I have been hearing about the Vapor Trail 125 for a few years now and every account tends to use the words “brutal” or “epic” and even “ridiculous”. I have never done this race or even ridden the entire route, but from what I can tell, it is no joke. Endless climbs, screaming fast descents, dizzying altitude, prime alpine singletrack for 20 hours, and Dave Weins cooks you pancakes at an aid station. It seems like something I need to do. This year, we will just have to settle for a race report from some friends of DC, Eszter and Chris.
I had met these two back in August while I was drinking a beer in the middle of the street in Ireland. When I saw that they both completed the VT125 this month I shot them an e-mail asking if they would want do a race report for us. Estzer came through with not only words but Chris sent video too. If you like amazing pictures and tales riding some of the best singletrack in Colorado, then I suggest you add their gooneyriders blog to your daily rotation. Sit back and enjoy the story and a cool little video that really captures the vibe of the day.
There are certain ways to prepare for a race. Then, there are certain ways to ensure that races, at worst end in disaster or a DNF, or at best, simply hurt a lot. For example, to prepare for Single Speed World Championships, it would be best to ride your single speed more than once all summer. It would maybe not be the greatest idea to catch up on single speed riding by riding across Ireland from Dublin to get to the race. Similarly, to prepare for the Vapor Trail 125, a little race starting in Salida, CO, it would be wise to spend as much time at altitude as possible and ride a bike with ample suspension. It would maybe be unwise to spend two weeks at sea level and then decide to ride a single speed for the event.
To be fair, I had spent my summer training for the Colorado Trail race. 470 miles of unsupported racing across Colorado, and I was in really good shape going into that at the beginning of August. So even though I’d just spent the previous two weeks playing in Europe, I knew I had some residual fitness built up from a summer of long rides. But I did underestimate the Vapor and it hurt me pretty good. Never underestimate the Vapor.
The Vapor is a fun little event. 125 miles, 20,000 feet of climbing, 10 pm start, the majority of the route over 10,000 ft, topping out at nearly 13,000. Really, what could go wrong?
What could go wrong? Realizing on the first climb, a fairly tame dirt road before intersecting the Colorado Trail, that my bicycle choice was wrong, dead wrong. When working at a disadvantage (sea level lungs, general lack of being in shape, etc.), I probably should have taken a bike that would make the course easier, rather than one that was going to make it harder. I was toting a pretty heavy bag of excuses. But now I had an excuse to walk whenever it got hard!
The first three to four hours of the ride is always a hoot – swoopy, fun singletrack on the Colorado trail that, thankfully, trended downwards. I barely noticed that so much time had passed before hitting the final steep switchbacks down to the first aid station. They had grilled cheese and avocado sandwiches. Talk about the perfect 1am snack!
This was the place to turn around if I was going to turn around with the ‘way back there’ portion of the route just ahead. 10 miles of dirt road up to the Alpine Tunnel, then a freezing descent to the base of Tomichi Pass, a hike up Tomichi Pass, a three minute descent, and a 30 minute hike to the top of Granite Peak, the high point of the course at 12,958 ft. But the moon was full, the air was warm (relatively) and I had geared my bike for railroad grade climbing. Plus, the descent off the top of Granite Peak, the famous Canyon Creek Trail, was 20 miles of rowdy, fun descending into Aid Station #2 with the world famous Dave Wiens pancakes and sausage.
It was still dark when I reached the top of Granite 5 hours later. A cloud swirled around the peak and a harsh morning wind whipped the exposed mound of rock. I threw on my down jacket and made haste to get down into the tress, sad that I wasn’t going to get to experience sunrise at the top of the world, or at least at the top of the course.
I ran into some bow-hunters on the trail down. They were suited up in full camouflage, face paint and all. They scared the living daylights out of me.
I arrived at the aid station sometime around 7:30 that morning. I immediately sat down by the fire and had a plate of giant pancakes shoved in my hand. My bike was taken, lubed, cleaned, and water bottles filled. I ate and ate and ate. And then I had to climb 9 miles up to the top of Monarch Pass. While I didn’t forcefully eject my breakfast, I came pretty close a time or two.
The top of Monarch Pass is always pure luxury. This year, the Salida High School Mountain Bike Team met us and 10 kids immediately took my bike, brought me my drop bag, and set me down in a chair. It was 9 in the morning, I’d been on my bike for 11 hours and the altitude and distance was starting to wear on me. As someone who is known for her ability to pedal all day every day, I was in a world of hurt. But I wasn’t going to have ridden through the night to miss the Monarch Crest, Silver Creek, and Rainbow trail, the most classic set of trails in Colorado. There was only one thing standing in my way: Starvation Creek.
After 12 miles of glorious, high altitude riding along the Crest, the trail drops down to Marshall Pass to the next aid station. There lay the extra credit loop. A steep climb, a rocky, fall line descent down to Starvation Creek, and then a 5-mile climb back up Poncha Creek Road, back to exactly where you started. If there is a crux to this route, this is it, both mentally and physically. But the hubby was just 10 minutes ahead of me leaving the aid station! He’d been 40 minutes ahead 3 hours ago, so if I could just catch him on the loop, we could ride the rest of the way back together. It would be so romantic.
Catch him I did on the climb, which was the perfect gradient to be able to pedal it on my gear, if I was motivated. Motivation came from seeing the boy in the distance and knowing that if I started walking, I’d never catch him. Catching him and finding out that he felt about as stellar as I did was a great comfort. Misery loves company after all.
Lucky for us, once back at the top of Marshall, it really is mostly downhill, with a little bit of climbing thrown in to keep you honest. After 17 hours of riding, we finally hit the Rainbow trail, which can only be described as a 9-mile magic carpet ride through the woods. Regardless of how trashed I am at that point in the ride, that trail always makes me smile.
We rolled into the BBQ at Shawn Gills’ (owner of Absolute Bikes and mastermind behind the event) house after 18 and a half hours. We were greeted with beer, burgers, cookies, and a hero’s welcome. The beauty of this event is that the farther back you finish, the more people there are at the finish line to cheer you in, and every one gets cheered in, right down to the last finisher at 8 pm, 22 hours after the start of the event.
Congratulations to our buddy Kep who also finished this ride on a singlespeed! And a big thanks to Eszter and Chris for taking the time to send this stuff over. I am really enjoying all of these amazing ride reports lately and I hope all of you are as well.by