Sunday, April 26, 2015

The Last Amazing Milwaukee Race

This past weekend we ran the Amazing Milwaukee Race #6.  There have also been three of the bike version, so of the nine races I've been involved in, five were as a participant and one as an element of the race.  They've all been, well, amazing, and sadly the remarkable man who runs them is moving this summer, so this was the last of them.  Adam Baus is the kind of person who is able to organize productions and people in ways I can barely fathom.  I'm awed by his ingenuity and his ability to not only inspire but follow through.  He makes great things happen.  It's a real loss to our community that he is leaving and he will be missed.

But what a way to go out!  I loved this race.  I'll be feeling it in my legs for a while but it was worth it. 

Ian and I signed up pretty late (because there was the possibility of his having to do an Army activity, but that wound up not being a conflict) so we were team #80.  Team name: Best Team Name Ever.

The starting point (and finish line) was a restaurant and bar on the Downtown Riverwalk called Ale Asylum Riverhouse.  It would be nice to eat there when it's warm, which late April in Milwaukee is not.  Only in the low 40s and windy, but at least it didn't rain on us this time.  (And I didn't have to do any portion of this race in just my underwear, so that was a plus.)

We checked in, picked up our clue manifest (which we would get punched after completing a task at each location), and hung out for about half an hour waiting for things to get rolling.  Then at 11:00 we followed Adam out of the building and down the block to Pere Marquette park.

On the way we were asked to admire the new Kilbourntown Historical Marker, which was recently restored thanks to funds raised as part of the last Amazing Milwaukee Race on Bikes.  There is even a little mention of the Amazing Milwaukee Race at the bottom!  That's one of my favorite parts of these races, that not only do we get to learn more about our city, but we get to help it, too, by doing things like buying food to donate or painting a mural.  Or restoring a historical marker!

I was ready to walk by after admiring it, but then I thought I should get a photo.  Because nothing gets mentioned or offered on the Amazing Milwaukee Race without a reason, so I got my picture, and then we followed the group to the park.

The park is a lovely spot by the river where there are concerts in the summer and lots of holiday lights in the winter.  Adam gave us basic instructions (that included the admonition to "not be a jerk"), then we gathered for a group photo, and were finally asked to form a large circle around him on the grass.  Race volunteers were standing just past us outside the circle, and after a countdown we had to run to one and get an envelope.  Each envelope contained one piece of a six-piece puzzle that when assembled would give us the first two clues.

The trick was to find the other five people in the group who had the rest of your puzzle, and this required shouting out the name of the local personality pictured on the back of your puzzle piece.  Ours was Bob Uecker (baseball guy/announcer), so we ran around yelling "Bob Uecker?!" over and over but to no avail.  We ran into many people with pieces of Tom Barrett (Milwaukee's mayor) and The Fonz (whom all the children I've even met in Milwaukee are confused by), but no Bob Uecker.  Eventually a volunteer pointed us to the Bob Uecker group who were absorbed in reading the clue that our piece didn't seem to add much to. 

The clue gave us two places to go: City Hall, and the Grohmann Museum, both within a few blocks of the park.

We decided to hit City Hall first.  (Many people recognize it from the opening credits of Laverne and Shirley, another thing children in Milwaukee have no idea about when mentioned.)

This would be the Laverne and Shirley shot
Inside City Hall we got our first card punch, and a slip of paper with six more destinations to be visited in any order.  We started to look it over on our way to the museum at the Milwaukee School of Engineering campus, and between the two of us figured out what everything was.  We needed to get to the Planetarium at UWM, Bliffert Hardware in Riverwest, the football field at University High School, Alderaan Coffee, the Wisconsin Cheese Mart, and the Milwaukee Art Museum.
On the clue sheet there was also space to fill in a phone number, and each destination would contribute one more digit.  There hadn't been a digit at City Hall, and Ian made a point to ask at the engineering school museum, too, but no one there knew about any numbers either.  This was confusing seeing as there were six destinations, but seven numbers to find.  We decided to worry about that later.

In the meantime, the Grohmann Museum is one of those places that I've passed a million times and wondered about and never been in.  It apparently has the most comprehensive art collection in the world that depicts how human work has evolved.  I've always noticed the bronze figures along the edge of the roof, and didn't realize there was green space up there and they were part of a sculpture garden.

