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One year ago today, I published my first post here on Anyone Can Enter.

In the 12 months that followed, I’ve stuck to my mission of competing in at least one offbeat, obscure, wacky, or just plain ridiculous event each month, so long as anyone can enter. Along the way, I have succeeded (winning a national championship in egg tossing) and failed (in nearly everything else). More than anything, I’ve had fun at every step. Even when I was earning the title Last Ass in a pack burro race in Colorado or listening to my friends crack on me for failing to complete the Krispy Kreme Challenge.

The way I see it, this occasion deserves a professionally baked cake. It may seem crazy—buying a cake to celebrate the anniversary of a blog—but is it really any crazier than jumping into a freezing cold lake on New Year’s Day or throwing yourself down a hill after a wheel of cheese? I don’t think so.

Plus, this blog is responsible for more than a series of wacky adventures. Back in that first post, I set a few additional goals. One was to lose about 20 pounds. The other was to run a marathon. I’m happy to say that I have exceeded my weight loss goal and that in four days, I’m running in the Tobacco Road Marathon.

As for next year, I doubt I can stand to lose 20 more pounds and I’m not sure I can continue competing in one event each month. But I do plan to maintain this blog. Sometime after the marathon, expect a more sentimental retrospective, complete with a year-in-review video and a more detailed plan for the future of Anyone Can Enter.

For now, let’s take a look at the first year of Anyone Can Enter by the numbers…

11,975—All-time blog views (not including my own views)

8,667—Miles traveled to and from events

6,913—YouTube views

1,776—Stairs climbed at the CN Tower Climb

725 Tossing For Hunger YouTube views

650—Approximate number of people who endured my attempt to holler at the National Hollerin’ Contest

365—Days my awesome, beautiful wife Carie has had to put up with all this nonsense

350—Most blog views in one day, largely thanks to @darrenrovell

349—Second-most blog views in one day, largely thanks to Penn Holderness

335—Comments you’ve made on the blog

253—Miles I’ve run since October, when I started training for the Tobacco Road Marathon

149—Votes I lost by to the eventual winner of the News & Observer’s Ugly Sweater Contest

145Tweets posted

86—Percentage of people who voted for me to shave my head for the Warrior Dash

73—Twitter followers

62—Feet between Mike Hepp and I when we completed our winning toss in the National Egg Toss Championship

50—Approximate number of people who jumped into a freezing cold lake with me on New Year’s Day

42—Stone skips registered by Russ Byars at the Pennsylvania Stone Skipping Tournament, 27 more than my best effort

25 (and counting)—pounds I’ve lost since starting this blog

15—Trees we planted during the Asheville Idiotarod

10.5—Doughnuts I managed to eat at the Krispy Kreme Challenge, 1.5 less than the necessary dozen to complete the challenge

10—Men, including me, who entered the Idaho Springs Pack Burro Race

9—Men who finished ahead of me in the Idaho Springs Pack Burro Race

4—Orange habanero peppers I ate during the Bailey Farms Chile Pepper Eating Contest before bowing out to the Toothless Pepper King, who ate 14

3National champion coaches who declined my request for advice leading up to the National Egg Toss Championship

1—National championship won without the help of national championship coaches

 

One hour before the biggest stone skipping tournament on the East Coast, it’s easy to picture yourself winning.

It’s especially easy to convince yourself you have a chance when the Guinness World Record holder and five-time winner of the Pennsylvania Qualifying Stone Skipping Tournament is by your side, gladly offering you advice. It’s even easier when he’s crazy enough to share his bounty of flat, smooth stones that he harvested from Lake Erie.

Somehow, this makes you feel like you’re now on an equal level.

Throw in the fact that a medical school student from Philadelphia came out of nowhere to beat him last year, that he hasn’t arrived yet to defend his title, and that another top contender—a former Guinness World Record holder—is also nowhere to be seen, and an upset seems all the more attainable.

And then the dream takes a dive.

The king of stone skipping— a chain-smoking 47-year-old whose main motivation is the pound of fudge awarded to the victor—walks to the edge of the water. He eyes the glassy surface before him and effortlessly flicks a stone downstream.

Skip… Skip… Skip… Skip. Skip. Skip. Skip. Skip. Skip. Skip. Skip, skip, skip, skip, skip. Skip. Skip. Skip, skip, skip, skipskipskipskipskipskipskipskipskip. Skip.

