I had a birthday last weekend. Mike wanted to take me to an elegant restaurant, as we’ve done for each other every year we’ve been together. But the All New and Improved(?) Me longed for something more. . .more. . .fun. The thought of having to put on socially acceptable underwear and decide which fork to use made me feel dull. I really wanted to see poodles juggled by an expert poodle juggler but I couldn’t seem to find where that (legally) happens. My next thought was to (literally) take a hike and head for the local brewpub afterward, an okayish sort of alternative.
Just in time, the AAA magazine arrived, complete with upcoming activities for this section of the country. I’ve found other spectacular events in there: Galveston’s Sand Castle Competition and the Storming of the Bastille at the Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia. A very plausible runner-up to poodle juggling was forthcoming over my birthday weekend: the World Champion Punkin Chunkin Competition in Delaware. I was all over it, and my hapless partner in crime/husband was on board (pretty much) right away. My homework included viewing the 2011 competition highlights on the Discovery Channel and surfing the Punkin Chunkin website.
But why just watch the competition? Why not be part of the action? I dusted off the military tanker’s helmet Mike bought me some time ago, drilled a couple holes, and attached my toy catapult to the top. I bought a couple bags of candycorn pumpkins for ammunition, lobbed a few test shots (“Fire in the hole!”), tweaked my apparatus, and proclaimed myself prepared. Mike painted his hard hat into a jack o’ lantern and christened us: Team Candypult. Away we went in the Magic Bus, leaving at 6:30am for the 4-hour drive.
Despite being drenched by Hurricane Sandy earlier in the week, the enormous corn field launch site was in reasonable condition (never mind those alarming ruts capturing cars like lambs in quicksand — a pack of teenagers would race over and heave-ho the vehicle to solid ground). The wallow factor of the parking area made it feel like I was driving the Bus over a marshmallow. The weather forecast of mid 50′s and partly cloudy had been hijacked by very overcast and cold with a wind that meant business. I wore all the clothes intended for the entire weekend to stay warm. We donned our official Team Candypult headgear and tramped toward the entrance, passing tailgaters drinking beer, tossing bean bags, and grilling. Mostly drinking beer, though. I found after entering the gate that I’d never been to an event where so much beer was being consumed, but none was being sold. These chunkers came prepared. There were coolers being towed and rolled, Crown Royal bottles tucked in pockets, individual beers being worn in belts, and beer being dispensed through tubing from backpacks. Our first stop, the port-a-potties, smelled like miniature breweries (not a bad thing, actually). But I hardly saw anyone actually drunk. Everybody was just really happy.
Candypulting began as we waited in line at the port-a-potties. Despite an impressive array of artful head (and body) attire (in addition to a significant selection of camo and Carhartt), chunkers were immediately intrigued by my helmet and further amazed that it actually functioned. I offered everyone who approached a candy pumpkin and invited them to fire the candypult. Slow smiles quirked into grins as orange candies sailed into the crowd. In a slightly embarrassing development, people even wanted to be photographed with us. Mike was our official Team Candypult photographer and took all the photos below (without noticing that I seem to be in rather compromising positions with an assortment of men from Elvis to a female banana.) Rick from Chunk’n-ology fired the candypult, then advised me on a modification that would make the projectile travel farther. Bless him; I was pleased it worked at all. The event was being filmed for television; if I had tried I probably could have gotten myself into their line of sight. I didn’t try.
Punkin Chunkin had activities for everyone — tailgating, bands playing continuously on a stage, rides for kids, a chili cook off, fireworks, kitschy vendors, a Miss Punkin Chunkin contest. You could even don a sumo wrestler suit and belly bump with your best (or worst) friend. The actual chunking runs continuously, with pumpkins being hurled, flung, and launched from gargantuan trebuchets and cannons propelled by various means and mounted on trucks and trailers, and inside buses. I would so love to drive up beside Fat Jimmy’s yellow school bus on an interstate somewhere. I know I’d be laughing and waving frantically.
Someone in the crowd called the event “a redneck’s ultimate dream.” I think everybody should see this at least once. If you can’t get there, check out the simulcast on either the Discovery or Science Channel (check your local listings!) after you’ve chowed down at Thanksgiving. Maybe you’ll see Team Candypult in the crowd. Go ahead, wave at us. We’ll definitely be laughing. And candy chunking.