Project SARS

(Or how Becca was suckered into marrying Mike) – The Engagement Story

Mike: White Writing

Becca: Green Writing

Which stands for “Secret Adventure Race…Shhh”. That’s right, I named my proposal to Becca after the Asian bird flu without realizing it until about 2/3rds of the way through it. Some might say that it’s pretty poetic of what’s to come. I thought it sounded cool and reminiscent of “Alias”. Whatever, the name is staying.

Anyways, Project SARS was the codename for what I was calling the plan for what was leading up to my proposal to her. The plan was to secretly plan out an elaborate scavenger hunt/adventure race that would go all over the state of New Hampshire, but it ultimately ended up mainly taking place in Manchester, NH, as well as Goffstown and Nashua, NH, each approximately a 20 minute drive from Manchester West and South respectively. Family and friends were involved throughout the event, some local, others from as far away as Oregon.

The following is an outline/itinerary of what was supposed to happen. For this race, I tried to involve a bunch of people that we know.

The morning of Saturday, February 2nd started off much like a typical weekend…for a few exceptions. The previous weekend we moved down the street to a new apartment in the fair city of Manchester. Then on Wednesday, I was offered a new job, accepted on Thursday and gave my notice from my current job.

On Friday night Mike had to “work” but due to the ice storm he decided to “stay out on the seacoast”. I got a call from Jaime (who currently lives in Oregon) on Friday night just to talk and catch up.

Mike came home on Saturday morning and we went out to breakfast at Bridge Street Cafe on Elm. As we were finishing our coffee he handed me an envelope with instructions. To return home, find 10 balloons with numbers in a room full of many balloons.

Challenge 1 – Room Full of Balloons
-The apartment is full of balloons. 10 of which have numbers (0-9) written on them. Inside these balloons are pieces of paper numbered 1-10.
– The numbers on the outside of the balloons are numbers to a specific phone number
-The numbers on the inside the balloons are the order in which the numbers on the outside of the balloons go in
-The phone number needs to be dialed so the team can be found.
-Once she finds her team, she needs to go and meet them.

-Once she’s with her team, Jim will present them with his challenge.

As I arrived home, I knew something was up, I mean we don’t do scavenger hunts every weekend with balloons and a video camera on me. Looking around the room there were a lot of balloons, initially I could only find about 5 balloons (and some had the same number on them, I was kinda confused). As I went through the remaining balloons, I found the rest. Then Mike decided to leave at that point.

I wrote down the number on the outside of the balloon, popped it then wrote down the number that was on the paper on the inside of the balloon. I had a feeling it was Annie (from my frisbee team and a local Manch resident) and Jim’s (her hubby) phone number, but called it without checking first.

Because…I was adventuring…no cheating…I wanted to be “in it” and enjoy every second.

I called and Jim picked up the phone…I told him I was on an adventure and he told me to come over.

Challenge 2 – Photo Trail – Manchester
-Jim will give the team a series of photos.
-Within each photo, the team will need to be at that location in order to determine the location of the place in the next photo.
-The photo trail will lead to a box with a picture of an envelope that says “Find Me”

I arrive at Annie and Jim’s house…the door is cracked, I walk in. As I stroll into the kitchen Annie has a video camera tracking my every move…interesting. To my right, in a pink sweatshirt sat Ms. Jaime Head…who was supposedly at home in Portland, OR just 12 hours prior!! As I compose myself, Jim tells me my first challenge is to eat a scone. As we had just eaten a couple hours prior, I split one with Jaime. Jim begins handing me photographs of some trees…which I have a feeling are in NH…because really…where would we be going today, VT, ME, CT? Jim had me guessing. Or at least I thought it would only be a one day hunt…but I guess stranger things happen when Mr. T is running the show. Finally after a couple photos, eating 2 mild toasted peppers, 1 hot toasted pepper and taking 3 Boddingtons with us we head to Stark Park on the north end of the city with a photo of 4 rocks with an arrow pointing towards one.

