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Dashing through D.C. in an Urban Adventure race

September 28, 2008|Joseph White | Associated Press

WASHINGTON -- Wearing a blue Hawaiian shirt and a purple lei, I sprinted up the front steps of the Lincoln Memorial with two teammates on a gorgeous, perfect-for-tourists fall Saturday afternoon. My assignment: Gather 15 strangers for a photograph.

And do it in a hurry.

This was, after all, a race. The team that had been right behind us would be showing up soon.

"Hey, can you ...," I starting saying to a large group that was obviously on a tour.

I stopped when I realized that none of them was speaking English. Hmm. This might be harder than we thought.

Elsewhere in the nation's capital, Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton were zipping through neighborhoods like marathon runners. Well, actually, they were marathon runners. Elizabeth Bolton of Alexandria, Va., was sporting a blond Hillary wig and an Obama button, while Cheryl Young of Reston, Va., had the Palin look down pat with her brunette hair in bangs and the ever-present glasses.

"You wouldn't think you'd see Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin together outside of 'Saturday Night Live,' " Bolton said.

"Urban Adventure," chimed in Young, "crosses all party lines."

It was an athletic event meshed into a scavenger hunt with the feel of reality television. Last weekend's third annual D.C. Urban Adventure Race drew 79 teams and 165 participants, part of a growing nationwide circuit that attracts people looking for a way to add some zaniness to their outdoor time. New York, Chicago and San Francisco were also among the 10 U.S. cities hosting races this year.

"It's a day to kind of act like a kid," said Jason Hofsess, founder of the High Trek Adventure race circuit. "Also, with 'The Amazing Race,' it's so popular, this is kind of a way to be on it and be your own little reality star for a day without having to quit your job or leaving your kids behind for a month."

A year ago, I took part in my first "regular" adventure race, a competition that involved mountain biking, cross-country running and canoeing in the remote areas of a Virginia national park. Now it was time to try the city version.

It didn't take long to spot the differences, starting with the costumes. The first team I met called themselves "Poison" -- two women wearing matching white shirts with a skull-and-crossbones pattern and knee-high black-and-white striped socks.

"We were going to be Girl Scouts looking for our venture pack," said Amy White, half of the "Poison" team, "but we couldn't get those outfits together."

White and her partner, Edie Widener, both of Centreville, Va., were drawn by event's similarities to "The Amazing Race." They even once ordered a packet for the CBS reality TV show that sends people scurrying around the world for $1 million, but they never got around to applying.

Others dressed more practically. Team "Beevos Best" showed allegiance to the University of Texas by wearing orange shirts with the Longhorn logo. A team from Boston wore red synthetic shirts, a not-so-subtle hint that, yes, they were indeed Red Sox fans.

My team opted for the Hawaiian shirts because, well, that's what we had our wardrobes. I had an extra person -- three people instead of two -- which meant we were essentially racing for fun and ineligible for the $300 first prize.

The tension was building as Hofsess took up his megaphone and gave final instructions before counting down the seconds to the start. This really did feel like "The Amazing Race." We ripped open the envelope containing a clue and dashed down the street, drawing stares and random cheers from bewildered Washington residents.

At stop No. 1, we were given an envelope with 10 clues, scattered around various D.C. neighborhoods. We had to do nine, in any order. At every stop, we had to find someone to take our photo to prove we were there. We could only travel on foot, subway and public bus.

We ran to the nearest subway station, got out the map as we waited for a train and starting plotting the best route. We started well, finding the cafe at the International Spy Museum with no problem and running to the statue of Ben Franklin at the Old Post Office a few blocks away.

Then came Blunder No. 1. The clue asked us to find a "country, state or territory" at the World War II memorial using the following three clues:

* "Discovered" by Spain

* Palm tree and proa on flag

* Can't vote for the Prez.

We read hurriedly, and two of us immediately said "Puerto Rico," based on the references to Spain and presidential voting. Never mind that, in a calmer situation, I could very easily tell you that Puerto Rico's flag has red and white stripes and a blue star -- and not a single tree.

We had become victims of overexcitement at the expense of common sense. Ever say out loud "What is he thinking?" when someone does something silly on a reality show? Well, now I've been there, having experienced a good old-fashioned brain shutdown in the heat of the moment.

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