The 33rd Annual World Famous Arcata to Ferndale
Kinetic Sculpture Race 2002
Groovy Logo...

Howdy Goudey's current creation, "ConunDRUM," Formerly Known As "Cow-Trans" ("Poor, Pitiful me" award, "Golden Dinosaur award," 1999), Then Known As "Barrel Of Monkeys" (2000), then known as "Rolling Blackout"(Second Place engineering, 2001), is about to embark on the celebration of idiocy that is the World Famous Arcata to Ferndale Kinetic Sculpture Race.

As of 10:52 PM on Friday night, the machine is neither finished, nor is it located in Humboldt county!

Howdy is currently welding like a madman, at his parent's home in Sonoma. We have been assured that they will be on the road at around 1:00 AM (projected time of completion), placing them at our house in Eureka at between 6:00 and 7:00AM. Of course, I wouldn't be surprised if they are forced to drive straight to the Arcata Plaza in order to make it to the Noon start.

I figure, they don't hit sand until halfway through Day 1, so as long as the thing rolls on pavement, they could just carry the welding equipment on board and Howdy can weld while his three co-pilots pedal. Why do they never use any of my ideas?

I'm sure you can think of something better to do, but if not, you may wish to see Last Year's account of the escapades of "Rolling Blackout."

The most dramatic departure from previous designs is the addition of two more pilots, for a total of four! So that means that two people will be backwards for the duration of the race.

As for me, I'll be safe atop a conventional mountain bike, charged mainly with shouting motivational threats and preventing crazed Kinetic Sculpture groupies from attacking our pilots. My plan is to faithfully report the day's goings-on each night of the race. Of course, I had also planned that the machine would be done by now. So, bear with us.

Day 1

8:55 AM

Still no sculpture. Work continued through the night, and the machine and it's pilots started up 101 from Sonoma at aproximately 6:30 this morning. That places them at the Arcata Plaza at exactly 12:00PM, if they don't stop for anything and there are no traffic delays caused by road work or accidents or motor homes. Having never driven up 101 without such delays, I'm expecting them to arrive well past noon.

Maybe we can create the illusion that we have a machine, by seeding the spectators with insiders saying things like "Boy, did you see that 'conunDRUM' sculpture go by?" and "Gosh, I've never seen a machine quite like that 'conunDRUM.'" We certainly have enough conunDRUM t-shirts (see Groovy Logo, above) to imply that there may be a sculpture by that name.

On the bright side, the Plaza won't be neraly as crowded by the time they show up...

The noon whistle blew, and the sculpture showed up about two blocks from the Plaza. I'm not sure about the specifics of what happened next, but my understanding is that someone wearing yellow told them they could "just go." I never saw a brake check or much of anything else, as the streets were already flooded with spectators, but soon ConunDRUM was on it's way, and I was pedalling to catch up with it.

The first leg of the race went quite smoothly, past the cows who live in the Arcata Bottoms and through Manila, and even past the familiar onslaught from the folks at the intersection leading to the Manila Dunes, who derive boundless pleasure each year from the act of bombing racers with water balloons launched from ingenious bra-and-elastic catapults.

At Manila, the sculpture's street tires were removed, allowing the machine to rest on the barrels for the sand crossing.As you may know if you have read the history of the sculpture, something on the machine always breaks at the sand, granting us freedom from the noble quest for "Ace" status. So as we approached the first steep dune leading to the beach, we were stetching our "push the sculpture" muscles and preparing our ears for the sickening "pop" of metal shearing apart.

It's working!!!
Happily, and shockingly, we were all spared our role as "pushers" and were allowed to take on the unfamiliar-on-the-sand roles of "pilots" and "non-pushing pit crew." The machine crawled steadily up the sand, smoothing the way for subsequent machines and bringing us closer to the ocean.

The craft glided onto the beach, and aside from some sore pilot-legs and some brief encounters with a large bronze rhinocerous, the sand was completely co-operative. Until it came time to climb back over the dunes toward Dead Man's Drop.

In a disappointing but somewhat nostalgic moment halfway up the dune, we heard the sickening "pop" of shearing metal. The sound mysteriously coincided with the total loss of the pedal power of two of the four pilots, and the technical loss of our "Ace" status.

And so, the pushing began. Steering and brakes were still intact, but for the rest of the approach to Dead Man's Drop the two pilots in the rear(?) pedalled down the next hills and straightaways, and we all pushed up the rest of the hills.

Dead Man's Drop has been a high point for all of the incarnations of the sculpture (even the ill-fated Cow-trans!). The barrels seem to provide an ideal combination of surface area and weight distribution, allowing for high-speed descent. And the positioning of the pilots is such that the spectators get a great view of the stark terror on the faces of the backward-facing riders. Today's event was no exception! After a rousing round of cheers from the onlookers, we trudged onwards, pushing the wounded machine, losing several liters of blood per minute to a particularly nasty crop of mosquitoes.

The road tires were re-installed and the machine rolled out onto the highway on half it's leg-power. If you happened to drive by tonight and see the backwards-facing riders pedalling, rest assured that they were faking.

