Amazing Races

by Gretta Olsson

Beds, Bathtubs, Sled Dogs, and Outhouses

In May, in Port Townsend, Washington, rhododendrons come into full bloom, and as part of the Rhody (rhododendron) Festival, several races and parades are run by pets, children, adults - and beds! The bed race was the most interesting to me.

A team, comprised of a passenger weighing one hundred pounds or more, and four runners, had to push a bed on wheels for two city blocks. There had to be a head board, and a foot one with handle bars for those doing the pushing. Beds, runners, and passengers were really decked out. Had there been betting, I would have put money on the Red Cross team because they're used to dealing with beds. THEY WON!!!

One team stood out for me: the Cops. The chief of police in Port Townsend is a woman, Kristen Anderson. I got to meet here when she spoke to our senior newcomers' group. Her bed was decorated with a pig's head at the front and a pig's rear at the foot. She was covered with a blanket as the passenger - a "pig in a blanket." At the end of the event, Kristen showed me the ribbon that they'd won: "the ugliest team." Since the cops were great looking in their uniforms, it was a flip-side of the coin award! Safe to give "the ugliest team award" to the best looking group!

An all girls' team got as far as a half block, and then their bed fell apart. Because the system was set up like that of a tennis tournament, the loser of a heat must drop out of the race. With only seven teams entered, not too many heats were held. The surprise drop out was a team of large, athletic men who won easily in the first heat, looked the strongest overall, and led the second heat, but had to quit when their wheels came off. I concluded that having a bed that can go the distance is a big part of winning. In fact it's a win just to finish the race. Three teams didn't. It was embarrassing that Jefferson Transit fell apart. The bus drivers had to take some flak when they couldn't finish.

Because of my interest in bed racing, I talked about it on my trip to the Yukon. My listeners topped my story with a tale of outhouse racing. I was in the Yukon for the National Story Telling Festival, and locals were friendly and eager to share their own experiences. Sue Gleason, our Elderhostel Coordinator, told the following story.

She was young, slim, and completely out of shape. With two small children, she did no athletics. She'd come to the race to cheer on her friends. She found them in a pickle because one runner had failed to show. They pressured Sue to fill the empty spot. Sue was vehement in her refusal. She knew she couldn't do one block let alone a race slightly over three miles. To resist them, she finally had to get away, walk to the other end of the starting area, enter a bar, and consume three rum drinks. When she came out, her friends were even more frantic than before. She had to run! There was simply no getting out of it.

Within a few blocks, her friends saw how helpless and hopeless Sue's efforts were. They told her to get in the outhouse as their passenger. Having to do it on the run on a gravel road, lined with people, Sue missed her step and fell. "I can't get up," she yelled. "Get up. Get up," everyone called to her. The fastest man on their team pulled her up and got her into the outhouse. She was almost happy for over two miles until one of their team got hurt. "Come on out," they called to her.

"NO. I won't come out." "Come out." "NO!" she screamed hanging on for dear life. She was pulled out and found that her legs were like Popeye's Olive Oil's. "They wobbled everywhere, totally out of control," she told us. Never before had she experienced such pain and cramping in her legs. It was torture.

Then the three rums decided upon their own to run! There was no place to stop, and she couldn't hold back. - the rum drinks fled her system. The saving note was that she was wearing a large, billowing skirt that hid what was happening to her. She believes that neither the people watching the race nor the strong man pulling her were aware of her new discomfort.

The unusual happy ending, besides the team's coming in second, was that Sue made a strong determination NEVER TO BE OUT OF SHAPE AGAIN! She took up running, then cross country skiing, golf, and hiking. She now looks like a very strong athlete.

People race bathtubs on the Yukon River. Frank Taylor, who is a big star in that event, wouldn't give me a story. I know that he built a 350cc motor for one tub, but I don't know how well it did. Frank is the man who won the 1995 Yukon Quest Dog Sled Race. He drove me to his home and kennels, and showed me a video tape of his win. He owns 88 dogs and introduced me to every one of them.

Frank's place is an amazing sight. Think of a football field out in the woods. Instead of men, visualize rows of 12 dogs chained to box-like dog houses, most sitting on top of their own house, and all looking happy and eager when Frank and I drove up. We had to dress in heavy coveralls so that when the dogs jumped up on us, they wouldn't tear or damage our clothes. We gave each one of them a treat. Frank said his winning was a coming together of everything, a perfect chemistry among the fourteen dogs. He believes that they weren't necessarily the fastest in the race, just those with the most perfect team chemistry and attitude to take the championship.

A one time, they all barked as they saw us approaching with treats for them. Frank let out several calls, and every last one of them shut up. I couldn't believe their discipline. They were gorgeous and not a mean one in the bunch, obviously the product of much love and care. It was a privilege to meet them.

Frank's whole conversation was about his dogs. I couldn't get him to switch from dogs to bathtubs. In 1995 he won $15,000, but it cost him about $35,000 to enter. (He had sponsors.)

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