Tuesday, March 30, 2010

GUR Austin race recap

Last Saturday John and I joined a few of our friends and competed in the Great Urban Race in downtown Austin, TX. I was somewhat nervous because there were over 300 teams in attendance - perhaps the most we have ever raced against. But it was a beautiful day, so we set out to enjoy ourselves and hopefully qualify for the championship race in Las Vegas next fall.

Us plus Dave, Kip, and Dave's boys Nick and Logan:

Our friends Tim and Zach from New Orleans - in costume! Awesome.

The Austin American-Statesman ran this photo - go Kip and Mike! And there's even a partial shot of me on the right, as I cut outside the arch to try to avoid some of the stampede:

We opened our clue sheet and decided to head to the Mary Lee Foundation to drop off a can donation first. The charity is on South Lamar, so we ran over to Colorado St. to jump on a bus heading in that direction.

Jason and Mike found a guy with a cowboy hat for one of the "tic-tac-toe" photos (you had to get 3 of 9 options listed and the results had to be in a horizontal, vertical, or diagonal line). The man was fine with us taking our picture with him as well:

We jumped off the bus near a convenient store that had cans of food available for purchase, then ran to the Mary Lee Foundation to turn in our donation.

After getting our clue sheet stamped, we ran across South Lamar to find a donut vendor. This checkpoint was listed in lat/long coordinates (nice!), and Google Streetview showed an empty lot (funny!). Luckily there was an Airstream with donuts for sale there that day, so we got the attention of the guys inside and Kip or Dave took our photo feeding each other a donut hole:

From there we ran back toward town and found Music Makers where John picked up a guitar to try to shake a pick out from the inside. He figured out the inside compartments and didn't have much trouble making the pick fly out. More difficult was getting him to hear me when I said we needed to bring the pick to the finish line - but the volunteers help point that out, and John retrieved it from where it had skittered across the floor.

Back outside, we headed west on Barton Springs to Shady Grove where John quickly roped a "steer" (a roping dummy) from about 2 feet away. Easier than for teams on the Amazing Race!

We tried briefly to catch a bus from there, but the #30 didn't seem to be coming and I think the #3 passed before us as we ran toward Lamar. So we decided to hit a couple checkpoints downtown and then look for a bus to UT from there.

We ran across Town Lake and over a few streets to find the Lizardman in front of Fado's Irish Pub. There were a bunch of racing teams there, waiting in line and then taking each other's photos with the guy. I think I was pretty patient, until John took two bad selfie photos before finally getting a good shot:

Yeah, we're experts...

Next we ran up to Gold's Gym on West 6th Street. Well, first I confused "west" with "east". Yep, experts is what we are. We finally located the gym and headed downstairs to see about a Zumba lesson. What we found was a workout room filled to capacity with racing teams all doing an energetic dance. There was a short line in front of the room, and no indication how long we might have to wait. We decided to bail and skip this checkpoint.

This turned out to be a not-great decision because it took forever for the next bus to arrive (and we could see it the whole time making its way slowly up Congress Ave). We could have done the Zumba and still caught it - oh well!

Finally we got on the bus and sped up to UT - yes, the bus did start moving well at that point, thank goodness. John got antsy once the bus hit Guadalupe. Someone on the bus (obviously another racing team) started whistling "Mary Had a Little Lamb", which I thought was pretty funny because we were about to play that tune on a recorder. I guess they wanted to practice beforehand.

We jumped off a bit early and ran the rest of the way as the bus basically stalled in traffic. Nice move, John.

At the Mellow Mushroom we got a plastic recorder and I checked the fingering chart. It wasn't the same set of notes that I'm used to, but it didn't take me long to learn this version. One time through for practice, then the volunteer listened to my "masterpiece" and we earned another cluesheet stamp. Yay, I completed a challenge all by myself for once!

The next checkpoints were lined up nicely across the UT campus. First stop = the Turtle Pond for a shot of us with a live turtle:

Then down to the Mall and Martin Luther King - finally an urban race has found him checkpoint-worthy!

There was a fountain nearby, so we gathered up a few students to help us with a photo of 8 people (including us) doing the "Hook Em Horns" in front of a fountain - thanks everyone!

And finally over to the stadium for a shot of the name of the stadium in brown letters:

OK, time to get back downtown! There weren't any buses at the moment, so we took off running. Well, John took off. I lagged until we got hooked up on tow (thanks John!) then I took off too.

We hoofed it down to 6th Street to Pete's Piano Bar. There we found some UT cheerleaders who taught us how to spell "T-E-X-A-S" with our arms. The music started and we did the cheer three times ("Texas, fight!"). John was such a trooper - so many Hook Em signs in one day for my diehard Aggie husband! The things we do for urban racing.

Kip and Dave had come into the bar as we started with the cheer, and we all left together. We had one square left on our tic-tac-toe, so Michelle, Logan and Nick were very helpful in joining us for a barefoot shot - thanks y'all!

Kip and Dave were at the finish line waiting for us - how nice of them! We linked arms and crossed the line together (John and I still carrying our shoes):

The GUR Crew granted us a tie for first, which we all thought was very cool. Us with our giant checks and Zach's trident sticking up into the photo:

What a VERY fun day - GUR did an incredible job with an interesting, challenging but do-able course that should appeal to the masses as well as us folks who like to finish as quickly as possible. Now I'm thinking we should have spent more time enjoying ourselves out there. Huge thanks to the GUR Crew for the excellent race and everyone who helped us finish it fast.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Sheep herding at the rodeo

A bit of back story...

Two years ago I went over to the rodeo (just across the street from our park) to see the sheepdog herding trials. I'm a huge fan of "dogs with jobs", and these dogs were so much fun to watch. Zipping around the ring, listening to their handler, watching the sheep, using their instincts to get the sheep to go where they wanted. It looked like the dogs were having a fabulous time. The sheep... not so much!

While watching all this, it occurred to me at the time that I'd like to write a short blurb about the experience, maybe post a few photos - I guess that means I should start a blog! It took a couple more months to get started, and this blog turned into a great way to report on our summer travels and winter races. But it officially started in my mind that day with the sheepdogs.

Now, two years later, I was back at the rodeo yesterday to finally do that report on the sheep herding :)

And what I discovered is that I need a better camera for the difficult lighting in the livestock barn. Learning things makes life interesting, like I'm making progress (at least inside my own head).

So anyway, here is a short photo essay, complete with "the best I could do" photos from our basic digital camera.

One of the dogs awaiting his/her turn:

They released three sheep on one end of the ring, then the dog would run down to collect them. The first task was to bring the sheep back to the handler and make them circle the little pen.

Then the dog would coax the sheep back to the other end to work a pattern. The difficulty of the pattern depended on the level of the dog and handler.

Most dogs managed to get their sheep to circle at least one cone, and many completed a figure-eight move. Some sheep were more willing than others, but in all cases the three sheep were bound and determined to stay together in a pack of three.

The toughest move involved sending the sheep through a short section of fence next to the edge of the ring. One dog stopped and had a 10-second staring match with his charges before they decided it was in their best interests to do what the dog wanted.

Finally it was time to return to the handler and corral the sheep into the little pen. Most dogs managed this, although one novice dog spent the better part of 3 minutes running in wide circles while the sheep ran in a tight circle around the handler and pen. I guess the dog was too excited to stop running, or the handler too inexperienced to know how to direct the dog. Or maybe those sheep were the most obstinate of the bunch. In any case, it was funny to watch.

Another dog bringing the sheep toward the pen:

Well done, dogs!

There's a lot more going on at the rodeo - carnival rides, the midway, music, a show called a "Swine Sprint" that I didn't manage to catch, interesting farm animals to gawk at, and of course the main event in the evening, the actual rodeo plus a concert. Anyone in Austin who is tired of the SXSW downtown traffic, come on out to East Austin :)

Monday, March 15, 2010

Recap - Pain in the Pines race

Last Saturday Team Vignette raced at Tyler State Park. Steel Sports hosted a fun race called "Pain in the Pines", and it was John's first adventure race since hurting his knee playing rugby last fall. Dave and Jason rounded out the team and Kip came along to take a bunch of photos (including all of the ones below and many more).

The race started with a relay sprint to pick up skeet targets. Sadly, we didn't get to do anything else with the clay targets, including break or shoot at them. Maybe next time.

Here is Rodney (the race director) leading the sprint pack, with Dave not far behind in the red jacket:

From there we hit the bike trails. The guys let me lead the way, so I conserved my energy for all the second-half uphills and tried to focus on technique. The piney woods were a lot more fun that our normal Central Texas rocks, even with a few roots here and there, and we made good time.

Kip caught up to us in the woods for a few action shots:

One of Dave's boys gave John a high-five:

Dave punching a checkpoint and securing the passport in his pocket:

We saw a couple other teams behind us, and a solo racer passed us early on. We passed him back in the steep uphill switchback section (I was walking faster than he was) and stayed ahead of him for the rest of the ride. More checkpoints, more fun riding. I made it to the end with strong legs, so that made me happy.

We checked into TA and plotted a couple points on the lake. Time to paddle! But first we did a quick out-and-back when Dave realized he had left the passport on the table. Oops. We recovered quickly and biked down the hill to the boats:

John was careful (mostly) when getting in and out of the canoe. Only once did he try to push off before I was seated, and much shrieking ensued. I think the campers across the lake heard me.

Here he is getting in gently:

Hi John!

We docked the canoes in two places to run into the woods and find a checkpoint. The paddle nav was slightly harder than normal, which we appreciated.

After biking back up the hill to TA, we were given directions toward the ropes course - a tyrolean traverse across a ravine. Fun! But first we had to retrieve the passport we left in TA... again, it didn't take long and we were soon tromping through the woods toward the ropes.

Go Dave!

John was glad to be racing again for the first ropes we have done in quite a while:

Notice the tongue - not sure if it makes me faster:

Dave and John helping me across:

Jason doing midair acrobatics:

John taking a short cut back across - Jason and I decided against it for safety reasons (safety third!):

From there we were back on our bikes for an interesting "urban clue" section. We visited the camp store to find out what color shirts the black bears were wearing, the BBQ restaurant outside the park entrance to check out their menu, a nearby church to determine what year they were founded, and a couple of places along the back roads to see what the signs read.

It would have been even more enjoyable if Jason's bike didn't lose a pedal along the way. The threads stripped right out, and no amount of duct tape seemed to be the answer (say it ain't so!). He ended up pedaling with only his left leg, as Dave towed him. They are both animals - John and I had to work to keep up. Amazing.

We were just glad this happened at a relatively short race and not at Eco-Lonestar last weekend...

Back to TA with the one-pedal bike:

Copying our answers onto the passport:

Next we had a long trekking section around the park. Kip was allowed to accompany us to take photos (and not help with the nav). It was fun having Kip on the team again!

We didn't take a great route to the first checkpoint:

But eventually Jason spotted it:

Running on trail a short ways:

The next checkpoint by the creek:

A neat checkpoint location in the middle of a "piney thicket" - a bunch of thin trees close together creating a nice dark spot in the middle of the woods:

On the road again:

From Kip's set of photos, it would appear that we spend way too much time looking at the map and talking things over:

But at least it gave John time to mug for the camera ...

... and go for a walk:

On the move through some more brush (and that's where the "pain" part of the race title comes into play):

Luckily we had more clear woods than underbrush to deal with:

Except for this one big tree across the trail!

Phew, we made it over that obstacle:

We found all the trekking checkpoints without incident. One last leg - a "ride and tie" with 2 bikes and 4 people. I got to ride the whole 1-mile loop (thanks guys!) and my teammates switched off with the other bike:

We finished in about 5 hours in first place. Woo hoo! Well done, team V. And thank you to Rodney for an enjoyable romp in the beautiful Piney Woods. Congratulations to John for finishing his first adventure race in many months - and coming through with no knee problems. An excellent, sunny day in Tyler.