By Julie Baughman, email@example.com
12:45 PM EDT, May 1, 2013
Two teams from the Arbutus area are preparing for Saturday's 15th annual Kinetic Sculpture Race hosted by the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore.
The race on May 4 challenges participants to engineer and construct a human-powered machine capable of traversing land, water, sand and mud.
"It's awesome really," said Arbutus resident Michelle Macurak. "You get to build something with your friends and then you get to watch it either succeed or watch it fail miserably."
Macurak will be among the four pilots, or drivers, on the Loose Cannon sculpture. Her husband, TJ McLaughlin, will be riding along as part of the team's pit crew.
This is their fifth year involved in the race, and they will be riding with the same sculpture as last year, which features 12-foot-tall wheels and weighs more than 1,000 pounds.
They began planning their sculpture, "brainstorming over some beer and pizza, scribbling drawings," McLaughlin said.
McLaughlin was a pilot last year but decided to ride as part of the pit crew this year instead of in the sculpture.
"This year, I decided to give up my seat. It was a pretty rough ride on me last year," he said.
Macurak said she respected his decision, noting the effort required to push a machine as large as theirs throughout the 15-mile course from the Visionary Arts Museum in Federal Hill to Canton and then Patterson Park and finally back to the museum.
"It's hard on your body to be in that position and pedal, especially if you're at a weird leg distance," Macurak said.
She said her training for a half marathon, three triathlons and the Baltimore Marathon in the fall is what will get her through the race.
"It's nice because it kind of replaces a normal training morning for me," Macurak said. "It'll keep my legs from getting tired. It's a long day to just be out in the water, climbing hills. It's a little bit of an endurance (test)."
The couple are looking forward to experiencing another race day, where they will be outfitted in Evil Knievel jumpsuits and riding alongside their team's other two sculptures, Son of a Gun and Mini Gun.
"It's a pretty large team," Macurak said of their nearly 20-person crew.
"The atmosphere of race day, going in the water, being in the stands, it's just an amazing event to be involved in," Macurak said.
"There's a lot of camaraderie," McLaughlin said. "I don't think anyone takes themselves too seriously."
Arbutus resident Phillip Smith and Catonsville resident Melissa Koerner are teaming up for the third year in a row in hopes of piloting their sculpture straight to the top.
They are looking to repeat as winners of the Ace Award, which means they will have to make it through every obstacle without receiving any help pushing, pulling or moving their sculpture in any way other than with their pedals.
Their reverse-trike style sculpture, "Greendustrial Revolution," weighs 750 pounds with the two of them inside and features large wheels made from drain pipe material.
"Almost everything on here is salvaged from trash," Smith said. "Most of it found on the side of the road."
"It's primarily all recycled material, kind of going with our theme of reducing, reusing and reclaiming," Koerner said.
Smith explained that their sculpture represents a machine born from the earth that is on a mission to take back the green space of the world with the giant, rotating saw located on top of the cab where the two will sit.
"You have to do a write-up to enter the race," Smith said. "Our write-up was that after 250 years of industrialization, the earth gives rise to Greendustrial Revolution, which is this thing. And the idea is that its saw can remove concrete, asphalt and impervious surface and sort of reclaim it back into green space."
Koerner said it was a total coincidence that their green theme happened to coincide with this year's overall green theme of the race.
Their sculpture uses the same basic frame as their Amish buggy sculpture from the previous two years and Koerner said they have been testing the new trike design extensively.
"We stay local," she said. "From here, we just ride up to UMBC (University of Maryland Baltimore County), there's a couple of good hills that we can practice on."
Though they will be the only two pilots on their sculpture, they said a number of their friends will ride along with them in addition to their official pit crew, in which one pit crew member is officially required for each pilot.
Joseph Smith, Phillip Smith's father who did much of the welding and fabrication for their sculpture, will also ride along with them in the race.
Koerner and Smith agreed that the best way to train for the physically grueling race is to test the machine as often as possible.
"You can ride a bike, but it's not really the same at all," Smith said.
"Even if you're a really good bike rider, your legs aren't used to pushing hundreds and hundreds of pounds," he said.
"We're both pretty active," Koerner said. "You can't really train to pedal a 750-pound contraption."