I've been wanting to run my own journey ever since San Francisco's brought me into SF0. It was my introduction to SF0, and what a great introduction it was. A night of terror, adventure, and exhilaration. It was such a thrill--I wanted to share that. Thus began my DC journey.
While the idea had been percolating for several months, the first real discussion came at a DC0 event
when rongo rongo came to visit. A perfect time to involve FZ! and Eccoglyph in my nefarious plots. So we sketched out tentative places to put on the map, some good DC landmarks. In the process, we considered a number of places to finally end up at. I'd considered the Smithsonian grounds or other Park Police-maintained public grounds, but it seemed like a great idea to have a big house party. Somewhere nice and warm, a welcoming end to what would hopefully be a harrowing night. While there were still many other things to be done, we needed to set a date, so that recruitment and advertising could begin. And to do that, we needed a place to host the End of the Journey.
Brandon volunteered his place to host the conclusion. As it turned out, he would do much more than that. A freelance web developer
by trade (hire him!), he also put together the design for the Journey website
. His excitement and enthusiasm were a great help throughout the journey, from coming along to plan the route, advertising and organizing, he was a great partner in the endeavor. Let me throw out a reference for him: JOURNEYDC08RUN1
Dax's Journey and The Offer I Could Not Refuse
I still had to figure out a date, finalize the route, recruit some more people, and do the myriad little things which go into planning a Journey. As with many great things, you make up most of it. And the rest...well, you get some good people to help you. I had Brandon, I had Eccoglyph and FZ! And once she heard about it, nano5th was totally in. I had several other local friends I could convince to join this crazy scheme, too. But things were still uncertain and only slowly becoming clear...then something happened to throw the whole thing into fast-forward: Journey Chicago
Dax certainly seemed to have been planning it for a while: the Journey announcement showed up with SF0 founder support, a beautiful painted poster ad, and a website. I was impressed. More than that--I was worried, and I was a little bit jealous. I was still thinking about having it that same night, but was also considering weekends nearby. So I sent Dax a note to try to either coordinate some inter-city Journeying, or see when things might happen. What I did not expect was this reply:
I would be down for coming to DC to help you with yours, if you'd consider coming to Chicagø to give me a hand with mine.
It was an offer I could not refuse.
In the meantime, we walked the route
and took some good shots to use as promo material. Because publicity was going to be important. Ah, publicity. It helped that we had a great website
. Once that was up, we started to put the word out. We got a few blog references
, put up a facebook event
, and sent out quite a number of emails. Word of mouth started to spread. We had no idea if this was going to work. We didn't really have a big base of DC0 players, and most of our people had already been enlisted as lead runners or checkpoint agents. We had to use this as a way of getting new DC0 people, rather than relying on existing ones. Who knew how many people might come? So we had to spread word like crazy. Especially since the weather was threatening to come down on us...
The Weather. Oh, the weather. From the moment they started to make predictions, I was obsessively checking. Ten days before May 3rd, it told me that there would be rain. With nine days to go, that had increased to thunderstorms. At eight days, it went to partly cloudy. Seven, back to rain. And six, thunderstorms again. Clearly, the weather way toying with me.
I knew that weather was something which could ruin this. The heavens could open up, and no one would come, and there would be nothing I could do about it. Well, almost nothing. So I contacted my friends at NOAA--they said they'd see what they could do, but wouldn't make any promises. Just in case, I decided that I should get ponchos. So that I could hand them out at the start--maybe this would encourage some people to face the rain, and at least we could have a small Journey. Trying to control the weather was clearly crazy. Then again, mass-ordering ponchos...that would be a little bit crazy too, wouldn't it?
Crazy to the tune of 96 ponchos, to be exact. Let me just say: the internet is an amazing place, and sacrifices must sometimes be made to the weather gods.
In any case, there was still a huge Journey to plan. Twelve hundred feet of ribbon! Three hundred maps! Contact information and directions for twenty-one organizers! Six amazing checkpoints, including transportation logistics and refreshments! Eight starting chasers, each with meticulously planned instructions to maximize area coverage and player terror! Prizes of all sorts!
