I spent my Saturday on a mad dash across the city solving clues, performing dares and yelling at the Boyfriend, in an Amazing Race-type activity known as Urban Dare. Apparently, some guy goes around the country organizing scavenger/treasure hunt races, and Saturday he came to DC, in time for the best day of spring weather yet.
Who else to do this with than GFD, whose knowledge of obscure DC sights and trivia rivals only my own? In addition, I had the Boyfriend stationed at his house in front of the computer, so we could call him with help solving the clues and looking up bus schedules (phoning a friend with access to the Internet is both allowed and encouraged).
GFD and I arrived at Pershing Square, on 14th and Pennsylvania for the start of the race. Clad in shorts and sneakers, with one digital camera, two cell phones, a treo, a laminated map of the city and a wax pencil for easy marking up and wiping off, and a protein-heavy breakfast, we felt ready. We were in it to win it.
At noon, the race began. The organizers handed out sheets with 12 clues or tasks, corresponding to each checkpoint or photo that we had to accomplish. The start of the race is staggered to avoid a mad crush at the beginning. They stagger the start by asking a multiple choice question at the beginning. Depending on your answer, A, B, C or D, you move to a different quadrant as demarcated in the square, and then the correct answer is allowed to go first. The question in our case was a geographic one: “In what modern country is the ancient Nubian city of Kerma located?” GFD’s eyes got really big and I knew he knew the answer even before the choices had been revealed – D, Sudan. We moved into that square and when it was confirmed that we were correct, we were off.
Before we could leave the square, we had to find a tennis ball with the last two digits of our team number written on it. One hundred or so tennis balls lay strewn around the east side of the square, and there was a scramble to locate your team’s ball. Once we finally found ours, we ran to the outskirts of the square, took out our map, called the Boyfriend and started barking clues at him. “Moai statue, bicycle parts, World War II, CALL US BACK!” and we were off and running towards the Mall.
We decided to head towards the first clue we knew right off the bat, and we would solve others on our way there. “In the view of two sculpture gardens” read the clue, and we knew immediately we had to go to the Mall, where the National Gallery's sculpture garden is across the way from that at the Hirshhorn's. We jogged over to the Mall, and sure enough, there were the telltale light blue Urban Dare tee shirts, indicating our check point. For the dare at this location, our team had to navigate a short course as a ‘wheel barrow.’ GFD go on his hands, while I held his legs, and steered him around four cones and back. The Urban Dare staffer stamped our ‘passport’ and then we were free to go to the next checkpoint.
I did not want to leave the Mall unless we were sure there were no other checkpoints in the vicinity. We called the Boyfriend back, seeing if he had any progress on those clues we couldn’t figure out. Not much progress. Rather than waste time, we started jogging towards the World War II Memorial, where “Dirty Harry made two movies about this last year.” We arrived at the memorial, and there was nothing. We encountered another blue-shirted team and asked them if they had found the checkpoint there. They hadn’t either. “They couldn’t possibly expect us to go to the Iwo Jima, could they?” said one of the members from the other team. David and I looked at each other. Yes, yes they would. We would have to go to Virginia. And we were off and running to the Ellipse to take a picture at the Zero Milestone.
After the picture at the Ellipse, we headed down Pennsylvania Ave to the Edward Murrow Park at 19th and Penn, where we had to play a game of “hide and seek.” An Urban Dare staffer gave us a slip of paper with a word on it (ours was ‘discombobulate’), and we had to find the numeric value for the word. Each letter had a numeric value, and the values were hidden around the park, little slips of paper taped to benches or trees or stuck to small posts sticking out of the ground.
We added up our letters with only one small set back – a homeless man was sitting on a bench and covering the letter M’s value. Once our word’s value had been approved and our passport stamped, we raced west to the GW campus to take our picture with one foot in the Eastern Hemisphere and one in the Western, according to a very random and unclear meridian marker at the corner of H and 24th, NW. Then we ran the two blocks to the Foggy Bottom metro, to ride the line one stop to Rosslyn.
While waiting for the train, we had our map out and were both frantically making calls, trying to figure out a couple of the remaining clues. By luck or divine intervention, we sat next to a young man who, upon overhearing our phone calls, mentioned that the “confectioner’s shop named for the Big Hurt or a Supreme Court Justice” was probably Thomas Sweet’s in Georgetown. Of course! And while he was at it, could he solve any of the other clues? “Two consecutive quarters of negative growth probably refers to Recessions. It’s a small bar in the basement of the Quincy Hotel, next to Mackey’s, on L Street.” We thanked him profusely for his help as the train pulled in to the station.
