Past Incarnations:
2002: Conundrum
2001: Rolling Blackout
2000: Barrel of Monkeys
1999: Cow-Trans

Official KSR page
The 35th Annual World Famous Arcata to Ferndale
Kinetic Sculpture Race

2003 PPPP People
Pilots Pit Crew
John Clyde
Howdy Goudey
Christian Kohler
Steve Marsh
Mike Craghead
Robin Mitchell
Rick Overmeer
2003 is here, and so is the current incarnation of Howdy Goudey's kinetic sculpture, The People Powered Popcorn Popper (Howdy originally wanted to actually produce popcorn on the machine - one plan involved components from a microwave oven - but we settled on using telekinesis to pop the popcorn... we'll let you know how that turns out). We try to avoid delving into the mind of Howdy, but for insight into the inspiration for his year's incarnation, go here.

The pilots rolled into town around 3:30 this morning. The sculpture was actually "done" after they pulled an all-nighter yesterday, but a project at work (I believe they're under contract for the U.S. military... some kind of apparatus that harnesses the destructive powers of chipmunks; it's all classified so don't tell anybody) kept them south of the Redwood Curtain until the Last Possible Minute.

In keeping with tradition, we arrived at the Plaza at the Last Possible Minute. While I was registering, the start whistle sounded, and our Ace flag and driver's medals were lost in the scramble. I'm pretty sure we can track them down at some point. And I'm pretty sure we're officially entered. Although we still haven't received a "number." So if anybody sees a race official who looks like they might have access to ace flags and/or driver medals and/or numbers, steer them our way.


The machine was in shockingly good condition, it's hasty purple paint job gleaming in the Arcata haze. After a brief pit stop (which the drivers assured me was voluntary - I've decided to believe them), the PPPP set off across the Arcata Bottoms, to the dismay of the cows, who seem just about fed up with all of this nonsense. Past years trials and tribulations forgotten, the machine cruised through the Bottoms, onto Samoa Blvd., and through various and sundry automobile & motor home graveyards to Manila, where the dunes begin and traditionally our machine breaks.

Not so this year. In fact, the machine's new gearing enabled it's pilots inch up the dunes at a steady crawl. The climb over the dunes to the beach went smoothly, the beach went smoothly, even the climb back up the dunes from the beach was actually a "climb" and not "the place where it broke."
Pedaling Pilot's Perspective
Pedaling Pilot's Perspective
Smoothing the sand for subsequent sculptures
Smoothing the sand for subsequent sculptures
From the successful entrance back into the dunes, it was a new race. Never had the machine been intact at this stage, never had our dune experience been anything other than a grueling push. A bit of wrestling with foliage was required as our very wide machine squeezed itself through a very narrow trail between the greenery, during which a good portion of our glue-gunned popcorn saw fit to separate from the sculpture and join the ecosystem. But after that minor aesthetic glitch, the machine was actually able to climb the stretch of sandy sadism that is the approach to Dead Man's Drop. No pushing! The Drop has always been a success story for this machine (the ONLY success story in 1999), and this year was no exception: an almost-controlled, smooth glide into the trees.

But then...
Enter the Mosquito:
Kinetic Mosquito, actual size
(Actual size)

This was the nastiest colony of parasites I've seen since [insert your own lawyer joke here]. They flew in formation, teaming up to draw large quantities of blood from their hapless victims. No humans were abducted by the parasitic vermin, but I believe a chihuahua is still missing and presumed dead.

When we finally reached the road, we were extremely lightheaded due to loss of blood. The pilots were suffering from hallucinations, only complicated by the fact that two of the three sculptures we met at the road were frogs, and one was an ant, ladybug & bee.

On the road again... road wheels re-attached, we started over the trio of bridges that lead from Samoa to Eureka. Down hill #1: 21.5 MPH. Hill #2: 20.5 MPH. Hill #3: 15 MPH (there's a 90 degree turn at the bottom, and some innocent bystanders).

Photographic evidence of arriving at the Old Town Eureka finish line at the Last Possible Minute:

[Picture will appear here: The PPPP with the old town clock showing 6:00PM exactly]

Day 1 Ace status: intact, for the first time. And I'm pretty sure we're officially entered.

We managed to get a number (the palindromic "141"), and turn in our insurance waivers promising not to hold the Race responsible for injury or death... For the Glory!!141!!!

We had seen several start times for day 2 posted in newspapers, websites and other sources, but the actual time for the entry into the bay turned out to be "8:30." Road wheels off, paddle wheels on, a big splash into the water, and (after a bunch of awkward ratcheting to drop their two outermost barrels into the water for added flotation) off they went. The water crossing consisted of over 2 miles worth of only partially effective paddling, as the craft was riding a bit low and the paddle wheels were providing more froth than propulsion. Luckily the tide was on our side, and the PPPP managed to crawl it's way to the designated exit point, an obscure boat ramp I didn't know existed, covered with Humboldt Bay Green Slime. The craft overshot the ramp a bit due to the conspiracy of wind and tide and pitiful paddles, but the pilots managed to battle their way back "upstream" and hit their target. From the boat ramp I heard lots of people shouting helpful things to the struggling sculptures like "pedal!!" No one was injured as a result of these comments, but I think a few folks may have deserved at least a minor wound.