Brandon made our beautifully crafted map, after checkpoints and safe zones were finalized:
And the texting system. A lot of planning went into each part of the Journey, but the texting system was the centerpiece. A masterwork of modern technology, it was set up to be a text message remailer--anyone could send a text message in to the central dispatch, and that would be instantly forwarded to all chasers and checkpoint agents. Each checkpoint would text when the 1st, 10th, and 50th players arrived--this way, the chasers would know where the lead players and masses of players were at all times. The chasers would text when they caught someone, and when they moved locations, allowing everyone to know what zones were being covered and where chaser were being created. It was beautiful; a texting system which would provide amazing situational awareness over the course; a texting system which would provide unparalleled quantitative data from the Journey...
...a texting system which completely failed us.
Let me explain. An hour before the Journey's scheduled time, Brandon, Dax, and I drove down to Dupont circle. We pulled up to a prime parking spot...and it turned out the car in front of us had a fleur de lis! Clearly, this was an auspicious sign.
As it turned out, the weather held off. And our publicity campaign had succeeded better than I had expected. Hundreds of people showed up at Dupont circle over the next hour. Masses. There was a line stretching halfway around the circle. I was scrambling to try to get everyone signed in before 7:30, when I had hoped to let everyone loose. As more and more people came, I tried to get more and more signup sheets around the table. Fortunately, I had made sure to be prepared for up to 300 people, having extra ribbon, pens, maps, and signup sheets. We started giving out maps and ribbons rather than having everyone sign up. As it turned out, this extra preparation was crucial; even with it, I felt panicked and almost overwhelmed.
People seemed pretty excited. I was feeling good, if a little pressed for time.
At last, the line seemed to be done with--and it was time for me to start. I went up to the Dupont fountain, and started up with the megaphone. I gave everyone the rules, I made some jokes, I took some questions...and then I let everyone go. And they went. I wish I'd been better prepared with the camera, because it was an amazing sight to see hundreds of people streaming out of Dupont, headed south and west, scrambling along as fast as they could. I had a huge grin--not only because of the amazing sight, but also because I'd finally managed to get everyone off. Only a few minutes late. Checking the time, I...
Ten minutes early
Well, that's okay, that's fine. No need to worry. I needed to send out the initial text message: "They're off! The main groups seem to be heading down P and New Hampshire. Go Chasers!" I sent it, and prepared to head to the end (to coordinate as needed and be ready for the first finishers).
Then I got a text from one of my chasers, roughly along the lines of "Z0MG! Players are already here! Wtf! Did you let them go already??" No texts were coming through the central texting system.
This was the point at which, as with any Journey, things went completely out of control. I'd accidentally let a throng of two hundred and fifty players loose through the streets of DC, ahead of schedule, with my chasers not yet alerted. Frantically calling and texting the chasers and checkpointers, we could only hope that everything would somehow work out well. It was a crazy scramble packing up, notifying, trying to do damage control on The Plan, and make it over to the final checkpoint. But when we made it there, everything would certainly be all right--the online tool would let us check the texts coming in and then just trigger it to resend them to everyone, right? Right? Sadly not: even the online system was dropping texts, and would only send to five people at a time. So, as it had been fated, the power and chaos of the Night overtook my carefully laid plans. I could only trust that I had chosen my agents well.
Fortunately, I had. Despite the chaos of the Night, or perhaps because of it, everything turned out fantastic. The players were well chased, and found many wonderfully populated checkpoints. Those who became chasers and those who escaped unscathed both had an excellent night. This is one more thank you to everyone who helped make this an amazing journey.
It turns out we have some real runners in DC. I kept getting reports from my checkpoint agents that the first runners had reached their station. Some of this was my fault for letting them go early, but it quickly became clear that something unexpected was happening--people were getting through the checkpoints much faster than we'd anticipated. And outpacing chasers, too. I got reports from lead chasers that there were some fast
players out there. Pretty son, I had a chance to meet them myself--at 8:37, just eighty minutes after I had released everyone from Dupont circle, came not one, but two swift runners! Team Patrick^2. literally one minute later, they were joined by Marc Harkness (who had actually been in the lead for most of the course, as confirmed by the checkpoint agents--he was overtaken with only four blocks to go by Patrick^2, whom he reports "were coming at me so fast that they glowed red with the Doppler effect"). Soon Peter Weiss arrived as a very close fourth, at 8:46! These four runners had not merely run a block, walked a block...they had run the entire course
. Their strategy for avoiding chasers? Run faster. And it worked, though they each had been chased (and with dedication, too--team Patrick^2 said they really had to pour it on, and keep it on to get away). The next group to arrive was at 9:16, a group of swift runners who had
been caught and turned into chasers--the next survivors would not make it for another hour.
