A Little Urban Adventuring

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Team on Boats

By now, I’m sure most of you have heard of the Amazing Race, and that most of your are familiar with adventure racing, and that you’ve perhaps also heard of City Chase, a race series that sort of (loosely) combines elements of both AR and the Amazing Race. In a word, they call City Chase an urban adventure challenge. Well this post will give you a taste of how the City Chase actually works, as Deanna and I recently competed in the Ottawa installment. Like the Spartan Race a few weeks back, I was taking part in the race to provide a video race review for Get Out There Magazine. If you’d like to see the video I put together (it’s kind of frantic), have a look at the YouTube video. I actually had no idea how the race would actually play out, as I only knew roughly what it was about, which is that you race around the city using public transit to complete ‘Chase Points’. First team of 2 that does 10 of them and returns to the finish wins. Plain and simple. Well, as we learned, it isn’t quite as straightforward as that. For our first time, we were actually pretty happy to finish in 172nd place in a time of 5hrs 26mins out of over 500 teams that started out. Besides the little video review I put together, you can also check out the photos that I snapped and posted on flickr. As I was focused on the video and racing, there aren’t too many I liked. When you’ve had a peek at those, pop on back and read about the race!

Okay, so we’ve established that in City Chase, there are Chase Points and you race around the city. You can only go by foot or public transit, which in the case of Ottawa means the O-Train or buses. Every participant was given a 1-day bus pass to use for that purpose. Being a Saturday though, I knew a lot of the routes would have limited bus runs, so Deanna and I did a lot of walking instead of waiting. Lucky for us, the weather on race day was absolutely gorgeous. Sunny skies and temps that would eventually climb to around 30 degrees. Hydration would be important over the course of the 6 hours. I should point out that the race has a hard cap. All teams must have crossed the finish line by the 6 hour mark to officially finish. This can be tricky with the public transit equation, and plays into strategy. Given that 40 or so teams ‘tied’ for 384th with a time of 6 hours even, I’m guessing they let that slide a bit. Amazingly, the top team finished in just over 3 hours! Preparation is the key, which leads me to the explanation of Chase Points.

After a group warm-up at city hall, and a race briefing, the Chase was on. We were told the Official Clue Sheet was available at Lisgar Field, meaning all 1100 racers would be bolting over there to get the information. The clue sheet outlines the Chase Points, and lays out the rules. In total, there were 31 possible Chase Points set in 4 groups. In the first 3 groups, you HAD to complete at least 2 of the chase points (these groups had 3, 4, and 4 CPs respectively), then choose 4 from the 4th group. I expected each clue would just tell you where to go and the nature of the challenge. Nope! It is actually a list of different puzzles, like cryptograms, plays on words, cryptic clues, etc. For example, our first CP we went to was called “Tinkle Toes” and the clue read: Bih-kuhm uh pruh-fesh-un-nl bawl-room dahn-ser aht wuhn uhv thee lee-ding dahns stoo-dee-ohs in ot-uh-wuh. Meet uhs aht wuhn huhn-drid and fif-tee-wuhn Chap-uhl Street. Obviously it was just a phonetic clue, so I got it quickly, but there were all sorts of other puzzles to unscramble.

Experienced teams took clue sheets and basically sat down with a map and smartphone. They worked at unscrambling the clues and trying to figure out where each of the challenges was, and tried to plot an efficient route between them that they could complete as quickly as possible in order to get back to the finish line quickly. Also, those keen on winning probably did CP #1, which was done in advance by raising at least $50 for Right to Play. Deanna and I were not quite as experienced, instead trying to figure out a nearby one we could start with. However, there were also 3 CPs which were awarding VIP line passes to the first 25 teams through, allowing teams to skip to the front of the line if they got to busy CP. I thought that might be a good idea, so with that in mind, we bee-lined for the dance studio to do Twinkle Toes. This was a matter of a jog through downtown to get to Rideau and Chapel. Luckily, we were amongst those first 25 teams, and the challenge, which had us do a dance routine, wasn’t too hard, and we were awarded our VIP pass. Happy with this, we set back out into the sun to get to our next CP, which we hadn’t decided on yet. We’d already burned up about 45 minutes for 1 CP!

To solve a couple of the clues, we had to get creative, first calling on Kevin to try and work on a crossword puzzle for us, then rummaging in a store recycle bin to get a Friday newspaper, which had a clue buried within it. While working on the puzzles, we headed back to the Ottawa U campus on foot, where one of the CPs was, and it was right up my alley! Put on by the Ottawa Orienteering Club, you were given a map of the campus indicating the location of 10 control points that you had to punch. I got to work on it right away, running from point to point with Deanna on my heels. We got all 10 controls in about 17 minutes, one of the fastest times of all the racers. Having completed only 2 CPs, we were starting to get nervous already, as we had 8 to go! We decided we’d need to actually do a little planning and strategizing. We now had 2 ‘optional’ CPs done, and needed all our mandatory ones. With that in mind, we solved a bunch of the clues and made a rough plan. We would head downtown where we could pick up 1 CP on Queen Street, 2 CPs on Bank Street, then head out to LeBreton for another CP. Grab a bus towards Westboro where we’d pick up 2 more CPs, then take a bus to the O-Train. From there, take train to Mooney’s Bay for our final 2 CPs before transiting back to the finish line. With a freshly-minted plan, we headed out on foot with purpose.

