I was up in Cuyuna Country State Recreation Area in Minnesota’s Iron Range last weekend, on a yearly camping trip with several friends: Ty, Garret, Kevin, Maggie, Val, Dan, and and Dan’s almost-one-year-old daughter Sammy. Kev and Mags noticed the local newspaper at a gas station, and had to buy one when they saw the front page. Above stories about and a mountain bike festival and an especially friendly grouse, the main headline was about the annual Woodtick Race, which has been going for 32 years as a fundraiser for the local fire department.
Well, we had to go.
Dan found a woodtick crawling on his neck, and decided to capture it so he could enter it in the races. On our drive to downtown Cuyana (where the races were being held), Ty found a tick crawling on himself, and it was added to our makeshift stable.
We were shocked to discover that the Woodtick Races draw a big crowd. There were motorcycles everywhere, because it’s apparently one of those things the bikers like to go to. We didn’t see a single one under 40.
There were 3 or 4 vendors set up selling kitsch, and a few places to buy food and/or beer, but the main attraction was obviously the coliseum where the mighty champions would test their mettle. In this case, it was a medium-sized tent with three tables set up under them. Many people gathered around the tables, and a scorekeeper barked out race results, his voice far too loud over the speakers. Behind him were four huge boards covered in brackets, to keep track of the winners and losers.
The three tables were each about 3-4 feet square, and were where the races took place. I was expecting some sort of track, but they had a much better idea: each table had a large circle painted on it, almost to the table’s edges, with a much smaller circle in the center. Two ticks would be placed in the center circle, covered with a Dixie cup, and then the cup would be pulled away and the clock was started. The first tick to reach the outer circle was declared the winner of the match, and moved up the brackets. Races were typically done after about a minute, although some lasted much longer, depending on the vigor of the challengers.
The races were already going by the time we got there, and we were too late to enter our ace racers. Kev put them out to pasture in the most dignified trash can he could find, with the lid of the water bottle still screwed on tight.
There were at least 130 ticks being tested, and very few people were actually paying attention to the races themselves. Let’s face it: after you’ve watched 2-3 races, it becomes pretty boring. After that, our group began wandering around, checking out vendors and parked motorcycles. Dan went around snapping pictures of various things, with Sammy riding on his shoulders, generally having a good time. I wandered over to a food stand to buy a bottle of water (Kev had an issue with hydration earlier, and I didn’t want to follow his lead) and decided I also wanted a $5 funnel cake. Mmmm…fried dough and powdered sugar. Oh yes.
After about half an hour, we got bored and left. There were still plenty of people milling around, and many many more races for the ticks to run before the day was done. We never found out which tick won, but I had a good feeling about #64.