“What am I doing? Why did I sign up for this? Why am I so freaked out?” Questions all playing in my head as I drove to Salida Saturday night for the 10 PM Vapor Trail start. The Vapor Trail – a 125 loop with over 20,000′ of climbing. I knew it’d be my first time riding a bike all night and my longest single day ride ever. All my confidence and experience I had gained over the years was shot. I was a mess.
10 PM. We were all lined up on the F St Bridge with a surprisingly large amount of spectators cheering. I was the only woman to line up in the group, but it didn’t matter. The neutral rollout was actually mellow unlike a lot of other “neutrals” I have done! There was a sharp contrast from the cheers and bright lights in town to the dark dirt road as we were led out into the dark mountains. The temperature was surprisingly warm – I didn’t even need knee warmers at the start!
Animated start video. I love the screaming lady in the background!
The group split up as the neutral car pulled away and I found myself riding comfortably in the top 10 as we entered the singletrack. Whoa. I realized I hadn’t done any night riding since last year at 24 Nats! I love the CO Trail near Shavano and have ridden it a bunch of times, but never in the dark. Let’s just say my night riding skills left little to be desired! I got to aide 1 around 1:20 AM. There was a bonfire and I could smell something delicious cooking. I decided to hang out and enjoy a warm breakfast burrito and a Red Bull. It’d be 5-6 hours to the next aide station. It was so delicious. The aide station had about 5 or 6 of us restocking and hanging out. I took off alone to head to the Alpine Tunnel.
Jon Davis let me borrow his Radical Lights . I brought extra batteries (which I never needed) and was ultra conservative running low light most of the night. In the end, I barely used 50% of each battery (one on the helmet and one on the bar). I could have run more light and gone faster on the trail!
I passed a few people on the dirt road and then I was alone for a long time. I had ridden a large portion of the Vapor course between a few rides I had done in years past. The last time I went up that road was on a bikepacking trip where I slept on the ground near the Alpine Tunnel. I got into a good, steady rhythm and realized something extraordinary – I’m not afraid of riding alone in the dark anymore! I was having a great time looking at the stars and enjoying the solitude and simplicity of following a black and white tunnel of light. I was also very surprised that I didn’t feel sleepy at all. In fact, there was no point in the race where I wanted to go to sleep.
After the tunnel, I could see a few lights in front of me. The road was pretty loose and rocky. I had to walk up some sections of the dirt road, but the guys in front of me were walking too so I didn’t feel as bad.
I was waiting for the heinous hike-a-bike up to Tomichi Pass. The kick in the gut was when I looked up and saw a lone light way up high. The benefit of hiking in the dark is you can’t see what’s coming, but the light gave it away! The bad part about getting up the pass in the dark is that I missed the amazing views! The hike was much harder than I expected.
The laughing in the video is when I saw where I had to go!
I didn’t really “train” for the Vapor (there were certain things I could have done to get ready) I hadn’t been up to altitude in almost a month and I hadn’t done any hikeabike training. I actually felt the altitude starting at 12,000′. I was stumbling over my own feet. The trail was steep and was covered in loose, huge rocks. I couldn’t decide how to hike my bike. Pushing was pretty tough, carrying it on my back felt heavy, and shouldering it didn’t quite work because the trail was so steep the wheel would hit rocks. I alternated between the three methods and I tripped and fell a couple of times. I had to stop and take breaks which caught me off guard. My Nepal hikeabike fitness was long gone! I’ll have to redo that section in the daylight. At the top, I stopped for a little bit, put on some clothes, and had a snack.
The descent was probably 20 miles and super fun!! The sun came up halfway down the mountain literally shedding a new light one everything. I had been staring at black, white, and shades of grey all night long and suddenly I noticed the vibrant hues of green alongside the trail.
My speed picked up considerably downhill as well! At the Snowblind Aide Station, I got a couple bear hugs from Dave Wiens and he fixed my rear derailleur that as barely shifting. My easiest gear wasn’t working – major fail! After awhile, I was on my way. I also ate a bunch of hot pancakes.
Next… part 2.