There was a big line at the museum when we arrived because only 12 people were allowed in the elevator at a time and we had to go to the roof.  This at least gave us time to admire the beautiful mosaic work on the floor, and get a sense of what was in the museum.  I had no idea they had such an extensive collection of paintings, and I need to go back someday when I have time to really look around.

Once on the roof we received our second punch and a Photo-Bingo sheet.  We were going to have to take photos of our own to match a complete row of six anywhere vertically, horizontally, or diagonally on the sheet in order to get our final punch at the end of the race.
And what do you know, the Kilbourntown Historical Marker was on it!  (Hey, one down....)  There was also the ceiling of the entryway to the museum, a sculpture down the street from where we were, and a mosaic on the side of a church a block away that I've always thought was funny (because the bank building in it looks so out of place with the Virgin Mary).  We also decided to get a couple of other photos of things nearby that we knew how to find simply to give us more Bingo options later, so we got Gertie the duck, the Bronze Fonz, and the statue of Plankinton inside the Grand Avenue Mall.

I kind of wanted to work our way back to the Wisconsin Cheese Mart and get that clue done, but Ian convinced me since we were down on Wisconsin Avenue by then to hit the Cheese Mart on the way back to the finish line and instead hop a bus to the Milwaukee Art Museum.

This is a good point to mention that Ian loves buses.  He once created a site called Milwaukee Without a Car (that he doesn't have time to keep up, unfortunately) and he's a fan of public transit, and it pains him that his wife and children aren't comfortable with it.  (Or as he puts it, "The dagger in my heart!")  We're hoping this will be the summer where we buckle down and have him teach us what he knows so we can also be bus savvy.  In any case, this was his day to not only enjoy my company for hours on end, but to repeatedly make me get on a bus, so he was happy.  He got us M-Card day passes the day before the race, had us take the bus to and from home so we wouldn't have to park downtown, and knew all the relevant routes and stops.  He was the transit master of our team.  If it were my responsibility to get us everywhere by bus we would still be out on the course.  The buses were on time and clean and fun.  (And a welcome break from using our legs some of the time.)

We headed to the Art Museum, snapped a Photo-Bingo picture of the Sunburst sculpture outside for good measure, as well as a picture at the entrance to the current show which was in the photo row we were actually working on.

The current show at the Milwaukee Art Museum is "Inspiring Beauty--50 Years of Ebony Fashion Fair."  It's a really interesting exhibit that I'd actually been hoping to see about a traveling show of haute couture designs modeled by African Americans back at a time when putting black people in such clothes was a bold statement.  We got a pass into the exhibit, and were instructed to return with a specific phrase to repeat and the next phone number digit to get our next punch.

A couple of rooms into the show there was a race volunteer who told us the digit was somewhere in one of the rooms, but not in the displays or on the walls.  Ian and I wandered around, admired the spectacular clothes, but didn't see anything related to the race aside from the volunteer, so we went back to her and asked what we were missing.  She told us the clue was on something that wasn't moving, but could move.  She assured us nothing was hidden in the videos that were playing on the walls.  So we started looking around again, and I finally caught sight of a button pinned to a guard.  There was our digit!  He smiled when I walked up to him and agreed that the phrase I needed was "Inspiring Beauty" and we were on our way again.

Just past the museum, along Prospect Ave overlooking Lake Michigan is a park that includes the cabin of Solomon Juneau, one of Milwaukee's founders.  We walked up there to get a picture of it for our Photo-Bingo row. 
Doesn't look like much, but has an awe inspiring view of the lake.
There was a plaque I couldn't identify that we also needed to complete our Photo-Bingo row that Ian thought should be up there too, but turned out not to be in that area.  Two other racers told us where to find it while we were walking together to catch a bus.  (Turns out it was back near Gertie the duck on the Riverwalk and we'd missed it.)

We wanted to head north to the UWM Planetarium, and there were three other teams at the bus stop just past the park.  There was the couple who who told us about the Riverwalk plaque who seemed to have chosen a race route similar to ours, a pair of sisters, and their mom and brother who were having technical difficulties with their smartphone and saying in general they'd been rather inefficient so far.  The sisters sent mom and brother off some direction to a coffee shop that they thought of as rather close and then realized too late that it probably wasn't.  (We never saw the mom and brother team again, so I hope they had fun wherever they ended up.)

