Watching an incongruous procession of adults hunched over their handlebars, pedaling furiously down the street, I develop a theory about why Americans love crazy contests. It's because contests are great equalizers. Whether you're riding a trike in Marysville, getting squishy at the annual Grape Stomping Contest in Morrow, Ohio, or playing snowshoe softball in Priest Lake, Idaho, equality is the name of the game. All comers, regardless of athletic ability, look equally ridiculous. It's just a theory, but I get to test it when John finishes his lap and passes me the trike.
Crossing the starting line, I roar down the street well ahead of my opponent. But I've forgotten that trikes can't coast. When I lift my feet to go through the turn, the pedals spin frantically. By the time I regain control, I'm racing neck and neck, Ben-Hur-style. Seconds later, I cross the finish line two lengths behind. But although I've blown my relay leg, A-T Northwest still manages to earn a spot in Friday's Sprint Class. We'll compete with the perennial favorites, Golden Corral Restaurant and the Marysville Fire Department, brawny men who ride trikes while wearing fire helmets.
After the relays come the solo trials. Here I prove myself equally inept. My time, 35 seconds, earns me a plaque reading "Slowest Time Grand Prix." The winning speed, a lightning 27 seconds, is recorded by Brett Edwards, who is vying for his eighth straight title. Brett's family has been racing for two generations. "It's not fair," I whine.
No one remembers which local clown dreamed up Marysville's trike races. Sometime in the 1970s, a bunch of the regulars who frequented the saloons along State Avenue began racing kid-size trikes around obstacles, stopping to down a beer at each bar. Over the years, the races got bigger and crazier. More obstacles were added. Helmets became mandatory and beer stops were eliminated. Brett Edwards' uncle raced in those pioneering meets, and Brett, a 26-year-old auto machinist, caught the fever. Seven years ago, he built a trike at a cost of $1,500. It has mountain-bike suspension, an aluminum frame and a low, sleek design for cornering. Like any good hot rod, it's painted candy apple red and white. "Cherry trike," I tell Brett. "But what are these mats above the axle for?"
"To wipe your feet."
"What could get on your feet?"
Late Friday afternoon, volunteers close off Marysville's downtown and begin installing the obstacle course. They set up a wooden teeter-totter, a trough filled with water, and a slalom of orange traffic cones. They lay out a plastic sheet, then squirt it with dish soap to make it slippery. These and other inconveniences are but a prelude to the most notorious obstacle of all: a 15-foot-long pit filled with ice water thickened by 72 boxes of strawberry Jell-O. I am informed that all riders are required to park their trikes and dive through this soupy slew.
So I borrow some swimming trunks and watch Marysville's trikers hit the street. Some skid on the soap. A few take corners on two wheels. And all dive headfirst into the Jell-O pit. Gasping for air, each emerges, sticky, soaked, shivering. Trailing streams of pink gunk, they pass their trikes to the next suckers. And before I know it, that next sucker is me.
With a vroomm! in my head, I hit the course. I ride uuuppp the teeter-totter, then downnnn. After I negotiate the slalom, a hose soaks me in a second. Out of breath, I park my trike, dive through a hanging tire and head on. I steer cautiously across the soapy vinyl, then dismount to shoot a free throw. I make it on the second try!