My strategy for success has always been to bite off more than I can chew, and then chew it mercilessly. Going into the journey, I was incredibly nervous about surviving the first few hours of the competition. I was deathly afraid of being tagged mere moments after the start of my adventure. So, I prepared. During the night preceding the Journey, instead of dreaming, I did parkour. I staged hypothetical scenarios, populated them with faceless chaser, and ran all night. I awoke at 2:00 PM on the appointed day, and set about studying a map of the area we were likely to traverse during the coming night. I put on a dark shirt, running shoes, and my favorite pair of pants for freerunning. But something was missing. I knew what it was. My lucky jacket. I had left it at the right Reverend's house a few weeks before, and there was no way I was venturing out into the night without its supernatural protection. I called, and Odysseus Thwackinbusch delivered.
At Griffith Park, I met up with the Reverend and Black Coyote, and was reunited with my jacket. We formed what we referred to as the Gestalt, an unbreakable fellowship with the goal of reaching the end by whatever means necessary. When Waldo appeared on the scene, the Gestalt was complete.
But things were not to be as simple as one, two, three, four, five, six. Waldo hurried over to us after speaking with Lincoln to bring us some exciting news. Of the three bonus checkpoints, one was rumored to be so fiendishly difficult - I believe the word was "impossible" - that Lincoln had promised to give any team that achieved it "Anything They Wanted."
Anything. We. Wanted.
We of the Gestalt regarded "Impossible" as nothing more than a synonym for "really goddamn cool," and so we resolved to pursue this elusive checkpoint. At the start of the Journey, when all the other runners headed southwest towards Capital Records (Not Tower Records, as printed in the manifest), we headed northeast, towards Griffith observatory. When I told Lincoln we were going for the bonus checkpoint, he showed me three pictures to help us find it. One was a view from the check point, one was a long-distance view of the checkpoint, and one was a closeup. We also learned that the offer of "anything we wanted" was only valid if we completed the journey. The race was on.
Start to Griffith Observatory -- 7:45 PM
As we made our trek to the bonus checkpoint, we realized that the "impossibility" of the point lay not so much in its hidden-ness as in its tremendous distance from the rest of the points. Within minutes I was sweating buckets, and I had to take off my lucky jacket and tie it around my waist. We found the home-made stamp that marked the checkpoint easily enough...
But with only 40 minutes to spare before checkpoint one closed down. We had originally planned to hit another bonus checkpoint on our way to Capital Records, and thus approach it after most chasers had moved on, but we opted to head straight for the mandatory checkpoint instead. We also decided to take a shortcut down the other side of the mountain we were on.
This was a mistake.
Griffith Observatory to Checkpoint 1 -- 8:15 PM
The slope we cut down was covered in thistles and brambles, and terminated in a sheer six or seven foot drop. Waldo took a different, safer route. The Reverend and I made it down safely, if a bit scratched up. But Black Coyote was not so lucky. His legs slipped out from under him and he wrenched his ankle. While the Odysseus and Waldo tended to our wounded companion, I scouted ahead for a safer path down the rest of the mountain.
Soon, Coyote was able to walk with the help of Odysseus' sturdy cane, and we made our way down the rest of the mountain. But when we reached the bottom, we realized that we were stuck in the winding streets of the Hollywood hills! And with only about 30 minutes to spare before the first checkpoint closed! But we couldn't move faster for fear of further injuring Coyote's leg. We were stuck. But the Reverend had a plan. I would run ahead of the group and attempt to get to checkpoint 1 before it closed, thus meeting up with the checkpoint person and finding out who we were supposed to look for at checkpoint two. Meanwhile, the Reverend would stick with Waldo and Coyote, and the three of them would be able to move at a more leisurely pace.
So I ran. And I ran and I ran and I ran. We were a little more than a mile off course at that point, and I needed to make it to Tower in 20 minutes, without tiring myself out for the rest of the night. I made it in fifteen, only to find the building closed. On my way to the front door, I spotted a man in a robot costume standing on an island in the middle of the road. I was about to go and compliment him on his fantastic costume when I spotted Lowteck - who I thought was a chaser - standing and talking to him. I veered around the two of them and got a signature from one of the attendants in the parking lot. It was not until I reached checkpoint two that I was informed that the robot WAS checkpoint one. Oh well.