A Journey to the End of the Night:DC t-shirt and three chalices were thus awarded!
The first 25 players to complete the course, and the first 10 chasers with at least one capture all received wonderful badges (thank you, Dax!).
The top chaser prize (another Journey shirt) went to Jonathan Roberts, for capturing no fewer than 11 players over the course of the night!
As the night went on, checkpoint agents and players continued to trickle in. Shortly after midnight, I gathered everyone to tell stories and give out additional prizes.
We gave out some bonus prizes as well:
We received reports of a broken leg (slightly exaggerated, though they did end up in the hospital in a wheelchair), but the worst injury prize went to someone who leapt over a metal fence and poked a hole in their arm, but were graciously given first aid by their chaser (Dax) and a nearby pre-med.
To the team at checkpoint two, for obvious reasons. I'll let them tell you why their theme was so fantastic, but it actually goes beyond good costuming. With glowing test tubes and a fully-constructed Doc Brown thinking hat from Back to the Future, this prize was an easy choice.
As with many things about Chicago's Journey, I liked Dax's "ten words or less" storytelling challenge, and so stole it on behalf of DC. There were a number of good entries, but it was clear that the best entry went something like this: "Stopped and handcuffed by police, white powder in my bag."
It turns out that this weekend was an "All Hands on Deck
" night--with plenty of extra police patrolling. So it was only to be expected that someone would be seen running and stopped as suspicious. In this case, the police officer quickly cuffed the player's arms behind his back and proceeded to examine his backpack (something, the player helpfully pointed out, which would have been easier without the cuffs). Upon opening it, what should they see but a bag coated with white powder. Upon going to taste it, the player exclaimed, "You don't want to do that--there's fiberglass in there!" It turns out that he was a rock climber, and that a chalk bag had come loose in his backpack. After a taste confirmed it (the carabiners he had on him supported his story as well), the cop realized they should let him go.
I like the conclusion to this story, too: the chaser had not given up after the player was stopped by the police officer, instead lurking down the block (either a jerk move or cold-blooded chaser dedication, depending on how you look at it). Knowing this, our hero told the police officer, while being uncuffed, that he didn't want to seem suspicious or get taken down again, but as soon as the cuffs were off, he was going to take off running to get away from the chaser. He did, and survived to make it to the end.
The Endurance prize
was the last one given out--given to our last three finishers, who made it in just after we had given out the story prize and were about to call it a night.
There were a number of other amazing stories from the night; I'll tell, in brief, just three more, and invite their owners to expand upon them as they see fit:
1. When you're on the metro train, you can see chasers in the next car, and they can see you...what do you do? One person escaped by faking them out, getting off a stop early, giving no indication until he slipped out the door at the very last minute, leaving the chasers trapped behind on the train. This same person also discovered the "Secret Warp Zone". By taking a metro train near checkpoint six, they safely traveled further East, past
checkpoint 7...ending up already in the safe zone, then backtracked entirely in safety.
2. One person hid in a porta-potty for half an hour to escape a chaser. I don't really want to imagine what that was like.
3. With a chaser in hot pursuit, two players ran, then ducked into a building to hide. The danger was over, and the chaser passed. Rather, I should say, the danger from the chaser
had passed. For the building they had run to and ducked in was none other than the FBI building, a fact they realized only after two agents ran out, shouting at them to freeze, with guns out and pointed at them. They ended up spending an hour or two chatting with the FBI--but in the end, survived and made it to the final checkpoint!
A Few Final Numbers
If you're like me, you like numbers. So here are a few for you.
37 teams signed up. Some of my favorites were "10 is 2", "Flying Camels", and "Spoon!". "He hate me" was the runaway favorite, with 29 members.
239 players signed up for the beginning. Surviving players made it to checkpoints in (approximately) the following numbers:
7 (end): 68
Here is a link to the google map route
, including mileage (without metro assistance).
If I get time, I'll try to get some time and mileage details, with plots of player progression from the night, maybe even an animation...but for now, I'm going to leave this already-long proof.
In the end, I was very happy with the DC Journey. I felt like I had given people a great night, and had given back some of what I had received from the San Francisco Journey. It's a wonderful experience, and I was very happy to share it.