The conditions were perfect on a warm Saturday morning in March for the first in a series of eight 2010 street scrambles. Akin to the television show The Amazing Race, this kid-friendly urban orienteering event had my family scrambling through the streets of Seattle's Alki neighborhood in search of evidence.
Our team, dubbed by my 5-year-old son the "Fire Rattlesnakes," had one goal for the day: to find as many of the predetermined checkpoints on the neighborhood map as possible in 90 minutes, and have fun in the process. Street scrambles are all about teamwork, from the minute participants receive the map to the point they cross the finish line.
Once the topographical map and scorecards were released that morning – there is no peeking in advance – the teams immediately huddled together to develop their plans of attack. Our strategies were to arm my husband with the map (I don't have the best sense of direction) and to work on checkpoints that were close and offered views of Alki Beach. My son felt important consulting the map and helping to plan the route.
When pre-registering, each team chooses a 90-minute or three-hour scramble, and whether they'll be on foot or bike. We opted to (mostly) go on foot: My husband and I ran with my 3-year-old in the jogging stroller while my son kept up on his bike. This worked well for us. It would have been difficult to reach some of the checkpoints on bike and would have been a ton of gear to haul.
Each of the 36 checkpoint destinations comes with a point value (the harder ones tend to be worth more points) and an obscure multiple-choice question to prove you visited the site. Points are awarded for correct answers and teams are penalized for incorrect answers and for finishing late. Once we got the gist of things, we donned the bright orange vests provided for safety and dashed off when the race commenced.
Team Fire Rattlesnakes was hot on the path. We read a danger sign at a construction zone, visited a house where Elvis Presley stayed and searched for animals in cement murals. We conquered six of the destinations before we got hopelessly lost in Me-Kwa-Mooks Park looking for the seventh checkpoint. Nevertheless, we dealt with the unplanned interruption in stride (who knew we'd be running on the beach and hiking in the woods?)
It was fun to see parts of the city we hadn't seen before. It was also a great way to get the family out exercising on a beautiful day. By the time we made it to the finish, a mere 20 seconds before our time was up, we were happily tired. After high-fiving each other, we enjoyed some snacks and headed home with a sense of accomplishment.
The street scramble offered us one of those rare opportunities to let everything else go and focus entirely on bonding together as a family over a common experience. In our exploration, we shared in each other's joys and frustrations. And for that reason, team Fire Rattlesnakes can't wait for the next scramble.
Taryn Zier is a freelance writer based in Lake Forest Park and mother of two children, ages 3 and 5.