Kick Ass, Be Kind, Repeat
Some of the words in how the TransRockies was described to me by one of the original Mersey fans, ultra runner, and designer of the Birmingham Slammer, who suggested I look into it and thought it would be a perfect event for Mersey to partner with.
I had no idea.
I was pretty intimidated by even speaking to ultra runners, nevertheless a group of crazies who spend 6 days running through and over the Rockies.
Lori introduced me to Houda, race director of the TransRockies, and soon I learnt the central being to a unique and quite amazing community of adventurers. We had a “zoom”, ironic way to meet but it’s the new way, and hit it off pretty fast. I realized that this may be about the experience and not the finish line, that the folks who may be out there are not racing but are moving & embracing the journey, seeking the finish. Houda invited us to bring an ambassador to run the race, jump in and come see for ourselves.
Only one person I knew of (other than Lori who was preparing for other things) could possibly pull this off with little notice, so I called Andrew McCain and posed the question – “Hey, you doing anything in August and feel like running through the Rockies?”
I still had no idea but we jumped in and loaded up the truck with Mersey Rye, Andrew, tents, cocktail mixers, trail shoes, mountain bikes, a few other things and headed northwest.
The adventure starts at Base Camp in Buena Vista, CO. A town of 3,000 sitting at 8,000 Ft above sea level, nestled on the Arkansas River and cradled by the Collegiate Peaks. From here everyone will make their way north, covering 120 miles of trail and cresting 20,000 ft of elevation over 6 days.
The opening ceremony the night before stage 1 is something special, Houda & Co. stir up emotions and excitement while also getting safety, directions, history, housekeeping sorted out to a few hundred souls – some are smiling, some are chewing their nails, some are scratching their heads. The atmosphere is calm, focused then pumping & jumping as the ceremony wraps and amazingly a whole bunch of folks are interested in sampling Mersey at our tent in Chillville!
Chillville – the center of the community I realized – it's where everyone's hanging out in the mornings with coffee, waiting to run & then in the afternoons, unwinding, massaging, chatting, sharing. All the sponsors are on the perimeter of this cool spot, getting an opportunity to chat to pretty much everyone and we start meeting runners, walkers, family, medics, locals, volunteers – all part of this community that’s about to come alive. That first night we poured a few samples, met a few new friends and just started to scratch the surface of what it all means.
Monday morning we got our first taste of the event at stage 1, a circular route to the north, east and then back into BV. 20 miles, gaining 2,300 ft of elevation on dusty & rocky trails with a fair amount of heat. Smart decision I think for the race to start and finish right next to the Arkansas River, we watched runners cooling off after finishing in the ice-cold water while getting to grips with what lay ahead in the next 5 days. Andrew powered home in 20th place, looking hot but calm and jumping right into the Arkansas. I was a little anxious about how his first day would go as we’d come straight up to altitude from Alabama, to his credit and he came through looking strong and acclimating to the high elevation well.
Stage 2 said goodbye to Base Camp and headed north to Twin Lakes, up singletrack to the summit of Hope Pass at 12,500 FT – best photo opp of the race on a steep and technical day. We packed a few samples of Mersey Rye, jumped on our mountain bikes and rode the course backwards from the finish line, meeting the runners up at Hope Pass. Along the way we stopped and partied with runners coming down from the summit, pouring shots and celebrating their climb. We had a chance to hang with Andrew for a few minutes as he laid down a strong descent and finishing 18th.
Learnt a few things along the way – a) we need a trail friendly bottle (lighter, smaller), b) ladies drink a lot more shots on the trail, guys are way too serious, c) Mersey at 12,500 FT is still really good! All bottles empty we packed up the bags and headed back down to see the whole base camp moved up to Leadville, including Chillville!
It was here we introduced the Birmingham Slammer to Chillville, a perfect refresher in the heat, packing a punch but sweet on the taste buds when you need to recharge. Mersey, Gin, Amaretto & OJ does the trick!
Wednesday saw Stage 3 as everyone left Leadville and journeyed 24.5 miles (the longest stage) to a slice of paradise at Nova Guides. We were able to meet the runners around the halfway mark in the historic Camp Hale / 10th Mountain hut area and deliver whiskey on the run. This turned out to be Andrew’s toughest day, the altitude was setting in and a few nights of low sleep were accumulating. He was holding on to his position though at 19th – learn more about the 10th Mountain here – also one of my favorite distilleries honors these legendary soldiers – check them out here.
Nova Guides was our base camp for the next 2 nights, a patch of paradise at Camp Hale, hugging the Eagle River as a small, natural lake forms off to the south. The tents were pitched in the fork of the river and lake, surrounded by water, Adirondack chairs and Chillville. The setting sun while we camped by the fire, listening to ultra guitarists (yeah, you know when you cross an ultra runner with a guitarist?), sharing Mersey for a good night's sleep was all pretty surreal.
The next morning, we woke up to a gentle fog resting on the lake and floating through the camp while the sun rose. Even though it was the middle of August, being so high up in the
Rockies it was still fresh and bracing in the early mornings. A last-minute decision the day before saw me lacing up my shoes and running the shorter stage 4 with Andrew. Sponsors and Volunteers could join the race today and experience the trails firsthand. So I ran, and hurt, while Andrew ran and recovered – different planets of fitness right there… It was an incredible day though, Andrew was gracious enough to run slow with me up the mountain. We met Clowns drinking Tequila and Rye Whiskey along the way. We stopped for a few insane photo opps and were able to chat to so many runners all drinking in the amazing vistas around us. The finish line didn’t disappoint either, finishing right at the only bar in town where we had a huge spread laid out with Margaritas & beer to chase it all down with.
Friday the journey to the end began with the penultimate stage 5 into Vail. 24 miles and 4100 FT of climbing, a tough day along singletrack, dirt roads and through open meadows of the Vail Ski Resort. Also turned out to be the only day of rain this year, with a mid-morning shower bringing cold rain and high winds down on everyone. No options for us to join the course this day as the runners were high up and far away from access points, so unfortunately no Mersey on course. Andrew ran a smart stage, taking it easy up the first long climb but then flying on the descents (his strength) and moving up to 24th overall and 13th in his category.
I’ve ridden a bike from Vail to Beaver Creek, it’s ok, no big deal to be honest. But not so much for running it in Stage 6 to the final finish line. 22 miles, over 5,000 ft of climbing through The Red and White mountains and then up again into Beaver Creek. A challenging stage to finish this great adventure on but no better way to achieve the finish line than through climbing the beast. The faces at the finish line were full of pride, pain, relief, awe, satisfaction and accomplishment. We were out of whiskey and sad to say goodbye to folks who were friends now and many new Mersey fans. Andrew again ran a strong and smart stage, holding onto 17th place in his category overall. His legs seemed to get stronger through each stage as he weathered the climbs and the altitude.
Endurance, persistence, training, community, all summed up in these 6 days of journey. While we started the journey not having an idea of how it “works” or what the event “was”, we left wanting to be a deeper part of it next year – perhaps as sponsors again as well as participants – maybe? – definitely as fans and deep enthusiasts.
Congratulations to Andrew for being willing to be Mersey’s ambassador, completing this incredible journey through the mountains and laying down all that Mersey hopes to be on the trails, at that intersection of endurance, challenge and master craftsmanship.
Our kudos and respect to everyone involved, and deep gratitude to Houda, the village chief who holds everything together in the most amazing and friendly way, for inviting us to your community.
We’ll see you out there again soon!
Gavin Poole Founder, Mersey Craft Spirits