Meet the diehard Garfield County runner who finds time to run a 53-acre ranch
Running and ranching fill Brad Palmer’s life.
He lives a sedate and simple existence on the Hite Ranch off Blue Heron Lane east of Carbondale, the only full-time resident of a 53-acre ranch.
He’s isolated enough that COVID-19 has had little impact on his daily life. Palmer lives and works alone on the ranch, venturing out for shopping trips or runs. What’s really changed? “Just the mask,” he said.
And the lack of running races.
With the pandemic shutting down most races, it’s the human interaction that Palmer misses.
“I miss the smiles and so forth, the high fives. They’re just not going to happen for a while,” he said.
Palmer, 63, has been running since he was a 19-year-old in his hometown of Elgin, Illinois. He credits an orthopedic surgeon named Flanagan exactly 20 years his senior for getting him started.
Six years later he had one of his best races at the Fox Trot, a 10-mile race he helped get started with Flanagan that is still being held, if virtually this year. Palmer completed the race in about 58 minutes. Another fast time was a 34:10 10K in the Phoenix area.
Locally he’s fond of the Strawberry Shortcut and Carbondale’s 4 Mile Fair Run during Mountain Fair.
Palmer estimates he’s completed 1,200 races ranging from 5Ks to marathons. And considering that he always wears a race T-shirt, the 100 or so he still has make for a 3-month supply.
Coincident with his running career is his vegetarian diet. For the last 12 year’s he’s gone the extra mile and given up all animal products.
“Dr. Feinsinger inspired me to go the vegan way,” he said, referring to fellow Carbondalian Greg Feinsinger, a retired family physician and strong proponent of a plant-based, whole-foods diet.
His diet may explain how he can remain healthy without ever going to the doctor.
“I’ve not had to use any type of medical care, knock on wood,” Palmer said. He said the last physical he remembers getting was for football in eighth grade.
Financially that’s a good thing, as Palmer has no health insurance. He’s well aware that he’ll be eligible for Medicare soon.
“It’d be like a year and four months now, not that I’m counting down,” he said.
Health insurance isn’t the only thing he doesn’t pay for.
“I’ve not paid rent in 35 years,” he said.
Lodging is included with his ranch job, and he’s been there for 23 years. Before that he house sat for a couple of years on 109 Road between Glenwood and Carbondale.
He said he lived in his van for more than eight years, alternating between parking just a mile from the ocean in Santa Barbara in winter and near a friend’s house in Lake Tahoe in the summer.
He still owns a van to this day — though not the same one — and sometimes sleeps in it while traveling for races.
Before his time in California Palmer spent time in Arizona. He went to Tucson at age 19 to get away from the Illinois winter and ended up staying until summer. The following year he returned and got a job making juice for New West Juice, where he worked for eight years.
When he can find someone to mind the horses, he often returns to Arizona for a visit in the van, as he did earlier this year, notching his last pre-COVID race on Feb. 22.
Other than that, he doesn’t travel much, having left the country only to go to Mexico and Canada.
He’s quick to talk about the accomplishments of others, and holds in high regard numerous local runners who have died over the years, mentioning Candelario DeLuera, Nancy Reinisch, Bob Willey and Paul Driskill.
Though he’s amiable and enjoys socializing at races, he hasn’t had a serious relationship.
“Just the horses, I would say,” he quipped. “I’ve never gotten lucky. I guess I haven’t tried hard enough. I’m somewhat afraid of commitments, obviously,” Palmer said.
He didn’t have much experience with horses when he got the job at the ranch. He knew his predecessor and would spend time getting halters on the horses and bonding with them. He said at first he would have to run after the horses, and after 10 to 15 minutes they’d give up and roll over. After they got to know him they wouldn’t run away.
When the previous rancher had to leave on short notice, Palmer said the rancher recommended him, with some qualification.
He told the owner, “‘I recommend this guy. He doesn’t ride horses or know horses, but he’s good with them,’” Palmer recounted the conversation. “Just because I couldn’t ride them didn’t factor into it,” he said.
He called that moment “the crossroads,” as it had a profound impact on his life. He wasn’t too overwhelmed at the responsibility of taking care of nine horses and looking after a 53-acre ranch.
“I embraced it. It was just too good to be true,” he said.
And for 23 years he’s picked up horse poop (“25 pickups a day in the corrals”), irrigated the fields, repaired fencing and anything else that might need to be done. Palmer is reluctant to call it a job.
“I don’t really call it work. I guess you’d call it play or fun, but I get paid for it, too,” he said.
As for retirement plans, Palmer sees no need to change anything.
“I would like to stay here, actually. You can bury me here on the ranch,” he said.
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