Tuesday, September 15, 2009

My Vapor Trail 110

The story is out there about this year's Vapor Trail 125. Weather.

We moved the event into September from August in 2007. We had little choice--the bike shop runs the event, and August is go time. Things are often still jumping in September, but after Labor Day is just plain better. And usually the weather is great.

But sometimes you get a little taste of Fall/Winter in September. A nasty little system decided to appear with perfect timing to mess with the 2009 VT. And I mean it was perfect timing. The storm peaked, at least in town, right between 9 and 10 PM when we were supposed to be rolling. The rain was hammering down, lightning, was flashing and the thunder was loud because that lightning was close. At about 9:15 I was at home putting stuff in a backback. Kathy was looking at me, incredulous, asking me if I was really going to go out there if it was still doing this at 10 PM. I shrugged and said, "yeah, I guess so." I could not give her a coherent reason why I would do something so, well, stupid. But I kept putting stuff in the pack.

I went outside to leave for the start and two riders, including Ed rode up to tell me that the start had been pushed back to midnight. I realized that my cell phone had been off, since I'd wrapped it up in plastic to take into no-cell-service country for the whole night, just in case it proved to be needed and useful at some point. As the supposed Event Director, I realized that I had been quite absent at a critical time in the execution of said event.

Yep, it was happening. I rode the several blocks to Absolute Bikes and asked Shawn what was up. Weather. That's what. There were concerns not only because of the threat of hypothermia, but even that the route might be difficult to travel on. The delay meant shortening the route. That's really the only way it could happen. The longer route was made possible by the 10 PM start. Without it, none but the truly fast would be able to finish before nightfall. And the obvious part of the course to cut was the one that took us up way high above treeline, where the snow would be deepest if there was snow. And where it would be hardest to rescue the hypothermic.


Ultimately, we agreed that it had to be Canyon Creek, and Starvation Creek as well. Time and likely trail conditions drove those decisions. It would be a 110 mile course. Not the whole banana.

So we stood around looking at high tech radar images on the internet, speculated about whether indeed it showed that a break was coming, and further speculated about whether the big cell that was over the San Juans near Montrose was headed our way.

Then somebody noticed that it wasn't raining outside anymore. By about 11 PM there were some stars showing faintly through the clouds. It was breaking up.

We did roll at midnight. I was wearing way too much clothing. I was still dressed for the 10 PM conditions. Even during the moderate neutral start, I began to swim in my own sweat. But I did not want to get out of the pack, because I knew that we wanted to be together at least for the crossing of Highway 285, and really all the way to the end of the neutral part. Didn't really matter, by 285 I was already soaked.

When the pace car pulled out of the way and the riders found their own pace, I pulled over to finally peel off my jacket. And then I was all alone. Bye bye pack.

I started the dirt climb, DFL, and watching silent lightning above the Sawatch Range ahead of me. Thoughts about that cell--how likely it was that our weather was not done being crappy, filled my head. It was too chilly for my wet clothing to dry, so I just rolled. At least I wasn't so hot anymore.

Then I saw a few drops of rain fall into my headlamp light. Then more. Then, by golly, it was raining again. Criminy. I stopped again, and put the jacket back on. I thought about whether this thing should even happen, and whether I should stick with it even if it did. Short course. It wasn't going to be like finishing a real Vapor Trail even if I did. And that's what I really wanted, to finish the big one. To redeem myself after abandoning in 2007 when I was so close to a finish.

And now it was raining again. Crap.

Well, I wasn't uncomfortable. Yet. I wasn't cold, just sopping wet. Might as well keep going until I became uncomfortable.

Then I saw some lights, and a group of riders putting on jackets. Golly, I'm not DFL anymore. Probably only temporary, but it felt pretty damned good to not be off the back. Then I saw some lights on moving bikes, headed back toward me. Riders abandoning already? Are they uncomfortable or just psyched out? It was quite the mind game, between the waiting around in the shop, the speculation about how much more bad weather, how cold up high...

I kept going. I was still bummed. I thought to myself, and then said aloud to JJ when we rode together for a little while, "this is not the vapor trail I expected, and it is not the vapor trail I wanted". But I kept going.

Then I got to the Colorado Trail. There was a little crowd gathered around Shawn who was recording times. None of them were really heading up to the CT. I assumed they were just changing clothes but it turned out that many of them, for a variety of reasons, were calling it.

