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Except I’m not so sure he needs my help.
Ed has climbed the highest peaks in North America (McKinley) and South America (Aconcagua); he finished an ultramarathon last summer; and he lives and runs in Boulder, Colorado, where he can run up mountains in his backyard. By comparison, I have driven to the top of one of the highest peaks in Colorado; I have never run an ultramarathon; and I regularly run at less than 400 feet above sea level.
Plus, we’ve never actually run together.
But just in case those first 40 miles push Ed to the brink of exhaustion—just in case I might come in handy—I wanted to be prepared.
To learn more about Ed’s motivation and his expectations for the race, we recently had the following conversation over e-mail. Along the way, I also learned that Ed
- Once roomed with “two cajun dudes named Sooterbob and Garyman” in a double-wide trailer in Louisiana
- Once escaped a series of life-threating misadventures during a single afternoon in Nicaragua
- Has two uvulas (that thing that hangs in the back of your throat)
If he doesn’t need my help on the trail, I’m looking forward to hearing more about Sooterbob.
Anyone Can Enter: Are you crazy?
Ed Roberson: I hope so. All of my heroes are complete lunatics in one way or another, so if I’m at least a little bit nutty, then I feel like I’m on the right track.
However, it is hard to judge what crazy really means when you live in Boulder. No joke. Today, I saw a guy dressed in full pirate regalia, wearing a gold Phantom of the Opera-eque mask, holding a cardboard sign, and begging for money at a busy intersection. And on the sports side of things, there’s a professional ultra runner here in town who runs up Green Mountain 300-plus times per year.
So compared to those guys, I feel pretty boring.
Anyone Can Enter: So, basically, in Boulder, everyone is so nice that pirates ask for money instead of taking it from you. That’s good to know. Does that same sort of friendliness carry over to the ultra running community?
Roberson: Definitely. Boulder is the home base of a lot of world-class professional ultra runners, and I have met a good number of them or crossed paths with them during runs. On the trails, they always say hello and smile, even if they are in the middle of sprinting up a steep 3,000-foot climb and are on the edge of puking. In extended conversations I’ve had with some of them— (such as) Scott Jurek, Marshall Ulrich, and Geoff Roes—they spend more time asking me about my running plans and offering great advice than talking about themselves or their own accomplishments. Me spending time with those guys is like some washed-up rec league basketball player getting to hang out with (Michael) Jordan, Kobe (Bryant), and LeBron (James).
But also, the average runner you meet at an ultra is just as cool. Last year at the Leadville 50, I was going up a pretty challenging hill at about 11,500 feet and passed by a lady who was at least 70 years old. We chatted for a while and she told me that she’d done the race every year since it began. Then she looked around at the awesome scenery, smiled, and said “Don’t these views just pull you right up these steep mountains?” I thought that her awesome attitude pretty much sums up the type of person who does these longer races—positive, laid back, supportive of the other runners, and enjoying the moment and the mountains.
Anyone Can Enter: Hearing you talk about these races is getting me pumped up for (the San Juan Solstice). Are you ready for this thing?
Roberson: I hope so. But one of the reasons I like to try stuff like this is because I’m never quite sure if I’ll be able to do it! Last year, Leadville was challenging, but not the world-class ass whipping that I was expecting. This one has a good bit more elevation gain and loss than Leadville, so I’m guessing that it will be a hard, but fun, day.
In my experience, the key to these long runs is managing nutrition, hydration, and electrolytes—you don’t want to run out of gas or overheat. Hopefully the weather, my gut, my legs, and my brain will all cooperate so that I can get across that finish line before the 16-hour cutoff.
Anyone Can Enter: If they don’t, I will do my best to drag you across the finish line. Wait. Is that allowed? And what are you really expecting of me out there?
Roberson: Did I forget to tell you? I’ve retrofitted one of those baby-carrying backpacks, and I’m going to hitch a ride on your back up that last 2,500 feet of vertical. I’m pretty sure I remember telling you to train by carrying a 190-pound rock up a really steep hill for 10 miles while breathing through a straw.