As we arrive at the park we try to find the best entrance as the roads in the park had not been plowed after the recent snow. We finally pull in just behind a minivan with a older couple with 2 dogs. We walk across the park to the rocks, realize I don’t have very good shoes on for this, and find the box. Bring it back to the car, back the car out to let the minivan out and park on the side of the road. Because of Jim’s instructions we were told to each drink a beer (I mean it was 12:30.) But compromised and shared one between the 3 of us. Opened the clue…and said…how the heck are we going to find a random clue on Elm Street? So, we drove towards Elm Street…

Challenge 3 – “Find Me”
-on the back of the photo there will be a message explaining that the envelope in the photo is in one of the storefront windows of one of the businesses in Downtown Manchester on Elm Street (Teeshirtbodega – www.teeshirtbodega.com).
-The team must find the envelope, and ask the store for the envelope which will have a message in it
-there will also be a shirt in the window that says “For a good time call Jeremy”.

As we drive up to Elm Street, I glance at Tee Shirt Bodega as it is one of the stores we frequent when we are in the area. I didn’t notice anything obvious, but I was driving all the same. So we decided to take a closer look. We parked, and there it was the envelope “Find Me” in the window. Chad (the owner of TSB) got the envelope…as I opened it there was nothing in it…besides a puzzle piece that was not a helpful clue at the moment…as he finished taking the tee shirt off the manikin I realized what the shirt said… “For a good time call Jeremy”. OK seriously. I call Mr. Ahola, and wish him a happy Groundhog’s Day. He tells me to travel to Arm’s Park near the river in Manchester. I ask him if he is in NH (as he typically resides in OR and has never been to New Hampshire). He said no, but he had to go because he had to call the next person.

Challenge 4 – Good Time/Kayak Challenge
-when they call Jeremy, he will direct them to the parking lot by Millys tavern to take part in the kayak challenge.
-Group will watch a video of Becca’s brother and dad running through the challenge themselves.(which can be found here http://video.google.com/videoplay?do…00655483907299
2 team members will have to pick up a kayak and run through a pair of trash cans/cones in a specific pattern fast enough to beat the time set for them.

Annie, Jaime and I pull up to Arms Park down near the Merrimack River. As we come around the corner I notice a blue SUV parked in the lot with a kayak outside on the ground. I knew it was way too cold to go in the river…so I was intrigued. Then we notice a guy on a cell phone standing outside of the car…JEREMY!! The shirt was true…I was really having a good time!! Jeremy handed me Mike’s iPod and we watched the video. It was my dad and brother running around our yard in Connecticut in the snow with a kayak in a “specific pattern”. This was definitely getting CRAZY! Annie and I watched the video a couple more times, Jeremy led some warm-up calisthenics and we were ready to do the challenge. In the first try we did it completely wrong, and somehow Annie ended up on the ground, face down in the snow. We tried again and were successful!! And again I noticed that I was wearing the wrong shoes for the day. Jeremy handed us an envelope and we opened it up. There was a beautiful 8×10 picture of Bret Michaels. I did mistake him for playing for Guns n’ Roses…but I did learn later that he plays for Poison…oops…sorry all you Bret fans! There was also “Every Rose has its Thorn” printed on the back of Bret’s photo and a cryptic message on another sheet of paper. We headed to Milly’s for lunch and do some deciphering.

Challenge 5 – John Stark Challenge
-After they complete the kayak challenge within the specified time, they were given an envelope.
-Inside the envelope is a picture of bret Michaels, the lyrics to “Every Rose Has its Thorns”, and an encrypted message (similar to the clues given for the “John Stark” letterbox)
-After decoding the message, it will direct them to the next challenge at Bills house.

