Soloing the Vapor Trail-
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  1. #1
    Scott in Tucson
    Reputation: Krein's Avatar
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    Jul 2004

    Soloing the Vapor Trail

    It's just as dark as I pedal away from the F Street Bridge. Just as dark, and just a little bit colder. No one is there to cheer me on; the town of Salida is asleep. As I roll out of town on County Road 140 the only light to stare at is the airport's spinning blue beacon. It feels just like a normal Vapor Trail 125 start, but I miss the company and the many bodies to draft off. I'm a little lonely and afraid of dogs running out of people's yards for some reason. Maybe this isn't such a good idea.

    The doubt doesn't last long -- the earth is spinning me and the Sawatch range back into the sun's influence. I can see it already, and feel the energy.

    Mt. Shavano comes into view, from the aspen lined meadows of Blanks Cabin. What an adventure that was. Time for another.

    Several passenger cars appear behind me, before 6am? If I hadn't summitted the peak weeks back, I would be confused. Instead the nearly full parking lot seems normal to me. Everyone is wearing coats, so I don't feel quite so weak wearing mine and still periodically losing my hands.

    The trail is empty, the forest quiet. Frost on the ground in a few spots. Where's the sun?

    Ahh. Even if all I ride is this singletrack, it was worth it.

    I race between breaks in the trees, feeding off the energy and warmth that the sun gives. I can already tell this is going to be a good day. I'm moving fast and feeling nothing.

    The trail breaks into wide open grassy meadows as I break out the big ring. Struggle on by headlight? No thanks -- rip it during the day!

    I drop down to the site of the VT125's first aid station, and just keep rolling. I check my GPS clock for the first time. Four minutes up. Perfect. Not too fast, not too slow.

    The closed-to-cars railroad grade is a most pleasant contrast to rough-n-tumble singletrack, and the views are drawing me in. My perceptions must be off, because it seems faster to pedal up it, than it did to coast down with the big crew (on a group ride) a few weeks back.

    That peculiar perception continues on the main road to St. Elmo. I feel it's faster and easier to pedal it now than it was to sit in Ed's truck a few weeks back.

    At Cascade CG I grab water and make the rookie mistake of not mixing my Carborocket fully. For the next hour I think I poured way too much powder for a bladder's worth, and sip it while washing it down with water from my bottle. Turns out I just didn't mix it enough.

    Taking the left turn towards Hancock I find myself in the shade of Mt. Antero and other giants. And climbing, above 10,000'. It's not even 9am, and I start losing my hands and feet. I can see the sun, but can't access it. I'm getting slower and slower; wishing and yearning for the Alpine tunnel.

    One thought, "it's warmer than it would be at 1am" is all it takes to shake of the negativity, and soon I am back in the sun and quickly warming.

    And then I'm on steep singletrack, a happy return to mountain biking, where it's not clear whether you can, or will, or should, ride the next piece of trail. I'm tired of holding back, so I spin out some of the steepness, flushing blood to extremities and forcing a smile on my face.

    1-track on the continental divide

    My favorite moment is on the continental divide, coasting carefree across the Alpine Tunnel trail's tiny pass. I'm crossing the boundary from dark to light, having never seen what is on the other side in the day. Plus it is so peaceful, and easy, and short lived. A white moment to remember, before the precipitous drop to Quartz Creek and the next climb.

    I remember fumbling and dabbing this descent in the dark, and I can see why. With the sun my ally, I see the lines and roll out with speed, on to the old railway station. Two forest employees are there. I wave and they respond with the most dumbfounded look. "Have a great ride." I probably look like I'm way too serious (and maybe I am).

    tomichi pass

    An ATV rider passes and stops me. "Twenty five more coming." You've got to be kidding me. Labor Day weekend. I keep rolling just the same, dodging a few other riders, but everyone is nice. I pass the guy who stopped me, waiting at the Williams Pass junction, for the other 25 in his crew. Guess he underestimated how fast a mountain biker can climb. I never see any of his crew of 25.

    Only the couple that keeps stopping and re-passing me aggravates me. Either go faster or stay stopped for a minute or two!

