By LAURA QUEZADA News Review Staff Writer– It is time for family-friendly fun as the Over The Hill Track Club (OTHTC) and Burroughs High School (BHS) Cross Country Team bring the 2023 OTHTC Annual Turkey Trot 5K on Thanksgiving Day, November 23. Head up to the Cerro Coso College Gym Parking Lot, 3000 S. College Heights Blvd. Show up at 7:30 a.m. to register because the race starts at 8:30 a.m. This is a free event, but a suggested donation of $5.00 benefits the BHS Boys and Girls Cross Country programs. Complementary water, treats, and port-a-potties will be at the registration site. You can also be entered in a drawing for generous prizes of items donated by the Ridgecrest business community. You can dig for more information on Facebook at the Ridgecrest Running page.
The 2022 race was highly successful, with almost 500 people participating. “Races are much more fun when there are more people there,” says Ephraim Washburn, Boys Cross Country Coach organizing the race. “We had lots of people in the race with all different skill abilities. Some people walk the whole course; some jog the whole course. We had people that went really fast. It’s a nicely marked course with rolling hills in the beautiful desert.”
The BHS teams set up the course, which starts at the college parking lot and goes through the Radamaker Hills. If you want to watch, you can park yourself in the dirt parking lot, and the runners come by more than once.
Washburn gives us a heads-up to be prepared, “You never know what the weather will be like, so be prepared. I’ve been running it for almost 20 years. I think in our 19th year, we saw sunshine. Everyone was in T-shirts and shorts. We’ve seen it be windy and a little bit cold. And one year, I think it was 2018, it snowed. It didn’t snow a little bit; the whole course had half an inch or a quarter inch of snow. It was spectacularly beautiful because it’s up here (on the mountain). The desert isn’t white very often. So you’re up here,” he remembers, “and everything’s white, and then you see Ridgecrest, and it’s just this blanket of white over everything. That was a beautiful experience.”
It is fitting that Washburn takes the lead on this event because, as he said, he’s been running it for almost 20 years. And for him, it is a family event. “Since we moved here in 2004, we’ve run as a family from different levels. We pushed kids in the stroller the whole way. My daughter qualified for states in the individual last year. She ran the whole thing when she was six years old. She was very proud to run the whole thing by herself.” One of his sons and one of his daughters each won the coveted prize of a turkey hat.
Washburn began running in eighth grade when he joined his high school’s cross-country team. When in college, he just ran for fun. By day, he is a Chemical Engineer on Base. In the evenings, he is employed by Sierra Sands School District as a “Walk-On” coach. This is a designation for coaches who are not on the teaching staff. Before coaching at BHS, he coached the middle school team with Rob Tomlinson for six years. When the previous BHS coach, Anthony Barnes, retired after 30 years, Washburn was chosen to replace him.
Washburn proudly says, “The BHS Cross Country Team is very successful. This year, both the boys and the girls won the Mojave River League conference. Both the boys and the girls are the league champions. That’s a league of six schools, very good schools and much bigger than us, and we are the league champions for both. It’s the first time ever in Burroughs history that both of them are the league champions in the same year.”
There is a kazillion Turkey Trot races around the country on Thanksgiving Day. (Or shall we say, “Too many to count.”) The first-ever race traces back to 1896 in Buffalo, New York. Runnersworld.com says, “The local YMCA hosted an 8K cross-country race that Thanksgiving Day, drawing just six participants—and only four of them made it to the finish line. One runner excused himself after two miles; another dropped out when his ‘late breakfast refused to keep in its proper place.’ The winner, Henry A. Allison, crossed the line in 31 minutes and 12 seconds, averaging a six-minute-per-mile pace.” It has been held every year since “This makes it the oldest continuous footrace in North America.”
We don’t know when the first Turkey Trot Race was held in Ridgecrest. It might be 1978. However, the Over the Hill Track Club was organized in 1973 by employees at the Base. The club has its history online. It includes, “We’re told that the name ‘Over the Hill’ did not have anything to do with the founding runners being ‘old.’ In fact, they were mostly in their 30’s at the time. (True, that may be considered old by some standards.) Instead, it was a nod to our surrounding hills, which had begun to be used for running and hiking routes. And the club has never really been especially track-oriented. That just seemed to be a popular name for a running club in those days.”
Perusing the 92-page history, which runs from 1974 to 2017, one can see that the club is active year-round. They have participated in regional marathons, 24-hour relays, an Inyokern 10-Mile Run, Me and My Dawg Walk/Run, the OTHTC 9/11 Run, the Coyote Chase, Hi-Desert Escapade Marathon, High Desert 50K/30K, High Desert Ultra. And these are just up until 1987.
Washburn wants us to note that this is a good family event. It is a big occasion for his family. “Every year, we take a family picture of the Turkey Trot. It’s fun to see our kids grow up. You see the weather and you see the different dress.” And one year, you saw snow.