Camels return to the Comstock
There’s a moment, right when the chute gate opens, when all the nerves that have been building up explode into one great adrenaline rush. And it’s awesome.Then there’s what happened on Friday. I climbed up the fence, lowered myself onto my camel. Then waited. The nerves built up, the tension rose, the gate swung open … and nothing.My competitors charged into the arena, while my camel and I sat still. I kicked, I yelled, I turned around to smack his rump. He just wasn’t feeling it.Fortunately, the camel handlers, realizing my dilemma, jumped in to help. One pulled and one prodded and we urged my camel into action, slow though it may have been. And, somehow, I crossed the finish line first. It wasn’t pretty, and maybe it wasn’t even fair, but you can’t argue with the blue ribbon. I figure you can’t hold too firmly to the rules when it comes to an event that began as hoax.The Territorial Enterprise editor Bob Richards published the results of a fictional camel race in 1959. While locals knew it was a spoof, the wire services picked it up and the story went nationwide.The following year, Richards was challenged by the San Francisco Chronicle, who had taken his article seriously.As legend has it, they leased camels from the San Francisco Zoo, then raced down C Street.The event gained visibility because Marilyn Monroe and Clark Gable, who were nearby filming “The Misfits,” joined director John Huston for a day at the races.Since then, it has become an annual event, with the international championships being held every other year, alternating with Alice Springs, Australia.The weekend-long races begin with a Media Grudge Match, which took place Friday. Stock provider Joe Hedrick, owner of Hedrick’s Exotic Animal Farm in Kansas, gave some tips before the race.“Keep your rear end down behind the hump, and hang on,” he said. For most competitors, it’s a light-hearted affair. “I don’t ride horses, I don’t ride anything,” said Meghan Burk, from the magazine Get Away Reno/Tahoe. “I’d never heard of this before. So why not?”Others take it more seriously. “I’m really competitive, and I know I can win anything I enter,” said Brandi Dequin, from LoadedTV.com. “I’m just really good.”Brook Boone, a KRNV reporter took second behind Burk in their heat. She wasn’t so confident. “I was terrified,” she said. “Hey, I stayed on. That was my goal when I started.”After competing in 2004, Karen Woodmansee, owner of Virginia City News, returned this year. “I just wanted to do it again,” she said. “I haven’t learned anything.”The International Camel Races continue today and Sunday, featuring camel, ostrich and emu races. If you goWHAT: 53rd annual International Camel RacesWHEN: 1 p.m. today and noon SundayWHERE: Camel Arena, F Street, Virginia City.TICKETS: $12 adults; $8 children, seniors and military. Available at vccamelraces.com, 888-695-0888, or at the box office day of race.