On race morning I almost publicly declared that this was the race where we would actually use public transportation. The distance from Little Woodrows in Rice Village (the start/finish) and downtown Houston (certainly a race destination) was over 4 miles, and there was no way we were going to outrun the MetroRail trains that came every 12-or-so minutes. We decided that as soon as we knew we were going downtown, we were running toward the train stop and heading that way.
Before the race started, we got that confirmation. The race director arranged for some REV Houston electric cars to be available for teams to use, if we happened to see them while running around downtown. We could hop in, direct the driver exactly where to go, then get out - but we couldn't use the car for more than one consecutive checkpoint. How cool is this concept?
The race began with the same type of trivia question banner that Kip and Dave saw in Dallas. The question this time was "What was Beyonce Knowles' debut solo album?" While relaying this to Sheila over the phone, we started ambling toward one of the locations that we knew, Miss Saigon. Nothing there. Sheila came back with the answer, "Dangerously in Love" and John thought he remembered that corresponded to El Meson. I knew where that was, so we ran over there. Still nothing. Oops. This was our shining moment of the day.
So we went back across the street to the start (nothing was too far away), got the actual location ("Blue Hand") and I knew where that was too, so finally we could run for real. Dave came with us, snapped photos of the clue sheets, and we charged down University Ave to start the long run toward the train stop.
I should mention that the weather was not ideal. It was cold, maybe 40's or low 50's, but more important it was raining. I know this because from the minute we were handed the clue sheets, I had to work to keep them reasonably dry and readable. Not an easy task. Off we went, dodging puddles on the jogging track around Rice University.
A mile later we found the train stop, dug out our Q-cards, and hopped on the next train with one other team. Those two guys jumped on the first car, so we got on the second one which allowed each team to talk as loudly as we wanted without worrying about giving secrets away. Not that you could hear much over the automated MetroVoice, "Next stop, Memorial Hermann Hospital Houston Zoo, doors open on the left", (repeat in Spanish), beep beep beep... (repeat 2 minutes later)
We sifted through the CP's and discussed locations with Sheila as the crew came up with answers for us. There were 5 downtown checkpoints, and CP2 was giving them some difficulty:
I reviewed some possible searches with Sheila, who came up with "Jefe" as a bar on Main Street with a Spanish name. It only took a couple minutes for everyone to agree that it was right, since "El Jefe" means "The Boss". Awesome, now we could map out our downtown route. Nice job, Sheila!
I happened to look up right before the Bell Street stop, and I saw two of the electric cars sitting nearby. John, is it worth taking one of those? Of course, John replies, so we quickly jumped off the train and followed the other team who had also seen the cars. We each jumped into one and the driver took off. Cool!
We were hoping to head west, but the street was one-way to the east, so we changed our minds and decided to aim for the easternmost point instead, but then we saw a roadblock and I remembered that the St Patrick's Day parade was still going on in this area, yikes!, so let's go west instead. Phew!
John took over the electric car nav (although not the driving!) and I chatted with Sheila. We arrived at Texas Street and hopped out (thank you, driver!).
John spotted the RocBar and snapped our photo:
We spotted the same two guys running away from RocBar. They didn't appear to be runners, until they started running. Then it was clear that we had some competition. We ran with them to Market Square Park and searched the photos on the benches to find a particular one.
We started by scanning quickly, which didn't work, so we restarted and checked each photo carefully. John got it finally:
The other team took their picture after us, but made it out of the park first while we fumbled slightly with which exact direction to head for the next CP.
Soon enough we were all aiming our cameras at the answer.
From there we had planned to head east toward Minute Maid Park, where we would find the answer to CP6:
However, the other team disappeared south, causing me to question whether they were skipping CP6. Checking the map, it was by far the furthest out of the way, and I decided that I didn't want to lose the race because we skipped the wrong point. We made a snap judgement to skip CP6, turned around, and ran back to Main Street toward CP2.
Side note: The other team actually DID visit CP6 and skipped CP1 in Hermann Park instead. They were just running south, possibly going for CP2 next, and we didn't know all this until we talked with them later. It ended up working out well for us, because I still think CP6 is the one to skip.
Anyway, as John was taking several shots of us in front of the Jefe Bar in order to get a good one (I'm sure it was just the rain making things difficult), the next train was heading toward us. Come on John, we can't miss this train! Finally we got an acceptable photo, ran over and scanned our Q-cards, and hopped on board just in time. Phew!
Back on the train we had time to plot our next move. Sheila told us to get off at the Ensemble stop for the following checkpoint:
At the same time, we needed to start looking for places where we could get pictures of us with different kinds of rice:
There was supposed to be an Asian market near CP10. We got off the train and got our photo at the Continental Club first:
Then we ran along Alabama trying to find the market. We tried a couple convenient stores but didn't see any rice on the shelves, and we didn't find a market. Back toward the train stop, I walked into "Tacos A-Go-Go" and asked for some rice. Not to buy, but so we could take a picture of it, like a scavenger hunt. Okaaaay, said the lady, but she was happy to comply. She was real curious about why we had to be in the photo too...
Back outside, we waited a bit more and finally the next train showed up. It was really odd having time to talk strategy in between every few CP's. Usually we're just running and running and hoping everything would work out. Sheila told us that Dave had bought 3 boxes of rice and would have it for us at the finish line. Sweet!
We jumped off the train one last time and headed toward the playscape at the southwest end of Hermann Park. John spotted some rocking animals that fit the first BONUS clue:
There was nobody around in the park except one other team of 2 girls. Luckily they were perfectly happy taking our picture, and they didn't even mention that it looked rather suggestive:
We never did find one single person walking around in the rain wearing a Houston sports team jersey for the second BONUS clue:
We glanced up from the rocking horse to see a big jungle gym in the shape of a ship:
The girls continued to be really sweet by taking a second photo of us:
We ran back across the street and entered the Rice University campus, aiming for CP9:
I had a pretty good idea of its location, and Sheila verified our running directions. Another team was there and they offered to take our picture.
John stayed to take a picture for them while I continued running toward Rice Village. I could hear him chatting with them "Hey, you're from Austin (they were wearing Longhorns clothing) - we are too!" so I told John he better start moving because I was running away from him. Really fast (ha ha!). Right, he says, like he's at all concerned about catching up to me. Sure enough, a couple minutes later he came splashing by and we got back on tow.
Back on University Ave again, we encountered much larger puddles than we had dodged just 80 minutes earlier. We actually had to get our feet wet this time - oh yeah, they were really wet already, never mind. I guess it was RAINING or something!
One more checkpoint - we dodged a couple pedestrians and cars (not too wet for shopping!) and found the answer to this CP on Amherst St:
One more short run, through a parking garage, there's Dave - the Rice Man Cometh!
We ran into Little Woodrow's and learned we were the first team to arrive. Nine minutes (the max additional bonus time another team could have) and one photo verification session later, we were declared the winners. Yay!
Second place was the team of two guys from downtown, 25 minutes after us.
Congratulations to our friends Jason and Lee who landed in fifth place - y'all did great!
Props to our friends and crew for another fine urban racing session. Looking forward to the High Trek Adventure finals in Vegas, baby, Vegas!
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