Sunday, December 29, 2013

GUR championships - Puerto Rico

Time for the big race!  We were excited to be competing in the Great Urban Race championships in a new location - San Juan, Puerto Rico.  The race started in the Caribe Hilton and we figured we would be visiting at least Old San Juan.  Top eight in the morning race make it in the afternoon finals.  That was my main goal - make the finals (after not participating in the GUR finals the past 2 years).

We got our clue sheet and verified that there was at least one checkpoint in Old San Juan.  As soon as we stepped outside we found that it was pouring!  Teams scrambled to figure out what to do about that, and we paused but then decided to just get going.

There didn't appear to be a bus in our immediate future, so John and I took off running.  We were the first ones in the area, but the next set of teams (that waited for a bus) was not far behind.  The rain had mostly stopped by this point, just a quick shower.

We started on Calle del Cristo at the Galleria Botello where we found this:


John knew where the statue is, so we headed up the street to get our photo there:


Back down Calle del Cristo to the Spicy Caribbee to sample some hot sauce and put them in order from mild to hot.  John took this task, which apparently gets more difficult as you go because at some point everything just tastes "hot" - but eventually we got our answers approved and got our photo out front:


A short way to the pigeon park where we were supposed to actually feed the birds, but the park was closed due to the recent rain so we were allowed to take a cup and pretend:


Next door was a spa where John agreed to take off his shoes and fish some beads out of a bowl of water with his toes.  Our requisite CP photo after he finished:


Back up the street (it wasn't the most efficient route, but at least the street was short) - to Ben and Jerry's!  One of us had to be blindfolded while the other reached around from behind their back to feed them some ice cream from a cup.  John suggested that since he had suffered through the hot sauce, this might be a nice way to compensate.  Works for me.  I don't think I even got too much ice cream on his face.  Nope, still looking good!


Finally done with Calle del Cristo!  Back east a bit to the Puerto Rican Art and Crafts store where we filled in the blanks in a sentence written in Spanish.  Then got our photo:


Next it was time for some CP's on the waterfront.  We found a Bacardi catapult challenge at the Chicago Burger Company - fun!  John took a few tries to figure it out but then nailed three in the bucket so we could get our Instagram picture and get out of there:


The next checkpoint involved learning how to dance the salsa - or at least pretending really hard:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hY3MGWtVD-0

The last CP in Old San Juan was at Senor Frogs.  We walked in and learned that one of us would have to swallow a goldfish.  A live goldfish.  A WHOLE live goldfish.  Well then.

John suggested that since he had already done 2 eating challenges, plus the fact that he is vegetarian (which all of sudden included fish, apparently), well, this was "all you!"

OK fine, the things we do in the name of racing!  We got a video of it, but I already tortured Sheila with an audio version of my post-swallow hacking and retching that I don't feel the need to inflict anything more on anyone else.

By the way, I still can't believe I swallowed a goldfish.  The next day (after spending the morning at Bacardi) my stomach was a little "off".  As I told my friend Kathy later, I'm not sure if it was the rum or the goldfish.  Kathy thought maybe that was the first time those words had ever been spoken in that particular combination...

The other funny story here was that there were leftover goldfish.  So Senor Frogs had "goldfish shots" that evening.  Too crazy.

We were SO out the door from that checkpoint.  We ran to the bus station and got incredibly lucky in that a bus was just loading up.  Nice!

Quite late in the game, we started looking at the tic-tac-toe.  Which was written in Spanish.  Neat!  Our crew had translated most of it, from a postcard to a picture with Santa.  The funniest one was when a local lady told one of our teams that we needed to find a snail farm.  What??  This turned out to be a spiral staircase.

We hopped off the bus across from the Caribe Hilton and ran over to the Club Nautico to autograph a large St Jude banner and get our photo:


We had our standard moment of panic that comes in almost every race, this time when the wind grabbed the clue sheet out of my hand and almost blew it into the bay.  I'm not sure John saw that happen because he was trying to keep track of our "I love St Jude" stickers which were also attempting to join the fun and get airborne.  Luckily no one was around to see this bumbling and my blog audience already knows we're a bit of a mess sometimes.

At this point it looked like the tic-tac-toe was going to be really difficult to complete, especially since we had already departed Old San Juan.  So we took off running across the bridge toward Condado.

Here we expected to do a stand-up paddle challenge, so John went running through the crowd toward the water to find it.  I showed up a few seconds later and found the tent with the GUR volunteers right at the entrance to the little park, so we waited until John made his way back around to us.  Hi John!

The challenge instead involved popping three balloons using only our bodies (no hands or feet or the ground, if I remember right).  We put one in between us and John grabbed me and we smashed the balloon in between our hips.  Pop!  It was rather suggestive, especially when I turned my butt toward John to avoid banging the same spot on my hips again, and I think the crowd appreciated the show.  Made me laugh, anyway!


