It could’ve been the perfect tune-up for the Ascent . . . except that I wasn’t training for the Ascent. As it was, it was my introduction to a true mountain race. What I’m talking about was the inaugural Gold Rush, Gold Rush, staged in Victor (Cripple Creek‘s less famous neighbor) in July of 2009. The race traced an eerie parallel to Victor’s storied history. What could be more emblematic of Victor than a ruined mine atop a mountain? Ascending to that ruin (the race’s turn-around point), the nine-mile, roughly-out-and-back course then plummeted precipitously to the town that is a shadow of its former opulent self. Nearly 30 runners ascended the 1200 plus feet through an operating mine–sporting the biggest (moving!) vehicles you‘ve ever seen–to the American Eagle overlook. This event was so “rustic” that it included a pre-race safety briefing from a mine boss–how often does that happen?
Gravity and thin air conspired to do their worst, but each runner prevailed to the best of his or her ability, summiting to the encouraging words and bottled offerings (sorry, just H2o) of volunteers who had reached the 10,800 foot height by way of truck. That nasty ascent had really tested our mettle! A hundred years ago assayers had tested their metal in the mine-strewn region through which this course wended. If I could’ve ignored the sound of my own labored breathing, I might’ve imagined hearing those miners’ and assayers’ ghosts amid the skeletons of burnt-out mine shafts and outbuildings. It was the belief among Scottish boys–John Muir‘s boyhood memoirs tell us–, that if they ran very, very fast, they could outrun ghosts. Reaching the ruined mine at the overlook, we all turned tail and ran . . . into the suddenly congenial arms of gravity. This “boy” did his best, beating all apparitions, but trailing seven mortals (including local veterans John Victoria, Brian Ropp and Nels Hendrickson), either more frightened of ghosts or possessing superior training to mine. To say that we finished to a throng of supporters would be an exaggeration; if every man, woman and child in Victor had turned out to support the race, they would’ve hardly formed a throng. Still, what they lacked in numbers they made up for in small-town awe and hospitality. (I nearly failed to mention the 7:00 AM $3.00 breakfast at the fire station.) And kudos to the volunteers who marked the course, making for a minimum of “uh oh” moments in a spread-out field of runners.
The history books say that Victor had its run (traces of which can still be seen if one squints hard). . . before fading into near oblivion. Call the Gold Rush, Gold Rush a second run, after a fashion. Like most sequels, you’d be unwise to compare it with the original, but with luck and a little word-of-mouth promotion, Victor’s second run could grow into a standing event, providing the town’s small businesses with a little shot of adrenaline while enriching the runner in turn with a history lesson, small-town hospitality and mountain vistas . . . to say nothing of that all-important Ascent tune up. Oh and did I mention that the Gold Rush, Gold Rush’s first-place prize (given to Andres Jaurez) was one that a miner might appreciate? See you in Victor!