Giant Bugs! Bicycles! It's Race Time



It's not often you see grown men pedaling giant insects through the middle of Old Town, but this is one of them. The Kinetic Grand Championship (the Sculpture Race, to most people) has been rolling along, in one form or another, for over 40 years now (probably due to a lack of friction, yes, physics!). Every Memorial Day weekend, northern and southern Humboldt County are united over their love for person-propelled, papier mache machinery. This year promises to be as kinetically captivating and ridiculously rivalry-filled as always.

  • photo by bob doran

Think of the Grand Championship as an Iron Man triathlon but with bicycle lobsters and a DIY flare. Competitors will pedal, float and coast through a 42-mile track, starting at the Arcata Plaza and ending in the Victorian Village of Ferndale. In case you're unaware, 42 miles is a lot of miles. This is a distance most Humboldtians won't drive, let alone self-propel themselves through. There's a show in Eureka, and you live in Arcata? Too far. A multi-city, semi-manic, three-day parade?! Yes, please.

The race kicks off at the noon whistle on Saturday, May 25, from the Plaza in Arcata. From there, entrants trundle through the dunes in Manila to the infamous, 100-foot sand dune that is "Deadman's Drop." Have you ever bicycled through sand? In a giant dragon? This is no easy feat, but some of these racers have been perfecting their sand-pedaling skills for years, and the competition is fierce. The first day of racing ends at the Gazebo in Old Town Eureka, with bars conveniently located in all surrounding areas. After a long day of dragon-pedaling, everyone needs a cold drink.

Day two picks up right next to where day one left off. At 10 a.m., the sculptures take to the waters of Humboldt Bay at the Wharfinger Building, finally lending credence to the idea of a fish needing a bicycle. Once across the water, they cross the Samoa Bridge and head to Hookton Hill, where they pedal for about a mile up a fairly steep incline (7 percent; ask your engineer friends what that means. I know I did). The competitors end the day with a much deserved, private camp out.

Rested and relaxed from their night in tents and sleeping bags, the racers start the last leg at the mouth of the Eel River. Here, they cross through the mud and sludge of Morgan Slough, finally ending on dry and solid ground. After 1 p.m. the sculptures start to cross the finish line on Main Street in Ferndale. Once they've crossed the finish line, it's generally a minglefest right up to the Glorious Final Awards Dinner at the Ferndale Fireman's Hall.

Spectators are welcome to view and cheer along most of the race track, but extra caution must be taken to ensure the safety of the racers and the accompanying traffic. Basically, keep your spectating to the rural, backwoods part of the race, or the starts and finishes of each day. Avoid following the sculptures as they travel along major roadways. Safety first! And let the kinetic festivities begin!

Pick up the print edition of the Journal this week for a special Kinetic pull-out section.


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