Friday, April 4, 2014

Alley Cat s c r a m b l e

Alley cat races are unsanctioned street races, traditionally designed by and for bike messengers and meant to emulate a run of pick-ups and deliveries.  They are also designed to challenge and even torture racers.  Speed is helpful, but cunning and mastery of the map may matter more so.

The alley cat scene is coming (back) to life here in Oregon.  Portland alley cats of late have included the Kuchen-Rennen, the Fly-Cat, the Fashion-Cat, the hugely successful Cranksgiving, Freak Cross and the Cross Dress series.  The last race I planned was in Eugene in '01 and sparked a tiny summer-long series of races (including a Cranksgiving).  So, it felt like my turn to throw a race.

Opening my old alley cat scrapbook for inspiration launched me on my own short race down memory lane. I had completely forgotten about the great dancing cat graphic.  So, once again, I found myself stopping at strange street corners looking for good graffiti, pouring over maps, cutting and pasting and printing a manifest.

My initial plan for checkpoint destinations fell apart so I started over the day before the race.  Riding around in the rain during my commute, stopping here and there, taking pictures and creating a scramble puzzle word made me late to work.  But I was able to pull it all together, even making copies just a short while before go time.

Fifteen minutes before the announced start time, racers started to roll in.  Eight in all!  Riders signed in, grabbed a quick beer and tried to prepare for the race.  Unlike recent races in Portland, riders were not provided with a manifest until GO.  Part of the scramble style is grabbing your list of checkpoints and riding away with it, skimming quickly on the go.  My personal strategy in those scenarios is to head to the furthest checkpoint, which creates several stolen moments on the road to make a plan for the other destinations.

These racers were unaccustomed to this sort of start and stood in the parking lot looking at their papers.  I threatened to take away points if people didn't get out of my sight post haste.  Actually there weren't any points but I wanted to see people scramble.  Unfortunately, one racer went around the corner and promptly fell over.

I moved to sit in the window, hoping to make racers scramble a bit more at the finish line to find me.  37 minutes later, two breathless boys were shoving crumpled manifests at me.  First place Bruce said "with a flat!" as I graded his sheet.  Scramble puzzle races are super easy for the organizer to judge, as you only need to look at one answer at the bottom of the page. All eight racers were in by 61 minutes after start, and all eight racers correctly answered DOLLS.
Luckily I had eight prizes to hand out, so everyone won something.  Surprisingly, the two women's garments were selected by men and one of the men's garments was selected by a woman.  Everyone had fun, no one got hurt, and people left happy.

Alley cat racing is a communal effort so I know one of these racers will organize their own race soon.  Kyle (second place, winner of Fly-Cat and Fashion-Cat) announced that the West Side Invite will take place July 4th, 5th and 6th and will include the infamous Coffee Cat, where I DFL'ed almost a decade ago.



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