My biggest problem with being over-organized is that I'm not mentally ready for a disaster. Especially a disaster that could have been prevented. Especially after actively rejecting approximately three different actions that could have prevented it.
Luckily in this case I'm only talking about a race!
Last weekend a group of us competed in the Urban Dare race in Austin. It's a mixture of figuring out trivia questions, running around town, taking pictures, and completing dares. We had a crack clue-solving team on-line, 3 teams of 2 running around "on the ground" (me and John, Kip and Jason, and Spencer and Shawn), and 3 brave souls who agreed to be "phone contacts" for the teams.
The main differences from previous Urban Challenge races, besides having to complete dares at some checkpoints, were that we could find the clues in any order and we had to bring our own camera.
To prepare, we did some scouting on bikes, gathered names of businesses for our Austin database, scoured the web for trivia, compiled maps of the statues on UT, and inundated our crew with all sorts of information, useless and otherwise.
We decided to try taking photos of the clue sheet to send to the crew. It's always easier to work from the actual clue sheet than trying to transcribe via voice and typing and double-checking. Kip has a nice camera phone that he used, and Spencer and I decided to provide a high-quality set of photos as well. Our method involved taking a picture with my camera, moving the SD card to Spencer's phone and then emailing the photo.
On race morning we gathered our stuff together, including spare batteries for the camera, bus route info, and binoculars (John's choice). I debating bringing a spare SD card but decided not to dig it out from wherever I had stashed it. We stopped by a grocery store on the way to the start to buy water and stare at the disposable cameras on display before deciding against getting one (I've had so many left over from Urban Challenge races that I'm tired of finding a place to store them afterwards). We met up with the other racers to test the camera/phone, at which point I neglected to tell Spencer that this SD card was the only one I had and that I would need it back when he was done sending the pictures. So much for backup systems!
We met the race directors, picked up our T-shirts, used Kip's scissors in creative ways to modify the T-shirts into something we could comfortably race in (since we had to wear them), and got ready for the start. The trivia involved a huge 4-square court with A/B/C/D marked in the middle of the squares. The race director read a trivia question over the megaphone, "In downtown Austin, north-south streets are named after Texas Rivers. The east-west streets (now numbered) were originally named for: A. Texas Wildflowers B. Texas Legislators C. Texas Trees D. Texas Cities". I know the exact wording because it comes from the Frontier Town Quiz that I'd played with before the race.
We were already standing in the C square (John's pre-race guess), so we all stayed there. The race director ran over, walked through the middle of the big "C" crowd, and then told everyone on one side of her to "GO!" So we went! But the rest of the "C"s had to stay there and answer another question (weird), and we thought that was unfair so we turned around and went back. No, not really, we ran and got our clue sheet. Although I had been looking forward to hearing the next question so I could prove I did my homework.
Kip and I took photos of the clue sheet. He did a much better job of noticing which side of the page was the clues and which was just the rules. I had to take a couple extra photos to get it right. Maybe the crew needed a copy of the rules, you never know.
Clue #1: We all scream for this Austin favorite. Go to her closest location for this sweet dare.
We all jumped on this and said "Amy's Ice Cream" – right down the street. Initially we thought we'd walk there together so Kip and Spencer could start sending the photos, but then we couldn't help ourselves and we started running pell-mell. It's the spirit of competition! Or maybe we knew we'd have time once we got there because we'd have to eat ice cream. Yeah, that's what we were thinking, sure.
We ran into the store with some other racers, and a nice checkpoint volunteer lady was stamping everyone's passport. We asked for clarification and she said we could have some free ice cream if we wanted. Uh... OK, we'll just skip the ice cream. The race creator Kevin walked in to find that there wasn't actually an eating dare going on like they had planned, so he had to let everyone go without freezing our brains. Doh!
I asked Spencer for the camera chip back, and he complied but then realized it hadn't finished sending, so I had to return it to him.
Clue #2: This is the dice game that kept the British Navy busy, when they weren't too occupied with Empire building. May your aim be true on this dare.
Somewhere between reading this to the crew and jogging southward one block, our phone contact Steve had an answer (that was fast!). We took off running toward the Crown and Anchor pub. On the way we had a choppy discussion about going to the Santa Rita pump vs. going to a pub vs. who-knows-what-the-hell, but we eventually got it straight as we ran up and over a little hill and an extra block out of the way just for fun. Spencer and Shawn took the boring straight route and beat us there.
