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Aug 04

Sydney’s Mini-Amazing Race

Last week on Saturday Kev and I participated in a race confined in Sydney, loosely based on The Amazing Race. It was a blast. I was going to keep a live update of things as the day progressed, but it turned out to be too hectic.

The day started with 30 teams of two at Concord West station trying to answer a 10 question IQ test to get the first clue for the race. After a few minutes, we dashed off looking for a tea house in Bicentennial Park where another 3 IQ test questions were waiting for us. The next clue was to go through the venue of the Olympics to find five checkpoints. At each of the checkpoints was a letter, which when combined, spelt out the name of a street in Newington. It was a strange sight watching pairs of people puffing and panting through the streets around Stadium Australia looking under seats and ledges for these letters. I myself discovered how incredibly unfit I was (which proved to be a large liability) as we ironically made our way through avenues named after Olympic athletes.

Finding all the letters, our next destination was about 2km away in Newington. We went to the nearest bus stop and only had to wait about 5 minutes before the bus arrived. It was there we bumped into four friends who had got on the bus at an earlier stop (I’ll just call them the quartet for ease of reference). It turned out that despite our best efforts at getting ahead, we’d see a lot more of them in the upcoming hours. On the way to Newington we passed a fair number of teams who were walking(!) all the way and the expression on their face as they watched us fly by in air-conditioned comfort was priceless.

We got to Newington, but had trouble finding the exact street due to a mislabelled map they had provided. We ended up in some weird cul-de-sac and had to squeeze through some fencework to escape (getting shouted at by some irate householder in the process). We managed to evade the quartet and found the clue some 10 minutes ahead of them. The next clue sent us back the way we came to climb up some spiral walking structure where out next clue told us to make our way to the Homebush ferry terminal, a good 3km walk from the spiral structure.

It was at this point that we made a fatal error in decision that saw us lose a whole hour on the leaders. Basically, we started up Hill Rd which led directly up to the ferry terminal, looking for a bus stop that was supposed to be ahead. After about 10 minutes of walking, we couldn’t find it. It was noon at that stage. The ferry left 20 minutes past the hour, every hour. Stuck in a dilemma whether to keep walking or not, we decided to double back and high tail it to an earlier bus stop. After the waste of 15 minutes, we arrived back at the spiral structure and bumped into the quartet (thereby losing the lead we’d opened up over them). To make matters worse, we’d just missed the bus, and were forced to wait 25 minutes for the next one.

Eventually we arrived at the ferry terminal at 1pm, conscious of the fact that some groups had managed to catch the 12.20pm ferry (putting them an hour ahead). At the terminal, groups were forced to face off which each other in games of memory and win before being allowed to progress to the next stop, which was Central Station in the city. It would have been quicker to catch a bus to Lidcombe and then a quick train into Central, but as luck would have it, the next bus back to Lidcombe was at least another half hour, and the ferry was already there. There was a major pooling of teams at the station that got on the 1.20pm ferry, which would take an hour to make its way to Circular Quay, but the ferry was a nice chance to recuperate and eat.

The ferry terminated at Circular Quay, but 10 minutes before that would stop in Darling Harbour. We made a last minute decision to get off at Darling Harbour and run for Wynyard station, which we were wagering we could reach in under 10 minutes. We bolted off the wharf, Kev almost taking out a little kid in the process, and ran puffing and panting to Wynyard. The quartet had meanwhile decided to go somewhere else. When we got to Central we found the quartet had somehow managed to beat us there by a short margin. The next clue sent us to the Powerhouse museum. There, a queue formed whereby groups, one at a time, were forced to solve either a chess puzzle or a tangram puzzle before being allowed to continue. It had a weird effect of forcing time splits between groups. Frustratingly, the quartet had got there ahead of us and had monopolised both chess and tangram puzzles. Kev and I made short work of the chess puzzles and staggered off to the Belmore Park checkpoint (that is, the bastards sent us all the way back to Central Station!). We had somehow managed to get ahead of the quartet again by that stage.

It was about 2pm and the next task was to get up to Myer and take down prices of some computer hardware and software. We managed to catch a bus on Elizabeth St which took us uptown. On Level 6 of Myer, we gathered up the prices under the watchful eyes of the sales staff who were bewildered at why these teams had been coming through the store for the last hour looking for prices of the same objects. We hit a snag trying to find this piece of software called “Kingsoft Powerword” but found a saleswoman who had the whole price list all written out for us. It turns out another team, in a stoke of genius, had decided to phone into Myer and get the prices over the phone, saving them the trip up there. We left the store at the same time as the quartet, headed for the Uni of NSW, the next checkpoint.

By this time fatigue was beginning to set in in a major way. As we ran out the store onto Market St, my left calf cramped up. So there I was, pulled up in the middle of the footpath with people streaming around me, clutching my calf in absolute agony. I stumbled forward a couple steps and my right calf proceeded to cramp. Kev, now 30 metres ahead, turned around to see what the delay was. I had to take a couple minutes to stretch my legs out and limped off for the bus stop.

When we got back to Elizabeth St, we sighted the bus across the road and we had to run for it again. Thankfully I didn’t cramp up. I made it onto the bus, looked behind, only to see Kev 20 metres behind, himself having cramped up.

Then the bus driver shut the doors behind me and hit the gas.

I had to scream out, pleading the bus driver to stop and open the doors again, which he luckily did. Kev had to half-hobble, half-drag himself onto the bus.

We got to uni at 3.30pm. The quartet pulls up in the bus behind us and pips us to the next checkpoint yet again. We had to then balance a ping-pong ball on a spoon while walking up the uni walkway. Then it was up to the Barker St carpark to count the number of car spaces on level 3. My quadricep cramped up on the way there.

The next task was to find a volume of the “British Ship Research Association Journal”. We stepped out of the lift on level 7 (where the journals are) just in time to see the quartet coming down the stairs from level 8 (the express lift stops from level 8 upwards). It was getting eerie how they seemed to get to places at about the same time we did, despite having taken different routes.

The final checkpoint was down on Coogee Beach and thus began our final dash for the finish line. A bus was the plan, but the question is, what bus? It was here that Kev, in what can only be described as an inspirational stroke of genius, decided to head for the bus stop outside the Ritz. This was an unorthodox move, because the closest bus stop to uni that went to Coogee was 2 minutes away, whereas the one at the Ritz would take at 15 minutes of walking to go to, and we were in bad shape for walking.

We timed our run well and the bus came just as we got to the bus stop. As it pulled up alongside Coogee Beach, we stepped off with bated breath… and sighed with relief when we realised the quartet was nowhere to be seen. They had taken the orthodox route and had unfortunately missed the bus down to Coogee by a matter of minutes, and were forced to wait a half hour for the next one.

In the end we placed a mediocre 12th from 30 teams, an hour behind the leaders, but it was a terrific experience and something I’d definitely do again next year. I just have to make sure I’m a lot fitter next time!