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Scavenger hunt plays on nightmarish plot

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Participants gather for a Journey to the End of the Night event in Chicago. Credit: McKenzie Yamauchi.

A terrified scream and a vicious growl echo down a dark alley and slice through the still night air. You take off running, heart racing and pulse pounding, afraid of falling prey to the werewolf that now terrorizes the twilight streets of Columbus.

Although this might seem like a gruesome scene from a horror movie, one local organization is set on making this nightmarish plot a reality in an upcoming event that combines athleticism, intellectual puzzle solving and imagination. 

Columbus Creative Cooperative, an organization founded in 2010 that provides services to the local literary community, is set to host “Rougarou: Journey to the End of the Night” at 7 p.m. on Saturday.

“It is basically a scavenger hunt, crossed with a giant game of tag, crossed with a 5K run,” said Noah Firestone, a “Rougarou” organizer. “It is just a great way to explore Columbus and have fun 

with your friends or new people that you meet.”

Created in 2006 in San Francisco, JEN, or Journey to the End of the Night, is a street game inspired by urban exploration, capture the flag, parkour and tag. Since then, JEN events have been hosted in cities throughout the world, and more than 5,000 players have participated in these events, according to the JEN website. 

“Rougarou” is set to be Columbus’ second JEN event.

Last year, a robot apocalypse-themed event attracted approximately 30 participants, said Alan Files, who has helped organize both events. 

This year, the group has had 120 people pre-register to attend already, Files added.

“It already looks to be a lot bigger,” he said. “A lot of that is from teaming up with Columbus Creative Cooperative.”

Brad Pauquette, director of Columbus Creative Cooperative, said he came up with the idea of partnering with the JEN organizers after attending last year’s event.

“We had a lot of fun,” he said. “After running it, I thought there were a lot of things that … we could really take to the next level and make it an event that attracts a lot of different people.”

The cooperative also took this opportunity to add a literary element to the event’s theme with the incorporation of a running narrative, Pauquette said.

“The event falls under the first part of (Columbus Creative Cooperative’s) mission, where we want to provide a resource … something cool to inspire the community and bring art to life,” he said. 

The race theme is based on the plot of “Hagridden,” a book by Samuel Snoek-Brown published by Pauquette’s company, Columbus Press. 

“Hagridden” is a historical fiction novel set in Civil War-era Louisiana. In the book, Snoek-Brown’s characters are terrorized by a Rougarou, a werewolf-like monster prevalent in Creole mythology. 

This Rougarou is featured as the main antagonist in Columbus Creative Cooperative’s JEN event.

Participants begin the 5-kilometer course as humans wearing blue ribbons. Their goal is to navigate the streets of Columbus and complete activities at various checkpoints set up throughout the city without getting tagged by a Rougarou.

“You’ll get a map at the beginning (of the race), and at each checkpoint, the story gets advanced a little bit, and you also have to perform a task,” Firestone said. “In this context, it is going to be proving that you’re a human being and not a werewolf.”

The checkpoints are designated “safe zones” and provide participants with an opportunity to take a break from the ongoing action of the race.

“I would say that most of the time, (the checkpoints) are usually a fun diversion as opposed to being a really hard puzzle or a physical challenge,” Files said.

After completing each checkpoint, participants are given more information regarding their next task, which will ultimately lead them to the end of the course at the Gateway Film Center.

Having participated in previous JEN events, Firestone advises runners not to be too upset if they are tagged. When a participant is tagged, they surrender their blue ribbon to the tagger and replace it with a red ribbon, signifying a transformation into a Rougarou. They then work to tag the remaining humans.

Files, who has participated in previous races as a runner and lead chaser, said he thinks a JEN event will work well in a city of Columbus’ size.

“It is easy to tap into that feeling of community that people have for the whole city … and you get to explore the city, so those two aspects work really well together,” he said.

Firestone said he hopes that the JEN event inspires participants to view their city with fresh eyes.

“I’d like to put people into a story and bring it alive for them. I want people to bring stories and memories out of this that they will remember,” he said.

“Rougarou: Journey to the End of the Night” is free to attend.

Interested participants are encouraged to pre-register via EventBrite. The event will begin at 7 p.m. in the courtyard in front of the Wexner Center for the Arts. An after-party is scheduled to begin at the Gateway Film Center.

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