But if you’re not willing to do that, I’d say that best case, we have a fun but challenging run/hike through some of the prettiest mountains in Colorado. Worst case, you have to shoot off signal flares to show the rescue helicopter where to land to evacuate me.
But most likely, it will be somewhere in between those two scenarios—I’ll probably need you to tell me a few jokes and keep the mood light as I try to finish this thing. If I’m moving slowly, it would be good if you had an idea of the pace we should be keeping so that we finish in under 16 hours. I imagine that I’ll really want to be walking that last downhill, so I’d appreciate any “encouragement” you could provide to keep me moving at a reasonable pace. “Encouragement” could equal light-hearted joking, violent cursing, or aggressive trash talking. You and Kim (Ed’s wife and my good friend since 10th grade) can evaluate my condition at mile 40 and determine the best course of action.
Anyone Can Enter: I’m glad that Kim will be there to evaluate how you’re doing, seeing as how I have never gone running with you. Speaking of that, are there any things I SHOULDN’T do or talk about while we’re on the trail?
Anyone Can Enter: Noted. I will hold off on my review of Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot until after the race.
It seems that I’m developing an eating contest disorder. Here’s what happens:
I find an eating contest. Half-heartedly train for it. Compete. Fail miserably. And promptly proclaim that I am retiring from professional eating. But then a few months go by. I forget how awful it feels to burn my throat with orange habañero peppers. Soon, I discover an event that’s so ridiculous, so insane, that I can’t possibly turn it down. Then, the cycle repeats itself.
Luckily, I think I’m finally ready to break this cycle. That’s because this time, there’s beer. And baseball.
I’ve been invited to compete in Matt Glass’ 7th Annual 999 Challenge, in which competitors must eat a hot dog and drink a beer during each inning of a baseball game.
To help me prepare for Saturday night, I asked Matt for some advice. Mainly, I wanted to know if I’m going to puke.
Anyone Can Enter: How’d you do the first time you tried this?
Matt Glass: It was not pretty. Me and another guy heard about the challenge and we randomly decided to do it on opening day during a Red Sox-Yankees game. We each only made it to the fourth inning. We got cocky thinking that it would be easy but it was disgusting. The second year, more people did it and multiple people finished. Now it’s gotten to the point that some people eat more than 9 hot dogs. The record for guys is 13 and 11 for females.
Anyone Can Enter: Have you ever thrown up?
Glass: I did after I finished the second year. I took a nap and woke up later sweating hot dogs.
Anyone Can Enter: If I puke during the game, am I disqualified?
Glass: If you puke and rally, it’s okay. If you’re able to do that and then eat more hot dogs, go for it.
Anyone Can Enter: What would be your number one piece of advice for a newcomer like me?
Glass: Don’t do anything differently than you would normally do. If you have a favorite brand of hot dog, stick with it. If you have a favorite beer, stick with your brand.
Anyone Can Enter: If you were a hot dog, would you eat yourself?
Glass: Hmmmm. I don’t think so.
Given the chance, Kurt Steiner will lecture endlessly on the physics of stone skipping. He’ll mention mathematical equations he’s calculated pertaining to the stream at the Pennsylvania Qualifying Stone Skipping Tournament. He’ll describe the perfect stone in fantastic detail. He’ll wonder aloud why he hasn’t written a book on the subject.
It’s enough to make one think that the Pennsylvania native takes stone skipping too seriously. Way too seriously.
And then, Steiner mentions that he skipped last year’s national championship in Michigan to compete in a pinball tournament in Maine, instead.
“I came in fourth place,” Steiner said. “It’s a lot easier on the schedule. Stone skipping is really difficult for me where I live. I don’t have rocks or a place to practice.”
So maybe he doesn’t take stone skipping too seriously, after all.
