Runtrails' Rocky Mountain Journal
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"I guess I'll run -- my ass is feeling better this morning."
- Marge Hickman, referring to the burro/donkey/ass she'd be riding in today's burro race 


Each person has his/her own "highlight" of Boom Days -- maybe it's the crafts, the costumes, the boardwalk, the rodeo, the mining contests, the music and other entertainment, the rod and gun show, or other weekend events. For me, the highlight of Boom Days is the burro racing.

It's hard enough to run twenty-one miles in the oxygen-starved mountains around Leadville, especially when you have to climb from 10,200 feet in town up to Mosquito Pass at 13,187 feet. Try doing it with a burro-with-a-mind-of-its-own on the end of a fifteen-foot rope!

The sport of pack-burro racing began in this area in 1949 with a twenty-three mile race over Mosquito Pass between the little towns of Leadville and Fairplay. Women joined in the race two years later and started having their own separate race in 1955.

At first, the two towns alternated the start and finish from one year to the next. After some squabbling about which direction the race would be run, each town began having its own race. A third race was added in Buena Vista and The Triple Crown was born. If a runner-burro team wins all three races in one summer, they win extra money. The purse for the Leadville open-race winner this year is $1,200 and $850 for the female winner.

The open (male and female) course is twenty-one miles and is marked in blue in the diagram below (the map is not to scale); the women's-only course, marked in red, is fifteen miles and does not go over Mosquito Pass:

In the spirit of historical accuracy, each burro must wear a regulation pack saddle loaded with prospector's paraphernalia weighing about 33 pounds, depending on the burro's size. Other race rules include never riding the burro, never hurting the burro, and running the entire distance with the burro.

One year we drove and hiked to the top of Mosquito Pass to watch the turn-around of the open race. That was an interesting excursion, not so much because of the awful jeep road (we won't ever be driving up there again in our own vehicle!) but because of the runner-donkey maneuvers we witnessed. It's pretty obvious even in town at the race start who has been training with their burro for an extended period of time and who hasn't.

The animals really can be "jackasses." (And there are a lot of "ass" jokes during the race.) As one of the Boom Days guides (published by the Leadville Chronicle) explains, "Donkeys have a reputation for stubbornness, but this is due to some handlers' misinterpretation of their highly-developed sense of self-preservation. It is difficult to force or frighten a donkey into doing something it sees as contrary to its own best interest."

Hmm . . . I can be like that, too!

Marge Hickman told us before the parade that she'd be running the women's race again this year, so we looked for her this morning. We found several of the other competitors on a side street, but not Marge:

Note the "Donkey Power" sign

This is #10, the accommodating donkey I was petting

We went back to Harrison Ave. just before the open race started at 11 AM. I took this photo of a costumed woman making friends with one of the men's burros as the runner (the guy in blue) waited for the race to begin:

We went about a block up the street from the start to watch them come by:



OK, I'll refrain from any jokes about the burros' backsides . . .

As usual, there were about a dozen competitors in the race. We noticed only one woman among the emn. Unfortunately, Ken Chlouber wasn't among the competitors this year, the first time in thirty-one years (yes!) that he hasn't been able to participate. He probably will miss his 25th LT100 run, too. He's been battling a knee problem for several months and hasn't been able to resolve the problem, let alone train for these difficult races. He's more than bummed out.

After the open race began, we found Marge getting ready for her race at 11:15. She attached her ten-year LT100 buckle to the saddle:


She's borrowing a burro and appeared to be having difficulty with it before the race. That's common. The burros sometimes want to go the wrong way at the start!

Burro #10 and his runner still look calm right before the race begins:

About eight women started at a pretty fast pace:


Marge saw us and gave us a big grin. I think she was happy to get underway. Fifteen miles is a short run for her -- she's training for her umteenth LT100 run. I forget how many finishes she has, but it's more than any other female.

After the open and women's official competitions are underway, other retired and more compliant burros are brought out for anyone in the crowd to run a block up and down Harrison Ave. There were about ten heats with seven men, women, and children in each. It's fun to watch women in high-heeled sandals, kids in their 1880s costumes, and couch potatoes of all ages run up and down the street with the donkeys.

Nope, we weren't even tempted.

