VIRGINA CITY — So it’s been a little more than five months since I have moved to Nevada, and I have seen and done some strange things since starting this job (like casinos in grocery stores, what is that all about?) If you all have read any of my stories, you have seen I’ve been bitten by police K9 dogs, thrown out of a fire tower and shot AK machine guns, but by far the weirdest thing I have experienced so far was the Virginia City Camel and Ostrich Races.
I have never in my life heard of people racing camels, ostriches and zebras for fun, but here it is, this grand 56-year-running event and I got the opportunity to be a jockey for a day and race a camel Friday.
Worst decision of my life.
It was terrifying.
Before Friday, I was actually pretty excited to ride, who else can say they got to race a camel? Plus life isn’t fun unless you say yes to racing a camel, and the only concern I had was trying to beat Teri Vance’s winning streak. I was determined to own that camel and become the big-shot newcomer.
Fast forward to the night before race day. I was still feeling pretty ready to ride, until I called my mom to tell her about my big jockey debut.
“Oh my god you are not going to actually get on a camel are you?” my mom asked. “You do remember how accident prone you are, right? You are going to fall off that camel and break your neck.”
I assured her I would be fine, a ton of other people have raced before me and no one has fallen off, so I should be OK, too. My first mistake was thinking at 22 years old I was finally smarter than my mom.
So now it’s Friday, race day. All of the media outlets gathered around 11 a.m. behind the fairgrounds for our orientation. We would be running in multiple heats with three racers per heat.
“Now you can get hurt doing this,” said Joe Headrick, owner of all the animals at the event. “So if you don’t feel comfortable you can back out and we can put someone in your place it is all right. The camels don’t run fast, but I guarantee it will feel like they are running 100 mph.”
Looking back at this, I feel like this was my second warning from the universe to not get onto the camel.
But once again, I thought I was too smart for my mom and the universe.
I was in the fourth heat, so I got to watch some of the other media men and women go through the race, as well as the ostrich races (thank God I didn’t get on one of those birds). I thought, it looks pretty straightforward, I’ve got this!
Then it was my turn, I was racing against Michael Tragosh from Yelp and Teri Vance, our reigning champ. Joe walked us out to the middle of the arena to introduce ourselves to the crowd and then they led us back to the pens to prepare our camels.
After struggling to get onto the camel — I’m short and those chutes are really high — I started to question my decision. My knees started shaking, I started to quiver and my palms started sweating. Why was I on this camel again? But I had to preserver, I’m not a quitter so I just sucked it up and gave Joe the thumbs up sign to open the gates.
Before we raced, we got all sorts of advice: keep your knees in front of you, squeeze the camel with your legs, sit up straight and I just kept repeating that in my head as we prepared to start.
All that advice went out the window almost immediately out of the chute. I’m pretty sure my camel was confused, I think it was trying to channel its inner bucking bronco. I think he could smell my fear. He bucked like he was trying to get me off his back and I went flying in the air.
So here I am, this little, kind of city girl getting flung into the air by this massive animal and all I could think was man, this may be where I die today. I kept trying to get my body repositioned on top of the saddle like they told us, but because my camel kept bouncing and running (I think I’m going to nickname him Mario and Dready) I couldn’t regain my balance. And I did the only thing I could do, pray to God and hang on for dear life.
I actually saw my life flash before my eyes a few times and all I could think of was my mom “you are going to fall off and break your neck.” What a way to go, death by camel.
The race only lasted maybe 30 seconds or so, but it felt like hours. I felt like a rag doll just being thrown around and there was nothing I could do but hold onto saddle and hope I didn’t end up in the dirt.
The jockeys were (finally) able to come out and stop my camel around the bend and push me back onto the rightful position, but I was frozen stiff. I don’t know what they put in that camel’s Wheaties Friday morning, but he was mad. When the jockeys finally got him to stop running, he started grunting and pawing the ground with his hooves. Of course I would get the angry camel. Typical.
But myself, Teri and Michael safely crossed the finish line. I lost sadly and came in third place, but boy was I glad when those jockeys pulled me off of that animal.
“Well we had a tie, you all should ride again!” Joe joked with me.
Not a chance Joe, not even a small chance.
So my week-long dream to be a professional camel jockey was dashed in seconds.
Don’t get me wrong, though I had a near-death experience on this camel, the event as a whole was so much fun; there was great food, great people and it’s such an interesting and unique event.
It was neat to see the whole town of Virginia City come together for this, especially with the town holding the event in its beautiful, brand new events fairground. It was a really fun day overall and a great experience, and now I have a great story to laugh about.
I would definitely encourage anyone who has the chance to go and do it because like I said, what is life if you can’t tell the story of how you almost died on the back of a camel? Plus I’m going to blame all of it on me being accident prone because everyone else rode those camels like pros.
But I think I’ll leave the camel racing to Teri Vance, I think I’ll choose getting bitten by the K9 dogs over being a camel jockey any day.