While Tac had run ahead, Black Coyote, The Reverend and I had worked out that our best chance of survival when coming upon a chaser would be for two of us to sprint towards and past the chaser on opposite sides (with a good 10 foot berth if we could) while Black Coyote ducked into an alley, store front, or roomy hedge nearby.
When Tac called to warn us about a chaser, saying "I need to go" and hanging up in the middle of the call, we all became paranoid he had been spotted and tagged. In the next twenty minutes when we had not heard from him, our suspicions grew.
Were it not for the cheerful visage of mkII swaying merrily to DJ Lowtech's techno beats on a concrete delta three lanes into LA rush hour traffic, we would surely have lost all faith in the runner alliance and broken off contact with any who might have become a traitor to the cause. Luckily mkII was there for us, and even sporting a claw upgrade dexterous enough to sign off on our first checkpoint personally.
I called The Reverend and told him I was heading to checkpoint two to try and find out who was manning checkpoint three. He gave me the go-ahead and I began walking down Hollywood towards Mann's Chinese Theatre.
When Tac called again he insisted to speak to us each in turn to safeguard against deception from one of us going rogue in his absence as a chaser. What he failed to explain, however, was why he had called from the cellphone of The Walrus! She had set out directly for checkpoint 1, and we were convinced the only way Tac could have caught up to her (because of our initial detour) was if The Walrus had become a chaser and stayed behind to ambush other runners. If Tac used her phone, he must also be a chaser! Deduction and Intrigue!
I realized at this point that I needed to become inconspicuous. I took off my glasses, and put on a grey woolen beanie I had brought with me for just such an occasion. It covered up my distinctive spiked hair and helped me blend into the crowd walking down the street. I stuffed my hands in my pockets, hunched over, and walked.
My disguise worked. It worked so well, in fact, than when I spotted a former runner walking down the sidewalk with a red armband, I was able to pass within a few feet of him without him noticing me. I quickly called the Reverend and warned him about the new chaser. Then I walked up to Barbapoca where he stood in front of the theatre, got his signature, and gave the chaser I had just seen a call. It went something like this:
Me: (Panting) H-Hey. I got separated from my group. I just made it to Tower (we still referred to it as Tower Records anyway). Can you meet up with me? I don't really know where I'm going.
Him: I'm almost at Checkpoint two. Where are you.
Me: Near Tower! Can you meet me halfway? Like, let's meet at ... (Checking my map) Wilton. Can you get to Wilton?
Him: It's kind of far ...
Me: I'll be there in a minute! Just meet up with me! *Click*
While resting in the safe zone, I met up with Pamda Bhaer and Rustin Groot, who congratulated our group on reaching Griffith Observatory.
"If anyone makes it to the end, I hope it's you," said Rustin. I was touched.
The chaser I had messed with called me several times after that, getting progressively madder that I wasn't where I said I was going to be. By the time I revealed to him that I knew he was a chaser, another group - containing Rustin, The Walrus and Pamda - had been able to leave the safe zone on a bus, and the rest of the Gestalt had arrived. Thanks to my earlier phone call, my three companions had been able to avoid the chaser I had seen earlier by ducking into a store.
After Tac split off from our group, the remaining three of us made our way to the first checkpoint without a hitch (unless you count my leg) and soon to Mann's theatre. We got to Hollywood blvd. and were within three blocks of the theatre, when through the crowd we saw what we perceived to be a chaser. We quickly darted into a nearby shop to avoid detection.
The suspicious shopkeeper asked us about why we looked so frazzled and breathless, and what we were doing crouching in the back of his store. To this Waldo replied "We're playing a game," which he deemed as a worthy enough excuse to allow us to spend a minute or two in the store. The chaser passed, we left.
