City Chase 2008 - Philadelphia Qualifier

Some random thoughts from a random day. The City Chase was enjoyable for most of the day, but it seemed to boil down to selecting ten challenges from a list of 20, running around and doing them (or not), and then hoping you did well on time. As opposed to the other urban adventures where every team did about 90% or more of the same locations, it was possible to have two teams complete the race with only one location in common. And since it was hard to decipher what you would be doing at each location - and how long it might take - selecting the most efficient course was complete luck. That's fun, but considering it cost twice as much as the other races, your chance of finishing near the top was completely unknown regardless of how good you were.

Jordan (who I partnered with last year for the Urban Dare) rejoined me for the only adventure she could make this season. Even though I had done very well the weekend before, we agreed that the format (as we knew it) meant that the day would be a toss-up. Jordan and I agreed that we really didn't want to eat any living creature (they ate live meal worms in Chicago) and would decide on the inevitable naked bowling at a later time.

The start was Love Park, and when we arrived there were hundreds of teams already milling around. Once again it was overcast and cool, and once again the rain thankfully passed us over. At registration we received a bulky bag with all sorts of paper coupons, ads, etc. in it. Being a veteran, I knew to never, ever throw anything away, but this was a lot of stuff! Luckily it all fit into my bag (later saw quite a few teams wandering around the course with the bulky bags in hand). Once everyone was assembled, they did the usual introductions - with a pro sound system - and had us do some exercises. In a real coup, they got Mayor Nutter to give some words of encouragement and talked about making Philly the home base for the City Chase (not sure what that meant). Then it was time to rumble!

The pre-challenge involved getting eight of ten items. For some reason we were not given the list, but had to write it down as they announced it. Since there were nearly 300 teams - yow! - it would be difficult to distribute the list to all and have no one peak... but maybe the list on a big sign would have been nice. Anyway, some of the items (Flyers logo, expired item) screamed Walgreens, so off we went. Every nearby convenience store was quickly besieged by people in matching shirts. Between phone support (Joe and Jen for me) and quick purchases, we had the eight items pretty fast. Returning to the start, we showed everything to the staff who were locked in a circle of tables and were given our Clue Sheet (it was amazing to note how many teams had returned with less than eight items and had to go back out for more!). And what a Clue Sheet!

The sheet was packed with words - white space people! Okay, green space (the color of the paper). It was a daunting task just to read all the clues. We had to visit ten locations and do something at each. There were - yikes! - 20 locations to choose from. Locations 1 and 2 were either/or. Locations 3, 4 and 5 were two-of-three. That left seven from the remaining 15. Sure enough, there was naked bowling at Lucky Strikes. It was about the closest destination, so we quickly decided to hold that one in reserve. I also figured there would be some paddling challenge, and since we both paddled we would definitely do that. Unfortunately, in retrospect it was impossible to choose that location and have any chance of winning. Little did we know.

So, the paddling location (Walnut and the Schuylkill River) offered one anchor point, and we chose other checkpoints based on their proximity to it. Looking back we never actually mapped a few of the locations, so who knows where they were. Between the paddling and mandatory locations, we picked places that we knew the location of to chart our course. Both of the either/or locations were in South Philly - one at 9th and South and the other 9th and Christian. I read the latter as something where you had to dance, so we opted to do the former. Another non-winning choice (but who knew?). The 2-of-3 were in West Philly, Old City and Fairmount Area, so we originally went with the last two. That would unfortunately change. Jordan mapped out some places between here and the paddling, then back to Old City and finish in Fairmount. Finally, we were off!

The first challenge was in the Kaplan Testing building. We entered a classroom and they gave us a SAT-level test of ten questions - we had to answer eight correctly. Some were easy and some were rather involved. I noticed that they marked the correct ones and gave you the sheet back if the total was less than eight. Since they were multiple choice, I figured we should answer them quickly, see if we lucked out, then work on any wrong. It took three iterations, but we got through them pretty fast. On the last round I worked on the remaining few while Jordan worked on the side 2 of the green sheet (puzzles and brainteasers... and a challenge). The "teacher" gave us a passing grade, Jordan had finished the puzzles and we were off for location 2 - with two Challenges already done!

Location 2 was Drinkers Pub on Chestnut. There we were given a Palm Centro camera phone and a list of eight photos/videos to take. Other teams were all over the place accosting unsuspecting individuals for photos or videos. One challenge was a picture of a redhead, so this particular guy was VERY popular. The challenges went pretty fast, though we did have to wait for the staff person to erase a bunch of photos on some other phones (get a lackey to do that!). We got the punch (on my number - each location had a mark on my racing number and the staff person punched it when you were successful) and were off for the river.

