Creativity, contraptions and costumes—those are the mantras for this wacky three-day Memorial Day weekend (last weekend in May) event on a wild stretch of the North Coast. Dubbed the 'triathalon of the art world', bewigged, decked-out contestants must manoeuvre their handmade, people-powered race vehicles from the university town of Arcata, near Eureka, roughly 30 miles south, to the idyllic hamlet of Ferndale. Everything in between—beaches, steep inclines, the waters of Humboldt Bay and even a river—must be traversed with a single vehicle of the contestants’ design.
It all brings out some decidedly bizarre entries of both the mechanical and flesh-and-bone variety; cheer them on from the side of the road, or bring bikes to join in on a stretch of scenic country road. Either way, participation is free.
Day 1 starts with a celebratory fanfare at Arcata Plaza; things quickly get serious though, in the most light-hearted way, as dunes and the notorious Dead Man’s Drop must be survived before crossing the bridge into Eureka. Day 2 pits contestants against the waves of Humboldt Bay in the first amphibious section of the race. On Day 3 contestants must contend with the Eel River and the streets of Ferndale, where finishers triumphantly roll into town, welcomed by cheering throngs. It’s all low-key, family-friendly and good fun.
While in the area, have a walk around the Ferndale’s Victorian Village, where you’ll find plenty of picturesque bed-and-breakfasts and historic inns to choose from if you decide to make a night of it. Check to see what’s on the calendar at The Old Steeple, a former Methodist church that hosts concerts and comedy, or the VI Restaurant & Tavern which has live music five nights a week.