Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Great Urban Race

Everyone has a vice or two. We are human, after all. I, unfortunately, have a few, but definitely the least constructive and the most time consuming has got to be my ardent addiction to reality television. Biggest Loser, Top Chef, Survivor, Hell's Kitchen, Bachelor Pad, Rachel Zoe, Project Runway . . . you name it, I'll watch it. My boob tube addiction covers a wide array of trash, but I’m proud to say the best and least trashy reality show (according to the Emmy voters) is by far my favorite: The Amazing Race. If you haven’t watched it and you don’t know what it’s about, a) you are potentially the least pop-culturally aware person on the planet and b) I’m not going to tell you about it because you HAVE to go watch it on Hulu. Either way, my faithful partner in all things blog, Erin, and I had a chance to pretend (pretty believeably) to be on my favorite reality show and it was exhilarating!

Here’s how it worked. First, we signed up online to be a part of a relatively new phenomenon that’s sweeping the country called The Great Urban Race ( In my opinion, the race, basically, is a win/win situation. You pay to join the race and can raise additional funds from sponsorship to participate in a fun day of competition and adventure, but part of the money goes to the St Jude’s Children’s research hospital. Fun for charity. For the shameless competitors in all of us, though, the Great Urban Race is also billed as “the ultimate scavenger hunt”, takes place in over 20 cities nationwide, and culminates in a national championship in Las Vegas with a prize of $10,000 going to the winners. Like I said, win/win.Teams of two solve twelve clues that lead them around their respective cities to various locales to perform various tasks and then race back to the finish line. Just like Amazing Race (!) except for two fabulous differences. 1) Teams can use electronic devices (GPS, internet, iPhones, etc) and can call friends for help and 2) Teams are encouraged to “dress up”. Yes, there is a prize for the best costume at the end of the race. It could not get more fun. Erin and I excitedly picked our team name “The Trinas”, donned tutus, leotards, buns, and sneakers, printed up maps of lower Manhattan, and trekked over to the starting line at the Boat Basin CafĂ©.

We walked into mayhem. It was like a circus, a marathon, and Halloween in one outdoor restaurant. We started out in search of the registration table and ran into two Bananas in Pajamas calmly dining on chicken fingers and Corona. Really? Yes, really. And these dudes didn’t even win the costume contest. We got our race numbers, met our buddies (the Sexy Savages) and settled in to check out the scenery. Mario, Luigi, Yoshi, and Princess Peach strolled by apparently going over their game plan. Two ninjas searched for safety pins to attach their race numbers. And, our favorites and the winners of the costume contest, two Robin Hoods in their early 30’s posed for a picture with a pair of Vikings. This, alone, was worth the price of admission.

But, I digress. Erin and I were on a mission. We were going to kick all of these peoples’ extravagantly costumed popotins. We may have looked sweet, but we were not kidding around. With Bomboy’s knowledge of the city and my strategically placed cohorts in the theatre district, we were sure we would win this competition. We were handed our sealed clues, a horn sounded, and we were off, leaving the munching fruit in the dust! We had twelve clues that we could solve in any order and we could skip one. The plan was to sprint to the nearest subway and to solve the clues on the way to Columbus Circle. Just so you can get an idea, here are a few clues:

2) Ahoy Matey! Translate the numeral pennants below to decipher the three digit address, on West 54th Street, for your next challenge. Make your way upstairs and using the supplies available, recreate the “king of knots.” Once completed, you must receive a stamp on this clue sheet from the GUR staff as proof of completion. NOTE: You must UNTIE the knot prior to leaving the clue site.

5) Head to the 15,000 square foot sweet shop in Manhattan that was founded by the daughter of a world renowned fashion designer. As proof of completion, locate their iconic bunny statue and take ONE picture including ALL teammates posing the action of the following French verb to each other: oreilles de lapin.

7) Solve the word scramble below to discover the name of this gastropub near the Theatre District: K R C D R A I B Y. Make your way to the back of the pub where a flight of cold brews will be awaiting you. Using sight and smell, determine which of the two brews listed below are NOT included in the flight.

9) Make your way to Chelsea Piers Bluestreak. Head up the flights of stairs to the track. Upon arrival, one teammate must run the length of the 200 meter track while one teammate climbs the rock wall. Take a picture of one teammate with at least one hand and one foot clearly visible on the climbing holds as proof of completion.

We did 11 of these suckers. And they were SO much fun! The trick to the race (we know now) is solving all of the clues and planning strategically how to best complete them all with minimal travel time, as we were not allowed to use anything except public transportation and our own two legs. Meaning . . . we pretty much ran for three hours. In tutus. As we sprinted around the island, we ran into other teams, equally as ridiculous-looking, and generally a high five or a clue was passed amongst us. We ran, giggling, from Rickshaw’s where we shared a chocolate dumpling, toward the magic shop where we took a picture with a deli case of fake severed limbs. The best and most ingenious part of the race was that pictures were required as completion for most tasks. We would have proof of our tasks, but we would also have tons of pictures of the crazy things we did to show our friends afterward! Take a picture with a skateboarder, shake a dog’s hand, read a grocery list in Braille, buy a coloring book for underprivileged kids. We were on a roll. We were going to win this race!

Until . . . the last clue. A picture of a clock. That’s it. “Find this clock and take a picture in front of it”. It looked slightly familiar . . . We decided to ask a stranger. An intelligent-looking woman in a suit said very confidently, “Oh, that’s Rockefeller Center”. OH! Of course it was! We ran about a half mile to where we thought the clock was. Nada. We asked a woman at the information booth at Rockefeller center. “Oh, no. Another team was already here. That’s the Chrysler building.” Duh. Of course, it was. Look at that art deco statue. We ran from Rockefeller Center to the Chrysler Building. Nope. Not there either.We saw another misguided team. “No luck?”. Nope. We dragged our leotard-clad bums to the nearest subway to regroup. We had lost our lead. Stupid New Yorker liars. I took a chance and asked a few people in the subway. One older lady leaned over and nonchalantly sighed, “That’s the Fuller building. 41 East 57th street. I used to work there”. Cha ching! We hopped off and speed walked (no more running – by then, we both had major blisters) to the clock, took a picture, and boarded a bus toward the finish line. On our way back, we saw a couple confusedly searching 41 WEST 57th street. At a stoplight, I knocked on the bus window, got their attention, and mouthed “WEST” while pointing back. They smiled, waved, and dashed toward their clue.

It’s not very often that one can feel genuinely connected to a group of strangers. Particularly in New York. The Great Urban Race is one of those rare occasions. We all had gone through the same, if you will, Amazing Race, and we were happy to share our war stories and victories with the other teams. As we crossed the finish line, we knew that we had not won (we did, though, finish in the top 100 out of 400 teams), but we had seriously had one of the most exciting days, like, ever. We settled in for a well-deserved lunch (at the finish line – Boat Basin) with the Sexy Savages and told of our adventures. We congratulated the Bananas in Pajamas for their relatively quick finish as we turned in our completed clue sheet and met with the “official picture reviewer” (next to two much-less-believeable ballerinas) to verify our pictures in the clue locations. As we munched on chicken sandwiches and margaritas for a few minutes, I looked at Erin and said, “So, next year, we definitely should set up someone on a computer and plan our route first”. She smiled and nodded in agreement. Yep, that’s right. Next year, people. We are SO going to win.

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