No one has ever accused me of being an athlete. They’ve come close, though, and not because I played right field on the JV softball team or jalked (jog/talked) through the Dirty Dash––it’s the alleycats. No, I’m not running a cat fighting ring (with either species of pussy), though if any animal deserves to get the shit beat out of them, it’s definitely the feline––deal with it, PETA. An alleycat is also the name for a scavenger-hunt-style bicycle race.
Before I delve into my extensive experience on the subject, let me explain further so we’re all on the same page. Alleycats were thought up by ADHD bike messengers in urban areas as a way to earn some extra cash, test their skillz and ride their bikes some more, because, apparently, no one but me just wants to go home and massage their butt cheeks after riding their bike all day. Basically, the organizer puts together a manifest with a list of stops on it. The manifest is passed out at the start of the race, and part of the “fun” is figuring out the order in which you’re gonna hit each stop before heading out (though, in some cases, you might be required to go to the stops consecutively). Obviously, both types require some knowledge of the city, and Salt Lake’s grid system makes it easier than most places to come up with an efficient route (seriously, Californians, just shut up). Once you have an idea of where you’re going, some of the stops may require you to perform a task before moving on, like hula hooping or taking a photo, or maybe you have to find the answer to a riddle hidden at the checkpoint. The winner is the first person who successfully makes it through each stop and reaches the end, and usually, the prize is a nice chunk of cash or some sweet cycling gear––or in the case of a cheap and lazy organizer, some good ole pride and hearty back-patting.
My very first experience with an alleycat was only a few months after I first picked up a road bike. The cycling community was in full swing the spring/summer of 2008, and I was determined to stay top-tube deep in it all, which included attending every Critical and Midnight Mass, Sunday Sprints, Dada parties and, of course, alleycats! Tom Millar, the present-day SaltCycle guru, was a doe-eyed 19-year-old back then, and organized the Margaret Thatcher Alleycat in April. From what I can remember of the race, I was the only female, I got lost multiple times, there was a painful climb to the Capitol building, I wore $10 flats that found a home in the trash directly after, and Emilio Hidalgo rode the whole thing with me, even though it took us three hours and we came in DFL (Dead Fucking Last). Oh, and I couldn’t wait to do it again.
Next up was the Alley Kitten in May of ‘08, which preceded the international Bicycle Film Festival that came to The Depot that year. This time, Patrick Beecroft and his crew were the organizers, which gave it an “adult” flavor. Whiskey shots and lingerie spiced things up, and it became more of a game and less of a race. I wore the sparkly pink garter I got at one of the checkpoints as a bracelet at a Salt City Sprints race the following year, and won first place, beating out Ali Fucking Knutsen! (She was probably deathly ill at the time.)
At this point, I was dying to put on my own. Ask any of my high school friends, and they’ll tell you that without me, our weekends in Cedar City, Utah would’ve been spent writing in journals and baking cookies for our Young Womanhood Recognition Awards. Instead, they were filled with epic water balloon fights, neighborhood night games, surprise birthday parties, horror movie marathons in the mountains and tumbleweeding (I’ll tell you when you’re older). One of the best compliments I’ve ever received was when a socially reclusive friend once said of my success rate in getting her to come play: “If you were a drug dealer, I’d be doing drugs.” So, how hard could it be to organize an alleycat? Actually, not that hard, but that first one was definitely a lot more work than it should’ve been. In August 2008, the Alley Scat (it’s pretty much a requirement that your ‘cat’s name be a play on words, to Ricky Vigil’s chagrin) ended up being a pretty big success. It was music themed, and I’d come up with some really fun checkpoint stops that people were stoked on, including wig-headbanging at the Heavy Metal Shop; the local community had really stepped up, both in volunteers to man those stops and in giving me free stuff to give as prizes; I had designed both the spoke cards and the posters, which looked wonderfully amateur; and I finally felt like I was a contributing citizen of Salt Lake City.
Since then, I’ve organized a handful of alleycats, group rides, bike movie premieres, and the award-winning Velo Weekend, and I’ve had one goal in mind: fun. I know, I know, this column is getting really sentimental, but it’s SLUG’s first bike issue, people––I can’t just write about big butts every month! So here’s what I mean by “fun”: avoiding all inclines, cheap, food must be involved somehow, the tinkling sound of fairies laughing and the fast guy doesn’t win all the cool prizes. An elementary school teacher once told my mom that I didn’t like competition because I was European and a girl––hopefully the language that came out of my mom’s mouth in response cured her of wayward stereotypes, ‘cause that’s one of the Top 10 idiotic things I’ve heard come out of a not-politician. Competition is a major motivating factor in my life, I just don’t like it when it’s used to make people feel inferior, when it physically hurts people, when it’s not fair or when it forces me to climb up State Street to the Capitol––which is why none of those things are present in the events I’m behind.
Also, alleycats have the best spoke cards. I’ve been called a weirdo because I don’t collect records or toys (I call it graduating from middle school), but I do keep every spoke card I get at an event and add it to my wheels. Someone once told me this wasn’t very aerodynamic––and it’s true, watch the wind knock me around on a breezy day––but it’s like a mobile scrapbook, and I think it looks cool. I wonder if I could collect enough for a ribbon at the State Fair …
I know I’ve got you drooling for an alleycat now, which is why I’m very pleased to announce SLUG Mag’s very first SLUG Cat on Saturday, May 18! It’s fitting, really, because my first assignment for SLUG was a recap of the Pastry Cat back in ‘09. All I can say about the SLUG Cat is that it’s going be a lot of my kind of fun: checkpoint tasks, only $5 to race, sweet prizes, the Jimmy John’s guys get their own testosterone-infused manifest and, well, SLUG’s behind it, so you know it’s gonna be an award-winning event.
Registration is at 2 p.m. behind Fresh (870 E. 900 S.), $5, race starts at 3 p.m., and the awards ceremony is at Este Pizza (156 E. 200 S.). This race is for EVERYONE, so don’t be intimidated if you just took the training wheels off your trike––I guarantee you’ll still have a good time. Check out the event page on SLUG’s Facebook for more details.