For those who haven’t heard of the Cheese rolling festival in Gloucester, England let me set the scene for you.
Imagine yourself in the country side of England walking through a field with thousands of other people, a natural buzz flowing though the air as the locals get ready to watch (or in my case participate) in one of the most dangerous and flat out crazy events on earth. You pass country houses that have been there for hundreds of years and have beautifully intertwined with the earth, moss and vines slowly growing over their roofs. You turn the corner to see Coopers hill.
Coopers hill is the closest you can get to a cliff without actually calling it a cliff. One hour from this moment I’ll be launching myself off of this “hill” to chase a round cheese, along with locals and crazy foreigners like myself. Starting at the bottom of Coopers hill you have to climb all the way to the top seeing every bone breaking hidden pothole along the way.
I had seen the youtube videos of people literally falling down this beast of a hill at wild speeds and brutally slamming against the ground. You can watch the video of my epic experience HERE or scroll to the bottom of the post.
It was my first week of a trip abroad for me so my mind was doing its best to talk me out of doing it, thinking how terrible it would be to wheel my way around Egypt the next week in a wheelchair. I knew I had traveled way too far (and told far too many people I was going to do it) to back out now. When I got to the top of Coopers hill I saw about 120 people all expecting to run that morning, some dressed in silly costumes, some drinking liquid courage to get ready to chase the cheese!
A little background: The Cheese Rolling Festival is traditionally for the local residents of the town of Brockworth. From the top of the hill a 9 lb round of cheese is rolled, and competitors start racing down the hill after it. The first person over the finish line at the bottom of the hill wins the cheese. In theory, competitors are aiming to catch the cheese; however, it has around a one-second head start and can reach speeds up to 70 mph. So unless the cheese slams into a hole on its way down, the winner will be the first person to cross the finish line guarded by about a dozen huge rugby players, some of which apparently enjoy giving you a little more than a helping hand as you fly towards the bottom.
As I was at the top of the hill I started to talk with some local Brockworth boys who were telling stories of years past. At this point I asked the stupidest question possible “So how dangerous is this really?” He responded with the fact that two years ago he broke both of his legs! No he didn’t break them falling down Coopers hill, he broke them when a rugby player at the finish line decided that the best way to stop him would be to pick him up and slam him on the ground hard enough to break his legs! Great, not only do I have to fear this massive hill/cliff, now if I somehow manage to survive the hill I will be met with a large man who is going to take my head off. Needless to say I was super pumped…
An organizer for the event yelled out with a loud speaker “Alright everyone we are only doing three races for the men with 12 people in each.” Looking around at the one-hundred other men, some of which had traveled around the world for this event I could see the panic set in as they did the math. Everyone rushed for the starting line elbowing and slipping past each other to get closer. I knew I wouldn’t make it for first two races, I was too far back, my only chance was the last race and I’d have to force my way to the starting line no matter what it takes. The first two races were wild! People were flying through the air and one or two somehow managed to stay on their feet the entire time!
My elbows were stuck in the ribs of the guys who were trying to sneak past me and I didn’t care. This was my moment and I didn’t come this far to be polite as someone took my spot at the line! The final race was ready to run with me crouched down at the far end when I heard the worst news I could possibly hear “This race is the final race and we are only having locals in it! Brockworth boys only!” I was fucked. I didn’t move from my spot though. I look english enough, maybe nobody would notice…Sadly they noticed. As I turn to move off the starting line and sulk as I watched my chance slip by I heard the voice of an angel, my new friend I had met at the top of the hill earlier who told me the story of his broken legs yelled out in the thickest English accent possible “OY, this chap right here is an honorary Brockworth boy! This chap right here will run with us!” I looked at him like a 6 year old who just found out they were going to disneyland! I am the luckiest boy in the whole world. The man with the loudspeaker just shrugged his shoulders and got ready to start the race as he said “”One to be ready! Two to be steady! Three for the cheese! (This is when they launched the big round white cheese down the hill) And four to be off!”
Nothing mattered in my life besides Coopers Hill. The bills back home that needed to be paid, the debt I’d likely incur from this trip, my relationship, nothing. I was completely engulfed in the moment, this crazy, stupid, incredible moment.
I launched my body down Coopers hill, my Hawaiian shirt flowing in the air, the grass between the toes on my Vibram Fivefinger shoes, I felt as light as air….because I happened to be flying through it! I slammed on the ground and the earth sprung me back onto my feet that were moving so fast I could hardly keep from face planting. I saw other guys ahead of me and the goal was no longer to win the race but to survive it! When I was about a three quarters of the way down the hill I reached top speed, I was no longer running, I was being pulled by gravity towards a huge bald man covered in tattoos who in my mind was about to pick me up like a WWE wrestler and break my spine. Those thoughts quickly went away as my face goes 50 miles and hour into the ground about 15 feet from the finish line. Stumbling into the arms of the big man he just gave me a pat on the back and a look that said “you’re a ridiculous human being”, a look I definitely deserved.
I didn’t win the race but I didn’t get seriously injured and I crossed another item off my Bucketlist with a huge smile on my face.
A small side note: The Cheese Rolling Festival is super dangerous. That year a man broke his leg sideways and the friend who got me into that last race broke his collar bone. If you’re going to do it, have travelers insurance and a living will written out in advance. That being said, if any of you reading this decide to go, e-mail me and I might be persuaded to join in the festivities again.