The Samoa Bridge has three hills, and the craft achieved today's top speed on the way down hill #1 of 22.5 mph!

Finish Line
Sculptures which finish after six recieve a six-hour penalty. Apparently there was some controversy about the exact time that ConunDRUM crossed the finish line. Some say 5:59, some say 6:00, some say 6:02. We'll leave that up to the authorities. But let me submit that since the machine didn't actually start moving down the road until about 12:15PM, our time would have been more like 5:45PM. A weak argument of course, but empires have been built on weaker ones.

The sickening pop turned out to be a broken gear buried deep within the front axle. Latest reports indicate that chances are slim for a 100% recovery, but I am assured that there are several possible "work-arounds" being considered, including a solution which will get the wheels spinning, but lose the differential. The pilots are working in my driveway even as I type, and I'm sure that they'll be able to put on a suitable performance tomorrow morning. Last year's water crossing was fantastic, and should be a bit more interesting with four pilots.
See you tomorrow!

Day 2

The official start of the race on Sunday was 10:00AM. In keeping with tradition, we arrived at 11:00.

Last year's "Rolling Blackout" machine was fantastic on the water, rolling in, moving steadily through the water, and rolling out gloriously. Paddle wheels replace the street tires for propulsion, and the four "wheel" barrels provide most of the flotation. Two additional barrels which serve as storage for the rest of the race, are lowered into the water for additional buoyancy. This year two more barrels were planned additions (for a total of eight), but that never quite panned out. So there was a good deal of floundering in the water, as adjustments were made to a one flotation barrel which had freed itself from it's supports. At one point, Howdy, Chief Engineer and Mad Scientist, was teetering with most of his weight resting on the crooked barrel as his co-pilot made adjustments... the moment was ripe for careening headlong into the bay, but alas, no splash.

Riding Low, but still afloat
Riding Low, but still afloat. Video Clip available here (MPEG, 251K)
Since the machine was riding low, the paddle wheels weren't as efficient and progress was slow in the water. But after a short hangup coming out of the water, ConunDRUM crawled up the boat ramp under the Samoa bridge and began preparations for the road.

Linda Goudey Catering (Sonoma, Ca.) provided food enormous in both quantity and quality, as the paddle wheels were replaced with road wheels.

To our dismay, one of the crucial, holds-the-wheel-on bolts was jammed. After some battling with leverage and a few scary noises, the bolt came free, stripped threads and all. The bolt was missing about six of it's twenty threads, which were smashed smooth. This meant that the threads inside the machine were gummed up with metal shavings which had to be removed before the road tire could be mounted.

Enter the Toothbrush.
Most of the rules and regulations associated with the race are intentionally arbitrary and useless, but we really would have been stuck if not for the presence of our toothbrush.

The sculpture-saving Toothbrush
A bit of modification via swiss-army knife whittling, and the toothbrush was narrow enough to "Reach" the shavings (sorry).

Again in keeping with tradition, we were way behind in our start. Even the revered Rhino passed us (after their extended breakfast).

We sped through Eureka without much trouble, and though we did have to relace a flat tire with a spare. 101 went as planned, and ConunDRUM arrived at the College of the Redwoods brake check point late, and left late, and we arrived at the base of Loleta Hill late.

Loleta Hill...
...Sucks. 1.4 miles of near-vertical climb. Legs churning ultra-low gears, our pilots never left their seats, never even took a break. That just goes to prove that they were too mentally unstable to be operating heavy machinery. Rolling Blackout achieved a terrifying top speed down Loleta Hill of 28 MPH. This year an instinct for self-preservation and improved braking and steering led to a tense but relatively safe speed of 20 MPH. The rear-facing drivers' faces were more focused than fearful, but the sculpture turned down the road toward camp intact.

Crab Park at Six
Christian, our "front-right" pilot, weilded a cell phone with perverse capabilities, involving Global Positioning Satellites and other wireless escapades. Using this, he was able to calculate on-the-fly our Estimated Time of Arrival based on current speed and distance. Again, we were cutting it extremely close to the Six o'clock cutoff. "6:06!" Christian would announce, inspiring the pilots to pedal faster. "5:58!" he would announce, inspiring the pilots to gloat and giggle and make pirate noises ("Aaarrr!!).

Eventually we arrived at about 6:07, but the judge with the stopwatch was evidently caught in some sort of localized time warp, awarding us with a 6:00 finish time.

Camp was set, and that night there was guitar playing and giant purple chickens and a few unexplained but deafening explosions. Then we woke up.

Day 3

Most of us were awakened by a sudden increase in tent temperature resulting from a fleeting moment of morning sun. The rest of us were awakened by those of us who awoke previously, using cruel and unusual methods best left unarticulated.

A rumor from Saturday evening about a postponed Sunday morning start time proved to be true: the 11:00 LeMans start was pushed back to 12PM. Several factors contributed to the postponement, not the least of which was the misplacement of a large quantity of cow manure onto Slippery, Slimey Slope. Humboldt County's Haz Mat team rendered the slope even slimier as they wielded their backhoes to achieve clean mud.

Question: why is cow manure a hazardous material? Steer manure is routinely used as fertilizer... what am I missing? If you know, please enlighten me.

