Rucky Chucky Roundabout 50K | California | March 20, 2004
Not So Lucky at Rucky Chucky
By Gary Dudney
The Rucky Chucky Roundabout is an out and back trip over a sixteen mile segment of the famous Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run trail. Foresthill Elementary School in Foresthill, California, serves as the start/finish. Western States participants know the school as a landmark aid station reached by passing through several over-heated canyons and as the jumping off place for a harrowing trip through the night. To be standing at the starting line of a 50K feeling all fresh at eight o’clock in the morning with the sun at our backs seemed a little unreal, almost like we were committing a crime.
The race began with a short sprint down Main Street. We left Foresthill via the California Trail and quickly dropped into a canyon formed by the Middle Fork of the American River. The trail dips and rolls high along the canyon wall, affording us spectacular views of the forested canyon and the river 1,000 feet below. Some sections of the trail slant down through the forest and look like old water ditches and that is in fact what they are, part of a 1920s hydroelectric system that supplied electricity to Foresthill and surrounding mines.
Eventually we descend right next to the rushing, churning river. In places, giant boulders in the water create lethal looking rapids. Aid stations are located, like at Western States, at Dardanelles Creek and Peachstone, and then along the river at Sandy Bottoms. The race turnaround and yet another well-stocked aid station comes at the Rucky Chucky (or “Ruck-A-Chucky” or “Ruck a Chuck,” take your pick) river crossing. Then the course doubles back on itself all the way back up to Foresthill.
Not only does the trail make for a wild 50K ride, it gives the curious a chance to experience in daylight a part of the Western States course that many only get to see at night. The poppies and lupine, the slithering snakes, the rushing streams, the river stones lining the bottom of the American River, and the breath-taking forest views through the canyons all reward visiting this place while not desperately struggling through the night during Western States. Foresthill is also worth spending time in. In the 1850s, it was a booming gold camp and the site of the $1 million dollar Jenny Lind Mine. In fact, the whole Foresthill Divide area including Todds Valley was a center of Gold Rush activity and eventually accounted for some $10 million dollars being found “within rifle shot of the express office” in Foresthill. The town retains some of its early rough and tumble character.
In theory, all this sounds good for a sweet little 50K. In practice, it was one tough hombre. In mid March, many runners are still getting over their winter training slumps. Plus California happened to be in the midst of a spate of record high temperatures. Then to add insult to injury, in some cases literally, just outside of town the trail turned as rugged and craggy as a ‘49er miner. So with the high temperatures, our poor conditioning, and granite grabbing at our feet, the race became something with which to be reckoned. Going down to the river at a bone rattling gallop was wearing. Getting back up that canyon wall to Foresthill through the heat was a classic ultrarunning challenge that only a mother could love.
And just when it seemed like things couldn’t get worse, here would come a chirpy relay runner hopping up the trail, all fresh from starting at Rucky Chucky.
The race logo shows a dinosaur in running shorts gleefully heading into the canyon. I assume the exposed rock of the canyon walls must yield a treasure trove of dinosaur fossils and thus the logo, but I can suggest a better dinosaur association. At the end of the race, it felt exactly like a bunch of dinosaurs had been walking around on top of me. That’s where I think the dinosaur theme comes in.
But no account of the race is complete without mention of the post race accommodations. How about this for a menu: Pasta, Chili, Stew, Soup, Salad, Vegetables, Rolls, Soft Drinks and Dessert! Plus there were tons of door prizes from various sponsors spread out on a table with runners’ names pre-assigned to each item. Add in a becoming granite tile finisher’s plaque and it was worth at least a few dinosaurs walking around on you…maybe the little ones that look like chickens.