Baltimore Kinetic Sculpture Race 2009

04May09

Patterson Park, Baltimore, MD

On Saturday, May 2, 2009 the annual Kinetic Sculpture Race was held in Baltimore, MD. Racers build their own vehicles out of whatever materials they want. According to the website “Kinetic Sculptures are amphibious, human powered works of art custom built for the race.” The sculptures must be able to go in water, through sand and mud, uphill, and all over the city in order to win the race.
This was the first time I’d ever gone to see the race and it was amazingly fun. I can’t believe I’ve never gone before.  Since it was raining in the morning I got a late start and didn’t get to Baltimore until around 12:45pm during the middle of the water leg of the race. I drove to Canton and while driving down Boston St I started seeing people in crazy outfits and a couple of the sculptures. Realizing that the amphibious activity had already taken place (big bummer) I decided to try and find my way up to Patterson Park even though I had nothing more than a vague idea that it was north of my location at that moment. (I’ll admit that even though I was born and raised in MD I have spent very little time in Baltimore outside of Camden Yards and the Inner Harbor. Yes, I know how embarrassingly lame that sounds and is, you don’t need to tell me. I had previously been to Canton twice so I think that helped.) Through my awesome power of dead reckoning I managed to find the park before most of the sculptures arrived.
Aside from the amphibious exercise the obstacle course was what I was most anxious to see. After waiting around for 30 minutes or so they began the run through the sand. Those sculptures that relied on bicycles, or some variation thereof, tended to have a lot of difficulty getting through the sand. For anyone who’s ever ridden a bike on the beach you know how challenging it can be. Imagine having not just yourself but chairs, towels, umbrellas, coolers, and anything else you’d take to the beach on the bike with you – that’s about what the racers were dealing with. The more people involved in the pedaling the easier it seemed to be although that was not always the case.
One thing became clear the longer I was there and that was that there were two crowd favorites – the P.L.A.T.Y.P.U.S. and Fifi! P.L.A.T.Y.P.U.S. was easily the largest sculpture there, I believe around 26ft long and probably 15ft high (?), I’m not 100% on dimensions. 8 – 9 guys were involved in the pedaling and instead of bike tires (like they could support the weight of that thing, ha!) it had car tires and the base looked like it was the actual chassis of a car. With hundreds of people crowded around the sand pit officials started yelling at us to all move back. We realized it was time for P.L.A.T.Y.P.U.S. to take their run at the sand. They had somehow managed to back it up a slight incline in the path and with everyone on board pedaling it came flying down the hill at break-neck speed and blew right through the sand like it wasn’t even there. The roar from the crowd was amazing, everyone was jumping up and down screaming, myself included. Fifi’s run through the sand wasn’t quite as amazing but it made it through pretty easily and every little girl in the park was shrieking their approval and excitement.
After the sand came the mud. This was clearly what everyone had come to see as the crowd had increased exponentially since the sculptures had arrived in the park. According to some people who had attended previous races they had changed things up this year – instead of being on flat ground the mud was now on a slope and involved more bumps that before. Racers would have to pedal uphill before even reaching the mud and continue uphill all the way through it. If they though the sand was hard they were in for a rude awakening with the mud. As was the case with the sand racers with bike tires had a much tougher go. A 15 yr old girl on a bike contraption that resembled a tank took somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 minutes to get through it. Amazingly enough she actually did it and received probably the loudest cheers of the day. Her classmate also had difficulty but managed to get through in a shorter amount of time. Again P.L.A.T.Y.P.U.S. had very little trouble and Fifi managed to make it through unscathed which made the shrieking girls very happy.

All around it was a very fun day. I would love to actually participate next year because it looked like even more fun to be involved. Anyone want to start a team and get building?

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