    Ah, singletrack. Ah, hike-a-bike. I've missed you.

    gotta go the top of that mountain, at 12,600'

    I finally pull off my toe covers, and my feet feel great, sliding around on rocks and stumbling for traction. I'm at the top in a half hour. That's it? Glad I didn't bring the hike-a-bike shoes.

    Alright, Canyon Creek, let's see what you've got. It's got a lot of abuse, and death grip braking. It's nice and dry, so it seems easier than when I last rode it, but it's still hard. I'm not a big fan of the upper section. But then I cross the creek, and a well timed porta-potty comes out of nowhere. After a short stop I'm back on the bike for lower Canyon Creek.

    "It's like a nine mile pump track." Timmy's words from last year echo in my head. He is so, so right. I feel a little guilty for having so much fun during a race effort -- popping off everything in sight, grinding corners and floating over rocks like they aren't even there. I'm falling so far out of race mode, but remind myself that fast and fun descending is race mode, or is better than race mode.

    The stinger out of Canyon Creek to the campground gets stomped out like it isn't even there. Good bye, sucker, I'm warm and moving fast. 7:30 to Snow Blind CG, about 25 minutes ahead of record pace. Daylight, yeah, it's not overrated.

    Oh, Dave Wiens, where are you?? I roll around looking for a water pump, and finally break down and ask someone.

    "Uhh, it's that bright red thing right there."

    I should have asked her to help me pump it too. Try pumping that thing while holding your bladder in the other hand. I get excited about my first actual pitstop of the day, and threw some gummy bears, mike and ikes and half a snickers down. The result? Bit of nausea.

    so glad I put the bar ends on for this ride!

    No matter. Just drink and keep the effort easy.

    Easy. Legs are on auto-pilot, and again I get the odd perception that I'm moving faster and with less effort than when Lee and I drove in his Vibe up this road just a few weeks ago. Seriously, when is this thing going to start hurting? Stand up and hammer or sit and spin. Search and destroy.

    I'm ACTUALLY WARM. And it feels so good! Last year I froze to the core on this climb, puzzling over why I could not generate the smallest bit of warmth, no matter how hard I pedaled. I had what I sought so badly just a year ago -- fire.

    The singletrack over to Monarch Pass perks me up even more, and I head directly for the store -- my only resupply on the day. As I'm collecting peanut M&M's and gatorades, the kid behind the desk starts yelling at me for leaving my bike in the walkway to the store. "Didn't you see the signs?"

    Funny stuff. I head back out to move the bike before finishing up in the store.

    It wasn't the fastest transition, at nearly 10 minutes, but it was my only chance for additional calories and water I didn't have to find/treat. So I made sure all was well and checked my time as I hopped onto the Monarch Crest trail. 30 minutes up, even with the glacial pit stop at the store. Nothing can stop me now, right?

    Right? I'm weaving through Labor Day crest riders, watching them struggle to climb pitches that just make me want to pedal harder. I'm finding myself wishing the riding was a little more challenging, but I guess I'll accept cruising along the divide with a tail wind and not even wearing knee warmers, if I have to. What a glorious day! I roll up to a couple bikepackers and chat for a minute. "Have you ever heard of"

    The crest is a singletrack super highway at 11,000k, and stoke factor is riding through the roof. If only it were all so smooth. I start noticing that my lower back is really tightening up, beginning to ache. I can't pull to manual off the ledges and lips like I want to. Uh oh, I have a lot of rough descending to go. I stop and eat some ibuprofen from my belt pocket. I'm not too surprised by the back pain since I had popped something in my back earlier in the week that caused a pinched nerve. It's something that happens occasionally to me (usually I suspect too much computer/mouse usage) and has never had an serious effect.

    The spring after Greens Creek is barely a trickle. Filling up a bottle would take five minutes I don't have.

    By the time I reach the descent to Marshall Pass I noticed I'm sitting on my seat to avoid further abuse to my back. It seems to be working and has the bonus of sparing my hands and feet some abuse too. I start thinking of last year's Vapor and how much better I feel. Still a half hour up at Marshall Pass, I'm thinking there isn't much to go, and going faster than record time won't be much of a challenge.

