Wife-Carrying Race, 2007

My forty-first birthday present from Matt Travis, Alex Asen, and Yael Klein was entrance for Kirsten and I in the 8th Annual North-American Wife-Carrying Contest in Sunday River, Maine. A wife-carrying contest is open to teams consisting of a man and a woman. In the Sunday River contest, the man carries the woman along a course 268 yards long, over sand, gravel and grass, crossing a 39-inch high log barrier, passing through 10 yards of waist-deep water, and over a second log barrier to the finish line. The first half of the course is up-hill around the base of a chairlift, and the second half is down-hill.

Teams run the course two at a time. The fastest two couples run a final heat. The winning couple is awarded the wife's weight in beer, and the wife's weight in pounds multiplied by five in dollars.

Kirsten and I arrived in Sunday River with our children, Haley, Alice, Calvin, and Emmett the day before the contest. We met Alex and Yael at the Fall Festival the next day, the 6th October. The Wife-Carrying Contest was the festival's main event. There were roughly forty teams competing.

Everyone who has won the contest in the past has done so by carrying the woman upside-down on the man's back in what is known as the Estonian Carry. Of the forty couples taking part in today's competition, all but one used the Estonian Carry.

The Estonian Carry and Log Barrier, by Alex

Alex and I wanted to race against one another. The organisers were kind enough to give us team numbers 3 and 4. So long as number 1 and 2 both showed up, or both failed to show up, we would race together.

Kirsten and I inspected the course. We tried crossing the log barriers. With the encouragement of another couple, we measured the depth of the water in the ditch using some stakes. The water was deeper on the left side. We agreed that the right side would be the one to steer for.

The Fall Festival provided free chairlift rides, so we rode up the chairlift and walked down the hill. We walked down instead of rode down because there was a long line of people waiting to go down. For some reason that I have not yet figured out, they allow all the chairs to be filled going up, but only one in six or seven to be filled going down.

On the Chairlift. Haley and Alice rode with Alex and Yael.

It was a bright day. Calvin was wearing his mothers sunglasses.

Calvin at the Top of the Chairlift.

On the way down, Haley found a toad and I caught him for a photograph. It looked like a frog, but I guess it must have been a toad, because there was no standing water on the ski slope.

The Toad On the Hill.

Haley and I were pleased with ourselves.

Haley and Kevan After Catching the Toad.

Matt Travis was supposed to join us with a few of his friends during the contest. But he was delayed. His dog had eaten some chocolate and needed to be calmed down by a vet. Given that Alex, Yael, Kirsten, and I were due to race in the same heat, we needed someone to watch Calvin and Emmett, and we needed someone to operate my camera. I gave my camera to Haley and instructed her in its use. I found the couple with which we had measured the depth of the water. They were team number 29. They agreed to watch the boys. They were Ri and Sarah from New Hampshire. We said were were Kevan and Kirsten from Massachusetts. Haley interviewed Kirsten, Ri, Sarah and their friend's dog.

Haley Interviews Contestants and Dog.

We left the boys with Ri and Sarah. Haley and Alice squeezed through the crowd to the barrier beside the water-filled ditch. Haley held my camera. Alice had my bag. We went to the starting line with Alex and Yael. Team 2 was there. We waited for Team 1 to show up. They did not show up. The organisers told Alex and Yael (Team 3) they had to race with Team 2. We did not protest. Alex picked up Yael, the announcer said, "Go!" and off they went.

Alex jogged off ahead immediately. We lost sight of him after he crossed the first log barrier and went around the bend, hidden behind the chairlift, slope, and the barriers. There were a few hundred people lining the course. They were cheering steadily. Alex and Yael entered the ditch. The crowd said "Aw!" Something had gone wrong. I figured Alex had fallen in the water.

Alex and Yael Navigate the Ditch, by Haley.

We were up next. I picked up Kirsten. I advised her to hold me less tightly around the waist, so I could breath, and squeeze my neck less tightly with her legs, so I would not pass out. We set off with another couple. I ran ahead. I had my reservations about running off ahead. This was supposed to be a social and entertaining occasion. But the man called out, "Come back here you speedy bugger!" He was English. I took his joke to mean that he did not mind in the least that I was racing ahead. So off I went.

My four children were watching. Alice was worried I would embarrass the family. My plan was to complete the course without banging Kirsten's head on one of the barriers, without dropping her on the ground, and without getting her wet.

We Navigate the Ditch, by Haley. Note Estonian Carry with side grip used by Kirsten.

Our time was 1 minute 15 seconds. Here we are approaching the finish line.

Final Steps, by Alex.

Haley ran to the finish line hoping to film us coming in, but we beat her there. She had the camera on while she ran, and we think the result is amusing. But you have to turn your screen sideways to see what's going on. She is wearing orange Crocs. She does catch us for a second next to the finish line, after I put Kirsten down, and you can hear the commentator announcing our time.

Haley Runs to Finish Line, by Haley.

We returned to the boys. They had enjoyed themselves with Ri and Sarah. Yeal and Alex were wet, but also happy.

Alex and Yael, wet but happy.

Twenty minutes later, Ri and Sarah, Team 29, ran their heat. I filmed them on their home stretch. They ended their run with a stunning dismount.

Ri and Sarah First Heat.

Their time was 1 minute 3 seconds. We knew it was either the best yet, or one of the best. We spent the rest of the competition wondering if they would make the Final Heat. They did. Here is the exciting finish, in which it seemed clear to me and those beside me that Ri and Sarah had won after over-taking their opponents.

Ri and Sarah Second Heat.

Somehow the organisers concluded that the other team had one. You can read about it in the Sun Journal and the Boston Globe. Here are the two final teams hearing the judge's decision. The organisers said, "It's the first person who's knees cross the finish line."

Awaiting Final Decision.

My daughters were upset about the decision. Maybe I was upset about it too, but I tried to put on a good show. Ri and Sarah received Sarah's weight in beer as their second prize. She sat upon a see-saw and they loaded up the other end with beer and some pepsi.

Alex and Yael say they'll be back next year. I think we will too. The guy who called out, "Come back here you speedy bugger," and his wife won the Over 80 Prize, for the fastest couple with a combined age of over 80. Their trophy was a plastic miniature of a log obstacle. Kirsten and I might have a shot at that prize next year, with a combined age of 81.