Journey to the End of the Night: Chicago, 2012
It looked a little sketchy throughout the day on Saturday, but despite the rain… Jake and I decided we still wanted to participate in Journey to the End of the Night. Barring something like a major thunderstorm, we were both in.
Liz was originally planning on staying home, but at the eleventh hour decided she wanted to join in on the fun, rain and all. In addition to the three of us, Tus also came along and joined our team. I was worried about Jake being turned away with a dog, and with chasers being wary of running after someone with a dog… but all those worries were unfounded. Within moments of us arriving at the start, Tus was pretty much a hit with everyone she encountered.
On arriving at the start in Humboldt Park, this is the huge line we saw – tons of crazy folks, willing to brave the rain.
A group of friends, huddled under one umbrella.
I walked up near the starting area to snap a few pics. This is the registration area, where you sign your name, get your map, and get your red and blue ribbons. The blue ribbon goes immediately around your arm, to signal that you’re a runner. Throughout the game, as you’re trying to get to each checkpoint on your map, you’ll be trying to avoid people with red armbands (chasers). If you’re caught, you give your blue arm band to the person who caught you, put on your red arm band… and become a chaser yourself.
Everyone signing up to play begins the game as a runner. As the night progresses and more and more folks are caught, the numbers start to tilt and there are more chasers than runners. It gets pretty interesting.
Super awesome face tattoos. I think I overheard one of the organizers awarding them a prize for this.
Looking back at the line.
Soon after we arrived, and long before we even got to the registration area… one of the organizers asked if Tus was playing. When he found he she was participating, he immediately gave her a blue runner ribbon. I can’t recall whether people were already registering, but Tus was among the first participants to get a ribbon on.
Once folks registered, people congregated near a wooded area to avoid the rain… waiting around for the start.
People fell into groups, discussing strategies…
Tus, looking rather regal.
A few folks stretching.
Learning from our experience during last year’s game, Jake suggested we all hang back. The first checkpoint was, funny enough, right back near our house – the Illinois Centennial Monument at Logan Square.
Given where we were at, we knew we wanted to head NW out of the park… so we decided to stay back, near the edge of the group. When the race began, everyone would turn and we’d be near the start of the pack.
I wanted to shoot more video than this, but here’s all I got from the start:
We ran through the park, and exited out near Troy and North. Last year, we were WAY too cautious at the start… and our theory was that no one really got tagged between the start and the first checkpoint. So we gambled on using the most direct routes, figuring we wouldn’t need to evade as many chasers. We walked down Troy for a while, and eventually dipped over onto Kedzie, making a beeline for Logan Square.
As I would peer down alleys as we walked, I noticed several other groups keeping a similar pace. Every once in a while… we’d see other players, but no one else seemed to be going so brazenly down Kedzie.
At Lyndale and Kedzie, Liz looked behind us and spotted two people on bicycles. At the start, some of the chasers are on bikes. Runners can only use public transportation, but chasers get bikes to help balance out the numbers.
On hearing bikes were nearby, I stopped at the corner… waiting to see whether we needed to run or not. Jake and Tus were farther ahead of us, and Liz continued walking down Kedzie (with a row of houses on her right). I wanted some open area to run, so I hung back at the intersection.
I saw the two bikers were riding side by side, and one of them yelled out “You’d better run!”
And so I did, sprinting down Lyndale, and turning quickly into an alley. I saw a few other runners down the way… so I decided to duck behind a dumpster and hoped the chaser would see other prey, and go by me. After waiting a little while and hearing no pursuit, I walked down the alley cautiously. I noticed I had a few calls on my phone, and spotted Liz and Jake at the end of the next street, near the alley’s exit.
Turns out Jake and Tus were fine… but when Liz sprinted down Kedzie, she had nowhere to run. The bikers caught up to her quickly, and as she tells it… circled her like sharks as she just stood there. They told her they’d give her an extra 30 seconds if she could tell them a joke. She did, and they let her go free, laughing as she ran away.
We continued down the alley for a while, and got to our first safe zone near checkpoint 1. We realized we were right near Lula Cafe (a favorite weekend breakfast spot for me and Liz), so we decided to stop in for a quick drink.
Inside, it was pretty crowded, but gave us a chance to rest for a bit. I got to talking with a few restaurant patrons who were peeking out the window at all the people running, and the strange gathering of folks at the square. It was fun explaining the game to them, and these types of conversations are part of what I love about this game… when you explain it to others, you can see their eyes light up and it’s as though they wish they could stop what they were doing and play.
