The Pumpkin Hurl!
Exploring a festive holiday near Seattle.
travel, nonfiction, seattle
September 14, 2013


We all climbed into the Mohr's new minivan and drove to the “Pumpkin Hurl.” It's a yearly festival where they hurl pumpkins using trebuchets and launch them quite a long ways away. They even have air cannons to shoot them over the landscape as well. Over the years, I guess the festival has grown and it's now primarily a medieval renaissance fair, which is fine since it offers a lot to see and do.

Coming up the road to it, we passed a sign that had an arrow and the word, “HURL” on a sign. Since my stomach was still upset, all I could think of was, “How befitting.”

The festival is out on a huge field and tents are strewn about. After paying our way in and parking, we visited the knife, axe, and spear throwing area first. It's a cool spot where you can practice throwing each of the weapons towards targets made out of wood or hay. Akin to other similar activities, it's always harder than it looks. The knives were balanced well enough to hit the target, but aiming them effectively was no easy task. It took me several attempts to finally hit the target.

I also got to see how easily the knives could hit at a bad angle and bounce back to the thrower (or someone else). I must say that the safety lines perhaps were a bit too close to the targets--especially with so many kids participating.

After some frustrating throws, I finally landed both the axe and knife. I then tried the spear. Once again--harder than it would appear. But in time, I conquered it.

We then went over to the hurling. The main trebuchet was impressive and launched a pumpkin over 1,000 feet. But since they were competing for distance, the pumpkins were never very large. Thus, the impact explosions were not as great as they could have been. Still, it was fun to watch.

We visited many of the booths and their workers were all kind and informative. They were eager to share their hobbies (and livelihoods?) with those willing to stop and listen. We saw swords, spears, leather armor, morning stars, chain mail, and an assortment of other items. On tent even displayed the kinds of food people would have been eating back then. A “knight” was having a grand time stuffing almonds into olives and eating them.

We also heard the call for volunteers to be a part of a shield wall. I had no idea what that would be, but it sounded like we would be just forming a phalanx or something to show how it looked.

I'm not sure I was even close to being right.

We volunteered and were each given a wooden sword and a wooden shield. There were 12 on each team--those with brown shields and those with red shields. It wasn't always easy to tell who was on your side--and this would matter later. But we were told to form up over on the middle of the field.

So we all started walking, following no one person in particular.

As the field seemed to have no real identifying marks, we just kept marching until the field ran out (due to a fence). The event leader then came over and shook his head, mumbled something like, “you'd just keep marching to the ocean,” and had as march over to the “center” of the field. We were not off to a great start, but we were warriors, not engineers. We needed more brawn than brains.

Though my brawn isn't much for this type of combat.

The competition was done in stages. The first was ... okay, actually, the first thing was to agree and vouch that we understood how people could get injured and said we wouldn't sue, or something to the like. I once read you actually can't simply forgo your right to sue just by saying you wouldn't, but I also would surmise that their insurance is pretty adequate for these types of events. I mean there are many people at these festivals doing some mildly dangerous things--and some aren't exactly sober.

Luckily, my stomach was in much better shape at this point. I could fight a battle for the fatherland--or motherland.

We were instructed on how to overlap shields and form a shield wall. This was important when the archers fired volleys into our ranks. These “arrows” would be tennis balls thrown by the kids. I did end up getting hit by one or two “arrows,” but they were only superficial flesh wounds. I was able to fight onward.

Then came the pushing contest, of trying to break through the other line. This was the roughest event and holding a wooden shield and sword and pushing with all one's might does tend to bang up the arms and hands some.

Afterwards, we had the combat phases. We tried flanking and wedges and that sort of strategy. On the last battle, we played to the “death.” If you were hit someone on the body by the opponent's sword, you were “dead” and fell down. Some sat; others sprawled. Oh, and also, no head shots were allowed. They didn't have THAT much insurance, I'm guessing.

This battle went our way, but not by much. It was down to just me and our captain and someone from the other side. I was suddenly hit from behind by... argh! My own captain! “HEY! I'm on your side!” “Oh, sorry,” he said. “Didn't see the color of your shield.” I'm thinking, don't they teach officers to observe shield colors in Medieval Captain Training School? Guess not. But since he was on my side, the wound wasn't fatal. The last opponent was slaughtered and we stood victorious. Actually, I think the captain was exhausted and fell down too. I stood alone.

And looked at all the fallen soldiers. So many lives lost. And for what?


I yelled and vowed that they would all be remembered in song and story over time.

And they were ... until I found the wine-tasting corral. We will just remember them all collectively as the red shield army.

Or were they the brown shield army.

Seriously, these armies need more distinguishing symbols.

But yeah, one can see how size certainly matters for combat. Sure, speed is great in some things. On that field, though, one needed to be tall and strong to survive. Nevertheless, an exception occurred on that fateful Saturday in Seattle.

(It's actually north of Seattle, but does't sound so nice in folklore.)

After the battle and wine, we saw the jousting. (Note that while the Pacific Northwest has great beer and excellent food, the wine hasn't really blown me away yet. Granted, I do come from an area close to Napa and Sonoma, so maybe that's part of it.)

The jousting was actually one of the coolest parts of the festival. Several people wore suits of armor and rode atop decked out horses with plenty of flair and color. There were also several women doing all the same parts of the jousting. Equal opportunity sport these days.

The first event was the sword through the rings. The idea was to simulate the knight on top of a horse chasing down someone and impaling him in the back. Not nice, but hey, they weren't the best of times. So they would gallup down the list and try pick up each ring.

The following phase was to spear a pig--again to simulate spearing the enemy. Since PETA frowns upon live pig-spearing, they used hay bales instead. As always, harder than it looks (I'm guessing since several riders had trouble on this one). But hey, I could barely spear a bale of hay from ten feet away and all the while NOT riding a galloping horse.

Part three was shooting arrows from horseback. It's pretty easy to see the practical application on this one. They did a fairly good job and hit the stationary knight in several strategic places. Luckily, he had plenty of armor.

Finally, it was the actual jousting. Each pass was a pretty spectacular sight to see. They impact speed could reach over 60 miles per hour and on one pass, the lances even connected and shattered. Notably a shattered lance was often more dangerous than getting hit by an intact one.

After the contest, the knights and their horses came to the audience for a meet and greet. The horses up close were even more impressive. The main knight (well, the guy with the best suit of armor) had a large horse, which I thought was a Palfrey, until I finally looked it up and found that Palfrey is not a breed, but a type of horse. It still fits, but I wish I remembered the breed.

The horse was tolerant if not eager for spectators to pet him, but he did nod his head a lot. The knight warned people to be careful not to be accidentally head-butted by the horse. It did look like it would leave a pretty big bruise if that happened. The horse also liked to paw the ground--you know, like when horses are counting. The knight would tell him to knock it off. I guess it was a sign that the horse was anxious to be doing something instead of just standing around being petted. Personally, I wouldn't mind that.

After that event, we headed out. It was a good afternoon of festivities.

We enjoyed a nice outdoor dinner and I was happy to be drinking once again. But not too much.