The machine crawled up the ramp like a prehistoric amphibian coming to terms with it's poor adaptation to water, and seemed to sigh with relief at reaching land. As the land wheels were re-attached and food was being distributed, a guy carrying a square red zippered container fluttered down from the sky with a flourish of harps and bugles (actually he may have just walked, but my memory is clouded by his Great Deed), and offered our pilots a FREE PIZZA! Get yours (at a reasonable price) today from Big Louie's Pizza, 1604 4th Street, Eureka, Ca., 444-9681, they deliver. Concerned that pedaling through traffic while carrying a pizza box would be hazardous, I selflessly volunteered to assist the pilots in consuming said pizza (if anyone needs future assistance in such matters, please contact me, preferably during lunch hour).

What followed was the traverse through town toward 101, which included a segment of marshside trail leading to the Mall, free food for the racers near McDonald's (I'll spare you the description of a rather colorful encounter we had in the restroom of that establishment... did you see "Dumb and Dumber?"), and a death-defying right turn onto the highway. More than one sculpture (including ours) attempted to cross the freeway up an offramp out of habit from previous years, but were redirected by the Highway patrol ("Why does it take 5 Million sperm to fertilize one egg? Because only one of them has directions!"). There was a vague assurance of "extra points" for dropping off of the freeway at Fields Landing, waving to "the kids," and re-entering the freeway. During this maneuver we actually overtook Flatmo's eclectic and recycled "Surf and Turf," but were beaten in a dramatic battle with the "Kinetic Duo," (picture a Trans-Am sculpted from black trash bags) who were descending a hill as we were ascending an onramp. We continued to pass and be passed by this machine several times that day, calling to mind great struggles like Ahab vs. Moby Dick, and Captain Kirk vs. Khan.

Loleta Hill sucks.

Going down Loleta hill is always an adventure, and while there was not quite the near-death experiences of past years, the machine achieved some frightening swerves and a top speed of 24 MPH. And again unlike past years, our sculpture managed to arrive at Crab Park long before the Last Possible Minute.

Wedding Bells
Legal in all 50 states
Beach wildlife
Beach Wildlife...

Most of the post-race events are either classified as national security risks, being withheld pending notification of next of kin, or part of an ongoing investigation. What I can relate is that there was a wedding officiated by the Glorious Founder, and that we learned a new term from "Woody" (a fellow competitor braving the course with an inflatable air mattress and a bike with front wheel drive): "Ground Score," as in, "Once I found a CD player on the highway, that was a pretty good Ground Score."

This year there were many course changes, the most dramatic of which was the elimination of the perilous Slippery Slimy Slope and it's preceding water crossing(s), and it's replacement with a one-mile trip across the mouth of the Eel River, followed by a winding journey through a very muddy slough (as opposed to the very rare non-muddy variety). The racers were presented with two options for crossing the Eel, one was the "direct" route, and one longer route with more unknowns. Since the machine was doing so well on the road, there was much discussion about following the alternate route, but at last it was decided that the pilots would follow the pack. At least that way there were more people around in case they needed to be rescued, and while their prospects of crossing were a bit grim, at least they knew their fate, whereas the alternate route represented the possibility of unknown disaster.

All of this discussion placed the craft into the water at 9:30, one hour after the official start time. They had elected to install their paddle wheels to allow for more options, but ended up using their regular "boat" paddles instead, alternately straddling barrels or sitting sideways in their seats so that they could reach the water well enough to provide a little propulsion. Possessing neither the loyalty to swim after them nor the strength of character to watch supportively from the shore at Crab Park, I elected to bike around to meet them on the other side.

I passed a number of vehicles which were clearly piloted by individuals of higher intellect, as evidenced by the fact that they were staying the hell out of the water, taking the Less Glorious but Much Smarter route to Ferndale. I was able to periodically listen to KHUM's account of the race via a small FM radio, but I only caught snippets because reception is so spotty in Ferndale for the Ferndale-based radio station. Go figure. But what I gleaned was that lots of machines had made it through, and to onlookers, the PPPP was still a faint wobbling scribble on the horizon, less than halfway across the Eel. Clearly, sadly, I would be able to make it around long before they made it across.

