I make no bones about it, I ain't no frickin' courier. I don't in any way pretend to be one either, but for shits and giggles I thought I would join those crazy folks out to the St. Valentine Alleycat. And yo... I am tellin' ya all it was cereal.
My good times weren't hurt by the fact I had some good luck on the day, provided by FG readers, Lyle and Nick. Heading into the event, I knew maybe a handful of streets in Vancouver, plus in all my preparedness I forgot to bring some key items, a pen, a map of Vancouver and a patch kit. Like most things I figured WTF I would just wing it. Well lucky for me, I had Lyle and Nick to back up my lack of planning.
Pen and maps can be damned, the patch kit Lyle brought, was the key piece of luck for me. You see I got off on the wrong foot right away by getting a flat on the way to the start of the race. Being disorganized, as previously mentioned, I didn't have anything to fix it, so I was forced to ride the rim from the Cambie street bridge to the Art Gallery. When I got there, I was standing around basically scratching my head when Nick and Lyle found me, introduced themselves, then gave me the patch kit I needed to get rolling. And out of the disorder, clearly, a team was born.
I immediately fixed my bike, and then we headed over to pay the $10 fee and find out the lowdown. None of us knew what was in store and no one was about to tell us. After we paid we waited around in front of the Art Gallery, while everyone looked at each other wondering what exactly the tasks of race were going to be. After a while word got out that it was a scavenger hunt, and that there were only 10 maps for the 50+ competitors. WTF! Then we were told the start was being moved to Stanely Park, instead of the Art Gallery. Still we were told next to nothing about the event.
So we all leisurely made our way down to Stanley Park, weaving in and around the traffic stuck on Geogia street. It was already a bit parlous and we hadn't even started the damn event yet. All in all I knew it was going to be an interesting day.
When we all gathered down at Stanely Park, all we were told was our first destination, a multilevel Parkade near Waterfront Station. We where then told more information would be divulged once we reached the top of the parkade. Then with little warning someone said, "Go!" and suddenly the streets of Vancouver were swamped with mass of fix gears bikes. At this point all I had to say was, "Yikes!"
Let me take a moment to say that the couriers are a mad bunch of skilled bike geek freaks. Normal city traffic ebb and flow has absolutely no effect on their forward momentum. Stop lights, turning cars, one way streets, none of these elements dissuaded any of the riders from backing off even the tiniest bit. It was crazy, you really had to be there to see the sheer niuance and art with which these mentally unstable folk weave through traffic. Strangely enough, it was not only is it shear madness, but it was also awe inspiring at the same time.
Now normally, I am a complete pussy in traffic. I tend to do silly things like stop at red lights and stop signs. I also tend not to split lanes of traffic (although some days I have to admit do), nor ride down one way streets the wrong way. But let me tell you when you got 30+ people riding riding balls to the wall around you, well as they say, "When in Rome do as the Romans."
For the day I figured, WTF, I got some bike handling skillz and with that for the day I entered the courier ranks. I wove at breakneck speeds through stopped traffic, between cars, and through stop signs. I jumped or plain ran every red light in my way, whether it was fresh, or stale. Look left, look right, then figure out the best plan of attack to weave through the traffic traveling perpendicular to you. As crazy a it sounds, after it is all said and I now better understand the appeal of the job; its the rush and the freedom. For a moment I would even consider changing careers, until I realize that I wouldn't actually live to see my next birthday.
That said, as crazy and wreck loose as this sounds, I must admit I learned a lot about city riding. Apparently, if you find yourself in the unfortunate situation of running a red light at full speed, just make sure to scream exessively loud. This actually makes drivers slow or stop long enough for you to shoot through. I had no idea this would work. Who knows, it might come in handy one day when I am being chased by a gang of mercenaries. Do you have the secret disks? You have to catch me to find out!
