Diehards refuse to shut door on outhouse race
BRISTOL — Typically the Great Bristol Outhouse Race is the Grand Prix of portable potties.
For good reason the Bristol Fourth of July Committee bills its annual Independence Day event as the World Championship of the competition.
That reason is for 43 consecutive years no one has argued that claim.
Really, how can anyone dispute the majesty of red, white and blue ribbon-festooned rolling restrooms careening through cheering crowds along Bristol’s West Street?
But this year something did: COVID-19.
Those happy throngs this year could also be disease vectors. So the committee called off the race, the annual parade that follows and the sideshow on the village green.
But dreams die hard for some.
Especially for someone who thinks about the race year-round, considers strategy and proper conditioning for the event, and for years suffered heartbreak before finally getting a taste of victory in 2019 that only left him wanting more.
Yes, that would be Cam Perta, whose energy and enthusiasm for the Great Bristol Outhouse Race is, kindly put, unmatched.
“I train myself for it all year,” Perta said.
And, to be fair, a few of Perta’s friends didn’t need much convincing early last week to help stage the race on a side street this past Saturday.
They approached Fourth of July committee members, who said, sure, take two of our outhouses.
Then a family on Elm Street — whose daughter, Abby Perlee, was born on the Fourth of July — agreed to host the race, in part to celebrate her birthday.
When the race needed more competitors, the Crum family — neighbors on Elm Street —stepped up and said they would participate.
Finally, members of the LaRose family supplied the fourth team to allow for a three-heat event, two semifinals and a decisive run for all the glory.
The last piece of the puzzle they needed was a formal pre-event pronouncement on race day from a senior Fourth of July Committee member.
So, committee treasurer Ted Lylis, was this official? Would today’s winners (teams of three compete, a rider and two pushers/pullers) be considered official World Outhouse Race Champions? Even though there would be four teams, not the usual 16, and there was little or no advance publicity and none of the usual fundraising component for the committee?
(Editor’s note: Readers will be shocked to learn that typically observers gamble on the outcome of the Great Bristol Outhouse Race, with the proceeds going to the Bristol Fourth of July Committee to support the town’s annual celebration.)
Lylis, who was on hand Saturday, pointed to the initiative taken by organizers Perta, Perlee, Bryson Knight, Emma Carter, Emma Radler and Jason Martino.
Then he issued his ruling:
“Why not? It’s the only one in town.”
Game on. Even if it was more like a Petit Prix this year.
Race course set-up answered an age-old mystery: No one has ever been able to answer the question of how long the course is. But the group wanted to accurately duplicate the event and measured the West Street course and learned it was 450 feet. They headed along Elm Street west from North Street and discovered 450 feet ended, conveniently, in front of Perlee’s home.
Race day dawned hot and sunny and the competitors gathered at high noon: Well, close, 12:30 p.m.
The first heat pitted Perta, Radler and Knight (yes, there was a Knight Rider) vs. Carter, Martino and Perlee riding, with the next heat pitting the Crum family (Dad Brent and sisters Emma and Charlotte, with the younger Charlotte riding) vs. the LaRose family (mom Megan and daughter Emma, guaranteeing an Emma winner, with friend and Fourth of July Committee member Janet Foster riding).
The first heat was hotly contested, both verbally and physically. With Radler pulling and Perta pushing Team Perta took an early lead, but Team Perlee caught them midway, and it was neck and neck to the finish line — where a final surge allowed the defending champ Team Perta to prevail by a foot.
Martino credited Perta’s dedication and experience.
“I think Cam being a complete psychopath made a difference,” he said. “I’m more or less of a psychopath myself, but at the same time never done this before, and he’s been doing this for like 10 years.”
Martino also tried 2 a.m. texts and trash talk unsuccessfully.
“I’ve been in his head for 12 hours. I thought he was going to fall apart by the race,” he said.
Perta claimed to have taken the high road.
“The other team here gave us some good bulletin-board material,” Perta said. “We didn’t fire back. We let our outhouse-pushing talk for us.”
In the second heat Team Crum had the lead when a wheel came off Team Larose’s outhouse, allowing the Crums to waltz to the win. The LaRoses and Foster took it in stride, laughing and carrying their wooden vessel the final 150 feet to the finish line.
The outhouse went into the back of homeowner Chris Perlee’s pickup for repairs, and the wheel was not a factor in the final.
That race proved to be a coronation for Team Perta.
Team Crum hung with the champs for half the race, but Radler, like Carter a champion athlete at Mount Abraham Union High School, and Perta cruised home for the gold.
Brent Crum, a Mount Abe teacher and former track team coach, said Team Crum might have hit the wall.
“We have youthful exuberance and wisdom,” Crum said. “I think my youthful exuberance ran out.”
Crum, who has competed in regulation Great Bristol Outhouse Races, said everybody involved enjoyed the day.
“It was great to relive the experience of the outhouse race in a smaller scale,” Crum said. “And it was all about celebrating Abby’s birthday, so, Happy Birthday, Abby.”
After the final Radler was asked how being a World Outhouse Race Champion compared to her Division II pole vault title.
“It’s right up there. I’ll have to put this on my résumé,” Radler said, adding, “For sure. I’ll be back.”
Knight described his role as trying to be light, providing “moral support,” and shouting.
“I think it was the most yelling I’ve done in a long time. I think I helped out the team,” Knight said. “I was just yelling at Cam directly, because it’s kind of fun to just yell at Cam.”
Perta said Carter, Martino and Perlee would “never have let him live down” a loss.
“As you saw through most of the day here, for some reason I’m, I guess, the antagonist of the event, despite my love and passion for it. So the last couple of days having had to field taunts from more or less the entire crowd here has been inspirational,” he said. “So for me it’s less about winning and more about staving off defeat.”
So, will Perta be back next year?
“Always. To the bitter end.”
“See you there,” said Perlee.
“I’ll be there,” said Perta. “Ready to go.”