Mountain Rats Festival in Eagle hopes to capture ‘the spirit of the valley’
The Mountain Rats Festival is back for another year of running, fun-running and biking. This year, it’s bringing a slice of reality TV to Eagle Ranch: The Amazing Race scavenger hunt.
Twenty teams of 2-6 people will race on human-powered transportation — foot, skateboard, scooter, even bike though there might be a time penalty for that — to clue boxes around Eagle Ranch. Just like the show, participants rip open an envelope, deduce where they’re headed to next, and jet off as fast as they can. The spirit of the hunt celebrates the 20th anniversary of Eagle Ranch, and each participant receives an Amazing Race branded buff.
“It’s the exact same format as you see on TV,” said Clark Gundlach, organizer of Mountain Rats and co-founder of Color Coffee Roasters in Eagle. We met outside the coffee shop to talk all things Mountain Rats, and both of us are fans of “The Amazing Race.”
“I was sitting in here on a Friday night, way back in January, we were talking and it just went,” he made an “aha” face, “‘I know what we can add.’”
Mountain Rats Festival takes place from Saturday, Sept. 19 to Sunday, Sept. 20. The flagship events are the trail half-marathon, the 55K ultra on Saturday and the family-friendly 5k in Eagle Ranch on Sunday. New this year is a 50K mountain bike race to raise money for The Cycle Effect, and of course, The Amazing Race: Eagle Ranch. Signup for events is required: there are still spots in the mountain bike race and the family 5k. Head to mountainrats.com or geminiadventures.com to RSVP and view more information.
In its first three years, Mountain Rats took place over just one day of ultra-running events. The 5k was new last year, winding through the recreation path. Day 2 was added to the festival for a few reasons. One of the main factors was spreading out the crowd for social distancing. The event has been working with Eagle County Public and Environmental Health departments, and back in the spring, both suggested spreading the event out over two days to reduce community impact.
“And, rather than just one day, we’re building it into a festival,” Gundlach said.
Gundlach wanted to host more live music and food trucks to really give Mountain Rats a festival vibe, but that’s not possible this year. There will be refreshments and DJ music all day, and organizers hope to pull everything together in full force next year.
Every participant will get a free coffee from Color Coffee, and a free beer from sponsor Sierra Nevada. Sponsor Walking Mountains Science Center is bringing in their team to help run the event with zero waste.
In essence, Mountain Rats is a hyper-localized, post-Labor Day version of the GoPro Mountain Games. Gundlach hopes to capture that adventure-junkie, outdoor-loving spirit of the Eagle Valley with the event.
“It’s building into an iconic event down here,” Gundlach said.
The ultra-running events have also attracted high-profile runners from around the state that haven’t gotten to compete much this summer. Due to spring event cancelations, Mountain Rats is hosting one of the few ultra-running events in the state, and the 55k ultra is full. While more people will be coming into Eagle, Mountain Rats has taken diligent care to make sure that everyone remains safe during the pandemic.
“We’re setting it up like many of the events that have run, where everything is spread out, start times are spread out,” Gundlach said. “[Vail Recreation District] is doing the same thing. They’ve been a great benchmark for us.”
The same holds true for The Amazing Race: Eagle Ranch. Half of the teams will run the course one direction, and half will run the other way. And everyone will take off at different times.
But the most important part of the Mountain Rats Festival isn’t about the events that happen: it’s about bringing joy and sharing our community’s values with others.
“I’ve been involved with outdoor events for many years. The satisfaction of watching people having fun outdoors, enjoying the outdoors here locally … you know how it is,” Gundlach said. “It’s the spirit of the people in the valley.”
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