On the way over, a different team stopped to take a picture outside a fire station. I asked John for the clue sheet to try to figure out why, but he didn't want me to read while running (he knows I'm either slower that way, or more likely to run into a pole, or maybe both – he cares about me AND the race). So he took it back and tried to scan through the later clues.
Oh, and there's the pub! We ran inside to the dartboards to start the dare. One of us had to hit a bull's eye. Yikes. It was about as bad as learning shuffleboard in the Vermont Amazing Race. Except I've actually thrown darts before, so I have no excuse. Various teams came in, made bull's eyes, and left. Spencer and Shawn got out pretty quickly. Eventually John, Jason, and I were left throwing (Kip was on the phone with Steve to make sure the clues were all entered and verified). Then Jason hit one. Long story long, when I tossed a dart right next to the bull's eye wire (but outside of it), the volunteer lady took pity on me and told me that it was good enough, get out of here. So I grabbed the dart off the board right quick and we boogied.
We caught up to Kip and Jason after Jason had to go back for his phone, then ran as a group down San Jacinto, off on a tangent, down a nice little path by a creek, back onto San Jacinto (?), then finally up the steps toward the Texas Memorial Museum. Because we were heading toward...
Clue #3: Even on UT's campus, these are LARGE tracks to fill. Take your picture with this pre-historic find.
Around to the back we located some dinosaur tracks behind glass and took our picture in front of it. OK, what's next?
Clue #4: PHOTO HUNT – take a picture of SIX displays where the Texas and American flags are displayed together. Make sure you take the picture so that you can tell they are from different locations!
Clue #5: The water temperature is a cool 68 degrees year round, but that's not what you are looking for. Find the race official to complete this dare!
John started running south, with me on tow. I tried to ask him where we were going, and he gave an address of something like 2100 Barton Springs Road. I made like I had never lived in Austin before and tried to figure out whether Barton Springs Road was east or west of San Jacinto, because we were approaching the 2100 block and we need to turn – right or left? John shushed me to keep talking to Steve. Kip and Jason were running along behind us asking if we knew where we were going? I yelled back that John wasn't talking to me right now, so I have no idea! How do I get so snippy during races sometimes, gawd, I amaze myself as I write this.
Finally John turned to focus on us and we had a group chat. Number one, Barton Springs is south of the LAKE, oh, right. Two, we need to find the Texas and US flags together in different places, so we might consider getting them along the way.
That led to a long and complicated discussion about groups of six flags, no, six groups of two flags, NOT the "Six Flags Over Texas" flags, just the Texas and US flags, but in six different places with six different pictures, not just ONE photo as the grammar in the poorly written clue might lead someone to believe if they were a stickler for such things. Sigh. Maybe my Mom will side with me on this one. In any case, if you're still reading this poorly written paragraph, I'll finish it up for you – eventually we got it straight and were back on track, still running south.
In the middle of all that, we almost ran into a dead end at the back parking lot of a building, but luckily for John (who was leading us all there), there was a path beside the creek again. Nice lovely path, thanks path!
And the other side note is that I wanted to look at the clue sheet again instead of hearing the text second-hand, but John didn't have the clue sheet. It must have been left on the dart room table. Argh. Well, there are worse times for that to happen and worse things to leave behind.
You might note the multitude of tiny, tiny nit picking on my part up to this point.
You might also note that it's gonna be a while before you hear about another clue. You might want to get something to eat. Mmm, I've got some dark chocolate M&M's... and an email from Mom saying that she didn't have a problem understanding the wording of clue #4. I give up.
Anyhoo, back to the story already. Where was I? Ah yes, the lovely path. We turned east toward Guadalupe Street, a fire station with a couple of flags, and hopefully a bus. Kip and Jason continued south. John and I attained all our goals, well, sort of. After flagging down a bus (yay!), John bought 24-hour bus passes while I tried to verify that our just-snapped flag photo looked good. And the camera says... "No card"... No card? No card!! I didn't get the camera card back from Spencer! We have NO PICTURES! And no working camera!