If I can have you recall the aforementioned paranoia, I feel it is worth mentioning that once we reached Hollywood Boulevard, the foot traffic became a serious cause for concern. When once we could track and identify everyone approaching us for a block in all directions, the three of us were now frantically trying to spot anyone familiar in a crowd teeming with drunks (for a more complete demographic breakdown, see Pamda's analysis here
). I was given the forward lookout position in the crowd, with the responsibility of identifying a threat in the oncoming faces, in part because I had the best vantage point due to height, and in part because of my bionic implants
. I had purchased a pair of contacts for that evening several grades more expensive than my norm, which apparently are imbued with extra SCIENCE, which gave me 20/10 vision for the evening. Black Coyote was spotting the surprisingly large number of drunks jogging across the street (very threateningly it seemed) at us, and The Reverend was watching for anyone jumping out of a store front or running up behind us.
The system worked -- I spotted the chaser Tac warned us of about a block off, and we ducked into a Hollywood souvenir shop, and peered through a rack of shot-glasses at the crowd passing by.
I estimated 50 people between the chaser and us when we spotted him, so after 80 pedestrians passed the store-front going the correct direction we made our way back onto the street and, as we referred to it for the evening, "booked it" to checkpoint 2.
Checkpoint 2 to Astroburger -- 9:40 PM
After meeting up and congratulating each other on our continued survival, the four of us bumped into Peter Garnett, who offered us some delicious smoothies and pastries that had apparently been meant for the newly-minted chaser we had so recently avoided. Waldo bought a traditional bacon-wrapped hotdog
to share, and we somehow ended up with a frappacino of unknown origin. Full of caffeine and adrenaline, we set out for the next checkpoint. We decided that we had a better shot at making checkpoint three if we came at it from the south, which meant going for the bonus checkpoint on Melrose first. We proceeded carefully, getting off Highland and onto smaller streets as soon as we could, and having Waldo walk on the other side of the street and act as a lookout. I took off my disguise and put on my glasses, since whatever inconspicuousness it granted me was negated by the costumes of the Reverend and Black Coyote. We didn't run into any chasers, and were delighted to reach Astroburger unscathed.
Finding the stamp at the Astroburger proved more difficult than finding the Astroburger. We made several passes around the outside of the building, searched the patio and the bathroom, and asked all of the workers and patrons if they had seen a barefoot man with a magnificent mustache before we spotted the tell-tale LAØ logo inside of a nearby newspaper vending machine. We stamped out manifests and congratulated ourselves on a job well done.
I should probably mention at this point that Waldo lost his arm-band descending the mountain, and repeatedly petitioned me to tear mine in half lengthwise so that he could have one. At Astroburger, we finally did it. With that taken care of, we were ready to move on.
Astroburger to Checkpoint 3: The Going Gets Tough
We decided to take Gower up to the Hollywood Forever Cemetary, since it was the most direct route and seemed almost deserted. On the way, Waldo went on about necrophilia and Anna Nicole smith, and The Reverend wondered aloud at Waldo's disturbing amount of knowledge on the topic. We were walking up the thin sidewalk, laughing and joking, when I heard a loud "FUCK" from the back of our single-file line. I spun around to see Lord Bojangles - the hell-spawned bike chaser who will figure prominently into every single writeup of this event - gliding down our line with his tagging hand outstretched.
We had agreed upon shouting "KAHN!" if a chaser was spotted, and I am truly sorry I forgot about that plan in the split second's awareness of Lord Bojangles' approach. Sorry both to you, the readers subjected to my profane ways, and to Nicholas Meyer, who wrote the Wrath of Kahn
. Also, to be fair you guys started talking about how creepy it was that celebrities were buried here so they could be "Forever Hollywood". I just happened to know the legal precedent about necrophilia being made a crime in California the last decade when a morgue assistant was criminally charged for "breaking decorum" when a minor starlet came through his office with a toe-tag, and it turned out he had not broken any of the laws they usually prosecuted under (she had no family who could claim emotional damages, he wasn't trespassing, he didn't need to steal or illegally transport the body...) A combination of the character profile of Buck from Kill Bill
and the Anna Nicole Smith controversy over who had rights to the remains kind of left me wondering if there was (or used to be?) a black market in celebrity corpse access.
