Over the crest of the Sierra Nevada lies the Western States Trail, first used by the fleet- footed Paiute and Washoe Indians. Later, with the boots of the Gold Rush pioneers and the Silver Lode miners, and the hooves of their horsed and mules, the trail became indelibly imprinted upon the high mountain ridges and deep river canyons as the most direct route from the gold camps of California to the silver mines of Nevada. Today, although part of the route follows smooth fire roads and crosses some pavement, most of the trail remains in its natural state; years of travel have changed it little. Since 1974, through the vigilance of the late Wendell T. Robie, President of the Western States Trail Foundation, the Western States 100 Miles One Day Ride has been held over the course. Thirty three years ago, a new challenge was officially added: that of traversing the entire 100 miles on foot.
In 1974, Gordy Ainsleigh decided to leave his horse at home and to participate in the Western States 100 Mile Ride on foot. Twenty-three hours and forty-two minutes later Gordy arrived in Auburn, having proven that, indeed, a runner could complete the difficult 100 mile course in one day.
The following year a second runner attempted the feat, only to withdraw two miles from the finish. In 1976, Ken “Cowman” Shirk ran the 100 miles, finishing just 30 minutes beyond the 24-hour time limit. 1977 saw fourteen runners from four different states participating in the first official Western States 100 Miles One Day Endurance Run. Three men completed the course. 1978 heralded a dramatic increase in interest and participation in the Western States Endurance Run and, as word of the event became widespread, more and more runners accepted the challenge of the rugged 100 miles. One hundred forty-three athletes from 21 states and three foreign countries attempted the course in 1979, and from 1980 onward the run reached its full quota of 350 entrants, drawing athletes from across the nation and around the world.