Written by Mike Davies...|
The story behind this year's hell ride is pretty ... well, intense. Far more important than the twenty-or-so minutes of the actual event are the four days of its frenzied preparation. Here is the story of those four days...
Wagner's "Ride of the Valkyries" is a brilliant piece of classical music. Unfortunately, Caltech upperclassmen don't share with us freshmen that appreciation; if they ever did, the years of the Ride's association with finals week wiped it from their musical tastes. Their revulsion of the Ride is so great that it has, over the years, become a crime at Caltech to play the piece at any time whatsoever except at 7:00 am each morning of finals week. Not ones to bow easily to this sort of silly indoctrination (or simply seeking the thrill of rebellion), each year's class of Blacker freshmen attempt to beat this rule. One night of the year they will barricade themselves into Hell Alley and broadcast the Ride to the entire campus -- that is, until the upperclassmen bash through their barriers and put an end to the offense. The longest the frosh had ever held out was about 40 minutes. This year we vowed to destroy that record.
As happened with the Gates 22 Winter Wonderland project, momentum was slow to build. On Saturday there were perhaps three or four of us who did any work on it at all: Ben, Nate, Marty and myself. We spent that first day carrying to Hell every heavy piece of bulky building material we could find. Most of this came from the steam tunnels, where it's very difficult to move things around, so it was slow going. Our stash was impressive: we bought 1500 pounds of concrete; Sunday night we transported from an on-campus construction site several thousands pounds of broken up concrete blocks; we ended up accumulating far more 2x4's, plywood, metal sheets, furniture, concrete pipes, etc. than we thought we'd ever need. (As it turned out, we could have used a lot more, although our main deficiency was of time.)
By Sunday afternoon things were really starting to pick up. We had many vague plans and hopes, and our enthusiasm began to rub off on other frosh. Some of our most enthusiastic helpers were people who had probably never held a hammer, mixed concrete, or carried anything over 20 pounds in their lives. Even Ravi --the quintessential recluse scientist-- spent several hours sharing our hard labor. At one point, at 3:00 in the morning, we were having great fun throwing bits of concrete into a "borrowed" wheelbarrow at the Avery House construction site. Ravi turned to me, and in a revelatory tone of voice said, "I never thought I'd ever be doing anything like this at Caltech!" It was a wonderful feeling to be doing something so different from the normal work, work, work routine.