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Escape From Berkeley: An alternative-powered fuels race to Vegas

Over July 4 weekend, the people who brought you the Power Tool Drag Races will put on a race of alternatively powered vehicles from Berkeley to Las Vegas.

Escape from Berkeley is a race planned for the July 4 weekend that will task contestants with getting an alternatively powered vehicle from Berkeley, Calif., to Las Vegas. Escape from Berkeley

Update July 19, 2008: Escape from Berkeley is now scheduled for Oct. 10-13, 2008.

Now this is something that I wish I could see.

Over the coming Fourth of July weekend, the folks who organize the Power Tool Drag Races will be putting on an entirely new kind of competition: Escape from Berkeley (by any non-petroleum means necessary), a race of alternatively powered vehicles from the liberal Bay Area town to Sin City.

"This 4th of July weekend, NASA scientists and junkyard fabricators once again square off in the perennial battle of engineering prowess and creative excess, this time with bragging rights for saving-the-world somewhat hanging in the balance," wrote Escape from Berkeley organizer Jim Mason in an e-mail announcing the new race. "Where DARPA had the Grand Challenge, the rednecks the Cannonball Run, the truckers a Convoy, and the hippies a bunch of WVO buses broken down on the side of the road, now the collected geek tribes propose to start their 'engines' on something other than a petroleum-based fuel, and cause their varied schemes for land-based transport to not be in Berkeley, and somehow, by some means, show up in Las Vegas three days later, using only fuels/power/motive force scavenged 'for free' along the route."

Mason, an artist perhaps best known for his many large-scale Burning Man installations and as the spiritual guiding force behind Berkeley's Shipyard artists' collective, wrote in his announcement that race contestants will be able to use any non-petroleum fuel they can think of, with "extra points" awarded for wit and style.

"Everything is permitted (just as long as your power is not from any petroleum base, or currently sold as a motor fuel, and your acquisition of 'it' does not require money)," Mason explained. "A small bump start of 10kwh stored on board (about one gallon of typical liquid fuels) will be allowed to get you going. Otherwise, the full field of power generation and conversion is open for your pleasurable scavenging and creative hacking: biomass gasifiers, fast starch anaerobic digesters, on-board sugar stills, solar, steam, pneumatic, creek side hydro and lots of batteries, Tesla free energy vortexes, cold fusion, humans, hamsters, etc., etc., etc."

As with many Mason-organized projects, whether the race actually comes off as planned is something that likely won't be known until the last minute. But he is ambitiously pushing an alternative-powered vehicles agenda these days, so I wouldn't put it past him to make this event a big success--and put a spotlight on the fact that these kinds of vehicles can exist, can move at speed, and can help begin to change the world.