With so many variables, especially in a 125-mile high altitude race, just getting half way in the event sometimes seems like a huge push depending on how things are working out at the time. For me, The Vapor Trail for 2010 was exactly one of those events. Feeling as though all the bases were covered, I had a good bike setup, lighter pack, and lightweight lights. But all those things can only work if the key tool is prepped and working well, your body is the only thing that can get you through an event of this length.
Beginning the day with a good breakfast and continuing through the day with plenty of calories, I thought I was on the right track with my diet. I recently found out I have a little bit of a gluten intolerance, but it has yet to really curb my wheat consumption much. Especially when preparing for events, carbs are a big part of my pre-race regimen. But the last meal before I left for the VT, I chose to eat pasta, which didn’t seem like a big issue until I started to notice a weird feeling in my stomach.
At the time I thought it was just nervousness and was hoping it would go away once the race started. As I sat at Absolute bikes, getting my gear ready and continuing to stuff food in my body, I started to feel pretty good. With only thirty minutes until start I was happy and excited that my body was starting to cooperate, but little did I know, it had a plan of its own.
The start line was the happening place in town that evening, with Salida locals and race supporters alike on the sidewalks cheering the 10pm start. As I rolled to the start line I noticed my tires were feeling a little low. Remembering I put 50psi in before I left my house at 6pm, this made me a little concerned (this should be a lesson, don’t change tires the day before a race). As I asked around for a floor pump, I hear “Alright, Lets GO!!!” Hoping for the best, I start rolling out behind the famous leadout from the one and only Scot Banks, Head Mechanic at Absolute. A little further in to the leadout I realized I should take care of the tire situation during the neutral leadout rather than run in to an issue later. Fortunately, as we were passing through town we passed by the finish line, home of Absolute Bikes owner Shawn Gillis. This gave me the opportunity for the needed air to allow my tires time to work the Stan’s in.
Once regrouped to the race, the pace was nice, maybe even easy as we cruised west towards the mountains outside of Salida. After a quick pee break, (yeah we stopped for a group pee break) we took a quick right turn and the race began spreading out a bit. A group promptly rode off the front and left me with a few other race veterans. Having done the race before, I know how easy it is to get caught in the race early on. But it is extremely important to stay out of the red zone for the first portion of the race. With rolling, technical, Colorado trail singletrack it is very easy to go harder than you should. This is when my body started to tell me it wasn’t going to cooperate.
Rocks, roots, and off camber corners were extremely difficult with the excessive air I had in my tires and the sour feel in my stomach. After a close call I knew I needed to keep my composure, if I wanted to make it through the race. What seemed like an hour of riding, but really 5 hours, we reached the first aid station just off the Colorado Trail. Stocked with an assortment of food, I was hoping I could take down enough essential fuel to get me through to the next aid station. After a redbull, some fruit, oreos and a breakfast burrito I was back on my bike pedaling on.
About a mile out of the aid station my body took a turn for the worst. It rejected all the food I had just taken down, leaving all those needed calories on the side of the railroad grade trail. At this point I had to make a decision. Should I push on knowing that my body was lacking what it needed to continue or do I turn around, hoping to catch a ride back to Salida from the aid station? I chose to continue on hoping I would start feeling better soon.
As the race wound through the South Sawatch mountain range, the night was dark and quiet giving me lots of time to think about the pain occurring within my stomach. As it continue to worsen, I knew I may have not made the best decision but continued on anyway. Moving extremely slowly I made my way up over the Alpine Tunnel, which ends with a 1-mile long technical hike-a-bike. As I struggled to put one foot in front of the other efficiently, I knew it was going to be hard to finish. Once over the alpine tunnel, my hands and feet were completely numb. A fast mining road descent to the bottom would only make them worse, so I was happy to see Search and rescue stationed at the top with a raging fire. I worked my way over to them and promptly sat down to warm my frozen limbs.
Almost to the top of the Alpine Tunnel, this is where a good little hike-a-bike begins. This is a fun section to go ride when you are fresh and it is warm out, but much harder when you are in survival mode at 4am.
Descending went quickly, but a dreaded left hand turn at the bottom put us below Tomichi pass. A pass that has been known to take its toll on riders over the course of this brutally long race. I shuffled my way up, feeling as though I was in slow motion, tripping over rocks as if I were intoxicated. Once on top of Tomichi, I made my final decision to drop out. Knowing that my body was just shutting down as the race wore on. Instead of following the course up over Canyon Creek, I chose to descend the south side of Tomichi pass. Which seems to be one of the rockiest most gnarly jeep roads in our area. Filled with baby head sized rocks and erosion assisted ruts, it is extremely tough to ride down in the dark.
After what seemed like 8 hours, I reached the bottom. Greeted by a friend who was planning to ride up and do the Canyon Creek loop. He ushered me down to the aid station where I was greeted by Dave Wiens and Family. Sitting by the fire, I warmed up but was still having stomach issues. Glad to be warm I stayed in the camp chair for half an hour. At the point on the course closest to home, I was glad to have made it where I did.
Walking in the front door of my house was the best feeling I had since things started falling apart that night. A quick shower and it was straight to bed for me. Sleeping for 12 hours straight, I awoke feeling much better but still fighting hunger and stomach issues. Overall, I am glad I attempted the VT this year, but bummed that things worked out the way they did. It was as always a world-class event, with amazing support and a great challenging course. Thanks to everyone that helped with the event, especially everyone at Absolute bikes!! If you are ever in Salida definitely stop in and check them out.
As for my equipment, everything worked flawlessly, Conti tires hooked up great once I let a little pressure out of them, Ay-Up lights lit up the trail really well with minimal weight, and my bike worked extremely well. If you ever have the chance to do this race, get the lowest gear you can find, you will need it!!