Kip recently returned to Texas so we could qualify for the Great Urban Race international championships in Vancouver this year. We had a fun time, and managed to win the Austin race. Two weeks later I needed to be out in the Bay area for work, so we decided to race in a brand new city (for us). San Francisco has historically drawn lots of teams for these events, and naturally there's an advantage for those who know the area well. I think locals have an even larger advantage than usual in San Francisco due to the very steep hills... locals tend to know ways to avoid some of them! We were racing for fun, so placement did not really matter much to us, but we guessed we could probably manage to finish in the top ten.
As we showed up to sign in, our dreams of an easy top ten rapidly faded. Oh look, there are the Narwhales. And hey, there are the Tweedles, and Taintastic, and Finnsters (last year's San Francisco champions), and wait, that guy over there is wearing a NADS shirt! To our surprise, many of the top urban racing teams from around the country decided that San Francisco would be a good place to race. Not quite what we had anticipated, but it was nice to see all these teams that we've gotten to know over the last few years. The starting room for pre-race was completely packed. During clue handout, we actually had a tough time getting a clue sheet, but we finally got one as they said go.
The start for us was a bit different than normal as usually my wife Michelle is there to help us get our clue sheets sent off to our crew back home. But since she did not make this trip, it was left to Kip and me to handle that task (and we had no other Austin MOB teams or ground support, which made us more lonely than usual). Quickly enough we got our clue sheets sent off and we started heading northward even though we hadn't solved anything yet (we tend to gamble on some sort of initial direction to start moving, and usually it works out. Usually!).
As we headed north, we caught sight of the NADS about a half block ahead of us. They were really running, so it seemed likely that they'd already figured out a destination, so we figured we'd follow them for a bit. This is actually a very unusual strategy for us... we much prefer to race our own race and ignore what other teams are doing, since we trust our clue solving crew over anyone else's. But since we didn't know anything about San Francisco and we hadn't been able to solve any of the clues on the spot just by looking at them, well...
The streets were quite crowded and those NADS can really run fast... much faster than Kip and I, so by a block later we had lost sight of them. So much for our plan of following them to victory (or second place). At least we were able to start completing one of our tic-tac-toe clues as we got a picture of a street sign with four vowels in it: Valencia Street.
Next we were able to get a picture of my twin in this mural. Take your pick at which one is the twin, the guys look identical to me.
Our master navigator on the phone (Chris) told us to keep heading north to a checkpoint our crew had solved. It was quite a few blocks to get there so we started running. About three quarters of the way there we spotted the NADS again (surprise!), on the opposite side of the very busy street. We thought it was odd they were on the other side, as according to our destination address our CP would be on our side, so we kept an eye on them, in case they had solved another CP that we hadn't yet. We finally arrived at the address for our first CP, except that the address didn't seem to exist... Uh oh.
We quickly regrouped (and by then we'd once again lost sight of the NADS... we sure aren't very good at keeping an eye on other teams!). Chris said our solution for the first CP was likely wrong, so he told us to turn around and run back the way we came. We never complain when this sort of thing happens, as it's a natural consequence of our aggressive strategy of immediately taking off before anything is solved. Oh well, at least our backtracking was downhill!
Suddenly I hear the NADS saying “passing on your left” as they run past us like a couple of gazelles... Man those guys can run! Kip and I tried to instill competitive fear in them as they ran past by suggesting out loud that we'd already found ten checkpoints, but they somehow saw through that dubious story and were unfazed by our psychological ploy. Now we wondered if the NADS had found a CP at that far end location that we both just ran to. As it turns out, they had missolved a different clue, and it misplotted very near the same location as our misplotted clue... what are the odds? This type of rookie mistake would be embarrassing if both of our teams were previous Great Urban Race National Champions, or something. Anyways, both of our (elite!) teams had gotten started with an unnecessary detour to nowhere.
The NADS finally slowed down just a bit and we scooted past them just as we approached our first correctly solved location: A little food trailer park where we had to show off our Karaoke skills. The NADS were truly impressed by our singing abilities as they arrived just after us, so they had the pleasure of being our audience while waiting for us to finish. If anything can instill fear in another team, it's having to listen to Kip and me sing (or watch us dance... but it turns out that we skipped the dancing checkpoint this race). Being subjected to our retched performance undoubtedly threw the NADS off their game. They may just retire from racing altogether so they never have to be subjected to that sort of inhumane treatment again.
Out of there! Chris directed us to our next location, which was a fabric store, except we didn't pay enough attention to the address so we accidentally passed it up by a block and had to turn around and backtrack. Here, we were given a fabric swatch and were told to search the store for the matching bolt of fabric, then get a picture of it. Well, this was difficult for us as I am very colorblind, and Kip is fashion blind. We entered the store and OMG, there were rooms and rooms of fabric. We were about to plan a divide-and-conquer strategy to search the store, but then immediately got extremely lucky and found it in almost the first place we looked. As we were leaving, the NADS were coming in fresh off their musical performance. High fives with the friendly competition and we were out of there.
