Off to the races

The good news is that there’s still time before the kids have to be back in school for you to take that annual, once-in-a-lifetime family vacation. The bad news is that you’ll have to take your actual family with you, including the teenager who borrowed your Lexus to enter a demolition derby. You procrastinators, I’m sorry to point out, have messed around and missed some of the most interesting events of the summer. I was going to remind you procrastinators about these events before they actually occurred, but I never got around to it. Sorry. If you had planned a trip to Fruita, Colorado in May you could have attended the second annual “Mike the Headless Chicken Day.” Events included an egg toss, a “5K Run Like a Headless Chicken Race,” Pin the Head on the Chicken, and a game of Chicken Bingo, in which numbers are chosen by chicken droppings falling onto a big bingo card. (I did not make any of these events up.) Then, on July 16, Europe’s first elephant races were held in Berlin, Germany. Animal rights activists tried to stop this event, or at least keep people from attending, but didn’t have much luck. Too bad you missed it. Of course, considering the blazing speed of the contestants, you might still catch the finish, if you hurry. Bring me back a strudel. Another race that’s still going on is the great penguin swimming marathon on the west coast of Africa. After a Panamanian tanker sank near Cape Town on June 23, spilling a bunch of oil in the ocean and endangering the penguins who live on nearby islands, 20,000 of the birds were caught and trucked up the coast for eight hours. Before releasing them to swim home, scientists attached satellite tracking devices to three of the penguins, named Peter, Percy and Pamela. The progress of the swimmers is being monitored, to make sure the oil is all cleaned up by the time the birds get back home. Another outstanding event that you’ve probably already missed, although I’m not sure since I don’t know exactly when it’s held, is the maggot races at the Town Club Bar in Three Forks, Montana. According to Dave Barry, who alerted me to this world class competition several years ago, the maggot races started as an accident. What happened was that Darrel Raffety, who owns Raffety’s Fishbait Company, was talking with one of his customers in Town Club Bar one day, and the guy complained that the tub of maggots he had bought was a little short. And if there’s one type of customer in the world that a business owner doesn’t want mad at him, it’s the man who complains that he didn’t get enough maggots. So they poured the maggots out on the bar and started counting them. Some of them started crawling off, and the Great Maggot Race idea was born. They held the first race to raise money for charity, but you might want to call Phil Schneider, owner of Town Club Bar, before you plan a trip to Three Forks, since I’m not sure it’s an annual event. As long as we’re talking about races we would be very remiss (French for “stupid”) if we didn’t mention the second oldest automobile race in American History. The Pike’s Peak Hill Climb was started in 1916. The only race event in the country that has been going on longer is the Indy 500, which was started in, uh, well, before 1916. The Pike’s Peak race has become an international contest, with the bravest (French for “stupidest”) drivers from all over the world competing to see who can log the fastest time on Pike’s Peak road. The race starts at 9,000 feet elevation and climbs to 14,000 over a 12.4 mile dirt road with 152 switchbacks and no guardrails. Of course, since the race is always held on July 4, you’ve missed that one, too. There are, however, a couple of races at Pike’s Peak that you haven’t missed, yet. The Pike’s Peak Ascent and the Pike’s Peak Marathon are held on August 19 and 20, respectively, and are both foot races for people who have way too much stress in their lives. The chances are extremely slim that you will ever hear of an outdoor humor writer entering either of these races. Running thirteen miles, uphill, in thin air, is not exactly my idea of recreation, but my friend Steve Barker of San Antonio has done the Ascent several times. His brother, who is an even bigger glutton for punishment, has run the Pike’s Peak Marathon for the past few years, making the entire 26 mile round trip without apparent cardiac arrest. Steve told me that, in order to simulate the thin air on the run, his brother trains with a plastic bag over his head. (Look for this guy in this year’s Darwin Awards) Well, thanks, but no thanks. My motto is “No Pain, No Pain.” When I feel the urge to get involved in competitive racing I’ll head for Three Forks, Montana with a tub of maggots . . . Kendal Hemphill is an outdoor humor columnist whose idea of exercise is putting on a tight pair of socks. Write to him at PO Box 564, Mason, Texas 76856 or

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