    Oh how wrong I can be. I top out the climb of Starvation quickly, feeling lucky that my back is still allowing me to climb steep stuff. Now, I just have to survive the descent.

    Well, I survived, but it wasn't pretty. I begged for it to end so I could get on with the climbing. How is it hurting so much? The down is supposed to be the easy part. I fill up a bottle from Starvation Creek and drop in a tablet. That should do it.

    The climb isn't going well. I have no rhythm and can't seem to get comfortable on the bike. I get off to walk a little, but that feels worse. Just hold on for a bit longer. 3 more hours, and mostly downhill. Wait, downhill is worse!

    I'm staring at the elevation on my GPS -- never a good sign. Back to Marshall Pass, I'm somehow almost a half hour up -- only lost a few minutes. Even with my deteriorating state I can't lose a half hour in the last 25 miles, can I? I knew Jeff Kerkove was racing Kevin Thomas hard, all through the last part of the course, and that they would be picking it up. But still, a half hour? I just have to stay focused.

    Focus lost, half way down Silver Creek. The grass looks like a much more inviting place for a backbone to exist, rather than on a bouncing bicycle seat. 3.5 minutes gone, but well spent. Why does anyone like riding this trail? Wait, you do, remember the last time you were on it?

    Rainbow Trail is my saving grace. Fast, flow, smooth, just the occasional rocky section to endure. I feel like I am coming back to life, and even have the power and back strength to pedal the steep grunts. Apparently it's impossible to have a bad run on this trail. But it's soo long. It's supposed to hurt, but not like this. I was ready to be done and dreaming of the smoothness of the pavement, so close and so far away.

    I refuse to look at the clock until I hit pavement, instead just staying steady. But I know sunset time, all too well, and I can see how low the sun is getting on the horizon. It's not looking good, but I smile as I remember the sun being on the complete other side of me, climbing into the same mountains I am now descending from, 14 hours ago and with so much unknown and so much adventure ahead of me. Sunrise to sunset. Still, I hope and pray it's not going to be close so I can just coast in and not worry about it. I'd rather miss it by a half hour than not know and try to do math on a frazzled brain.

    Pavement comes, blissfully, and the first thing I notice is that I'm not going 30 mph. Wind! I start doing math and it just drives me crazy. Stupid ITTs and chasing ghosts. At least in a race you can see who you're racing. Instead I'm trying to remember how many miles are left, and guessing on estimated mph. I have ridden this stretch enough that I know how fast you can go, or fast I have gone. Not today.

    Instead of rolling 20 mph down CR 120, I was pushing and suffering to go 12 mph. Pure toture as my mind rotated between believing it was close enough to pedal hard, or give up and just coast in.

    Eventually it was all I could do to hold back the laughter, at myself. It had been an incredible ride no matter what, and I had succeeded in what I had set out to do -- ride the Vapor Trail, fast. Almost 3 hours faster than last year! Any new 'record' isn't even comparable with the different start time and support differences, anyway. All good. Enjoy the sunset and roll on it.

    I came in at 14:30, 4 minutes off the fastest time.

    125+ miles, 23,000' climbing. wooo hooo!!

    What an incredible route. More people should solo it. I like the idea of the challenge behind the standard 10 pm start, but the cold and unnecessary darkness makes a daylight ITT pretty darn attractive. I sure enjoyed it... until my back gave out on me, I guess.


    The adventure was not quite over for me. I expected to come home and immediately pop a frozen pizza in the oven. I was looking forward to crashing in an easy chair and drinking chocolate milk as I relived the day and tried to process it all. Instead I was shivering in the shower, feeling dizzy, and food or drink were the last things on my mind. Not too alarming for a while, but then it was. I wasn't getting any better, and the little food/water that I did get down was not helping. My whole body ached, nausea, spinning head, trouble breathing. I couldn't puzzle it out. Felt like I ate and drank enough, throughout, never really pushed that hard, especially with my back limiting me at the end. But something was wrong.