The bus was going to arrive too late for the 1:00 Planetarium show, so the sister team got off the bus before we did to make their way over to the high school, but we decided to wait for the 1:30 show anyway.  Good chance for a bathroom break and to sit and look over the clues again.  (Our biggest downfalls have always come from not taking enough time to really read the clues.)
The show in the Planetarium was good!  Led by Jean Creighton of NASA, she told us about her work with the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) and also showed us how to look for things currently in the night sky over Milwaukee.  I took notes in the dark because we were warned there was a quiz afterward.  (Plus, it was just interesting stuff to know.  I can now find the North Star!)

Turns out I didn't need to worry about that part.  The astronomy quiz was Ian's favorite piece of the race.  We got it after we stepped out of the show, and I barely had time to look at one question ("What does NASA stand for?") before Ian snatched it up and happily filled in stuff he already knew.  We only had to correctly answer six of the dozen or so questions on the quiz before we could get our punch and move on, but Ian rapidly answered eight.  He even knew things on the quiz that Dr Creighton didn't tell us, such as the names of the twin Gemini stars, Castor and Pollux, which I would have written down had she said them, but she just kept calling them "the twins." (I did help with one question, because he needed to list half a dozen constellations that can currently be seen here at this time of year, and I offered up Cassiopeia.  Not that I can find Cassiopeia, but I know it's up there.)  We got our punch and our phone number digit and were the first quiz takers out of there.

After the UWM Planetarium we jogged over to Riverside University High School where we found race volunteers on the football field.  The task there was for one member of the team to kick a football (from any distance) through the goalposts, and the other member had to retrieve it.  Ian did it on the first try!  I was impressed.  (And slow to retrieve our ball that he kicked really far because I stopped to take a picture of it happening.)

From there we snapped a few more bonus Bingo photos on our way to Bliffert Hardware, which was a Roadblock challenge.  A Roadblock is a task only one person on the team may do, and this one required strength so Ian was up yet again.  It was a game of Hammerschlaggen!

Six people (from different teams, or any extra people wandering the street that we could talk into playing) had to participate in each round.  Each got safety goggles, a hammer, and a nail started into the bench in front of them, and on the signal they'd begin hammering.  First one to drive the nail straight in was the winner.  You had to keep playing until you won.

It took Ian about four rounds to complete the task, then we got our punch and digit and caught a bus to Alderaan Coffee.  (The clue for that one was the quote about a disturbance in the force.  I was just glad Ian knew there was a coffee shop in town named for Princess Leia's adopted home planet.)

At this point in the game I was feeling somewhat decorative.  Ian and I make a good team (both in life and in this sort of challenge) because we have complementary skill sets.  So far my contribution was almost entirely recognizing things on the Photo-Bingo sheet.  Ian was able to actually navigate us around the city, catch the right buses, and had done the last few tasks without my help.  It was like Ian's race, and I was just tagging along.

But then we hit Alderaan!  Where we were asked to write a true short story on a tiny slip of paper and submit it for approval.  Ha.

The task was to highlight Ex Fabula, an organization that conducts local workshops to hone the art of personal story telling.  They select a theme and people submit true stories based on that theme to present on stage.  For this challenge we were shown the list of guidelines that all their stories require (it must be true, you must state how it made you feel, etc.), instructed that we may not write on the back of the tiny slip of paper (which was maybe about eight inches long and only an inch or so high), and told the theme was "FAST/SLOW."

I blog.  I like to write tiny.  I had this.  Ian got to sit this one out.

I wrote about how while teaching violin at the Conservatory I had to keep explaining to a student that if she could only play the piece she was working on fast but not slow it proved she didn't really understand it.  Then I went straight from there to my marital arts lesson where the black belt had to keep telling me that if I could only perform the throw I was working on fast but not slow it proved I didn't really understand it.  It was humbling, and also a good reminder of how all of life's lessons are connected.

My story elicited a good laugh out of the woman who was there to review the submissions, and she said it could be a contender for best story of the day, so that was nice, and a punch on our card well earned.

But then we walked to The Wisconsin Cheese Mart and hit the task I was truly meant for.  At the back of the store past the world's largest selection of cheese was a table of Rubik's cubes.

