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  • Jan Flynn

I’m Celebrating Summer!

But not like this

It was a long, hard winter in the Northern Hemisphere this year, and spring took its dang time in coming. When it finally did, it brought with it stuff we’re not supposed to have to confront for months.

Epic wildfires in Canada spewed a miasma of smoke that made Manhattan look like the post-apocalyptic Sodom and Gomorrah that folks in the Bible Belt think it is.

A way-too-early outbreak of deadly tornadoes tore up the Midwest and Southeast. Late blizzards pummeled the Upper Midwest.

Where I live in Southern Idaho, we’ve been hit with daily thunderstorms, some of them dumping torrential rain and hail, a bizarre weather pattern for our region. The sagebrush and tumbleweed hardly know what to make of it.

But summer is finally, officially here

Nobody could blame us for being a little giddy. Roll out those lazy, hazy, crazy days! Dig out the swimsuits, dust off the lawn chairs, fire up the BBQ and put the suds on ice, baby.

It’s time to party.

This is a time of year when there’s an abundance of festivities to attend, whether we’re traveling or sticking close to home. Some are iconic, like the Fourth of July in the good ol’ USA, when most of us can put our crabby politics aside long enough to scarf a hot dog (vegan ones count) and revel in the (safe and sane) fireworks.

Others are more localized, like SawtoothFest, which is set amidst the glorious mountains around Stanley, Idaho in mid-July. Like a lot of similar festivals, it features live music, local arts and crafts, and food.

It used to be called the Mountain Mama Fair, which I liked better, but nobody asked me. Anyway, it’s a good time, only a three-hour drive from where I live, and you can’t beat the scenery. Maybe I’ll go again this year.

But some summer festivals cross the line into Bizarro Land

Maybe it’s the release of winter’s grip, or maybe it’s the sudden rush of Vitamin D from the long sunlit hours. Whatever, summer’s advent ushers in some celebrations that lean so far past whimsical that they tilt into weirdness.

They happen all over the Northern Hemisphere. Some you’ve probably heard of, like La Tomatina in Valencia, Spain, in which participants try to climb a tall greased pole to reach a ham at its top, and then everybody hurls ripe tomatoes at everybody else for a full hour.

Fire trucks then hose off the streets, and everybody goes home happy, assuming they didn’t break their legs slipping in the tomato slime.

This year La Tomatina happens on August 30, and tickets are already selling out.

I will not be there.

Another one you may be familiar with is Cooper’s Hill Cheese Rolling and Wake in England. In this event, people chase a seven-pound wheel of Double Gloucester cheese down a very steep, 200-foot hill. The winner gets the cheese. could go wrong?

There are hundreds of spectators. Contestants come from all over. It will not surprise you to learn there are also multiple injuries.

The winner of this year’s women’s race (it’s still a binary thing, apparently) was nineteen-year-old Delaney Irving from Nanaimo, British Columbia. Irving was knocked unconscious in the process.

“I just remember hitting my head, and now I have the cheese,” she said, according to a report in USA Today.

Sounds like the aftermath of a date gone wrong to me.

Matt Crolla, 28, from Manchester, won one of the men’s races. When asked by a reporter how he got ready for the event, Crolla said, “I don’t think you can train for it, can you? It’s just being an idiot.”

I couldn’t agree more.

This year’s Cheese Rolling and Wake took place on May 29, so if you weren’t there, you missed the big cheese. It’s not too early to start planning for 2024, of course. But you can leave me out.

Lesser-known strange summer flings

Finland seems to specialize in weird ways to honor summer. One of these is Wife-Carrying.

This takes place every June in Sonkajarvi, 100km north of Kuopio (as if that helps, unless you’re familiar with any place in Finland besides Helsinki, which I am not). In this contest, husbands sling their wives over their shoulders and then sprint across rough terrain, including marshes.

The winner’s prize? The wife’s weight in beer. I’m not even going to try to follow that up with a wry observation.

You might not expect it, given its notoriously frigid climate, but Finland is besieged with mosquitoes in the summertime. Lots of lakes and marshes, you see, ready to launch bazillions of tiny winged vampires the minute things warm up.

Thus the annual World Mosquito Catching Championship. It’s a simple concept: to participate, you stand in a mosquito-ridden location and remove your top. Then you remain in place for a designated time during which you use your hands to smite every little blood-sucker that lands on you.

He or she with the most mosquito corpses splatted across their torso wins.

I suspect there is alcohol involved in this event too. Even so, count me out.

Let’s head back to Spain for the annual El Colacho Baby-Jumping Festival. This does not involve infants with a freakish ability to leap. Instead, in a tradition with murky origins that probably date back to the 1600s, normally responsible parents place their babies who were born in that year — some still newborns —on mattresses in the street.

