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After our very sucessful mini-race I somewhat ambitiously entered [ profile] kirstenfleur and myself into the competitive category of this year's Great Amazing Race. The idea was that we had months to train. Naturally we didn't. This was due to a number of things, including both of us managing to injure our knees at different times, children, life and general disorganisedness. I did think about changing our category after my knee injury, but decided, what the heck, let's just go for it. So we did.

For the competitive category we needed to collect 500 points (Social category needed 425), of which 200 were Challenge stages, 100 was the Amazing Race stage, 100 each was Pursuit and Collect stages respectively. After some hassle getting to the start line - my train line decided to have trackworks that weekend, so I caught a train to Clifton Hill, a bus to Parliament and then a tram to Southern Cross to meet [ profile] kirstenfleur, then we walked back up to the start at the QC Bar in Queen street. We checked in, put on our green t-shirts, settled in for the briefing and warm up, and (much to our surprise) they started on time at 10am. I grabbed a clue sheet, and we both started trying to work out the clues on our phones to plan a route.

30 minutes later - probably longer than we should have spent! - we had everything worked out, and so we headed off to Docklands in search of our first Collect stage:

Locate the Reed Vessel artwork at Docklands Park and write down what three animals are engraved on the footbridge.

[ profile] kirstenfleur had located this at the corner of Bourke St and Harbour Esplanade, so we caught a tram down Bourke St, went over Southern Cross Station and past whatever the hell the stadium is called these days, down a dead end, down some steps and finally found the slightly hidden and not actually on the corner artwork. There was a frog, some eels and some lizards on the footbridge. Off to the next point!

Go to and find the control punch at the location pictured, which is one of Melbourne's most sustainable buildings and can be found along Victoria Harbour Promenade

The picture was of the new library at Docklands, which I had no idea existed. We walked down Bourke St extension, found Victoria Harbour Promenade, asked another team if they'd seen it - and then went a bit closer to the water, turned around and realised that we could actually see it, we just hadn't been on the right angle. Found the punch, clipped our bib and set off again for our first Challenge Stage.

This was Dragon Boat Racing. The actual "clue" said:

Find the Dragon head on the Race map and make your way to the boat shed along the wharf to complete a challenge involving a water sport that has its roots in ancient China. To complete this challenge teams must have signed the Dragon boat waiver and be able to swim 50m in open water.

The pre-race information pack had also provided a map of the location of the Dragon Boat racing - this was because it was on North Wharf. There is nothing on North Wharf, except derelict buildings, some disused train tracks, some cars parked behind metal fences (which hadn't stopped someone trying to get the number plates off). We walked on, seeing no one and musing out loud about being in post-apocalyptic Melbourne. Seriously, if I'm going to make a zombie film that's where I'm going before the development gets there. Eventually, and without having seen any other teams en route, we made it to the dragon boat racing... and discovered that we were just too late for the boat about to leave. Then they changed their minds, decided we could fit in that boat, and gave us a quick briefing, some lifejackets and paddles and led us down to the boat. Then they decided we couldn't fit after all, so we stood mournfully on the dock as the boat headed out. Fortunately a whole group of people arrived within minutes, and we were directed up to another boat waiting to go. We stood there, the group finished the briefing and headed down... and went to a different boat. Back to where we'd been standing we went again, and 10 minutes after arriving at the challenge were finally able to get into a dragon boat.

After that the challenge was pretty quick, I think it was another 10 minutes or so of paddling. I was fortunate in that the person behind me was reasonably OK with paddling - the woman in front of [ profile] kirstenfleur kept splashing water on her the entire time. The funniest moment was when one of the other racers said "wow, how do the guys at the front steer the boat?!" and was informed that actually it was the person at the back with the steering oar doing that. Heh.

We got our bibs clipped and decided that we needed to make up some time so started jogging back to the end of the Collins St tram line to catch a tram back to Spencer St, and then a second tram out to the Melbourne Sports and Aquatic Centre. Fortunately there was a tram waiting at the end of the line, and the very nice driver saw us puffing frantically toward it and waited for us. We swiped our myki and sat down.

"Did your myki just make a weird beep?" I asked [ profile] kirstenfleur
"It shouldn't, I topped it up this morning."

At Spencer St the superstop had a myki machine, so she put the card in... and discovered that the topup apparently hadn't worked as the card was reading -$3. Hm. So she went through the entire process, including the entire EFTPOS transaction, got to the last stage where the card was being updated... and it suddenly said "Transaction failed. Please take card and try again."

Naturally this was the time the tram we needed turned the corner and started heading towards us.

So we grabbed the card, jumped on board the tram and swiped it on. It did the funny beep again but we pretended not to notice.

We were heading to three things at Albert Park, the first of which was a Pursuit stage:

Unscramble this anagram and find the control punch at the location to complete the Pursuit stage.
B A L K P A R T E R - V I R G I N G A R D E N

[ profile] kirstenfleur had used an online anagram scrambler to come up with Albert Park Driving Range, which was fortunate because it would have taken me a lot longer. We found the punch and headed to the nearby Collect stage:

Find the Australian Grand Prix plaque near Coots Picnic area opposite MSAC at Albert Park and write down the number that can be seen on one of the cars pictured on the plaque.

This made me laugh, as Coots Picnic Area is the start/finish of the pre-eclampsia walk, so I knew exactly where it was. I'd never noticed a Grand Prix plaque there before, but we found it quickly, wrote down "15" and headed over to MSAC proper for the Challenge Stage:

It has the look of surfing and bodyboarding and is the only place in Victoria where you can ride a static wave. Find your inner Burrow, Slater or Beachley in this challenge where one team member will get wet. Entry via black gates just outside the outdoor swimming pool on old Aughtie Drive, not via MSAC.

This was bodyboarding for 2 minutes on a static wave. "ME!!" said [ profile] kirstenfleur and rushed off to get changed. I gossiped with one of the volunteers, then started trying to work out where to go next. [ profile] kirstenfleur came back in her bathers, headed up to the top, collected the bodyboard and leapt in. She had a great time.. and then the water stopped being a wave, for no apparent reason. Hm. Fortunately she'd finished the time, so we returned the board, she went off to get changed, I got the bib clipped and we headed off to catch a tram down Park St towards Flinders St Station.

The initial idea was to go to Flinders St Station and catch a train out to the Amazing Race stage, which was in Burnley. Then we realised that there was a Collect and a Pursuit stage quite near to Flinders St station, so we altered our plans. Then we missed the damn tram by about 2 minutes, mostly due to slow running. Fortunately the next tram along came in four minutes, so we had a drink and an apple and tried to work out what to do next. First off the Pursuit stage:

Make your way to the Melbourne Festival - Foxtel Festival Hub and find the control punch.

The website for this described it as being on "Peppercorn lawn" which no one else has ever heard of, but fortunately also mentioned it as being on the south side of the Yarra next to Princes Bridge. We found it reasonably quickly, not least by following another team. Then we headed to the Collect stage, which I'd fortunately looked up at MSAC:

Degraves St is a famous cobbled bluestone alley where visitors can enjoy a coffee and a meal at its many bars, cafes and restaurants. Make your way here and answer the question posted in the window of 'Little Cupcakes'.

We walked up Princes Bridge, past Flinders St station and up Degraves St to Little Cupcakes where there was a sign with the Sea Shepherd logo on it. Sorted!

During the tram ride into the city I'd realised that the trains run via the city loop out to Burnley, which would take longer from Flinders St. So we decided to catch a tram and maybe do the Challenge in Fitzroy gardens, then make our way up to Parliament to do a Collect stage there. On to a number 75 tram we leapt, to make our way to:

Find the official in the south-eastern side of a famous set of gardens named after the Governor of New South Wales from 1846-1851. This challenge will bring out your inner clown skills and test your ability to follow instructions.

This turned out to be making balloon animals, with a printed set of instructions to make a dog (me) and a giraffe ([ profile] kirstenfleur). We completed it pretty quickly and were passed - fortunately they didn't make me let go of the dog as I couldn't get the back end to stay wound up!

During the tram ride we'd changed our minds about 5 times as to where to go next. Well I had, [ profile] kirstenfleur had mostly laughed at me. By this point we needed to complete the compulsory amazing race stage, two more challenges, one more collect and one more pursuit stage. In the end we decided to head to a nearby challenge stage:

Goal! Goal! Goal!!! It's time to test your 'Copa del mundo' skills. Find the official at the oval at Melbourne Park next to Rod Laver arena and strap in for one of the craziest challenges we've ever seen!

This was bubble soccer. After a bit jogging/walking we got to the right place, and squeezed into giant inflatable balls. Then we had to kick a soccer ball through a series of cones to the end of a marked path and back. [ profile] kirstenfleur hasn't played soccer for a while, and was not enjoying being in a giant bubble - I was fine! I think the bubble was a bit claustrophobic to be honest. We still both completed it quite quickly, and set off in search of the final Pursuit stage we needed.

This stage can be found on the brige named after the first Australian to win a gold medal at the Olympic Games.

We'd been looking along the bridges as we'd come from the Fitzroy Gardens, but nothing. There are four pedestrian bridges in the area, and all my googling hadn't come up with anything more than "near Rod Laver arena" and some gushing architectural reviews. As we were running along we asked another team, who pointed up and said "I think it's probably the one with the giant Olympic rings on it."

"Ah! Yes, that would be a clue."

Up we went and found the control punch. Yay! Amazing Race stage, one Challenge and one Collect stage to go. Off we set to get to the Amazing Race stage. There were two options for getting to the starting point - tram down Swan St or train. We got to the tram, discovered the next one wasn't due for 10 minutes and kept going to Richmond Station to catch the train. [ profile] kirstenfleur got through the gates just fine, which surprised me, and we joined several other teams waiting on the platform.

"In case you're wondering I just used Laura's myki."

Hm, now that was really going to be interesting to explain to any ticket inspectors - no, officer, I accidentally used my daughter's concession card instead of mine... Hm.

We reached Burnley station and headed off to the starting point:

Make your way to a church on Burnley St, Burnley, that shares its name with Homer Simpson's son.

Jogging very slowly up Burnley St following the other teams I was pretty hopeful we could get this stage done, and get back in to finish the remaining two stages before the end of the event at 3.30pm. It was 2.15pm already, but we'd finished the Amazing race stage in about 30 minutes the year before, so we figured it should be doable. We found the volunteer who handed us our "Route Info" clue:

Go to Burnley Park and find the volunteer near Bellevue Avenue.

This was quite a jog away (800m in fact), through the backstreets of Richmond. When we got there we were handed another clue telling us we were going to be learning a hula hoop routine.

We waited until the group before us had finished learning the routine, then collected hoops and lined up expectantly.

"Hello!" said the instructor "you're going to be learning a 10 step routine!"

The first step was holding the hoop above your head, then letting it slide down behind you with your arms through it. Then you took your arms through it to the front, got it over your head, spun it round your waist while turning 360oC. The hoop dropped to the ground, at which point you flipped it up with your foot, caught it, rolled it to your partner, threw it to your partner and then held it over your head with one arm while striking a pose. Simple, right?

Fortunately the judges were quite lenient as we were terrible. My flip up with foot was more push forward and grab, just as an example. We collected our next clue, returned the hoops and started heading off to our next location, 144 Murphy St, a mere 900 or so metres away. This was the site of Clip and Climb, who were one of the major sponsors of the Race, so I'd guessed we were coming to Burnley for something. I just thought it was going to be a challenge, not part of the Amazing Race Stage. Once there we had a choice between two tasks - one person doing a freefall off a 5.3m Tower Of Death (or something) or one team member painting the other person's face. We went with the latter, mostly because there was a long queue for the jumping and we were now somewhat desperately trying to make up time.

"I'll paint!" said [ profile] kirstenfleur and so she grabbed the paints and carefully drew a butterfly on my face. We finished pretty quickly - certainly more quickly than the other option - and recieved our next clue, telling us to search Bridge Rd between Burnley St and Coppin St to find a photoboard. Once there we'd need to get our photo taken with a smartphone or camera (like anyone had one of those!) and then head to 11 Duke St to show it to the volunteer. Along with several other teams we jogged along to Bridge Rd (fortunately only about 300m away), then along it to find the board. All the teams took turns taking photos and then off we went to Duke St (1.2km away).

We showed our photos to the volunteer, who said "fantastic! Now you're going to do an Intersection! You'll be joined with this team (a pair of young guys) and together you'll be answering the Yellow Questions.

In we went, to find a very crowded room with posters around the walls. We found the yellow questions and scribbled them down.

1. What percentage of drinkable water is used for cooking and drinking?
2. According to the average how many vehicles is a family with 7 members of driving age likely to have?
3. How long does it take cigarette butts to decompose?
4. How many plastic bottles need to be recycled to make enough 84L wheelie bins for a street with 23 houses?
5. Planting 10 trees will provide enough oxygen for how many people?
6. If a traditional lightbulb lasts an average of 1000 hours how long would an LED lightbulb last for?
7. How many plastic bags are used worldwide every day?
8. Rank these items from least recyclable to most recyclable: Computers, Phones, Glass.

(We also took a photo of the questions, heh.)

Then we went off to find the answers on the posters. Initially we thought we only needed to find the yellow posters (there were four colour-coded groups of questions) but then we realised that no, the information was scattered over all the posters.

And then we realised that the information was actually there, but it wasn't that simple. The first indication was when we got to the drinkable water poster and saw that 1% was used for drinking and 4% for cooking, giving a total of 5%. Yes, we were doing maths.

That question was fine, but when we were answering question 4 and the information given was "it takes 125 bottles to make a 240L wheelie bin" I realised that we were doing a reasonable level of maths.

This is also when I realised the team we were paired with were not actually particularly maths-oriented, heh. It may have been the deer-in-the-headlights look when they went "but 240 doesn't go into 84!"

