I was there, where were you?

I suppose that trying to meet up with people I'd never met before at the event was a bad idea, but it seemed perfectly reasonable at the time. Although I never actually met or was recognized by any noders, I surely bumped into one or more of them, or at least was subject to an inspection by one of their dogs.

Baltimore's Korean War Memorial was deserted when I arrived there around 10:40 AM. Although cones were blocking off lanes of Boston Street to allow passage of the kinetinauts, those same cones had remained on Boston Street for several hours after a triathalon had wrought its havoc on the city's traffic the previous year. "Damn, I've missed everything", I thought.

I briefly considered going to the boat show up the street, but then I turned around and saw several walking chickens over by the Memorial itself. So this had to be the right place. I tried writing "NODERS" in sticks on a concrete curb but this turned out to be a place that the spectators would not visit.

Eventually a crowd gathered over by the park's boat ramp, waiting for the kinetinauts to arrive. It seemed there were almost as many dogs as people. I was sniffed and barked at while one of the chickens insisted I take a cardboard smile on a popsicle stick. All the while I wondered where the mysterious noder gathering was in the crowd. I probably creeped several people out looking at them in the vain hope of impossible recognition.

Before long, someone spotted something moving back up on the street. It was a sort of tandem bicycle with lowerable pontoons and a blue metal drum attatched to the back. These guys were obviousliy in it more for the engineering challenge than artistic expression; they were always the first contestant at every stage of the race I saw. After fifteen minutes, several other entrants had gathered, waiting to enter the Harbor. Eventually, this first bunch was allowed into the water.

  • The leaders were less suited the water than they were to land. Bicycle spokes do not provide suffucient motive power in water, even Baltimore Harbor, and the difference in strength between the cyclists made the craft spin in the water. Eventually they had to pull out their paddles and row around the end of hte wpier and back the hard way. Come to think about it, pretty muich everyone had to resort to paddles.
  • Some Sort of Space-themed thing was next, pontoons and bicycles with a tall boom sporting several spherical Sputniks. Driving was a youngihs man with his fsix-year-old-or-so son.
  • After them came the Philadelphia Dumspter Divers, in a contraption of two wooden pontoons with three bicycles attatched.
  • An entry from Towson State University, sporting a large dragonfly made from a cut-up tent.
  • The Justice Team, a pontoon/bicycle combination driven by ex-Marines, and sporting several American flags, obviously well suited to amphibious activity.
  • "Fifi", a 12-foot pink poodle, a grizzled veteran of previous races.
  • I nearly missed the Stinky Cheese mobile; it was coming out of the water by the time I saw it.

At this point, I heard someone nearby wnder aloud whether someone was going to show up or not. Perhaps this was czeano, the impresario of the nodermeet? Alas, it was not to be. When I explained that I was trying to find people I'd nevert net, I received a curt "No I'm not waiting for anyone." Oh well. I walked across to the other side of the ramp and watched the other contestants:

  • The Hilbilly Ark from North Carolina, several wheelchairs bolted together with brightlyinflatable whiskey barrels for bouyancy. Colorful gewgaws were attatched everywhere. they had to compete for attention with the Baltimore Go-Getters, a marching drum corps that arrived on the scene then.
  • A guy toting a rickshaw carrying a radio-controlled paddlewheel robot that was probably an illegal entry. The rickshaw puller stayed on dry land as he attemtped to maneuver the robot around the end of the pier.
  • A wheeled frog made the only pass in the water, working its way around the struggling robot.
  • "Di-Vine", a bicycle-powered hot tub with a purple trellis canopy sporting bunches of grapes.

The whole venture resembled last year's final of Junkyard Wars. It was at this time that I was recognized by someone! Well, not quite. A conversation with a fairly nice-looking woman (attending with her husband, unfortunately) led us to the astounding conclusion that she had been in the same Catholic grade school class as my brother, nearly 20 years ago. One more entry attempted the water:

  • Oakland Mills High School's entry, a large scorpion on wheels. I remarked aloud that it might not have enough bouyancy but it floated well enough.
  • A large cycling cow on wheels brought up the rear but dared not enter the water. Back up by the street, afraid to even negotiate the embankment, was a sort of wheeled haystack which I saw in several places, but never in motion.

