Dakota Blackhorse-von Jess isn't eating a burrito. He's vaporizing the damn thing, shoveling in the last few shredded fragments of the tortilla-bound, sauce-drenched, three-and-a-half-pound piece of Bend folklore until the aluminum bread tin in which it once sat - like a baby in a cradle, only bigger - reflects in the blazing sun that's pounding down on the Taco Stand patio.
He just ate three and a half pounds of burrito in four minutes and two seconds, making him the sixth person to have completed the Boswell Challenge, a gastric tough man exhibition of sorts offered by request at the Taco Stand on Hill Street. Winning means consuming all three and a half pounds in under five minutes and thus receiving the mass quantity of Mexican food for free, something the 24-year-old Blackhorse-von Jess does with gusto. He throws up his arms and the fifteen or so spectators looking on in wonder (or disgust) explode in applause.
I'm sitting next to him and I clap, too. Then I look down at the pound or so of burrito remaining in my bread tin and decide there are no less than 1,300 things I'd rather do at that moment than take another bite of burrito. But I do. I take another bite and several more because the four other young men at my table are still plunging their forks (or bean-and-cheese-coated bare hands) into their tins and for reasons that both confuse and embarrass me, I'm feeling more competitive than I have a long while.
Then it happens. It feels like a burp at first, but then it ricochets up my ribcage and up my throat. It is my body telling me to stop putting food in it. I drop my fork and acknowledge that the burrito has won. But to my right, Kyle Fredrickson and Jackson Rich are racing against time, as Taco Stand owner Gene Fitzsimmons counts down to the five minute mark that signals the end of the challenge. There are a few more bites to swallow, and they both do it. It's incredible. I cheer. Everyone cheers. Rich and I high-five and the percussion of the hands slapping sends pieces of lettuce and bean from our burrito-encrusted paws up into the air.
I stand up - and immediately begin feeling a desire to rip my stomach from my body. I'll feel like this for the next 24 hours, during which I'll eat only a handful of fruit and part of a grilled-cheese sandwich. Standing in the brain-melting afternoon sun, I'm wondering how I found myself sucking down what Fitzsimmons estimated was three pounds of burrito.
I think it has something to do with the fact that competitive eating has been on my radar lately. On the Fourth of July, Joey Chestnut ate 54 hotdogs in 10 minutes as the famed Takeru Kobayashi, banned from the competition, tried to jump on stage, a seemingly nonsensical action that landed him in jail. A couple of days later, I allowed myself to watch more than two uninterrupted hours of Man vs. Food, a program in which an increasingly rotund and socially awkward jackass travels to various American cities with the intention of eating massive quantities of horrendously fattening and/or spicy foods as his eyes sink deeper into his head and the number of folds in the greasy fat under his chin multiply.
Before deciding I was the sort of guy who could potentially eat three and a half pounds of burrito, I'd only challenged my stomach's capacity once and that was in fifth grade. My elementary school served up rice pudding about once a month and each time I sucked down my paper-cup allotment of the sticky, paste-like stuff, I grew more enamored with it. Soon, my classmates began gladly passing me their pudding. One day, they lined up maybe 15 cups of pudding, which at a conservative four ounces per serving would have amounted to about a half gallon, and I sucked down all of them, encouraged by the steady beat of my fellow fifth graders' fists on the table. It could have been a scene from an early 1980s summer camp movie and I was the hero. But I wasn't. I was just the fat kid, as was pointed out to me on the playground a few minutes after I'd slammed the 15th cup of pudding.
It wasn't that 11-year-old inner fat kid that led me to the Taco Stand's challenge, but rather scientific intrigue... or something along those lines. I'd seen the Boswell Challenge posted on the board at the beloved local lunch joint for a few years now, wondering what exactly three and a half pounds of burrito looked like and more importantly, how it could fit inside a human stomach. Before I swallowed my first bite, though. I needed some history. I learned that the massive concoction is named after Ian Boswell, the 19-year-old cyclist who is quickly becoming one of the nation's top young riders and a man who can devour gut-busting amounts of food, which is precisely what he did the first time he took down the burrito in four minutes and 30 seconds.
I called Taco Stand owner Fitzsimmons to inquire about the Boswell and about two minutes into our conversation, he'd already offered up the challenge. I agreed because, well, I like burritos. Then again, maybe that fifth grader inside me longed for the encouraging pounding of fists.
"Come hungry, man. Oh, and don't be dehydrated," said Fitzsimmons, a short, wiry fireball of a man who also serves as the restaurant's chef and unofficial mascot.
That was all the advice I received before arriving during the lunch rush on Friday afternoon, where I got a look at my competition - members of the Bend Endurance Academy. Blackhorse-von Jess, Fredrickson, Rich - all elite Nordic skiers and/or cyclists - and their fellow athletes spent the morning doing strength training and playing soccer. They're all sweaty and smell vaguely of football practice.
They look hungry, especially the excellently named Blackhorse-von Jess, a jovial and powerfully built man (he says he's a Nordic skier, but looks more like an NFL defensive back) who ten minutes later proves to be a destroyer of both worlds and burritos with a fork in hand. This is his second attempt at the Boswell Challenge - in his first attempt, he clocked in at 4:32, but then the time limit was 4:30, not an even five minutes as it is now, having been bumped up by Fitzsimmons in an effort to encourage more customers to take up the challenge.
When it arrives in front of me, I realize that the Boswell is not a burrito, but more like the entirety of the Taco Stand ingredient arsenal wrapped up in a tortilla. And when I dig in, there's a chili relleno buried within the lettuce, beans, cheese and meat. The shame is that this thing was damn good, at least from the few bites I consumed slowly enough to taste. Time limits aside, this is one of the most comprehensively delicious burritos I've ever eaten.
But there's no way Blackhorse-von Jess tasted much of that burrito as he vacuumed it down his throat. The guy is a madman of Mexican food. A caloric wunderkind. Screw that Man vs. Food guy. Give Blackhorse-von Jess his own TV show and let him eat his way through America's most offensively huge, yet potentially edible, dishes, then challenge passersby to push up and pull-up contests. I would watch this.
I'm intrigued by people like Blackhorse-von Jess and what they can do with a fork. Where is all that food going? And how in the hell is it getting down his throat so quickly? Why isn't he fat or at least not kinda fat? Aren't fat people supposed to be the big eaters?
But this is Bend, where endurance sports are king and the notion of running 26.2 (or more) miles or riding a bike halfway across the state is hardly scoffed at, but rather encouraged. This is a community that likes testing the limits of the human body, and stretching the fibers of your stomach lining with a family-sized portion of Mexican food seems to fall perfectly into that category. So, yeah. I'm an athlete, not a fat kid... if I could only go back to 1993 and announce that on the playground.