VaporTrail 125, better late the never

Michael, Me and Jon at the start of the VaporTrail 125

I’ve been working on this post for almost three weeks.  It’s finally done.  It’s rambles on, but it gives a bit of insight of my experience with this epic event.

When I first read about this race back in 2008, I never thought I could or would do this event.  It was way out of my league.  Then I was racing XC, my longest ride to date at the time was about 10 hrs, 15years earlier.    I was in awe by reading blogs of Jeff Kerkove and others about this monster.  I followed it year after year.  Last year some of my crazy friends did it, and well, I figured it was my turn.

My goal from the beginning was to just ride.  I wasn’t going to race it.  No chasing anybody down.  Keep a steady pace and let my body tell me how to proceed through the gnarlieness of this course.   I didn’t have any knowledge of the course, other then what I read. It’s set in a beautiful part of Colorado, and includes some of the best riding too.  I wanted to enjoy the experience.

A few days prior to the start my family started getting sick.  Nothing serious, just the common cold, runny nose, sore throat.  By Friday I was feeling the same, and Saturday morning I was feeling feverish, sneezing, runny nose, and a slight sore throat   This was not good and made me nervous, mentally I was ready for this event, but physically I just wanted to sleep 1ohrs.  With my wife’s support and encouragement I left the house around noon for the 3hr drive to Salida to meet friends that were also joining the fun.  My goals changed slightly, now I would see if I could even make it to aid 1.  If I made it to aid 1, then if I could make it to aid 2, I believed I would be able to finish.  By the time  we were ready to line up, my aches were gone, but I still had the runny nose.  This gave me some confidence that I could finish.

The race starts at 10pm, with lights mounted and cool weather gear on.  I also had some deep winter gear packed in my H.A.W.G. CamelBak for the early morning when it’s the coldest.   My lights consisted of a NiteRider 1200 Pro on the bars and a  NiteRider Minewt 600 mounted on the helment.  I programed the 1200 to run at it’s lowest lumen, 50.  My plan was to use this for the long run to the Granite Peak hike-a-bike.  I used the head lamp for the hiking and turn both on full blast down the Granite Peak descent.   After 8 hrs of riding at night, I wasn’t sure how much battery would be left, so I brought an extra just in case.  That was an extra 1lbs to carry a long.   In the end, I didn’t need it.    My cold weather clothes included a full winter ride jacket, and thick winter riding gloves.
The start in Salida is neutral, and this night was a comfortable temp, and the moon was bright with mostly clear skies.   There was a lot of energy around with these crazy people about to embark a tough adventure.  There was some newbies like me, and a few vets.  I felt nervous, but also excited.   We had a neutral roll out for the first 30-40 min, then the pace car stopped and the race was on.   A group of about 5 took off with a fast pace.  I was still in the mind set of just riding and enjoying the whole experience so i let them go.  My good friends Jon Davis and Micheal Scott were in that group.  A few others tried to break the gap, and would soon some back and I would pass them, Micheal was one of them.  He found himself at a XC pace and didn’t want any part of that.  I don’t blame him.   I was keeping a comfortable pace, barely breaking a sweat.   I checked my power and my HR, and it was right in line with what I thought I needed, both in Zone 2.

Most of the trail is a blur.  I only remember the major sections.  The Colorado Trails is awesome, I’d like to ride that during the day.  I’m not the best technical rider, and riding at night has it’s own challenges, but to open with this section was pretty cool.   This section was smooth sailing.  Got to aid 1 in 3:32.

After aid one, we had a LONG gradual 2% climb up to Alpine tunnel.   This section was made for me.  Still holding my zone 2 pace I was flying up this road.  I passed many people and rode alone all the way to the tunnel hike section.  At Alpine tunnel, there is a short hike a bike that lasts about 10 min.  Since we already had a couple of other short hikes, I thought this might be the last one.  When I got to the top I put on my jacket and gloves. When I mounted back up I couldn’t get my cleat into the pedal.  My cleat had come loose form the the hiking.  I sat down and spent about 10 min cleaning out the screws so I could tighten them up.  Still no body passed me.   Finally mounted back up and headed down a short single track, then another old rail road pass.  I sped by but it looked like it was an old depot the opposite side of the alpine tunnel.   Another time I would like to see this during the day.

All this time I’m riding around just below treeline at night in an area I’ve never been.  I try to gaze around at the silhouettes of the mountains.  It’s a majestic a sight at night, and I have no doubt it’s spectacular during the day.

Not too far down the road I come to a fork and the sign points me up.  The road is a rocky ATV/Jeep trail that barley looks rideable.  I take off my jacket and gloves and start riding up the trail.  Still no one has  passed me, but I’m seeing lights head.  I’m still on course!  I ride up this road and there is another hard climb that is steep, loose and off camber.  I decide to walk it.  In the distance I can see a few lights.  I’m making good time, but I see a light behind me.  I remind my myself I’m not racing and there is at least 10hrs to ride.  I get to the summit of the pass and stop to notice the mountains and the lights slowly creeping up the side of a hill and cresting it.  With the bright moon, it’s another awesome site.  The clouds are skimming the top of the mountain we are about to hike over.    Another short descent of a mile or two, then the hike a bike section starts.  I push for a while,  it’s steep with boulders so I carry the bike.  I see lights ahead of me, and lights behind me.  It feels good to not be alone in the dark again.   After 40 min of hiking I reach the top at just under 13k.   The wind and moisture   make it a little cold so I put my jacket and gloves back on and I’m glad I did.  I was headed into an hour long descent.  I never got cold all the way to aid 2.

This descent is another section that would be more fun with full daylight.  It was just technical enough to make it exciting, and fast enough you can get pretty hurt if you are not careful.  I did go down toward the end in a non-technical section when my front wheel got caught in the sand.    About five miles from end of the trail my rear brake wasn’t feeling right and I was hearing strange noises.  I tried to sping the rear wheel and it wouldn’t spin freely.  Yikes.  I pulled the lever and spun again and this time the wheel spun.   Back on the bike with a few more turns and drops the brake noise comes back and I’m now feeling the drag.    I get the wheel to spin again, and move one trying to limit the use of the rear break.   I figure it’s super hot and just needs to cool.  If I don’t use it it will cool off and we’ll be fine.

Aid 2 comes at about 7:30am, 8.5 hrs after the start, and about 8 hrs more to go.   I’m feeling good.  Lacy Scott, Michael’s wife is there to give me new bottles,  take my lights and cold weather clothes.  Having Lacy there waiting was awesome, not only a cheerful face to greet me, but she had everything ready to go and took my mess of clothes and lights.  I didn’t have to worry about a thing.  Dave Wiens and his family was there taking care of the station.  He was grilling some pancakes on a camping stove.  His sons were sitting around a camp fire.  His wife, Susan was there too.  It was cool to see them together.  I went over to say Hi and mentioned the last time saw them together was during a NORBA  event at Mammoth Mountain in 1991.    They both looked at me kinda funny.  I’m guessing they were flashing back 2o years and thinking about what they were doing then.  I don’t even know if they were dating then, but I loved watching them race with the other elite racers of the day.   They offered me some food, which I didn’t take. I grabbed my bike and new bottles and took off.  I was feeling pretty good and still motivated.

It was a bit cool.  I took off my long sleeve undershirt, leg warmers, put on thin socks, and the sun had not come over the mountain yet.   I figured once I started climbing again I would warm up, which I did.  Once I started climbing the Old Monarch Pass Rd, I passed another rider.  He was moving slow, but looked good.  I was still holding my zone 2 pace, feeling very comfortable.  I took a drink from my bottle.  YUCK!  It was spoiled.  It was an old bottle left over from a previous race.  I kept it in the fridge the hole time, but it didn’t last.  Ops.  I tasted the other bottle, and it was also spoiled.  I did have a couple of gels and a bar with me.  but there was no water until the top of Monarch Pass.    I had at least 1 1/2 hrs to get there.  I took a chance and took a big gulp and let it set there for about 20 min.  My stomach seemed to be ok, so I continued to drink it.  It tasted terrible though.    About 1/4 the way up the climb it seemed my power was high for the speed and cadence I had.  I stopped to check my rear rotor again.  Crap, it was rubbing again, but this time it worse.  I got my tools out and got it to spin without rubbing.  I had to do this again almost to the top.   I had no idea what was causing it.   I got to the top of the climb and headed into the single track headed to Hwy50.  I tried to use only the front brake but ended up using the rear which was bad.  When I it the Hwy, the wheel would not spin.  Aid 3 is in sight so  I slowly rode there hoping to get some help.

