Joe Grant's Short Shorts: The True Hard RochTuesday, August 29, 2017
“I’ve said it before, you’ll see a lot of people you know ... and you never get to see this any other way, but you can come up and you can look and you can see right into their souls, right into their heart, right into their entire life, and this is the only place I get to see this. It’s all peeled back.” Roch Horton, Kroger’s Canteen, July 10, 2017.
There’s a small notch at 13,100 feet in the serrated ridgeline between Ouray and Telluride, Colorado, known as Virginius Pass … or Kroger’s Canteen. The latter name is a tribute to Chuck Kroger, a legendary American climber, who in the early days of the Hardrock Hundred Endurance Run, helped the organizers with providing safe passage to runners over the highly exposed and potentially treacherous pass.
Hardrock is a 100-mile run that starts and finishes in Silverton, Colorado. It has 33,000 feet of climbing over numerous passes above 12,000 feet, a 14er named Handies Peak, and travels through Ouray and Telluride. The loop is run in alternating directions each year, and in the counterclockwise direction, Kroger’s Canteen is at mile 67 on the course.
On the 10x20-foot dirt platform cut into the cliff-side that is Virginius Pass, Kroger established a small aid station to supply Hardrock runners with a refill of water and a shot of tequila, an invigorating tonic for the journey ahead.
Sadly, in 2007, Chuck Kroger passed away from cancer. But through his vision, Kroger’s Canteen has become a fixture of the Hardrock Hundred, a place that defines the core character of the run—a mix of quirk, ruggedness and beauty.
To perpetuate Kroger’s legacy would be no easy task. It would take someone who could shoulder not just the hundreds of pounds of gear and supplies to the pass, but who could also carry forth the more intangible and unique feel of the experience. BD employee Roch Horton, however, is the perfect man for the job.
After finishing Hardrock 10 times, Roch decided to forgo his spot as a runner, offering his help to manage Kroger’s Canteen for the following 10 years. As he would put it in his own words, 10 years of taking, followed by 10 years of giving back.
Roch is as equally gentle as he is strong. His commanding physical presence—tall with broad shoulders and bear mitt hands—is contrasted by his kind eyes and deep, tranquil voice. He has a slight mysterious air, his words always chosen carefully and spoken with intent. He can weather an electrical storm at 13,000 feet on Virginius Pass, keep his composure and still find just the right thing to say to the scared, battered runners looking for more than just booze to ease their mental angst.
That emotional acuity is a rare quality and one that I appreciate the most in Roch. My first time running Hardrock was in 2011. I took the last few snowy steps up to Kroger’s Canteen—woozy, nauseous and struggling to stay upright. It was roughly 11 p.m. and I had been on the go for about 17 hours. There was a hearty welcome committee of a half-dozen volunteers all dressed in vintage mountaineering outfits—the theme of the aid station that year. I remember their accoutrements made me smile despite my advanced state of physical depletion.
I stumbled towards the portaledge set up against the wall and took a seat.
Roch came over to me, draped a sleeping bag over my shoulders and handed me a cup of broth. I clutched it in my hands for a short while before drinking, the warmth of the metal cup on my palms providing a pleasing amount of comfort.
I stared absently at the ground in front of my feet before standing back up a few minutes later. While it was tempting to linger, I knew that I couldn’t stay too long for fear that my legs would stop working altogether. But just before dropping down the backside of the pass toward Telluride, Roch squeezed my shoulder and said with characteristic serenity:
“Joe, do what you love. Just run in the mountains.”
What struck me back then still resonates deeply with me today. Roch’s simple statement helped me think beyond my little bubble, my self-inflicted world of hurt, and remember what it’s all about.
Thank you for all that you do, Roch, from the physical toil of setting up that aid station, to the words of wisdom, and for keeping the experience alive.
BD Athlete Joe Grant has been wearing short shorts since the young age of six, and has since developed an affinity for donning little more than “daisy dukes,” while running his heart out through the mountains. Short Shorts is his quarterly homage to the mountain running life.