It’s hard to believe what you’ve just witnessed. A man wearing a shirt that reads “Skips Stones For Fudge” has just skipped a stone at least 30 times across the water. If you hadn’t just seen it with your own eyes, you would think it was only possible in a video game.

The most amazing part about all this? Russ Byars is just warming up.

Oh yeah. And a few minutes later, a woman asks him to autograph her back. Not on her shirt, either. Right on the skin. Her boyfriend jokes that they’re going to the tattoo parlor to make it permanent. Standing here at the confluence of the French Creek and the Allegheny River, he is a rock star and you might as well become his groupie.

Also, the reigning champion and the former world record holder soon arrive.

That’s when you finally realize that you don’t have a chance in this contest.

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With less than 10 practices to my credit during the past month, I wasn’t overly confident, but I knew that I possessed enough raw stone skipping talent to possibly make a run. During my practices in North Carolina, I had impressed at least three spectators with several throws in which I couldn’t even count the number of skips. And that was all with jagged, fat rocks.

Both Russ and former Guinness World Record holder Kurt Steiner had promised to share rocks from Lake Erie, which seems to yield the best stones for skipping. The folks who are serious about stone skipping will go there a few times a year, plunder its shores, and return with hundreds of pounds of stones.

In the days leading up to the contest, I was eager to get my hands on these stones, and to have my skips officially counted. I was told that this was hardly a scientific method of counting—it’s really just a few volunteer judges standing on the river bank, guestimating, then averaging—but it was better than I could do on my own.

And just in case I happened to be some kind of stone skipping wiz kid, I needed a nickname. Something to set me apart. Thanks to some help from my readers, I finally settled on Jon “Ripple Maker” Page.

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As a first-time contestant, I arrived in Franklin on the last Saturday in August, paid my $5, and entered the amateur division.

I was glad that we arrived nearly an hour before the competition began, and especially glad to see Russ had already arrived with a few duffle bags full of stones. He immediately offered me some stones. At first glance, it was clear that these stones were the hot rods of stone skipping. They were flatter, bigger, heavier, and more hydrodynamic than anything I had ever skipped.

My first couple of throws were beautiful and the stone skipped more than I’d ever skipped before. I did everything just as I had been practicing. The stone never got too much air underneath it, and most importantly, I threw it with a slightly upward angle so that it wouldn’t dive under the water. I had read about this in a scholarly paper about the fundamentals of stone skipping. Also, I was overemphasizing the spin of the stone, as both Russ and Kurt had told me to do.

Even though Russ had plenty of stones, I felt bad about taking them. When he told me and another amateur contestant that plenty of his stones had probably washed up downstream, I went searching. This was probably a mistake. While it was good to practice with these rocks, I tricked myself into thinking that I should compete with them. Problem was, they weren’t the same quality as Russ’ stones. They were still better than anything I had practiced with at home, but they weren’t as flat.

Just before the contest, I grabbed two more of Russ’ stones to complement the four best stones I found along the river. In order to qualify for the professional division, I would need to skip a stone at least 20 times. I would have to do it in six tries.

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After 40 minutes of waiting through the kids’ competition and the first part of the amateur contest, it was finally my turn.

My first throw was decent for a first throw, but only skipped 12 times. My second flew too far in the air before touching the water and skipped just twice. My third was no better than the first. My fourth managed 14 skips. I had saved Russ’ stones for my last two throws, but it didn’t help much. My fifth throw sank after only three skips. Down to my last stone, I needed a perfect throw to reach 20 skips and qualify for the pro division.

I was five skips shy.

It wasn’t until a few minutes later that I realized why.

During those 40 minutes of waiting, I managed to unlearn almost everything I learned in the past month, reverting back to the methods I used as a kid. Instead of overemphasizing the spin, I simply threw the stones as hard as I possibly could. Instead of giving the stones a slightly upward angle, I threw them perfectly level with the water.

Not that it really mattered. Even if I had focused more on the spin and less on strength, and even if I had kept the stone at a slightly titled angle, I doubt I could have skipped one more than 25.

Considering that Kurt finished in second place in the pro division with a best effort of 40 skips and that Russ won on a final-round throw of 42 skips, I think it’s safe to say that my dreams of stone skipping greatness are behind me.