I had enough time invested in the venture to go up to Patterson Park to watch. Meanwhile, I made a detour to print off a copy of my homenode picture, and glue that to the back of my carboard smile. Back up to the park, where I miraculously found a parking spot on Eastern Avenue.

Trouble is, Patterson Park is fairly big, and I had parked near two ongoing Little League games, and nowhere near any kinetic sculpture race. A pvavilion on a hill loked promising, and I headed of fin that direction. About halfway there, I heard screams and cheers coming from across the park. By the time I reached the pavilion (which was clearly a waypoint in the race, as the walking chickens were there, I realized that all of the action was down by the canopy covering the park's ice rink.

After a two-hundred-yard odwnhill walk I was nearing the rink when I heard someone calling "GORGONZOLA! GORGONZOLA!"1 from behind me (Not "Gorgonzola, mind you, my real first name. Still...) A small child ran past and I realized that some sadistic parent had also inflicted the name "Gorgonzola" on their child, who was therefore naturally rebellious and difficult to control. Nothing I could do about that; on to the rink it was.

I went in the gate towards the rink, and was almost at rinkside (I got a brief glance of frogs and poodles gliding around the ice) when chickens began to shoo everyone away from the door, as the kinetinauts had finished that leg of the race and were coming out! At risk of being crushed by the Hillbilly Ark, I managed to find a niche to hide in beside the Justice Team's craft, stowed outside (they must have considered cyciling around and ice rink un-American; who knows?).

When the headless poodle emerged from the rink entrance, I was frightened enough to hightail it back up the hill to the pavilion, where there were refreshments for sale. This part of the course featured a pile of sand that each kinetinaut had to negotiate. The simple, pontoon on wheels was the first to attempt it. Just like everyone, they tried to gather enough momentum to carry them all the way across the sand. Like everyone else (I think; see below), they failed, getting stuck about halfway through and having to push themselves out. At this point I was crowded out from any view of the sand pit. So I headed a little further up the hill towards the Patterson Mansion to see fif altutide would help. This was to no avail, the crowd was too thick. The only view I got of the Marines hittingthe beaches was the tops of their flags. At this point, there was a group onthe hill that was a good candidate for the missing noders. After my first unsuccessful experience. No-one recognized the big J'FERMENTE sticking out of my pocket.

Then came the highlight (at least for me) of the entire event: The mud pit. Not wanting to be crowded out this time, I stationed myself right at the entrance to the mud pit created especially for the race in the semicircular driveway behind the mansion. The Mud Crew had made a large expanse of rather convincing mud: The kinetinauts were sure to have a messy experience.

One by one, the contestants wound their way up the hill to the mud pit. Again, getting a good running start was the most common strategy. It worked for some, like the Frog and Fifi (now sporting a dainty plastic raincoat), but not for others: Sadly, the Hillbilly Ark nearly disintegrated while trying to plow its way through the mud. Lost gewgaws were everywhere, but more vitally, the craft lost a wheel, probably a fatal blow to them. An exception to this strategy was the rickshaw puller, who simply plodded through the mess dragging his robot behind him. Also, the Scorpions tried to simply roll their way through on their wider tires, but got caught against the tarp.

Between attempts at the mud pit, the Mud Crew were busy entertaining us all. Supposedly there to smooth the mud over, they spend more time making it lumpier. One fellow belly-flopped into the must so many times it became tiresome. Things became more entertaining, however, when he lost one of his Birkenstocks in the mud somewhere, delaying the race for a search. The Mud Crew also indulged in several mud fights. This was fine for them, as they had Tyvek suits to protect them. Several mud missles went awry and hit spectators, including yours truly (My homenode picture will show evidence of this briefly).

At this point, the race was supposed to move on to the Museum of Industry for another water segment, but I had run out of time, and also despaired of being spotted by the gathered noders. Someone else willahve to describe the rest of the race to you.

I hope y'all had fun. It was certainly interesting for me.

Update: You can see my left shoulder in Brian Feldman's Image 0309.