By the time I understood what I had seen, I was sprinting down the narrow sidewalk as fast as I could, with nothing but a line of erratically parked cars separating me from Bojangles. He was pulling ahead of me on the bike, and I knew I couldn't outrun him, so I stopped and let him glide past. He circled around and headed back towards me, and I stepped between a parked car and the wall of the cemetery, howling "COME AND GET ME NOW, BITCH." He rolled his eyes and headed back to collect the arm-bands of my team-mates. I took advantage of the reprieve and sprinted the rest of the way down the sidewalk. When I reached the corner I ducked behind a van in a nearby parking lot and listened for bike tires as I caught my breath. After a few tense moments I headed out into the open again.
Behind me, someone bellowed "HEY!" and I turned around to see the Reverend running after me. I didn't even take the time to look at his arm-band before screaming "Fucker!" and charging towards the gates of the cemetery. I was afraid. I was alone. I was fucked.
But when I stopped in front of the casually lounging zombie manning the cemetery checkpoint, I saw that my companion had retained his blue arm-band. The Gestalt still had two members, and we were sure as hell going to make it.
This section of our journey was truly the most disappointing and utterly painful. As soon as Waldo and I were on Gower, the Reverend came back for his cane, leaving me an injured chaser with no leg support and a nasty, bitter taste in my mouth. Waldo and I decided that we would continue the journey as chasers, and made our way to the third checkpoint to see if we could spot the other two members of the Gestalt. The lounging Zombie was quite alone. We had him sign our maps for good measure, and then continued on down Santa Monica Blvd.
We decided that, instead of trying to chase our former comrades down at their tails, we would cut them off at Checkpoint 5, El Gran Burrito on Santa Monica and Vermont. We walked that intense stretch of Santa Monica Blvd., without any sign of runners, chasers, or anyone with a remotely friendly eye.
We were alone, and we were hunting.
As the journey continued down Santa Monica, I realized that the further we went, the less my foot and leg hurt, and soon I was keeping a brisk, hobble-free pace with Waldo, and not a twinge of pain for miles around. Still, I knew I'd feel it in the morning.
Checkpoint 3 to White Horse: The Tough Get Going -- ?:?? PM
We passed Pamda and the others as they waited at a bus stop inside the safe zone, and charged across the street as fast as we could. The goal was to get onto a side street before Bojangles saw us and gave chase, and we succeeded. Once there, we decided to walk on opposite sides of the street. The Reverend cursed the conspicuousness of his cane, while I put my beanie back on, and removed my glasses. We walked at a liesurely pace, checking behind us often, but not expecting any chasers on the way to the bonus. We were right. The bouncer at the White Horse told us we were two hours behind the other groups. We told him that we were doing things in a slightly different order. The bonuses were complete.
White Horse to Checkpoint 4
We stopped inside the safe zone to plot out the next leg of our journey, and Odysseus was suddenly ecstatic. "Barnsdall Art Park? I've done like ten shows there. There's a back way in, but we have to take Sunset." And so we did. The walk down sunset was tense, because it was a major street without a lot of foot traffic. Every single bike inspired fear, and we spent a great deal of time watching a bike that was about three blocks ahead of us, wondering if it was Bojangles calling ahead for assistance. It wasn't, but it scared us anyway.
We approached the corner we needed to turn on to reach the back entrance, stepped around, and saw Nazzo running full tilt away from an unidentified chaser. We quickly stepped back around the corner, hoping we hadn't been noticed. We started walking back the way we came, hoping to find a street that would allow us to cut over to the desired entrance, but turned back when a security guard told us we couldn't cut through the parking garage he was guarding.
We were almost at the corner again when Sturm und Drang rounded the corner coming in the opposite direction, talking on his cell phone. "Run. Run!" I yelled at Odysseus, and we were off, with the chaser in hot pursuit. Our stamina was depleted from a night of running, and The Reverend was falling a little behind. Sturm showed no sign of giving up. I spotted a slope of dirt that housed an ornamental garden in front of the Kaiser Permanente building, and leapt onto it, barely clearing the low wall from street level. I worried that I hadn't given Thwackinbusch enough warning, but he made it up all the same. We ran only a few feet before ducking behind another wall and crouching as low as possible. This was a huge gamble, because if Sturm had followed us, he would have easily seen where we had gone and tagged us both. He had not followed us, however, and we watched from about 10 feet up as he walked past on his cell phone. Another narrow escape.
The Reverend tapped my shoulder, a look of fear on his face. I was confused, until he pointed to an eeliptical plastic container embedded in the dirt about two inches from my right hand. Etched on the top, in large block letters, were the words "POISON, DO NOT TOUCH." We got out of there as quickly as possible and headed back towards the corner for a third time. We were not giving up on this back entrance.
As we made our way back towards the art park, a police officer on a bicycle began peddling calmly beside us. We moved aside to let him pass, but he stayed with us.
"What'cha doin'?" He asked, so casually that we knew there had to be a problem.
"Running," I said.
"Who are chasers?"
We proceeded to explain the game to him, without mentioning SF0 or naming any players. He seemed satisfied, and left us with a warning to "Stay off of Kaiser Property."
When we rounded the corner for the second time, we realized that we had to find another way into the park. Peter Garnett was talking to two chasers, just a few feet from the stairs we intended to use. We silently changed our course and continued towards the front entrance of the park, cutting through a large parking lot and jumping the fence to get inside. We were safe again.
We couldn't find the fairies we were supposed to be looking for, but we did run into a group of actors The Reverend happened to know. They hadn't seen him in years, and the happy reunion netted us one signature each, written in eyeliner. We figured the fairies had moved on when the park started closing. Odysseus left his cane hidden in some bushes, and we sat down to plan our next move.
Checkpoint 4 to Checkpoint 5
The Reverend wasn't at all worried about getting to Checkpoint 5, a burrito joint a few blocks away. He happened to know that there was a redline station at that very intersection. And what's more, there was a redline station at OUR very intersection! All we had to do was hop on the train for one stop, and we were there. The chasers had left the back stairs of the park unguarded, so we headed out that way and quickly made our way to the train station, where we were safe.
But when we reached got to the bottom of the steps we spotted a familiar bicycle. Bojangles was here! We quickly ducked under the escalators and did a quick costume change. The Reverend took my glasses, and wore my jacket inside out - with the armband retied around the jacket, of course - and I pulled my hat down over my ears. None of the chasers had noticed me yet with my hat on. I was banking on that. When the train arrived, we waited until the last possible moment before climbing out from under the escalators and dashing into the car next to the one Bojangles and the other chasers were in. When the train stopped, we ran out as fast as we could, blissfully unaware that the train station let us out in the middle of the safe zone for checkpoint 5. We casually strolled in and got signatures from Loki, who stood out in his fashionable Hawaiian shirt.
Checkpoint 5 presented us with a fiendish obstacle: Free Burritos. Would we accept Loki's offer and become too stuffed to run, or decline and spend the rest of the night hungry? I chose the latter, as the thought of anything other than water made me feel sick. The Reverend opted for a Monster, and gave me back my glasses and lucky jacket. It was time for the final leg of our journey.
After the journey down Santa Monica, Waldo and I arrived at El Gran Burrito. Not a single runner was visible. However, we saw a pair of chasers sitting at the restaurant, with whom we convened and made plans of ambush and protection for the burrito joint.
I positioned myself primarily on the corner of Vermont and Santa Monica, just across the street from El Gran Burrito, and around a blind corner the runners would pass. I was able to see up Vermont, Santa Monica in both directions, and the entrance to the train station. Waldo stuck to the western corner of El Gran Burrito, in the hope of catching any runners coming East. The other two chasers patrolled Santa Monica and up the side streets, keeping a close eye out for any blue armbands. I told the others to watch for a guy with a long red ponytail and a cane, so they did. I assumed that the Rev. would make it at least as far as checkpoint five, and to my sheer delight, I was correct.
Checkpoint 5 to Checkpoint 6: A Betrayal, The Fellowship is Broken
As we rested at El Gran Burrito, we were surprised to see our former teammate, Black Coyote, wearing a red arm-band. With his injured leg, we had been sure that he would leave the game once he was tagged. But there he was, eyeing us and grinning, watching our every move.
We planned to take the most direct possible route to the final checkpoint: by cutting through LA City college, we could follow a diagonal line straight to the cross-streets given on the manifest. But our first challenge was leaving the safe zone. Black Coyote seemed determined not to let us leave, while others headed out in droves. El Gran Burrito was surrounded by a barbed wire fence with only two exits, adjacent openings in the fence large enough to allow cars through. We spotted another way out, however - the wall that formed the southern border of the parking lot had no barbed wire, and would be easy to climb. But when we made a break for it, Black Coyote quickly caught up, and we headed back towards the main entrances, dejected. We leaned against a pickup truck as we pondered what to do, watching Black Coyote confer with Bojangles a few feet away. The Reverend turned to me, a look of melancholy resolve on his face.
"Well, we've got two options. We can take the roofs, but people here have guns and dogs. This is not a good place to go roof-hopping. Or we can split up."
"But if we split up, we're still not both gonna be able to get away," I said.
"I'm willing to take the fall for you. You can run faster than I can, and you know parkour. You taking the main exit or the wall?"
I was stunned. It felt like he had just volunteered to take a bullet for me. I stuttered.
"Got it. Let's go."
And we took off running in opposite directions. I didn't look back. I just jumped onto the wall, took a step to the side, and leapt down into the parking lot on the other side. Two security guards turned to look at me. One actually seemed to be looking past me. I absorbed the shock of my landing and took of running. I waved at the guard on my left.
"Have a nice day!" I said, running past them and towards checkpoint 6.
I practically laughed out loud when I saw Tac and the Reverend saunter into El Gran Burrito. I knew they had taken the train. Seeing them there, and recognizing them as my final and only target for the night, I located Waldo and went inside. The two saw my red armband and approached me, grinning.
"Hey, buddy. How's that leg?" one of them asked.
"Fine. Doing much better, you'll see," I replied.
"Well, think we could snag some of those waters out of your bag?" the Reverend inquired.
"Of course," I said.
They took the water from my bag, leaving me dry and light-weight. This was their first mistake. They got their signature and a can of Monster, and took a seat with some other recently arrived runners. I squatted, lit a cigarette, and watched them intently. They weren't going to get away.
Perhaps it was jealousy towards them that made me want to tag them so feverishly, or maybe it was the simple bloodlust brought on by knowing the power that this red armband contained. That with a single tap on the shoulder or chest, they would fall. I wanted their blue. I wanted it badly.
Nazzo and another runner approached me to see how I was doing, saw my red armband, and continued conversation. I'll admit, I don't remember much of what they said. I had one eye on the remaining Gestalt the entire time. I knew that when they broke for it, it would be at my expense.
Nazzo and his companion exited, and I rolled back over to a spot by some cars, sat, and watched my prey converse with the other runners, clearly on plans of escape.
It was at this point that the pair walked to the other side of the parking lot. There were only two exits, one: the two driveways on a side street, adjacent to each other and easy to keep an eye on, and two: the wall at the very rear of the large parking lot. They approached the wall.
My focus was unwavering. Not a jiffy went by that I was not aware of every breath, every blink, every nervous whisper the two emitted. Then I watched them make their second mistake. However, this one did not cost them both their blue, it simply gave me a little knowledge for the future.
The two had to pee.
And so they did. I didn't realize what they were doing until they were finishing up. I was not aware of the parking lot being part of the safe zone, so I decided to try my luck. I bolted towards them. When I reached the halfway point, they turned and walked casually back towards me.
I called, "Is this area safe?"
"Oh, hell yes it is," replied the Reverend and Tac, almost in perfect unison. Damn.
Not another word would be exchanged between us before the final checkpoint. During this time, I saw that there was no chance in Hell of my being able to scale the wall at the rear of the parking lot, what with my bum leg and all. I could run, but I couldn't climb worth a damn. As we approached the main part of the restaurant, the two made a break for the gap in the fences. I ran after them, but by the time I had cut them off at the street, they turned and went back, dejected.
I squatted behind a pair of cars, lit another cigarette, and locked my eyes onto my targets. It was at this time, that the man who sired me, Bojangles approached, a la bicycle.
We discussed the situation, recognized Tac and the Reverend as the biggest threat to the final checkpoint, and exchanged phone numbers in case of separation.
My back was turned to the two for the first time tonight. My mistake. It was at the very moment when I pressed "Save" to record Bojangles's number into my cell phone, that that I heard him this time yell "FUCK!" at the top of his lungs.
I didn't need to turn. I didn't need to think. I didn't need to breath. I pocketed my cell phone, tossed the cigarette to the ground, and started in hot pursuit of one of the shadowed figures now sprinting at full speed down the side street. He veered right, Bojangles followed. I stuck to the opposite side of the street in case he made a break back the other way. Now fleshed out in the fluorescent streetlamp, it was clear that this was the Reverend. Tac was nowhere to be seen.
Odyssius dived and weaved between cars, evaded Bojangle's between a pair of trucks, and started East down the street. I reached the spot where he had turned, and stopped to catch my breath. My heart was racing, my chest burned, and my foot was numb. When I had caught my breath, I started in pursuit again. This time the Reverend made a break for the other side of the street, I turned on a dime, and headed towards him for an interception.
Then, the unexpected happened: The Reverend stopped suddenly. He could have continued, I'm sure. He wasn't breathless, and he wasn't hurt or tagged. He just stopped. I thwacked Reverend Thwackinbush's chest, took his ribbon, exchanged some kind words, and departed for Vermont.
After a long wait at checkpoint 5, which appeared to be an excellent choke point because of how small the block (and therefor safe zone) was, we were frustrated by the sheer number of runners who opted to take public transportation directly into the safe zone. If that was how it would be, fine. I was going to ambush players on the first block south of the safe zone, directly on their path to checkpoint 6. I chose to stake out a Korean strip mall with some sort of valet service parking keeping the lot full of escalades and other large obstacles I could hide behind. I knew the spot was a good choice when a group of chasers, including the one we evaded by checkpoint 2, Sturm und Drang, Nazzo, and Theresa, ambled past on the way to stake out the final checkpoint. I would like to apologize to them again for so thoroughly spooking them. I'm sorry.
I watched Black Coyote admirably chase The Reverend and Tac back and forth in El Gran Burrito's back lot, and had a vantage on either street down which they might eventually make their break. An expletive from Lord Bojangles rang out, and I saw silhouetted figures on bike and with a limp chase down what could only be The Reverend Thwackinbush. Tac was not with them. He must be exiting from the other gate. I stole back to my hiding spot to wait for him, trying to ignore the sounds of security guards and valets distracting me from the footfalls I had waited for so long.
PHOTO OF MY HIDING SPOT
I did not dare peer around the corner of the wall, Tac would surely see me. I strained to hear. Wait. What was that? Something landed to my right! A figure taking off running. Tac's voice -- "Have a nice day." It took me fully two seconds to work out what had happened.
Tac Jumped Over Me!
I started sprinting after him, my sense of awe fighting with the determination I needed to catch Tac. Black Coyote and I decided to chase because we knew chasers needed all the help they could get to catch Tac, but even I was floored by the figure jogging in the distance that had just evaded my trap by vaulting over me. I worked out in the next two blocks that he was staying as far from street view as possible, ducking behind walls and fences alongside the sidewalk. He had jumped over me precisely to avoid running down the sidewalk where anyone (like me) could jump at him building-side in an ambush. He couldn't see me anymore as I went down the sidewalk he so feared, but after two blocks he was still running hard.
In a minute he would get to the imposing structure of LA City College, and I could see the sidewalk was bare. He would see me, and it would just become a footrace. We had been on foot for 6 hours at this point -- this would come down to a battle of wills, each of us fighting fatigue to catch the other. And he wanted it more. I let him go. If I had chased him for the next six blocks, I might exhaust him enough that those waiting at checkpoint six could grab him, but I couldn't bring myself to push through the fatigue for that. It seemed underhanded, unsportsmanlike. Not the gestalt way to play the game. I let him go.
Arriving at Checkpoint 6: The Final Challenge -- 1:30 AM
Checkpoint 5 behind me, I reached Los Angeles City College as the last surviving member of Gestalt. I turned, and saw a figure in black walking down the sidewalk behind me. Was it Coyote? I assumed it was, and ran as fast as I could manage towards and onto the campus. Once i had broken line of sight, I started walking, checking behind me constantly to see if I was still being followed. Now I was really alone, with one block between me and anything I wanted. I stuck to the plan, cutting diagonally through the campus, until I came to a large building surrounded by a fence. Part of the college was under construction. I could either jump the fence and go through the construction site, or walk down Heliotrope where Bojangles would have a clear shot at me. I threw my jacket across the top of the fence to keep from cutting my hands, and climbed over.
