The Trans Rockies Run – 6 day race has been one of the major bucket list items for me for several years now. As luck would have it, an opportunity to run the team event presented itself this year, so I wrangled adventure buddy and closest friend, Scott Wesemann, to come along with me. We’ve been adventuring in the backcountry for 15 years together and we know each other’s strengths and weaknesses well enough that racing six days together through the mountains for Colorado should go pretty smooth.
But what we were really in for, we had no idea.
It’s like a day dream of all your favorite moments you’ve had or hope to have running and racing in the mountains. Even now, a week later, I can hardly believe it has happened. I have a different outlook on racing now, something I thought I was long since past. We met new friends and bonded with old ones. We climbed to over 12,600 ft and stood in awe of the Mount of Holy Cross as it blessed us with a perfect day.
Scott and I left three days early. My family was leaving town for a 5 day respite to lounge around a swimming pool and Scott was up for a small adventure before starting the race. We drove 8 hours to Alma, CO, then turned off the main road to find a place to camp for the night. The next morning we woke to an incredible view as 14,000 ft peaks towered over us. We chose an easy route that would yield the highest results; doing the Decalebron (Democrat, Cameron, Lincoln, and Bross), four 14ers all sitting within an easy 8 mile loop. We hiked slow and enjoyed the altitude. A summer’s worth of training at 11,000 ft had prepared us well for being up that high and this all boded well for the 6 days of running to come. As we finished we made our way to Buena Vista, set up camp, and rested for the days ahead.
I feel so inadequate trying to distill the events of 6 full days into one small article (*Note that there will be a video on our YouTube channel within the next week that will do the event fare more justice than my simple words). Ultimately words cannot convey what my heart yearns to yell, the outburst of which would be an incoherent babble of joy and gratitude.
I knew walking into the event that I would know a few people; Mirna Valerio, Zac Marion, Amanda Basham, Bob Kain, and a surprise few days with old friend Billy Yang. What I didn’t know was how quickly I’d make life-long friends. Andrew, Jessica, Brianna, Blake, Vanessa, Lloyd, Kelly, and Hillary. I get choked up just thinking about them now, wanting nothing more than to have more time.
Scott and I went into the race with one goal – have as much fun as humanly possible. If, after three days of running, we were in the mix to get near the podium, we’d try a little harder, but never at the sacrifice of a good time. Wow, how quickly that goal went out the window. Day 1 was a long 22 miles at low elevation (8500 ft) with a massive amount of running. The course was beautiful, however, and it was here that we first met Brianna, a media rep from Buzz Feed. That girl has some turnover! Once we hit the flat dirt road to the finish she was gone. That would become the theme for the next 5 days – Scott and I would crush the vert and then with only a few miles left Bri would come along, zooming past somewhere in the 6 min/mile range. What truly made her win was her personality and smile, and we quickly became friends.
At the end of Day 1 we found ourselves only 7 min outside of third place overall in the Team Men’s Open division. We didn’t let this influence our strategy for Day 2, but knowing that we would get to climb Hope Pass, a famous climb from the Leadville 100 that boasted 3000+ vert in just a few miles we were also hopeful that it might give us the advantage to make up some ground.
By the time we hit the pass (only to find ourselves face-to-face with Gandalf the Grey himself) we were in 2nd place for the day, having passed the Costa Rican team less than a quarter of a mile before. That was our trigger to get moving. We flew down the pass and rocketed the rollers to a 2nd place finish for Stage 2 (13.5 miles, 3250 vert) and now 3rd place overall for the event. Sheesh. It was time to race!
That night we camped in Leadville. Let me tell you, throw 300 tents together within the area of a single baseball field and you can hear a lot you don’t want to. Nothing some ear plugs and strategically getting a tent near a place to use the bathroom can’t fix. As proud as I was of our running that day, I think I was even more excited about the 8-10 straight games of Cornhole Andrew and I won in a row.
Following the race each day there is a whole community set up where we camp called Chillville. Snacks, drinks, free beer, games, and friends were everywhere. The race organizers, headed up by Houda (there is no point in me telling you his actual name, no one called him anything other than Houda) himself created an atmosphere that could never be duplicated anywhere else. It’s the people, you see, that made it special. Luli, Steve, Laurel, Scott, Houda, and more. So many more. I’m so grateful to them for truly making Trans Rockies the experience it was. Thank you.
Stage 3 sucked! The course didn’t, it was beautiful. The organization was amazing, the volunteers unmatched. But my day just sucked. I wasn’t feeling it from the start and Scott was. We were battling the Costa Ricans all day and fourth place seemed to always be on our heels. And I felt like crap. After about 10 miles Scott asked how I was doing and I exploded in expletives that shouldn’t be repeated. I told him to get out front and just run and that I would stay right behind him, no matter the effort. Just don’t talk to me. This went on for 10 more miles as we wound our way, mostly downhill, through beautiful forests filled with pines and aspens at 10,000 ft. Eventually, things came around for me and just in time. Scott started to feel a bit off and I was able to carry the weight and pace to the finish. 24 miles and 2400 vert . . . . so much running. The day belonged to Scott, however. I’ve never seen him run like that and I’m proud to have had him as my teammate. We now had a comfortable 10-ish minute hold on 3rd place and only 35 seconds behind the Costa Ricans (they were and are the best humans ever).
Day 3 ended at a location that had zero cell reception and one of the best views I’ve ever had the pleasure of spending 2 days at. Nova Camp is a paradise getaway and we got to spend two nights there. The next morning we left from the same place we finished, running a short 16 miles up and over a mountain and into the small town of Red Cliff. Fewer than 500 people live in the town and it only has one restaurant, Mangos, which is exactly where the race finished. People literally finished, walked into the bar, and started ordering margaritas. It wasn’t the finish line, however that made the day special, it was the views. As soon as we hit the summit ridge we were blessed with unimaginable views of Mount of the Holy Cross, a spectacular 14,000 ft peak that oversees the entire valley. For one of the shorter runs that week, Day 4 had possibly the most to share. But none of it can be described in writing, it just wouldn’t work. Hopefully, a few pictures will do it justice.
Going into Day 5 Scott and I had a relatively comfortable lead over 4th place and the Costa Ricans were looking to lock up 2nd. The first place boys from Canada had their position locked up tight, none of us were getting close to that. Stage 5 was a long 24 miles into Vail, the famous ski resort. It was nice to be able to finish, set up our tent, and walk into the town center for a gourmet hamburger (because there isn’t any other kind in Vail). Day 5 was also a battle. Not so much against other runners, but against the elements. According to Houda, that morning presented the worst weather ever seen in the 12 years that the Trans Rockies has been going. Strong winds and rain and temps down into the low 40s made it difficult for many. Half a dozen people were pulled from the race at the first aid station due to hypothermia. Maybe Scott and I were just really prepared or maybe we were pushing hard enough for it not to matter, but we loved the rain and wind. We literally giggled our way through the downpour at 11,000 ft as we leap-frogged with our friends from South America. As usual, Brianna charged passed us with two miles to go.
Day 6. Stage 6. Our final day. We didn’t have to “race” to maintain third place overall. We just needed to run steady, have fun, and keep the 4th place fellas from getting too far ahead. As it turned out, they weren’t interested in racing us and we maintained a comfortable lead on them all day. The Costa Ricans had 2nd locked up by now and we were happy to let them go, although we kept them in our sights for nearly 3/4 of the day. We crossed the finish line in Beaver Creek ski resort to the open arms of the Costa Ricans, Andrew, Houda, and more. With belt buckles in hand we had done it, 120 miles and 20,000+ vert in 6 days. Sure, I’ve run many 100 miles races, so why should this be so hard? Try it and you’ll find out.
I sat on the grass, quietly contemplating the previous 6 days. I knew I’d have to find the words to tell my story. I sit here now and know I didn’t even come close to doing it justice. I never talked about how Mirna Valeria finished all six stages after only finishing three last year. I can’t describe that simple moment when I put my arm around Vanessa and walked her over to my tent and gave her my water bottle and what that meant. There aren’t words to explain the moment I gave my hat to Jessica and had to say goodbye. And I can’t convey the perfect joy I felt sitting next to Hillary at Nova Camp as we did nothing more than read our books for two hours. I didn’t talk about Billy and Andrew. Or Lloyd. I want to, but then 1,000 thoughts rush into my head and it all meshes together in a jumbled bundle of emotions and memories. They simply all mean too much to share.
I can, however, talk about Scott Wesemann. He’s been one of my closest friends for 15 years. We have done more together in the mountains and desert than with any other person. He was a hero at Trans Rockies. The perfect partner and the best of friends. Everyone loved him and for good reason. If I am able to do it all over again, I will pick him again.
Thank you to everyone who organized, volunteered, and raced the Trans Rockies Run. It really is Summer Camp for Big Kids.
This article, as are all of our adventures, was sponsored by Kogalla RA Straplights. Seriously, the best lights in the game.