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Smoke questions cloud July 19 Tevis Cup ride’s future

Organizers of 100-mile horse race say they'll make decision by July 16
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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Now it’s the turn of Tevis Cup organizers to think the unthinkable. This year’s 100-mile ride from Squaw Valley to Auburn is still scheduled to start July 19. But as the days count down and thick smoke from Placer County fires continues to lower air quality and raise health concerns, the Western States Trail Foundation has established a timeline to provide answers to the 150 riders and 800 volunteers. Under that timeline, a final decision could come July 16. Tom Christofk, trail foundation president, said Monday that ride organizers were moving ahead “full throttle” with plans to stage the ride along the Sierra Nevada’s Western States Trail July 19 and 20. “The buckles are made, vendors are locked in and the contracts signed,” Christofk said. Cancellation of the 54th running of the prestigious horse ride would be unprecedented. But so would have been cancellation of the Western States Endurance Run. Organizers decided June 25 – three days before the June 28 ultra marathon – to cancel the event because of smoke and safety concerns. Christofk said that fire patterns indicate no immediate threats to the Western States Trail or difficulties that would hinder firefighting operations on the Forest Hill Divide. That leaves smoke – or lack thereof – as the key to keeping the Tevis Cup running. As Tevis Cup planning moves forward, committee members will meet Wednesday with U.S. Forest Service officials in the high country of Robinson Flat along the trail. A day later, Christofk said that if the chances are 50-50 that the ride could be cancelled, riders coming from 1,000 or more miles away from the event would be notified of conditions. Riders from the United Arab Emirates, Japan, Canada and Europe are due to take part in this year’s Tevis Cup – one of the world’s most prestigious endurance rides. On July 14, a Monday, committee members would re-assess the smoke situation to again consider notifying participants of smoke levels. Then on July 16 – a Wednesday – committee members would have a clearer indication of whether unhealthy levels of smoke would continue to lurk in the air on the Tevis Cup weekend. “That’s our ‘go-no go’ day for a final decision,” Christofk said. "It would be premature at this point make that decision because it’s tough to forecast out more than 48 hours.” The ride has come close to cancellation just twice before. In both those instances, Christofk said he’s been told that ride founder Wendell Robie made the decision the night before to keep it going. Potato Richardson, a two-time Tevis Cup winner, said that he has never seen anything like the smoky conditions now blanketing the area in the 36 years he’s been riding in the event. One year, the ride was re-routed because of snow levels but never because of smoke, he said. Richardson was in the same position last week as the Tevis Cup leadership. On Wednesday, as president of the Gold Country Endurance Ride in the Georgetown area, he was forced to announce that smoke would cancel this past weekend’s 30- and 50-mile rides. At least 100 riders had to make other plans. Richardson said he was playing host at his Cool-area home to three riders from London, England, who were out for the event. The weekend’s smoke was thick enough to keep him and his guests from doing any serious riding but they did get out for a slow walk Sunday. Monday was even worse, however. “The situation’s so bad that I woke up today and smelled the air and said to myself that I didn’t even want to be outside,” Richardson said. The Journal’s Gus Thomson can be reached at gust@goldcountrymedia.com.