GHOSTS ON THE TRAIL (The 2009 Ghost Town 38.5 Mile Run)

GHOSTS ON THE TRAIL (The 2009 Ghost Town 38.5 Mile Run)
Mark Dorion

There was gold in those hills, the searchers just happened
to be looking where it wasn’t. … any gold mine– and especially
a lost one– casts a hypnotic spell over its seekers.
(Joe McBride, “The Lost Conquistador Mine”)

As I ran north along the rock- encrusted forest service road, I kept glancing up at the impressive cliffs and outcrops to the west. Paths ranging from 4 by 4- driveable to faint, overgrown and eroded left the road at regular intervals. I knew there were many old mine shafts and tailing piles up through these woods. It was not hard for my mind to wander back over 100 years ago to the early explorers of this area.mark_dorion

While day dreaming about ghost prospectors from the old west, youthful Los Alamos runner and race director Kris Kern floated past me, a train of runners behind him appearing almost as apparitions themselves. I tried to stay with them, but with almost 30 miles and all the big hills yet to come, I downshifted back to my old man’s shuffle.

As Kris and Company disappeared around the endless bends ahead, I noted the shaded grave of local legend P. Luis amid the trees just off to my left. I wondered how many Ghost Town racers would notice this grave, or knew that this wild west hombre was shot to death during a card game in a cabin we ran by a bit farther up the road (talk about the ultimate “bad hand”). Another grave of some other old west desperado sat off the road just before the runners turned off left for a short up and back to aid station #2, which itself sat next to some ruins.

In most ultras one experiences highs and lows, periods of harsh, painful reality flip-flopping with meditative dream states. Trudging up one of the staircase-like, rock- strewn pitches between 16 miles and the 20 mile turnaround, I suddenly felt as if I had stepped back into an old western dime novel. Three people in real western attire sat astride big horses under a canopy of pine and juniper trees. A big man with drooping mustache (who I later found out was Joe, a real cowboy who works cattle in remote parts of the Gila Wilderness), waved at me and offered encouragement while his fiance Laurie, a real cowgirl who breaks cattle, and a “mystery man” wearing a sheriff’s badge looked on.

After finishing this grueling 38.5 mile “hybrid” run (it had something of everything, from a fast 12 paved miles to easy dirt roads to trails that went straight up so steeply a runner could reach out and touch the hillside in front of him/ her), runners and their families partook of an endless parade of food and beverage. Much of it was prepared on a huge campfire while a chuck wagon was parked nearby. Other wild west mystery folk made appearances, as the main camp chef bore an uncanny resemblance to “the Cisco Kid” (in this case, the “Cisco Kid” lead singer, who often wore a tall cowboy hat, from the famous ’70s pop-funk group War).This chef, a very friendly 20-ish year old in his own tall black cowboy hat, turned out to be Gabe, the son of the incredibly energetic race director Susan. And like the other cowboys on the course, Gabe turned out to be the real McCoy, as he is a veteran back country horseback guide.

There was a wonderful “family and friends campout and barbecue” atmosphere to the whole weekend, a refreshing throwback to ultras of old. Hillsboro and Kingston, the two small towns that host the event, have nearly been ghost towns in their days. Directly across the street from the finish line is a dilapidated assay office and old mine house ruins. If the wind is right, runners can sometimes hear the voices of old-time miners and prospectors.

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