Monday, December 27, 2010

Snow Day

Albany didn't get as much of the white stuff as other parts of the eastern seaboard - but it was enough to make for an interesting day! John got the photographer assignment today as he ran some errands (therefore, all photos courtesy of John Beard).

Our car before dawn - this is after an initial attempt at cleaning it off, which was also courtesy of John Beard:

A shoveled sidewalk - again, thank you JB!

John's accomplishment here was noticing how cool this car looked (yep, it's just parked, and yep, there was a LOT of wind around here today):

Wintry scene around the museum and parking meters buried up to their necks:

A pause at the Daily Grind for a steaming cuppa Joe:

A "Snowed-Under Vehicle""

Snow on the awnings:

Our street after the plows came through several times:

Our car before John cleaned it off. Again.

Our backyard:

Overheard by John: Something to the effect that "At least it's a dry snow." I can add that to "heat" and "cold" as things that are better dry.

Thank you to public transit for us not having to drive today!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Snowshoe race in Woodford VT

John's first race in the northeast (this winter anyway) - I convinced him that it wouldn't be so bad to snowshoe for 3 miles, even though it's cold and snow is falling. He tagged along after a promise of hot coffee before and after, plus a free loaf of bread at the finish line. It was also fun to rent snowshoes for $5 to try out the racing type.

Snow was coming down as we were getting ready, but it stopped before the race began:

Ready to go!

Come on John, you can do it!

He did eventually get out of the car and join me and maybe 100 other folks at the starting line. Pre-race announcements were mercifully short, and then we were off.

The course began on an open cross-country ski trail which had enough snow to make it feel like I was running in slow motion as my heart rate went up. The race director had warned us about an early hill. I actually didn't mind the hill because then at least I had an excuse for my slower-than-running speed.

Then it was off into the woods on a narrow trail. Fun! I was soon passing a couple people here and there, following someone for a while to take a breather and then working to find a place to pass. The trail was awesome, and I put my technical trail running skills to good use while trying to find the best places to place my oversized feet when a root or a rock appeared here and there.

I only stepped on one other person's shoe, and that was because he stopped to walk when I was right behind him. Didn't expect that! Surely he had heard me breathing down his neck? I'm not a quiet racer when I'm aiming to pass.

The racing shoes were great - narrow and light, with plenty of traction and perfect for those conditions. We have some hiking snowshoes from France, but we may have to get some for racing. How to explain that native (and pseudo-native) Texans would own not just one, but two sets of snowshoes? And possibly a pair of cross-country skis in the near future too?

Anyway, I had a blast running through the woods, weaving around on the trail, playing in the snow, passing more people, getting in a great workout. I was still glad when the trail finally reached the main road and headed for the finish line. Except that road still wasn't packed down much, so it was back to running on "sand" for a quarter mile. John cheered me in as the 3rd woman (finally something other than 2nd place!) and I got my loaf of free Vermont Bread Company bread :)

We're back in Albany, all tucked inside awaiting the first snowstorm of the season to hit. Fun weekend!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Weekend long run

Yesterday sported (comparatively) beautiful weather in the Albany area, so I went out for a long run along the Hudson River. I took my camera to capture a few shots, although most of these won't mean much to anyone except in a few cases.

For example, this one reminds me of our paddle during Desert Winds because of the (hard to see) green warning light (not so much the water temperature):

An interesting sign near the river in Albany:

No swimming today:

I can't resist photos of unexpected artwork:

This one is for John - again hard to see, and I don't really have an excuse this time for why I didn't just get closer to take the picture. And also, what are the panels powering, the giant powerline pole?

The Hudson and the sun trying to come out:

A great bike path along the river:

For Kathy:

The Approach:

Not quite as high as I remembered (well, this was before we started climbing Rocky Mountains):

This is new:

Our sledding hill behind the library (not pictured is the fence and busy road at the bottom):

The new building helps make Troy look better...?

The computer center where we prayed our coding was right and the printouts would come out quickly:

The Physics building:

The Armory:

"One word changes everything" - OK, but what word is it?

Nason Hall :)

The site of many fun evenings watching Big Red kick big butt:

The site of our Hockey Line stand:

Archway to campus:

Our one piece of modern art:

Heading back down:

For Mom:

This one makes me laugh:

The Egg at Empire Plaza near my apartment:

Fun run! Hoping for a couple more of these before we get too snow-covered...