There is nothing quite like two-hundred sleep-deprived, weathered and crazed pilots and pit crew members sprinting down the sand to leap onto forty preposterous contraptions in the rain. Except maybe the LeMans start of the Arcata to Ferndale Kinetic Sculpture Race.

Due to gross negligence on my part, several of our finest bribes bounced off of my bike and into the roadway to be crushed by oncoming monstrosities. Not wishing to be similarly crushed, I was unable to retrieve them, although I did collect a few parts for later re-assembly, and I managed to return a fallen tail-light to a passing apparatus.

The River
We had arranged for a vehicle to be parked at the entrance to the Eel River (the truck belongs to Robin, Photographer, videographer and Pit Crew Member Extraordinaire), and as the pit crew loaded bikes, the pilots removed the road wheels. It was decided to leave the paddle wheels off, since the water performance from Day 1 was less than stellar and the water was mostly shallow. Mostly, as it turns out, except for that part that's waist-deep.

While Robin shuttled her gas-burner around to the other side of the river via pavement, the pilots and remaining pit crew (consisting of myself and my brother-in-law and computer network guru, Rick) rolled into the river. At times, the sculpture was able to achieve enough traction on the silt-and-gravel riverbed to roll easily, at other times Rick and I were used as ballast ("Sit" crew) above the rear barrels to maintain contact with Terra Firma, and at other times as the sculpture was in full "float" mode and trying to drift upstream, we just plain pulled it. This was one of three decidedly "non-Ace" moments of the race this year, and was also a personal lesson in the many wonders of wet Levi's.

Slippery, Slimey, Stinky Slope
We allowed several sculptures to pass as we swapped a drive chain to allow for extra-super-ultra-low gears, once again achieving our trademark "almost-last" position. The sculpture behind us had a close call when one of their pit crew was stricken with hypothermia during the river crossing, but was soon brought up to temperature by fast-acting medical personnel, and attention turned once more to the pile of slop that awaited us.

It was decided that our fifty-foot rope would be cut in two, with each length tied to a front corner. That way the pit crew could pull from the less-muddy sides of the slope while the pilots pedalled and/or hopped off the machine to push. The plan mostly worked, except for the parts of the slope that were entirely muddy; where "less-muddy" was only a cruel joke. And we were painfully aware at times of the spots that were missed by the Haz-Mat team; we had referred to ourselves as "Pit Crew" during most of the race, and "Sit crew" during the river crossing, but now we were most decidedly a "Sh*t crew."

Our long tow ropes were too much for the excited and cheering crowd to resist, and many of them (along with at least one racer who wanted to borrow our rope when we were through with it) helped pull the sculpture up the hill. Another technical Ace violation, but it was welcome at this stage of the race, particularly since the alternative was a faceplant into the unmentionable abyss.

Last Stretch
After a bit of trouble with the road wheels (the wheel that was rescued with a toothbrush on Day 2 wasn't cooperating) and the recovery of our bikes (Go, Robin!), we set off on the road toward Ferndale. We passed a few sculptures on the way, wounded or just plain slow, and made one wrong turn (there were big orange cones in the road to block cars, but it apparently never occurred to anyone that the cones made the road look off-limits to everyone), but soon we were speeding into the relentlessly charming Victorian Village of Ferndale for the Glorious Finish.

Glorious Finish
We finished amid the customary PANDEMONIUM and fanfare, and as the machine was expertly parrallel parked, were greeted by our support team and bombarded with the familiar questions from onlookers ("Who steers?", "Which way is forward?" , "What are you, a moron?").

After grabbing a bit of Glory on the announcer's stage and a bit of edible nirvana from local chow merchants, the ConunDRUM team was on the verge of tipping over from exhaustion. Those of us with tiny, over-stimulated kids (Me and my Brave and Misguided wife Dawn who had all weekend been dragging around Matthew age 5, Dylan age 3, and Mikala age 20 months; Rick and his Brave and Misguided wife Gayla who had been wrestling with Adam age 3 and Elliot age 20 months all weekend) headed North and South (respectively). But the remaining ConunDRUMmers... remained. For the Awards Banquet, that is.

And The Winner Is...
See Humguide for the complete 2002 race results. I don't have any first-hand information from the award ceremony, but I did recieve a few choice reports.

"Ace" status (see the rules) was erroneously awarded to ConunDRUM. But while onstage, our Illustrious Chief Engineer and Mad Scientist Howdy Goudey, Perrenial Purist, reportedly returned his award, saying something akin to "I'll be happy to accept this, when I earn it."

A Man of Honor, or an Elitist Bastard? You be the judge, but I'm going with the former. I feel privileged to have been a part of the idiocy this year, and I eagerly await next year's foolishness.


Pre-Pain Pilots
Our Illustrious Pilots, at the blissful period between the end of the race and the onset of the pain. L to R: John, Howdy, Christian, Steve.

Conglomeration of ConunDRUMs Cohorts at the Contests Completion
Conglomeration of ConunDRUM's Cohorts at the Contest's Completion.

Culinary Magician Linda Goudey with...Chickens!!!!

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