Last weekend, my son and I competed in The Queen City Stampede, a 5K scavenger hunt race criss-crossing nearly every crevice of Manchester, NH. The race lived up to its billing as parent-child friendly version of “The Amazing Race” reality show with a lot less pressure. In the end, we probably wound up covering about 10 miles — much of the excess devoted to finding an elusive rock sculpture in front of the New Hampshire Institute of Art. There are at least four different NHIA buildings spread out through Manchester, and we scurried to them all.
My father-son team was called “The Inators,” a reference to the wacky inventions created by mad scientist Hans Doofenschmirtz (note the brown shirts) from the cartoon “Phineas and Ferb.” My nephew and his girlfriend teamed up as “Darwin’s Disciples” with homemade shirts featuring the bearded scientist and his evolutionary Jesus fish-inspired logo.
The Stampede involved following a series of clues to famous and not-so-famous parts of the city and completing a challenge at each stop. Some of the challenges were ridiculously easy, such as this hula hoop twirling exercise in which one teammate spins it on his or her arm for three minutes and has to transfer it to the partner’s arm without stopping.
The Palace Theatre’s challenge was an absolute embarrassment. We were instructed to find an advertising poster “hidden” somewhere in the building. Perhaps it would have been intriguing if: 1. A spotlight were not shined on what we were looking for; and 2. The Stampede volunteer at this station didn’t whisper to me, “You might want to check out the stage area!”
That whispered clue would have been appropriate if I were the captain of a team of 6-year-olds.
Some challenges, however, were at the opposite end of the spectrum. Nothing truly unachievable, but still something requiring coordination and undivided attention. We had an extremely tough time with the ski walk below. Perhaps due to the dramatic difference in our sizes, this challenge was filled with frustration and stumbles:
At another station, each partner was instructed to fully bang in 10 nails into a small rectangle on a 2″ x 4″ board. This is where I was petrified of some kid (mostly concerned about mine) hammering the hell out of his fingers. I started each nail for my 11-year-old to reduce the risk. I still can’t fathom why safety glasses were required here — probably would have been better off putting the kids in padded gloves:
Regardless of the level of difficulty, I suppose the real purpose of these challenges was to give you an in-depth tour of Manchester, showing off some hidden spots that don’t get too much foot traffic from out-of-towners. The Stampede brought us through nearly every city park, including ones that could have passed for rural New Hampshire. I don’t normally think of pristine nature scenes when I think about gritty, grimy Manchester:
The most amusing challenge was sponsored by the famous Red Arrow Diner, which usually makes all those national “Top 10 Diners in America” lists.
Red Arrow makes their own homemade tribute to the Twinkie. They call their version the Dinah Finger. The task was to inject a generous amount of creamy filling into the sponge cake without causing it to burst open. For me, this was a nauseating challenge, perhaps the equivalent of when they make contestants on Survivor eat crickets, maggots and monkey brains.
I love the Red Arrow and wish they had built their challenge around one of their veggie omelets or home fries. Cakes with creamy stuff inside are Kryptonite to me. I’m obviously in the minority since the Dinah Finger is one of their signature items that got them famous in the first place.
After making our Dinah Fingers, we were told to wrap them in Saran Wrap and bring them to the diner, where we would get further instructions. If this were going to be a Twinkie-eating contest, I was going to throw in the towel. I would not eat the cake (oh, I love other junk food) no matter what the penalty. But I also didn’t want to toss it in the trash and offend the Diner owners, who sponsored the race. This would require some tricky diplomacy.
Much to my chagrin, no one in my group of four wanted to eat their Twinkies either (for varying health reasons). There was no eating contest, but the card said to eat the Twinkie and burn off the calories by moving ahead. We stumbled across a soup kitchen serving lunch in Veteran’s Park and we gave our fresh desserts to some of the homeless people waiting in line.
One of the last stops, at the mural-decorated Cat Alley, required building a house of cards with wooden slabs. This is one of the non-physical tasks that reminded me of a “Survivor” challenge. I don’t want to brag — well, maybe I do — but the engineering below was all mine.
I BUILT THIS, NOT THE CUTE KID.
Puzzles, of course, make or break a Survivor Challenge, and this simple-looking puzzle was much harder than it initially looked:
At the end, Finisher medals were awarded to us by Survivor celebrity Bob Crowley, the oldest winner ever on the show (2008 season in Gabon, Africa), and one of the few to win it without being a conniving, backstabbing jerk. Bob was a pleasure to talk to and didn’t have an inflated ego like some of the other reality TV stars who forget that their fame will soon be overshadowed by the next season of conniving, backstabbing jerks.
Overall, the Queen City Stampede delivered what they promised: An event that could bring together athletes, weekend warriors and couch potatoes in a fun format ideally suited for parents and kids. I saw plenty of friends and siblings compete, too.
My advice to the organizers for next year: Bump up the creativity level and offbeat nature of some challenges, save some young fingers by ditching the hammers, and instruct your volunteers NOT to whisper the answers.
And oh yeah, coax the Red Arrow to sponsor a Make-Your-Own-Omelet station!
(For more information on The Stampede series of races, visit: http://www.SurviveTheStampede.com)