The first checkpoint was honestly a blur. I saw a sign that said “DO NOT THINK” but didn’t piece together the theme of the checlpoint until a bit later. This is Jake, getting his map signed.
A few other checkpoint personnel, signing maps. Given the tin foil hats, my guess was that everyone manning the booth here believed in conspiracy theories.
We decided to sneak through the alley behind our apartment en route to the next checkpoint. Jake took a brief bio break here, which I thought was hysterical since this spot was something I had mentioned previously on the blog.
We snuck around just north of Fullerton for a good while, and snuck across sometime after Rockwell. We ended up going down an alley between Belden and Medill, making our way towards Checkpoint #2 at Holstein Park.
All four of us cross Western, and as soon as we start walking down Belden… we see two guys. One guy is coming at us with a puppet on his arm, and it’s confusing as hell. We’re not sure what’s going on and then we realize: they’re chasers. I don’t recall what direction Liz and Jake took, but I ran backwards towards Western.
There was this white pole on the corner, which I grabbed and used as a kind of slingshot, allowing me to maintain speed and whip around quickly onto Western. I have to say… this was a pretty sweet move, and I felt like I gained a bit of time doing this.
As I was running North down Western, I could hear the puppet guy behind me. He said Is that Felix? I paused a bit, looking back… and when I realized he was still chasing me, I kept on going. I saw a parking lot up ahead, and was going to try to lose the chaser there.
Next thing I know, my foot slipped and I went down… face first onto the concrete. It happened so fast, I didn’t even have time to put up my hands to shield my beautiful face. It was, in the purest form of the definition, an absolute face plant.
// Edit: I learned later that I apparently slipped on some kind of metallic cover. It’s this rectangular guy. Curses!
As I was on the ground holding my face, the chaser ran up to me to see if I was alright. I couldn’t really tell the extent of the damage, and one of the first things I asked was whether or not I had all my teeth. After a brief check verifying my mouth was still intact, I got an assessment: glasses were pretty scratched up, bleeding a bit from the bridge of my nose and nose, busted up lip.
Found out later that I had slipped on some kind of manhole cover. It was raining at the time and I was running full out… slipped and ka-pow.
Here’s the kicker – the guy chasing me turned out to be Evan – someone that I knew from online. We “met” a few years ago circa 2009, and he was the first one to tell me all about Journey to the End of the Night. He’s been a part of the game for many years now, and has always played as a chaser.
This year though, I did run into him! And shortly thereafter, ran into the ground. With my face.
Evan was incredibly kind and felt just terrible about the whole thing. I was in pretty good spirits, all in all… and asked for a photograph with my camera of the damage. Good blog content is, after all, good blog content.
Evan declined to officially tag me out, and instead offered me an award (a few of the chasers are given prizes to give to notable participants). Chalk one up for effort! It was printed out on some kind of cloth, and he was joking that I could use as both a prize and a bandage (it did help to clear some of the blood from my face).
At the park, we also met up with a student who was documenting the event . He took a few photos which I’m hoping to include here, once I get copies. At one point, when he was trying to get his remote flash to pop, the flash slipped right out of his assistant’s hands. All that rain made everything super slippery.
After parting ways, we met up with Jake and Tus at a nearby bar (Jake got tagged by a girl who had both a blue and red arm band on, which didn’t seem right). The bartender was nice enough to let Tus hang with us inside, so we all got drinks, plopped down… and I put some ice on my face. We recapped the night, talking about various points and spent the next hour or so keeping tabs on the game via Twitter.
Sucks that I fell, but honestly… I’m more bummed that we didn’t make it farther in the game. Jake and I had high hopes on making it to additional checkpoints this year. With the first half of the map spanning the space between Logan Square and Wicker Park, this was all familiar ground.
If anything, I think it was a great bit of serendipity to have run into Evan, and to have him be the guy who tagged me. The final checkpoint was somewhere near Lake and Ashland, so given how many streets and alleys there were… it’s amazing to me that we ran into one another at all.
Evan: it was awesome to finally meet you in person, despite the circumstances. I agree that the next time we meet, we shouldn’t be chasing one another. Let’s meet out of the rain, over drinks at a bar or maybe at a diner, over some pie.
Next year. Gotta make it past two check points. Next year.