly tracked down her companion who had a huge wad of tickets, and Dave offered him ten bucks for them. Everyone involved was happy with that deal, and so, another CP was marked off the list.
Back outside and on the phone with Chris again. For once, we were more aware of what was going on than he was, as in this flurry of activity he hadn't been fully updated on what we'd found so far. He reiterated the plan to skip CP #1, and I told him, no, we'd already gotten CP #1, 2, and 3, and since we'd backtracked to get the checkpoint we skipped in the first half of the race, all we had to do was get one more. So which was closest, CP #4 or CP #5? (A side note: At some point during this conversation, Marcy and John were nearby and heard us saying that we'd gotten CP #2, and they hadn't yet, so they asked us where the Red Star was and we helped them out by telling them that it was just south of the M & M store.) Chris said CP #5 was probably nearby, a cow sculpture that was outside of the "Smith & Woolensky Steakhouse". At first when Chris said "Smith & Woolensky" I though he was giving me street names for a street intersection. Once I figured out that wasn't the case, we started asking which way we needed to run to get to the steakhouse. Chris had the address, which didn't really help, as practically no buildings on the strip display their addresses anywhere. So we didn't know which way to run. After about two minutes of frantic conversation back and forth along these lines, Dave and I finally opened our eyes and realized that we could actually see the cow sculpture from where we were standing! Even worse, we'd noticed this sculpture a couple of days earlier, and failed to remember it (until now)! Good thing there weren't any video crews around to catch our moment of cluelessness!
Ok, so we got the cow picture (side note: I just now noticed that Art and not-Robyn are in our picture on the other side of the cow case)... I guess that means we were done! We knew that all of our other Austin teams were all in this area, so we figured we'd have to sprint to the finish if we were going to have any chance. We crossed to the other side of Las Vegas Boulevard for the final time of the day. There was more traffic now than during the morning race, so we actually had to wait for a traffic signal to block the oncoming traffic, the only time all day that we did so.
Running up the western sidewalk towards Flamingo drive, we had to go into a pedestrian tunnel underneath a construction scaffolding. The tunnel was only wide enough for about two people, so it became an interesting challenge to weave through the pedestrian traffic. We managed to make it through without knocking into anyone, or getting too slowed down. True to my historical patterns, we had not yet managed to take any public transportation during either race so far, but we called Chris anyways to see if there was a bus scheduled to head down Flamingo drive to the finish at the Rio. We got word back from Chris just as we'd run about 200 meters past the bus stop on Flamingo that a bus was indeed scheduled to be at that exact stop right at that exact time. Whoa, unexpected dilemma. The finish wasn't very far, just two (long) city blocks west. It would only take us about six minutes to run it. But if a bus came by us as we were running, that could mean the race. Dave and I glanced back at the strip, and didn't see any buses, and so we decided to gamble once again, and kept running. As we crested the hill of the bridge over the interstate, we could see that there were no teams ahead of us on the sidewalk, or behind us. Well, our place on foot was secure, at least... we could only be passed if the bus was near to being on time.
Fortunately for us, the bus was running late. We ran into the casino, and to the finish line at McFadden's, and received a huge cheer from all the teams and GUR staff in the area. We were the first team to arrive, excellent! We started producing the items and pictures to show we'd visited all the required checkpoints. But then, disaster... in the whirlwind of activity that surrounded all of the final CP gathering, I'd failed to read the full text for the CP #1 clue. I knew the part about collecting 50 tickets, but I hadn't read the rest, where it said to get our picture in front of the "Deal or No Deal" game. Drat! That mistake meant we would receive a half-hour penalty.
Well, nothing to do about it now, except let our crew know about our situation so that they could be sure none of our other teams made the same mistake. Chris passed on the warning to all the other phone contacts, and all we could do was wait and hope that at least the next team to cross the line would be from Austin. And have all the correct photos!
And fortunately, it was, in the team of Marcy and John Beard! Well, if I couldn't win, at least my sister won instead. Making mistakes on the pictures is actually a fairly common error in these events, as you're often moving so fast that you're tempted to not take the time to read everything completely. Today Marcy and John prevailed (as they so often do!), but last year this situation played out in reverse in the Urban Challenge in Dallas: Marcy and John crossed the finish line first, but had an incorrect photo, and so our team won even though we crossed the line second. Hopefully, we've made this sort of mistake enough times now that we've satisfied our lifetime quota!
It was better that Marcy and John won this event, anyways, as our team was mostly sponging off the efforts of the rest of our Austin mob for most of the afternoon race, by following the trail that they blazed to all the checkpoints before us early on in the race. That's how we're rationalizing this defeat to ourselves, anyways! Even though we didn't win, Great Urban Race puts on truly excellent events. They are well designed, well run, and a whole lot of fun to race in. We're definitely looking forward to doing it all again next year! See y'all at the races!
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