The Ultimate Amazing Race: Doug’s 35th Birthday


Several people have asked me to write a post with all the details of The Amazing Race Group Date I put together for Doug’s 35th birthday. It was a lot of work, and a whole lot of fun.

Doug has been a huge fan of the show “The Amazing Race” for years. Several months before his birthday, I decided that I would create a surprise race to celebrate.  This meant I had to start watching the show for research!  I’d never seen it before, so I started watching a couple of the newer seasons to get an idea of how the race worked. Now The Amazing Race has a new fan in me! If you’ve never seen the show, here is a quick break down of how it works:

Teams race to complete various tasks or challenges. Teams are given four types of cards along the way:

ROUTE INFO: Information about the route, how to travel, and where to go next.

ROADBLOCK: A task that only one team member completes. Teams have to alternate which team member completes each Roadblock, unless otherwise noted.

DETOUR: A choice between two tasks. Teams choose which task they think they can complete the fastest, and they work together.

PIT STOP: A forced break or rest period.


First, I had to find some of our best friends who would sign up to be a part of a race with blind devotion: they had no idea what the tasks would be, where we would be going, and what I might make them do. They also had to promise to be good secret-keepers and not spoil the surprise. Several of our friends had other commitments the day of the race, but in total we would have 5 teams (including Doug and I). Everyone chose a team color and had to show up to the race wearing that color.

Next, I had to reach out to local businesses and ask them to be a part of our race and let us mildly interrupt their day. I decided to keep the majority of the race in Morris (although the race would officially end where we live, in Mazon) because of the plethora of options as far as businesses go, and because it’s a central location for most of our friends. I contacted several business owners in Morris, explaining how the race would work and what their role would be. Almost every one of them agreed to participate in some capacity. I was pleasantly surprised at their willingness and excitement – – some even suggested additional business owners that I should contact who might enjoy partaking in the silliness. In total, 8 businesses agreed to be a part of our race:

Apple Butter & Shugie’s

Dave’s Dawgs

Morris Area Public Library

Montage Wine Bar


True North

Underground Hair & Nails

Mazon’s Post Office

Now that I had locations ironed out, I had to create some tasks. I came up with a few on my own, Pinterest had some good ideas (I had no idea Amazing Race parties were so popular!), and some of the business owners helped come up with tasks that were congruent with the spirit of their store. Some businesses were just check-in points for teams to pop in and receive their next clue. (For details, keep reading).

I typed out all of the clue cards (I luckily found a template on, which made my life so much easier! Then, I made these VERIFICATION ENVELOPES (sorry, I forgot to take a picture of them before they were used!), as a way for the teams to prove that they completed the challenges (more on that a little later). Notice the little squares with letters underneath them. Those represent some of the different locations, and things would have to be written or pasted onto those squares as a way to mark penalties or prove that tasks were completed. Other tasks might require teams to keep items inside their VERIFICATION ENVELOPE, or take photos and post them on Facebook.

verification envelope

In an effort to prevent crowding, I decided to send the teams on different routes. All the tasks would be the same, teams would just complete them in different order. This required a spreadsheet, and figuring this out was more painstaking than you would believe! Most of the businesses closed at 4:00, so I had to ensure that those tasks could be finished with enough time to spare. (Team X was a route I created in case some of our friends that couldn’t commit to the race suddenly became available, this way I wouldn’t have to scramble to put something together for them).


Next, I got some black cinch-sacks for the teams to carry their stuff in, and included some snacks like a water, granola bar, and clementine. Didn’t want my friends getting hangry!

Two days before the race, I stopped by each business to drop off all the materials they would need to help with our race, a cheat-sheet telling them exactly what to do, the team-specific envelopes that would tell them where to go or what to do next, and some homemade chocolate chip cookies to show them my gratitude.

Ok, now for the fun part – – the race.

Teams were instructed when and where to meet.



They were handed their cinch sacks, and VERIFICATION ENVELOPES. Inside each envelope were the Rules of the Race (click to read if you’re curious), which we went over together, and a sealed envelope with their first Route Info. Card. And off we went! (I wanted to be able to participate in the race, so I created tasks that would have to be completed with no benefit to me for knowing what they were prior to the race. When there was a choice, I made Doug choose so that I would have no advantage.)

As an example for how the routes went, I will use the route that my brother, Brandon, and his girlfriend, Stephanie, took.

Their first clue was:

hi spy detour



Every team ended up choosing “SPY” (except for one) and took pictures of the garden gnome they found. Here’s ours – garden gnomes were easier to find than we thought!

Team Matzen chose “Hi” and Doug received 10 birthday texts from complete strangers thanks to their diligence.



If you notice, at the bottom of the Hi/Spy Detour card, it tells the team where to go next (this was different for each team, because of the separate routes. Other teams might have received this Route Info. Card telling them how to go to Underground Hair & Nails).

underground route info


Once at Underground, teams would let the staff know they were with “The Amazing Race” and receive their task:

underground roadblock

Notice the Verification Requirement at the bottom of the Roadblock card: Post wig picture onto Doug’s Facebook page using #HairyBirthday. Enjoy these photos!


hairy birthday

After their task was complete, they received their team-specific envelope telling them what to do next (again, this varied by team):

true north route info

Once at True North, teams told the staff (who was particularly excited to participate in this event!) they were with The Amazing Race, and received their task card:

true north detour


My friend, Madonna, works at True North and came up with these fun task ideas. She thought of having teams sifting through containers of letters, and told me that letters “J” and “K” were particularly hard to find, which is why I chose “The Cool Jerk” as the phrase to find. Plus, I’ll find any excuse to tell the world that Doug once dressed as a California Raisin for Halloween because it’s my FAVORITE THING EVER.

Let’s reminisce, shall we?


Madonna also came up with the items for the scavenger hunt, since she knew what was in the store. I created the scavenger hunt sheet based on her list.

tiles true north                  scav hunt true north


When I was creating the cards for this task, I thought “Only an idiot would choose the scavenger hunt over the lettered pieces,”. Well, every team picked the “Hidden Message”, except for my husband who chose “Buried Treasure”. But that’s ok, because like I said, I wanted him to make those choices, and we found some really cool items in that fun little store.

Notice on the bottom of the Detour card, the Verification requirement for completing that task was a compass to be attached to their Verification Envelope. I had cut out the little compasses from an old scrapbook paper I had, and that was given to True North when I dropped off all the necessary supplies. If the teams completed the task, the staff at True North glued a compass onto their Verification Envelope. If a team timed-out and was unable to complete the task, they received their next clue, but no compass – which would later result in a 30 minute penalty towards their final time. Luckily, every team was able to complete this challenge on time.

After the Detour was completed at True North, teams were given their team-specific envelope telling them where to go next (again, this was different for each team):

rugged route info

The owner at Rugged really wanted to participate in the race, but knew a new staff member would be running the store that day and didn’t want something too chaotic for her to deal with. So, Rugged became a super simple stop. Notice at the bottom of the Route Info card, it says “They will give you your next Route Info. Card after writing a special message on your Verification Envelope. Hint: It’s the stage name Doug used when he wrestled.”

Teams popped in and had the staff member write the special message “Funky Doug Punke” on their Verification Envelope.  Again, any excuse to tell the world that Doug used to amateur-wrestle and used the stage name that makes me giggle every time I hear it.

Teams then received their next clue (team-specific, of course) :

library route info

Once at the library, teams were given their Roadblock card:

library roadblock.jpg


The library staff was incredibly accommodating and checked out a copy of “The Outsiders” under their own account so that nobody else would take it, thus thwarting our Roadblock challenge.

Doug couldn’t remember the name of the author, and had a hard time finding the book on the shelf (it wasn’t just in the Fiction section, it was in a sub-section of Young Adult Fiction). I refused to help him, since I already knew where the book was located, but he figured it out with the help of the library’s catalog and the staff’s assistance.

Notice on the bottom of the Roadblock card, the Verification Requirement for this task was to post a picture onto Doug’s Facebook page using #StayGold. Team Jones had a camera-shy team member!

stay gold


Once the teams completed their task, they received their team-specific envelope with their next clue.

apple butter route info

Then teams learned their Roadblock challenge at Apple Butter would be:

apple butter roadblock

Once teams completed that challenge, they received an American Flag to keep in their Verification Envelope. If lyrics were requested in order to sing the National Anthem, “Lyrics” would be noted on their Verification Envelope and the team would incur a 5 minute penalty towards their final check-in time. One of the teams DID incur this penalty, and the guilty party shall remain nameless.


Next Clue:

dave's dawgs route info


Once at Dave’s Dawgs, teams received the following Pit Stop card:

dave's dawgs pit stop


The staff at Dave’s Dawgs wrote arrival times on the team’s VERIFICATION ENVELOPE and kept watch over the 20 minute time limit. It happened to work out that all the teams were at the Pit Stop together, albeit some arrived a little later than others, but it was fun to sit and chat about the race with everyone there while we waited for our time to tick away.

While there, I realized that the race was going much quicker than I had anticipated. Trying to figure out how long a team might spend on a task was a hard thing to estimate when I was creating the race. The last task was supposed to take us all back to Mazon, where we would have a picnic at the park and do some other things (more on that later!), but since we were all at the Pit Stop together, we decided that everyone would complete the race as normal, but instead of going back to Mazon, we would meet up at the bank where we started and figure out something to do together that would kill some time. I love our flexible friends!

Once each team’s 20 minute limit was up, the staff at Dave’s Dawgs marked their departure time on their VERIFICATION ENVELOPE and gave them their team-specific envelope with the next clue:

states or dates detour


Each team chose “STATES” and was able to find four quarters representing different states. After this task was complete, Doug happened to find a penny in his shorts pocket with the year 1982 on it. No clue how that happened, but I’m glad he didn’t find it until after we’d found our four different quarters – – I’m not sure the other teams would have believed that I didn’t plant the penny in his pocket if we tried to use it! Notice at the bottom of the Detour card, the Verification Requirement was to keep coins inside the Verification Envelope. Also, the bottom of this Detour card told the team where to go next: Montage.

Montage Wine & Spirits was everybody’s last stop in Morris. The owner at Montage wanted to be a part of the race without disrupting her customers, so it worked out perfectly for her to hand out the last Route Info. card without a task to be completed in her store.

So each team received their “Almost Done” Route Info. card, but instead of following the directions on the card, we all met back at the bank parking lot where we started. We made note of when everyone arrived so that we knew how many minutes each team was ahead or behind by, so we could use it later towards final check-in times. Then we decided to kill some time at Sandlot, a local bar and grill. We went there and enjoyed a few drinks and appetizers, and had fun discussing our various race-related escapades.



Teams left and headed for Mazon where we could finish our race (using the Route Info. card from Montage). At the Mazon Post Office, teams waited in line (based on arrival time), and took turns counting the post office boxes inside. I had talked to the postmaster a few days prior, and asked her to count and write the number of post office boxes down on a sheet of paper, seal it in an envelope, and drop it in my box.

Teams would write down the number of boxes that they counted, and bring it to the finish line. We opened the envelope together, to compare our numbers. If teams counted incorrectly, they incurred a 5-minute penalty towards their final time.

After the post office, teams had to go down the road to the Mazon Bank and take a picture of the time on the sign. This would be their official check-in time (penalties would be added in at the finish line). We all sat down together at the Mazon Park (the finish line) and grabbed a score card.

Teams went through each line together, pulling out their different forms of verification and jotting down penalties.

Doug and I were in second place for most of the race, with Team Jones taking the lead. However, once we opened up the envelope from the postmaster, indicating the number of post office boxes, we learned that Team Jones had incorrectly thought that the highest number on the P.O. Boxes must be the number of boxes that there were. However, that was not the case and so they incurred a 5 minute penalty, which bumped Doug and I up to first place. We felt pretty good about that, considering we had the super long scavenger hunt crisis at True North. We also had an additional kink in our race—we had dropped our boys off with my parents, but forgot to leave them car seats. So in the middle of our race, we had to run over and drop off car seats for them, costing us a few minutes.

Doug was happy to win the trophy (which may have been recycled from my New Community Christian Church’s chili cook-off glory days).  I know for sure Team Jones came in second and Team Matzen came in last. I can’t remember which order Team Raymer and Team Sanders came in, but it was all very close and such a good time.


Once standings were established, we were able to enjoy some food and drinks at the park, and another surprise was in store for Doug. He always enjoys watching people play Knockerball when we’ve seen it on TV, so I ordered a set and the guys had a great time knocking each other around. A few of our friends that were unable to make it for the race were able to come to the picnic portion of the evening, so that was an added bonus!

(This is where I was going to post a short video clip of the guys playing Knockerball, but apparently I would have to “upgrade” my blogsite’s plan in order to do so.  Sorry, WordPress, I’m not about that life.  If any of my readers would like to see the video, I will post it on my personal Facebook page for friends to see!)

All in all, it was a super fun day: filled with AMAZING friends who helped make AMAZING memories by running an AMAZING RACE to celebrate my AMAZING husband on his 35th birthday.

Thank you to all of our friends that participated in the race.

I would like to express special gratitude to the business owners and staff that shared in the ridiculous fun we had. You jumped in with vigor and excitement that made the event so much more fun, and without you, this would not have been possible. Thank you again!