And the winner of the Azalea Festival Slug Race is ... wait for it ... wait for it ... Pieter!
Scores of enthusiastic fans cheered as four heats of 20 slugs each ever-so-slowly began the annual race.
Contestants placed their slugs in open Zip-Loc bags that were nailed to planks of wood. The slugs then had to slither their way out – all the way out – to be declared a winner.
The event, held at the Port of Brookings-Harbor Sunday, helped raise $3,600 for the South Coast Humane Society. Other funds came from donations and a raffle.
Those funds will be used in the Humane Society’s spay and neuter program and low-cost wellness clinic.
“He was kind of active in the box, and I thought, ‘That’s the one,’ ” said Els Stolk of Brookings, who “rented” Pieter for the race. “It was a good one. I’m absolutely proud.”
Pieter said it was worth the effort.
“Oh, it was a grueling race,” Pieter said, panting as he slowly reached for a succulent blade of grass. “And those bags get hot!”
Pieter comes from a long- heralded family of competitive slug racers, many of whom have made it to even tougher races.
Stolk rented Pieter from Slug Ranch – whose representatives declined to specify the ranch’s exact location – and received a $25 gift certificate to Slugs ’N Stones ’N Ice Cream Cones at the port.
The first-time slug racer plans to bring a group of friends for ice cream.
Many slime jockeys had high hopes.
“We searched high and low,” said Kathleen Hicks of Crescent City, of their slug. “We got him from the wild; he’s got nature on his side. He’s got experience dealing with predators.”
Allison and Nic Phair of Klamath Falls even sang a kid’s camp song – “Ohhh, bananananananananana slug!” – to encourage their slimster out of the bag.
Other slugs, bearing names like Banana-Man, Zoom-Zoom, Lightning and Han Solo-Foot, were tough contenders, Pieter said.
But Pieter has been training for months, and it paid off for the 3-inch-long mollusk.
Some people, particularly gardeners, describe snails and slugs as “icky,” “gross,” “slimy,” “mushy,” or “gelatinous.”
But their curious anatomy lends them to a certain grace and elegance not found in other mollusks.
At the rental kiosk, people debated that and what kind of slug would be the most worthy contender.
Long ones are strong and can go faster, they agreed. But that could prove to be a detriment in some cases, as racers were required to get their entire body out of the plastic bag before they were considered to have crossed the finish line.
It took Pieter 4:27 minutes to win his heat to get into the final races. With the sun blazing down, the weary slug pulled all his reserves to exit the bag in 5:02 minutes in the finals.
Some slime jockeys were heard saying Pieter seemed to be lacking some slime, which could have helped him grip the slippery plastic bag.
Slugs secrete two types of mucus: one that’s thin and watery and another that’s thick and sticky. The thin mucus spreads from the foot’s center to its edges, whereas the thick mucus spreads from front to back.
Pieter attributes his win to his foot fringe, the edge of a slug’s body.
“I’ve been training extra hard, particularly on tarps in the garden, to build that up,” he said. “It’s been a long spring.”
Despite rumors of “juicing,” – pumping slugs with hydrangea leaf juice much as some athletes use steroids for a competitive advantage – slugs at the Brookings event underwent extensive testing to ensure no illegal drugs were used to buff up foot muscles.
Pieter did, however, admit he removed his shell before the race to relieve himself of the extra .04 ounce.
“With the race as close as it was, that could have been the determining factor,” he said, slithering back into his humble abode.
“I was racing against a whole field of fine slugs,” he admitted. “And I wasn’t sure I had it in the bag – or, rather, out of the bag – right until the end.”
He’s not sure he’ll compete again next year, but slime jockeys said they couldn’t wait for the 2013 Azalea Festival Slug Races.
“We did it last year and it was a lot of fun,” Hicks said. “So we thought we’d come up and do it again.”