I read some local news and discovered that Eureka’s best known annual event, the Kinetic Grand Championship, was underway on our first weekend in town. Artists and enthusiasts create moving sculptures, kinetic works of art. Over three days, these pedal-powered artworks race along roadways, up and down sand dunes, and with a break to attach pontoons, roll into the water, crossing the finish line around noon on Memorial Day in the center of Ferndale.
In all, these moving sculptures cover miles of roadway and coastline, starting with a circuit of the plaza in Arcata, then going out to the coast, and south toward Eureka on the first day. Day two, competitors take swim in Humboldt Bay. We caught up at the boat launch in Eureka, where a few hundred people walked around the sculptures as they lined up.
One at a time, the sculptures rolled into the water. Crew members began pedaling furiously to make headway against the stiff wind. About 500 yards later, each vehicle lumbered out of the water and continued their land journey south. At the end of the second day, pilots and co-pilots were required to camp out at Crab Beach, about halfway between Eureka and Ferndale on the coast. (We did not camp.)
L-R: Vikings crossing the Eel R., crossing the sand bar, and at the finish line in Ferndale.
On the final day, we drove to watch contestants cross the Eel River. Each sculpture had to stop on the shore, attach their pontoons/flotation devices (they are required to carry these with them) and after a longish period of adjustment, enter the water, pedaling like crazy to go upstream to the exit point.
Not everyone opted for the full competition, and a number of pieces were brought to the Eel River crossing or the Humboldt County Fairgrounds where they resumed the land portion of the journey toward the finish line.
After watching about half the entrants cross the river, we drove into Ferndale, wedged ourselves into a parking space, and watched the festivities. There was a wildly energetic band playing, led by a woman in a majorette dress wielding an oversized spatula.
Spectators were dressed in everything from street clothes to wild and crazy getups. We sat down and had a bite to eat, considering it a contribution to local fund-raising rather than a culinary achievement. By the time we got up, the first finisher was rolling down the street, having made much better time than I would have thought from the river to Ferndale. A trickle of finishers began arriving, and after admiring some of our favorites, like the tuna can, the pink lamé camel, the Viking couple, and the bumblebees, we took our leave.
This is a wonderful festival, and though they had to miss a couple of years due to Covid, it seems to be back as wild as ever. It’s a Eureka moment in Eureka.
Want to see professionally produced photos of the race? Here’s a terrific article: