No event epitomizes Humboldt County like the Kinetic Grand Championship, where the quirky and clever come out for a good time Memorial Day weekend. It's a three-day, art sculpture/crazy contraption race that's a blast for both race participants and spectators.
Onlookers delight in the elaborate, human-powered sculptures that maneuver over a treacherous 50-mile course on land, water and sand. In previous years, fire-breathing dragons, mammoth aluminum sharks and a googly-eyed Extreme Makeover were some of the creations that dazzled crowds.
"I wouldn't be anywhere else Memorial weekend," said Jenette Kime, a.k.a. "Goddess Jen-O," who has been to nearly every race since its inception. She races and also helps with registrations, rules and more.
Participants peddle and paddle for awards but it's the "glory" from fellow teams and crowds that really motivates them.
The event originated in 1969 on Mother's Day in Ferndale. There, local artist Hobart Brown raced his functional art sculpture, the five-wheeled, red Pentacycle, against creations by fellow artist Jack Mays and nine others down Main Street, according to Robert Adams, Kinetic Museum Eureka docent.
Since then, the event has morphed into a contagiously wacky and wonderful attraction becoming one of the largest events in the county. This year marks the 49th race.
"It's a crazy event and it's an opportunity for adults to play and have fun," Goddess Jen-O said. "That's why it is catching on outside this community."
There are Kinetic races from coast-to-coast such as in Corvallis, Oregon; Port Townsend, Washington; and Baltimore, Maryland.
But, as local racer June Moxon said with sass, "Humboldt has the Grand Championship. This is the original. It's the toughest, too."
Moxon is a veteran racer with 35 years under her belt. In 2016, her team's two-seater Kinetic Kootie clocked in with their fastest ever race and took third place in the art award. Kinetic Kootie has a red, dragon-like head, claws and a body like a chicken ... or a horse (it's been both in prior sculpture incarnations). Kinetic Kootie will be back in 2017 but with a lot more bling.
"I'm all about the puppetry," Moxon said. "She sprays, flies, her tail goes up and down, eyes blink, ears move and head looks around."
Moxon and her partner Ken Beidleman are true Kinetic ambassadors who thrive on all-things Kinetic. Their Arcata warehouse, the Kinetic Lab, is a well-known outpost where several racers build and store their prized sculptures. Though the two are partners in life, they have separate teams.
Beidleman is the go-to person for tips on building a solid sculpture. He's built 12 creations over the years and many are still running or being raced by other teams.
For the last 15 years he's used the same four-seater, all-wheel base frame for his Kinetic sculptures. It has 588 gear possibilities. He estimates he's put at least 2,500 hours building his machines and spent around $13,000. For the 2017 race, he is building a new body — "The Samurai," which will be built out of natural bamboo.
Regarding the race route, Beidleman said, "It's fun but it's hard. Most don't realize how hard it is."
He dreads the water portion of the route. "The 2.2 miles on Humboldt Bay can be treacherous." One year he almost capsized with his 30-foot shark. His favorite part of the route, however, is Dead Man's Drop, a wickedly steep downhill on the dunes.
"People come to watch and I hit it fast on purpose," Beidleman says. "I go like hell down it. It's a thrill."
For racers, the Kinetic Grand Championship is a grueling three days of sport and fun. For everyone else, it's a must-see.
Arcata Plaza Kick Off - 10 am – Noon
Get there early for pre-race activities and to view (usually more than 50) sculptures up close. It's a fantastic family-friendly show of peacocks fanning their feathers. And there will be plenty of feathers, plus shiny objects, pyrotechnics and grand entourages providing entertainment. When the siren blows around noon, the official race begins. Racers circle the plaza then ride west toward the Sand Dunes.
Manila Dunes Community Center - Noon - 3 pm
Watch racers prep their rides for sand after this pit stop. Parking is limited so bicycling is encouraged. Drivers take U.S. Highway 101 to Eureka over the Samoa Bridge and then take a right at State Route 255.
Dead Man's Drop - 1 pm until the last team passes
This is a primo spectator spot for the race. The steep drop off (100 feet by several racers' estimates) in the Samoa Dunes causes plenty of havoc. "There you can see sculptures shoot down at rocket speed," says Beidleman. "Two to three always roll." Park along State Route 255 near the Samoa Cookhouse, turn off and trek to the dunes. Mosquitos can be fierce, so bug spray is a must. Also bring water and sunscreen.
Halvorsen Park Finish Line Party - 1 pm until dark
Spectators partake in music, food and a beer garden while watching Kinetic racers cross the Day 1 finish line. Racers camp overnight. Parking available near Waterfront Drive
Humboldt Bay Public Marina (Wharfinger Building) - 10:01 am
Watch racers enter the water and compete for the "Biggest Splash" and "Water Flipper" awards. There are also good viewing opps along the waterfront to the Adorni Center. Racers float, peddle, paddle and hope their sculptures stay afloat before they exit the water near Samoa Bridge. Park near the Wharfinger Building..
Loleta Hill - 1:30 pm to 7:07 pm
The last chance of Day 2 to see Kinetic racers on the course, is their brutal climb up Loleta Hill (Hookton Hill). Racers call it the "Melvin Mile," named after the fast Grand Championship winning Melvin team, said Jen-O. To get there, take the Hookton Road exit off U.S. Highway 101. Park on the east side of the road opposite racers. Cheer them on but please don't drive down Cannibal Island Road.
Eel River Crossing at Fernbridge - TBA
Drive across the bridge, park on the west side of the river on the sloped part of State Route 211 and walk to where the racers cross the water.
Finish Line Main Street Ferndale - 1 pm to 4:37 pm
Join the crowd welcoming Kinetic teams as they cross the final finish line. It's a Kinetic party with food and festivity and up-close views of sculptures and participants. Getting there: Steer clear of racers when sharing the road. Main Street is blocked off, so park on nearby blocks.
Find the full Spectator Guide with up-to-date locations and turn-by-turn directions online at kineticgrand-championship.com.
More Kinetic Race History:
The Kinetic Lab, 820 N St., Arcata. Check out teams building their masterpiece rides and see a warehouse packed to the rafters with Kinetic sculptures. Open Mondays from March through May. The Lab also turns into a haunted house in October. www.kineticsculpturelab.com.
Kinetic Universe Museum Eureka, 518 A St., Eureka. Historical photos line the walls and it houses some select Kinetic sculptures including Brown's original Pentacyle. Open Friday through Sunday, 2:13 – 6:32 pm and by appointment. www.kineticgrandchampionship.com.