Amanda and Chris Repka take their Lance Camper with donkeys in tow to historic mining towns of Colorado, Arizona and California for competitive Pack Burro Racing. Wait, don’t burro the lead! Lead that burro!
Growing up in suburban Philadelphia, I spent my winters indoors pursuing various creative interests; music, writing, art, and later, entrepreneurship. Even during the summers, most of my free time was spent pursuing these interests indoors. Nearly all of my East Coast friends and their families also spent the majority of their time indoors. That’s what we did.
When I started visiting my father’s family and their friends in Bozeman, Montana, they were almost entirely the opposite. They spent their free time outside; shooting, hunting, fishing, skiing, ATV riding, repelling, and beyond. I remember being in awe of their abilities and comfort with seemingly dangerous outdoor sports and hobbies. It just wasn’t part of my East Coast culture. Thank goodness Angela and I discovered truck camping!
I bring this up because learning about Amanda and Chris Repka’s outdoor lifestyle brought back that early sense of amazement and appreciation for outdoor western culture. Not only are these two charging out into the wilderness in all seasons, but they are literally trail racing with burros to recreate a Colorado activity that dates back to the gold rush. The culture and spirit on display in the photography alone is a blast.
And with that, it’s time to add one more remarkable activity to the diverse truck camping lifestyle; burro racing. As Amanda explains, the sport is long-distance, extremely strenuous, and often happens in remote mountainous terrain. What better way to enjoy and support this unique and historical sport than with a truck and camper? Thank you for introducing this amazing world to us Amanda and Chris. Someday we hope to root for you and your donkey friends at a race!
Two Campers Race For Burro’d Time
By: Amanda Repka, 2003 Chevy 3500, 2003 Lance 835
We have had our Lance 835 for almost a year now and have camped in it extensively. The camper streamlined our traveling and was one of the best purchases we made during Covid. Before our camper, we would have to stay in hotels, which is hard with dogs. Or we would tent camp, which we still love to do when we are backpacking. We always made it work.
A truck camper is the perfect choice for us because we travel with our horses and we race with our donkeys. My husband, Chris, and I are burro racers. For us, a truck camper is more flexible than living quarter horse trailers since we use ours to camp without the horses in tow as well. Living quarter trailers tend to be much harder to get into local trailheads.
What is Pack Burro Racing?
Above: Mac and Chris leading a group in Buena Vista, Colorado
Pack burro racing is a modern sport that harkens back to the old western days of the miners racing back into town with their burro companions to stake their claims. At least that is the legend. It’s part history and part sport to compete with our own burro buddies.
It’s about running alongside and building a relationship with our animals, having an outlet to test ourselves and have a good time doing it.
Burro racing events are structured much like any running event you may have seen or participated in, except that now you have your burro (companion, friend, and pet) with you at the end of their lead rope. The donkey carries a pack of supplies, some dating back to the mining days, with a gold pan and pick axe.
Above: The starting line, photo taken by Marty France
Events are mass start races with a lot of action happening at the start. Tension and start line nerves are high for both humans and burros alike. The race fades into the normal struggle of running through rough mountain trails, with the added complication of communicating with your burro.
Above: Chris and Mac during a race
The finish is always welcome and a fun event for the crowds to see anything from a fast photo finish (it’s the burros’ nose that calls it) to the final trudge in from a long day on the trail.
Above: Amanda crossing the finish line with Kidd in Superior, Arizona
All running is done together and no burro riding is allowed. Sometimes the donkeys can help pull on the uphills, but it’s a foot and hoof race!
The races are anywhere from three miles for beginners all the way to ultra distances (30-miles) for some of the original Colorado racecourses. Most races have a mid-distance which is anywhere from 6 to 12-miles and a longer distance of more than 15-miles.
Our Pack Burro Race Beginnings
We got into burro racing back in 2018 though we had been talking about the sport for a few years and toying with the idea. My husband has been a lifelong distance runner, and myself a lifelong equestrian. Burro racing always seemed like a good fit for us.