Over lunch at Milly’s we ask the waitress if she is interested in helping us decipher the clue…she pretty much said “hell no”. We had groups of 3 numbers that would lead us to find a letter for each group by utilizing the song “Every Rose has its Thorn”. The first number being the line in the song, the second being the word in the line and the third being the letter in the word. As we begin to work on the puzzle some of the words do not look like they come from the English language. Jeremy calls the mastermind of this operation and they work out a few formatting errors that occurred when it was printed out. After a beer, some good food and having a clue where we were off to…Annie drove us to the “HOUSE OF BILL” in Goffstown (about a 20 minute ride west from where we were).

Challenge 6 – Rock Band Challenge
-When they arrive, the team will watch a video of Christine and Joey Bellanger “Glammed” up playing Guitar Hero (Talk Dirty to Me by poison?)
-The team will have to complete a song of Bill choosing on the game Rock Band, needing to score at least 3 stars, or Becca will have to complete a song by herself on Guitar Hero (also of bills choosing), scoring 4 stars or better.

When we arrived Bill and Kate Zacheroff (some of our local friends) greeted us at the door. Our team, Jaime, Annie, Jeremy and I walk into the living room to see the video game “Rock Band” set up in the living room. This consists of a guitar, drum set and microphone to follow instructions to complete a song, in unison, on the screen. We watched a video of Christine (Belanger) Jankowski (a friend from preschool and up) playing the drums Rock Band Style. (I later found out there was a greater plan for this video of Joey and Chris in a Rock Band Competition but for whatever reason it didn’t pan out.) Since Christine got 4 stars on the song…we had to at least match her. Which turned out to be pretty tricky because no one else on our team had played the game before. I ended up playing the guitar, Jeremy on drums, Jaime on the microphone and Annie on video camera. After 4 songs we finally got 4 stars!!!

Challenge 7 – Phil’s Challenge
-After completing the Guitar hero Challenge, the team will receive a clue that should direct them to Phil’s House, where he will present them with brain teasers and word puzzles.

After we got the clue we headed towards Nashua (about 20 minutes south) to see what Great Uncle Phil (our senior frisbee teammate) had in store for us. As we walk into his house he turns on a Ultimate Frisbee Instructional video and we sit down to do word puzzles, number puzzles and sudoku puzzles. It was quite the set up…we did well all and all…but they were tricky! Phil gave us a tour of his wall of frisbees which were very impressive. He presented me with his last “in mint condition” 50 Lays for Phil disc. He handed me the clue and compasses for the next stop. We had to go to Yudicky field in Nashua where we play disc.

Challenge 8 – Compass Course
-When the group finishes Phil’s challenge, he will give them a compass, a set of bearings for a compass course, and a photo of the start point of the course.
-The end point of the compass course will be a box with a clue leading them to the next challenge located at marks house.

We pull up to the dark parking lot at Yudicky and want to get across to the flagpole near the only street lamp. Without really thinking I gun my car across the snow, slush, and water to the other side…get out and realize, yes, I still do not have good shoes on for this, and we probably will get stuck here.

But, alas, we had a challenge to complete!! We look at the 15 compass bearings listed down the card. We begin the trek across the snow covered field to find that we don’t think we are doing a very good job. As we back track a bit and look at the bearings and the distances we decide if we are even a few degrees off in our bearings and with the long distances (up to 250 steps) that we could be way off. Jeremy calls “the man” again as we surrender the challenge. We are told where to find the clue (pretty much where the compass course began…SERIOUSLY?) We get in the car and get ready to leave. And go…some pretty awesome rooster tails!! Annie and Jeremy get out and start to push…goin’ nowhere…they move to the front…ok maybe not a good idea…they go back to the back…they start rockin’ the car…success!! Jaime and I gun it back across the parking lot to make it back to the access road. Jeremy and Annie catch up and we head to Mark’s house…not his showplace.

Challenge 9 – Marks Jeopardy Challenge
Arriving at Marks house, the team will have to participate in a jeopardy-like game, where the categories correlated to the teams interests/members

We arrive at Mark (who plays on our frisbee team and loves playing boardlike games) and Ruth’s (his wife) house Mark offers to put our socks in the dryer and put our shoes near the heater…ahhhh. Mark reveals his Jeopardy Game with the following categories: Bend it like Becca, Where the heck is Uz’Becca’stan, Famous Annies, and This Date in History. As we get to ask our questions to answer the categories (really not the questions we were looking for) everyone gets at least a few points and a few wrong answers.

