It's 9:30 PM. You were sleeping or thinking about sleeping. Carney and myself are ready for a 15+ hour day in the saddle.
At 10 PM on Saturday night the Vapor Trail 125 riders set out for 125+ miles and up to 25,000 ft of climbing. The start was uneventful. It was filled with racer chit-chat and noxious fumes of our lead out vehicle....an old ass VW. The start was mellow as it was a gentle climb on pavement...then followed by a Forest Service road. As soon as the tires hit the dirt of the FS road...the racing was on. Instantly, 5 or so racer took off in hopes of glory. Not me, as I did this last year and paid the price with much suffering in the later half of the race. I just settled into my pace for the evening. This had me sitting in about 10th place. I went up the road at a chill pace....getting the legs warmed up. I soon found my way to the first miles of singletrack on the Colorado Trail. I continued on and caught a few riders...but not many. My goal was just to get to aid station 1 with out doing any damage to bike or body on the tricky night time single track on the CO Trail.
I rolled into Cascade Aid Station with one other rider. We both grabbed a few quick nutritional items....opting to skip on the breakfast burritos. After getting back into the pedals we started the long gradual climb up to Alpine Tunnel. As we rolled up the trail, I started to get lower back pain and the body was just shutting down. We were soon caught by another rider on a red Specialized. We rolled on bit further then dumped out onto a paved road. Here the pace picked up a tad and I lost contact. I was totally drained...and the engine had nothing. The body was turned off with a switch. I just went with it hoping to pull out of it fast....but it never came. So, I would ride for 10 minutes....then walk for ten minutes. As I did this a few select rider would roll by and inquire if I was feeling OK. Mentally I was bumming..as were my legs. All the scenarios were rolling through he head: Do I quit at Aid Station 2? Make it to Monarch Pass then decide what to do? Deal with it...and hope the body pulls through it? At the end of the gentle grade of Alpine Tunnel is a hike up and over the Continental Divide. I started my hike. As I looked behind me down the trail I say numerous lights coming up behind me. I keep going up the climb. I was soon caught and passed by Ed and Carney. Both offered kind words and pushed on. Once to the top of the Continental Divide I ripped the descent and caught back up to Ed and Carney. I would not see them again until the finish.
After descending the Alpine Tunnel it was time to climb again. This time it was up to Tomichi Pass. Last year, I rode most of this. Not this year, as my tired body and a fresh coating of loose gravel made for more bike pushing. It was more pushing followed by riding followed by more pushing. Once at the top...or I think it was the top....we start to drop down 1,000 verticle ft on a gravel/dirt road. Soon we made a hard right onto a new section of trail. Soon, I found myself hiking up a 5 switch back climb back up to the Continental Divide to the ridge of the Sawatch Range. As I looked behind me, there were lights as far down as I could see. It was kind of scary to see how far up I had hiked. Close to the top, the sun started to break....with the outline of 14ers providing the backdrop. As I looked around I was at the highest point of any mountain around. At the top I was greeted with a crisp breeze and a new found energy. From here it was all down hill. Nine mile of single track all downhill to the 2nd aid station at Snowbind Campground.
At the aid station I was greeted by Dave Nice and his mad cooking skills. Not really craving the eggs, potatoes, and Little Smokies that Dave was cooking for racers, I grabbed a few gels and half a Pop-tart that were also available. I also removed the lights and batteries from my bike and helmet. I quickly saddle up and continued another 15 miles down the road to Monarch Pass. Unlike last year, the climb up Old Monarch Pass Rd was uneventful. My legs were starting to come around and I was able to quicken my pace the further up the climb I went. Eventually, the climb topped out....then I dropped down some single track to aid station 3 located at the new Monarch Pass on Hwy 50.
At this aid station we were allowd to have a drop back. I removed all my cold weather clothing, refuled with gels, Coke, and a special cookie, and decided to leave the Ergon BD2 pack at the aid station. With 2 aid stations remaining, I opted to fuel by 3 bottles and lighten my load on the bike and body. I also took down some pain killers....which I had in my drop bag. I saddled up and went on my way in hopes of making up some lost ground from the early morning hours.
The trails after Monarch Pass are the best of the day. Right after leaving the aid station you get to rip down the Monarch Crest Trail......one of the best pieces of trail in the World! The ride of this section went really well. The further I went the better and faster I felt. I soon caught a rider on a red Salsa single speed. We said a few words and went on our ways. I kept pushing down the trail to aid station 4. Right before the station I caught another rider. I believe this was the guy that took off at the start of the race. We left aid station 4 on a new loop which left the aid station......gives you another 1.5 hrs of riding....then comes back to aid station 4. This rider and myself left the aid station together. I settled into my pace....looked back and he was not there. I was soon ripping some single track downhill....then along a small creek bed. I soon caught another singlespeed rider. I pushed on when suddenly the singletrack dumped out onto another dirt road...where another racer was standing motionless by his bike. I asked him how many guys were ahead of him...he replied with "4." So, that put my up to 5th place. I was pumped, so I took off on this bitch of a climb which never ever, ever, ever, ever ended. While climbing I was caught by one of the SS riders I passed....and the guy who was standing on the side of the trail. I also caught Matt Turgeon who was fixing one of his many flats on the day. I finally got to the top of the climb after suffing for like 60 minutes. At the top I met Carney who was just getting ready to ride the loop I just finished. I clued him in for what was to come.
At the top was the 4th aid station again. I topped of my 3 bottles and took in some small cookies, gels, and some endurolytes. It was time for more of the Colorado Trail. This section went smooth and fast for me. My legs felt good, and I was having good flow. This gave me time to catch the 2 riders that dropped me on the previous climb.
Soon I found myself at the 5th and final aid station...a mere 20 miles from the finish. I topped on 1 bottle and asked how close the next rider was. If I remember right, I think the reply was " 8 minutes." With that in mind, I took off in hopes of catch some slowing riders....which I never found. I made it through all the trail in one piece and emptied out onto the hightway north of Poncha Springs. From here is was 8 miles of pavement....all downhill to the finish line. After all the suffering and wonderings of "what if", I crossed the finish line in 5th place. My time was 16 hours and 34 minutes.
Yes, the Vapor Trail is the hardest thing I do on a bike. Everyone always asks what you can compare it to. Heck, I don't know...maybe ride the Leadville 100 course twice...with part of it in the dark. As I type this, I can say that this is the most my body has hurt after any event this year.
Now it is time to rest. I got a 12 hour race this weekend to work and race at.