> Urban Clue Solving Races >

Great Urban Race Austin

April 4, 2009
By Kipley Fiebig - Team Vignette KD

We love the Great Urban Race! The GUR directors are such nice people, and they put on very well organized events. Of course, the fact that our mob did so well at the championships last year, with Marcy and John taking home the $10,000 first prize, certainly contributes to our affinity for this series!

Naturally we want to see if we can be lucky enough to make lightning strike twice, by doing well in the GUR championships again this year. But before we can do that, of course, we need to qualify for the championships in the first place. Which means we'd need to finish in the top 25 at one of the qualifying cities. So our mob threw together 8 teams for this year's Austin GUR.

The race started in Pease Park this time. They handed out clue sheets in an envelope to everyone, and did the "3... 2... 1..." countdown to the start. Go! We tore open our envelopes, and did a brief group huddle while we emailed pictures of the clue sheets in to our support crew. And here's where we made our first huge mistake of the race... we accidentally had the camera set to a much lower resolution than we usually use for these sorts of things. Here's how bad it was... these are the actual photos that our clue-solving crew had to work with:

As we took off running, our phone contact Steve mentioned that the clues were harder to read than normal. (Here's an example of a clue sheet from last year taken at a much better resolution.) We asked Steve if we should stop and take a better picture, but he said they could probably deal with it. That's our clue solving crew for you... they're up for any challenge that race day brings. And they don't seem to mind that they have to frequently deal with our stupidity!

We crossed Lamar and headed east uphill on 15th street. During the group huddle Rob had identified the picture in clue #11 as being at the University Coop (thanks, Rob!), so we had the idea that we should go to the UT campus. Since the race had just started and not all the shared info had spread around to all of our crew yet, our phone guy Steve kept suggesting we head south, as that's where all the known points were. Halfway up the hill, we needed to make a snap decision... north to UT, or south to downtown. Marcy and John were right ahead of us, and they were heading to UT, and we know that they tend to make good choices, so that helped us make our decision. We told Steve we were heading north first. So we followed Marcy and John to #11, and got our picture with the big orange longhorn by the Coop:

Neither of our two teams knew where to go next, so we both started talking to our crew to see what else they could come up with that was north instead of south. Dave noticed that #5 was on the UT campus somewhere, so he asked Steve to concentrate on that one. That worked, soon enough Steve had the location for us, and he guided us a couple blocks north to the point.

We were the first team to enter the dance studio, where we were greeted by a dance instructor who would teach us a short dance routine. It was only about 5 steps long altogether, and we kept repeating it until we got it all right. Well, that was the intention, anyways... even after a dozen repetitions, I don't think Dave and I ever got all the moves completely right. I know I didn't. Dancing is another one of those things we're not the greatest at!

Marcy and John then entered the studio, and the instructor took pity on us and told us our efforts had been good enough. They stamped our clue sheet, and we left the studio as Marcy and John started their own dance session. We walked south while talking to Steve. The crew hadn't solved everything yet, but everything that had been solved was south. We decided to take the risk and assume that there were no points left this far to the north (or if there was just one, we could always used that as our skip point). So Steve to picked the closest southern point and we started running in that direction.

Without realizing it at the time, we were making our second mistake of the race at this point. We ran south down a street that wasn't part of any bus routes. Had we run down Guadalupe instead, we would have caught the bus that Marcy and John wound up taking. As it was, we rode no buses all day... perhaps we should try to plan better for that sort of thing in future races!

We turned west on 6th street and headed toward Lamar, where Waterloo Records was our next point. Nearing the destination, we passed by Whole Foods. From skimming the clues, we knew that at some point we'd have to pick up four cans of food for #2. A bunch of teams were heading into Whole Foods for that very thing, and since we weren't sure whether we'd have a better chance to get our cans, we decided to do the same. But first, we decided to get the Waterloo picture out of the way. We took it from across the intersection, in front of Whole Foods:

With our low camera resolution, this photo is pretty hard to read. Marcy and John's Waterloo picture was much better.

Done with the picture, we ducked inside of Whole Foods. We were greeted by quite a chaotic sight... there were teams everywhere, all zipping down the aisles in every direction. Since we specifically had to get one can of fruit, one of vegetables, one of soup, and one of meat, it naturally meant you'd have to travel around the entire store to get all the items. Dave and I split up, and called each other on phone to report which cans we'd found. Soon enough, we each had found half of the required cans, so we headed for the registers to meet back up. The end of our phone conversation was amusing, something along the lines of "where do you want to meet up... oh wait, there you are" as we were walking right next to each other.

