Sunday, August 18, 2013

That time we won $400

I spent this week trying to snap pics of all of the interesting things I planned on posting about today.  It took a lot of self control to put down my chopsticks long enough to capture an extravagant sushi and locally brewed beer lunch with my work friends.

It took a little more self control (and a lot more bravery) to whip out my phone 150 ft. up on the Ferris wheel at the Navy Pier as we killed time waiting for Jen and her boyfriend Matthew (my friends from school who were in town this weekend).

But it turns out that these events were nothing but the obscure, average-at-best opening acts for the rock-star performance that took center stage this week (and possibly my life): winning $400 cash at the XPLORE Urban Race in Chicago.

Suzi, a dear old pal from Florida, came up to visit me this weekend.  And in predictable runner fashion, she convinced me to sign up for a race while she was here.

Only this race was not a typical run-till-you-puke affair; it was a large scale, elaborate scavenger hunt through the city put on by the XPLORE Urban Adventures Racing Series.

At first, I wasn't too bothered by the race (I figured that the team relying on the Chicago knowledge of a 5 month resident didn't have a huge shot of winning).  That morning, I actually woke up early for a long run and then went suit shopping with Derrick (who has an interview on Monday!) before heading over to Monk's Pub for race check-in.

But I immediately put on my game face after seeing the competition.  There were teams with camel water packs and teams of legitimate Urban Racers (and this was not their first rodeo).  The event organizer himself had actually gone to Nationals for a different, similar-type race series (who knew?).

There was even a guy in a full Captain America costume, shield included (although I'm still not sure about the strategy behind that one).

Photo courtesy of Xperience Adventures
By the time the organizer called all of the teams together to go over the rules, explaining to act natural and ignore the camera girls following us around Amazing Race style, and to hand out the clue sheets, Suzi and I were in full blown destroyer mode.

The rules of the race were simple: out of the 13 tasks, you had to complete 12 by figuring out the clues.  You could use public transportation, smart phones, Google... anything but bikes and segways.  So after about 5 minutes of briefly making notes on the clue sheet, Team Shmelmop was off running... literally, running (if you don't get our team name, I'll explain at the end of this post).

It turns out that I very much underestimated my Chicago knowledge; I was able to figure out the three picture clues pretty easily.  For example, without even reading the clue, I knew what and where the Jay Pritzker Pavilion was.

Unfortunately, after we did read the clue, we realized that that was the easy part.  The hard part was rounding up enough people to make a "human chain" from one pillar to another.  Who knew such a loud "Attention Everyone!" could come from such a small Suzi.

I was also able to recognize a picture of the Red Line, which (with the help of a "Derrick, can you Google something?" mid race call) led us to the Chicago Theater.

My most brilliant Chicago-ian feat was finding a mini Chicago bean-like sculpture (which was completely hidden behind bushes) by recognizing and finding a building in the background.

But Suzi definitely held up her end of the team with clutch performances that included a pretty out-of-the-blue knowledge of Japanese art.  She remembered her mom mentioning a temporary art exhibit in Chicago featuring "Taunuki figures," which quickly knocked out another task.

She was also key in wheedling out information about Chicago bridges from a bus tour guide and recruiting two British guys to take our picture on one of them.

But of course, our win wouldn't have been possible without some outside help.  In addition to Derrick being on-call for a quick Google search, we stumbled across a lot of people willing to aid our cause, such as this group of guys on a bachelor party trip.  I can safely say that he was the unarguable star of our rendition of Sweet Home Chicago.

There was also the cashier at Garrett Popcorn who gave us a free sample and a couple minutes of time to film us for another task.  I don't know if the other customers were as grateful as we were.

The surprise MVP performance of the day definitely went to the lone Asian tourist we steamrolled stumbled across after figuring out one of the toughest clues.  That task required us to jump in front of Intelligentsia Coffee.  We weren't too confident that she completely understood the situation after she responded with a blank stare to my suggestion to "count to three."

But she evidently got the gist and she nailed it.

Never in my life have I sprinted as fast as after we completed our last task.  I won't say I would have given Lolo Jones a run for her money, but I'm not denying it either.

Although my basic knowledge of the city definitely helped, I think the biggest factor in our win was our background as runners, a bit of luck, and a somewhat loose interpretation of normal traffic rules.

I could go on and on about the race without even mentioning the rest of the weekend, but once my posts reach Dr. Seuss book length, I know I need to cut myself off.  Let's just say that nothing was as glorious as the post-race burgers, mac n' cheese, and pulled pork at Kuma's Too as we celebrated sweet victory.

Team Shmelmop and our Offensive Coordinator, giving directions from the press box.
Although it was fun basking in our new temporary state of wealth, the most fun part was spending time with some friends who I miss dearly at a well-run and fun event.  And who knows, maybe Team Shmelmop might one day make an appearance at an urban race Nationals.

Hope you have a wonderful week.  For a little grin (or 15 minutes of spitting-out-your-water laughter, if you're me), tell this joke out loud.  You'll be glad you did.

Who's there?
Shmelmop who.


  1. I don't know if this will make sense, but based off of your writing style on your blog, it doesn't surprise me that you would be good at a competition like that. Haha. Looks like it was a lot of fun and congrats on your win!

    1. I think that's a good thing, so thanks. :P It was such a fun race. I think that there's actually one in DC in September if you're in to the sort of thing!