But that doesn’t mean the former world record holder is any less passionate. In fact, he’s considering a shot at reclaiming the Guinness world record from stone skipping rival and friend Russ Byars. It’s an effort that would require hiring a camera crew and picking the perfect place to attempt to break Byars’ record of 51 skips.
For now, Steiner is preparing for the tournament in his home state. As a novice, I was eager to ask the five-time champion a few questions about the event.
Anyone Can Enter: Can you take me through the process on the day of the competition?
Kurt Steiner: They run it a little different for the amateurs, but for the pros they like to build the suspense by having each person throw once and then repeat that. You throw, sit down. Throw, sit down. As this goes on, the judges score you on the number of skips. The way they do it is a combination of counting and guestimation. Once you get to the end of a throw it’s just impossible to count without a camera, so the numbers you get in a tournament aren’t going to be accurate. Part of it is ranking throws compared to the other throws.
Anyone Can Enter: Can you count them yourself?
Steiner: No. I’ve taken some video and that helps. You can count some, but it’s hard to count on video, too. I can tell if one was over 40, but not beyond that.
Anyone Can Enter: I would think this format lends itself to a lot of controversy. Have you ever seen a fight because of a bad call?
Steiner: First of all, you have to back up a second. This is not that serious of an event. Russ takes it serious and I take it pretty serous, but nobody’s going to complain. I’ve seen some bad calls and I’ve been on the end of some bad calls, but the winner is pretty much always deserving. Somebody’s always going to be on.
Anyone Can Enter: You haven’t won in a few years. What are your chances this year?
Steiner: The last couple of years, I have bombed so bad. I just love skipping rocks, so as soon as I get there I want to throw and I can’t stop. By the time it starts, I feel like I’ve been through a long practice. At the start of last year’s tourney, I was dehydrated and could barely talk because my mouth was so dry. This year, I’m going to back off my power and pump up my accuracy. In the tournament, everybody’s got a couple of nerves, so if you can be consistent you’re in good shape.
Anyone Can Enter: Do you ever fantasize about throwing rocks in other places?
Steiner: If I ever could just break free and be all over the place, I’d make a nuisance of myself. I’d go skip stones in Central Park. I have a fantasy about skipping a stone at the reflecting pool in Washington, DC. I have all these things that I’d like to do and I’m sure I’d end up paying fines, but it would be worth if it. If I got the record again, I think I would have earned the right to make that splash.
Other aspiring stone skippers might have been greedier. Prior to competing in their first competition, the promise of local celebrity status and occasional international notoriety may have flooded their thoughts.
But not Russell Byars. Back in 2001, he had a much better reason for entering the Pennsylvania Qualifying Stone Skipping Tournament.
When Byars learned that the winners of his hometown tournament took home a few pounds of the sweet confectionary, he entered the amateur division and won. A year later and after another victory, he was asked to compete in the professional division. Only problem? He would have to renounce his amateur title. And give back the fudge.
“I said no way,” Byars said.
Nearly a decade later, Byars is still skipping for fudge, but he’s doing it as a professional. And he’s the current Guinness World Record holder with 51 skips.
A five-time winner in Franklin, Byars lost the Pennsylvania contest last year to newcomer Grant Mitchell, a Kansas native and medical school student at Pennsylvania. But Byars recently won the his sixth title at Michigan’s Mackinac Island Stone Skipping Tournament, and he’s determined to reclaim his title in Franklin this month.
I recently spoke to Byars about skipping stones, fudge, and boxing kangaroos.
Anyone Can Enter: Was it humbling to lose to a first timer last year?
Russell Byars: I’m the king of a country with 8 people. I always said that some 19-year-old kid with a great arm is going to come in and kick all our butts, and that’s what happened. Grant threw 44. That will win every time. After the throw, people asked me, ‘What are you thinking?’ I was like, ‘That will win anywhere.’
Anyone Can Enter: When I watch video of you skipping a stone 50 times, it seems to defy nature. How is it possible to do that?
