Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The Amazing Milwaukee Race On Bikes 2!

This was the second year for The Amazing Milwaukee Race On Bikes.  My husband and I (team name: The Slow Spokes) biked it together both times, and this year was much more fun.  Last year was grueling, and we were proud simply to finish.  This year they worked out some of the bugs, shortened the courses to more manageable lengths, and there were no giant cloudbursts to contend with.

I was not optimistic going in.  Not that we ever train for such events, but normally I swim almost every day and I try to be active where I can, and the two weeks prior to the race were like an anti-training campaign.  If I were trying to hurt my chances of doing well in a 15 mile bike race, I couldn't have come up with a better routine than one of sitting in a nursing home with my dad and subsisting on Twizzlers, bagels, takeout, and pie.  I got little sleep, drove the whole day before to get into town to do the race, and didn't even know where my tire pump was until an hour before we left.  I did not like our chances.

So how did the anti-training campaign work out?

We came in 4th.  Out of 35 teams on the B Route we came in 4th!

The winning team clocked in at 3:24 and we arrived at 3:39.  And honestly, if we'd been better about reading directions at one point I think we would have won because we could have shaved a good twenty minutes to half an hour off our time.  (But I'll get to that in a bit.)

The real reason we did as well as we did had less to do with Twizzlers and lack of sleep, and more to do with the fact that the entire race was on the South Side.  We were right in our own neighborhood the whole time so we knew what and where everything was.  If we didn't live in Bay View I think we would have struggled.  Our violin store was even a brief stop on the route, so we could pause and take a bathroom break there since we had a key.  Can't have a more familiar set of locations than that short of them handing out clues from our living room.

The race began at the St Francis Brewery, a couple of miles from our house.  We got there early enough to check in and split a breakfast burrito, and at that point it was threatening to storm.  I brought a rain jacket and rain pants this year, just because the misery of being soaked to the bone last year was still vivid.  I was so uncomfortable and cold that first race and I was hoping to avoid that this time if possible.  So as it started to drizzle I put on my rainproof gear.

We got a card to carry that someone would punch at each official stop to keep track of how we were doing.  (If we wanted to skip anything we could take a 30 minute penalty.)

First instruction was for the A Course (30 mile route) people to head to a location to the south, and the B Course (15 mile route) people to head to Classic Slice pizza on Kinnickinnic, and present the volunteers there with a penny that did not have an image of the Lincoln Memorial on the back.  I happened to grab a handful of change before I left the house, and sure enough I had a new penny that fit the requirements in my backpack.  So we headed off as fast as we could to our favorite pizza place in Bay View.  (They serve a pesto and pine nut pizza that I adore.)

I was officially a sweaty mess by the time we got there in my rain gear, but the rain had stopped, so I stripped it off and stuffed it back in my bag, and the weather remained perfect for biking the rest of the day.  It was overcast but dry, and cool enough to stay comfortable.  Couldn't have asked for better.

From Classic Slice we raced straight over to the World War I Memorial in Humboldt Park.  We practically live in Humboldt Park so we knew exactly where to go, and for that one moment in the race I think we were ahead of everyone.  The memorial was surrounded by pairs of photographs, each pair depicting one image of Thurston Howell III from Gilligan's Island, and the other a picture of a water fountain, which here in Milwaukee everyone calls a "bubbler."  There is a bar just a couple of blocks from the park on Howell called "Thirst On Howell III" also known as "The Bubbler" so off we went.

Inside Thirst On Howell was a puzzle to solve.  It looked like a crossword puzzle, but all the words went across, and there were no indicators about which clue went with what line.  The clues had numbers by them, which turned out to be the number of letters in each answer, so by counting the number of empty letter boxes in each line of the puzzle we could narrow down what answer went where.  When we filled it all in a group of highlighted boxes going down spelled out the next instruction.

I loved doing the puzzle.  The only odd thing was that there were only two copies of the puzzle, one for each table in the bar, and even though Ian and I filled most of it out ourselves before other people arrived, we had to share.  I didn't mind working with other players who were able to figure out a couple of clues we didn't know ourselves, but it was weird to have someone else benefit from all the work we'd already done.  And then did all the rest of the racers simply read our answers and move on?  That seems somehow unfair.  I would have been happier if everyone had been required to figure it out on their own.

We figured out enough of the puzzle to determine that we were supposed to go "West on Warnimont Ave," so that's what we did.  That sent us on a bridge over the freeway and off to St Adalbert Catholic Cemetery, an old cemetery on the South Side with a lot of Polish names in it.

There we got a map and a list of 16 things to figure out, including a bonus challenge as a Fast Forward for later that was optional.  We had to find particular headstones and answer questions such as which war someone died in, what the words "mother" and "father" were in Polish, and locate markers with unusual features.  The bonus was to find a name with 13 letters in it, and be able to spell that when handing in our answers at the other end of the cemetery.  (I went with DZIENGELEWSKI which I may now remember forever because my mind collects unhelpful things like that.)

I have mixed feelings about the cemetery as a stop on the race.  On the one hand, it's a space open to the public and it doesn't hurt anyone to walk around there.  I actually enjoy visiting interesting old cemeteries.  I find them beautiful and serene.  And as a place to find clues it certainly provides lots of opportunities.  It was outdoors, free, and I really felt I learned a bit about my city and its history by spending time there.  So in all those ways it was a great idea to have it included.

On the other hand, it felt disrespectful.  If the cemetery had been completely empty, then there would have been no problem.  But there were people there visiting grave sites, and it felt wrong to be charging around quickly and having fun while other people were there to grieve.  Some visitors seemed amused, and I asked an old man for help with a clue and he seemed pleased to be able to assist me.  But other people seemed understandably flustered that so many people in bike helmets were rushing around with cameras.  And when we had to find the grave of a particular child and calculate the number of days she lived and it was only 10 I thought I would cry.

So I'm torn.  Because if I had family buried there I would think it was great that people were having fun in the cemetery and taking the time to read the names of so many people long gone.  But if my grief were fresh?  Not so much.  However, that's probably true just out in a regular park or the grocery store, so I don't know.  I may keep pondering that.

What I do know, is that Ian and I made a major strategic mistake by not reading the instructions as carefully as we should have.  We only needed 11 of the clues filled out to move on.  That extra 5 things took us at least 20 minutes, and I could have narrowed down which clues were going to take the longest and crossed them off early if I'd been thinking.  But we filled out EVERYTHING and took way too long in the cemetery.  I don't really regret it, because Ian and I had fun doing it, but to know we had an actual shot at coming in at one of the top three places for once and we blew it is sort of annoying.  (Maybe next time the race is on the South Side we will pay better attention to such details and have that chance again!)

Moving on.  Outside the cemetery was a restaurant called Crocus, and taped to the sidewalk next to it was a sign directing us down a little sidewalk path (kind of like an alley, but just for pedestrians).  There were little signs forming a rhyming clue taped down to the path over the course of many blocks.  The most fun part about that was all the neighborhood children who were excited that something interesting was going on.  They all pointed us in the direction we were supposed to go.

Leon's, Summer 2011
Those clues took us to Leon's Frozen Custard, my favorite place to take visitors for a treat when they come visit us in Milwaukee.  Best frozen custard I've ever had, and the place is always busy even on the coldest days even though there is no indoor seating.  (There's really no seating--you just go back to your car, or in this case our bikes.)  At Leon's we had to buy two single scoop cones (or one double scoop) before we could get our next clue.  I wouldn't have thought I could bike and eat an ice cream cone at the same time, but apparently I can.  There was a trash can set up if anyone simply wanted to ditch their cones right away, but that would be a tragic waste of something delicious.

Next we headed to the park toward the archery range I like to use.  I was really hoping for an archery challenge!  But instead in the neglected tennis courts beside the range we were taught how to ride a unicycle.  Sort of.  One of us was supposed to get a lesson about getting on and off a unicycle, then "ride" across the court with assistance from the other teammate.  I made a sad attempt at getting on the unicycle before declaring Ian should have the honor.  That worked out just fine, because he was able to balance much better than I was, and while keeping an arm around my shoulders he was able to get across the court on the first attempt.  The first to be able to do that according to the volunteer who approved our card punch!  (Go Ian!)

At this point I should say that Ian's geography is so good I didn't even bother packing the GPS this time.  We don't have smartphones, and since we were worried about rain I didn't bring my laptop.  We were Google-less for this race.  But Ian just knows how to get places, and most of the time I didn't even read the location clues because Ian would glance at them and then take off.  After the park he told me we were headed for the basilica, and I just made sure to follow as closely as I could.

