Yesterday, AO and I competed in our first-ever Great Urban Race! I think AO will admit that he was not exactly excited that I had signed us up for this scavenger hunt (our exchange went something like this, Kate: Aaron, wanna do the GUR? Aaron: The what? Kate: The GUR. Aaron: If you want. A few days go by. Kate: I signed us up! Aaron: What? Kate: I signed us up for the GUR! Aaron: You did? Ugh.), but will also admit that we had a total blast over the course of the three hours and fifteen or so minutes it took us to finish the course. Well, course is an inapt word to use because there is no course.
You see, the GUR course is not set. Well, let me back up. The race goes like this: you sign up in teams of two, you show up at the start, you get your t-shirts, you put them on (if you’re like us and can’t come up with a clever matching costume — each team has to match in some way), and at noon you get an envelope with twelve clues. You have until 5 p.m. to solve all of the clues and complete what they ask of you. You are allowed to skip one clue. You can complete them in any order you wish. You can use only your feet or a bus to get to complete each clue. Many of the clues require photographs, so a digital camera is a must. So is a smart phone, really. So are comfortable shoes.
Ok, so we arrive at the start, which was at Johnny O’s on University Avenue. What I imagine to be an underage meat market on the weekends was filled with pairs of people dressed to get there GUR on. There were cute costumes — two women dressed as chickens complete with socks to make their feet look like chicken feet — and then there were the “sexy” costumes — women in very, very short skirts and high socks. There were fun costumes — the women dressed as martini glasses, one shaken and the other stirred — and clever costumes — the couple dressed as the super heros, the Incapables. There were people like us, wearing just the race-provided t-shirts, and people who wore their previously run marathon-provided t-shirts. There was a long table set up for check-in and a very long line at one end of the table. After I finished filling out our waiver form, Aaron said, “This woman keeps telling everyone to spread out; they don’t need to be in the long line. I think we should go to one of the other volunteers at the table.” Hmm. To be fair, the table had boxes spread out along it, each with different letters on it to represent team names. For example, there was A-F, G-L, or some such system. Our name, the O’Peapods, would have been in the box at the front of the really long line. So, I was skeptical of AO’s advice to march right up to Mr. G-L, but I thought it worth a try. Mr. G-L was skeptical, too, but after learning we hadn’t yet gotten our t-shirts (how this was relevant, I have no idea), he found our race numbers and gave us shirts. We were set. And we avoided the line. AO thought this was a very good sign for our chances to successfully complete this race. I did, too.
At shortly after 12 p.m., we were given an envelope with a piece of paper containing the twelve clues. When given the signal, I tore into the envelope and we had at it! The GUR recommends you spend a few minutes solving the clues and plotting out your course. So, that we did. The first clue was easily understood: go to 1511 Willy St and donate two objects of your choice: crayons, pack of pencils, pack of pens, notebooks. We had brought with us a backpack with water, pen and paper, our camera, money and a map of Madison. I asked Aaron to put a dot on the map of the approximate location of 1511 Willy St. The next clue involved the Monona Terrace, only slightly concealed by calling it “Frank Lloyd Wright’s vision” or something. We marked it on the map. The next clue involved looking in the classifieds of the State Journal, so we immediately skipped it as it couldn’t be solved at Johnny O’s and we couldn’t mark it on our map. There was a scrambled word clue that was clearly a tattoo parlor, so instead of trying to unsolve it — which would have been futile since I don’t know the names of many of Madison’s tattoo parlors — I just googled Madison tattoo and instantly came up with Affliction Tattoo in the 1400 block of Regent Street. We marked it on the map. There was a straightforward clue: go to the zoo and get a picture with the emu. Anyway, you get the picture. There really weren’t any clues that stumped us, due largely to Aaron’s vast knowledge of misquoted lyrics (there was a clue that set forth the wrong lyric, such as “It doesn’t make a difference if we’re naked or not,” and you had to fill in the correct lyric), but we later realized we set out before we had solved all of the clues. Oops.
