Burning Man or Sweating Man?

The silly season is upon us and communities from coast to coast are industriously trying to create uniquely local festivals that will draw tourist dollars and help bolster hometown coffers during the long, cold winter.

Some cities don’t have a lot to work with, but that hasn’t stopped them from becoming the something-capitals-of-the-world.

Pacifica, at one time best known for the general inebriation of its populace, cashed in on a persistent weather condition and initiated the fabulously successful Fog Festival several years ago.

And the historic Gold Rush community of Columbia keeps things from getting boring with an annual Poison Oak Festival.

Wheeeeeee!

I could go on and on about California’s decidedly quirky collection of festivals, but a small mining community in Nevada may have bested all of them with its increasingly popular summertime Pit Festival, which celebrates – appropriately enough – the great American armpit.

For two days every summer for the past four years, the out-of-the-way community of Battle Mountain has invited everybody to come on down (or up, depending on where you started) and celebrate the glory of armpits.

Sarah Burkhart, executive director of the Battle Mountain Chamber of Commerce, said the underarm fest got started in 2001 after a writer for the Washington Post thoughtfully took poison pen in hand and dubbed the little-known community of 3,000 the Armpit of America.

Initially, this riled some of the locals, but hardy Nevadans also have a sense of humor and they quickly began devising a way to turn lemons into lemonade – which is no easy task when you start with armpits…

“He was actually a pretty good writer – and it put us on the map,” said Burkhart. “The first year, it was huge.”

Not that armpits are the only thing that have ever put Battle Mountain, Nev., on the map. It was once the barite capital of the world, although I guess every schoolchild knows that…

Although armpits are the stars of this fest – there’s even an armpit beauty contest – there will be plenty more fun to be had in the rustic community of Battle Mountain on Aug. 12 and 13 this year.

According to Burkhart, there also will be old-fashioned bed races, gold panning, ore car track-laying competitions and “hand-mucking” for gold.

Track-laying and hand-mucking? It doesn’t get any better than this, amigos.

This year’s Pit Festival (formerly known as the Festival in the Pit, or vice versa – nobody seems to be really clear on this) is expected to get sponsorship from Old Spice and may even include a visit from Ronald McDonald.

Of course, there also will be a variety of armpit-related souvenirs, crafts and gift items.

Last year, Battle Mountain drew about 1,500 visitors to its two-day celebration of pits, sweat and jeers. This year’s festival, Burkhart said, could draw even more.

Located roughly 200 miles from everywhere on Interstate 80 – just keep driving east from Reno – Battle Mountain may someday be Nevada’s next big “destination” site for adventurous travelers.

Will Sweating Man be Nevada’s next Burning Man? Only time will tell…

Originally published July 24, 2005

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