Try running a marathon. Now try it heading straight up a mountain at high elevation and then back down again, with a stubborn ass in tow. That, in essence, is what Fairplay's annual pack burro race entails - and last year, Karen Thorpe of Salida became the first woman in the race's 63-year history to take first place. "About 20 years ago, there used to be a women's course. Then the women decided they wanted to compete against the men," said race coordinator Ralph Herzog. "Barb Dolan from Buena Vista finished second probably three times. It was a long time coming, but it finally happened," he said. Thorpe and her burro Kokomo took first with a time of 5:41:50. Sometimes people take as long as 10 hours to finish.The 30-mile course starts at 10,00 feet in downtown Fairplay and follows a mining road up Mosquito Pass, topping out at over 13,000 feet before descending again. Ten to 15 competitors race through variable weather each year with their burros, which are strapped with 33 pounds of gear including a pick, shovel and obligatory gold pan. If things go well, the teams run the entire way. Sometimes, however, the burros just won't budge."It's probably going to be fast because this is the first year we haven't had any snow," said Herzog, who's helped to dig his fair share of stubborn burros from snow. "Usually there are a couple of snow drifts we have to go across, and a couple streams sometimes knee-deep in water that this year are barely a trickle. It's definitely going to be a lot faster than it was the past couple of years."
The 64th Burro Days celebration is anticipated to draw upwards of 10,000 visitors. The event commemorates the role burros played in Colorado's mining past.A full slate of activities surrounds the pack burro race, including llama races, kids' rides, a gold panning booth, a huge arts and crafts show, food, live music, outhouse races, a parade and even a cowboy-style church service.Festivities kick off tonight with a free concert by Chuck Hughes Band at Fairplay Beach before llamas take center stage on Saturday. There's a three-mile llama race visible from town similar in spirit to the burro races, the Llama Rama Race, in which teams of four costumed people run together with one llama, and Llama Lunacy, where kids lead llamas and alpacas through a small obstacle course. Some of the children will go on to compete in future llama races. In Alma, kids can also take part in a pack dog race with their pooch.On Sunday, burros and their handlers line up on Front Street for the burro races, which start at 10:30 a.m. In addition to the long course, there is also a 15-mile track that turns around at Park City. To watch the races en route, meet up with Mosquito Pass Rd. (CR-12) through a side road. Or check out the start on Front Street, replete with Wild West gunfighters; then spend the day at the fair and come back to Front Street five to six hours later to find out if Karen Thorpe can take the title once again.Info: www.burrodays.com or (719) 836-1921