When the Canadian Plowing Championships sent me an email asking whether I would be willing to participate in their VIP-vs-media plowing match, I couldn’t help but chuckle.
I’m a city girl. I drive an automatic Toyota hatchback, live close to downtown, and it takes every ounce of my faded green thumb to keep the two tomato plants and smattering of herbs on my balcony alive for the summer.
And, while I’ve ridden in tractors and combines before for work, I have never actually driven one.
For good reason: I’m a bit of a klutz. There is a reason Grace isn’t my middle name. My mother doesn’t even let me near her rototiller.
Yet, here I was standing on the edge of the Anderson golf course just east of Ottawa on a scorching hot summer August morning, in my freshly laundered blue plaid shirt, staring down the blue New Holland tractor that was about to become my trusty steed.
Ahead of it was a plot of already prepared furrows — bone-straight rows of rich, black earth that almost glistened in the sun.
The gap between my city life and my country work life was about to shrink.
That is, if the butterflies in my stomach would stop fluttering.
The nervous look on my face had a few folks, including my fellow competitors, amused.
The match was set to start at 11 a.m. The six of us at each plot would plow two furrows each. We were told we would be judged on how straight the rows were and by how well we stayed within the plot outlines.
Organizers also said it would help if we didn’t run anyone over. Point taken.
My fellow competitors at Plot A included Ottawa city counsellor David Chernushenko, a reporter from the Ottawa Citizen, local Conservative MPP Lisa MacLeod, and the communications director for Canadian Plowing Championships.
Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre and Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson, the defending VIP Plowing champion, would plow at a nearby plot.
Most of us at Plot A had never driven a tractor or plowed in our lives.
With 20 minutes before the match, I decided, for safety’s sake, to seek out some much-needed advice.
Allen Hills is chair of the Canadian Plowing Championship organizing committee. He’s an icon within the Ottawa-Carleton plowing scene and a wealth of knowledge for plowing rookies like me.
“Just drive straight,” he told me.
That seemed easy enough.
That is until I was sitting behind the wheel and accidentally dropped the plow head too fast, causing the tractor to jerk backward and swerve.
Off to a great start.
In first gear, the pace seemed manageable. Once the front wheel was aligned against the edge of the previous furrow, all it took was a bit of concentration.
That is until I realized the edge which I was guiding the wheel against wasn’t actually straight and my furrow was veering off to the left.
Then Allen, who had been walking alongside us, told me to up the tractor to third gear. The look of “you’ve got to be kidding” I sent him made him laugh.
“You’ll be fine. If you panic, hit the clutch,” he said.
I looked down at my feet to find the clutch, and tapped it gently with my toes.
It worked. So, into third gear we go.
Third gear was not as scary as I thought. I felt like I was flying — the slight breeze blowing my hair, the soft soil churning up behind me.
I could get used to this.
Before I knew it, my furrows were done, the last two much straighter than their partners on the other side of the plot.
Even better, I didn’t run anyone over, a feat my competitors kindly applauded.
For my success, they gave me a participant plaque, a photo of which I proudly sent to my colleagues at the newsroom, who too, were amused by my escapades.
That plaque is going on the wall.
Kelsey Johnson is a reporter with iPolitics, www.ipolitics.ca.