I should note at this time that teams would be entered for a random drawing to enter the finals if they crossed the finish line with two helium inflated orange balloons (a Palm campaign). You were given one balloon at the start and had to "find" another one on the course. Of course there was a Palm booth there with a box of balloons, so it was not that tough. Plus they had a tank of helium. Still, way too many teams inflated their balloons at the beginning of the race and carried them throughout the race (what a literal drag!). I saw a lot of teams trying to run with large orange balloons trailing behind them. Hello!

We arrived at the river - balloons safely not-yet-inflated and stowed - to find the staff with kayaks. I really thought they would have two-person canoes, but instead we had to solo paddle a kayak up and around the Market Street bridge, then the partner did the same thing. Jordan and I did it pretty fast, but I noticed that the events were all over the place in terms of total elapsed time to complete the particular challenge(s) and it seemed like picking the fasted course was completely random. Pretty much. Plus some other teams we encountered at this challenge were still on their first challenge - we were up to four done. Jordan found out that one of the 2-of-3's was at 39th and Chestnut. Stupid me suggested we run up there (it seemed so close).

Well, first of all, it wasn't close - we had to cross the river and run nine blocks. What was I thinking! Jordan and I ended up in the Boston Market parking lot. The challenge was to stilt walk 30 feet. It took Jordan two tries and she did it. In short, I never did. I should say I got about 25 feet at one point, but that didn't count. Back to the start. Some participants were making some pretty spectacular spills and I'm sure I added some highlights. It didn't help that my wrist still hurt from getting pegged by the softball the week before - I just could not manage those 30 feet. I think I spent about 45 minutes - could have been more... maybe less - trying to go 30 feet. After a long time of nothing, I started having some luck, but by then my wrist and heels were killing me. The one staff person just kept shouting, "come on, you can do it. Try again. Work smarter, not harder." Okay I lied about the last phrase. The other staff person, who I noticed could stilt walk, spent most of the time on the phone. Some teams got it right away, many took a while and some bagged it. I would have thought after a half-hour they would offer some assistance, but no. There were about six sets of stilts and a number of teams were queuing up to wait their turn. That seemed like another random issue - since some challenges could take a while, if you randomly showed up a bad time, you might be waiting a half-hour just to try your challenge; other times it could be a minute. I was finally so exhausted that we bagged one of 2-of-3 challenges, which meant that we had to complete the other two and pretty much threw the day out the window.

I think there were other challenges nearby, but our dependence on the remaining mandatory challenges meant we had to do Old City, South Street and Fairmount. Long day! Jordan and I jumped onto the subway and headed to 2nd Street. Our first stop there was Lucy's Hat Shop where the challenge was to have a Boa Constrictor fed through our shirt, one at a time. Okay, so some people hate snakes, but the guys just feeds it through and you're done. Beside, they don't really bite (hence the term constrictor). This challenge took about a minute, though Jordan took a bit longer since she had her jacket tied around her waist and the snake started piling up around her stomach! I acted quickly and untied the knot to let the poor fellow out. Oh, and I should also point out that this was the second 2-of-3 challenge, so I'm not sure how one could compare this with the stilt walking... even if you good at it.

The next challenge was just up the street at Doggie Style (nice name). We were given a card with eight unfamiliar dog photos and names. We just had to match the two. After pretty much guessing, they said we had four correct, which meant we had to eat half a can of wet dog food. With that the staff person plopped a bunch of gelatinous glop in a bowl and set it on a low table. We had to get on our knees - on Market Street - and eat it. Okay... Jordan and I looked at one another. What was in it, I asked. Turkey, beer, carrots and celery was the answer. Jordan asked if they had anything vegetarian... no. What is with these contests and apparent surprise that there might be vegetarians out there? We're out there! Jordan volunteered to give it the first try. I'm not sure if she actually got anything in her mouth, but there was a lot of gagging and the bowl looked pretty full. My turn. I got on my knees and gave it a try. Boy, once that gelatin touches your lips it is gag city. I got nothing in and luckily left nothing more. Yuck! Jordan had the wits to ask if we could try again. Sure they said and gave us the card back. We looked over the card while I scanned around looking for, a, hints. Needless to say, we got it down to two wrong and were honored with a dog biscuit. I was happy to gobble that one down. So what happens if you get all eight wrong (dog urine?).