A bunch of babbling on my part and a certain amount of faith on John's part saw us back on the sidewalk as I finally managed to explain the problem coherently. John called Spencer, but they were too far south to wait for us. I had a major conniption fit that briefly involved giving up altogether while John called Steve to give him the news.
John "The Calm" got me steered toward campus where we tracked down a disposable camera in a Dobie shop. We hoofed it back to checkpoint #3 for a second shot of the dino tracks, asking Steve to help with any possible buses from that side of UT. Then we spent several minutes going back and forth, on foot and on the phone, finally getting the Capital Metro website working for us instead of against us such that Steve could type in a location and destination and find out where and when the next bus would arrive. Success! And here's a bus! We were headed for the convention center where there were supposed to be a bunch of flags.
On the bus John got back to the task at hand, which was getting information from Steve about the next checkpoints, especially since we didn't have a clue sheet in front of us to work from. Steve mentioned something about a Sudoku puzzle that the crew had solved, and John asked if he could read him the numbers. John read the numbers aloud and I wrote them down. Midway through this process I noticed that the guy in the seat in front of us was working on a Sudoku puzzle too. Then the guy got this look on his face, like "well, thanks a lot for ruining my puzzle", and I apologized for calling off numbers into his ear.
What we didn't realize until much later was that we were solving the following clue:
Clue #8: ON YOUR WAY, find a Daily Texan newspaper from Friday, March 23, 2007. Complete the SuDoKu inside and turn it in to the race official at the gazebo just north of the Congress Street "Bat" Bridge.
The Daily Texan is the UT newspaper that this particular guy was holding, and the puzzle was the actual one that this guy was doing. So we really did ruin his puzzle – sorry sir!
John mentioned a couple of checkpoint locations to me, including the Driskill hotel as the answer to the following:
Clue #9: This haunted Austin landmark served as the finest speakeasy in town during the prohibition. Take your picture in front.
I looked out the bus window to see the words "Driskill" on a building to the left. We jumped off the bus (accidentally leaving behind John's earbud for his phone) and ran over to the hotel. The doorman kindly opened the door for our smelly butts to run inside, see nothing of use, call Steve to ask for clarification, and run back out to take our picture out front. Oh, and there were Texas and American flags flying there, cool.
We ran over to the Convention Center, got a couple more flag shots, and then started in the direction of Barton Springs Pool where clue #5 was located. John found a volunteer at the gazebo by the Congress Street bridge, but couldn't remember exactly why we were supposed to be there.
So we walked up and asked what we needed to do. She said we needed to turn in our Sudoku puzzle – ah, yes. We mentioned that we hadn't picked up our puzzle yet, and that it must be at another checkpoint (just kick us for not having a clue sheet, all right?). Another team working on the puzzle looked up and told us we needed to get yesterday's Daily Texan. Ah, OK. Will this do? I showed the volunteer the numbers I had written down. She looked at it suspiciously as she verified that they were correct. She wanted to know, "Where did you get this"? I have to admit, to go from "What do we have to do here?" to "Here's the answer" must have been fairly unbelievable. I was mostly asking, without actually asking, whether the numbers were OK by themselves without actually having the Daily Texan newspaper with them.
But instead, the volunteer was mostly stuck on the question of how we got the answer. Did we find out from a team in front of us? Well, I said, that's not illegal. Her reply: "It's not illegal to cheat?" Luckily the other team jumped in just then and said that it was legal for our phone support to get the answer for us. Great call! I followed up with "Our phone support absolutely provided these numbers to us," and the woman slowly, still suspicious, stamped our passport. I wonder what rules they will be adding to this race next year on our account.
As we ran away, I heard the other team say "The answer must be on the web somewhere – call our support crew and get them to look for it!" Hopefully they didn't waste too much time on that. What they really needed was a Sudoku-solving website...
Across the First Street Bridge, one picture of some more flags, and then down towards the next checkpoint:
Clue #7 – This native Texas blues guitarist is memorialized in bronze. Take your picture with his likeness. If the Race Director is wearing sneakers stand to his left. If not to his right. 1:00 minute time penalty for the wrong side.
John grabbed some water from the RunTex coolers while I jogged over to Stevie Ray Vaughn's likeness. He's finally a checkpoint! Steve told us to take a photo on the left side of Stevie, so we did.
More running, more towing, more passing other teams, go everybody go! Woo hoo!
