Outhouse race was a ‘snap’ for defending champs
BRISTOL — In the championship heat of the 35th annual Fourth of July Great Bristol Outhouse Race, cousins Chris and Kevin Berry hurtled their privy-on-wheels across the finish line and onto a fifth straight title (see audio slideshow of the race here).
“It felt like we had it the whole time, there was a couple close times but relatively it was about even,” said Kevin, 22, a Bristol native, trying to catch his breath.
Camp Kookamunga, a day camp run by Middlebury Parks and Recreation and a perennial challenger to the Berry cousins’ Snap’s Restaurant-sponsored outhouse, also put up a solid final race. They kept in the center of the road right behind the Berrys for the entire 1,000 feet, but couldn’t pull ahead of them.
“It was exciting,” said one Kookamunga camper, Eva, watching her counselors compete from the side of West Street with hundreds of other onlookers from around Addison County. “At least we got second.”
The outhouse race, an annual Independence Day tradition in Bristol, comprised four preliminary heats of three to four outhouse teams and one final race between the winners of each preliminary heat. Each outhouse had to have one person sitting inside (the lighter the better) and two people pushing or pulling.
The frame and wheels of outhouse were standardized, but competitors could decorate them for the ‘Best Design’ trophy — taken home by the Bristol Fire Department this year.
Onlookers could bet on outhouses by buying $1 tickets, with the proceeds going to the Bristol Fourth of July committee’s fund for the following year’s celebration.
The course was a straight shot down West Street from the St. Ambrose Catholic Church on School Street to the stoplight at the intersection of North Street, and while weather conditions were ideal with partly cloudy skies and no wind, breaking through the toilet paper finish tape was easier said than done.
Even the Berry cousins encountered difficulty in their first heat against Addison Wellness, the Bristol Historical Society — who have sponsored the race since 1998 — and the Village Creeme Stand, who employed an unconventional ‘double pull’ strategy.
“Normally there is either two people pushing or one pushing and one pulling,” explained Village Creeme Stand employee Will Smith of Lincoln.
Part way through the race Kevin and Chris Berry, dressed as Tinkerbell and Peter Pan, respectively, for the Disney-themed event, began to spin out and temporarily fell behind. But, like true champions, they kept their poise, regrouped, and found an extra reserve of energy that powered them back into first place in time for a close finish, inspiring deferential applause from the crowd.
The Berrys explained that sticky wheels caused the mishap.
“Our cart is not exactly what we were expecting. It pushes a little harder and the wheels take us where they want to go,” said Kevin.
Lining up for the final race, the cousins admitted to feeling the burden of a dynasty on the line.
“We have a lot a people rooting for us and (a lot of people) trying to go against us because of how many times we’ve won,” said Chris, 25, running his hand over his dark brown Mohawk. “There is a little bit of pressure just to make it down there and hopefully keep our title, defend our title. Yeah, I’d say there is some pressure.”
Two outhouses down on the starting line, a familiar face was stretching his legs. The Camp Kookamunga counselors barely lost to Snap’s two years ago, and lost again to them last year in a preliminary heat.
Counselor Jake Miller of Middlebury was in both of those races, and while maintaining a positive attitude, he couldn’t help but be a little intimidated by the formidable foe.
“Those guys are fast,” he said leaning up against the camper-decorated Tarzan-themed outhouse. “But, you know, we are going to do our best, go out and we’ll work for it. If you have fun you can’t lose, right?”
“It’s going to come down to the final push, whoever has the most in the tank at the end,” added co-counselor and teammate Colin Martin, also of Middlebury.
As it turned out, the final push belonged to the burly Berry cousins, who run their own construction company, winning the race by a few seconds.
That win capped an event that looked different than when it started in 1979, according to local authorities.
“Originally they ran around the park and everybody designed their own outhouse,” said Gerald Heffernan, vice president of the Bristol Historical Society, reclining in a chair next to the Society’s outhouse, which was painted red and decorated with newspaper articles from previous races.
But then, Heffernan explained, when people starting falling and getting hurt turning sharp corners in shoddily-made outhouses, organizers started standardizing the frames and changed the course from around the town green to West Street.
Fred Baser, a member of the now-defunct Bristol Rotary Club that founded event, participated in the first race.
“I almost died,” he said pausing for a moment from selling tickets to spectators. “We built ours on a hospital gurney — we thought the big wheels would give us an advantage … It was exactly the opposite. We didn’t realize until the end of the race that one of our wheels has been bent and almost came off, so we were pushing and pulling a three-wheeled thing.”
Despite his shaky start, Baser competed in four more races with fellow Rotary members.
“It’s a fun thing, it’s always been a fun thing,” he said.
While Snap’s Restaurant dominated the morning’s drama with their fifth straight championship, the third-place finishers, an outhouse sponsored by Bristol Financial Services with the name “Monsters of Independence” scrawled on the front, weren’t fazed.
They had already accomplished their goal for the day by winning the third preliminary heat.
Owen, from Bristol, and his cousin Austin Smith from York Maine, were competing against Austin’s brother Conner and another cousin from Massachusetts who were pushing the minimally decorated “Paradee Family” outhouse.
“Our sole purpose was to beat the people over there because they are relatives,” Owen said pointing to his cousins. “That was the point of the whole thing, and we won.”
“We might write it on a sign and rub it in their face literally. That’s the plan,” said Austin with a bit of relish in his voice.
Meanwhile, the Paradee Family outhouse team was left out of breath, trying to pick up the pieces of how the race got away from them.
“We just got a bad start I think, definitely a bad start,” said Connor shaking his head. “But there is always next year. We will beat them then.”
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