Let me start this out with a simple U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A! Because what I experienced on the 4th of July was well deserving of the chant.
I was in Idaho during the 4th of July. Idaho gets a bad rap sometimes. I blame the crazy fringe militia that popped up a while back. Idaho is an incredible state filled with all kinds of exciting things. Skiing, hiking, fishing, rafting, they’ve got it all. But one city rises above the rest. Council.
As of the official census data from 2000, the population of Council, Idaho was 816 people. Since then, it is thought to have decreased. And when the population decreases in a town of 816, it becomes obvious. Luckily, I love small towns. I love the Rocky Mountain states. So give me a small town in a Rocky Mountain state, and well, then I’m in Council, Idaho.
The goal was actually not to end up in Council, Idaho. Instead we were heading up to an area near McCall and chose to drive through Council to avoid the traffic. And what a serendipitous shortcut it turned out to be. Because from the back seat of the car, staring back at me, damn near taunting me, was the greatest sign I had ever seen. World Championship Porcupine Race and 4th of July Celebration. In that order. The World Championship Porcupine Race took top billing over the celebrations of America’s independence. Obviously.
The citizens of Council do have humor though. Obviously, I was intrigued. So I broached the subject with the family. Because what better way to spend the 4th of July than watching porcupine racing? There was skepticism. Understandably. Were these real porcupines? If so, why? How did they race? So many questions.
Turns out, Morfar (see what I did there with the Swedish?) knows people. Lots of people. Like people at the Chamber of Commerce in Council. So after a couple of phone calls, it was confirmed. Yes, the porcupines were real. Porcupines would be racing on the 4th of July.
Once again… U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A!
I had never actually seen a live porcupine, let alone one racing. I couldn’t sleep on the night of the third. The excitement was palpable. That’s not true. At least the sleeping part. But the excitement was palpable.
As the parade wound down, I thanked a 10 year old boy who had helped me get a popsicle for free from one of the floats. Turns out, parade participants are hesitant to throw popsicles to 25 year old guys with beards, but have no qualms about throwing an extra one to a 10 year old.
Anyway, being the superior conversationalist that I am, I got some information about the races from the kid. Follow the crowd to the football field. The races will be held there. Watch out, it can get pretty wild. Sometimes the porcupines get out of the race tracks and into the crowds. Porcupines have what can best be described as son of a bitch quills. They are a son of a bitch to get out because they are barbed.
With that knowledge in mind, we headed off to the football field. Home to the eight-man Lumberjack football team. State champions in 2006. Gooooooooo Lumberjacks!
But I digress. The area was still filling up so I camped out on the sidelines. A front row seat if you will. I was either going to get a close up view of the porcupine races or get a son of a bitch quill in me. I liked my chances.
We were surrounded by locals. And we were very obviously not local. You ask how I know. It’s easy. My body isn’t covered in tattoos. I’m not 18 with a kid. I’m not pounding beers at 11 in the morning with a cigarette hanging out of the side of my mouth. But most importantly, my teeth are relatively straight. While Council apparently has an orthopedics office, (I know because they sponsored two of the racers), they seem to lack an orthodontics office. Unfortunately.
As the sun beat down on my poor Swedish colored scalp, which would eventually turn a nice shade of red, the event began. But first, some background information on the event.
Each porcupine is sponsored by a person or company. The porcupines also have two handlers. The handlers are the men and women responsible for racing the porcupines. And also for catching the porcupines the night before. How do you catch a porcupine? Carefully and with a trap. Apparently the citizens of Council are remiss to give out their secrets to catching a porcupine because that’s all we got out of them.
Once the porcupines are captured and sponsored they are put up for auction the day of the race. Rumors swirled and no one really knew where the money went. Most agreed it went to a charity. Which charity? Who knows? Maybe the Chamber of Commerce. One lady, her voice haggard from years of cheering at porcupine races, and probably a lot of smoking, informed us that the money actually went to whoever had purchased the winning porcupine at auction. The money was then divided between the sponsor of the porcupine, the handlers, and then the auction winner who then gave the money to charity. Thousands of dollars were spent. In cash. The top bid for a porcupine was $200. The winning porcupine was purchased for $140.
After 21 porcupines were finally auctioned off, and I had contracted skin cancer on the top of my head, the races were ready to start. Three heats of seven racers each. The races begin when the handlers place a porcupine in a trash can. Dump the trash can over. Tap the trash can gently with a broom to get the racers facing the right way. And away they go. The broom is used to guide them. As is the trash can. After watching one race, I was expecting PETA to descend from the heavens in biodiesel helicopters, rappelling down on hemp ropes, chanting slogans and snagging the porcupines away to safety. Luckily, PETA knows better than to venture into Council, Idaho. Which turned out to be a good idea. There was a rifle raffle in the middle of all of the excitement.
Three heats later, and no rogue porcupines in the crowd, the finalists were lined up. Everyone knew who was going to win. Poke ‘n Go. Everyone knew because the handlers of Poke n’ Go had won three of the last four races. And at some point it stops being luck and starts being some sort of skill in racing porcupines. Sure enough, Poke ‘n Go won the race making it four out of the last five for the handlers.
After the races most of the locals headed off to watch the lawn mower drag races, but I had had enough excitement for one day. My 4th of July was complete with the World Championship Porcupine Race. And now yours can also be complete. Because I filmed the action. Enjoy heats one and three from the 2009 World Championship Porcupine Race in Council, Idaho:
Subscribe to a Swedish American in Sweden