But that doesn’t mean that I’ll stop skipping stones. Anytime I go near water, I’ll be sure to scan the shore for anything worth skipping. When I do, I’ll always think of the advice I received from Russ and Kurt, and I’ll do my best to count the skips.

I’ll just have to buy my own fudge.

Kurt Steiner

Russ Byars

Little to my surprise, I’m not going home today with a pound of free Pennsylvanian fudge.

Not with a best throw of only 15 skips in the amateur competition at the Pennsylvania Qualifying Stone Skipping Tournament. Even if I had doubled my score, it wouldn’t have been enough. If I was smarter, I probably should have entered the rock painting contest, instead.

Later this weekend, I’ll post some video and give a more detailed update. For now, I’m going to watch the pros skip stones.

And then I’m going to go buy some fudge.

Congratulations and thanks to Brad Wann for submitting the winning entry in my call for stone skipping nicknames. Brad actually submitted two names that caught my eye, but Jon “Ripple Maker” Page is the winner.

Thanks to everyone’s participation, it wasn’t an easy decision. Between comments on the blog, Facebook, and a few last-minute entries via text message and phone calls, I had about 30 nicknames from which to choose. Other possible winners included Pebble Pusher, Rock It Man, Rock Steady, and Low Stones.

For picking my nickname, I have promised to split any potential winnings (in this case, fudge) with Brad. Unfortunately for Brad, two things are working against this sweet payday.

No. 1: How am I supposed to ship fudge to Colorado?

And perhaps more important, No. 2: I haven’t exactly been practicing much for this. Part of the problem is a lack of superior rocks in my hometown of Raleigh, N.C. In my past few practice sessions, the best skipping stones I could find were landscaping rocks, and there was a limited supply. Meanwhile, champion skippers like Russ Byars and Kurt Steiner have been practicing with hundreds of pounds of perfectly flat, smooth rocks from the shores of Lake Erie. Fortunately, both champs have offered to give me some stones today.

Even if I don’t stand much of a chance, I’m excited to skip a proper stone and even more excited to have my skips counted. On my best throws, even with crummy rocks, I can’t tell the difference between 10 skips and 15. I have a hard time believing that the contest judges can do any better without a high-speed camera, but maybe this is an acquired skill.

The important thing is that I’ve got a great nickname.

The great ones all have nicknames.

Mountain Man.

Rock Bottom.

Barrel Maker.

Yes, in the sport of stone skipping, you’re only as good as your nickname. At least, you better show up with a good one.

“If you don’t, someone will dub you with something you don’t like,” Kurt “Mountain Man” Steiner recently told me. “You’ve got to be careful.”

Choosing a nickname was easy for Steiner. As a self-described “professional backpacker” with long hair and a nearly equally long beard, Mountain Man was a perfect fit.

As a writer, I could certainly create my own stone-skipping moniker, but I’d rather share the fun. That’s why I’m asking you to help me come up with a nickname. To share your ideas, simply leave a comment on this post by this Saturday morning. Feel free to leave as many ideas as you want.

Here’s the best part: if I choose your nickname and if I actually place in the Pennsylvania Qualifying Stone Skipping Tournament, I’ll split my winnings with you. That’s right, you’ll have a half-pound of fudge coming your way. Sweet, delicious fudge.

Now, let’s create me a nickname!

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.

Fudge.

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.’

During the past month, I trained for an event so unique, I doubt I’ll do anything quite like it again. Now that pack burro racing is in my past, I’m looking forward to competing in something easier. Something more familiar. Something like stone skipping.

I’ll get my chance on August 28 at the Pennsylvania Qualifying Stone Skipping Tournament in Franklin, Pa. Since I can regularly skip a stone more than 10 times, I figured all I’ll need to do is show up, make a few tosses, and proudly accept my trophy. Oh, and the locally produced fudge that also goes to the winner. And the invite to the International Stone Skipping Tournament in Mackinac Island, Mi.

But then I watched a few videos of former champions, including world record holder Russell Byars. That’s right, there’s a world record for skipping stones. And let’s just say the record number of skips isn’t in the teens. Try 51. Yes, you’re reading that right. 51.

This is going to be harder than I thought.

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