I didn't even ask what we were supposed to do, I just scooped up a cube and solved the whole thing in less than a minute and a half.  The race volunteer said something to me about having to do all six sides, but he was joking.  He started to hand me a solution manual but I just shrugged him off.  Ian laughed and stood aside.

This is officially the only time this skill has ever been useful for anything.

Turns out you had to complete one side (or one layer, I'm not even sure) to get your punch, but if you did all six you got a bonus Fast Forward punch that could possibly help you later.  I started to leave before my Fast Forward punch because I did it so fast I didn't register what was involved, but I'm glad I went back and got it.

A cube challenge!  You know what's really funny?  I had my own cube with me in my backpack.  I almost always pack a cube with me because it makes me happy and gives me something to do.  So I could have even shown up at that task and said, "Oh, that's okay, I brought my own."

Our last Bingo photo!
By then we'd hit all the destinations on our list, but we were still confused by our missing digit in the phone number.  I went to ask Adam about it since we were right next to the finish line, and Ian ran down to the Riverwalk to get the photo of the plaque to complete our Bingo row.

I wanted to make sure that the optional destination (a church near UWM) that we'd decided not to visit didn't actually have something we needed (such as our missing digit).  He assured me it really was optional (it was mentioned as a place to go for spiritual guidance, but I've performed there and know it also has Tiffany glass in it that was on the Photo-Bingo sheet) and that I should look for a pattern in the phone number to figure it out.

Ian and I met up again behind the performing arts center where we sat by the water and tried to figure out the next step.  We never did discern any particular pattern to the phone number, but figured if we were only missing one digit it was easy enough to try them all.  The first few tries were weird, but eventually Ian hit on the right number and received instructions to head to Colectivo Coffee on Prospect Ave.  We got back on the bus.

At Colectivo we were supposed to finish a game of Chinese Checkers, again either playing with other teams if they were available, or anyone else we could convince to join us.  There were a few other tables already playing when we arrived, but no one to play with us.  I tried to ask people out in the coffee shop, but they had been badgered enough already by other teams before us and politely declined.  However, a fresh batch of teams arrived shortly and joined us for a game.

This was where our Fast Forward came into play, because instead of six pieces that Ian and I were each responsible for getting across the board, we only had to move four.  (The boards were reduced from the traditional ten pieces in each home base probably to save time.)  One of the other players asked why we had fewer pieces than everyone else, and when I explained it was a bonus for having solved the whole Rubik's Cube she said, "I kind of hate you now." 

Anyway, we had a lot of fun.  Chinese Checkers is a gentle game where nobody's pieces get captured or anything cutthroat happens.  You just move and jump your pieces across the board as efficiently as you can, and Ian and I did get a slight advantage in getting to play with fewer pieces because we were able to get our punch and leave sooner and catch the next bus before anyone else.

The last destination was the Milwaukee County Historical Society, which was right by the park where we started the day.  That was where they checked our camera to make sure we'd gotten a full row on the Photo-Bingo sheet.  We could see that twelve other teams had been there ahead of us, and our goal had been to finish in the top ten, so we were disappointed, but the volunteer said, "Oh no, they're not all ahead of you."  Which meant there were some tasks they hadn't completed.  Any uncompleted task is a thirty minute penalty, and we at least had all the punches on our card.

We ran (slowly--our legs were really feeling it after four and a half hours) back to the finish line in the Ale Asylum and got in line at the check in.  There we were simultaneously amused and annoyed because the people in line ahead of us had been there an hour and had beers in their hands and were just now checking in and holding up our official time while they slowly figured out what they wanted to do.  They had obviously given up early and come in from the cold to hang out and have fun, but when the volunteer asked them if they'd done their Photo-Bingo they looked at each other and said, well, they'd taken a few pictures but probably not enough to finish a row.  Did they want to check and make sure?  Because if they had a row all they had to do was walk a couple of blocks to the Historical Society and get their punch....  They decided that, no, that sounded like too much work so they would just be done.  All the while Ian and I are trying not to bounce up and down and say, "We did everything!  Check us in check us in check us in!!!"

All our punches!
It's easy for us to forget the range of people who participate in these races.  Everyone is friendly and wants to have fun.  Nobody does anything selfish or mean, and people help each other along the way.  But some people are just there for a good time and to hang out at the bar really, and some of us actually want to win!  Ian and I didn't expect to win, but we wanted to do well.

And we did!  We came in 9th!  Which out of at least 80 teams is pretty good.  The only way I think we could have done it faster was to somehow have moved quicker at the beginning enabling us to catch a bus to the earlier show at the Planetarium.  But who knows?  I haven't seen the official results yet in order to compare our time to the times of the winning teams.  Maybe 9th place is where we would have come out regardless.

Everyone in the race got a glass with the Amazing Milwaukee Race poster on it, and a voucher good for a trip to the Milwaukee Art Museum.  Because I solved the cube challenge in record time I also got an official Amazing Milwaukee Race Rubik's Cube!  I can't even describe how happy having this cube to add to my collection makes me.  It even has a wave on it from the Trowbridge mural, which we helped paint the year the violin store was a stop on the race route.  I have T-shirts, the glasses are nice, but a souvenir cube?  That's the best thing ever.

Ian and I then settled in to recount the race and our adventures and have a little dinner.  It was a good "date day."  We don't have enough time together, just the two of us, and it was really nice to have a whole day to do something where we could appreciate all over again just what we like and admire about each other.  Bus Guy and Cube Gal--not sure how anyone beat us!  We had a good meal and splurged on some dessert (we earned it) and eventually caught a bus home.
I feel like mentioning that we did this race without a smartphone.  Ian had his pad with him and did occasionally look something up when we had access to wifi, I took the photos we needed on an actual camera, and we did pull out our cell phones to dial the clue number when the time came, but really we did pretty much everything based on what we already knew.  Ian knew the bus routes and had a schedule and knew how to find everyplace, I recognized landmarks and am a good observer, both of us drew on our existing skills, and that was enough.  We were prepared to call people to look things up for us if we got in a jam, but that never happened.  I know when the brother/mom team started having problems with their smartphone they looked as if there was no point in continuing.  I wonder if anyone else in the race did it without a smartphone.  Of course, most people at this point don't understand how we survive without one in general anyway.  The answer is: perfectly fine.

An Amazing Race indeed!  Can't believe we don't get to do it again next year.  My kids are sad because they've been counting down the years until they'd be old enough to run it, too.  I'll just have to finally take the time this summer to run a kids' version in the neighborhood.  I certainly have plenty of examples to borrow from!  I don't know if I can pull off a Mini Amazing Race, but I can aim for a Pretty Good one.  (The Adequate Milwaukee Race!  But no cubing.  As much as it made my day I think most of the adults found that hard, and I don't want to frustrate any kids.)

A great race.  A great day.  (Thanks Adam!) 

UPDATE:  Turns out we actually came in 8th!  Our official time was 4 hours 31 minutes, about 45 minutes behind first place.  There were 83 teams, 77 finished, and the last few teams took over 7 hours.  So we did pretty well!  Plus it turns out the money we paid to get into the planetarium is going to fund the new lettering they needed on the outside of it, so that will be nice to go by in the future and know we had a small part in that upkeep.


  1. La Crosse needs an Adam! Is he moving here?
    I love that you packed your own Cube...

  2. I'm so sad! :( Ever since you told me about these races in the very beginning, I've wanted to do it but always found out about it afterword. Now I'll never have the chance. BUT at least we have been able to enjoy and experience it vicariously through your tale telling. Thank you Kory! It really sounds like you had a fabulous day.

  3. Amazing post! I feel like I ran the race with you. Your cube skills absolutely amaze me. I'm so glad you got such a cool momento from the last race. Super glad you guys got to spend a great day together sans kids.

  4. How fun! Way to go and good job with the cube! I have a family member who can do cubes like that- so impressive!! Sounds like a really fun day and I'm sad you won't have any more to do!

  5. I'm glad to finally know what the fast forward was! We went to the cheese mart at the beginning and you were done once you got 6 correct on each side and we were going to finish it, but then decided to just run to the next place. And NOBODY we asked knew what we missed out on. And we used a smartphone to find out where a statue was. I didn't know locations of a few statues & murals and there was at least 1 in each row. And I think we checked bus times for leaving the planetarium so we knew whether we had to run to the stop or not.

  6. The girls did the Washington Post scavenger hunt on Sunday and I thought of you all day. I told Emma all about your race and how you won the rubics cube :)