Byars: People always ask me what’s my secret and I say don’t worry about it. Figure out how hard you can throw it and put a decent amount of spin on it. You basically grip it and rip it. People also e-mail me with physics questions. I don’t know if this is true, but I believe a lopsided stone goes a lot better. With flat stones you end up like a glider going across the water. It doesn’t take much to upset them. They’re just perfect and then it hits a little wave and it’s gone. You get a lopsided stone spinning real fast; it’s always trying to correct itself.
Anyone Can Enter: What can you tell me about your training regimen?
Byars: I would like to get in two to three practices a week for three weeks before the tournament. I’ll spend all day throwing. I’ll throw 60 pounds of stones. I think I throw better after I’ve thrown a lot.
Anyone Can Enter: What’s one important piece of advice for a first timer?
Byars: If the stone is not spinning good and it’s just a good throw, it’s going to flutter away. Try to concentrate on keeping your finger across the stone and follow through with your finger. That’s the biggest tip I can give people. Now, after that, you can have all the physicists do whatever they want. That’s fine. There’s some point where the speed, the spin, the angle and weight all come into play. Every stone is different. You have to make them all meet at the same time.
Anyone Can Enter: Is there anything else you’d try in the name of fudge?
Byars: I don’t know, but I can tell you something I won’t do. I boxed a kangaroo [when I was a teenager]. I won’t do that again. There was a $500 prize to beat the kangaroo and my buddy said if you hit it in the nose it will never box again. A kangaroo can lean back on its tail and take its head back about 9 feet out of the way and then they hit you so fast you can’t even keep your gloves up. After I got in there, all I remember was putting my hands up like I was going to box and hearing a lot of people go ‘ewwww.’
In the world of pack burro racing, Hal Walter needs no introduction.
For the rest of you, I’ll give it a shot.
Walter is a six-time winner of the World Championship Pack Burro Race, a 29-mile race in Fairplay, Co. In addition to running with and training burros over the past three decades, he’s also run the Leadville Trail 100. When he’s not running his ass all over the backcountry, Walter is probably writing about his adventures. He is the author of a soon-to-be-released book called Wild Burro Tales, a collection of stories chronicling his experience training and working with burros.
Walter’s greatest skill, however, might be the power of persuasion. Somehow, he convinced me that I have a chance of finishing better than dead last in the Idaho Springs Pack Burro Race this Sunday. One day after our conversation, I now realize how crazy that sounds. But it’s fun to dream.
Anyone Can Enter: Tell me about your training routine. It must be pretty intense, right?
Hal Walter: I’m so old, I don’t have a real routine anymore. I turned 50 this year and I have more of an intuitive type of training regimen—I do as much as I feel like doing, when I feel like it. I think people get themselves injured and burned out trying to follow a training program on paper when their body doesn’t have any concept of following these schedules.
Anyone Can Enter: What about your pre-race routine?
Walter: The races usually start kind of late, so I think it’s important to have a decent breakfast and get your blood sugar stable. I usually eat a hearty breakfast, relax, and get there. You don’t want to get yourself in a big rush. One of the big things that’s a stress on the morning of the race is equipment. If you can have your equipment ready when you go and it’s dialed in to the right size of the animal then you’re way ahead of the game.
Anyone Can Enter: What’s one important piece of advice you can give to a first time pack burro racer?
Walter: Just try to have fun and just be careful at the start. Generally speaking, in those short races, the first mile is a little bit crazy. Watch your footing, keep your eye out for the other burros. Sometimes, one will move across the road and they don’t care, they will run you over.
Anyone Can Enter: If I run into a problem, is it considered bad etiquette to kick your own ass?
Walter: I think that’s physically impossible.
Anyone Can Enter: Oh, right. Sorry. What I actually meant was—is it bad etiquette to kick your ass? And by ass, I mean burro.
Walter: I’ve never known anybody to do that. So, yes, I guess it would be bad.