Challenge 10 – Puzzle Challenge
-Mark will give the group a puzzle that they need to put together after they finish his challenge.
-The puzzle will have an address on it that will be the location of the next challenge

In final Jeopardy the answer was “a turnover”. Jaime answers “what is baking?”…very clever. But it is also the terminology in Ultimate when the disc is given to the other team due to it being defended or a rule being broken. In the end, it was a clue to turnover all the points to a puzzle revealing the address for our next quest. Orange Street…Manchester…I was not aware I knew anyone who lived there.

Challenge 11 – French Toast Challenge
-arriving at Jacks house, the challenge is to make as much french toast as possible from scratch in 20 minutes time
-for each piece of French toast that is successfully made, they will be given a word to the clue that will lead them to the final challenge (16 words total)
-if the team does not make enough French toast to reveal all the words, for every piece that is successfully eaten, another word will be revealed.

When we arrive at Orange Street, I still had no idea who lived there (which made me nervous). We walk up the steps and saw the back of someone’s head who was sporting a gray pony tail. Oh yes, it was Jack (another frisbee player)! We walked to the door and Alice (Jack’s wife) greeted us, took our coats, and offered us a drink. We took a seat in the living room and had some cheese and crackers, yum! Then, with little notice Jack opened the doors in the living room to reveal a dining room for our next challenge. THE FRENCH TOAST CHALLENGE! On the table was all the fixings to make french toast. Our challenge was to make as many french toasts as we could in 20 minutes, each to reveal one word of the clue, and if we ate them afterwards, they would also reveal one word of the clue for each f.t. we ate. We were not able to warm up the skillet prior to the time beginning, so we were able to get 10 french toasts on a plate before time ran out (we did have 5 more that were about ready to come off the skillet). When all were made and 5 were eaten we were able to solve the clue of: naming the 1987 Guns n’ Roses top 40 hit (something to that effect). It was Welcome to the Jungle. In looking around Jack and Alice’s house Jeremy spotted the plants in the living room…with a tin tucked away…that was it…the LAST PUZZLE PIECE!!!

Final Photo Piece Challenge
-After completing every challenge, there will be a piece to a photo that the group must keep. -After Jacks challenge, they will have all the pieces of the photo.
-After putting all the pieces together, it will reveal itself to be a balloon with the words “Find this Balloon” written on it.

Sifting through the envelopes from all of the challenges I was able to somehow find all of the puzzle pieces. On one side was a collage of all the challenges we did during the day and on the other was a picture of a balloon with “find this balloon” written on it. Hym, interesting, I really had no idea what was going to happen next.

Another Room Full of Balloons
-The balloon in question will be back at the apartment where the entire secret adventure race started.
-Only difference will be that there will be about 3 times as many balloons in the room, all the same color.
-attached to the balloon in question will be the final challenge, which is to marry me.

My team and I drove back to my apartment (it was probably about 10 pm) and we parked outside. They told me to go up by myself. I gave Annie the keys to my car in case they wanted to go to her house. I walked up stairs and went into the apartment. Mike was on the computer in the spare room and welcomed me with a big hug. He asked me how my day was. I gave him “the look” but told him it was quite the adventure. I looked in the bedroom to where we began…and there was twice as many balloons then the morning. Looking around for “the” balloon trying to pick out as many green ones as I can (they were not all the same color). Finally I spot one on the night stand, pick it up, but there is something attached to it…yes a box. Then I start balling. I give Mike a big hug and won’t let him go and continue to cry. He said “will you marry me?” I pause, reflect on the day for a second and say “yeah, I guess so, yes”. And there you have it, our 13 hour journey in a nut shell.


All in all, it was a good day.

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