Echidna Media Organization project S.N.A.L. (emo_snal) wrote,
Echidna Media Organization project S.N.A.L.

Kinetic Sculpture Race

Yesterday -- Amid a frantic turning of gears and whirling of chains, I watch the water quickly approaching. The vehicle I'm riding is mostly made of metal struts, through which its gear and chain innards can clearly be seen. It lumbers eagerly down a steep boat ramp towards the water of Ventura marina. I keep one hand on the break lever and the other on the steering handle as I hope we float.

   We hit the water with a splash and are making a churned up wake immediately as we set off to pass our competitors.
   The event is the Ventura Kinetic Sculpture Race. At the time we hit the water, I'd logged about a minute and a half piloting the vehicle I was on.
   It all began last Thursday, when I was informed my uncle, likeabikemike, who often competes in such things, had experienced an injury and was in need of vehicle pilots. No twisting of my arm was necessary, though I first was sure to ask if his injury happened to come from THIS vehicle (no, it was a collision on one of those normal bicycles).
   So this Saturday morning I found myself among the "kinetic scultpture" vehicles. Basically it is a competition to create a vehicle that is both a work of art, an interesting piece of engineering, and a human-powered vehicle that can successfully cross a mile and a half of water, climb out onto the beach, cross a fair distance of beach, compete in a figure-eight racetrack on the parking lot, and finally, most treacherous of all, cross about 100 yards of mud.
   One of the most eye-catching of the vehicles was one that looked like a zeppelin with wheels. It had four seats in it and my mother (furzicle) was recruited to be part of its crew while we were there. The vehicle my uncle had designed and built was called "Visualize Whirled Peas" and looked kind of like a giant green tricycle. It required a crew of three, and my associate Koriander (blackmavriq) got recruited as well. Joining Kori and I on the crew was a lass named Jerri who had actually done this before. Jerri's husband would be piloting a one-person vehicle called "the Bouncing Friendly Gnome" and had a gnome-hat I mightily envied (as well as the perfect matching gnome beard).

   In the water we quickly left the cheering crowd behind and almost immediately passed the vehicle that had preceded us in launching -- something that looked sort of like a giant bike with six huge rubber wheels, and was decorated to look kind of like a horse. I believe last year it tipped over in the water but had been modified for this year.
   Off to our right we saw the dirigible churning off in decidedly the wrong direction and were rather confused by this. Nevertheless, answers weren't to be had out on the water and we concentrated on passing more vehicles. We soon overtook a "vehicle" that was merely a large inflated hamster wheel in which the contestant was presumably to run. Unfortunately, at least on the water, that proved entirely ineffectual, and so they were sitting in the bottom of it rowing with a paddle.
   Next we passed an entry called "the Couch Potato," but it had already lost its couch. It was also a three wheeled tricycle design, with two pilots who appeared to be taking a smoke break as we passed them.
   Unfortunately we then lost our rudder and had to stop to pursue it. We fortunately could still steer pretty well since our three wheels were all on different axles and could be turned at different speeds. While we fished for rudder the couch potato and I believe even the giant hamster wheel passed us, and my grandfather (jqmold) sailed a circle around us in a small sailboat -- thus taking pictures such as this one:

   We were able to not only retrieve our rudder but reattach it (it actually goes on the very FRONT of the Whirled Peas), and proceed again. Now on the return leg of the harbour course we were able to re-pass the vehicles which had passed us and as we came near the start we beheld a strange sight -- the "Piggy Back Ride," which looked like two giant pigs caught in the grip of something more than platonic (it would go on to win the first place art prize), was being towed by a small electric "duffy" boat from the starting point directly to the beach exit. The pigs had apparently been able to do nothing more than wallow helplessly in the water and had now become... pulled pork!
   It turns out the dirigible had similarly skipped straight to the water exit, deciding not to compete in the water portion. I was disappointed because it appeared to do just fine for the part it did but I guess its creator was concerned about whether it could last the entire distance. Since it was the first to launch and skipped right to the exit, it got there far sooner than anyone expected it to -- I'm told stunned onlookers watched the metal zeppelin crawl out of the water and Elliot, its captain, hop out to eagerly greet them "GREETINGS EARTHLINGS!"

   We were able to crawl out of the water successfully but the moment we were entirely out of the water one of our drive chains broke. Fortunately the timer had already stopped for us and there'd be a short break so that everyone could start the next segment all together. In the interim my uncle hastily repaired the chain for us.

   Next up was a race on the sand down the beach. I believe we came out middle of the pack in this round, with the blimp, gnome, and maybe another (?) ahead of us, and my legs burning like fire from the fierce pedalling on the slight uphills of the beach.

   Third event was a figure-eight course in the parking lot, which would require sharp turns (which our vehicle was particularly good at), high speed over asphalt (again something we were pretty good at) and careful timing of the crossing of the center of the figure-eight not to collide with other vehicles. We were doing extremely well in this event until a chain became tangled again, and while we were untangling it several vehicles passed us. I had lost track of which of them we'd already lapped and we passed some of them again once we were back under way but it was certainly unfortunate and all I know for sure is that the gnome won that round too.

The final round was the dreaded mud-pit. This was a one-by-one course and we were the last to try. Before us the dirigible had had to be pulled out by a crowd hauling a rope, and I believe the pigs didn't do as well as one would hope in the mud either. Even the gnome almost tipped over in the mud. I'm told that in a prior year at another kinetic sculpture race one saucy team had listed a horse as a member of their pit crew and had it haul their vehicle from the mud. Non-human pit crew members have since been banned.

   We strapped "chains" to our wheels for the mud which consisted of pieces of PVC piping cut in half with the concave side pointed out, for maximum grip. We churned into the mud at full speed and tried to keep up the momentum. Mud went flying and we steadily moved across the mud pit. We might just make it without getting stuck at all!
   A few times my tire chains on the wheel next to me began to slip and I had to man-handle them back onto the wheel. And then, in about the middle of the mud pit, we sank to a halt . Kori and I tried to use our sailor skills, heaving on the pedals with a synchronized chant of "twoooo SIX, twoooo SIX..." but to no avail.
   The vehicle would not move an inch no matter how much we tried, how much we rocked it or heaved. But none of us was willing to give up after coming so far. Pray as one might for the almighty mud god to release us, one thing is certain -- the only way out is by continuing to heave on the pedals with your burning leg muscles and anything else you can think of.
   I wasn't sure we were allowed to disembark the vehicle but presently I saw Jerri hop off so I hopped as well, and sank to my ankles in mud. Fortunately my combat boots kept my feet entirely dry despite the thick muck. Together with our pit-crew members (my uncle Mike and Peter the gnome) we heaved on the vessel with might and main. With a reluctant tremble it began to budge, we continued to heave against it in the slithery footing of the mud and with a slurp it moved out of the rut it had made itself.
   We hopped back on and pedaled across the finish line to the applause of the crowd. If we had crossed with mud without incident the crowd surely would not have been so pleased. "They want you to get stuck" noted Mike, "but they also want to see you get out again, so this was perfect for them!"

   Though we didn't win every section place we were 2nd overall for time in the end (the gnome was first), but we were also 2nd in engineering and pretty high in all the other categories, so we were pleased to discover we had actually won the Grand Champion prize! Perhaps I should stop kinetic racing now while I'm an undefeated grand champion?

And we made the front page of the local paper besides.

I reserve the right to add more pictures to this as they become available. Right now all I have is the few the paper put up and the one from my grandfather.

Tags: kinetic sculpture race, lj idol entry
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