Aid 3 was stocked with all kinds of food and people.  The Salida HS MTB team was there helping to wrench.  I told them what was going on and they took my bike while I got my drop back and ate some real food.  I had bacon, sausage, top ramon, and a pb & j.   the support crew got my chain all clean and did the best they could on the rear brake.  I mounted back up and headed out for the Crest Trails.   Within 10 min my breaks were rubbing again.   I decided to loosen the caliper bolts and let it move as needed.  It still rubbed, a lot, but at least it spun without stopping for awhile.  It seemed to work fine like this.  I was able to use my rear break and the rubbing didn’t seem to get any worse.  I rode the rest of the race like this.  I had never ridden the Crest Trail before and was impressed by it.  The views are awesome and the trail is smooth and flowly.  I need to make a trip there sometime to really experience it.

I think it took about 1 1/2 hrs to get to Aid 4.  Lacy was there and had all my stuff. I grabbed fresh bottles and a pb&j.  I was headed into the Starvation Creek Trailhead,  I heard it was a great singletrack the ended with a brutal climb that loops backup to Aid 4.  And my experience was all that.  The single track seams to go down for ever.  I was enjoying it until I went over the bars just missing a face to rock encounter.  I got back on quickly but was a little shookup, so I was a bit slow to the end of the trail.  At the end of the trail we are greeted by a 5 mile steep rocky climb.   There were a couple of times that I wanted to stop and take a nap under the shade of an aspen, but I didn’t.  1hr later I reached the top, and I cursed that bitch.  It was one of the hardest climbs I have ever experienced.  It was on this climb that I decide I was not having any more fun, and would not do this event ever again.

Lacy was there at the top again having all my stuff.  I grabbed two more water bottles and more pb&j’s.   I took a few minutes gather myself after the climb then I was off to climb some more.  The climbing wasn’t as difficult and was more enjoyable.  Single track is always better.   After another 1k of climbing I finally reached the top and was greeted by a long and fun single track downhill.  Then into the Rainbow trail.  The Rainbow trail is fun and challenging after 15 hrs of riding.  There is some wonderful flow to this trail, with some added short steep pitches.  I was surprisingly able to ride most of the pitches.   Mentally and physical I was feeling pretty good on this trail.  I was tired, but not exhausted and having a good time again.   This trail lead right into Hwy 285.  From here it’s about 7 miles to the finish with about 5 miles of downhill.  I could see a guy a head of me, and no body behind me.   When we hit the flats I caught the guy in front of me.  He was a single speeder.  At that same time another guy  caught up with gears and took off.  He had a triple ring with a 44 .  I couldn’t keep up with my 39.  We pretty much rolled in together.

My official place was 7th with a time of 16:32.  I was shooting between 15-16hrs,, so came up a little short.  During the climb out of Starvation creek Trailhead I told myself I would not do this event again.   I did enjoy most of the trail, some sections are extremely difficult.    Almost 4 weeks later, I’m thinking about this event and maybe putting in a race effort next year.

Congrats to my good friend Jonathan Davis setting a goal to break the course record, and then going on to smash the course record.  He did this riding solo from the CO Trail all the way to the end. Congrats to everyone that started, it takes some balls (male or female) to even step of to the line for this one.

Big thanks to Michael and Lacy Scott for providing there home in Salida as a base camp.  Lacy’s support out on trail made the ride that much easier.  Thank you Michael and Lacy!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Race Reports.

cwilhelm

Head Coach for mtbcoach.com. USAC Certified Cycling Coach.

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