The Basilica of St Josaphat is beautiful.  I've played there for the Christmas Eve mass and it's just a glorious space.  When we walked inside there was a man at a table asking if we'd like to make a donation to the preservation fund.  I gave him a dollar, and he smiled and handed me a pamphlet which I almost didn't take because I don't like having extra paper around, but then I decided to accept it and just stick it in my backpack.  Then he pointed us in the direction of the main chapel.

Basilica dome, Christmas 2011

Inside the chapel we were asked to translate the Polish words that run around the base of the dome in the ceiling.  We were told we could look around downstairs for that if we needed to.  And after admiring the beautiful space for a moment we started to head out of the chapel when I remembered the pamphlet.  Seemed like a natural reward for having made a donation, and sure enough inside was the translation we needed.

We got our punch and raced off toward the lake to the historical marker for the BayView (or Rolling Mill) Massacre.  In May of 1886, thousands of workers marched on the Milwaukee Iron Company rolling mill in Bay View demanding an eight hour work day.  Governor Rusk ordered the National Guard to "Shoot to kill."  Seven people died including a thirteen year old boy.

At the site we were handed scripts and asked to act out (with feeling) the events of the protest.  We had the option if we had gotten the Fast Forward earlier to do the play with as few as two people covering all the parts, but there were other racers there and we were able to do it with seven.  I played Workers #2 and #6, and Ian got to play Governor Rusk which he did with a drunken sounding bluster.  The person representing the militia didn't have any lines.  He just blasted us with a Super-Soaker.

After a round of applause we were handed a photo bingo page.  We had to get all the photos in any row of five and then report only a few blocks away to... Korinthian Violins!
We selected the middle row straight across because we knew where all those things were and could put them in the right order for getting to the violin shop.  The Palomino bar (#2) was right on the corner, so we got that, headed for Wild Flour Bakery (#1), then south to the American Legion building (#5), Anodyne Coffee (#4) a whole block from the store, and finally Trowbridge School (#3).  Then down the street to the violin store where volunteers checked our photos, and sent us back to Trowbridge school to put a second coat of paint on a section of the mural that the racers put up on the foot version of the race back in April.  (The dark sections of the mural really did need a second coat, so I'm glad they made that part of this round.)

And that was our last punch.  We were tired (but not feeling destroyed like last year), and glad to head back to the St Francis Brewery.  We watched bikers ahead of us run a couple of red lights, which was disturbing, but even if they hadn't I don't think we'd have had the strength to catch up.  (We're old.)  We checked in, locked up our bikes, ordered ourselves a well-deserved dinner, and even won a couple of tickets to the Harley-Davidson Museum as a door prize.

And that was this year's race.

After a complicated couple of weeks where I didn't really see my husband at all, it was wonderful to get a whole day to just be with him and work together and simply have fun.  We don't get enough of that.

Getting back on the bikes after dinner was a bit painful, and by the time we swung by the violin store to pick up Ian's bus ticket so he could head back to Detroit that night we were really feeling that 15 mile course.  The mile and a half home from the store never felt so long!  But we did it, and we can't wait to do it again.  Long live The Amazing Milwaukee Race!


  1. And next year PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE take me! I always miss the good stuff. I don't know how you always know about the races but I wanna know too! :)

    1. You can check out their website!


      Or just ask us. The one on foot has always been on a Saturday in April and the one on bikes has been on a Sunday in August.

  2. Love your name! Slow Spokes! What a great race (I think it is almost nice that people were visiting the cemetery, even if it was for fun) and congrats on a great finish.

  3. Oh Kory, it's so nice to catch up with you, and to have it be this fun post! I so enjoyed reading last year's and learning about your city. It also just sounds like loads of fun. :o)

    I'm sorry to hear your father has been ill (for lack of a better word), and that you had to forgo a family trip. :o( And, for what it's worth, I agree with you whole-heartedly about the state of our health care, having dealt with a critically ill father for years, and now watching Brien's step-grandfather...

    I've missed reading and am so happy to be back! :o) The Mold-a-Rama adventure sounded like SO much fun and I'm sorry I missed it "live".