Sunday, December 5, 2010

GUR - Las Vegas champs

(warning: Loooong post...)

Last month, just before heading to Albany NY to start my new job, we took a detour to Las Vegas to compete in the Great Urban Race national championships. We had been looking forward to this race all year, and my one main goal was to make the finals. GUR finals are so much fun, I really just wanted to be there.

I've been so busy since that day that I haven't had time to start a report until now. I may not even finish this right away (correct) - but I'm finally getting started! Hopefully I'll remember most of the details. And whatever I forget, well that's just that much less you have to read :)

The morning race started and finished at the Luxor in the back pool area. We enjoyed talking with other racers and getting to see some amazing costumes that other teams were wearing. John keeps wanting to dress up, but luckily for me he hasn't figured out how to make it happen yet.

We got our clue sheets and it was time to get started! Danny helped us with an initial check of the clues, then we looked up to see that many other teams had left already. Let's get moving! We dashed into the Luxor and down a side hallway, surprised to suddenly be following another team wearing bright green - team Nads. They were like, "hey, fancy meeting you here" and John laughed and chatted with them while I giggled and tried to keep up. Dashing down the back stairs and out the side door, soon we were on the street.

We hooked up on tow and ran toward Las Vegas Blvd, watching racers stream from all directions - it was a madhouse! We briefly stopped at a bus stop when it appeared as though a Gold (express) bus was coming, but it turned out to be a tour bus that wasn't stopping, so we abandoned the bus stop and started toward the Monorail. We knew we were aiming for the Sahara area and wanted to get north quickly, plus Sheila and I were discussing one checkpoint on Koval Lane.

We raced up to the Monorail station but had to stop to buy tickets and just missed one train. As we were hanging around the station talking about the checkpoints, other teams arrived and I tried to move somewhere somewhat out of the way. John was fixated on completing the word search puzzle while I was trying to look at other clues, and I kept trying to get him to stop focusing on that - I was pretty sure our crew would have no trouble figuring it out themselves.

Finally the next Monorail showed up and we jumped on board. It was a wonderful alternative to the bus - faster, quieter, much easier to continue working on our route. It was so great that we decided to skip the Koval checkpoint and stay on the Monorail. It was also now full of teams. We got off at the Sahara stop, and John immediately figured out the right turn toward the casino so we were in the lead among the crowd in our vicinity.

We lightly jogged through the casino, trying not to look to conspicuous by barreling over any of the patrons, then turned a corner to see yet another huge crowd of racers clustered around a checkpoint challenge at the Nascar restaurant. Kip described this puzzle (and the checkpoint clues) in his race report, so I won't bother repeating it here.

Especially since we got lucky and arrived just as Kip and Dave had gotten the right answer. They shared it with us and Tom and Richard, and we got our clue sheets stamped. All three of our teams were out the door and running east on Sahara. Still there were oodles of teams on the course all around us, and we wondered just how difficult it might be to crack to Elite Eight this year.

We ran to an address for a pool hall, but couldn't get in the back doors along Sahara. We figured out that we had to go way around to the front of the building, so we finally got in and found a pool-related challenge: Using a pool cue to hit a ball such that it stopped between two lines at the other end of the table.

John took this one, taking a few tries and working the angles to try to increase his chances. Finally he got it, we got our clue sheet stamped, and we were on our way. We tried the doors along the street, and they indeed opened from the inside, so we got out slightly faster.

Across the street to a food store where a calorie/math problem awaited. Once again we lucked out by having Kip and Dave ahead of us (thank you, guys!). Sheila told me that the answers were, "Right Dream, Strips, and Seeds" - OK, that sounds odd. We went inside and found the following items: Rice Dream, Barbeque strips, and something called Sea's Gift (if I'm reading my handwriting correctly!). Good enough! We got our sheet stamped and headed back out.

We ran with Tom and Richard for a ways, aiming for the Hilton which we could see in the distance. Sheila told us we were looking for La Bella wedding chapel, which we found just after we entered the hotel. We were handed a box of items to match to various wedding anniversaries - wood, pottery, pearls, silver, paper, and a ruby that sadly was only a fake. Sheila helped us figure this out quickly, and then we got married again!

A close-up of the proof - very cool! What a nice way to renew our vows after 10 years of marriage.

