My Summer at Camp Hardrock - Page 4
Roch Horton and the aid-station crew at Virginius Pass, also known as Kroger's Canteen. Photo by Frederik Marmsater.
The next morning I set out to help mark the course from Telluride to Virginius Pass. Five-time HR finisher Jim Ballard led Kuni Yamagata, a Bay-Area landscaper, Rich DeSimone, a wildlife researcher from Montana, and me at a leisurely pace. Like me, these three men heard the siren call of the San Juans and found a way to escape the ordinary and attend Camp Hardrock. We savored the day and stopped for a sandwich lunch in the sunshine and yellow wildflowers.
As I told the guys about some of the characters I’d met in the last few days, Rich nodded. “It’s always about the people,” he said. “We come for the course and the mountains, but we come back for the people.”
Climbing out of the alpine meadow, we approached the rocky crest of Virginius Pass. I hiked ahead of the group and looked up to see a nimble figure flying over the ridge toward me. The thin, elderly man in tiny shorts quickly reached me and, pausing in the middle of the trail, clasped my cheeks, embraced me and blew air kisses before flitting on down the trail.
“I see you met Hans,” Jim said as he caught up to me. I learned that I’d been trail kissed by Hans-Dieter Weisshaar from Germany, HR’s oldest finisher at 73 and with eight successful tours.
An hour later, we climbed up sliding scree to summit the stunning and dangerous narrow platform of Kroger’s Canteen that serves as mile 67 aid station. Just below we spied the graceful form and curly hair of elite runner and HR contender Joe Grant, effortlessly running repeats up a steep mossy incline while being photographed for Arc’teryx’s latest ad. Shortly beyond him, we found Charlie Thorn and a few of his fellow aged mountain bad boys waiting for our group. My eyes followed Charlie’s bony hand pointing up, past Joe, back toward the rocky spires that create a medieval-fortress-like wall on the pass.
“We definitely could’ve made Hardrock harder,” he mused. “We could have had ’em come through there.”
Darcy Africa and her pacer top out Green Mountain, another 13,000-foot Hardrock highpoint, on her way to winning the 2012 race. Photo by Frederik Marmsater.
A week had passed since my first visit to the Avon Hotel and I knew it was time to try again. I took a deep breath and poked my head in, expecting the same uninterested reception as my first attempt, but this time found three shirtless guys, still sweaty and grinning from their afternoon adventure. Two were teenagers and talking to each other but the eldest welcomed me with a hearty southern, “Hey there!” and launched right into a recap of how fast and proficiently his boys had run the Kamm Traverse section of the course in training for their upcoming pacing gig. His enthusiasm and fatherly pride were infectious, and I knew I’d found a friend at the Avon. We made our introductions and Billy Simpson, 58 from Memphis, invited me to chat on the porch upstairs.
Perched above town with a view of Anvil Mountain in the distance, the back deck is a haven away from worldly concerns where time slows. Mismatched pop-up camp chairs were strewn about and we grabbed two, sank in and began to talk.
I discovered this year would be Billy’s eighth running of Hardrock. Each summer he comes out three weeks early, sleeping in his truck for 10 days before moving into the Avon.
“Billy, what is it about Hardrock?” I asked. “What is it about this place that gets in your blood and brings you back every year?”
“It’s the mountains, it’s the people, it’s the yin and yang of beauty and pain. After other races, it’s like going from Bud Light to heroin.”
I snorted with laughter.
“This race is old school, and they’re very careful to guard that,” he went on. “They don’t want this to become ‘Silverton Salomon’. There are no helicopters here. These people show up in their Hokas and calf sleeves and the old guys say, this is not Leadville, this is our race. It’s the triathalonification of ultra running out there, but it ain’t gonna happen here. Silverton is just a dirt-road town. It’s not perfect but it’s pure and we come here to be free.”