With the Scooby snack safely tucked in my stomach, we ran to the Painted Bride for our next challenge. Here we had to join another team, and one member from each did one of two challenges. I and my teammate had to locate tiles on the exterior wall and mark which side (north, west or south) they were on, while Jordan and her teammate counted knobby sculptures inside. Nothing disgusting and didn't take too long. Plus it involved some teamwork with another team, so I liked it.

After that we had a long run down to the Fresh Fields at 9th and South. There we received a challenge to raise $30 for Back on My Feet Foundation (here's the website, if you want to know what they do: http://backonmyfeet.org/main/index.html). We knew a little bit about the effort. They gave us a shirt to sell for $25 and a bracelet for $5. We could sell those two items or just collect contributions - anything to total $30 or more. Okay, so nobody in their right mind is going to pay $25 for a shirt. Also, we weren't given even a flyer on the cause, so you're basically trying to raise money for a cause that you know almost nothing about. I would say if you need pizza money - and have no morals - just dress in matching outfits and raise money for some ambiguous cause. People will give. So, we ran into some folks who looked pretty familiar, sold the bracelet, hit up some strangers and returned with $33 for the cause. What, no tax receipt? I later found out that the other 1-of-2 challenge was some obstacle course and 3-point basketball shot (the other dance). I can't comprehend why both of these were not fundraising challenges.

With our sole South Street challenge done, we had to travel to the Fairmount section for the end of our fun. Jordan and I ran up 9th Street and were lucky to catch a bus to Spring Garden Street. Finally a rest! After a short run along Spring Garden Street we arrive at Franklin Towne Park. It was there we were introduced to Spike Ball. I'm sure it's popular somewhere. You play the game on a small trampoline and a softball-sized hard ball. Teams stand on opposite sides and hit the ball into the trampoline. You have to hit the ball back to them off the trampoline. Like volleyball, you can have three touches before hitting the trampoline (and hence over the net), but good luck. One time I set the ball to Jordan, but otherwise you hit the ball on the first try and hoped you didn't miss the net or hit the rim (also a miss). We played against another team - the winner move on while the loser had to keep playing. Unlike the stilt walking, there was an exit strategy. You played till you won or three games. Very nice! The first game was close, but we lost. Getting weary! The second game - against a new team - was worse. Finally the third game! Once the other team announced that they too were on their third game, I suggested we just rocket through the game and both be on our way. What a concept! They would serve the ball, I would catch it (oops!) and toss it back to them to serve again. We lost 25-0 and were out of there very fast. See - losing is winning!

Finally the last challenge! The final 2-of-3 challenge was in the Urban Saloon. One of us had to play another team member in Wii tennis. It was a tough match, but Jordan lost, so we had to build a house of cards. We were instructed to make the house - five high with teepee-angled cards - exactly like the picture. Except I noticed that the tables were covered in salt (which hinders the cards from sliding out). They said that other teams were doing this, so they said we could too. I should say that the photos online showed other teams using napkins between the layers to add friction, so the level of control at the challenges seemed to be all over the place. We built the castle in three tries and were out of there fast.

Jordan and I had been on the course for quite some time, so we decided to catch the 33 bus at 19th Street down to the Parkway. Amazingly, the teams - with their orange balloons - we saw on the way in were still there waiting. And even better, the 33 was just coming down the street! We jumped in and went for the ride. It was amazing to hear that most teams still had many more challenges to go. We also heard that the winners had finished some time ago. The bus stopped by the Academy of Natural Sciences, so we jumped off and quickly reached the finish line. I ran over to the Palm pavilion and inflated the balloons. We crossed the finish line at 5:07. Yow! Jordan had to run to a meeting, so I set off for Tir Na Nog alone. I was beat!

It turned out that the winning team finished in 2:37 and - of course- avoided anything west of the Schuylkill. They did bowl naked though. A couple we spoke with said that they went to the bowling alley, but the line was so long that they left. Basically, you needed to - with little info - pick the most time efficient challenges, then - with little info - figure out when to visit them. Guess wrong and it's a half-hour wait. It turns out that our time was a little better than average. A lot of teams finished behind us, many never got to 10 challenges, and who know how many just bagged it. It was basically run around, do some maybe interesting, maybe disgusting, maybe easy, maybe hard challenges show up at finish and see if you won. I think the team randomly picked from the orange balloon finishers has as good of a chance in the Nationals as the team that won on time. I hope they are good at naked bowling.

Note: The next race at Atlanta had an even worse success rate with only about 40 teams beating the six-hour time limit (out of a few hundred teams), while the San Diego race had a good majority of the teams completing the 10 challenges within six hours.