Then a guy dressed as the devil jumps over them. I am not making this up.

It’s apparently supposed to cleanse the wee babes of their original sin. The higher-ups in the Catholic Church are reportedly uncomfortable with the whole thing, but 400-year-old traditions don’t give up easily.

Nothing says “summer” in Wales like peat bog snorkeling

Mark your calendar for Sunday, August 27 for the next World Bog Snorkelling Championships. It’s held every year in Llanwrtyd Wells, which is as unpronounceable as most places in Wales.

Here the challenge is to snorkel through the murky, chilly soup of a peat bog in record time — without using traditional swim strokes. Should this appeal to you, here are some of the rules:

You get one of two bogs assigned at registration, this is not negotiable.
You must snorkel 2 lengths of the bog (110 meters in total) and touch the turn post above the water level.
You are only allowed to swim soggy paddle with arms, no breaststroke or front crawl. You must swim with your face in the water but can look occasionally to adjust direction.
You may use fins but no mono-fins.
You can’t use webbed gloves or full face snorkel masks.
Don’t be slower than 2 minutes for the first length of the bog. Otherwise you cannot continue the second length.
Fancy Dress is optional but encouraged.

If you pack your tuxedo and goggles and head to Llanwrtyd Wells for this, let me know how it goes. I’ll pass.

Elsewhere in the UK, it’s time for toe wrestling

A newcomer to the world of summer traditions, the World Toe Wrestling Championship is an annual event, now held at the Bentley Brook Inn in Ashbourne, England.

As Eddie Kim, writing in Slate explains,

Toe-wrestling is a lot like arm-wrestling — the key is to bend your opponent’s appendage out of bounds. Only, in this case, competitors sit on the ground, usually in a pub or park, and use their legs and core to lever their opponent’s foot toward one wall of the “arena,” a skateboard-sized piece of wood with two vertical walls inside which contestants battle. Competitors must win two rounds of three to win their bout, starting with the right foot, then switching to their left. If their toes disconnect, play is reset in the center.

Toe wrestling got its start in a pub in the mid-seventies. Like most things this weird, some folks take it pretty serious.

The current world professional toe wrestling champ, 34-year-old Ben Woodroffe, had the nails on his big toes surgically removed to avoid the pain he experienced from excess pressure on his nail beds during wrestling bouts.

“Probably when I told my missus that I was a toe-wrestler, she instantly thought I was a bit of a weirdo,” he’s reported to have said.

Just a bit, dude. Good thing you’d already married her.

The idea of locking unshorn feet with some sweaty stranger in a pub — or anywhere, really — comes in close to last on my list of Fun Things To Do In The Summer.

Closer to home: more summer observances

Heading east to west, these include the Coney Island Mermaid Parade — which just took place last weekend, so sorry if you missed it — as well as the High Heel Race, a Pride event that takes place in cities all over the country, including San Antonio, Texas and has wildly dressed folks racing down streets in their stilettos.

Honestly, those two sound pretty fabulous.

In early August you can head to California for the Gilroy Garlic Festival, a wacky celebration of all things garlic. It’s a huge draw for foodies, if not vampires. This is a festival I could imagine attending, being a garlic fan. But I’ll stay away from one of its featured attractions: garlic ice cream.

Finally, you may or may not have missed your chance to enjoy this year’s World (or National) Naked Bike Ride Day. According to the website International Days, this event was founded in 2004 to “mobilize the general public against oil dependency and celebrate the human body.”

Anyway, WNBRD’s motto is “bare as you dare,” aiming to “deliver a vision of a cleaner, safer, body-positive world.” Now its focus is more on advocating for cycling, including bicycle safety.

How that lines up with potentially exposing your entire dermis to the pavement is a mystery, but maybe that’s just me.

In the U.S., Naked Bike Ride Day takes place on different dates in different cities. I only became aware of it last week when relatives who were visiting New Orleans sent us some eye-boggling pics of the event there.

I’ll spare you the images.

But if you’re disappointed to have missed the big day in New Orleans and other cities, it’s not too late. You can catch the event on Saturday, August 12 in Portland, Oregon.

If you know anything about summer on the Northwest coast, you’ll understand why Portlanders wait until August to ride bikes in the altogether. Brr.

Surely there are other ways to revel in the magic of summer

And many of them are no doubt things I would never do myself but am delighted to learn about. Because I never tire of human wackiness, even if I don’t necessarily want to participate in all of it.

So if you know of any zany summer observances I haven’t mentioned, please share. But if you do decide to pedal in a parade wearing nothing but your birthday suit and a bike helmet, keep the pics to yourself.

Just don’t forget the sunscreen.

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