Here in a small community in Northern Michigan, a crazy and somewhat random race takes place every year. It’s the Wanigan Race. What, you never heard of a wanigan? How could that be? There are several definitions for a wanigan but the Free Dictionary states that it is “A boat or small chest equipped with supplies for a lumber camp.” Um, not exactly what I have learned that a wanigan is but it is close is for the purpose of this race.
The Cheboygan Chamber of Commerce describes it as: “Back in the great days when Cheboygan was the logging capital of the north in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, or so the story goes, lumbermen would strap logs together and make a cooking raft to gather on and eat their hot meals. This Cheboygan Jaycees sponsored race keeps the tradition alive as teams of up to six from all over compete with their versions of a “Wanigan.”
Per the Jaycees the rules are: You need a minimum of 3 people and a maximum of 6 people. The raft needs to be made out of logs though the decking can be made out of boards. You need to make a structure on it that is at least 4 feet high and no more than 6 feet high and has three sides as well as a roof fully fit inside. The cook needs to be able to fully fit inside and sit erect. The stove must be wood burning. No charcoal, coal, propane, kerosene, gas, etc. may be used. All stoves must be homemade and not factory made. No modified camp stoves. A lined fire pit may be used instead of a stove. The fire cannot be started until your race has begun.
The purpose: As the Wanigan was historically the “Chuck Wagon” of the River; each raft must make 5 quarts of chili during the race. The ending temperature of the chili must be 160 degrees. The meat may be pre- browned and the other ingredients may be cut or diced beforehand. Chili must be assembled on the raft during the race (NO PRE MIXED INGREDIENTS), per the instructions from the Jaycees.
All these rafts are paddling down the Cheboygan River, some take it very seriously; others have their coolers of beer on the raft and are enjoying the day. Some don’t look like they are going to make it at all. The course is about 4 miles long.
Once you reach the end of the race, a sample is taken of your chili and a thermometer is inserted to see if it has reached the desired temperature.
If you happen to find yourself in northern Michigan during the second weekend in July, head on over to Cheboygan to watch this crazy race.