My Summer at Camp Hardrock - Page 6
HR trophies. Photo by Matt Trappe.
Around 89 miles, the day was quickly fading as we dropped into the Cataract Basin. We worked our way across the bowl and up the final incline of the course where the last precious rays of warm sunlight were waiting. I climbed just a little ahead of Ken and was rewarded with a rare vertical rainbow creating a thick column of color in the sky.
A tall, lean man stood on the bluff, quietly taking in the view. I pulled up next to him and said, “I hope I’m not crowding your moment. Isn’t it incredible?” He just smiled and I could see tears welling in his tired eyes.
We stood there in silence. Finally, he turned to me and said, “I’m Kirk.” I introduced myself while glancing at his bib number and realizing I was standing with Colorado’s Kirk Apt, the man with more Hardrock finishes than anyone. Knowing this would be his 19th finish, I blurted out, “You’re amazing!”
“You’re amazing too,” he said calmly.
Instead of protesting, I chose to believe him. Admiration at Hardrock is rarely earned by ranking or number of finishes alone, and ego based on these stats is frowned upon. A true Hardrocker believes in physical and emotional rawness in the mountains, honoring each runner’s personal odyssey to the rock. For that brief moment, his 19 finishes to my 0 didn’t matter; we were equals.
After the last aid station, with just a few miles to go, Ken found one last surge of motivation and we started booking the final descent. We rounded the corner past the Miner’s Shrine into Silverton and suddenly there it was—the bright painted rock that Ken, like a homesick sailor, had been yearning to kiss. I turned wide to stay outside the finishers’ shoot and sprinted ahead to watch him pucker up. As we hugged, I looked over my shoulder and there was Tom Burrell waiting for his beloved mid-packers. He caught my eye and gave me a wink.
Darcy Africa win's the women's 2012 Hardrock. Photo by David Clifford.
At the end of a good summer camp no one wants it to end. And Hardrock, for trail runners, is the best summer camp ever. After the awards ceremony, it should have been time for runners to start filtering out of Silverton, but most of us stubbornly remained. I walked to the Handlebars Saloon to meet Ken and a big group of runners for a celebratory lunch. When I finally fired up Wilbur to drive out of town, I knew I had one last stop to make.
I knocked on the door to Tom’s house, directly across the street from the Avon, and heard his mellow “Yeah?” come back at me. I creaked the door open and peered in to see his humble kitchen with patched floorboards and an old card table set for lunch. I smelled chili bubbling on the stove.
“Tom,” I said. “I just wanted to thank you for your hospitality and for talking to an interloper like myself.” I gushed about my race experience and how I was going to try to capture it all. Drawing confidence, I took a chance and asked him for his infamously vaulted email address to send him the story for review. I held my breath as I waited for the answer.
“Oh kiddo”, he said, “I’ve watched you this week, I’ve seen your big smile when you don’t think anyone’s looking. You get this place. You get Hardrock. You’re one of us now.”
Tom jotted down his email address and hugged me while I teared up. Then I floated up and out of Silverton, nodding in familiarity at sections of the course that I now knew by foot, already planning my return to the 2014 Summer Camp Hardrock.
This article originally appeared in our special journal-style April 2014 issue, DIRT: The Trail-Running Life. If you like this story, subscribe now and get DIRT 2015 free with your subscription!