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Thursday, July 30, 2009

Day One Pays Off Despite Lack of Sleep

The cure for jet lag is to have too much to do and not enough time in which to do it. That sums up our first day in Europe, which we spent in Switzerland.

In the span of 12 hours after arriving in Geneva, we were faux waterskiing, kicked off a train, invited to a wine cave, got lost in the rolling countryside amongst the grapes, took a dip in Lac Leman, where we saw nude bathers and got scolded for putting our feet up once we finally got to rest.

This is just a day in the life of a Competitourist. I can't say that if I were planning my own vacation I would do some of the things I've done or see some of the sites I've seen. But that's the beauty of this game; it brings the adventure to you.

The highlight of our day was the wine trail in the hills above the town of Lausanne. Unfortunately, "trail" is an overstatement. We were lucky to find our way along the path, which sometimes consisted of following the paved road or cut through the vineyards on narrow, crumbling stone pathways.

Along the way, we were tasked with finding a tracasset. As we found out, they are three-wheeled vehicles used in the vineyards for transportation. Every two years, there is a tracasset world championship held in the tiny vilalge of Epesses in which participants decorate their tracassets and race down the steep roadways.

The next thing we looked for was the River of Hell. We were supposed to explain how the river got its moniker, but everyone had a different story. When we reached the spot where the river spills into Lake Geneva, we found a group of nude bathers. As I say in my video: "Look there's a bum, and I'm not talking about a homeless person!"

Whether gratuitous nudity had anything to do with it, Team Serendipity took the lead after the first day with 80 points. More than likely, it had to do with the fact that we picked challenges with a higher risk/reward and according to the judges, it paid off.

Monday, July 27, 2009

United Nations

With only a couple days before the Competitours travel competition, my Canadian teammate and I met for a planning session in Erie, Pennsylvania, on Sunday. Up until that day, we spoke briefly on the phone and then communicated via e-mail before finally meeting face to face (see the video of the exact moment, here). 

It's clear that we're going to get on very well. We both love adventure, spending time outdoors; and most critical to this trip: we both admit to snoring, so we're bringing our ear plugs. 

We are going to dominate this competition. Sheila is a stickler for the details; since we received the first day's list of challenges, she's been reading clues and carefully plotting our time. I am relishing my role as the one-person "geek squad," looking for technological solutions to problems and visualizing how to document our daily tasks.

Together at Sara's, a diner located near the entrance to Presque Isle State Park, we started to plan our first day in Europe. Instead of pouring over the pages, the sky opened up and poured on us, getting everything completely soaking wet (see video here). We abandoned our post and heading to Romolo's Café where we continued our planning session.

After three hours, we were done and ready to head back home. As I dropped Sheila at her car, our Blackberries buzzed. We had just received notification that the second of our pre-trip challenges had been judged and the standings were posted. We looked at each other hopefully. "Maybe we won this one," we both thought. We anxiously clicked on the link, but nothing happened (bad connection). 

Not to be thwarted, we both hopped in our cars and drove to a spot where we could connect. And there it was. Under our team name, the number 5 jumped out at us (see video here). We had received 5 points for having a video that ranked in the top three for the second of our pre-trip challenges, which was to introduce our team mascot and why we chose it (see video here).

Not bad for a couple of strangers.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

The first clue in a race across Europe

After much anticipation, Competitours participants have received a clue revealing the first destination in Europe, delivered in the form of an airline record locater code.

I keyed in the numbers on the airline website and . . . voilá! We're off to the land of ticking watches and fat bank accounts.

Sure, I've been there before. I spent precisely two hours in this lake-side town 18 years ago. First thought: It's clearly not an advantage that I've seen the place before. Second thought: oh gosh, which language should I practice? French, German or Italian?

Can you guess where I'm going?

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Europe, the unconventional way

I am leaving for Europe on Tuesday and I have NO idea where I'm going yet, but I know it will be one of those incredible trips of a lifetime. I will be racing across several secret destinations in Europe with Competitours, an Amazing Race-style trip in which two-person teams compete for a grand prize (another trip). As an added bonus, this trip will feature Tyler MacNiven, half of the duo that won the Amazing Race in season 9, who is on the roster with his mother.

While most of the challenges are not all physical, I will be paired up with a woman who, at age 50, is an Ironman triathlete. Most of the teams that will be participating know their partner, but Sheila and I (a.k.a. Team Serendipity) are complete strangers, teaming up out of necessity because our own teammates backed out of the competition. 

But hey, we don't have the emotional baggage that some teams will bring on the trip with them. We are singularly united by the desire to lead the pack and cross the proverbial finish line before anyone else. I consider it an advantage.

At least that's what I thought — at first.

These last few days, the 11 teams have been introducing themselves and their team names through a series of pre-trip challenges that are geared toward getting the "competitouristas" familiar with the equipment and how to submit challenges for the judging process. Much of the banter has been friendly, but there's definitely an underlying theme from all the teams — they want to win, too!

"We now know that our fellow Competitourists are not to be dismissed," wrote Ally and Bob, a couple from Dallas who have signed on for the competition a second time (the inaugural trip was in March). "It is a mistake to assume anything when one is among the type of people who would sign up for a Competitours trip ... not your average bears, as Smokey would say. So, The Screaming Intrepid Monkeys will be swinging on a different vine to reach greater heights, 'cause the big banana is on a higher tree than we thought."

The game is definitely on! 

You can follow everyone's progress online from July 28 to Aug. 6. We will be uploading our challenge videos to YouTube each night to our own accounts, which follow. Standings will be posted here

Team Serendipity (Sheila & Laura):

Absolutely Fabulous (Sherri & Judy):

As Seen on TV (Lanthy & Ranford):

Coin Collectors (Pat & Ray):

Dilettantes Ink (Lyndall & Ksenia):

Disco Pussy Cats (Tyler & Margaret):

Parrotheads (Teri & Veronica):

The Screaming Intrepid Monkeys (Ally & Bob):

Shake & Bake (Daniel & Karen):

Team Swift (DeAnna & Kelly):

Weathehekawi (Jan & Sean):

Sunday, July 12, 2009

The birthplace of Superman unveiled

The house where Superman was "born" is located in east Cleveland's Glenville neighborhood at 10622 Kimberly Ave (near the intersection of East 105th and St. Clair). It was in this house 75 years ago that Jerry Siegel and his friend Joe Shuster brought their superhero to life. The nonprofit Siegel and Shuster Society spend $70,000 to renovate the house, which was unveiled on Saturday, July 11, in conjunction with Screaming Tiki Cleveland SuperCon 2009, a comic book convention.

We weren't able to make it to the 10am ceremony, but we did a drive-by that evening as we were going to a party on the east side. We paused outside for this photo, but the owner saw us and invited us in for a tour.

When Jefferson and Hattie Mae Gray bought the house, they had no idea of its significance until two years later, when they received a letter from the city. Jefferson hoped as a kid that he might develop superhuman powers, like his comic book hero, but he's happy being custodian to the legacy of the last son of Krypton. It gives him an excuse to wear his Superman t-shirt regularly.

So far, there are no plans to open the house to visitors on a regular schedule, but if you're lucky, Jefferson or Hattie will beckon you inside.

Check out this video that was made before renovations started: