Navigate the streets playfully

When Spacing first heard about Navigate the Streets — an urban race/scavenger hunt that tests your stamina, smarts, and knowledge of the city — we thought we were a shoo-in for first place.

Our relatively fit editorial collective is full of avid walkers, architecture geeks, and public art enthusiasts, who actively seek out the hidden details of the city in their free time. How could we lose?

So in late August, we join 35 other teams at a café in Liberty Village to begin a competition that will take us to the club district, Kensington Market, Little Italy, Bloorcourt Village, the Annex, Roncesvalles, and Parkdale.

Our heat takes off from race headquarters at approximately 10:15 am. After a brisk walk up to King, we jump on the streetcar with four or five other teams, surrounding fellow TTC travellers with goofy outfits and cell phone obnoxiousness to the extreme.

Although there are only two people on foot per team, we can phone as many friends as we’d like to help decipher a list of 10 clues, corresponding to checkpoints throughout the city. Upon reaching each one, we must take a digital or Polaroid picture of ourselves to prove that we were there. The use of cell phones, maps, and the Internet is permitted. Bikes, rollerblades, and skateboards are not. Aside from the help of the TTC, the entire race must take place on foot.

“I wanted to create an event that would take advantage of the great urban space that we’ve got,” says founder Tim Shore, an interactive account manager at a Toronto ad agency, who coordinates the race in his spare time. “We often take for granted all the things that we have here in the city.”

The first of these races/scavenger hunts began in Toronto in October 2003, and was such a success that this summer, Shore took the game to eight other Canadian cities. In September, winners were flown to Montreal to compete for $10,000 in the national championships.

A thirst for competition is not necessary to enjoy this event, though. It’s great exercise, but even better is what you might discover along the way. Clues match up with a mixture of commercial space, cultural landmarks and public art, the aim being to get people into a variety of areas. Teams often help each other out, and many stop to enjoy some of the hidden gems along the way.

Our course brings us face to face with cute chicken graffiti on the side of a poultry shop in Kensington Market, the statue of a bear outside the Olga Korper gallery near Roncesvalles, and The Communist’s Daughter, a discreet little watering hole for hipsters at Dundas and Ossington.

Strategy is also part of the game. We duck through parking garages and alleyways to escape the competition, and contemplate whether it would be faster to use the wildcard clue, which would take us to the giant dominoes at Bloor and Spadina, or clue # 9, which would lead us toward the wind turbine by the CNE.

At $35 to $45 per person, the entry fee is steep, but difficult to avoid without funding or major sponsors. Participants get T-shirts, energy drinks, and the chance to win a free trip to Montreal. A portion of the proceeds also goes to Right to Play, an international organization working to enhance the lives of disadvantaged children through sport.

We reach the finish line in a time of three hours, two minutes and 35 seconds, a mere 11 seconds short of third place. We’re tired, but filled with a sense of accomplishment. We’ve been to more areas of the city in one morning than most people get to in a month.

And now that we have the experience of our first race under our belt, you can bet we’ll kick some serious ass next year.

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