So anyway, the pack raced across town, making short work of the ride from Stanley park to the Waterfront parkade. Looking back, key to our speed was the fact everyone decided the fastest route was to ride down part of Water street going the wrong way. It must have been quite a sight, seeing 50 bikes weaving through traffic going the wrong way. Once we got to the parkade, we then race through it spiraling up, and up, and up, and up until we finally reached the top. (Incidentally, the ride down, back through the parkade was the most fun. Spiraling down, at breakneck speeds is always a thrill.)
Once we hit the top of the parkade we were immediately handed a piece of paper with the remaining instructions. There were as follows:
Things you MUST collect to finish:
- A perfume sample card
- Vancouver Courier or HUB newspaper
- The concierges name at Granville Island Hotel
- Something from Tim Hortons or White Spot
- Pattison billboard Number - cnr Quebec & Expo #_______________
- Polaroid with LOVE - Go to 1445 Georgia
- Call 778 885 54## for the mystery checkpoint
- Beer Coaster
- A Flower
Finish: Avanti's Pub
Commercial and Graveley (one block north of 1st)
When we got to the top we took a moment to read our paper slip and try and figure out where the hell we should go first. Neither Lyle, Nick or myself know Vancouver as well as the hardened professional courier and let me just say we were all a bit out of our element. This was especially true for myself. When it comes to racing normally I don't expect to have to think. I am used to simply looking for trial markers or people waving flags, concentrating instead on how to transcend the pain long enough to go as fast of possible. Taking time out to actually, read a piece of paper then figuring out a game plan, especially after you have all this adrenaline is pumping from nearly dying in traffic numerous times? Shit me! That takes some real skills, that I do not possess.
Not only that, we also had to deal with the fact the couriers are all a wiley bunch. On the list (shown above) you had to get the name concierge at the Granville Island Hotel. Many of them never went to the Granville Island, opting instead retrieve the information via their cell phone while on task for other items. At first, this sounds like cheating to me, then you realize in an alleycat all is fair. Couriers are all about making the most efficient use of their time, and this is a fine example of how to do that.
Anyway, once we got our paper we did our best to formulate a plan of attack. We decided split up into two groups and each tackle some of the tasks. Looking back we should have spent more time doing this because we ended up wasting a lot of our time haphazardly doubling back for different items. Going in it also appeared we had a secret weapon, Lyle, being a wiley sort himself, had brought two radios in order to keep in touch. In the end, the radios, like our plan of attack, turned out to be of little use as the radios only worked when we were within a few blocks of each other. This ended up being a disadvantage because in our earlier plan we all decided to meet up at Granville Island, which turned out to be a very inefficient use of our time. However, since we couldn't get a hold of each other we had to stick to the plan.
About the only place the radios did come in handy was near the end. Nick and Lyle left Granville Island early, but I was able to get in radio contact just in time to find out I should make my way to 1445 Georgia for our second to last task, the polaroid picture in front of the LOVE sign. Then the radio came in handy once again as we made our way to the the secret location (accessed by phone) and then to Avanti's Pub for the finish. You see Nick was riding what was basically a truck of the bike world (a under geared Kona). This caused him to continually fall behind our pace, so we would use then use radios to continually taunt him. I am not sure if this actually made Nick ride any faster, but I found it to be a great way to pass the time.
By the time it was all said and done, it had taken us just over an hour from when we had started to when we arrived at the finish, items in hand. Surely we didn't do too bad, right?
Wrong. When we got there, there was an absolute mass of bikes locked to basically anything that wouldn't move (clue #1). Then, as we entered the pub, I looked around to find everyone looking completely relaxed, with a table full of beer and food (clue #2).
So how far behind were we?
Well luckily for Lyle and myself we handily beat Nick, and his undergeared Kona scrap heap, back to the pub. This ended up making Nick the last place finisher. Score one for us right? Well, maybe not, being in last place did have its privileges, as Nick was rewarded with a cool T-shit and a gift certificate to pimp out his ride. D'oh!
All in all I had a blast!!! I will definitely sign up again in a heart beat. Its totally outside my element but that is what makes it so much fun.