Get Out of Town!
How do You Spell Love? D-A-R-E
February, 2013 - Issue #100
Just how true is your love? Valentine's Day is not the most accurate gauge for measuring the strength of your relationship. Let's face it: We're all on our best behavior when Cupid's watching.

If you really want an honest relationship check-up, put it under some stress. That's right. The same as your cardiologist would do to test your heart. But instead of jumping on a treadmill attached to a bunch of wires, sign you and your sweetie up for the Urban Dare.

The Urban Dare is like an "Amazing Race," minus the passports. It is a two-person race (walk, run, or take public transportation) that sends you and your teammate chasing clues around a city for an afternoon. You can use your smartphone to do research or call a friend for help with the clues. There are challenges to complete and photos of yourself at various locations to collect.

That's how I found myself on the Long Beach waterfront providing unasked-for balloon-art tips to my wife. I'd signed us up for this race as an anniversary gift. And no, I didn't have any doubts about our relationship.

We're hooked on the "Amazing Race." We love watching other couples deal with the stress that comes from synchronized swimming, repairing windmills or eating frog fallopian tubes, all in the hope of winning $ 1 million. Tapping into that adrenaline for an afternoon sounded like fun.

The race began with us and 50 other teams in a scrum searching for our numbered tennis ball in the grass. Once found, we exchanged it for a clue sheet. Adrenaline gave way to strategy.

We'd been tipped off that the smartest strategy is to solve all the clues, then use a paper map to plot the shortest course to all the destinations. We plopped on the sidewalk in front of The Laugh Factory and got to work.

Fifteen minutes of Googling and guessing later, we set out jogging down Shoreline Drive in search of "the building that was once the Coffee Pot Cafe." We were already off course, but we didn't know it yet.

The coffee-pot-shaped building was an easy find and we quickly crossed off several more stops and challenges without any trouble. Find the statue of Ski Demski and Peppy? Check. Get a picture of someone not in the race doing a cart wheel? Yep - thanks homeless dude!

Our biggest challenge was finding the plaque marking the start of the Trans Pacific Yacht race. We searched on our phones and texted a friend at home to search using her laptop. But we still couldn't pin down an exact location. So we kept running.

Finally finding it was a frustrating realization. It was the clue closest to the starting line, so it should have been our first stop. It also brought a frightening realization that we had to create a piece of balloon art.

I inflated and April twisted, trying to cajole a long skinny balloon into the sword indicated in the directions. After filling a few more balloons, and redoing some twists, we had the judge's approval and the coveted passport stamp.

We headed for our last stop, bummed that we had made such a crucial misstep early in the race. But we finished strong, running all the way to the finish line with a time of just over two-and-a-half hours. We were impressed with ourselves. Until we learned the winners had done it in a little more than 90 minutes.

But hey, we didn't yell at each other the whole time. Plus, I found out my wife had no problem proposing marriage to a complete stranger if it meant completing another clue.

That's a sure sign of a healthy relationship!
Eric Harnish lives in Castaic. Because he loves his camera-shy wife, he would never subject her to competing in an "Amazing Race."

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