As Laredo and I inched toward the finish line of the Leadville International Pack Burro Race on Sunday, a voice over the loudspeaker told the crowd something to the effect that I had “finally” won the thing after all these years. All I wanted to do at that point was get Laredo’s nose over the finish line, but the statement threw me back a ways into my 28-year personal history with this race. It was here that it all started for me in 1980, when Moose and I earned the “Last Ass Over the Pass” award. How soon it’s forgotten that you first won the race in 1996 with Clyde, then a second time in 1998 with Spike. Spike and I won it again in 2004 and then in 2006, an exciting and memorable race in which we nosed out Tom Sobal and Mordecai right at the finish line. And here I was winning a fifth time with a third burro, Laredo.
Laredo is a super burro and a great soul, but I’ve had my suspicions about his health. Recently blood tests confirmed that he has equine Cushings disease, which affects the pituitary gland and the regulation of stress hormones and insulin. After consulting with my vet, adjusting his diet and adding an herbal remedy, chasteberry, the vet said to go ahead and race him. I knew that I would have to monitor his stress level and pace him accordingly. I decided there would be no sudden surges as I have used out on the course to win races in the past.
At Leadville we were able to grind away from the rest of the pack on the ascent of Mosquito Pass, reaching the 13,187-foot summit about 9 minutes in the lead. From there we stretched it out somewhat, but I was careful to pace Laredo the rest of the way back to town.
Curtis Imrie once told me that winning at pack-burro racing is like trying to catch lightning in a bottle. And it’s true. You have to have everything going in your favor and then put yourself in the right position at the right time. And when you do “finally” pull it off, it’s really just a flash in time. Like catching lightning in a bottle.