Urban Challenge
July 19th, 2003 $150 team
12 checkpoints, distance unknown

5:03 - 3 minutes outside the window.

After adventure racing came along for those bored with running or triathlons, here comes a slate of even more offbeat stuff, mostly geared to the day length or less. You have Muddy Buddy, and in its second year, the Urban Challenge. It's basically a footrace treasure hunt that allows the [green] use of mass transit. Will it take off? Hard to tell. It looks like our race in SF fielded slightly more than half the max they were willing to accommodate. All of the people we knew found it enjoyable enough to try it again, so we'll see how it pans out.

Check-in is morning of and moderately difficult. We might have waited 15 minutes in a line at which point we proferred the all important waiver, and then got our race numbers (one on someone's front, one on someone's back for visibility) and our digital camera. I also brought my elph as a spare. The Kodak camera was a very basic model, and an extremely slow witted one. Switching it on, or from photo mode to review mode involved a significant pause, though not one that seemed to matter in the field.

The race "began" with a trivial quiz of 30 questions. These were shown on large screen TVs on the walls, and we had perhaps 20 seconds per item before it was replaced by the next question. Despite "Superior Intellect" and a review of all the prior quizes, we crashed and burned badly on this om getting perhaps 50%. Later we heard that the first 20 were the primary score, and the next 10 tiebreakers. (We think we did better on the latter group) In any event, we were not among the first groups of teams released on the course. It's not quite right to say they got a headstart for being smart. The 5 hour limit started with group 1. It was more accurate to say we were penalized for being morons. We left with group 10 of 11, meaning we were released at the 27 minute point. At that moment we got our checkpoint list.

There were 12 checkpoints and we were to start at 2, work up to 12, then do #1 and hightail it back to Gillians. If we could find and get a picture with the designated skip woman, we could bypass any checkpoint. Looking it over, it was not a pretty sight. Only #5, #6, and #11 were obvious to us. Some weren't even close, including our first one, #2. Fortunately we had arranged for Chris to be on standby with the computer. It would be virtually impossible to finish without such help.

Checkpoint 2: Of Socks, Slacks, or Shoes? Checkpoint 2 shares its name with a variety of Pyrus communis. Find this restaurant north of Market within a mile of Union Square.

We first wandered over and chased a particularly intent looking couple, but the trail went cool. We actually passed quite close to the target. So we called Chris and set him on that name, which turned out to be latin (duh!) and translated to common pear. So we searched in vain for places with Pear in the name. Then we reread that it was a variety of pear, so we had Chris look up all the different names (Bartlett, Asian?). Anjou was early in the list and that is the restaurant, in a alley off Union Square. Later in the day we heard many teams had gone to Perry's (not sure how spelled) and were effectively out of the running.

Checkpoint 3: That Guy Owes Me Money! Unscramble the words below to form the name of Checkpoint 3. Find it northwest of Union Square. Ed Youth becomes one 7 letter name.

Checkpoint 3 just plain sucked. Very nasty. We went to the northwest corner of the plaza and just started scouting the street. We covered the two streets north, and worked our way west. Further north was residential, or so we presumed. The hill hid the target well. After we had gone too far, we went up another couple blocks and started backtracking when we came upon a liquor store called Hydeout, on Hyde Street. Personally I felt the clue was a bad one - hideout is remotely right for the clue, but misspelled. We spent nearly an hour on these 2 clues, and of course gave up 27 minutes from the start. Not good progress. But the next 3 went well...

Checkpoint 4: Can You See the Truth? Checkpoint 4 is an organizational symbol surrounded by red brick in the Civic Center area. This organization shares the same purpose as the beauty pageant contestants in "Miss Congeneality."

We got pretty lucky on this one, or the course was just designed to make this one easy. We ran down Hyde to Civic Center, saw teams veer let into a red brick plaza, and there it was, a 6' diameter white something on the ground. It was for the UN, in front of the Federal Building. From the movie reference, I thought it was something related to scholarship, but what does every contestant want? World Peace.

Checkpoint 5: They're Geoff Yaw's Favorite! Checkpoint 5 shares its name with a variety of Pepperidge Farm cookies. Find this hotel within a half mile of race headquarters.

A no brainer, and even on the tourist maps. Hotel Milano is on 5th, just down from Market. Even better, we stumbled onto the Skip Chick as we returned to the main street. Great spot by Melinda - there were hordes of people outside the City Shopping Center on this bright summer day.

Checkpoint 6: You Go, Girl! Checkpoint 6 is a memorial to the person who is credited with rallying the good people of San Francisco in the 40s to save the cable cars. Find the memorial on the Barbary Coast Trail near the American birthplace of Irish Coffee.

Melinda knew this was in the vicinity of the cable car station at the Aquatic Park/Ghiradelli Sq. We just had to get there. I had pretty much expect this run to be on the course and had talked with others about how to get on this popular cable car run from Powell St. Getting on at the endpoint was out of the question, but others felt it was simple just to go down a couple streets and board. WRONG! Not a chance. People were at every one past Union Square. After failing to board, we made a bathroom stop at a hotel, and then moved further up, hoping people would get off for Chinatown. A car came by that could have accommodated us had the driver stopped - he declined to do so. So on to plan b - we had already gotten near the top of the hill at California and we rode that cable car to Van Ness. Then jumped on the 47 which took us within a block of the park. (Well, 3 since I got us off one stop early). We probably would have been best off taking muni to civic center and boarding that bus. At the cable car station we were having a little trouble finding the mark, but the tourists in line had seen many of us come and they pointed it out.