We scanned our cans through the self checkout. We had obviously been grabbing the first cans we'd seen without regards to price, as we discovered how much artichoke hearts cost (a lot!). It took some fumbling to get the machine to accept our credit card, and then it was time to shove the cans in my pack and get out of there. Running out the front of the store, we passed by a GUR crew member with a video camera, and so we flashed him the "V" symbol.

Ok, back east on 6th street again. Steve guided us to 5th and Brazos where we found the mmmpanada truck for #9. We took the required picture of Dave being fead the empanada, and then had to throw the culinary delight in the trash because it was time to run again.

Steve floated the idea of skipping #8 since it was an out-and-back point, but it was so close we decided we may as well get it. So we ran a couple blocks east to 6th and Trinity to get a picture of Lucky Lizard.

Where to next? Steve told us to head to Barton Springs and Lamar and get a picture of ourselves in front of the big statue in front of Peter Pan Mini Golf. This was the answer to the cryptogram for #1. Incidentally, John and Marcy solved the cryptogram while riding a bus, which was a good thing as our crew was having quite a difficult time solving that one using just the lousy photo of the clue sheet we'd sent! We crossed Town Lake using the pedestrian bridge by Lamar, and then took the photo of Peter Pan. If you look close at the photo, you can see a couple other teams standing by the statue.

We kept running south on Lamar to #2, which was where we'd drop off the cans of food. Since it was a big uphill to get there, I was looking forward to finally dropping off the extra weight. As we ran up the hill, we saw several of our teams heading back down: Richard and Chris, Jim and Becky, and Art and Robyn. But we hadn't seen them while we were at UT at the start, so we figured they might still have to do those northern points.

We found the friendly volunteers at the Mary Lee Foundation, dropped off the food cans and got our clue sheet stamped. Yay, we were much lighter now, and heading back downhill... an opportunity to finally catch my breath! As we ran, we talked with Steve about our plan for the remaining clues. Our ground support had procurred a blue sock for us which would satisfy scavenger hunt item #3. They'd also gotten neckties ready for item #6. And finally, they'd found plastic eggs in Pease park for item #12. Wow, they'd completed a third of the race for us!

So the only clues we had left to visit before finishing were #4 and #7. We were allowed to skip one for free. They were both about the same distance away, but #7 involved a rowing challenge, so would undoubtedly take longer. Well, easy decision, then! We ran west on Caesar Chavez to Stephen F. Austin High School. Along the way, we saw Marcy and John heading back to the east, and knew that if they didn't have any more points to get, they'd be uncatchable. No matter, it was time to get our picture in front of clue #4:

To the finish line! We ran back east to Lamar, then north on Lamar towards the park. Along the way we passed Waterloo Records on 6th again... whoops, I guess that means the order we chose to visit the points wasn't 100% perfect. Well, when you start running before you solve everything, it pretty much never is.

With about four blocks to go, we suddenly spotted the team of Tom and Spencer also heading north on Lamar, on the other side of the street. We briefly considered trying to outrun them, but our teams were fairly equal in speed. We didn't feel like trying to do a chaotic mad sprint to the finish against one of our own teams, so we offered them a tie deal, where we'd agree to cross the finish line all at the same time. Then Tom and Spencer told us that they were intentionally skipping BOTH of the north points on UT, and taking a 30 minute penalty. With that info, there was no need for us to cross the line together, as we wouldn't be tied anyways.

We entered the park and found our ground crew Michelle and Cathy. They had a blue sock and a plastic egg for us to satisfy our scavenger hunt items. And they were wearing neckties, something that we needed a picture of for #6, and so we quickly took this picture (including Dave's kids Nick and Logan).

And... that was that! We crossed the finish line just under 90 minutes after the race had started. We were in second place overall, as Marcy and John had indeed beaten us there. They took three buses during the race, though, so we didn't feel too bad about them being faster. I suppose we should feel a little bad about them being smarter, but we're getting quite used to that.

And then the rest of our teams started coming in. Richard and Chris won 3rd, Jason and Robert got 4th, Art and Robyn came in 5th, Spencer and Tom earned 6th (even with their half hour penalty), Jim and Becky took 8th, and Gail and Sandy got 13th. So we all made it into the top 25, and qualified for the New Orleans Championship race! Since we'd been racing against a field of 216 Austin teams, we were ecstatic with those results.

What a fun day, and a fun race! We'll see y'all in The Big Easy in November!

Back to our main Urban Clue Solving Races page