Anyway, we realized the race would take us as far west as the zoo and as far east as 1511 Willy St. We couldn’t skip going that far east because there was another clue at Morrison Park, nearby, so skipping the furthest east spot wouldn’t do us any good (remember, we could skip only one clue) and because we had decided to skip finding the newspaper (a clue that was going to involve some sort of pottery or other art studio), we felt we had to go to the zoo. And the zoo wasn’t that far from the tattoo parlor. Ok, so off we go. Our first stop is at Budget Bikes on Regent (the clue was math involving square roots and cosines; I got as far as knowing we were looking for a bike shop at 93- Regent Street and figured that was enough to go on). We had to take a bike tire from one side of the street and inflate it. We were told some of the tires would inflate, but some wouldn’t. Some pumps worked, some didn’t. Luckily, Aaron has a knack for picking a good tire and pump! Who knew? The guy was pretty strict on how much air the tire required, so it took a little time to get it filled to his satisfaction. After filling it, Aaron had to deflate it and put it back on the other side of the street. When done, we were given a flyer or something that we had to take as proof of completion. Off to the tattoo parlor five blocks away! This one was simple: a temporary tattoo goes on AO’s hand, we get a flyer and we’re off again. Weirdly, we had forgotten all about the zoo and were about to head to Stadium Bar (the clue had part of the bar’s logo on it), but we saw another team running west down Randall St so we remembered the emu. Almost oops. We walk to the zoo. We tried to ask the guy at the information booth where we could find the emu, but he was being monopolized by an elderly lady who insisted he map out a ‘day at the zoo’ for her. We wander around for awhile before finding the glorious animal and wait a couple of seconds before I get up the courage to ask a stranger to take a picture of us with the emu. This is a minor struggle as the bird keeps moving. Ok, click! We’re off to Stadium Bar. We walk quickly down Randall and enter the refreshingly cool bar. There are fried cheese curds at the counter and the nice cook volunteers to take a picture of me feeding Aaron the delicious treat (this was what the clue required, by the way). Done! There were a couple of other teams at the bar, poring over the classifieds of the paper, but there was one team just sitting down having a beer. I was a little confused by this because it had on been only an hour into the race, but I do not judge. In fact, I thought they might be on to something.
Now things get a little tricky. We’ve completed all four of the clues on the west side of the race, so what’s left are east and a couple of clues on the Square, as well as one at James Madison park. So, we’re a little rattled as to how we should proceed. We quickly decide we should head to the points furthest east and make our way back downtown, but transportation is a problem. The points we need to go to are over three miles away, but the bus we need isn’t going to come for almost half an hour. What to do. We decide on a different bus that will come in about ten minutes, but that will drop us off on East Johnson, requiring us to cross the Isthmus on foot. After waiting for said bus, and it not coming, we decide on a different plan. We decide we’ll walk up to the Walgreens that is in the old University Square building and buy the pens and paper we need to donate and once that is done, it’ll be only five minutes or so before the more direct bus comes. This ends up making a lot of sense and, in the end, saved us a lot of time. We go into the Walgreens to buy the supplies, thinking this will be an easy task. Well, the task is complicated by the fact that I decide to buy a piece of fruit (another clue requires us to return to the finish line with a piece of fruit other than a banana) that I think is an orange but turns out to be a grapefruit. The checker cannot handle this. Is it an orange? Is it a grapefruit? I don’t care: it’s 59 cents. Oy. Good thing we had the extra time. Finally, we get out of there and get to a bus stop where we have to wait only a few minutes before the wonderful Madison Metro pulls up for us. Lots of teams were already on the bus, which I took comfort in. We sit down and ride the bus all the way until it practically drops us off at Morrison Park. Ok, not quite, but having to run two blocks does not seem so bad at this point. Once at the park, I get a little feeling of dread. It’s clear we are now at the stage where a little humiliation is in order. This clue is run by Atlas Improv Company. Yikes. We are hooked up with a nice young woman who tells us we are each going to be given a clue to pantomime/gibberish-speak to the other person. I go first. My clue is ‘Roseanne.’ Oh Lord. I have no idea what to do, but I settle on an attempt to sing the National Anthem in gibberish. Aaron has no clue what I’m doing or why. He looks really unhappy. I mime out baseball, which leads him to guess Babe Ruth one hundred times. Nope, it’s still not Babe Ruth. I grab my armpit (I’m really not sure why — I guess I forgot about the crotch-grabbing and made it into an armpit-grab). I mime out a big stomach. I keep singing. Oh boy. The woman who is leading us is laughing pretty hard and telling Aaron, “It’s a tv show.” Babe Ruth? Hmm. Finally, the woman sweetly says, “Ok, you did such a good job, I’m going to give it to you.” I think she was just sick of me singing. Anyway, Aaron’s clue is ‘designated hitter’ and we’re done about two seconds later. We get the flyer and head to 1511 Willy and drop off our donation for the Kennedy Heights neighborhood center. We get the sticker or whatever it is we’re supposed to get and head down the construction-laden road. We need to get to Ground Zero coffee next, which is almost a mile away. We’re walking and walking and then poof! We see (ok, Aaron spotted them first) a couple of teams round a corner in front of us. What’s behind that corner? A pottery studio. Is it the ignored newspaper clue? We venture in. Why yes! We are directed to make a “pinch pot,” which is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. We take some clay and finger-form it into a horrible looking little “pot.” Done and done. Wow! Now we can skip James Madison, which is the most inconvenient of the clues we have left. It turns out that it would have been better to skip the zoo, but we didn’t know we’d stumble upon the pottery studio. It’s probably all for the best as that emu was cute and James Madison, we heard, involved volleyball.
With high spirits, we head into Ground Zero and are directed to the back of the coffee shop. This challenge looks rough. We need to stand behind a line and throw coffee beans into a cup. The cups, though, have lids on them with small holes cut out of the top. Lucky for me, I have super Aaron and he soon lands a bean in a cup. We get our sticker and are about to leave when Aaron spots a nice-looking older gentleman with a mustache. Why am I telling you this, you ask? Well, because the same clue that requires us to have a grapefruit/orange, requires us to have a pic of us with a mustachioed-man. It’s a tic-tac-toe clue in which we have to complete three of the nine choices in some sort of tic-tac-toe order. The third square for us will be a pic of us throwing a penny into a fountain. We plan to go to Monona Terrace for this one because our route is taking us there anyway. The kind man with the ‘stache agrees to our request, telling us its not the first time today he’s been asked for a photograph. Click! And we’re off!
We walk along the bike path because the next clue tells us to meet at the bottom of the bike elevator of the Monona Terrace. Once there, we are directed to blow one ping pong ball floating in a cup of water to another cup filled with water. We both have to do this. I thought this really may be impossible, but it turns out this is a good challenge for me. I finish it on my second try. Aaron, on the other hand, is blowing ridiculously hard and the ball keeps flying all over the place. He also blew about half of the water in his cup onto the table. Zoinks. A couple who has gathered to watch is quite amused. After a few minutes, though, he’s got it and we’re given the requisite flyer. We have to have our picture taken with the ping pong balls so once that’s done, we’re again on our way. We try to get to the rooftop to get a picture with the fountain, but it’s closed for a wedding. Drat. (By the way, that looks like a nice place for an outdoor wedding if anyone’s looking for a venue.) We move on. The last clue we need to finish is getting our picture taken with the Children’s Museum’s log cabin in the background (this was a metaphor clue: crab is to shell as a million other things are to what they live in as Abe Lincoln is to _ _ _/ _ _ _ _ _ . Kudos to AO for solving it so quickly). We know there are fountains on the Square, but we’re not sure whether they’ll have water in them or whether this even matters to the GUR. We cross the Square, find a working fountain, get our picture taken and head to the log cabin. Another team is pretty much in lock-step with us so we take their pic and they take ours. And we’re done! Wow. We make our way to the finish line around 3:15. I had just hoped we would finish, so I was pretty pleased with our time. The top team probably finished in an hour and a half or something ridiculous, but I don’t really care. I mean, good for them, but we had a really good time and I’m proud of us. We mostly walked the course at a brisk pace, but sometimes we slowed down and sometimes we ran. By my calculations, we walked just over 6.2 miles, or a healthy 10k. Hooray!
In sum, we had a really great Saturday. It was a fun way to spend the day and a fun thing to be part of. Most of the other teams were super nice and having beers with them afterwards was a treat. I highly recommend the Great Urban Race. GUR, cheers to you!