Last year, as we were beginning to explore our newfound love for biking in the city, I found a website for something called Babes in Bikeland, an all female alleycat race in Minneapolis. Alleycat racing started as a competition between urban bike messengers and while each alleycat is a little different, the basic idea is the same. An hour or two before the race starts, you receive a “manifest” with several checkpoints (addresses or landmarks) throughout the city. There is no set course – it’s up to you to determine the best route to hit all the checkpoints – but the objective is to get your manifest stamped at each checkpoint before riding to the finish to turn it in.
While V and I were both intimidated by the prospect of participating in an alleycat, the website made clear that’s exactly what Babes is all about – encouraging women to get off the sidelines of races and actually participate. It is meant to build confidence and to celebrate the local cycling community. We rode our bikes to the start, unsure of what to expect and ended up having one of the best nights ever. We couldn’t stop smiling on our ride home. It was easily the most fun we’d had in the Twin Cities, and was a tremendous boost to both our knowledge of Minneapolis and our confidence on our bikes.
This year’s Babes in Bikeland took place this past Saturday and again we had an amazing time. We showed up at Powderhorn Park, this year’s starting location, just before 3:30pm for a pre-race tutorial from last year’s winner on race routing and staying safe on the bike.
At 4pm registration opened and we picked up our manifests and began planning our route before the race started at 6pm. With our new tips and strategies in mind, we marked up our Minneapolis bike map and carefully plotted our course through the city to each checkpoint. This year’s race included an interesting wrinkle – at one of the checkpoints we would receive the addresses for two additional checkpoints (or “mystery stops”). With this uncertainty in the back of our mind, we came up with what we felt was the best course for hitting the checkpoints before making our way to the finish.
The turnout this year looked to be great, in spite of the incredibly windy weather.
Half of the fun of Babes is seeing all the creative outfits and bicycles the ladies have. This year there was a group dressed as “Babe” Lincoln, a group in wedding dresses encouraging people to Vote NO on the marriage amendment and another group with furry ears sticking out of their helmets.
Before long it was time to line up in the middle of the football field in Powderhorn Park for the start of the race. After a few safety reminders, the horn sounded and we made our way out of the park and headed to the first checkpoint.
Other than one small wrong turn, everything was going great as we made our way to the Boom Island Park checkpoint where we received our two “mystery checkpoint” locations. I could tell one of the addresses was not too far from Boom Island, and we quickly found it on the map. I wasn’t familiar with the second address, however, and after finding it on my phone and then the map my jaw dropped. It was all the way across town, back where we just came from. Looking at the map and all the checkpoints we had left to visit, this one mystery spot was far and away the outlier. Thankfully it was located on the Greenway, the cross-town bike path, allowing us to make the trip across town and back with relative ease before the finish. We finalized the remainder of our route and hopped back on the bikes.
The next checkpoint was my favorite of the night. At last year’s Babes each checkpoint had a zany challenge or task that was required before you received your stamp. At one we needed to pop a balloon by sitting on it. At another we had to walk across a playground bridge while balancing a cup of water on our head. All of the previous checkpoints in this year’s race gave us a stamp just for showing up. But this one was a little different. In the spirit of bike messengers, we were handed a large FedEx tube package and instructed to ride with it across the parking lot and drop it off with a volunteer there. Once we completed the task we could receive our stamp and head to the next checkpoint.
At this point the sun was making its way down through the clouds and the sky was gorgeous.
The next checkpoint was several miles away (almost to St Paul), but a straight shot across town and we made our way over there with ease. Until we hit the hill that is. After going up one hill we turned right up another hill and then had to turn left, and up another hill. Once there we laid down our bikes, and caught our breath before climbing a bunch of steps up to the bottom of a tower and a gorgeous view of the city. It was at this point that Victoria realized she lost her manifest somewhere on the ride across town. Super duper bummed, the volunteers stamped her arm and her helmet to cheer her up.
She continued to have her arm stamped as we made it to the final few checkpoints, including the far away mystery checkpoint before arriving at the finish, 30 minutes before the course closed. While chilly, we were both really excited to have finished the race and in a good time (for us). Our performance this year was much better than last year, and it felt good.
The after party was a fitting celebration, there were bikes (and babes), and beers and snacks for all to enjoy. One guy pulled up in this incredible party bike, complete with sound system in the front and grill in the back. It was really impressive.
After not too long we headed back home on our bikes, once again smiling and laughing, thinking of all the fun we’d had the past few hours. Door to door we rode just over 37 miles from one end of Minneapolis to the other (and back again!) and had more fun on our bikes than we’d had all year. I can’t wait to do it all again next year.