By the time I managed to make my way through the pastures and down to the mouth of the slough, only three sculptures were still in the water: the PPPP, the one-man "Metal Mayhem," and the ingenious "Goonie Bird," a frantic jet-powered fowl, desparately flapping it's wings as it battled the current (as we waited and watched, we heard via radio that "Thunderbird" was about to enter the Eel, at around 11:15). As the Goonie Bird struggled into the slough, someone tossed the pilot a water bottle which fell into the water. A Glorious Spectator stepped up to the challenge and into the mud to deliver the bottle, and promptly slipped into neck-deep water. The bottle delivered, she climbed out of the slough to rousing applause by the assembled throng (all of whom now realized, "hey, that's pretty deep water"), secure in the knowledge that her karma mortgage was all paid up for the month.

The PPPP was now about a hundred yards from the slough, battling current and wind and riding lower than ever before (we assumed that the water-tight barrels were taking on water), and making very slow progress. Metal Mayhem, a single rider on a frankenstein's monster of bike parts and innertubes, managed to edge his way into the slough, struggling for every inch of progress against the now-receding tide (Word came through around then that Thunderbird was stranded in the middle of the Eel, and the plan was to leave the machine on a sandbank and evacuate the pilots by helicopter). The PPPP made it into the slough, but could barely move against the current. They were able to gain meager forward motion by pushing against alternate shores of the slough with their paddles, but with the tide receding at an alarming rate, things were getting nastier every minute. At last and with great difficulty they rounded a bend and got to a point where it was decided to take advantage of the allowed "lateral push," and with the help of (ahem, some of) the pit crew, they pulled the sculpture up onto a wide section of muddy shore to remove the useless paddle wheels and re-assess (as the crew of the Thunderbird was dramatically air-lifted to safety).

At this point, the "Ace checker" was feeling great pity for the machine and it's pilots (as well as a longing to join the party that had started in Ferndale HOURS ago; it was around 3:30 by now), and told us that "even if you push it all the way up the slough and get to Ferndale before 6:00, your Ace will still be intact." They were able to actually pedal through a bit of the mud on the shore, but then it just got too dang sticky. Then word came back via some of our purple-shirted supporters that "if they can push it up on the bank, they're still Ace." In retrospect, she may have meant "bed" or "shore" instead of "bank," because several folks seemed a bit disturbed by the next events of the day, but following what we understood to be Officially Endorsed Behavior, the machine was pushed out of the slough and onto the bank. The machine was able to pedal across the grass, and we were soon accompanied by a KHUM representative with tentacled eyeballs sprouting from his head (they're an equal-opportunity employer, you ought to see some of the mutants they have on the payroll!), who relayed our story (currently the Only Story Left) via cell phone to the radio audience. In another moment of retrospection, his choice of words as we crossed a small patch of driftwood may have been disturbing to his listeners: "...listen to the "popping sound this machine makes as it crushes the foliage..."

Note: There is apparently some worry that the race might "lose the slough" due to our activities, that the impact on the grass may have been severe. Please let me know if you hear anything about that and I'll pass it along. At any rate, be assured that we arrived at the road secure in the notion that we had followed the rules, and we regret any confusion or concern this may have caused. I do submit for posterity however: While we don't believe we have done any damage that won't be erased in a day or two, not many other machines following our route could make that claim, and any route through areas as time- and tide-dependant as a slough will always increase the likelihood of similar situations since there will always be sculptures which are very, very, very slow.

Back on the road, the weary pilots were able to achieve Breakneck Speeds of 3.5 MPH, whereas they had maintained a pretty steady 6 MPH during previous road sections of the race back when their legs and aromas were fresher. Secure in the knowledge that we were dead LAST (an un-awarded but highly sought-after position), we travelled the last leg of the race to the tune of KHUM playing our requested "PPPP" songs (since we were the Only Story Left), including "Power to the People," then a grating synth remix of "Hot Buttered Popcorn," and (because I hollered it into the tentacled ones's sunroof when he passed us) "Pop Music" (I apologize on behalf of the entire PPPP team for forcing KHUM's audience to listen to those last two songs).

We arrived in Ferndale at the Last Possible Minute (around 5:30), to the pity-induced applause of the local residents (who had not seen a sculpture pass for several hours), and the straggling remains of the Kinetic fanfare at the finish line, provided by true die-hard Kinetic Royalty, along with a few random nutcases. Apparently there was a problem in getting our finish time to the announcers which robbed Howdy of his Glorious Acceptance of his first Ace award, but while his mother nearly throttled a few frightened race officials, Howdy took a more philosophic view: He had refused two Ace awards in the past (once via email to correct an erroneous listing on the official KSR web site, and once on stage in 2002(I'll accept this ..."when I earn it..." to much applause), it seemed to him more poetic not to receive it when he finally felt he did earn it. In any case, we've been told he'll get his Ace award by mail, but I imagine that even if it never arrives (along with the pilot medals we never did get our mitts on), he'll be quite satisfied with this year's adventure, and plotting to complete next year's machine at the Last Possible Minute. Of course I'll be ready for the call to arms in 2004, but then I'm not one of the poor bastards who has to drive that thing.

Our past years: 2002, 2001, 2000, 1999
The official race page.

Graphics and Text by Mike Craghead
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