Clue #6 – Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, Life is but a dream. Near the Pecan Grove, Go gently down the stream. Don't get all wet on this dare.
Huffing and puffing, I followed John over to the boat rental place below the Barton Springs pool. We dropped all our stuff, pulled on life jackets, got instructions, jumped into a canoe, paddled across the creek, avoided hitting a swimmer, touched one rock, paddled down to another rock, did a draw through a tree branch, and returned to beach the canoe. The dude said we were the fastest team so far on this dare. Cool! Small victories.
John pulled me up the hill and we ran around the pool house to find checkpoint 5. Here we had to do a wheelbarrow race around some cones. John volunteered to be the wheelbarrow and we chugged through the course. Done! John finished with a somersault, leaving his shades in the grass and not noticing they were gone until later. Man, were we ever the litterbugs. I had to keep checking that we had our 2 phones, a camera and a passport at least (gotta keep up with the important stuff).
Clue #10 – The city bears his name. Take a picture of his likeness where he watches over State matters.
Time to get up to the Capitol building at 11th Street. That's a rather long ways. How about a bus? Steve and the gang had tracked one down from Barton Springs, but we had done the dares so quickly that the bus wouldn't arrive for another half hour. We started running. Next possibility was a bus from Cesar Chavez across the river. That's better, so we headed for the Lamar bridge. Then Steve called back again, saying there was a bus in 8 minutes or so on Lamar. It was fun getting calls from Steve – each time, he had a better bus for us!
We paused to catch our breath at the bus stop as I noticed yet more Texas and American flags across the street (they're EVERYWHERE). John verified the final checkpoint locations and a couple of hippies stared at us. We all got on the bus and enjoyed the smooth, fast ride across the river and east back into town. There was a brief bus driver swap at 6th street that took 3 light changes (we could have gotten a photo at the Driskill again), but it was nice to rest.
At the Capitol, we jumped out and John towed me up the hill and inside the building. There were two white statues there, but I squinted and found the one with Stephen F. Austin's name inscribed in the base. We took a photo and then ran out the door. John took a slight detour to avoid running on the grass (ha! I never would have thought of that during a race, good man). We ran out the side gate, up a small hill, and onto Lavaca Street. I noticed another team walking toward Guadalupe Street.
Clue #11 – It's not just any old graffiti; it's a Daniel Johnston original. Don't be a drag! Take your picture here!
We were headed to "The Drag" section of Guadalupe next to the UT campus again (site of an earlier conniption). Oh look, there's that bus that Steve said would be here! Sweet. Apparently we had taken only 4 minutes from one bus to the next bus, via checkpoint 10. Steve and the gang were impressed.
We jumped off at 20th street and ran across the street. Whee! John hauled the towline so fast that I flew toward the sidewalk, between a fire hydrant and a parked car, just missing some pedestrians, and well in front of the oncoming traffic. Fun! Another block north we found our mural of a big frog croaking "Hi, How are you?" I'm doing much better now, thank you!
Clue #12 – Finish-find a hole in the wall for your most puzzling dare!
We ran another 5 blocks north to the Hole in the Wall pub. Along the way, the curious and vocal UT bystanders called out "go faster!" and "what the hell is that?" I concentrated on keeping my feet.
We ran into the pub where Jason handed us a 60-piece puzzle to complete. We knew that Jason and Kip had finished first, but that's all we wanted to hear at the moment. Time to concentrate. No thanks, I don't want any water right now. Or beer. We dumped the puzzle pieces onto a table and John assembled the edges while I put some horses together. I mumbled to myself that hopefully we had been handed the easy puzzle. It certainly didn't take too long, and we were done. Yay!
It turned out that Spencer and Shawn got a 3-minute penalty for not taking 6 separate flag photos, but they maintained second place. The 3rd place team also had the same penalty, but they barely managed to stay ahead of us. We settled for 4th out of maybe 30 teams. Wow! Hard to believe we finished in the top 5, after the troubles in the beginning.
Oh, but first we had to get our photos developed at a One-Hour photo place. No problem. Then recover our passport after Shawn accidentally took it with him. No problem, the race director had seen it already. Eventually we finally, officially, finished in 4th place. Good job everyone! Time for lunch!
We haven't done one of these races in so long and we were obviously out of practice, but by the end we were back in it! Next time we'll aim for one less disaster.