Under the river one stop and we rushed off the train, eager to leave behind the other teams that were in our car. GFD made me walk up the entire escalator at Rosslyn (no small feat, for those who know how long it is), and then we ran the couple blocks from the metro to an art installation called the “Bike Oasis,” the answer to one of the clues solved by the Boyfriend, thanks to Google.
Then we headed over to the Iwo Jima Memorial, where our dare consisted of dropping and giving the staffers 20, and then making up our own “I don’t know but I’ve been told” chant. As our passport was being stamped, an airplane flew over head – one of the tasks was to get our team’s picture with an actual airplane flying in the background (no paper, no models). We scrambled to get our camera turned on in time, and the staffer took our picture with a very tiny dot of a plane in the sky behind us.
From Rosslyn, we crossed the Key Bridge (GFD wanted to run, I was done with running at this point). Once in Georgetown, we hustled down M Street and up Wisconsin to Thomas Sweet’s chocolate and ice cream shop. The line was out the door on such a sunny afternoon, but the Urban Dare staffers waved us over and brought us into the shop. Our dare was to eat a chocolate-covered pecan candy, which we wolfed down (despite it being incredibly sweet and my dislike of pecans), got our passport stamped, and then ran out the door to catch the 32 bus across town. One was just passing us, and we ran after it and caught it at its next stop. We sat down and enjoyed our brief period of rest.
At this point, we felt pretty good. We’d figured out all the clues, we knew where it was we had left to go. It had been about three hours up until now, and we felt confident that we could finish in three and a half – perhaps not fast enough to win, but a very respectable finish nonetheless. We would take the bus to 7th and Pennsylvania, run up 7th to the National Portrait Gallery and take our picture in front of the statue of Daguerre, inventor of the daguerrotype. Then we’d hop on the red line two stops to Farragut North, go to Recessions and perform the dare (which was to hit a bullseye throwing darts), and then on the Chilean embassy at 18th and Massachusetts to get our picture with one of those big head statues from Easter Island. Then straight down Mass to Dupont Circle and the finish line, at Buffalo Billiards.
And our plan worked beautifully, until we got to the Chilean embassy and there were no statues there at all, Moai or any other kind.
The task had been problematic from the start. “Take a picture in front of an authentic Moai statue.” It seemed simple enough, except that when the Boyfriend googled it, the only one he pulled up was located clear up north on the American University campus. That was so far off of the course of everything else, that we just didn’t believe that that could be the only one. Upon further research, the Boyfriend found that the statue had been given to AU by the Chilean embassy. Aha! We guessed that another statue might be located at the embassy at 18th and Mass. Before going all the way over there though, we decided to have someone scope it out, to make sure we were right. We called all our friends who live in the area, finally one of them picked up and agreed to swing by the place and see. About ten minutes later, he called back. “I have it on good authority that there is an Easter Island statue in front of the embassy.” Yes! Which is how we found ourselves in front of the decidedly statue-free Chilean embassy.
I called my friend: “WHERE IS THIS STATUE YOU PROMISED?!” He explained that by “good authority,” he had asked some guy on the street who had assured him there were several Easter Island heads in front of the embassy. I hung up on my friend.
We called the Boyfriend back, who hit up Google one more time, and said that there might be a statue at the Natural History Museum, but he couldn’t be sure. David and I looked at each other, dejected, exhausted, defeated. We had been at this for more than four hours at this point. There was no way we would win. There was no way we’d come in the top ten. There was no way we’d come in the top anything.
We discussed whether we should retrace our steps to the Natural History Museum, or even make our way north to AU. It was all just too much and we were so tired. We posed for a photo in front of a random statue at the embassy of Zimbabwe, and headed to the finish line at Buffalo Billiards.
At Buffalo Billiards we had to complete one last dare, to score a three at shuffleboard, and then we were free to drink a beer. All told, we had spent four and a half hours running frantically around, we were sunburnt, sweaty, with a crust of salt on our foreheads, our legs completely stiff. We drank several waters and a beer, scarfed down a plate of nachos, and hobbled back to our respective homes.
And we can’t wait to do it again next year!