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Santa Claus could use a gift from you. And I’m not talking about milk and cookies.

Bill Lee (better known to Denver mallgoers as Santa Claus and better known to me as president of the Western Pack Burro Ass-ociation and Red Tail The Mountain Man) has been in an intensive care unit for the past two weeks. On April 8, Bill was at the vet when his truck and trailer started to roll away. When he ran to stop the truck, he stumbled and was run over by the trailer. He suffered broken ribs, a fractured sternum, and his lungs collapsed.

Fortunately, Bill is slowly getting better. According to world champion pack burro racer Hal Walter, Bill is now breathing on his own.

Of course, Bill will still be in the hospital for an indefinite time, leaving the care of his donkeys, reindeer, llamas, and other critters to Mrs. Claus (his wife Carol) and volunteers. But even if you live nowhere near the Laughing Valley Ranch, you can make a PayPal donation to Bill and Carol via their website. As Walter notes on his blog, even a small donation of $5 can go a long way towards buying bales of hay for the animals on the ranch.

Bill Lee and Jon Page

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IDAHO SPRINGS, Co.–Despite my initial fears, running with burros in the Rocky Mountains is nothing to fear. In fact, it’s quite fun. Honestly, it’s a blast.

This morning, thanks to Bill Lee (aka Red Tail) and Brad Wann (media relations director for the Western Pack Burro Ass-ociation) I learned more about pack burro racing than I’ll probably be able to remember for the Idaho Springs race on Sunday.

Awesome fact No. 1: it’s good practice to whip other people’s asses. Who would have known?

I’d love to share more, but this is a vacation, and we’ve got some exploring to do. I’ll be sure to give an update on Sunday after the race and a full report early next week.

By the way, in that picture, that’s me with Red Tail and Amos.

In the world of pack burro racing, Hal Walter needs no introduction.

For the rest of you, I’ll give it a shot.

Walter is a six-time winner of the World Championship Pack Burro Race, a 29-mile race in Fairplay, Co. In addition to running with and training burros over the past three decades, he’s also run the Leadville Trail 100. When he’s not running his ass all over the backcountry, Walter is probably writing about his adventures. He is the author of a soon-to-be-released book called Wild Burro Tales, a collection of stories chronicling his experience training and working with burros.

Walter’s greatest skill, however, might be the power of persuasion. Somehow, he convinced me that I have a chance of finishing better than dead last in the Idaho Springs Pack Burro Race this Sunday. One day after our conversation, I now realize how crazy that sounds. But it’s fun to dream.

Anyone Can Enter: Tell me about your training routine. It must be pretty intense, right?

Hal Walter: I’m so old, I don’t have a real routine anymore. I turned 50 this year and I have more of an intuitive type of training regimen—I do as much as I feel like doing, when I feel like it. I think people get themselves injured and burned out trying to follow a training program on paper when their body doesn’t have any concept of following these schedules.

Anyone Can Enter: What about your pre-race routine?

Walter: The races usually start kind of late, so I think it’s important to have a decent breakfast and get your blood sugar stable. I usually eat a hearty breakfast, relax, and get there. You don’t want to get yourself in a big rush. One of the big things that’s a stress on the morning of the race is equipment. If you can have your equipment ready when you go and it’s dialed in to the right size of the animal then you’re way ahead of the game.

Anyone Can Enter: What’s one important piece of advice you can give to a first time pack burro racer?

Walter: Just try to have fun and just be careful at the start. Generally speaking, in those short races, the first mile is a little bit crazy. Watch your footing, keep your eye out for the other burros. Sometimes, one will move across the road and they don’t care, they will run you over.

Anyone Can Enter: If I run into a problem, is it considered bad etiquette to kick your own ass?

Walter: I think that’s physically impossible.

Anyone Can Enter: Oh, right. Sorry. What I actually meant was—is it bad etiquette to kick your ass? And by ass, I mean burro.

Walter: I’ve never known anybody to do that. So, yes, I guess it would be bad.

Anyone Can Enter: So do you think I’m going to finish dead last, or do I have a chance of placing?

Walter: Of course, you’ve got to figure that the team with the most experience and the best training and best game plan is generally who wins. But you really never know what’s going to happen. There’s always a chance. If there weren’t a chance like that, none of us would show up for the thing. Everybody goes there with a chance of winning the thing.

Hal’s book, Wild Burro Tales, will be available soon on Amazon.com. He will also be featured in an upcoming documentary, Haulin’ Ass. For now, you can find him at his blog: Hardscrabble Times.

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