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Friday, January 22, 2010

What is a BUGGY?

I feel the need to clear something up for everyone...

This is not a buggy:


This is a buggy (Haraka):

For those of you who are asking, "What in the world is that?" I will explain...

Sweepstakes (a.k.a. Buggy racing) is a Spring Carnival tradition at Carnegie Mellon. Every year, short girls are shoved into these carbon fiber, torpedo shaped, buggies to practice for the races in April. On the weekends we wake up at 4 am to be ready for free roll practice the minute the sun comes up. During spring semester we head out to the hills at 2 am to practice pushing, in sub-freezing temperatures.

It sounds pretty crazy, which it is, but that is only the beginning of the insanity of it.

Seriously, I am inside of this:

The race starts from a dead stop at the bottom of Hill 1. The first pusher gets the buggy going and pushes off to the Hill 2 pusher. Hill 2 is short and quick. The Hill 2 pusher uses a load of fast twitch muscle fibers to shove the buggy off for the free roll.

(I'm inside the green buggy in the second picture of this group)

At this point the driver (that's me) is racing down the road, past Phipps Conservatory, barreling towards the chute, mere inches off the ground.

The rush you feel while driving a buggy is a bit hard to explain. You fly down the road at 30 mph, on your belly, at eye level with the squirrels. Yes, I actually hit one once. It is better to hit the squirrel and turn to avoid it, that might kill the driver.

I'm only half joking when I write that. Buggy is not quite the safest thing. Drivers are required to wear a safety harness, a bike helmet, safety goggles, and gloves while they drive. The only day you drive against people is race day, it's too dangerous to do so all the time.

After passing Phipps Conservatory, a flagger from the driver's organization signals her to turn into the chute. At the fastest part of the course, a sharp right turn is made to flick you into the chute, past the tunnel of hay bale lined sidewalk, past the Mech-E building, past the fire hydrant plug, up to Hill 3.

The hay bales (see left side of picture above) are there to protect drivers who loose control in the chute. They are necessary! I was hit by another buggy my junior year and flew into the hay bales sideways. During my last race senior year, a few spokes broke in my rear wheel and I fish-tailed into the hay bales head first. I'm pretty sure the outcome would have been bleak had it not been for all the protection.

As the buggy slows the race is completed with pushers for Hill 3, Hill 4 and Hill 5. At this point the driver just needs to keep the buggy straight (with the sun rising in her face) and avoid the pot holes that riddle the back side of the course.

Ten years after graduating, I can still visualize the entire buggy course in my head. I know where the paint stripes begin and end, the slant of the road, and the location of the potholes. I know the angle I had to turn my steering system to make it through the chute. I can recognize the smell of the grease we used and remember how to make my buggy pass a drop test when it's breaks were acting up.

For that reason, I can not call a baby stroller a buggy. They are not the same. Almost all babies in developed nations will ride in a stroller, there are very few of us who have ever raced a buggy.

Thankfully, Leah and her stroller do not weigh nearly as much as I did in a buggy. If that were the case it would be nearly impossible to run 5 miles with her. I guess I should remind myself of this every time I am frustrated about my aching hamstrings.