Saturday, June 14, 2008

Blackberry Curve Challenge

So I'm sitting at my cube at work on Friday mid-morning doing my usual days work (flipping between facebook and 3 different email accounts) when I get an email from the USARA. Which is the national adventure racing federation of the U.S. that I'd joined by chance at a race last year some time. It was an invitation to an urban challenge that was free (which was weird) in San Francisco the next day, Saturday. I quickly sent out an email and my friend Benoit rang me from Oakland and 5 mins later I had entered us in as a team of two. It was limited to 50 teams and the prizes are what really caught my eye. the Top 15 were to win Blackberrys and 3rd $2000 each, 2nd $3000 each and 1st an all expenses paid trip to Paris or Rome or some islands somewhere. Not bad for an amateur race.

So we get there the next morning with a camel back between us and some maps I found at home of San Francisco. We got given a Blackberry at 8:30am and Benoit was not interested so I sat down and played with it for the next hour because we were told we'd need to know how to use it. At 10:00am we lined up at the start at Union Square and were handed a passport with 10 clues to 10 challenges we had to complete over the course of the race. A lot of the racers speed off in some direction but Benoit and I decided to sit down and plot out where we were going (I'd had a bad experience at my only other adventure race blowing off without checking where I was going). We got a bit lost to our first challenge, a Verizon store on Mission St. and when we got there we were told we were pretty far behind. The first challenge required us to do something on Facebook. Ironically (considering how much time I spend on Facebook) I struggled. The blackberry can't do all the same things I can do on the computer on Facebook AND the unit was slow and failed. They had to order us another to the next challenge.

By the time I had finished messing around we had a fairly long run to Fishermans Wharf where we did some plank on logs challenge, fairly successfully and this leaning on each challenge while walking on parrallel planks which took us a while. It was already 11:05 and we had to catch a ferry at 11:00, 11:30 or 12:00. We got to the ferry and bought tix at 11:15am then took a risk and went off to find another challenge. Luckily it was a fairly easy. Riding recumbent bikes around a go cart type circuit. We got back to the ferry at 11:30 just in time to file onto the ferry to Alcatraz.

We had a hard time on Alcatraz, firstly finding the Museum to answer some questions and then walking up to the prison to be chained at the ankles and handcuffed to free ourselves with a combination lock and one of a set of 50 keys. But, we were lucky to get on the 12:30 ferry back because they only went every half hour so that was key. We had time on the ferry back to plot the last three challenges we had remaining the first was a run up to Coit Tower. I was happy they included Coit Tower because there is a crap load of stairs to run up and I was pretty sure we were one of the more athletic teams.

There were a few teams on that ferry and a lot heading towards the tower. We accounted for most of them headed in our direction accept a girl/boy team. This little blond chick was absolutely gunning it (I later found out a 2.52 marathoner from Oakland). She was killing me up the stairs but luckily she was killing her husband more who she regularly had to stop for while he caught up. We got up the stair, bought a souvenir with money we were given and I helped a kneeling blinded Benoit complete a puzzle on the grass giving him verbal instructions. Next, we ran down to the wharf were Benoit ran through a submarine (he was smaller we figured). Then, was the wax museum where we had to find what Keanu Reeves was. Benoit asked patrons "whereisitkeeanurifs?" I translated and we were directed to the waxed Neo. We had solved a clue using Google on the blackberry which led us past 2.52 chick and her lagging hubby again to Ghiradelli Square. We took off up an escalator to our last stamp. We navigated to the top of Columbus St. perfectly and got the the no. 30 bus stop which we knew would take us straight to Union Square and the finish. The digital display on the bus stop told us we had only 1 min to wait. 4 mins later or so the bus came. Traffic looked light and we were pretty confident of passing 2.52 girl who had ran straight past us while we waited for the bus. We had no idea where anyone else was or how we were doing the entire race. The bus stalled at China town and we realized we had to jump off the bus. We got off and ran straight up the street in the middle of China town (the foot paths were jammed) and crossed the line in what we thought was 5th place.

It turned out one of the teams in front of us was DQed for skipping the puzzle and the blond chick team finished 2nd. Our late bus had cost us $6000 (+ a $5 bus fare)! If we'd run we would've finished in front of them. Of course at the time we were just taking what we thought was the quickest option. We had no idea that finishing in front of them by simply out running them (which we'd been doing) would net us 2nd place. But I was stoked to win a Blackberry and $250 for 4th and a fun day out in San Francisco. It was super well organized and I guess with all the questions we got around town that it was a good marketing ploy for Blackberry, Verizon and Facebook. I'd actually been looking last week to buy a smartphone so it was good timing. It was very original concept opening up registration just a few days before the event and I'll be interested to see if they do it again. They'll have a harder time keeping it underground this time with free entries and prize money better than most big triathlons or running races.
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