New Washington City Paper parent company Creative Loafing is all about being an “Urban Explorer.”
I’ll be honest: I’m not exactly sure what an Urban Explorer is (surely not this!). My exploration into the concept — as the Loafers say, “Welcome to where you are. Where are you? You are here … Even if you’re not here, but there” — left some possibilities to be explored. Still, in the interest of pleasing the rents, I’m willing to explore the possibility of Urban Exploration.
So last weekend, a friend and I entered into the Washington, D.C. leg of something called “High Trek Adventure.” The event, which City Paper sponsors, claims to be “The Most Exciting Urban Adventure Game Ever Created!” And hell, if I’m going to set out on an Urban Exploration, it might as well be the most exciting Urban Exploration created — ever.
Every year, High Trek Adventure stops by D.C. and sets pairs of UrbExes racing to be crowned the best explorers of their urban jungle. This year, the point of departure was Chinatown basement joint Rocket Bar. There, each team was provided with some pin-on racing numbers and a set of clues — anagrams, word puzzles, and the like— that, when deciphered, revealed a landmark that the team then had to locate and photograph before moving on to the next location. High Trek handed us the clues and told us that Harpoon IPA was on special for— $4 dollars— when we got back! Then, they set us loose.
It turns out that Urban Exploring takes more than just being where you are, here, even when you’re not here, but there. It takes a lot of sprinting, some serious photographic accuracy in the self-shot, and a tolerance for scalp burn. If you’re really serious about it, — like this year’s winning team, who explored their way to two free tickets on Southwest, — Urban Exploring also takes Bluetooth, some sculpted calves, and an Extremely Serious Demeanor.
As for my partner and I, it turns out that we’re not the most efficient Urban Explorers in the world. We were going strong until we reached the midpoint clue — “Head down to the National Mall, where you’ll receive your next set of clues.” Though skeptical of the clue’s broadness, my partner and I did as we were told. We explored. And explored. And EXPLORED that one-mile stretch of national treasure for a full hour. It took us about half a dozen back-and-forths through the Black Family Reunion festival — with some stupid numbers taped to our chests and a sweaty sheet of word puzzles in our hands until we finally located the cheery High Trek Adventure clue distributor hanging out under some shady tree near the Natural History Museum. It was almost — almost —enough to kill the Urban Explorers in us altogether.
When my partner and I finally made it back to Rocket Bar, our explorer’s spirit was unbroken, but our camera was — it whirred and flashed but revealed no evidence of our urban adventure.
All of which is by way of saying: Urban Exploration is a cruel mistress. We ditched the Harpoon and explored some Miller Light instead.