But we couldn't sit around and celebrate - we were still trying to make the finals, after all.

We ran out of the Hilton, following Kip and Dave toward the Marriott across the way. Kip and Dave spotted a motorcycle for one of the tic-tac-toe items, so I took their (hilarious) photo and John did a selfie for us. It looks like I dropped first a banana peel and then my water bottle and clue sheet on the way to get the photo:

Somewhere over on Convention Center Drive we passed a team sprinting in the other direction - we didn't recognize them, but they looked FAST. We ran into the Marriott and found the elevators to take us to the 17th floor, then headed to one of the conference rooms. There were boxes of worms crawling around in dirt, but fortunately all we had to do was dig around to find a playing card to bring to the finish line. Nice fake out. We heard that someone asked them if they had to eat a worm, and the reply was, "If you want to!" I don't think anyone fell for it.

Next door was the Clarion hotel where we had to roll two large inflatable dice across a line and have them add up to 4 (the answer to the equation for CP10). John rolled while I tossed the dice back to him when we didn't get the right numbers. Kip and Dave were attempting the same thing next to us. John got one low number and managed to make the second die roll just enough to hit the second number we needed, so we finally accomplished a task on our own faster than Kip and Dave had! We got our Clarion Hotel coupons (2-for-1 drinks, anyone?) and got out of there.

From there we booked it over to Las Vegas Blvd to find the Stripburger and our next challenge. We had to blow up a balloon and then poke it with a skewer without popping the balloon. They gave us several items to work with, including vaseline and dish detergent. Sheila goggled the problem while John tried something that ended up working while I wasn't even looking - nice!

We got our checkpoint stamp and this photo taken by the volunteer:

Next up was the Palazzo hotel, where we were looking for the Double Helix bar. Here we got a bottle with an interesting puzzle inside - a little ball and a wooden stick that kept the ball from reaching the corked end of the bottle. The clue was related to spinning it, with the goal of getting the ball next to the cork.

John looked at it for a second and then went over to a couch. He spun the bottle in the air so it landed on the couch (and didn't break when it landed). After a couple tries, he succeeded in solving the puzzle! I was really impressed. He even helped Kip and Dave get it to work for their bottle, so we felt we had redeemed ourselves slightly after mooching off of them earlier. Or at least John had :)

We got our stamp, and then the volunteer told us we also needed a photo. I messed up on reading the clue sheet and just took her at her word. But neither of us were sure what we needed a photo OF, so we took these:

Obviously this doesn't match the clue sheet requirements - a photo of us with the COMPLETED puzzle (not after we have un-completed it). We were lucky that photo wasn't scrutinized too heavily at the finish line.

As we were running up the street with Kip and Dave, Kip suddenly spotted a Penn & Teller ad for one of the tic-tac-toe items - the center square, actually, so it was pretty important. Except it was on a bus! Which was about to start moving! As quickly as John could get the camera set up, we snapped a photo and luckily the bus stayed around long enough to get this:

We dashed across the street toward Caesar's Palace and the Forum Shops. Sheila told me that Danny was waiting for us there, and he had some wigs - awesome! That would complete our tic-tac-toe square. Once inside the shops we got a bit confused about which floor to find him on, especially with the round escalators being a bit odd, but Danny called down to us from the top level and we hurried up to take a couple really funny photos (the one from Kip and Dave's race report is particularly awesome):

Apparently Danny had convinced a store manager to let him borrow the wigs from a couple of mannequins and then bring them back - hysterical. Thank you Danny!!

Danny gave us directions to the next checkpoint while I tried to listen but I kept getting caught up on the "Planet Hollywood" part - I knew we were headed there next, but that we also needed something inside the Forum Shops first. Finally Danny got me to calm down and focus, and once we continued further into the shopping area I could see that there was another Planet Hollywood inside. Nearby we found a restaurant for our next checkpoint.

For this challenge, one of us would have to eat a bowl of pasta without using our hands. We asked if it had meat in it (although it looked like marinara sauce) and when they answered that yes, it did, it was automatically my challenge to do. John would eat meat if it were a critical race situation, but this didn't qualify.

Well, the bowl was fairly small, at least. It was actually hard to get my face into, and it was sitting on a plate, so I picked it up with my teeth and tipped it over onto the plate so I could get to the penne more easily. John talked with Sheila and got me some more water while I got to work. It was actually delicious pasta (and perfectly cooked) but I couldn't take the time to enjoy it.

I tried not to fill my mouth too full, but it actually seemed to work better once I got more pasta shoved in - I would chew, add a couple more pieces, and somehow the stuff at the back magically disappeared down my throat. Not bad, actually. Well, until I got near the end and started to get full, then it wasn't as pleasant. And it was certainly messy:

Our "proof of completion" photo - these pictures make me slightly nauseous even now:

Phew, time to get out of there. I was NOT excited about running at that point, but I was ever so thankful that we had hit this one near the end instead of right at the start of the race! On our way out of the Forum Shops (with me burping while wondering if there was a faster way to the street), we run into teams Nads and Chris and Ryan from Denver. Hi guys!

John ran while I waddled, down the street and over to Planet Hollywood. Apparently we were looking for some imprints of Shaq's hands, and our crew directed us inside and down the hall to a store that sells posters of famous people. Right at the entrance we found these:

For some reason, I made it a point to double-check the clue sheet this time (I try to do it every time, but it's hard to remember when the checkpoints are close together and coming at you all fast and furious). It turns out that checkpoint 8 starts out, "Head to the FRONT of the Miracle Mile Shops..." - hey John, wait up! We need to look for a different set of hand prints!

We had just run past the wall where we found this after we doubled back:

Apparently they accepted either set at the finish line, but we weren't taking any chances. I really wanted to make the finals!

And I wanted it bad enough to keep running even when my stomach rebelled from all the pasta. We got on tow so I wouldn't have to work quite as hard, and we made our way back to the Luxor. We entered from a side door, ran up some stairs (ooph!) and through the halls back to the finish line.

Second team across the line, woo hoo! And thank goodness that's over!

Our photos were declared good, and we were officially in the finals along with Kip and Dave (the first team across). Mission accomplished! We hung around to wait for our friends Tom and Richard who also made the finals. Nice job, everyone! Our mob was joined by other strong competitors - the Denver Agents, team Nads, even a couple of guys wearing capes. I didn't realize it until later, but for the first time I was the only female in the finals of an urban race championships. Oh well, competing against all-male teams hasn't slowed us down before. Especially because I've got John for a teammate :)

We hung out in Danny's suite at the Luxor for a couple hours (thanks Danny!) and then it was time to congregate for the winner-take-all finals race. We were led out the front of the hotel to find a bus waiting for us - actually a "limo-minibus" and it was rockin' out. We were pretty stoked.

Many of the following photos were taken by the GUR crew - it's probably obvious which ones! Here's the Party Bus:

Do we look happy to be there, or what? I wish we could do this every day!

They put blindfolds on us as we got in, and John and I bopped to the music like a dorky Ray Charles. John told me that he had put his sunglasses over his blindfold - awesome! This photo was captured before I could follow suit:

As we pulled away going who-knows-where, they went through the rules and we got to ask questions. Specifically, we were told initially that we had to finish the race by 5 p.m., but we couldn't see our watches to synch them with the race clock. So that was changed to 3 hours from time from when we exited the bus and were told "go!" I guess I should have mentioned that to our crew once we were able to start talking with them again.

Richard asked if we were going to have to ride a Stratosphere ride (he was more afraid of that possibility that even I was), and there was a telling pause... they wouldn't say. Hmmm!

I was very impressed by how this was handled, and by the time we got to our destination there were no more questions and I believe everything was clear. Time to get busy! We pulled up - somewhere - and got out to take off the blindfolds. I could immediately tell we were somewhere downtown near Fremont Street.

But first - we had to do a puzzle. It's around the corner on a table - GO!

We dashed over and found a tangram puzzle we had to solve. We weren't quite as slow at this as with the Lego truck-building last year, but we weren't the speediest of teams either.

Here are Tom and Richard:

The Denver Agents working on the tangram in next to us; also a red St Jude Heroes cape on another racer visible in the background:

Soon we figured it out. They handed us a room key with a room number on it. And that was all!

Looking at the building next to us, we realized we were at the Gold Spike Hotel, so we dashed inside and found the elevators to take us to the third floor. A couple other teams were there too, and we compared room numbers - all different. Interesting!

