Colorful traditions rolls on in Humboldt County on Memorial Day

The Associated Press
Tuesday May 28, 2002

ARCATA — Eric Striedieck’s team was making good time in the race when disaster struck — the 10-foot, human-powered sculpture they were piloting over Humboldt Bay sank, and they were overtaken by a 14-foot iguana. 

A bizarre, recurring bad dream? No, it’s the Kinetic Sculpture Race, Humboldt County’s wacky 34-year-old tradition of racing people-powered art. 

Racers in this raucous three-day, 38-mile event take months to design and craft their vehicles — most of which resemble pontoons strapped to a bicycle, topped with a papier-mache mascot. The creations must survive highway driving, sand dunes, mud flats and two water crossings — the ultimate challenge for many of the artistic contraptions. 

If they don’t make it, racers always can try for the next-best prize: best bribe. 

Striedieck’s team, the Bikin’ Fools, a group of mountain-biking friends from Calistoga, returned this Memorial Day weekend — one of 43 entries in the race, which begins in Arcata and ends in Ferndale, nearly 300 miles north of San Francisco. Racers were gearing up to complete the final leg Monday. 

It is, said Striedieck, a “grand exercise in serious frivolity. It provides a great escape from the heaviness of the world otherwise.” 

The first Kinetic Sculpture Race was held in 1969, when Ferndale artist and gallery owner Hobart Brown challenged a handful of artists to build and race mobile sculptures. Since then, Brown’s creation has inspired 11 other races in California, Maryland, Oregon and as far away as Australia and Poland, and brings in about $2 million annually to Humboldt County. 

In late 2001, Brown turned the day-to-day operations over to a nonprofit organization, the Humboldt Kinetic Association. The “Glorious Founder” remains involved as a consultant.