Sunday, May 9, 2010


Alcatraz Escape - Port-a-let, Meals and More

By Darin Wieneke

Perfect weather conditions greeted me and the other brave souls attempting to escape from Alcatraz on May 2, 2010. Chants and cheers of the “convicts” were at a feverish pitch just prior to embarking on a swim of a lifetime. Then suddenly a group, led by inmates named Hunter (Kemper), Macca (Chris McCormack) and (Leanda) Cave, stormed the gates and rushed into San Francisco Bay.

Not far behind the leaders was Minnesotan and young swim phenom, Gabbe Keller. Gabbe successfully navigated the chilly waters and strong current and landed on a narrow strip of beach 1.5 miles away on the shores of San Francisco in a mere 29 minutes and 39 seconds. Gabbe commented after finishing the race that the exuberant atmosphere of the boat and jumping into the bay were race highlights for her. Reaching shore was a huge sense of accomplishment for all of the participants.

A hilly and highly technical 18 mile bike course followed. While the swim garners the majority of the discussion about the Escape, the bike and run, at a minimum, are equally challenging. I found that maintaining the speed and control of my bike on some steep descents was difficult, especially due to some hairpin turns at the bottom of several of the hills.

The challenging 8 mile trail and beach run concluded the triathlon. Jen Martone summarized the run by stating, “The run was grueling and much more technical than I imagined, more like an obstacle course than a run...steep inclines, dirt trail, up and down cement steps, through a tunnel, down to a beach running on soft & hard sand, up the 400 step sand ladder, and then up another dirt path back to the road. On both the bike and the run, there were times I wanted to pass people, but found it tricky with the single file line on the dirt portion of the run.”

In the end, Gabbe Keller (medal flasher), Jen Martone (cyclist) , David Swanson and I were all greeted by loud cheers as we successfully ESCAPED FROM ALCATRAZ!

Port-a-let line with Hunter Kemper
Numerous people have told me over the years that one of the best aspects of racing triathlons is being able to “toe the line” against the professionals and being able to converse with them afterwards about the experience and course conditions. This is truly unique to triathlon. You cannot have a beer with Joe Mauer after a Twins’ game and discuss your experience trying to make contact with Tim Wakefield’s knuckleball, nor can you explain to Al Jefferson how you dunked over Lebron James. You can, however, talk to Minnesota Pro David Thompson (DKT) about attacking a particular hill at the Manitou Triathlon or talk to Craig Alexander about the swim conditions on Lake Nokomis.

This perspective was brought to a whole new level when I was waiting in line to use a port-a-let just prior to boarding the ferry for Alcatraz. I glanced to my right and there stood Hunter Kemper waiting in line as well. Could you imagine seeing Brett Favre standing in line next to you before a Vikings’ game at the Metrodome? The next time that I saw Hunter Kemper, the Olympian and Wheatie’s box cover person, was when he was blazing the bike course en route to an impressive victory.

Meals in San Francisco

While the triathlon itself was the highlight for all of the triathletes, the food in San Francisco was not far behind. My wife and I enjoyed numerous restaurants around Washington Square, especially Mama’s and The Dogfather. Jen Martone “recovered” from the triathlon by consuming wine in Napa Valley. While I am not convinced she remembers eating during that phase of her trip, she does recommend dinner at Auberge du Soleil in Napa Valley. Gabbe Keller enjoyed the food and festive environment of the restaurants located in Fisherman’s Wharf. David Swanson gorged himself on great sushi during his trip.

Other Notes:

-DKT put forth a strong effort at this race. I last saw DKT about 2 miles from the finish and he was pushing the run pace with Chris McCormack and Francesco Godoy drafting behind him. DKT ultimately earned 6th place honors in a very competitive field. It was great to see the effort the professionals were exerting and the pain they were willing and able to endure.

-21 Minnesotans escaped from Alcatraz in 2010, including all four chronicled by MTN. Will you escape in 2011?