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Racing Outhouses Down a Hill

Rebecca Sheir

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Sombreros, Snow, an Out-of-Control Potty
(Anchorage Convention &Visitors Bureau/Cady Lister)
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Veteran racer Robert Maxwell says it takes strength. "It's harder than it looks. It's heavier than you think it would be."

Rookie Jeff Luberski says it takes skill. "I bring, um, a lot of endurance. If it's a long race I think we'll be able to handle it."

It also, he says, takes engineering. "I'd probably say you want to put a lot of weight on the bottom, and lightness on the top because I foresee spillovers -- especially with Robert."

And when you're racing what these guys are racing, you don't want any spillovers.

"I'm noticing that there's actually a seat on the inside, with, yes, a hole," I say.

"Yes," Maxwell says, "and there will also be a roll of toilet paper in there for the race. And reading material. Because it's got to be an outhouse."

Every year, Anchorage, Alaska, plays host to something called Fur Rendezvous, a festival founded in the 1930s to celebrate Alaska's fur trade. These days, "Fur Rondy" includes events like snowshoe softball, a "Mr. Fur Face" competition and, of course, the annual Fur Rondy Outhouse Races.

The races began in 2006, sponsored by the University of Alaska at Anchorage's Architecture and Engineering Club, of which Luberski and Maxwell are proud members. The first year, the A/E Club nabbed the first-place trophy: a miniature gold outhouse, complete with a roll of two-ply. But in 2007, they skidded into a disappointing last place.

So this year, it's make or break: come back victorious, or forever hang their heads in shame.

* * *

A week and a half before the race, the team holds a practice session in a snowy parking lot.

They'll be racing in the "Unlimited" division, so their racer looks more like a go-cart on skis with a toilet seat. It's covered in bright emerald paint and is named, ever so aptly, "The Green Movement."

With a helmeted rider white-knuckling the toilet seat, Luberski, Maxwell and two other guys push the outhouse across the parking lot and back. The team isn't quite in sync -- they don't have their groove back just yet -- but at least they don't experience any of those spillovers.

After one practice run, the team calls it a day.

"That's twice as much practice as anybody else will do," one member says.

"We're all Hollywood," adds Maxwell. "We just show up and get the job done."

Soon, they'll have the chance to prove that's true.

* * *

Game day and the heat is on. Or off, rather, as the temperature hovers somewhere in the upper teens.

Stepping onto the snow-packed race course, the Green Movement sizes up its adversaries.

There are 17 teams in all, including one representing the Air Force. Their steel and plywood replica of an F22 fighter jet features a pilot, in full regalia, clutching a plunger-slash-joystick. The lid on his toilet seat reads, "Droppin' Bombs."

"I'm worried about that military team," says Maxwell. "They've got a slick little aerodynamic rig, and yeah, they're ready to rock."

The teams go head-to-head for several rounds. The Green Movement's first race pits them against a cumbersome, plodding outhouse - basically a walled platform painted with cartoons of cows doing their "business."

As the race starts, the teams rush down the 85-foot course.

But at the turnaround, there's trouble. The two outhouses collide and send one into the judges table.

Still, the Green Movement comes out on top. But the victory comes with a price tag as Robert bashes one of his fingers.

With one finger down, the team loses some speed during the next rounds. And after racing against "Stinky's Funhouse," a fatal miscalculation sends the Green Movement toppling over and the team suffers its most embarrassing loss of the day.

In the end, the Green Movement finishes fourth: no gold outhouse trophy for them, not even a bronze.

"I thought a lot of teams came ready to rumble," Maxwell says a few days later, reflecting on what went down.

"It was a good race," Luberski adds. "I'd suggest to any racers out there, just push as hard as you can. If you can walk the next day, you didn't try hard enough."

There are only two things Maxwell would have done differently.

"I would have moved my hand," he says. "And won. That would have been good too."

  • Music Bridge:
    Artist: Tom Verlaine
    CD: Around (Thrill Jockey)


  • Comment | Refresh

  • By Caro Johnson

    From Lakeview, OR, 02/22/2010

    Wanted to send a special invitation to everyone interested in supporting Oregon's #2 Outhouse Race. #1 said "I''ll pee back" but never showed so our frontier town has claimed the second spot. The Outback Outhouse Race will take place on March 13, 2010, in Lakeview, Oregon, capping off the festivities at the 25th annual Irish Days Celebration. Its quite "a potty" in these parts and most likely the best case of runs you'll ever see. Beverages abound and plungers pound as the Tallest Town in Oregon celebrates in a real moving way.

    By John Loose

    From Troy, MI, 03/02/2008

    I go to annual outhouse races in northern Michigan every February. I take video and pictures of the races. There are also outhouse races in Caseville, Michigan in February and Yale, Michigan in July. To read more you can go to jldr.com/ohindex.shtml

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