We found our room and went inside. Suddenly we were all alone in a hotel room, looking at a small safe sitting on the bed. There was also an instruction sheet telling us how to find the combination to the safe - we had to figure out the channel number for 2 different TV shoes (Gossip Girl and The Closer). I immediately called Sheila to have her look up the stations, while John hunted down the channel list for the TV in the room. With a couple of cross-references and spins of the combination lock, we soon had the safe open - and there was our clue sheet.

That was very very cool. Can I just pause for a moment and say that this was the most awesome start to a clue race EVER? The atmosphere, the "figure it out as you go" tasks, the fact that it looked harder than it ended up being, and mostly just being by ourselves for a moment in the middle of a race to work together to solve it. Awesome.

Well, it was time to get to the actual racing portion of the race. We ran outside while I scanned the clue sheet and gave Sheila bits of info from various checkpoints. The one that stood out was the Fremont Street Flightlines - that should be close. As I was saying that to John, someone zoomed across our field of vision about a block ahead - that could be it! You can't get much easier than that.

So we headed there, joined by Kip and Dave and team Nads who had made it out of the hotel room at about the same time. We ran over to the Flightlines area and boarded the elevator. While getting out, all three teams surged forward at once and we actually GOT STUCK in the door! I still giggle about that, especially since I was one of the ones in the wedge. None of us was being cut-throat (all the teams were so friendly and nice to each other the whole time), it was just a fluke of timing. We had to back up and get a bit more polite before we could dash en masse toward the top of the zipline.

The guy working there was ready for us, except that he had all of us suit up with a harness and via ferrata-type gear. A second person showed up who corrected him - only ONE of us needed to do it. Oh, well, John it's all you. I would have been fine to do it, but certainly not at the expense of depriving John of the experience.

Kip and I headed down the elevator and back to the street, jogging toward the finish of the zipline and trying to read more from our clue sheet. Kip noticed a showgirl hanging out on the street (?) and asked me about it, but I hadn't looked that far ahead yet and thought he was talking about the photo clue for checkpoint 9. Silly Kip, listening to me for advice :)

We waited near the Flightlines banner while I tried to talk with Sheila over the street noise. On the other end of the zipline, three racers were getting hooked up. I like how Dave is like, um, excuse me, um, I think this needs to be connected to something before I step off this platform...

Go John Go!

I ran over to get a shot with our camera that didn't come out nearly as well as the GUR Crew photos, but it does capture the ambiance:

Once our teammates were done, the guys working there told us we needed a photo from up on the platform. It took a minute for us to figure out how to get around the barricades to get up there, but we eventually managed and snapped this blurry photo:

Luckily they don't deduct points for less-than-stellar photos. Only for incorrect ones - but luckily we also got part of John's gear in the picture per the requirements (since I was too addled to have read the clue sheet that closely at that point - I've got to work on that).

John got un-geared-up, and we were soon down on Fremont Street deciding what to do next. Sheila and I went through the clue sheet and determined that almost all of the remaining checkpoints were south of here. The only one in question was CP11 regarding a crowd of overachievers. Our crew initially thought it was at a spot only a block away, so we ran over to the Celebrity night club. However, the place was completely locked and shut down, so that obviously wasn't it.

We started moving south to find a bus, as I tried to remember anything about buses going from downtown back to the Strip. We decided to aim for the Gold line express-type bus, and just as we decided that we saw one! It was zooming toward us, but the Gold line has limited stops. That works great once you're on it, but not so great if you're trying to catch it. I waved my arms at the driver, because well, it had worked last year when it shouldn't have, but this time the driver just shrugged and kept going.

John took off after the bus while I ran as hard as I could, trying to stay within earshot. But the bus was too fast and the traffic lights were not on our side. We saw it stop way up ahead at the actual bus stop, but we weren't close enough to get the driver to wait for us. Not even with John's super speed. Sigh!

So now we were stuck. Sheila and I worked on alternate bus options, because it was quite a ways to the next checkpoint (Stratosphere) and we figured even the next Gold line 10 minutes later would be faster than running. In the end, we ended up waiting, and those 10 minutes cost us quite a lot later in the race.

Nothing to do but soldier on. We set up our route for the checkpoints that we knew, deciding to skip Circus Circus instead of backtracking to it after taking a detour for the Marriott. The bus finally came, and soon we were zipping along and headed for the Stratosphere.

I read this clue very carefully in order to be certain that we were only taking a photo with the Insanity ride and not actually riding it. I reread to be even more sure. OK, we don't have to consider skipping it!