Our next CP had us at the Royal Oak at 188 Bank, where we had to each prepare a drink and serve to the judge. There was a huge line-up, but our VIP pass was used for maximum benefit here, allowing us to skip the line. Perfect! Sadly, there was no real alcohol in the drinks, and they weren’t something you’d want to sample, as it was dirty glasses and questionable ingredients. Too bad, as it was getting pretty darn hot. Deanna had one slight problem with her drink. Rather than reading ‘1/2 oz’ of Vodka, she tried pouring a 1/2 glass of vodka! The judges admired her strong drink mixing skills, but decided it might be best to try again :-). In spite of that, we were in and out quickly.

Further down the street at Bank and Gilmour, we grabbed a Blackberry from Rogers for the next challenge, which was to take 4 pictures (out of 6 possible clues) within 30 minutes and bring them back to the judges. This was another pretty quick task, which we completed lickety-split. We were now getting a bit more confident and had found our groove. There were lots of other teams out and about, all having a great time and shouting out to each other all through downtown. We now headed up to Queen Street to find the GoodLIfe fitness. Once there, we had to spend 7 minutes on spin bikes sweating it out as an instructor shouted instructions. If we weren’t totally hot from the sun, this workout put us WAY over the top. We finished the challenge and stepped back out totally drenched and looking for some relief.

Lucky for us, our next CP was just the ticket. We now made our way to the west end of downtown to find the whitewater practice area around LeBreton Flats, where inflatable kayaks awaited us. For this challenge, we had to grab a boat, and navigate the whitewater gates down the river for a bit before pulling out and carrying the boat back to the start. The water was a nice refreshing treat, even though we didn’t get to stay or swim for very long. However, the rocks and sand were absolutely scorching, causing both of us to burn our feet! Once again, we had a great run there, and were back on our way soon, this time heading for the transitway to grab a bus to Westboro. Destination? The Ottawa Gymnastics Centre for a super-fun CP where we got to do trampoline work, climb ropes, play on the rings, the pommel horse, balance beam, and the rings. The piece de resistance for us here was doing 5 cartwheels in a row, which anyone who knows Deanna might realize she wasn’t particularly good at those. However, under pressure, she nailed it!

Our reward for a job well done awaited just down the street at the CP called ‘The Mask’. This CP was located at a spa, and entailed me giving Deanna a lovely cucumber and peppermint facial. She had to wear the mask for 3 minutes. Once the time was up, I cleaned her up, and we had to take a ‘mystery shot’, which ended up being apple cider vinegar. YUCK! Luckily, it was watered down by the time we got to it, thanks to the many teams before us. With this CP done, we were left with only 2 more CPs, both of which were at Mooney’s Bay. A bus and the O-Train later, we were jogging to the site. First up was a puzzle CP where we had to assemble 6 puzzles of places in the world, and match the name of the place to each one after making the puzzle. The puzzles were pretty straightforward, and we quickly worked through them, also correctly matching the place names since I knew most of them from sight. Our only problem was the wind which had picked up and kept blowing our puzzle pieces away. Kind of frustrating, but what can you do?

Our very last CP was right up my alley as well. It involved paddling a kayak out to a buoy and back. However, it wasn’t THAT easy. The real challenge was that your teammate had to be seated on the front of the boat as you paddled. If you flipped, you had to start again. There were a range of boats, and one caught my eye. Fat and wide. Ultra stable. I told Deanna to just hop on the front and we’d get ‘er done quick. Sure enough, no problems. As we were out there, we saw another team trying the same, but they had picked a sleeker kayak, and didn’t fare well. In other words, they flipped! On our return I suggested they take our kayak. After all, we were all done and only had to get to the finish line now. Wrapping up was quick and painless, as we just had to take transport back to the Rideau Centre and walk over to City Hall. We’d had a great day and were plenty hot, so we were looking forward to finishing up. Hand in hand, we ran to the finish to complete the Challenge. Once there, they told us we were among the first 180 teams to finish, and directed to get a goodie bag.

Amongst the goodies? Two free beer tickets to use at the Hard Rock for the post-race party! Awesome! What a great way to finish the race. After hanging around for a little bit, we hit the market and the bar for beers. We sat with a few other racers and swapped stories. It was fun to hear about some of the other CPs that we didn’t get to try, including one where you had to let a tarantula or snake crawl all over you! The bar was totally full now, as more and more teams finished off and made their way here. We only stayed a little bit, as we’d also decided to head over to Zak’s for milkshakes, then join Dave and Meghan at Hintonburger for some delicious supper. All in all, a really fun way to spend a summer day with Deanna, and getting to show her a bit more about the city she now calls home. Can’t say for certain, but I can see us doing it again next year as well. Next time I’m sure we’ll approach it even more strategically and try to better our last time :-). Till that time, have fun, and hope you’re all enjoying the fine weather as well! Ciao.

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