Yesterday, Seattle hosted 2 race events. Some 27,000 runners (not a typo: that’s 27 thousand!) participated in the Rock-n-Roll Marathon, one of a collection of behemoth road running events owned and operated by the for-profit corporation Competitor Group, Inc. The series is known for lining race routes with live bands, cheerleaders and themed water stations. The Marathon fee is $105 and $95 for the 1/2 Marathon.
My son Max and I participated in a different event, this one involving bicycles, as is our calling and likely genetic disposition. The Rawk & Roll Alleycat & Scavenger Hunt Race is a new event benefiting the Seattle Bicycle Music Festival. It’s non-profit, of grass-roots origin, and inexpensive. The race fee was $5. About 35 racers competed in this first-year event.
The Urban Dictionary tells me the word “Rawk” is an alternative spelling of the word “Rock”, frequently used to refer to alternative music. After much research I also learned that the “n” in “Rock-n-Roll” is an alternative spelling of the word “and”.
While I think it’s amazing and wonderful that so many people are participating in colossal outdoor athletic events like the Rock & Roll Marathon and STP (Seattle to Portland bicycle parade), there’s much to be said for smaller grass-roots events. The $5 entry for the Rock & Roll Alleycat and similar events is affordable and inclusive; and there is clear evidence they are at least as much fun. It’s like the difference between seeing your favorite band in a stadium or a club.
On the other hand, by participating in a mega-event like the Rock-n-Roll Marathon, you get to pretend to be an elite world-class athlete (unless you actually are an elite world-class athlete), cheered along by throngs of supporters you don’t actually know, while big-name bands specially paid to perform anthems to your athletic achievements play on the sidelines, and marketing professionals tout the financial benefits to the local economy as they plan ahead to extort money from local governments for next year’s profit taking event. This is America after all, a once-great nation driven by fantasy and dreams of massive transfer of wealth, so I’m OK with that. And, if you don’t actually like running, there are thousands of people to cheer you along and encourage you to do it anyway.
How the Alleycat thing works:
Checkpoints Up Front: Organizers gave each contestant a checkpoints/manifest/list/sheet-o-paper before the start of the race. This allowed each rider to strategize their individually planned routes. While some checkpoints were designated locations, others were given as clues that riders had to solve. There were about 17 checkpoints on the manifest, with locations ranging from north Ballard to Georgetown.
Point Collection: This was a scavenger hunt style race with each stop worth a certain number of points. Since I don’t believe it would be possible to hit all the checkpoints within the designated time (without cheating), riders had to decide which checkpoints would give them the highest point totals (without cheating). Riders who have the best knowledge of routes and those who are able to solve clues are at an advantage. Riders who are skinny and have big legs are also at an advantage. Cheating will also put you at an advantage, but is frowned upon. Known cheaters often remark that their after-party beer tastes like urine.
Some riders were lone wolves, heading out on their own, while others formed alliances (called “pah-sees”) and rode together. I started out as a lone wolf but later was allowed to join a pah-see of young dudes who no doubt expected to quickly lose me (didn’t happen boyz!) based on our age and girth differentials. Riding with the pah-see was fun and also made for more interesting photos (at least I like to think so).
One of the great things about this event is I got to visit amazing shops I’d never been to like Mobius, Belltown Pull-Apart, Wright Brothers, and Slave to the Needle. Bicycle culture is thriving in Seattle. Although I’ve ridden in big organized events like STP, Chilly Hilly, RAPSODY, and Flying Wheels, smaller grass-roots like the Rawk & Roll Alleycat are just as much fun, way cheaper, and have great prizes.
I won the Pinarello rainbow cap signed by Bike Snob NYC. Other prizes included Monkey Lights, brass bells, various bike gear, T-shirts, Recycled Cycles gift certificates, and gift packages from Toys in Babeland. Not sure what those toys were exactly, but judging from the battery packs I’m guessing they were some kind of bike lights.
About the Seattle Bicycle Music Festival
Inspiration for the Seattle Bicycle Music Festival came through the Bicycle Music Festival, which was started in San Francisco in 2007. The Bicycle Music Festival is the largest 100% bicycle-powered music festival in the world. The free, all-day (and late into the night) event features: a 2000 watt pedal-powered PA system, as many as 15 bands, up to 7 festival stops, outrageous bicycle party caravans between festival stops, and zero use of cars or trucks. With its completely bike-haulable stage, the event is packed up and deployed numerous times: staged sequentially at different public parks and also on a moving “Live On Bike” stage which rolls down city streets.
The mission of the Seattle Bicycle Music Festival is to promote sustainable culture in general and bicycle culture in particular, by physically engaging and immersing communities in the magic of bike culture, and cultivating and nurturing networks of local sustainable musicians, through our staging of usually free, community participatory, educational, bicycle-based music events.
Please check the Bicycle Music Festival website for upcoming events and schedules.
Click here to read an article I wrote on the “First Golden Age of the Bicycle & Popular Music” or scroll down.