Each pilot must carry his own toothbrush aboard the vehicle.
Date: Fri, 4 Jun 93 00:51:34 PDT
Subject: Each pilot must carry his own toothbrush aboard the vehicle.
From: Keith Bostic <bostic@vangogh.CS.Berkeley.EDU>
From: mgbaker@allspice.Berkeley.EDU (Mary Gray Baker)
The reason for this trip, I'll have you know, was not just to roll in the
mud. The reason was so that we could attend the Ferndale Kinetic
Sculpture Race. Ferndale is a small Victorian town on the Lost Coast.
Some other places have these now, too, but Ferndale's was the first. It
started in 1969 when a local artist looked at his son's bicycle and said,
"Hmph. I could make that a lot more interesting." It ended up as a
wobbly vehicle with 5 wheels and bright colors. He drove it down Main
Street. Other artists saw this and thought, "Hmph. Ours would be
better." So they made vehicles and all got together to race them down
The race has grown over the years until now it covers 38 miles of rough
terrain over 3 days. All vehicles must be totally human-powered. They
are a crazy sight! Now they must race along the highway and over sand
dunes and then swim across Humbolt Bay and climb steep hills and cross a
river and climb a very steep and slimy slope. The finish line is still
the end of Main Street in Ferndale, though. The race has accumulated some
very interesting rules. Each pilot must carry his own toothbrush aboard
the vehicle. (The race is no excuse for lax dental hygiene.) If one of
the pilots goes into labor during the race, she is allowed to leave the
race for a reasonable amount of time (an hour or so), but she must return
with an 8x10 color glossy of the child, and she's allowed to carry the
child with her for the next leg of the race. All vehicles must carry a
gallon bucket with them, for putting out their campfires. The pilots must
camp within spitting distance of their vehicles. If there's more than
one pilot, though, it can be their combined spitting distance. If your
vehicle gets through the race without breaking down or being unable to
get over part of the course without pushing or tugging, then you succeed
in winning a coveted "Ace" status and will be addressed as "professor."
The challenges are such that the great majority of vehicles cannot attain
this status. There are some areas (the slimy slope, for instance) where
the pilot is allowed to get out of his vehicle and push, but many tried
not to (and some succeeded), even though it's not as if they got any extra
points for this. The motto of the race is "for the glory." If your time
against the clock is the fastest, then you win something like $14.59.
If, however, you come in as the median vehicle (which is just about
impossible to predict), then you win a car. It's not clear, though,
whether this is a car that anyone wants to win.
Just about all the pilots wear costumes that go with their vehicles.
Calistoga seems to sponsor part of the race, and at all stops along the
way, they handed out unlimited free drinks. Actually, all concessions
associated with the race handed out only free stuff.
Some of my favorite vehicles this year were a family of ducks. Each duck
was piloted by a single person peddling furiously. The first was a mother
duck. She had 5 duckings, one of which was black. They arranged their
timing (with the fastest ducklings waiting for the slower ducklings) so
that they all came in together at the end in a line down Main Street. It
was very cute, and also gives you an idea of just how important people
think it is to be the fastest... However, all the ducks aced the race.
One of the duck pilots was a woman. She was in incredible shape. One of
the other pilots looked as if he might die. I was very worried for him.
Another funny vehicle was the "Calistoga Swan Song." This was a small
vehicle in the shape of a swan boat, with the body of the swan made from
white lace stretched over a frame. The guy driving it was wearing fancy
women's lingerie and pink lip stick. I think he got the fastest time of
the whole course. He certainly aced it, too. There was also a
perambulator, with a married couple in it dressed as babies. There were
some dragons and other beasts. There was a large cage with a whole group
of people in various costumes in it sitting on inner tubes with peddles
attached. A lot of these people were in the "barnacle" category, meaning
they were just along for the ride but weren't allowed to help out. They
did not ace the test. The "rabid aqua bats" had their vehicle split apart
in the middle of the bay.
All in all, it's a heap of fun. If you ever find yourself out here for
Memorial Day weekend, I'll take you to it!
© 1993 Peter Langston