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Fairplay, Colorado Celebrates Burro Days with 64th Annual World Championship Pack Burro Race

Travelers Today       By    Katie McFadden

Updated: Jul 27, 2012 11:26 AM EDT

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While London may have the Olympics starting this week, Colorado has a big event of its own going on this weekend.  In Fairplay, Colorado, thousands of people will celebrate Burro Days by racing donkeys.

Duirng Burro Days, from July 28 - July 29, a crowd of 10,000 people will gather around the Colorado city to watch and participate in the 64th annual World Championship Pack Burro Race. While this event may sound silly and ridiculous, it is actually pretty extreme.

Participants will follow a 29-mile course over dirt roaders, boulders and even snow. They'll climb high altitudes as the course reaches up 13,158 feet to the top of Mosquito Pass and then back down.

In addition to following a rough course and high climbs, each racer must be attached to a donkey carrying 33 pounds of equipment including a pick, shovel, and a gold pan, paying tribute to the gold miners of the mid 1800's.

Even though the racers will have a donkey on hand, they are not allowed to ride the animal during the race. They can just drag them along through the course. Hence the race's motto "64 Years of Hauling Ass."

Burro Days was started as a tribute to gold miners who would race into town with their donkeys to claim lands in hopes of striking gold. Since its start in 1949, the event has been a big tourist attraction for Colorado.

"The sport was started as the brainstorm of merchants in Fairplay to get people to town for their local summer festival," racer Hal Walter told NPR. "There was a $500 prize, and everybody got a case of beer I believe."

The event has now grown into a big festival with several attractions. In addition to the main burro racing event, there is now a llama race, a dog race for kids, parades, contests, arts and craft booths, over 30 food vendors, musical entertainment, a Mountain Man Rendezvous, a dance and barbecue, a pancake breakfast, Cowboy Church services and more.

The burro race is the main event due to the challenge of having to haul a donkey through a nearly 30 miles course.

 "The idea that you can get an animal not known for its cooperation to traverse 30 miles of ridiculous roads and open country to 13,000 feet and back for cash money sounds ludicrous," said Curtis Imrie, a 40-year competitor and three-time world champion, as quoted by MSNBC.

 "In my experience, the race is a cross between a wrestling match, a 24-hour dance contest and an endurance race," he told NBC News. "You have to have the humility to realize your partner is a jackass. The lessons they can teach you - counterintuitive or not - are profound."

Donkeys can be quite unpredictable as past participants have realized.

"Your burro gets up just like you do every day and he goes, 'I want to run' or 'Nah, I'm not running today.' So you just never know what you're going to get," Brad Wann, who is with the Western Pack Burro Ass-ociation, told NPR.

In May, the Colorado Legislature declared pack burro racing as Colorado's first summer heritage sport.

For those in Colorado, the event is one of a kind and not to be missed.

 "People should TiVo the Olympics,"  Julie Bullock told MSNBC. "You can't TiVo the burro race - you have to be here in person."

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