BRISTOL — Last year’s reigning champions held on to their title in the 32nd annual running of the Great Outhouse Race on Saturday morning, when Chris and Kevin Berry hammered across the finish line first in the last leg of one of Bristol’s most beloved Independence Day traditions.
The Berry cousins, racing for Snap’s Restaurant on Main Street with 12-year-old Matt Jackman in the rider’s seat, were back to defend their title in what is arguably Addison County’s strangest athletic competition: Tugging or pushing makeshift “outhouses” — really wooden crates atop creaky casters — racers sprint the length of West Street from Howden Hall to the street’s four-way intersection with Main Street. The teams of three include two runners and one rider, whose job is to hold on tight while the outhouses rattle and bump down Bristol’s main drag.
The going is hard, racers agreed: West Street takes on monumental proportions when traversed by an outhouse racer.
“I’m not even running and it feels long,” said rider Moriah McGlenn, racing with No. 15 School House Maple.
The Saturday morning kick-off to the Bristol Fourth of July celebrations this year enjoyed warm weather and clear skies — but despite the favorable forecast, some registered racers in the outhouse race were “no-shows” for the big event.
As a result, the morning’s first qualifying races were spare: Teams representing No. 15 School House Maple and the Bristol Historical Society made the dash in the first heat, alone on a course that normally allows for four teams. Snap’s matched up against Young Life in the next round.
No. 15 School House Maple eked out a win in the morning’s first heat. Corey Vancura, 21, of Whitman, Mass., teamed up with brother-and-sister team John and Moriah McGlenn, 19 and 21, respectively, from Starksboro, for the win. The McGlenns were representing their family’s sugarhouse in the race — and after their first win, they rested up for what they hoped would be a redemptive match in the final heat.
Their team came in second in last year’s race in a disputed photo finish with Snap’s, the ultimate champions.
The groundwork for that rematch was cemented in the second heat, when Snap’s loped to an easy win ahead of Young Life.
The third heat was more crowded: Farr From Ohio, pulled by cousins from the far-flung Farr family, matched up against Martin’s Hardware, the Bristol Energy Committee, and the Pineapple Wafers.
The Pineapple Wafers, pulled by racers Andrew Chaplin, 19, and Brighton Luke, 23, and manned by 14-year-old rider Edgar Sherman, showed up for the big race in coordinating plaid shirts, their outhouse decked out with spray-painted pineapples. The team’s name came from a snack the racers spied in the Hispanic foods section at Shaw’s. They said it was the name of their “fake band” — though they’d gone on to write a love song to Starburst candy during the course of their charade.
The strategy nearly every team agreed on was simple: Run fast.
“Run fast, stay fast, and run fast again,” said Erin Cassels-Brown, racing for the energy committee.
As the racers shot off from the starting line, the outhouses jostled and bumped, and it turned out that running fast wasn’t the problem: Running in a straight line was.
Despite a few twists and turns, the Pineapple Wafers pulled on a burst of last-minute speed to come from behind in the second half of the race, passing the Farr family outhouse to secure the win.
With just one race to go before the big finale, Mountain Greens, the Bristol Creeme Stand, and Bristol Financial Services toed the line before the countdown.
The Mountain Greens team, representing Bristol’s natural foods store, had a reputation to reinstate: After winning the grand title in 2007 and 2008, the team failed to qualify for the final heat last year.
Runners Christian Schider, 34, and George Gaffney, 35, along with rider Desiree Steady, 21, were bent on reinstating the winning streak.
“This year we have it in the bag,” Steady said.
Their game plan?
“Take no prisoners,” Gaffney said.
The team bucked this year’s trend for decorating outhouses in honor of the Bristol Band, which this year is celebrating its 140th anniversary. Instead, the Mountain Greens design was psychedelic and multi-colored, featuring cartoon animals from a children’s book.
“We did have one concern about the design,” deadpanned Gaffney, “that maybe it was too fast.”
Also out for redemption was the Bristol Creeme Stand team, led by Harper Davis, 17, of New Haven and Craig Camara, 18, of Starksboro. As the team lined up for the fourth heat of the morning, Camara recalled the tumble the team took during last year’s race, knocking them out of the running in the final heat.
But in the end, it was the Bristol Financial Services team, led by runners Dan Cox, 17, and Ben Huizenga, 16, that earned the fourth berth in the finals. Their strategy before the raise was simple: to win.
“Don’t kill me!” chimed in 12-year-old rider Bailey Sherwin of Monkton.
“That works too, but I think winning is more important,” Huizenga quipped.
The qualifying heats finished, the winners of each preliminary race returned to the starting line and waited on the go-ahead from the announcer’s booth at Holley Hall. Crowds lined the length of West Street.
Then they were off: Snap’s, pulling a bare-bones, minimalist outhouse, took an early lead, while the Pineapple Wafers struggled to set their outhouse on a straight course. The Berry cousins angled into the center of the course, and according to a speedometer stationed alongside the course clocked around 13 miles an hour in their dash to a finish line fashioned, in part, from toilet paper.
After the Snap’s trio had crossed the finish line in first place, the No. 15 School House Maple pulled up alongside the winners, and the racers joked good-naturedly. Cooking implements decorating the Snap’s outhouse had tumbled into the race course, leaving other racers to plow ahead over spoons and whisks.
“That was part of our strategy,” Kevin Berry joked.
Will the defending champions be back next year?
“Definitely,” Chris Berry said, still out of breath from the race. He smiled wryly. “Unfortunately.”
Reporter Kathryn Flagg is at firstname.lastname@example.org.