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But, where do we go first, I thought, and what if we go in the wrong order? What should be a fifty-mile race, if done right, very well could turn into a hundred miles or more. And, since everyone took off so quickly, there was no one left that we could follow. Still, knowing that we had three to four hours to finish, we zoomed off to what seemed like the logical first checkpoint — breaking every possible traffic rule along the way. I ignored the glares from irritated drivers and enjoyed the sun and slight breeze as we rode through downtown and into West Oakland. Jimmy claimed his heart rate was "145 and climbing," and that he needed a cigarette.
We pulled up to the Port of Oakland's lookout tower, out on a spit of land, surrounded by colorful stacked shipping containers and an expansive view of the bay. Four pretty girls in summer dresses and covered in tattoos waved at us from the top railing while their boom box played "White Riot" by the Clash. We ran up the stairs and gave them our manifests to sign.
In order to get manifests signed, racers have to do or say whatever stunt the checkpoint guards want — these girls made us recite the Pledge of Allegiance. I dutifully repeated all I could remember but Jimmy refused — instead he said, "I pledge allegiance to American Spirits and the United States of Budweiser." Our laughing quickly stopped when one girl pointed to the street and asked, "Is that a cop out there?"
Since alleycats are unsanctioned, if cops catch wind of them, they've been known to crack down on bikers breaking traffic laws. As we began to ride to the next checkpoint, we saw several police cars patrolling the streets. Closer to the checkpoint, standing on several corners, fellow racers were getting lectured by the police for unlawful riding.
Jimmy and I tried to stick to the side streets that cops would less likely cruise. Riding along, we hopped curbs, cut through parking lots and under highways. We rode through the industrial parts of West Oakland, Emeryville's shopping mall, and in and out of different boat marinas. For a moment, trying to orchestrate a shortcut, we somehow ended up on Interstate 580's off-ramp as cars going fifty miles per hour flicked pebbles at us.
We found the second and third checkpoints without a hitch and headed up the Bay Trail toward the fourth — somewhere in Richmond. We felt pretty secure about our route by this point and riding on the Bay Trail seemed to be saving us time since it hugs the bay's shoreline, has no cars, and very few traffic lights. A crosswind drummed off the water and carried strong smells of fish and brine. As we got a steady pace going, we passed a pack of fixie kids. I looked over to say "hi" and saw that they were disdainfully looking at my gears and brakes. Then, they passed us back — straight-faced, without even a nod of the head or a "hello." We back-and-forthed a couple more times. Then, full of energy drinks (and nicotine), pedaling as fast as his legs would go, Jimmy sped ahead of them yelling, "activate spinergy."
The next time they caught up with us, instead of passing, this fixed-gear mafia held back — letting us figure out where to go. Knowing it was a race, and wanting to shake them, Jimmy and I decided to take a random street route through Albany to see if they'd follow. They did. Ducking into a Target parking lot and hiding behind a mini-van, we waited to see what they would do. The pack blindly followed us into the parking lot, serious as could be. Between the shoppers wielding their red carts and running their daily errands, the posse stopped and looked around for us. Then, they became noticeably confused and annoyed. We waited, giggling. "Is this mean?" I whispered to Jimmy. "It's all in the game," he said. They finally left and we passed them a few blocks later, studying a map — it was clear they wouldn't follow us again.
But, shortly, we got lost, too. The gap between the third and fourth checkpoint was the longest distance, probably around fifteen miles. The manifest was no help. The address for the fourth checkpoint read "Miller/Knox Regional Shoreline/Ferry Point — Brickyard Cove Rd & Dornan Dr — via sea cliff — Pt Richmond!" I worried that we were riding in circles and we'd get too worn-out to finish the race. Jimmy was starting to get exasperated and just when I thought he might give up, we ran into a group of friendly lost riders who offered to work with us to find the way. Eventually, after taking a series of convoluted street routes through the outskirts of Richmond, we found the fourth checkpoint.
"You hangin' in there?" the checkpoint guard asked me when I finally rolled up. By this point, I must have looked a little haggard and windblown. But actually, I felt all right. It was completely picturesque out on Point Richmond — people were flying kites, and there was the rare clear view of the entire Tamalpais mountain range. And, they had tons of water for us to refill our bottles.
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