I saw several people on the CT at the start of my travels there including Earl, but then I rode off into the darkness pretty much on my own. Later I played leap frog with John for a while, and passed Todd on his singlespeed in Raspberry Gulch, where a big ring comes in real handy.

When I made Aid Station #1, I was still utterly soaked. But I had removed my jacket, and never got really cold or uncomfortable. I had sent a dry, warm, Sugoi hoodie with the Aid #1 staff. When I got there I peeled off my wet stuff and dropped it with a mighty plop onto Jon and Rickie's tailgate. I pulled on my hoodie, put a good Pearl Izumi shell over it (one that I had kept pristine in my pack), ate some good aid station food and headed on up the road to the Alpine Tunnel. I was good, I was going to ride this vapor trail and enjoy it. It was going to be a good vapor trail even if it wasn't "the vapor trail I wanted".

The night was lovely, dark and deep. I was by myself the entire rest of the night. I marvelled at the beauty of groves of aspen turned golden that I saw by my lamplight. When the first faint light of dawn flooded into the upper Chalk Creek Canyon, I was mesmerized by the beauty of the snow-sprinkled peaks above. When I stopped just before the Hancock townsite, John caught me and we both commented on what an uncommonly beautiful dawn we were being treated with.

It was cold. My feet were cold, but not to the point of pain. Not comfy, but livable. The rest of me was fine. I was grinding away, and I was making warmth. And I felt good. The place, the air, the view--I was exhilerated.

On the other side of the Alpine Tunnel, it was quite a bit colder. But isn't it always cold anywhere in the Gunnison drainage? I had to descend for about 20 minutes before starting the grim hike-a-bike up to Tomichi Pass, and I got cold. But then it was time to hike, and I was comfy again. And I was fine with the hike. It's long and hard, but it ends.

And then I was at Aid Station #2, Chatting with Dave Wiens while Jefe Branham worked on my bike. Those Gunnison guys are a class act. Their Aid Station was top notch.

Many kudos to the man in the middle of this photo, Rick Garcia, owner of The Tuneup, Gunnison's Legendary bike shop. Rick really worked to make this Aid Station great.

I left Aid #2 feeling good, well fed, dry clothing, great-working bike. Kathy took this shot of me as I approached the bottom of the Old Monarch Pass climb. It's good to feel good at the bottom of this climb, because it's probably better than you will feel at the top. It seems endless. Ah, but it does end.

I arrived at Aid #3 quite tired, but again, we had some top notch aid station people there. And Kathy. I refueled, filled up my hydration pack, and left knowing that I was going to finish. I had done the last of the big climbs. Sure, I wasn't doing the toughest obstacle to finishing the full Vapor Trail 125 course, the climb back up to Marshall Pass from the bottom of Starvation Creek, but it was still a ride that had taken some grit to finish. The mind game that the start played on us was not trivial. And as we all know, 50% of this game is half mental.

The rest of the ride is a Chaffee County Classic. Crest Trail, Silver Creek, Rainbow. Know it like the back of my hand. Love it like a brother.

What more to say? I felt happy for the whole danged thing after the first two hours. I rode well, I finished feeling strong. And then I joined a great barbecue already in progress. Great day. Thanks to all the other riders, the volunteers, and mostly to Shawn for making this all happen for 5 years in a row.


FixieDave said...

Awesome work man! way to pedal!

ScottM said...

Sounds like I missed out on an amazing night out there. Excellent writeup.

Thanks so much for putting this ride on. You rock.

brian stevens said...

Congrats on finishing the vapor trail, many did not but YOU did!

kw said...

Hola,Amigo. agreat read about a great ride. You're still one of my hero's. RIDE and SMILE kw

Sandblogger said...

Good Job Tom. It may not have been 125 miles but it was just as hard...maybe harder. Once the mind starts to doubt, the body follows...

Thanks for putting the whole thing together again with the rest of the crew.


Ed said...

Great job out there Tom! It was good seeing you and Kathy as always.

Thanks for all the hard work you guys put into making the VT a very special event.

See you later!!


Carney said...

Great ride out there! It was a memorable day/night that will be floating in my head for quite awhile! Thanks again for all the work you put into making this event happen!!