HARVARD – Sam McCloud squinted her eyes as the cold water hit her face.
Her four teammates raced back and forth to squeeze water from wet rags into a cup on her head, one of the obstacles that made up the final round of the annual Harvard Milk Days' Bed Race.
Teams of five raced to put on pajamas, put a fitted sheet on a bed that is equipped with wheels and handle bars, and push the bed down Ayers Street to different obstacles, including tossing water balloons through a hole and jumping rope.
McCloud is in her second year competing, and she loves "the thrill of just trying to beat everyone else in town and get the trophy." She walked away last year as part of the team that finished first in women's and overall.
The bed races were preceded by Big Wheel Races for children ages 3 to 7, events that herald the start of the 73rd Annual Harvard Milk Days.
The three-day festival officially starts Friday when the festival grounds open and continues through the weekend with antique tractor displays, a parade, a milk drinking contest, a talent show and fireworks.
Pat and Ray Jones, both born and raised in Harvard, go to the festival every year. Pat Jones' mother was the runner-up for the festival queen its very first year.
They were out Wednesday evening to kick off the weekend and watch four of their grandchildren participate in the Big Wheel Races.
"It is absolutely given that family will be here," Pat Jones said. "The little kids wait for this event the whole year, practice all year."
Like many of the attendees, the Joneses watched the races like a sporting event, commenting on tactics, weighing the size of the child for the toy and judging the larger front wheels as a definite advantage.
The key is to have the wheels worn in a bit so they grip the road better, said Shannon Kahl, who did the races when she was growing up in Harvard and was there to watch her 5-year-old daughter participate.
"I rode it so hard I put a hole in the wheel," she said.