Anyone Can Enter: So do you think I’m going to finish dead last, or do I have a chance of placing?
Walter: Of course, you’ve got to figure that the team with the most experience and the best training and best game plan is generally who wins. But you really never know what’s going to happen. There’s always a chance. If there weren’t a chance like that, none of us would show up for the thing. Everybody goes there with a chance of winning the thing.
Hal’s book, Wild Burro Tales, will be available soon on Amazon.com. He will also be featured in an upcoming documentary, Haulin’ Ass. For now, you can find him at his blog: Hardscrabble Times.
At the age of 16, when most kids are fixated on getting their first cars, Bethany Buchanan was dreaming of an entirely different form of transportation.
She wanted to run with donkeys.
Ten years later, her dream is coming true.
The Dillon, Co., native is training for her first pack burro race this weekend in Idaho Springs. Actually, Idaho Springs is really just a trial run before she tackles the World Championship Pack Burro Race in Fairplay on July 25. There, she’ll run the short course; although it seems ridiculous to call a 15-mile run in the Rocky Mountains, short.
The race is part of a festival called Burro Days, which Buchanan and her family have been attending for a decade. After all those years of watching, Buchanan decided that she would finally give it a try for herself. Unlike my preparation for the Idaho Springs race, this is no half-assed effort for Buchanan. The recent recipient of a Master’s degree in English Literature from Boston University, she is dedicating her summer to the endeavor and postponing a PhD program in the process.
It was nice to chat with a fellow novice, even if Buchanan is already far more experienced than me.
Anyone Can Enter: What inspired you to do this?
Bethany Buchanan: I’ve just always wanted to do it. The people that do it are so hardcore and it’s hilarious to see the donkeys and the humans interact. I just got my Master’s degree and it was a really intense program. I felt like, if I could get through that, I could get through a 15-mile race and reward myself by taking the summer off and training with the burros.
Anyone Can Enter: Most people reward themselves with a trip to Cancun or a shopping spree. You chose burro racing?
Buchanan: I think it also has to do with growing up in the mountains. Growing up a mountain girl, I have a little different mentality. The winters are so intense—there’s snow on the ground 9 months out of the year. I think it’s just a little different mindset.
Anyone Can Enter: What did your friends say when you told them you were doing this?
Buchanan: Mostly, it was a lot of ass jokes. People don’t understand why I would want to do it … but for me, this race is bigger than getting my Master’s. I think a lot of people have a hard time understanding the attraction. I think my future mother-in-law thinks I’m crazy.
Anyone Can Enter: You grew up in Colorado, but you’ve been going to school in Boston. Now that you’re back, you probably have a good understanding of what it’s like to adjust to running at such a high altitude. Since I’ll only have a few days to adjust, am I going to die while running up these hills?
Buchanan: You won’t die. The truth is that not everybody runs up the hills. I don’t. I walk up them and run down. But (adjusting to the altitude) is tough. You feel like you can’t get enough air. It just feels like your muscles are OK, but your lungs are screaming.
Anyone Can Enter: So far, what’s your favorite thing about this sport?
Buchanan: That it’s not just about who’s the fastest runner. It really has to do with the dynamics of the human-burro team. It’s not just about who has done the most training. It’s about who’s getting dragged and who’s dragging ass. These burros have such a sense of humor and you just have to laugh at them and yourself because they’re so unpredictable.
These big goofy animals teach me so much about myself. They teach me about patience and persistence and, without waxing too sentimental or metaphoric, they teach me about life. About getting through the tough spots and being stubborn and going through with it anyhow. They teach me about the encouragement necessary to go uphill.
Plus, they are always good for a long hug and an ear rub that is sure to bring your blood pressure down and leave you, not only with dirt under your fingernails, but a smile on your face.
Follow Bethany’s journey on her blog: Getting My Ass Up the Pass.
Kevin Jasper is a rarity among national champions. While most elite athletes and performers shield themselves from encounters with the common man, Jasper actually seeks the interaction.
When I was looking for some advice from a National Hollerin’ Contest champion a few weeks ago, I didn’t have to look far. The four-time Hollerin’ champ has a web site (the aptly named www.givemeaholler.com) with his personal e-mail address and home phone number listed on the home page.
Intrigued, I fired off a late-night e-mail to solicit some advice. But I was convinced that this was merely some sort of PR ploy to make Jasper seem human. I imagined a computer program would read that e-mail before sending me an auto-reply form letter from Jasper. A few days later, I thought, I might even receive a 5×7 black and white facsimile-signed photograph of Jasper, with some additional information regarding his fan club.
Instead, I was surprised to wake up the next morning to a personally written (and funny, I might add) note from the man himself. A week later, on Memorial Day, Jasper and I chatted on the phone for an hour. Yes, you read that right. A four-time national champion took an hour out of a national holiday to chat shop with some random guy he met on the Internet.
Thanks to his advice, I’m half as nervous about competing in my first Hollerin’ Contest on Saturday.
Anyone Can Enter: How did you get interested in hollerin’?
Kevin Jasper: I had seen a winner or two of the contest on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson back in the mid 70s, and I thought to myself, here’s a local yokel from North Carolina getting to meet Johnny Carson and be on his show. I filed that back in my brain and thought about it over and over, off and on for years. I moved away from North Carolina and lived in California, Kentucky, and Virginia, but I finally moved back to North Carolina in 1994. Three years later, I went down to the public library and asked what the Hollerin’ Contest was all about. The reference librarian came back with the name of the fellow who started the contest. His name was Ermon Godwin Jr. I called him up and he told me about the CD Hollerin’ and told me that would be a good way to learn.
Anyone Can Enter: So when you got the CD did you just start mimicking everything you heard?
Jasper: Yeah, I was trying to. As you’ve heard, it’s not easy to do some of them.
Anyone Can Enter: What do you remember about your first contest?
Jasper: The first year I did a few simple things. I couldn’t even tell you what I did. The second year, I started listening to it a little more and tried some of the more complicated hollers like Rollin’ Waters and Mr. Leonard Emmanuel’s Ditty.
Anyone Can Enter: How did you perfect the more advanced hollers?
Jasper: I lived in Burlington at the time. I quit my job and ended up taking a contract job at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem. I was driving about 50 miles one-way. I recorded Ditty on a tape seven times in a row so I could listen to it and try to mimic it as I was driving in my car. That’s where I did most of my practicing after 1999.
Anyone Can Enter: I’m somewhat nervous about all this. Any more advice for a first timer?
Jasper: Well, if you take this seriously, and you listen to the CD, you’re going to do fine. People come up there and think it’s just how loud can you holler. There are people that come up there and make total asses out of themselves. That’s kind of part of the thing. We expect that. We kind of want that, but you’re taking it a lot more seriously. You’re not going to make an ass out of yourself. Of course, you might not win.
In a few weeks, I’ll compete for the top honors in the National Egg Toss Championship at a minor league baseball game in Maryland. Last year, a throw of 40 feet was good enough to win the fifth annual event. I know this, not because the event has its own federation and web site or because it received worldwide media attention.
Nope. It has none of that.
I know this because I recently spoke to Reed Hunley, Director of Entertainment for the Hagerstown Suns. The Class-A team hosts the event in conjunction with the Maryland Egg Council, which also doesn’t have its own web site.
Meanwhile, on the same day as our American championship, people from all over the world will flock to Swaton, England, for the World Egg Throwing Championship (WETC). Unlike its American cousin, the WETC is run by an official governing body—the World Egg Throwing Federation (WETF). According to President Andy Dunlop (yes, it even has a president), it’s bigger than the World Series. There, winning throws are more than 200 feet. And unlike the National Egg Toss Championship, which Hunley tells me was nothing more than a zany idea cooked up by his predecessor, the WETC has roots nearly a millennium deep. That’s right, Swaton boasts written records of egg throwing dating back to 1322.
Today there’s more than just one event. In addition to Egg Throwing, there’s the Egg Static Relay, Egg Target Throwing, the Egg Trebuchet Challenge, and the Russian Egg Roulette.
Oh, and I almost forgot that the WETF even has a Tweeting cockerel named Mo.
Unfortunately, Mo was unavailable for an interview, but President Dunlop agreed to answer much more than five questions about this ancient art.
Anyone Can Enter: In the States, we generally refer to this practice as egg tossing. In England, you all call it egg throwing, which seems much manlier. Is there a historical reason for this semantic difference?
Andy Dunlop: In the UK, tossing is a phrase not normally used in polite company. Try a Google definition for tosser or tossing. Plus, of course, egg toss is carried out by big girls over short distances. Real champions, such as our two New Zealand turkey farmers, throw eggs. We are also aware of the unfortunate practise of egg throwing by yobs in your own country.
(Naturally, after reading Dunlop’s response, I felt like an idiot. I’ve heard people referred to as tossers and wankers for years. Then again I’d never bothered to learn what the words actually mean. I just assumed they meant idiot or fool. So I looked it up. And I was horribly wrong. And I now understand why an Englishman wouldn’t want to toss an egg, in public, with one of his mates.)
Anyone Can Enter: According to Wikipedia, the longest egg throw was 323 feet (in America, by the way). It was recorded in the Guinness Book of World Records and remained undefeated until at least 1999. Since 2000, however, the feat is no longer listed in the book. Any idea what the current record is? If not, what’s the longest anyone has thrown at your event? And have you lobbied the Guinness folks to get this back into the book?
Dunlop: Of course we are aware of the claim by the two American chaps but unsure if they used throwing sticks or catching mitts. Both are of course banned in the true sport of egg throwing. We are also aware of the recent claim by another American to have thrown further. Video clips on the net show some of his attempts breaking up. We can only presume he’s not using good quality eggs for the event as we achieve over 120 mph and much greater distances when using a trebuchet. We haven’t approached the Guinness people but have done the Olympics in an effort to get it used as a demonstration sport in 2012.
Anyone Can Enter: You mention that competitors at the WETC regularly complete throws of more than 200 feet. How is this humanly possible?
Dunlop: Our contestants are very good.
Anyone Can Enter: Do you boil the eggs?
Anyone Can Enter: Allow participants to get silicon implants in their palms?
Anyone Can Enter: Are the shells of English eggs particularly strong?
Dunlop: Probably. Free range organic from happy sustainable sources. We favour cockerel eggs when available.
Anyone Can Enter: Am I just incredibly naive?
Anyone Can Enter: The throw or the catch: Is one more important than the other?
Dunlop: Equally important but a failure on the latter is more entertaining for the watching crowd.
Anyone Can Enter: Is there a trusted method for catching? For example, two-handed vs. one handed?
Dunlop: We find that rising to meet the egg and falling back allows a better braking system. You should remember that we play cricket and that ball is somewhat harder than your softball thing.
Anyone Can Enter: What is the stance of the WETF on the timeless debate of which came first, the chicken or the egg?
Dunlop: Hmmm………… I’ll have to ask Mo.
Upon registering for the National Hollerin’ Contest, I knew I couldn’t be alone. Certainly, in the 42-year history of the event, another random, clueless dreamer must have given hollerin’ a hopeless shot. And if so, he or she must have some priceless advice for a fellow aspiring hollerer. So my mission was obvious: find such a person, if one existed, and seek some sage advice.
Seek, and ye shall find.
What I found was a year-old blog posting by Joshua Foer, a freelance journalist/author/U.S. Memory Champion who randomly competed in the Hollerin’ Contest in 2002. Foer admittedly made a mockery of the event when he, according to his post, walked onto the stage and yelled the most random word I could think of, “GINGIVITIS!!” and then proceeded to bellow out an impromptu oration on the importance of dental hygiene.
Five years later, however, Foer returned to Spivey’s Corner. This time, with the help of hollerin’ champion Larry Jackson, Foer amazingly finished in second place. He was nice enough to answer some questions for me this weekend. And I’ve already taken some of his advice. More on that in a few days…
Anyone Can Enter: How did you muster the courage to compete in the first contest?
Joshua Foer: It didn’t take much courage, because I didn’t know what I was getting into when I entered the first contest. I assumed it was a joke… that you were supposed to scream something funny as loud as you could. I had no idea that hollerin’ is a very serious tradition, with a very proud heritage. Once I learned what hollerin’ is, I felt terrible about my performance.
Anyone Can Enter: After your first visit to Spivey’s Corner, how did you convince Larry Jackson to take you under his wing?
Foer: I called him up. The folks of Spivey’s Corner are rightfully proud of their tradition, and were more than happy to help someone who was earnestly interested in it.
Anyone Can Enter: How much time did you spend practicing for the return trip?
Foer: Larry and I spent two days training, which was enough time for me to not make a total fool of myself, but not enough to get particularly good.
Anyone Can Enter: How did people at the contest respond to your return?
Foer: When I got on stage, I asked how many people remembered my last performance. A bunch of hands went up. People were wary. But I think I won them over in the end. They respected that I’d come back for redemption.
Anyone Can Enter: What kind of advice can you give to a first timer like me?
Foer: I recommend you learn a bit about hollerin’, and listen to some classic hollers, before entering. It would be a good idea to enlist the help of one of the veterans to train you in this ancient art.
Today, I chatted with a man who recently met Chuck Norris.
His name is Richard Handy, founder and organizer of the Asheville Idiotarod.
Richard, who is a veteran of several New York City Idiotarods, has developed a fantastic (well, actually, he’d probably prefer I say awesome) website that will pretty much tell you everything you could dream of asking about the event. In case you don’t have time to peruse it, all you really need to know is that the event is dedicated to having fun and positively influencing the community in Asheville. In case you do have time to check out the site, read about the community service projects that we’ll be completing here. (And if you’re just stumbling upon this page, wondering what an Idiotarod is, Wikipedia conveniently has your answer).
Of course, there’s always room for more questions. For starters, I wanted to know more about the Circle of Doooooooom, something Richard dreamed up involving “humans with noodles who have ingested about twice the amount of caffeine permissible by law.” What exactly does he mean by noodles?
Plus, how can I not ask what it’s like to meet Walker Texas Ranger?
Anyone Can Enter: What with the Circle of Doooooooom and encouraged sabotage, this race sounds pretty intense. Will I have to commit an actual crime to be disqualified from this race?
Richard Hardy: It’s pretty tough to be disqualified. But the beauty of this race is that it’s not about winning. The racers know that. If you’re going to take this too seriously, you’re in the wrong place.
Anyone Can Enter: What’s the most impressive act of sabotage you saw in the first Asheville Idiotarod last fall?
Hardy: I was actually really impressed. One team welded boots that they put on competitors’ carts when they left their cart unattended, which you never want to do. The boots made it impossible to push your cart. To get the combination for the lock, you had to call a phone number and a guy would give you one number at a time and hang up.
Anyone Can Enter: So don’t leave my cart unattended. That’s good to know. What other advice can you offer a first timer?
Hardy: Get ready to have the best time you’ll ever have giving back. The more you give back, the more you’ll get out of it. Just plant as many trees as you possibly can.
Anyone Can Enter: You and the winner of the Field Day of Awesomeness got to meet Chuck Norris. What was that like?
Hardy: I got about 45 seconds with him. He was very nice, very cordial. But my shoulder still hurts from his hand being on it.
Anyone Can Enter: One of your Idiotarod awards is the Chuck Norris Award. The names of those awards might be my favorite part. Did that require a lot of brainstorming with beers?
Hardy: Sadly, I don’t require beer for that.