I (stupidly) started doing the calculation manually, then realised I had a calculator in the phone, then overheard that answer from someone else (hooray). It still took us three goes, mostly because we'd misread question 6 and were out by a factor of 10, and because I actually needed to write down the family car question properly so that my brain could make the calculator work. But then we were finished, and off we set again for the start point to finish the stage for a total of 3.67km running/walking in a circuit. Sheesh. Once you add in getting to and from the train station we covered 4.57km just for that stage. By this stage it was past 3pm, so we couldn't complete the final challenge stage we needed, as they all closed by 3pm. We were still holding out hope of getting the last Collect stage, but when the train reached Flinders St we realised we had less than 3 minutes to get back to the starting point. This was unfortunate, as by the time we got out of the station and up the hill for the last 500 or so metres it was 6 minutes past the closing time and we were both stuffed. As we'd said to a team earlier "we can run down hills, not so much up them!"

So we ended up with 450 points, 50 short of what we needed. The winners of the competitive section (for some stupid reason, probably lack of prizes, they decided to only give out overall winners and not winners for each category this year) finished in 3hrs 47 minutes, which was pretty impressive. They obviously (a) ran most of it and (b) are pretty fast and fit runners!

If we'd competed in the social category we'd have finished, but it would have been down to the wire - no way would we have finished 30 minutes early like last year. Maybe 10 minutes early, but definitely not 30.

The main differences from last year (and the 2010 race incidentally) was just how spread out it was this year. Last year we covered about 2.5km doing the Amazing Race challenge, which was all in a quite small area in Docklands. It was also reasonably near the next challenge we did - 1.47km away, granted, but the nearest challenge to the Amazing Race stage this year was in East Melbourne and was 2.58km away. Last year there was one challenge that was a long way out - at MSAC again - this year there was the Dragon boating, the MSAC challenge and the Amazing Race stage which were all miles out in different directions from each other. Last year we covered 17km in total, 11km running/walking. This year we covered 26.56km, of which 12.98km was walking/running. If we'd left immediately and headed straight for the Amazing Race stage we might just have finished - next year I guess!

The challenges we missed were Irish Dancing at the Irish club (at 11am there was apparently a 20 minute long queue), a puzzle challenge at the Polly Woodside - that actually was one we could have done en route to/from MSAC if I'd been a bit more with it - an electronic gaming challenge somewhere in the city, a golf challenge on Exhibition St and a fitness class on Latrobe St. This was another strategy option we could have looked at - we needed 200 points, and we went with the two highest point options available - Dragon boating was worth 50, and the static wave bodyboarding was worth 75. All the others were 25 points, so we could theoretically have done more of them and skipped MSAC or Dragon boating. Glad we didn't though! I'll be interested to see what the winners did (and didn't!) do.

The Pursuit stage we didn't do was at Tasma Terrace, Parliament Place, and the Collect stages we didn't do were at the Welsh Church on Latrobe St and at 240 Little Collins St. We were aiming for Little Collins St when we realised we were really and truly out of time.

I have to admit I did end up frustrated at the end - the Amazing Race Challenge took a lot of time, and by the time we hit the Intersection I was stressed and over it. I wouldn't have minded so much if we could have just grabbed the answers and gone, but doing rapid calculations on top of everything else was a pain.

Oh and the answers to those questions were:

1. 5% water used for cooking and drinking
2. 5.1 cars for an average family containing 7 driving adults (1 car per 1.37 persons)
3. Cigarette butts take 10-12 years to decompose (that was one of the few answers that was an answer)
4. 1725 plastic milk bottles to make 23 84L wheelie bins
5. 10 trees provide oxygen for 20 people
6. LED lightbulbs will go for 25 000 hours on average
7. 1.44 x 10^9 plastic bags are used worldwide per day (1 million per minute, which is the figure they gave us.)
8. Glass is most recyclable then computers (95%) then phones (90%).

Oh well, next year. I'd definitely enter competitive again - we were pretty close to finishing, and if we'd run a bit more at the start or just headed straight off to the furthest point and worked things out on the tram we'd probably have finished. Of course training a bit might also have helped!

After we'd had lunch, walked up to Southern Cross (now that we weren't actually racing I wasn't going to risk [ profile] kirstenfleur being fined with her myki!), had a coffee we went to the office at Southern Cross to find out why the myki hadn't updated. It turned out that neither the initial adding money in the morning nor the one at the tramstop had worked - the card hadn't been updated since the 11th October according to the data. Fortunately the nice lady at Southern Cross was able to put money on it and so [ profile] kirstenfleur headed off in the knowledge that for the first time all day she actually had a valid myki. Just as well, as the only time she encountered ticket inspectors all day was on the ride home! Heh.

Meanwhile I caught a train to Parliament, a bus to Clifton Hill... and then waited for 20 minutes for the next train. At least it was a lovely warm sunny day.

I'll attempt to do a map of where we went and embed it, but given how well it worked last time we'll see.

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