Shoveling pea gravel or hefting 132-pound jack leg drills may not sound like much of a way to spend a weekend. To the competitors in the 11th Annual Gold Rush Days competitions, however, it's all good fun.
``We do it just for fun. Once in a while, you get lucky and you win something,'' said Willie Louie, who estimates he's been attending Gold Rush Days for 10 years. He's drawn back each year by ``the camaraderie of everyone here.''
That camaraderie was evident during Saturday's competitions. In the hand mucking competition, which involves shoveling pea gravel into a muck car and pushing it back along a track, contestants cheered one another and offered shouts of advice.
``We like each other. It doesn't matter who wins,'' Sonie Blackwell said. Blackwell was 1999's ``Babe of the Woods'' - or best all-around female logger. She and Ashley Sage - 1999's best all-around female miner - have been competing for eight years. They've been partners in team sawing, or bucking, for seven.
``As a rule we compete in everything,'' Blackwell said, before leaving with Sage to take their turns competing in hand mucking, Sage's favorite event. Blackwell prefers the ax throw.
``Anything that doesn't take effort, I like,'' she joked.
The day's activities started early with a 6 a.m. pancake breakfast at Dimond Park's Gold Rush Fields. Competition kicked off at 8 a.m., with the jack leg drilling competition.
Several changes have taken place in Gold Rush Days this year, said Arlene Crumrine and Chloie Watson, members of the organizing commission. The infield where competition takes place has been officially named for Anthony Williams, a founding member who passed away last year. Children's events have been moved to the afternoon so they don't have to stay as late; the number of children signed up for the competitions rose sharply as a result.
Perhaps the biggest change was the sunny weather.
``The sun is such a surprise,'' Watson said with a laugh.
``This is actually one of the nicest years it's been in a while,'' added Lianne Cox. Cox, who works in the Greens Creek Mine's purchasing department, had hoped to compete but was sidelined with a leg injury. Nonetheless, she and Blackwell offered advice to would-be competitors.
``People don't try because they've never done it before,'' Cox said.
``Just get out there and do it,'' Blackwell said.
For those not ready to brave the competition, there was still plenty to do. Booths set up under a shady tent next to the field sold products ranging from mine tours to Mary Kay lotions, and the smells of fry bread, corn on the cob and barbecue wafted through the air. A small carnival next door, catering to the younger set, featured a Ferris wheel and jumping house.
Business was good, several merchants reported.
``We came last year; we do quite well at these,'' said Mike Norton, a Nikken independent distributor hawking magnetic health aids.
Besides business, he added, it's fun to watch the competitions.
``I like the logging stuff. I'll be working tomorrow too, but I'll spend a lot of time looking that way,'' he said, gesturing toward the infield.
A potential downside to this year's competition is the drop in out-of-town miners and loggers who signed up, said organizing commission member Crumrine.
``We usually get a lot from outside, but not this year,'' she said. ``Mining and logging have slowed down. It's not cheap to get here.''
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