There is an $800 prize to the person who most closely predicts the open winning time today. Folks were rushing to purchase tickets right before the noon deadline ("six for only $5," the announcer in the upper right corner of the photo kept hawking):

We were busy at the rodeo when the runners and their burros returned to town throughout the afternoon. When I find out who won, I'll report it here.

Addendum: for the first time ever, a woman won the open race and got the $1,200 prize! Her name is Lynette Clemons and her official time was 3:35, which was faster than last year's winning time by a man. Barb Dolan won the women's race again, this time in 2:07.


Last year (2006 journal, August 6) I wrote about watching some of the mining events for which Boom Days is famous. After all, this is a celebration of all things mining, especially of Leadville's heyday in the 1880s.

Mining competitions have been a part of Leadville history for over a hundred years, well before Boom Days was born in 1949. Drilling matches go back as far as 1885. Miners continue to come to Leadville from other towns and states to participate in single and team events like jackleg drilling, spike driving, hand-steeling, and hand-mucking. Women participate only in the hand-mucking, which involves filling an ore cart with rock by hand. Oh, boy.

We wandered by the mining competition site this morning on our way to the burrow race but only stayed for a few minutes. The competition was the deafening singles jackleg drilling event. Most of the participants and spectators were wearing earplugs in their ears. We didn't. We watched as one man wielded a 110-pound drill for two minutes (the time limit) to punch a deep hole into the big purple painted rock used for the competition:

As the drill sunk deeper and deeper into the rock, he threw his whole body on top of it to control it (the drills run on compressed air). One Boom Days guide describes jackleg drilling as "rodeo for miners . . . like riding a bucking bronco."


At Boom Days you'll find folks dressed in everything from punk to 2007 Denver Sophisticate to 1880s show girl.


There are old-time sheriffs and cowboys, too (see photos in last entry). Many of them know each other either because they live here or they've been coming to Boom Days the last twenty years, as this couple has:

Add in curious visitors from other states and countries, and you have quite an interesting mix of "cultures."

My second-favorite highlight of Boom Days (second now only because they no longer have the outhouse races!) is the costume contest. Men, women, and children all have their own categories of competition, and it all begins with The Mosey.

The Mosey is a couples stroll with attitude. The winners are usually the coy young ladies with the most moxie, the ones who either bribe to seduce the male judges (I think there are two male and two female judges). The ones who play it straight and just WALK may be dressed nicely, but they don't win crowd applause or points like the ones who make their two-minute walk really interesting.

I spotted this year's winner (below right) before she even found a partner to walk with her. She came in late and breathless and dramatic, explaining to the emcee (below left) that she really, really wanted to be in the Mosey but didn't have a partner.  A young man in period costume -- if you don't count the running shoes that poked out beneath his pants legs -- was found in about one minute to accompany her. That wasn't hard. She was gorgeous, especially when she smiled.

Emcee and Boom Days President, George Benson, L, and the cute redhead, R

She smiled all the time. She was like an actress on a stage, full of energy and confidence.

She immediately took her new partner aside to train him in ten minutes before her turn in the spotlight. I watched her more as she and the guy practiced than the other couples as they moseyed!

The Mosey began. Each couple had the stage to themselves for one or two minutes. About eight younger and older couples sauntered, strolled, sashayed, bowed, and curtsied their way around a large oval in front of the judges and the crowd, who cheered and applauded their approval.

Then there was only one couple left. Because she was late, the gorgeous red-head and her last-minute partner were the last to mosey. It was a fitting end to the contest as they entertained the crowd with their coy teen-age antics. The young woman could have won an Emmy for her performance. Even Jim was laughing and cheering her on!

I was not in the least bit surprised fifteen minutes later to hear that she'd won the Mosey contest. By then Jim had already gone back to help Mike sell rodeo tickets. I stuck around a few more minutes to watch some of the little kids participate in their costume contest, but didn't see the teen and adult costume events, which were judged for their historic authenticity. I think this young lady also had one of the best costumes and I hope she won that event. She told me a friend made her dress but she made the hat herself.

Addendum: The cute redhead who won the Mosey is Rachel Graham from Denver. And yes, she also won the "Dressiest Female" contest.

Here are two of the cute little girls who were waiting for their turn in the costume contest:


I remember this one from last year, when she wore a similar costume. I would see her later at the rodeo, competing in costume!

