It was 20 degrees, and the brisk wind made it feel like 8 below zero when nearly a dozen bicycle couriers from across the United States and Canada took to the streets from the steps of Marcy Casino to ride in Saturday afternoon's Dead Presidents Race.
The race was the brainchild of Kenmore native Rebecca Reilly, a bike messenger veteran of nine years who now navigates the streets of Washington, D.C.
Reilly said the event was designed to bring together some of her old bike messenger friends and show off her hometown.
Reilly has done courier work in several major U.S. cities, enabling her to collect stories for her book "Nerves of Steel," about the 100-year history of bike messengers. She self-published the book last year. "I was writing my book last year, and I missed my friends. I wanted to bring them up so I could see them," Reilly said.
And the idea for the Dead Presidents Race was born.
With a Presidents Day weekend theme, the event required the participants to visit more than 15 locations around Buffalo, Kenmore and the Town of Tonawanda. The mission of the race wasn't to be the fastest but to get the most points on what was really a scavenger hunt, Reilly explained.
Some of the items on the couriers' "manifest/day sheet" included making a "pickup" at any market along the route to buy nonperishable food items. Participants were required to deliver the items to the Friends of Night People shelter on Hudson Street. They were awarded five points per pound of food delivered.
Another pickup included collecting bags of salt from near the Peace Bridge for delivery to the JFK Recreation Center at Hickory and Clinton streets. Others dealt with simply answering president-related questions at various city landmarks such as the Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society Museum, Founding Fathers pub, City Hall and the Wilcox Mansion.
"They decide what they want to do to get the greatest number of points. You can be really, really slow and still win if you get more points," Reilly said.
Chris MacLuckie, a Toronto bicycle courier, agreed to come with a fellow courier who is a friend of Reilly's. He has been in these types of events before -- but not in February.
"Usually there aren't races in the winter because it's just damn cold," MacLuckie said.
The cold didn't seem to faze Columbus, Ohio, courier Matt "Hopper" Stein, participating in his 10th such event.
"I'll probably be sweating bullets when it starts. It's all about the adrenaline," he said before the race.
Chad Rice of Milwaukee said he has never been to Buffalo, and the event gave him a chance to see the city.
"It's always fun to see a new city, especially on a bike," Rice said.
Awards were presented Saturday evening.
Stein won first place with 159 overall points, Chuck "Deluxe" Hootman placed second, andDavey Rocket took third. All three are from Columbus, Ohio.
The first-place award for women was presented to Pam Kolesar of Columbus, the only woman in the competition.
Though messengers such as Reilly, MacLuckie and Rice are usually seen only in large cities, Buffalo will be getting its own bicycle courier outfit with the planned debut of Zippy Delivery on city streets next month.