Checkpoint 7: Use the Force... A certain series of seven alpha numeric characters always appears in movies by George Lucas. Checkpoint 7 is the establishment on Fisherman's Wharf at the address that corresponds to the last numeric character in that series.

I pretty much knew this - THX-1038. I called Chris and he corrected me - it was 1138. So we went towards the center of the wharf tourist area looking for 1138. However, the street numbers seem way off, then we reread that it was merely 8. #3 is one of the crab shacks at the center, eventually we craned our heads high enough to see the giant #8 for Alioto's.

Checkpoint 8: Busting out the patented wacky equation!
The blank in _____ in America or ________ Highway
To establish and organize something for the future, esp an institution
equals Checkpoint 8. Find this saloon in North Beach.

We had nothing on this one, other than to look up all the bars. Melinda thought we might just cruise one bar zone, though it turned out the target wouldn't have been in that group. Ultimately we decided to use our skip option as time was dwindling. It had been our hope to skip #1 at the end since 10-12 were near Golden Gate Park, but this one seemed harder. Later we heard that it was the Lost & Found bar.

Checkpoint 9: Forget it, it's Chinatown. Find the Chinatown establishment tht shares its name with the major work of an author who lost his head for asserting that the English Parliament did not have the right to usurp papal authority in favor of the king.

Another extremely hard one, even for Chris with the computer. He quickly determined it was Thomas Moore who was beheaded. Next that Eutopia was his best known work. But he found multiple hits, one just south for Chinatown, then a clothing store, and last the Eutopia Cafe in the heart of Chinatown, but mind you in a quiet alley. We knew the location 2 checkpoints earlier so it was part of our decision to skip 8. We took the Stockton bus from the Wharf area, fought the incredible crowds, and got some guys standing out front to take our picture.

Checkpoint 10: Cast of Hogan's Heroes? Checkpoint 10 is an establishment in the Haight area. HINT: Elijah Price, Max Cady, Noah Cross. Get your photo with the signage cuz it's checkpoint 10.

Another hard one for Chris, but he did much better than the group we ran into on the N line out. They thought it was the Red Vic, as these were all actors. Too simplistic. Chris came of with Villian's Vault, as these were all bad guys. Someone on the train furthered the notion by saying it was a play against Heroes, and something about Hogan's group hiding their goodies in a vault. Good thing he was precise in the name - we found 2 other Villians across the street.

Checkpoint 11: En Guard! True or False, in fencing, the epee is heavier than the foil? If true, then the Cervantes Bust is Checkpoint 11. If false, then the Beethoven bust is checkpoint 11. Find them both near the California Academy of Sciences.

So it was a moderate dash from the Haight. We were midly sure the answer was true (Melinda's recent fencing lessons did not actually include this info!) and Chris confirmed it. Once at the plaza, it was a matter of finding the statue and getting the picture.

Checkpoint 12: Light the Fire ... find a latern from the garden of the Seasons in or near the Takamine Garden at the Strybing Arboretum. Get a photo with is cuz it's checkpoint 12.

Another dash...Melinda was getting punished today, esp given the poor shoe choice. Finding the Takamine Garden was easy, but the Botannical Garden isn't one to over signnage the place. We couldn't find a garden of Seasons and actually ran right by the target. It was a stone latern at ground level, not an elevated Asian lantern as I guessed from the clue. And the Seasons referred to people, not the annual quarters. Now we just needed to hightail it back downtown for the last checkpoint. We ran 2 blocks to 9th and Irving and waited [too long] for the N line again.

Checkpoint 1: Is it Accredited? Find the University of Wisdom in bronze in the financial district.

I had thought it might be one of the college satillite offices downtown, but we had plenty of time to get info from others. All said it was on Battery, and not too hard from the race start. First part was right, second not quite. It was Battery, 4 blocks from Market, a statue on the steps of a building.

We had about 8 minutes to make it back to Gillian's. Our plan was to dash to Mission and ride the 14 to 4th. The bus came quickly, but a man in a wheelchair also boarded and the lift took time. We jumped out at 3rd to avoid the crowds and come around on Howard, but ended up being 3 minutes over the official close. We turned in our numbers and camera, had our pictures validated, got the medals and goodie bags. As it turned out everyone got the medals, successful in course or time or not. Guiness time!

While in some other cities people placed as high as second just strolling, or finished in 90 minutes, there was no way that could work for this course. It would have been nice to start with #4 or 5, but still would have been hard to do the course that much quicker - still would be been about 4 hours out there for us and we didn't make that many bad moves. The race is not joke. Lots of running on hard concrete. Now will it make you love mass transit? Probably not - Melinda hates it as much as ever, thanks to the cable car driver and the bus driver that didn't wait for us.