I decided to run home (literally) when it started raining lightly. It was less than a mile to the end of Sixth Street. I followed the same route as the LT100 race start, happy with my decision to NOT run the race this year with almost 600 other people. I've run the "LT50" enough times (twice) to save my $195 dollars. (Note: there is no LT50. That means I wasn't fast enough to make the cut-off at 50 miles in the 100-miler.)


Jim and Mike weren't busy yet at 1 PM but they asked me to come back out (from the camper) and help about 1:30 when they might start getting overwhelmed.

We want your money! (I think Jim needs a cowboy shirt and hat.)

I returned before that, and fun selling tickets and answering people's questions about the rodeo.

Not as many people came through today, so Jim and Mike encouraged me to go on down to the rodeo grounds and take photos. The rodeo was scheduled for only two hours, and Jim was able to join me at the end for the two most popular events, the kids' mutton-busting and professional bull riding.

And people think ultra running is an extreme sport???

Only about 400 people came through today so there were some empty seats in the stands. This was my first professional rodeo -- and the first time the Boom Days rodeo has gone professional.

Events yesterday and today included bareback riding, barrel racing, saddle bronc, team roping, tie-down roping, break-away roping, steer wrestling, and bull riding. I had the privilege of seeing most of these events today.

I sat or stood near these calves and steers that were waiting their turn in the arena;

Here goes a competitor in the steer-wresting contest. The steer is released between the competitor on the left and another rider on the right that tries to "steer" the steer in a straight line. The man on the tan horse to the left is a judge:

Here another competitor is off his horse and trying to lay the steer down on the ground. The winner is the cowboy who wrestles his steer to the ground in the shortest amount of time:

The next two photos show action in the team steer-roping contest. The competitor on the left has already roped the steer's neck, and the guy on the right is getting ready to rope the back two legs:

Success! The steer is down:

Although this looks like animal cruelty to me, it's a time-honored tradition on ranches where animals need to be inoculated, branded, etc. and sometimes this is the only way to do it.

The women's barrel-racing contest was more interesting to me because it combines speed with a lot of dexterity and intuition between the horse and rider. The object is to get around three barrels spaced in a triangular pattern as quickly as possible -- without knocking over a barrel -- and cross the laser beam faster than anyone else:

There were about ten women competing here today, and the fastest were under eighteen seconds. I read and article later in the Denver Post about a young woman who made over a million dollars on one horse that is now retired. Now riding a different horse, she competes nearly every day during rodeo season and attends the highest-paying events. I don't think she was here today.

The most exciting events I watched were bronco- and bull-riding. I didn't get any good photos of the broncs, but here are two riders trying to stay on their bulls for eight seconds (the guy in the first photo was the winner):


Children's events were interspersed throughout the program but it was hard for me to see and photograph them from my vantage point. The mutton-busting was fun to watch -- kids under 50 pounds were allowed to ride a sheep out of the chute just like the big boys rode the bucking broncos and bulls. None of the kids lasted more than a couple seconds, though. It looked more dangerous than it is. It didn't appear that any of the kids (OR adults) got hurt this afternoon.

Remember that little girl in the frilly pink dress and white pantaloons? She participated in all three kids' rodeo events (mutton-busting, riding a stick horse, and a race against a boy to untie a ribbon on a goat's tail0 -- in that costume!! So did a couple other older girls.

By 4 PM the rodeo and the 57th annual Boom Days celebration were over. By 5 PM, the yellow tape and signs were being removed around Jack's property, the rodeo stock was gone, the burro races were over, and the food and crafts booths downtown were mostly dismantled.

It started raining more steadily as the rodeo crowd dispersed and we returned to our camper. I was facing Mt. Massive for two hours during the rodeo and watched the mountain slowly disappear behind clouds and approaching rain. It was good timing; the weekend was mostly dry for the celebration.

This is definitely Leadville's "monsoon" season. I think it's rained every afternoon or evening since we got to this area. It's quite different than the mostly-sunny weather we had in Silverton, but we'd rather be here in chilly rain than in hot, humid Virginia.

Upcoming entries: photos of our hummingbird friends, more training runs in scenic places, the last reunion for 10th Mountain Division WWII veterans , and volunteering for the LT100 bike race.

"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, Cody, and Tater

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2007 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil