A new competition made its Houston debut this past Saturday. Dubbed "the race where smarts can beat speed," Urban Dare takes teams of two on a journey around town where they must figure out clues to arrive to different destinations.
Once the race started, each team was given a rules sheet with 11 clues, and was also given one passport. Each clue was a certain checkpoint -- local coffee houses, universities, parks, etc. -- where teams had to either get their picture taken or complete a dare. For a dare, teams would have to complete a challenge and get their passport stamped.
The rules were simple, as Kevin Keefe explained it. "They can call people for help with clues; use their smart phones, or their smart friends. Basically, they are figuring out checkpoints around town they have to get to, either on foot or they can use public transportation -- a bus. At the checkpoints, they either have to take a photo to show they were there, or they have to perform a task and get their passport stamped before they move on."
Keefe, who's the president of Urban Dare, had the ambition of putting together a race. Originally, he thought of doing a triathlon, but didn't want to deal with local governments and have to get permits to close streets.
So he sat down and thought what he wanted in a race. "I sort of created the ideal race for me; and I think I drew some inspiration from seeing some of the reality TV shows that have done sort of every race you can imagine," he says.
Some of the clues were harder than others. Clue number nine flat out tells you to go to Rice University and get your picture taken in front of the frog wall. This wall makes a frog noise if you run your thumb down the certain holes. Other clues are a little cleverer.
"Get your picture with the pool hall that shares its name with a non-flattering nickname for Bill Clinton."
Slick Willies, duh!
There was also a photo hunt, where teams had to get a picture with one member shaking a dog's hand, and another where a member had to propose to someone.
According to most teams, clue 10 was the hardest one, and most teams never found it.
"When George Stephen set out to make a grill in the 1950's, his neighbors called it Sputnik. Go to the field which goes by the name of this grill for your double dare."
A quick Google search reveals that Mr. Stephen invented the Weber Grill. Trying to find this elusive field is an entirely different story. The winning team -- Amanda Felder Derkacs and Mark Felder, a brother-sister act out of Meyerland -- found the field by pure luck.
"The people who had the dog whose hand we shook, I guess they take their dog there," Mark Felder told Hair Balls. "So they were able to tell us where it was. We asked a lot of people and no one knew where it was."
The Felders finished the race with an official time of 1:50:16, almost a half-hour earlier than the next best team. Amanda Felder Derkacs, a former student at Rice, had the advantage of knowing the area well. "The Frog Wall is something you probably couldn't find on the Internet and it's something that people from Houston are the only ones that know about it," she says.
Not all the teams were Houstonians. Scott and Terry Conrad -- Team Conradicals (not kidding) -- are a couple from Austin who had never stepped foot in H-Town until this past weekend. The couple teaches at Georgetown High School, where they are also the head coaches for the men's and women's lacrosse teams. Not knowing the area didn't hurt the Conradicals too much; officially they finished the race in fourth place with a time of 2:34:00.
"We prepared as best we could," Scott Conrad said. "We printed out a giant map, we had her parents and her sister, we called them on our cell phones to help us out, we had GPS on our phones. We didn't really have a chance to study this city much, but we came as prepared as we could."
The Conradicals are veterans of Urban Dare. They've competed in the Dallas series, and Terry Conrad has competed with her sister in the Dallas, San Antonio, and Austin Series. For them, competing in Urban Dare allows them to get to know the city.
"As we're running, we're planning all the cool places we want to go since we'll be here all weekend. There are some restaurants down the street; we're trying to find a place with good burgers since we're starving now. We got to see the art district, Rice University, we love going to campuses," he says.
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Right off the bat, Mr. Conrad decided to knock out the proposal shot on the list of clues. He got a waitress from the Firkin and Phoenix Pub -- the starting and finishing point -- and got down on one knee, which was his second time proposing to a lady. "I was just as nervous the second time around, you never know what the potential spouse is going to say. I got a little jittery; I think you can see it in the photo."
Naturally, we asked Mrs. Conrad if there was any jealousy as she snapped the photo of her husband proposing to another girl. "Of course -- I had this look in my face that I'm glad was hiding behind the camera."
Urban Dare has races all across the United States. All winners of Urban Dare are automatically entered in Super Dare, a three-day challenge that takes place on a Royal Caribbean Cruise ship and the ports of Coco Cay Island and Nassau. The winner of Super Dare receives a $5,000 grand prize.
Keefe said the Houston series was a success, and will bring the race back through the Bayou City again next year with a new set of challenges.