We ran back across the bridge and around to the finish line.  First ones back!  We added several minutes to our time as we tried to get a Twitter picture to upload but we finally got it and crossed the line.  Still first, all photos good.  We were in the finals!  Mission #1 accomplished!

Our friends Phil and Peter also made it, along with Kip and Dave.  We spent some time in between the races eating and recharging everything.  Also blow-drying my phone to get it to charge again... I think the rain was not so good for the phone.

Not only the phone, but my earpiece was having issues, except I didn't find out until 5 minutes before the start of the second race.  We were the ones in the back of the room exchanging phones and whispering to Sheila and finally exchanging earpieces so Sheila and I could hear each other.  Just in time for the next "GO!"

The clue sheets were down at the hotel beach, so we hustled down and got our envelope.  The first CP was on Ashford Avenue, so we started off toward the east, into the wind, as it started to rain again.  We were all the way across the bridge when Sheila asked if we had looked at CP4?  Why no, that sounds like something we should be doing.

That's when we figured out we should have stopped by the Starbucks at the Caribe Hilton to pick up an egg from the GUR staff.  The egg would need to be visible in all photos and it would need to stay intact the whole time.  Hmm, we did a calculation on the time to run back and get it, then the chances of not breaking it during the race.  John said skip it, so that was that - our skip was determined right off the bat.

Our next genius move was a detour toward Calle Mariana until we realized it was further out of the way than we thought.  The only benefit was being out of the massive headwind that was spraying rain in our faces, at least for a few minutes.  So we came back onto Ashford Avenue and ended up at CP1 where we were aiming in the first place.  Finally out of the rain for a few minutes!

Here we had to have all four hands on a little maze and get 3 tiny balls into the center, without talking.  The CP volunteer was super strict, not even letting us make noise or try to communicate wordlessly, but eventually I figured out that John had a plan and I just needed to try not to "help".  Carefully, carefully, finally got it!


We ran into Kip and Dave as we were exiting the area, and they pointed us back down Ashford to the fire-starter challenge.  With our detour getting here we had bypassed this CP, but Kip and Dave helpfully got us back on track.

It was still raining but at least not nearly as bad anymore, so we got our firestarter materials and got to work at creating a flame in some tissue paper.  It took a while, and the video is therefore way too long to post (and I'm too lazy to edit it tonight) but we eventually did get fire.  Next time we'll do better!

On a side note, and completely unrelated to the race, John received flint in his stocking for Christmas... a little tidbit you would have missed if I had written this report in a more timely manner.

Finally it was time to head over to Calle Mariana.  Sheila told us that there were still several CP's not solved, and I looked at the clue sheet but didn't see anything we could help with.  We took a chance we weren't leaving a checkpoint behind but decided to go to the next known spot and we could come back from there if needed.

We found Kip and Dave waiting out a penalty at a hostel.  We took our turn browsing a small room + bathroom to check out all the details and remember as many as we could.  Then we came outside and tried to answer questions about what we had seen.  The color of the bathmat by the tub?  Purple.  The number of mirrors?  One (no - 3, including the 2 in our photo below!).  The first letter of the WiFi code?  You have got to be kidding.  We got maybe 6 or 7 right out of 10, resulting in a 3 minute penalty.  Seems reasonable!

Plus I think some of the people staying there were amused by watching all of this hullabaloo.

Our photo after we were allowed to have our electronics back:


Time for a decision or two - and if we had been asking the right question we would have done ourselves a huge favor here.

Instead: Should we continue on the course vs. waiting to see whether we would need to go back to Condado?  Yes (which turned out to be correct, yay!)

So we ran up to Ponce de Leon and galloped westward toward the airport to look for a helicopter ride.

Question 2: Which side of the airport should we run on?  John knew that it would be difficult (impossible, it turns out) to get from one side to the other without coming all the way back around to the front.  So we focused on that question and decided based on the address (Hanger 4 South) that the south side made sense.

The question we really should have been asking was - is it worth the time to run all that way plus ride a helicopter (even though that would be WAY COOL) plus run back vs. a 30 minute penalty?  The answer to this unasked question would have been a resounding NO.

Which is apparently why GUR would not have placed the checkpoint there, instead they worked with the helicopter company because it was now based at a new location that was actually in line with the rest of the course...

But I'm getting ahead of myself.  Instead of knowing all this, we started running and running, eventually catching up with Kip and Dave, with my questioning of "why are we doing this?" getting louder as my running legs got proportionally slower.  And we did not find the helicopter tour company.  Finally we all decided we had to give up on this wild goose chase, get back to the actual course, and eventually we would find out what this had cost us.