Chris had us off and running in another direction. The tic-tac-toe clues are almost impossible for our crew at home to help us with, so we constantly try to get as many of those as possible. We knew we needed a picture with an animal other than a dog. Kip spotted an animal shelter along the route, so we ran inside and tried to calmly explain what we needed. Folks we encounter during the race are generally either appalled by us sweaty guys, or super willing to help. This was a super willing to help kind of guy. He teamed us up with another super helpful volunteer who wanted us to hold the perfect cat. We quickly explained that we scare most animals, so we were able to snap this picture through a window.
Back on course we arrived at the next location, where we had to play a "Newlywed Game" where we had to guess how we would answer questions. The volunteer read us questions like “what is your teammate's favorite color”. We had to get five of the same answers to move on. Well, we sucked at this, but after several rounds, we finally got it and were out of there. The Nads were ahead of us, and I think they must have gotten their questions five for five as they were done much faster than Kip and me!
Chris had us moving again, towards Blowfish Sushi. Uh oh, Dave really does not want to eat sushi, but luckily Kip volunteered. Even more fortunate, it turned out that we did not have to eat any sushi at all. We were to blow up a balloon, then use it to blow cups off a table. Kip took the first shot at it and he did not get them all, so I did the second try and was able to complete the task. We grabbed our picture and were on our way.
Our next destination was the Pig and Pie, which was the Saint Jude's donation location. We had to take our picture signing the banner, and then post it on Twitter. Fortunately (from our perspective), this was the only social media that we'd have to do on-the-fly at this race, which was a welcome relief from having to deal with four different smartphone apps at the previous event in Austin.
Next we were on our way to a pub that specializes in Sausages. Here we had to taste a few pieces of sausage and then guess what types they were. There were 3: truffle, beer and wild boar. We got it wrong so had to try a couple more times until we determined the correct matchup. Once we got it right, the volunteer stamped our sheet and we were off. We hadn't seen the NADS in a while so we figured they had come and gone or we were on a different route now.
Our next location was a Bed and Breakfast where a feathery challenge awaited us in the back courtyard. Here we had to wait in line for a few teams ahead of us to complete the challenge. It is sure tough to stand and wait at times. I know we make other teams nervous as we are usually racing to try and finish in the top, and other teams are often more out to enjoy the day.
Once it was our turn, we had to waft a feather across a small courtyard and up some stairs to complete the task. We could not touch the feather. Actually this was pretty tough, especially since there was a bit of a downdraft type breeze blowing the opposite direction. We got it completed after a few tries, using the clue sheet to fan the feather along. We got our picture (with a nice volunteer) and we were out of there.
Next we were off to another location. Our route to this one went over the largest hill of the day for us. It was so steep we just walked up it, and didn't bother trying to run it. This is where local knowledge would have been handy, as it seemed likely that a parallel route could have avoided this Everest-sized hill. I think Chris was just getting back at us for whining all the time. At the next clue, we had to hold a couple of strings and successfully roll a knitting needle from one side to the other. It took us two or three tries, but we got it quick enough.
Chris directed us to the next location. Here, I was immediately blindfolded with some sort of mask. Kip was then to direct me to complete a task, except he was told he could not tell me exactly what I was trying to do.... Odd. The task was to fold up a takeout box. Once I felt the item for a few seconds it was easy to tell what I had to do, so I required very little instruction from Kip, except I folded it inside-out the first time, so I had to start over. This task went pretty quick and Kip gave me some good direction on how to get the flaps interlocked. I was a little bummed at the end of this challenge, as this was a bakery yet we got no free sweets!
We had been searching pretty hard for most of the race to try and complete our tic-tac-toe grid. We figured that the easiest way to do this would be to get a picture of a "50% off" or "half off" sign in a store. However apparently there are no sales in San Francisco as we had yet to see any sales signs along our entire route! As we approached our last location, we finally got lucky. We ran past a GNC store, which always have things 50% off (or much more), so we were able to complete our tic-tac-toe with this picture
One clue left upstairs at the Lookout bar. We were told we had to toss some rings, and once we got a ring around a bottle we would be done. Kip picked up a ring and got it on his first toss. Go, Kip! We got our last picture and headed back down the stairs.
Chris told us that now all we had to do was run the 6-7 blocks back to the finish line. Well, at least it was mostly all downhill. As we crossed the line, we saw the Finnsters crossing just in front of us. Once inside we saw the Tweedles were also already there to greet us, and tell us we were the 3rd team back. Off to camera check we went. All of our pictures checked out good so we locked up 3rd place.
As expected all the other experienced top teams filed in shortly after. The NADS kind of lazily crossed the finish line, which seemed a bit odd. Well, it turns out they lost their clue sheet on the course, and the penalty for that is disqualification. Kip and I know how this feels as we did the same thing after crossing the line first in the National Championships in 2010!
It was a very fun time running around a new city and even more fun was seeing all these great teams out in San Francisco when we did not expect it. I'm sure we'll see them all again in Vancouver in August.