Where is Kilroy? Do you know?
We sure didn’t, my intrepid teammate and I, when we embarked on the GO Urban Adventure Race, a nationwide series that launched Saturday in DC. The way it works is that your two-person team receives a series of text messages with clues to 12 GO Points around town. Once you get to the GO Point, you have to text back the answer to the clue. Then you’ll receive another clue. You have to take a picture of your team at each GO Point, and often you have to find something there that’s specific and elusive — such as Kilroy.
Turns out his cartoon face peeps out from behind a golden service gate at the National World War II Memorial, near the Delaware pillar. He’s not prominent, to say the least. When repeated circling of the monument in the hot summer sun hadn’t disclosed his location, I headed to the information booth while Mark began working the Blackberry. Two attendants sat at the booth. When I asked for Kilroy, one all but stroked his chin while answering slowly, “Kilroy is near water, and gold….” The other caught the look I gave him and cut to the chase with actual directions. When I turned from the booth, Mark was already waving me to the right spot. Clue solved.
Thank goodness. At the starting area, I had felt a little intimidated while watching other teams. Several were wearing backpacks bulging with…what? Laptops? GPS devices? Special equipment to tap databases at the CIA? All we had were a two-year-old cell phone, a half-charged Blackberry and our, uh, wits.
No matter. As we weren’t paying enough attention during the initial announcements and were by far the last to leave, I knew we hadn’t much hope of pocketing the winning prize of $400 and a month’s supply of Honest Tea. In the end, we reached nine of the GO Points, not far off from many of the other competitors we talked to.
And at the finish line, we had one overall impression — it was tons of fun. The crowd gathered around sampling the organic beer and tea seemed to agree. The clues were challenging but not impossible, and taught us about things in the city we’d not known before. The race was eco-friendly, and we discovered a few new “green” businesses through its sponsors and GO Points. We each got a soft organic cotton t-shirt and an uber-cool Love Bottle. Museum and monument guards helped us out. We felt famous, with tourists whispering as we passed, “There goes another one!” The other competitors were friendly, and as the day wore on, teams crossing paths at or between GO Points began to trade tips.
The race also was good exercise, as the only allowable ways to get around town were by public transportation or on foot. It started at George Washington University, and the DC GO Points ranged from Dupont Circle to the far reaches of the Mall.
Two of the GO Points were in Alexandria, and an emergency text pulled them from the game after a few persistent competitors reported spending more than two hours trying to go there and back, the result of track-maintenance-induced Metro fail. We never attempted to reach them, thanks to a generous tip from fellow competitors. Those who made it, though, were treated to the challenge of an indoor rock wall, a rope climb, and a special prize from the race. The organizers say future races likely will keep folks a little closer to home, that while they liked the idea of including Sportrock and CrossFit in a fitness-focused event, they didn’t plan on the um…reliability of Metro travel.
So, you’re ready to sign up for the next one…or one in another city. What do you need to know? Here are a few of my top-secret lessons learned. I share them with love, and the understanding that you won’t use them against me in next year’s event (because I’ll be a hard-core competitor by then, for sure):
- Learn how to save pictures onto your cell phone.
- Fully charge your Blackberry, iPhone, whatever the night before.
- Don’t walk into traffic while texting (good advice for any day).
- Stash your goody bag back at the car, in the bushes, wherever. For pete’s sake don’t carry it on your shoulder the whole race. It is heavier than it looks.
- Even if the clue says “near the Gunboat Philadelphia,” when your teammate claims that he/she knows what a local-food On the Fly Kart is, and that it would be on the street, do not insist on looking for it on the third floor of the National Museum of American History at 3 p.m. on a summer Saturday, along with 2.17 gazillion tourists.
And above all, have a good time. Remember, the championships are here next July. Winners from all cities across the country are eligible — plus all participants in Saturday’s inaugural event. And who knows; maybe you’ll even see Kilroy.