Above: Chris and Mac starting out fast
We started talking about combining our passions a while back when I was distance riding and how we could mesh our sports activities together. We then found out about burro racing. At that point, we were running (albeit, I’m very recreational about it comparatively), and had horses. My husband didn’t ride so burro racing seemed to totally fit into what we wanted to pursue.
Now we have our equines and we are running together. It’s a great way to keep in shape and to keep our donkeys in shape as well. Our animals need jobs and would rather be out trucking down the trail than sitting as a pasture ornament.
Above: Amanda in her first Pack Burro Race, photo by Jennifer Mewes
We participated in our first race in Victor, Colorado renting a burro from a racing string. We had so much fun. My husband ran with a fantastic little donkey, Alice, placing well. He won the donkey and some money. At that point, we knew that burro racing would be in our future.
Big Mac and Kidd
Above: Big Mac and Kidd
In 2019, we teamed up with a friend who had a pair of mini donkeys that needed some training (my part) and running (my husband’s part). We ran with them in Superior, Arizona placing them in the top three. Now we really had the burro bug!
The next summer, my old jumping horse sadly passed away. Knowing we needed a companion for my other horse, we went head first into our first donkey, Big Mac, to be my husband’s running partner. Big Mac was a kill pen rescue and pretty wild at first. He is now eight years old.
After only having Big Mac for a month, Big Mac and Chris completed their first race in 2020 in Tombstone, Arizona. Chris had a rough, slow 15-miles of desert trails for his first outing with Big Mac, and realized how much of a relationship and trust your donkey needs in you.
I just started racing my own new-to-me mammoth donkey, Kidd, this last fall so I also can participate in racing as well. He is just starting out at three years old. Mac now has a travel and trail buddy. For 2022, we have around eight races planned with the possibility of going to a couple more if our work schedules align.
On The Road With Our Donkeys
Since we travel the burro racing circuit, we are on the road with our donkeys a couple of weekends a month throughout the summer. Since burro racing is the official Colorado summer heritage sport, Colorado is the heart of the pack racing events.
Above: Kidd taking a break
There are now races in Arizona, New Mexico and California. Our first race of 2022 will be in Black Canyon City, Arizona. Then we will be off to New Mexico. As mountains towns melt out in Colorado, we will then head up to some of the historic races up there.
Our last race of 2021 was in Superior, Arizona running in the current copper mining town. We raced all over Arizona and up through Colorado this past year, making it up to the middle leg of the Burro Racing Triple Crown in Buena Vista, Colorado. For more information about the history of the sport, I recommend the Pack Borro Racing website.
Above: Full set-up in Buena Vista, Colorado at a race camp
Because we stay with our animals, we are often able to camp in historic mountain and mining towns, right in town at the start of the race. Those are places where you would never be able to stay regularly, so that has been really fun. Our favorite was staying in a back lot of Buena Vista right off of Main Street, near the river in town where rooms go for $300+ a night.
Camping Beyond Burro Racing
In between camping with the animals at races we like to just get out and camp locally around Flagstaff. In the winter, we use our camper as our base for backcountry skiing with our pups Aspen, our old girl at fourteen, and Cedar, our two-year-old skijoring Border Collie.
Aspen (pictured above) was having a hard time tent camping, so really updated our rig for her comfort. With our camper’s furnace, we can all warm up. Being warm is such a luxury for us as former dirtbag car campers.
We have put our camper to so much use. The kitchen upgrades I have wanted to do have been put on hold since painting takes a bit of time. We would rather be using our camper than painting it.
Above: Camping at an orchard in Palisade, Colorado
The western slope of Colorado is one of our favorite road trips. We try to swing through that area every year and split our time between camping at breweries and wineries. Yay, no driving! We also camp off-grid in the mountains or do dispersed camping in the desert.
Our truck and camper are both used and older, which is what we can afford. They ended up being from around the same year, so the combination seems to work well. Some day we will upgrade to new things, but today is not that day.
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