The Alpine Worm Race
I thought I had pretty much seen it all until the day I attended the 7th Annual Alpine Worm Race.
While we were on our vacation in Northeastern Arizona this summer my husband and I were having breakfast in a little cafe when we overheard some people talking (with expectant delight in their voices) about the "worm race" that they were going to attend later in the day.
Being the nosy person that I am, I interrupted their conversation to ask more about this odd sounding local event. I was told that the worm race is a VERY important fund raiser for the little town of Alpine. The money taken in this year would be going to benefit the town's public library and all 40 of it's books.
My husband and I decided we just had to go see this race. I mean, come on, how do you race worms anyway? After breakfast we headed for Alpine, which was only about 20 minutes away.
Now, since this was supposed to be a big deal; an annual event; an almost "sacred" occurance to these people, we were sure there would be signs to direct us to the location of the worm racetrack. But when we got to Alpine there wasn't even a hint that the town was expecting anything out of the ordinary that day.
We had been duped, we thought. How those people in the cafe must be laughing now, knowing that we had fallen for their practical joke and were driving all over the White Mountains looking for a stupid worm race.
For a minute I was tempted to ask a local resident about the race, but then I thought, "They are all in this together! Make a fool of myself in this little one-horse town? Not me!"
While we were driving back through the the town (both blocks of it) for the umpteenth time we spotted a little handwritten sign announcing (of all things) The 7th Annual Alpine Worm Race, to be held at the local tavern. We made a few sarcastic remarks about the situation, but since this had become almost a battle between "them" and "us" we decided not to give up on this whole thing yet. Even though we are both teetotalers we walked into the bar and asked the only patron in the place if there was really going to be a worm race there.
He assured us that there was indeed going to be such a race and, in fact, the parade to head off the event would be starting in a few minutes. He pointed to a group of vehicles that had started to collect in the vacant lot next door. There were two police cars, three fire trucks, a tow truck and a woman on horseback. So it was official. For what it was worth, there really was going to be a worm race.
Incredibly, within the next 15 minutes a very nice parade was put together and people from miles around started streaming in to town. More surprisingly, an hour later my husband and I were standing in line at the tavern to purchase our thoroughbred racing worm for $5.00.
Our worm was a nice juicy Canadian Night Crawler peacefully resting in his stall (an 8 ounce styrofoam coffee cup.) The lady who was in charge of worm procurement had written his name on the side of his temporary home. We named him "Stumpkins" after our dog, Stumpy, and he was a beauty.
As we took time to familiarize ourselves with the racing area Stumpkins continued to rest. The race track was a nicely painted piece of round plywood, maybe three feet in diameter. It was placed across a 55 gallon drum. The starting line was a circle painted in the center, inside of which the worms would be placed. The finish line was the outter edge of the board. Whichever worm ran (?) the farthest distance toward the finish line in two minutes would win. There were two worms running at a time, with the high scorers having a race-off later in the day.
The worm owners were allowed to use creative means to persuade their worms to break into a gallop, but you couldn't actually touch your worm. You could yell, call his mama means names, threaten to use him for trout bait or blow on him. Each owner was supplied with a squirt bottle of water that they could use to encourage their worm along, but they couldn't use it to blast the worms to the finish line.
We let Stumpkins rest while we waited for his heat because we wanted him to feel fresh for the race. When it was his turn we felt quite smug because he was obviously in better physical condition than his competitor. Stumpkins' strong muscles glistened as we placed him in the starting circle next to his opponent, Whats-iz-name.
The two worms laid there staring each other down as they waited for the starting pistol. They were both in total control of their excitement,,,I knew this because neither one moved the tiniest little bit.
Finally, at the sound of the gun the worms were off,,,or should have been anyway, but in reality they both just laid there like slugs. We squirted Stumpkins with water,,,Whats-iz-name's owner squirted Whats-iz-name,,,but both worms just laid there staring at each other. We yelled, we threatened, we tried bribery, we blew on him, and we squirted him with some more water, but Stumpkins was happy just laying there in the starting ring sleepily staring at his lazy opponent.
Needless to say, both worms were eventually disqualified for intentional stalling. We took Stumpkins back to the lady we got him from and told her she had sold us a lemon of a worm. We told her that we'd be back next year and, by golly, we would be bringing our own worm,,,in fact we would be bringing our whole worm herd! She gave us a big toothy smile and said, "Great! We'll look forward to seeing you again next year!"
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Alpine is a friendly little town with a lot going for it. If you are ever in the White Mountain area of Arizona stop in at the tavern in Alpine and ask them when the next worm race is scheduled for (it was mid-July this year.) Maybe we'll see you there!
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© September 4, 2000