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Vapor Trail… non-race report

By September 16, 2009March 22nd, 20173 Comments

After about 6 months of thinking about the Vapor Trail, the day finally arrived. However, I was greeted with nasty weather. Jeff and I headed to Salida around 2 PM on Saturday, and into the rain we went.

After enjoying some great food and coffee at Bongo Billy’s (we always stop there), we waited. The rain continued to come down, and there was word of 1-3 inches of snow in the high country. The race goes up to 12,000’+ multiple times in the race.

We went to the pre-race meeting at 7 PM, and everyone seemed pretty nervous about the weather. The promoter even said that there is a point in the course where it’s very remote and high up. Once you pass this point, it’d be hard for someone to rescue you in a timely manner… if the weather looks sketchy, make the call, and turn around.

Jeff and I took matters into our own hands, and went to buy some extra materials for the race for emergency situation. Plastic bags for our feet, duct tape, space blanket, and I got some plastic gloves to go over my Endura Waterproof gloves.


We found the only dry place with light to prep all of our race things. E.g. getting everything in our packs, drop bags, and nutrition. The car wash was where it was at – no one would be washing their car in the rain!


I remember staring out into the darkness, and every few minutes, the sky would light up. Yes, there was not only rain and snow, but lightning. I felt terrified… and have never felt so scared to do something in my life. I went through many mental battles. Should I go out there into the dark mountains in the bad weather? Is it worth it? Why am I doing this? After much self-convincing, I decided to suit up and give it a go.

We showed up to Absolute Bikes, and discovered the start had been postponed another 2 hours (to midnight) because the weather was so heinous. This did not help the nerves, and only put me back into a spiral of debate. The owner, Shawn, was keeping an eye on the radar…and it wasn’t pretty.
The green spot on the left was our location. They decided to cut about 30 miles out of the course.

The rain was temporarily starting to let up. Jeff and I went back to the car to get our lights ready to go. 5 minutes before the start, I went to turn on the light on my helmet. NOTHING HAPPENED. I tried again. and then I tried again. Nothing. We had to get to the start because it was a neutral roll-out and were about to miss the start. I reached down to turn on my handlebar light thinking I could at least make it through the night with a weaker handlebar light and my extra headlamp in my pack, even if I had to walk the CO Trail in the dark. The button was missing on my handlebar light… somehow, somewhere, I had lost it. I hoped I could still turn it on by applying an allen wrench to the switch on the circuit board, but once that got wet…it’d be game over.

I showed up at the line with no lights that worked (and had tested these multiple times leading up to it), frustrated, and stressed out. I finally got my light on my helmet to go on after pressing the button a million times. The helmet light I was using required that I change the battery every 2.5 hours with my set-up(I had 3 more batteries in my pack), so I switched it off, then tried to switch it back on… nothing again. I got it to go on again about 5 minutes later, pushing the button over and over, and decided to leave it on. If it went out and didn’t come back, I’d just have to deal with it. That was a huge risk and maybe a stupid decision, but after all the preparation, swallowing my fear, and jazzing myself up to go out into the cold, wet mountains at midnight, I wasn’t about to quit.

About 3 miles in, some folks in the group stopped to take layers off because it wasn’t as wet or cold out. I tried to put one more thing in my pack, which was full of waterproof clothes, warmer layers, gloves, etc. (Admittedly, I had overloaded it, but it wasn’t the first time). As I zipped it up – POW. The zipper blew out on my pack. It’s a clam type opening, so there was no way I could have continued to ride with the pack because everything would fall right out (a few days ago, Carney suggested I could have used the rain fly…why didn’t I think of that?!!). At that point, I couldn’t continue with the group. I was sooo upset, and I will admit it – I cried… hard… from disappointment. The kind where you choke on your guts. Thank goodness I was alone… on the side of the road in the dark. I had to shove the contents of my pack up into my jersey and down my shorts so I could carry them back down to town. On the way down, I kept trying to think of ways to .. like maybe I could drop off the pack, use my spare light in the car and hoped that it worked and go back out as a late starter… or maybe I could meet up with them in the AM. Or maybe I could use my messenger bag to carry all my clothing for the night. The reality was, with no good way to carry warm clothes and go into a dangerous backcountry with barely functioning lights, and missing the roll-out to the trail, there was no smart way to continue I was extremely disappointed for days.. The reason I haven’t updated is because I have been so bummed about this, but am finally over it. It wasn’t meant to be. Next year, I will have better lights to use, and will not overload my backpack. Friends were trying to help me see the bright side – that I was SAFE. True…! I think it’s funny and kind of ridiculous that I was so upset that I COULDN’T ride my bike all night, get sleep deprived, and maybe freeze on a mountain. Yes, I am sick.

I cleared out a tiny space in the packed FJ. I thought I’d never fall asleep because I had 2 cups of coffee, a double americano, and a Go Fast in the last 6 hours. I must have been exhausted from Park City and Canada, because within 10 minutes, I was out.
My plan was to get up to Monarch Crest in the morning, and ride the rest of the race course with the racers. My phone rang at 6 AM. It was Jeff, and he was calling it quits from being uber fatigued. After all that, we couldn’t check into our hotel early, so we just drove back to Boulder. He wasn’t the only guy who called it a day… 50 people were signed up, 42 started, 18 finished.

Even though I didn’t get to do it, the event was organized, I heard the aide stations were awesome… which is up to par from years past. Those volunteers are brave with the lightning!

Vapor Trail
… I will be back next year. I will be ready for anything. I will have extra lights, an extra pack, and extra bike parts. You will not stop me and I will kick your ass. (hehe… maybe?)


  • rick says:

    hang in there, you’ll get em next year. It sounds like you made the right choice.

  • Dave Harris says:

    Creative use of a carwash! Sorry to hear about the pack and light issues…sounds like you were carrying a similar residual fatigue as Jeff tho, so maybe those issues saved you from a more difficult fate. Best of all, you got a sweet preview of what to expect for next year.

    Let me know when you want to dial in those lights 🙂

  • Carney says:

    Dropping sucks for sure, but be proud that you are able to make the difficult/safe call when things got sketchy. The course is still there and success will be that much sweeter next year when you crush it!

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