The walk through the abandoned construction area was short and peaceful. I took a seat, checked my map one more time, and then threw my jacket over another fence and climbed out onto the street. I landed in a convenience store parking lot, and saw Lincoln talking to Lowteck on the opposite corner. I put my jacket under my arm and adjusted my hat. I figured I was safe.
Then I saw the chaser. The same chaser I had lied to on the phone several hours before. He was standing on the sidewalk, watching me, moving to intercept me as I waited to cross the street. I decided to try crossing from the other corner, the one closer to Lincoln and the others. I was halfway across the street when the chaser came charging across the street towards me. I turned and charged towards him, cutting to the left and running for the sidewalk. I figured the sidewalk was safe, and that the chaser had been trying to catch me in the street, but he was still running towards me. I yelled, "Isn't this a safe zone?"
"Nope," grinned the chaser, barreling towards me.
I had no momentum, I was confused, and the chaser was directly between me and the safe zone. I held my lucky jacket in both hands and thrust it out in front of me.
The next thing I clearly remember is running into the safe zone, my arms up in the air, my lucky jacket nowhere to be found. I was already safe when the chaser realized he'd gotten my jacket instead of me. I ran into the Sacred Fools theatre, which i thought was the checkpoint, and heard loud applause. The applause was actually for a show that had just ended, which i realized when i noticed that everyone who was applauding was facing away from me. I doubled back and ran into Lincoln, who pointed me to the actual checkpoint, and signed the last line of my manifest. When he saw the that I had reached all three bonus checkpoints, he told me it was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen. The Reverend arrived, wearing no arm-band, overjoyed when he heard of my success. The Gestalt had made it. We were victorious.
On Vermont I met up with Bojangles again. He had lost Tac, who was at this point left to the group of chasers at checkpoint 6, and told me of a group of runners heading for the bus stop at Vermont on the southbound bus. He and I traveled there and waited. Bojangles headed north to try and get a bead on where the group of runners were, when suddenly Waldo approached. He told me he lost Tac, and I told him about the incoming runners. We waited. And waited. And waited. Finally, a bus came. But no chasers! There weren't any blue armbands anywhere on the bus.
Bojangles approached, and we learned that they likely didn't get on, but pretended that was their plan so as to evade detection and ambush. Waldo and I headed for the final checkpoint. I had one blue ribbon, and I was tired and sore. When we arrived I decided to turn myself in.
The final group of runners had looked exhausted, I thought I could pick off all of them as they got off the bus, and chase down any who got away in the next few blocks. But the bus was empty. Lord Bojangles raced back to checkpoint 5, and confirmed they were not still waiting for some other bus.
I hurried to the finish line, and stalked up and down looking for movement in the dark. I walked purposefully up the center of various southbound streets, hoping my presence alone would scare the runners out of some hidey-hole up the street. (Apparently they had though I saw them at one point, and nearly took off running the other way when I turned back around to try the next street.)
A shout from Peter Garnett and I was "booking it" back to the checkpoint, where all six runners were spread out across the street from the check point, waiting for the chance to break around Peter to safety. When Lord Bojangles and I arrived on the scene the runners cursed their delay, and scattered for the street. I charged them down, and whomever I moved towards took off away from the checkpoint. Their strategy would cause a chaser to commit to chasing any one of them in lieu of the others. I committed to Pamda Bhaer, and set off full-tilt towards her, in hopes I could tag her and get back while at least one runner was still playing pickle with Lord Bojangles. I tagged Pamda, and turned to sprint back. I was stuck!
Pamda was grabbing onto my tagging arm for everything she was worth, and managed to keep her grip long enough for all of her compatriots to make it to safety.
I met up with Tac and Odyssius and we exchanged fond words, apologies, and hearty hugs and congratulations. Regardless of the blood that was shed that night, regardless of who got who in the end, the Gestalt prevailed, and it was glorious. Tac had won. He was safe. He was the first runner across the finish line, and had managed to complete every bonus to boot.