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Auburn’s famed endurance events rise from the ashes after last year’s fires

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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Endurance is on the comeback trail in Auburn after smoke-filled skies from forest fires led to cancellation of both the Western States 100 run and Tevis Cup horse ride in 2008. The two events are jewels in the crown of Auburn, the self-proclaimed Endurance Capital of the World, and finish within city limits. Organizers say both events are well on their way to picking up where they left off before smoke from Sierra fires blanketed the region in late June and early July. The 36th Western States 100 will take place June 27 and 28 with a full slate of 441 runners registered. The grueling trek through the Sierra to Auburn from Squaw Valley will welcome back multiple-winner Scott Jurek, as well as other past champions. The 54th running of the Tevis Cup ride is planning for 150 riders on the trek through the mountains to Auburn. Onboard again as major sponsor will be Qatar’s Sheikh Sultan bin Suhaim, who will be part of the event as a spectator. Greg Soderlund, Western States director, said anticipation for the run has now been stretched out over a two-year period. Eighty percent of the participants who had signed up for last year’s aborted run registered again, he said. The comeback is nearly complete, if the smoke and fire stay away. “I used to be concerned about the possibility of snow on the course but now it’s just the opposite,” Soderlund said. “Bring on the snow. Anything’s better than fire.” Fire caused by a rare lightning storm in June covered the area in smoke, creating safety concerns that cancelled the ride about three weeks after the run was called off. Tom Christofk, ride committee president last year when the ride was cancelled, said he doesn’t expect fire to be a problem this year. The ride had taken place for more than five decades without a cancellation. “The trail is in fine shape and neither the run or the ride go through burn areas,” Christofk said. Despite a year without the ride, Christofk said no downward swing is expected in volunteer numbers. The event requires about 700 volunteers but the ride can always use more than that, he said. Also back this year will be an endurance expo in Auburn. This time though, the event is expanding to include more outdoor activities. The newly renamed Auburn Outdoor Expo & Film Festival will take place May 16 at the School Park Preserve. Trish Godtfredsen, a Western States 100 finisher and expo director, said the change from the name “endurance expo” better reflects everything the area has to offer in outdoor recreation, including running, biking and riding. The expo previously took place in the fall and had moved from Old Town Auburn to the Gold Country Fairgrounds. This will be its first time at the newly opened park on the edge of Downtown Auburn. The film festival is also new, with Guy Cables of the Sierra Outdoor Center organizing a series of films to play at a nearby indoor venue. Endurance will continue to play a role in the expo, with runners and riders expected to take their place at the table of champions to sign autographs and talk with attendees. “We’re hoping that the outdoor expo gets things kicked off in the right direction,” Godtfredsen said. The Journal’s Gus Thomson can be reached at gust@goldcountrymedia.com or comment at Auburnjournal.com.