So I was not in a proper race mood when we went next to the Sizzler and tried to find the boat docked behind it where our next CP was located.  John found an old guy in the marina parking lot who said he knew where "Sail Old San Juan" was located, but it was obviously going to take him some time to explain it, and I was highly skeptical that anything useful was going to result from this slow conversation.  I walked away (which apparently is a highly offensive thing to do to a Puerto Rican who wants to be helpful) but luckily John is a charmer and managed to get the guy focused again.

I turned the corner, finally came back, couldn't find John, and wandered around until he called me to explain where he was.  Which was on a dock stuck way behind the Sizzler in a place that is not easy to explain.  At least John was also helping Kip and Dave who spotted his green shirt from within the restaurant, so eventually we all found the sailboat.

Not our finest hour (and including the airport incident it literally was about an hour).

Coming up - we got better!  We had to blindfold one teammate while the other would explain how to tie a specific knot based on a diagram.  The guy opened the picture and I said "John it's a bowline".  John tied one quickly, then did it again after finding out he had to tie it around the boom.  We were both really glad it was a bowline!  Finally we accomplished something in a way such that we could be slightly proud of ourselves!


Here is Dave explaining the task to Kip:


One more CP just across the inlet - we found the Skipper Shop at the Club Nautica (again) and this time one of us had to dig out some puzzle pieces from inside of a fish, with a spoon, without using our hands.  Since it didn't involve ingesting said fish, John was game to try.  We took a short boat ride while this was happening, put the soggy puzzle pieces together, and we were off running again - another small boost of confidence.


Finally we could go to Old San Juan and finish it all off.  We ran down a bus route but didn't catch a bus, so my legs were getting more tired by the minute but they were still trying.  Our crew had discovered the actual location of the helicopter ride - in Old San Juan!  We wouldn't miss it after all!

But we would miss a cool-looking trapeze challenge.  The earlier rain had canceled that challenge for some teams, so they had to keep it fair and we just had to get our picture there.  That was a bummer.


Right next door was the new location of the helicopter tour.  So cool!


John got a bit crazy with the picture taking while up in the air - here are some of those shots:


Looking down at El Morro:



Wow, the highlight of the race for sure!

Next up was a large version of a Bacardi catapult, neat!  It was so big that people were helping the racers load it each time.  I was allowed to move the catching barrel around and we figured out a good spot to land the beanbags in it.  We knocked this one out in no time.


As you might guess from our expressions below, the next checkpoint was up a little hill... to one of the narrowest houses in the world where we had to complete a challenge involving really small text.  We took this photo upon our arrival up that hill, not after completing the challenge, just to be clear why we look rather pained:


Up one more little hill to the top of Old San Juan and a coffee house inside the Cuartel de Ballaja.  We put on headphones to hear the instructions, then had to use chopsticks to put 40 coffee beans in the cup in a certain (short) amount of time.  While doing so, there were sirens playing in our ears and a guy's voice saying all kinds of numbers.  That part didn't bother me.  What killed me was not getting the chopsticks to behave.  Clearly I need to eat more sushi to practice.

We weren't allowed to talk while we were chopsticking and we had to give a total # at the end, which had to match the number of beans in the cup.

We tried a few times as I got fewer and fewer in the cup even as John was doing well (just not enough to make up for my deficit).  Kip and Dave showed up, completed it, and left.  Finally I found a method that worked MUCH better and it took only one extra try for us to get the count correct.

FINALLY, we did it.  Wow, that was a tough one.  At least my legs got a rest.


Downhill!  We ran down to our final CP at the Biercade bar.  One of us was to walk on cartons full of eggs and take a "spin around a pole" penalty for every egg we cracked.  The other racer was allowed to support that person, so John basically put me on his hip and I tip-toed across while the volunteer got our photo.  No cracked eggs, no penalty!


Another downhill run, this time to the bus station.  We confirmed with Sheila that Kip and Dave were almost back to the finish, but we still had a chance to get in the money (top 3 got the big bucks).  It was a tense couple of minutes but then a bus started up and we were on!

A short bus ride and a short run to the finish, then we got to face a sliding block puzzle as our final challenge.  GUR had announced this mystery challenge before the start of the finals, with a 15 minute penalty if you decide to quit the challenge (clock starts when you make that decision).  People were urging us, "you can do it!" and of course it was something we thought we should tackle.

It took us a while, somewhere just over 15 minutes to solve it, but at least we got it  :)

And it was really close because Phil and Peter showed up and whipped right through the puzzle to finish just behind us - way to go, guys!

In the end it was three teams of friends who finished 1-2-3 and a huge group of excited folks at the finish line!  Along with the egg that Phil carried the whole time (on the left side of the picture):


MANY THANKS to everyone who helped us and cheered for us, both in San Juan and far away, especially those who got up wicked early Saturday morning at the start of the day!  We could not have gotten anywhere close without each and every one of you!  What a team!

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