We jumped off the bus next to the tall tower, and as we ran around the corner I heard strains of "Single Ladies" playing over the speakers - love that song! I think Glee did that to me. Anywho, we went inside and found the elevator to the top. With our race wristbands, we were ushered into all the places we needed to go, like VIPs-in-a-hurry - it was great!

I noticed a wedding party in the next line, but no bride with them, bummer. That would have been a nice tic-tac-toe square. Soon we were riding way, way, way up into the sky. Crazily, the elevator lady RECOGNIZED us from two years ago when she was working at Gameworks as we went through for the GUR 2008 championships - how odd is that? It was fun talking with her again, especially since we had a couple minutes of just standing there (couldn't even get phone reception).

At the top we got out and found another team also in the area. Together we moved to the outer balcony and hunted for the Insanity ride. They found it first, but they seemed to be trying to convince a guard that they needed to get on the ride. We snapped our photo and started back the way we had come:

Back on the elevator, back to street level, back outside. We went running across the street and got on tow. Somehow we ended up running next to the team in Heroes capes, and John got to chatting and laughing with them. How does he do that when I'm all out of breath and trying to keep up - while on tow?

We took a nice detour/shortcut, waved to Danny and Marilyn in the car on the street, and found the Pair-a-Dice tattoo parlor. Another team had just come out (Nads, maybe?) and they told us we were about to get a tattoo. Really? We went inside and learned that we would indeed be making a real tattoo. Except on a piece of fake skin that would sit on the other person's thigh. Nice!

Here are Richard and Tom in action:

John got to work tracing the GUR logo on my "leg", and it kind of tickled but I was just happy it wasn't happening directly on my skin. Funnily, John didn't realize he was using a real tattoo-ing tool until we told him later!

He rinsed it off as instructed, and we took the tattoo with us:

...along with a photo outside the parlor:

From there we opted to try the Monorail to go south a couple stops to the Marriott. We had to wait several minutes for it to show up, then we got off at a stop a bit past the street we wanted, then it took us a while to figure out how to get down to street level (I think we had to go UP first and then down). This all may have cost us time vs. just running, which couldn't possibly come back to haunt us later.

On our way to the Marriott we met team Nads running in the opposite direction - toward the Monorail to get back to the Strip, I imagine. I mentally noted (then immediately forgot) that they must not have skipped Circus Circus, nor anything else so far. Looking at the map now, their route seems pretty darn optimal, and I give them kudos for figuring it out.

Inside the Marriott and back up to the 17th floor conference room. This time we were met by two guys telling us about our next challenge - one of us would have to lie on a bed of nails. To demonstrate just *how sharp* these nails are, they put on a show of dropping oranges on them to be impaled, then one guy made a huge production of showing how it would be done and how much it was going to hurt. When he stood up, there were little tiny holes in the back of his shirt (which I'm sure they added for show). It was all very funny. And also - fine with me when John volunteered to do it! Apparently it really wasn't bad, but I was a tad worried for my husband until it was over:

Enough of that - time to get back to the Strip. We decided to start with the two places on the east side, in order to minimize crossing the Strip too many times. We were getting good at the crossings, but it still took some coordination with the traffic.

On our way to Madame Tussauds, we happened to look to the right and John spotted a parrot. Sitting on the shoulder of a guy riding a motorcycle. Stopped at a light. "Parrot, parrot!" we both yelled. John's first attempt of a photo caught the sidewalk in action.

The driver would have waited for us, but there was too much traffic behind for him to pause very long. So we got this one as he motored away:

And the close-up for the photo review at the end!

Well, we were finally on the board for the tic-tac-toe, which was good because we had already skipped one checkpoint that we weren't going back for. Our crew was working on the center square (someone in cowboy boots and hat), so we just had to line up two others. The one opposite the parrot was a gondola, and we were heading right past the Venetian.

Here's where my lack of clue-reading utterly failed us, because we took this photo from the sidewalk:

However, the clue specified that we had to be IN the gondola, not just next to it. I would hazard a guess that if we had been in the running to win the race (spoiler - like you didn't already know), this would have been caught during a stricter photo review. I can only post it now and promise to try to do better in the future.

Oblivious to our mistake, we headed over to Madame Tussauds to look for a wax version of Snoop Dog or Beyonce. At the entrance desk, another team was there arguing with the employee because apparently he had not been notified that we were supposed to get in free with our wrist bands. Both our teams got ready to pay (like Kip and Dave had before us), but then the woman behind the desk got the call that we were good to go. Not much time wasted, but certainly a minute or two that we could have used later.

We entered the wax museum with the other team and made our way through the rooms until we found the performers section. In honor of "Single Ladies", we should have taken our photo with Beyonce, but we were too much in a hurry and took this one instead:

Now it was time to get out of there - what's the quickest way? John made a beeline for an Exit sign and a door that opened up - into a service corridor with stairs leading up and down. He saw a hand-written note over the door that read "Strip" and figured it must be good. I wasn't so sure, and the door locked from the other side. The other team took one look at this situation and pronounced they weren't having anything to do with it.

So John went down the stairs and I waited at the door in case we had to get back in. He called up "Go!" which I thought was "Go!" and then right as the door closed behind me I thought maybe he had said "No!" which freaked me out a touch until he came back with "It's good, go go go!" Down the stairs we went out another door right onto the Strip. Nice one!

From there we aimed for Harrah's to find the "show girl", aka the jester sculpture. Kip and Dave were here but apparently were so focused they didn't even notice us next to them. Hi guys!

They had already finished the Mirage checkpoint across the street, so we knew we were running behind them. We crossed the Strip and worked our way through throngs of people, masses of crowds, finding a way into the casino and finally way to the back to the Secret Garden. Sheila told me we would have to take off our cell phones and shoes. Are we going to get wet? She seemed to think yes. OK then.

We arrived in time to watch another team working with a dolphin to get it to give them a kiss. HOW AWESOME IS THIS?? I was in full ga-ga mode over the dolphins and the chance to interact with them. We got ready, took off our sunglasses and stuff, and stepped onto the mat at poolside.

We got to pick a task to "train" the dolphins to do (anything except the one we had just witnessed). John selected Spin in a Circle. A second dolphin came over to join the first, and I just oohed and aahed about the whole experience. OK, now "spin in a circle" - John made a wide sweeping hand gesture in a big circle and the two dolphins obliged. Oh my heck, that was just too cool. I could have stayed and played all day.

Then one of the dolphins came up beside us to pose. Thank you, sweetheart!

Loved, loved, loved that checkpoint!

But we had to go, especially since there were a couple teams now lining up behind us, I believe include team Nads. We worked our way back through the crowds and eventually out the front of the casino and started down the Strip. John saw a Deuce bus stopped up ahead at a bus stop, so we immediately decided to jump on. Even though the afternoon traffic can sometimes make this a bad choice, this time we were lucky and the bus zoomed a couple long blocks faster than we could have run. So that bit of transportation was lucky, at least.

We crossed the Strip to the MGM Grand. Here we needed to find the CSI Experience, so we followed signs all the way back, back, where is this thing already? Right as we saw it, we came across the Denver Agents getting a photo with a real bride. We decided to bypass that opportunity and just head down the stairs.

Chris and Ryan were right behind us, making the correct turn while we turned the wrong way (again not reading the clue sheet closely enough) and they beat us to the challenge. We were very lucky to have an answer provided by Kip and Dave, and even more lucky that all the answers were the same for each team. The woman at the challenge wasn't quite expecting the right solution immediately, but she gave us our diploma anyway. We snapped our photo with the crime scene tape:

Our lovely diploma:

One checkpoint left! At some point in here, John mentioned that we were around 2 1/2 hours since we were dropped off on Fremont Street, but we figured we were still doing fine on time. We also figured Kip and Dave were probably already at the finish line, but we wanted to see how close we could get behind them.

I asked someone working at the restaurant next to CSI about the quickest way to the Monorail, and he pointed us around the corner. We knew there were exit doors in that direction so we didn't have to go way back out to the Strip exit. Sure enough, there were doors, but they said "Emergency exit only". Hmm, should we try it? John pushed a door open - no alarm sounded - so we ran on through, past the employee break area. Hi y'all!

On the way to Tropicana Street, we met team Nads trying to find a way in from the back. John told them about the door we had exited, but we weren't sure if it would be locked from the outside. As we worked our way across the street, I heard Sheila talked to Steve in the background and something caught me attention. Sheila, did you just say we will have to eat a whole cake?? Yep, apparently that's what Kip and Dave were up to right at that moment! Oh joy.

So we ran over to Coco's Bakery and found Kip and Dave just finishing up. We picked a cake where we could see the front door - bye guys! - and got to work. First John had to frost the cake blindfolded, while I gave him directions. Our communication seemed to work out pretty well for once, although I wish we had thought of the "frost with your hands" method that Dave had used.

Then it was time to unblindfold John and get started with the eating. John immediately flipped the cake over so the white frosting was plate-side (on a white plate) and maybe we wouldn't have to eat quite as much of that portion. We knew we were going to be one of the slower teams at this part of the task, so we were thankful that no team showed up until we were about a third of the way done.

One team walked in and got started with the frosting section. Then we looked up to see the Denver Agents charge in the room. I audibly swore, and I have good reason. They recently won two vehicles based on their ability to eat large amounts of food really quickly. We stayed focused, dipping the velvet cake in a water glass to try to squish it smaller, but it was pretty spongy and still maintained most of its volume. John swears he ate a large percentage of it, and I won't dispute that. At least I had taken care of the pasta earlier!

Someone asked about a clue sheet that was sitting on the table, as it apparently had been on the floor, but our stuff was off to the side in a pile. If I had looked at the clue sheet more closely, I might have recognized the writing on it. Not that it would have mattered in the end, but it still would have been a better story.

I had removed my earbud to try to clear a path to my mouth (and still managed to get frosting on it!), but I wished I could get it back on. I wondered to John if I should stop and call Sheila to find out if Kip and Dave had won yet already so we could stop eating this stupid cake. I don't even like red velvet. But no, we soldiered on. Eventually we did finish, right as the next team did and only slightly ahead of the Denver Agents. Dang power eaters.

We all started out the front door, with us chasing one team and Chris and Ryan not far behind. Wow, this is even worse than running after eating a bowl of pasta. And again, thank goodness for it being the last checkpoint. I would have hated to have thrown up on a dolphin or on the zipline.

John handed me the towline right away and we passed the team ahead of us. As we were flying down the sidewalk we noticed an Elvis impersonator walking the other way. How odd! That was another of the tic-tac-toe squares. I grunted and John made a noise to acknowledge that he had seen him too, but we didn't stop.

Too... much... cake... We ran and ran, hoping to stay ahead of the two teams right on our heels. Then we got a phone call (I had given up trying to talk to Sheila) - John still had enough breath to talk, so he got the bad news that Kip and Dave had left their clue sheet behind. It was still sitting on the table where we had just seen it. Major bummer, they had run such a clean race and totally should have been the winners if not for that one itty bitty tiny little error. Not only that, but there was only one stamp actually on the clue sheet itself (the rest of the checkpoints had photo and item verifications). Although we learned later that the clue sheet was a required item and not having it resulted in disqualification. Hopefully this will be spelled out in the rules for future reference.

Now it was on. We were backing them up (again - see GUR finals 2008) and we were running our little hearts out. We opted for a route heading directly across the Strip instead of up and over to the Excaliber. We wouldn't have the people movers to work with, but we'd have a lot fewer people to work around. And the traffic across the Strip was working with us so no delay there. John tried looking back once and didn't see anyone, but with alternate routes to the finish there was no telling.

I was breathing so incredibly hard I was wheezing by the time we made it to the back of the Luxor. I knew we had one more photo to take, and I just wouldn't have been able to stand it if a team had run past us right at that moment! Oh, the suspense!

Here we are with Marilyn posing in cowboy hat and boots to complete our tic-tac-toe - thank you to our awesome crew for making this happen for us!

Even John looks slightly winded in that photo.

We dashed across the line - to find team Nads already there. Crap! Of course! They had done all the checkpoints up to the end and had skipped the cake without us realizing that would happen. And it was so close, only a couple minutes separating our finish times. Wow, what a crazy, crazy finale. Huge congrats to team Nads for beating us out. Two teams ran across the line within another couple of minutes, and the remaining teams were done not long after. All very close!

Playing around with photos after the finish (when I'm finally able to breathe again):

Tall Chris, one of the Denver Agents:

With our second place trophy at the post-race party:

Hanging out with Michelle, Dave, and Danny - we love you guys!

It was a heck of a ride, and I hope to be doing it again next year! See y'all in New Orleans!