Auburn, California, Endurance Capital of the World, has trails and roads befitting the title. Even if it is an honorary title, a self-proclaimed honorary title, it seems appropriate. Jonathan Hero grew up running and hiking and biking – basically enduring – the trails and roads of Auburn. His go-to roads were the roads built by the Bureau of Reclamation when the famed and failed Auburn Dam was being built.
The Bureau got as far as diverting the river and laying a giant foundation for the proposed dam. By the time Jonathan moved to Auburn the project was already on hold, or at best moving at a snails pace. That was perfect as far as Jonathan and his friends were concerned. There were miles of freshly paved and carless roads to travel.
The roads are still there but they are far from freshly paved. They are cracked, overgrown and rapidly narrowing – just the way we like them. But they are as inviting as they were a couple (or three) decades ago. As teenagers, Jonathan and his friends would create courses to time one another as they took turns racing their one shared road bike: a Raleigh Super Course with a mixture of Sun Tour and Campagnolo components.
They spray-painted a line near the bottom and another near the top of a steep hill so they could do hill repeats after school – usually after track practice where they did much the same thing but on foot instead of wheels.
Back then, there were many no trespassing signs which added a thrill to their adventures, but mostly it meant they would rarely see anyone in this part of the American River Canyon. Occasionally, they would see Bureau employees in official vehicles who would try to send them home but that only added another level of fun. They could always be outrun.
The boys had a love hate relationship with the area. They hated the scar on the land that was the dam’s footprint and the fact that almost a mile of the American River was diverted through a tunnel. But they loved having acres and acres of mostly wild land practically to themselves. They also loved floating on inner tubes, or anything else they could find that would float, through the long diversion tunnel.
While other kids at Placer High School were at home doing homework or watching MTV, Jonathan and his friends were exploring the canyon either on foot or by bike. And they had the grades to show for it. As Auburn is the heart of the Gold Country, there were miles of abandoned mines to explore. Their were steep trails with names like Cardiac to run up, or usually to attempt to run up.
The Western States 100 Mile Endurance race ends at Placer High School in Auburn. The American River 50 Miler starts in Sacramento and ends in Auburn. Two obvious reasons why Auburn has seen fit to crown itself the Endurance Capital of the World.
But even if these two events were not local to Auburn, it would be a great place to be an endurance athlete. There are beautiful roads with rolling hills, and in some cases hills that do not roll but behave more like a wall. A very tall wall. There seems to be an endless network of trails.
On a recent visit to his home town, Jonathan went for a hike with a friend from high school who is lucky enough to live on the edge of the canyon. The friend is also a seven time Western States finisher which means he ran 700 miles in seven days. As they hiked, the friend talked of recent bear sightings and apparent mountain lion kills – deer carcasses. Jonathan noticed a disturbance in the river. As they got closer, they saw a school of about 100 trout and a group of about ten river otters. On the way back they followed a small, gray fox up the trail. The Auburn Dam Project has been permanently abandoned, and the river has been returned to its pre-dam course. The trade-off is that the area is now open to the public so spending hours on these decaying roads alone is a thing of the past.