Has anyone ever seen a woodchuck? | PostIndependent.com

Has anyone ever seen a woodchuck?

Mike Vidakovich
Post Independent
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Mike Vidakovich

The Cheatin’ Woodchuck Chase five-mile run and 2.3-mile fun run, held each August at Rifle Mountain Park, has become a popular destination – almost a rite of summer – for the local running crowd.

What’s not to like about a mountain course, on dirt roads, that is all downhill from start to finish? It features some of the best scenery to be had anywhere, including getting right up close and personal with the park’s rock climbers as you amble by, huffing and puffing your way to health and longevity.

The first year the race was held in 1990, fellow runner Bob Willey and I jumped in his way-too-old, secondhand Audi, and headed down the turnpike from Glenwood, eager to see what this new race was all about.

Would we be jumping over fallen trees, leaping rushing streams, and beating through the brush, all in pursuit of the elusive woodchuck? Or several woodchucks, for that matter.

As fate would have it, just outside of New Castle, Willey’s car breathed its last breath as we jerked, then sputtered, and finally managed to pull to the side of the road as the inside of the vehicle began to fill with smoke.

With thoughts of chasing any wild varmints now having vanished, the only thing I could think to say as I looked over at my equally perplexed partner was, “At least we weren’t in an airplane.”

This time around, 21 years later, Willey was placed in the back seat of my car, though I considered the luggage rack, and Jim Richmond was along as the co-pilot as we headed to the Rifle Fish Hatchery, via the country back roads, telling running stories of races and Woodchuck Chases past.

The one thought that was weighing heavy on my mind as we pulled into the already-crowded race parking lot at just before 8 a.m. on Aug. 6 was, “Has anyone ever really seen a woodchuck in this race?” I hadn’t.

I asked the question to many as I paid my entry fee, boarded the school bus for the ride to the start area, and kept my eyes peeled out of the steadily fogging windows for any sighting of what I thought may be a woodchuck. Did I even know what one looked like? All I had to go by were the caricatures of the creature on past race T-shirts I had collected.

Much to my dismay, not one affirmative response came from my many woodchuck sighting queries.

Following the race, as I was getting ready to leave, it happened. Almost as if scripted for a happy ending in a nature documentary, I overheard a lady at the registration table telling some volunteers about the big creature she had seen on the bus ride up-and she wasn’t talking about Bigfoot.

“Hey, you saw a woodchuck?” My eyes were wide with wonder as I approached her.

“I sure did,” said Lynn McConnell, who has driven the Woodchuck Chase bus for the last 10 years. “A big fat one just after the mile 4 mark heading up toward Three Forks.”

I shook Ms. McConnell’s hand and told anyone who would listen that I had been in search of a woodchuck sighting all day, and now, “Eureka!”

Satisfied, with a feeling of euphoria and a renewed hope that woodchucks actually did exist, I made my way back to the car where Willey and Richmond were partaking of some beverages and bacon – a race tradition passed down through generations.

After telling my exciting story to both leg-weary gentlemen, Richmond excused himself for a brief visit to the woods, whereupon returning, he matter-of-factly stated that he, too, had just spied a woodchuck.


“A big fat one?” I asked.

“Nope. It was actually kind of skinny,” came the reply.

Two different woodchuck sightings in one day. It really is the Woodchuck Chase, after all.

Mike Vidakovich is a freelance sports writer for the Post Independent.

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