    Shawn Gillis found me pacing in the backyard. At the time I felt like standing up and walking around made me feel better. I told him it had been a great ride, but felt like something was wrong, and I was considering heading to the ER. I have never considered medical attention after a ride before! They took me inside and sat me down, which helped me calm down. Paula and I were suspecting hyponatremia, given that it was *never* hot, and I felt like I had drank a lot. Instead of being hysteric about it and wondering what to do, it was better to just sit down and let time pass. Shawn called Kelsea over, who is an EMT and is going to be volunteering for the actual Vapor Trail race. She got me to drink and eat some stuff, slowly, and I could feel that I was coming back. About 3 hours after finishing I finally felt like I was going to be OK just letting it pass. I didn't actually fall asleep until 2am, didn't even really try. I was able to get some soup down and various drinks, and finally did hit the bathroom.

    I'm still not sure exactly what happened. The symptoms aren't exactly conclusive of anything. It was so cold that I just can't fathom dehydration (though it is possible), and I never got a bonking feeling (thanks Carborocket), so I think I had that covered. The back pain and sitting on the seat for descents is the one wildcard, and is making me suspect kidney distress. They definitely took a beating, and that combined with ibuprofen and a whole slew of toxins and broken up muscle tissue circulating in my system, well I may have just overloaded them. I've read some interesting stuff on kidney failure that the occasional very fit ultra runner experiences, and it's pretty scary stuff. I don't think I was to that point, but I may have been getting there.

    Or maybe this ride was just a little bit too much for me right now. I had great fitness and stamina for 11 hours, and then fell apart. It's not too surprising given that 3 hours was a long ride for me this summer. Only in the last 4 weeks have I done some 5 and 6 hour ones, which were no problem, but they weren't races and had breaks built into them. Also, I don't think I was actually recovered from all of them (14ers, group rides, enduro-sessioning, etc), so they may have hurt more than helped.

    In any case, it's had a profound effect on me, and has me questioning the sanity of some of this stuff. It's always good to take a step back and question things, I think, and new angles hopefully offer more insight. I doubt I'm going to stop pushing limits, but hopefully I can learn something from this and be smarter next time. I may have crushed the Vapor Trail route, but the dismal way it ended makes me feel like I still have unfinished business on it. Fine by me. I know it'll go faster -- much faster.

    Thanks to the Gillis's and Kelsea for watching over me and taking care of me. You guys are awesome. And of course thanks to Shawn and everyone at Absolute Bikes for this route and putting on such a fine event. Trackleaders will be tracking it once again, and I can't wait. Race starts at 10 pm on Saturday night - 9/10/11.

    Follow along here:

    Be careful out there!
    Author of TopoFusion GPS Software. MTB+backpacking = Ride Diary.

  2. #2
    mtbr member
    Reputation: BlissMan's Avatar
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    May 2010
    I read this earlier on the ride diary. Incredible, inspiring, scary, etc. Thanks for sharing!

  3. #3
    Really I am that slow
    Reputation: SlowerThenSnot's Avatar
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    Jul 2004
    Scary Fast! sounds gnarly at the finish man, glad your ok!
    Read my BLOG!

    just a guy who loves bikes and exploring

  4. #4
    mtbr member
    Reputation: rockman's Avatar
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    Jun 2004
    Amazing and nice prose to accompany the adventure. I can't even imagine what it would be like to climb 23,000' in 14 hours. Rainbow alone after shuttling Monarch did me in two days ago. It was nice to meet you at the Gillis stronghold Tues in the rain. He told me of your adventure and wow is all I can say.

  5. #5
    mtbr member
    Reputation: Shalom's Avatar
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    Nov 2008
    Great write up, pics and inspiration. Well done. Thanks for sharing.

  6. #6
    Rock n' Roller
    Reputation: snowgypsy's Avatar
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    Jun 2011
    Amazing. Thank you for the inspiration.

  7. #7
    Lone Wolf McQuade
    Reputation: beagledadi's Avatar
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    Jul 2004
    23k of climbing, nice Mr. M

    I should be out riding....

  8. #8
    Scott in Tucson
    Reputation: Krein's Avatar
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    Jul 2004
    Thanks guys. Nice to meet you too, Rockman.

    Race starts in just a few hours! Looks like I'm in again! Can't resist a nearly full moon Vapor Trail.
    Author of TopoFusion GPS Software. MTB+backpacking = Ride Diary.

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