Vapor Trail to Salida

Boulder isn’t really known for superb mountain biking opportunities. Despite being the headquarters of IMBA, the trail access is lacking. And my bestest riding buddy was down and getting vials of blood extracted from her rather than spinning pedals and breathing deep with life.

Luckily, I had a few GPX files from Kurtiferous up my sleeve, pointing me to some of his favorite riding anywhere in Colorado.

Now, this riding isn’t exactly what most mountain bikers would be “in to.” Like this route, which was Boulder’s equivalent of Redington Road. Some nicely challenging 4×4 roads, where you gotta pick a good line or you’re walking.

Followed by a bunch of moto singletrack descending = fall line = hold on for dear life in a few places. At the bottom of the moto trail was the biggest collection of firepower I have seen. I had to wait for several guys to take their turns with their assault rifles before they realized I was waiting at the top of a steep hill, and they were standing right in the trail. I wasn’t about to start sliding down it and maybe accidentally crash into people carrying loaded weapons. The quantity of guns and the noise being created was something else, and actually put Redington (Tucson) to shame. I wouldn’t have guessed it, in Boulder.

A sunset run on Betasso is always a good call — if you’re there on a day it’s open to bikes!

I followed another brilliant Kurt GPX that conveniently allowed me to start and finish at this pie / pizza shop. The riding was good, off the map, and chunky. But the pie and pizza were outrageous good. I looked forward to riding here again, but sadly this area was one of the worst hit by floods and I’m not even sure you can get there any more.

Eszter wrapped up her appointments and tests. It was time to head to Salida!

We made it out just in time for a sunset loop on a Salida favorite – North Backbone. Furthering our rookie status, we didn’t have enough daylight or any lights. But the storm cloud sunset was magic.

I proceeded to dive into a day and a half of SPOT wrangling for Vapor Trail. There seems to always been one unexpected issue or another. This time it was the shop ordering the wrong batteries, so we proceeded to clean out the town of Salida of all its lithium AAA’s, finding *just* enough with the extras I was carrying and a set Tom Purvis had in his cupboard. All the details of everything I did blur together, but with a mix of old SPOT2’s, brand new SPOT3’s, beta/rented SPOT3’s and racer’s units it was quite a project to get it all organized. Luckily it’s fun stuff and I love this event. I knew it wasn’t an ideal setup for a fast and focused race for me, and I knew that going in.

After three hours of registration and racer meeting, I was pretty tired. Pedaling back to go get ready to I thought … what is it I’m doing tonight and all night? Oh yeah, ride bikes!

The group assembled at the F Street bridge @10pm. The energy was palpable. I love this event!

It was warm. I loved that even more.

2009 I started in the rain and cold with a sinus infection. Turned around 1 hour in.
2010 I froze all night, could not start a fire in my heart. I suffered badly and finished broken and still cold.
2011 I time trialed the route, finishing three minutes slower than the current record time, but I did not finish well. Two hours after finishing I was seriously considering heading to the ER and didn’t fall asleep until 2 or 3 am that night. Broken.
2011 I rode with Eszter in the brilliant moonlight during the event, but I was still broken from the time trial. I rode ‘home’ down US 50.

My goal this year was pretty simple: have fun and finish with grace. I have never finished this ride with any semblance of being together or feeling good.

Easy enough right? Finish with grace = start out slow.

No problem there. Five minutes up the first climb I realize I have no legs, no power. I’m either not recovered from 25 hours of Wasatch, or the day of SPOT wrangling and work has left me drained. Guess I have no choice but to ride conservatively.

It’s never a good sign when you’re considering dropping out one hour in. Surely I’ll feel better after I get warmed up and out a few hours. Right?

A brief rainshower cools us down on the Colorado Trail. It actually felt *good* to be rained on, at midnight and at 10,000′ in Colorado.

The never ending climb from St. Elmo to the base of the Alpine Tunnel hike-a-bike was pretty excruciating. The last thing my body wanted to be doing was pedaling continuously. All I wanted to do was coast, or climb steeply, or something! I would have turned around to bail but for two things:

1. It was silly warm. This was too awesome an anomaly to not enjoy. It was colder on this climb when I rode Vapor *during the day* in August.
2. There’s nowhere to go. Riding home would have taken all night. Keep going.

Pushing up Granite Mountain was the easiest and most enjoyable part of the night. My legs are trained for this – it feels natural and easy by Wasatch standards. I wished it wouldn’t end.

Even more remarkable, I reach the top and my brain says “layer up, it’s a cold descent” but after pausing briefly to stare at the stars from 12,500′, I realize I’m still overheating and short sleeves are fine. Descending from 12,500′ at 4am in short sleeves? Pinch me.

Canyon Creek is more fun than ever, though I’m forced to stop and diagnose various rattles and sounds, finally determining that both my front brake and my cranks are super loose. I also realize my fork is getting sticky with any mud/moisture. I begin a practice of lubing the stanchions at very aid station.

Canyon Creek is a long descent, but not long enough. I am dreading the climb up Old Monarch, because my legs have no sustained climbing ability in them. But first, there is the aid station, where Tom greets me with a handshake and a smile. Jarral has fresh peaches from Paonia, and my brain links up a positive association chain of Eszter, Peaches, Vapor Trail and climbing Old Monarch. I eat more peaches than an endurance rider should, but they taste so good. My stomach has been solid all night, so why not?

I roll down the White Pine valley in short sleeves, just because I can. My arms are freezing, but I know climbing is coming.

10 minutes up, I am warm already, but as feared, dragging and dying. I’m thinking US 50 might be my escape route home, again.

A rider catches me, seemingly without much effort, and he disappears around the next corner just as quickly as he came. I’m crawling.

I feel like I’m putting less effort into the pedals, and a few minutes later he reappears and starts to be reeled in. It takes 10 or 15 minutes before I believe it, but this solar powered action figure has been reborn. My legs decided to show up, after the reboot of a new day. We’re finally in business.

The rest of the route is full of glorious trail. Glorious trail I have usually suffered through. Not this time. I had power to spare and a fire raging in the heart. Let’s go ride the crest, yo!

And Starvation, and let’s destroy Poncha, rip down Silver Creek, this time without a screaming back ache.

Some of the best riding of the year. Even on the steeps of Rainbow trail I felt better than I did riding it as a day ride with Eszter a month ago. Dig in and clean everything! Oh yeah.

I finished in 16:49 — not fast, but my fastest event-day Vapor finish. Major negative split. And most importantly, I finished feeling good — with grace, perhaps. Mission accomplished.

A couple days later, I hitched a free ride back to Monarch Pass with Eszter, who was heading to CB. Never pass up a free crest shuttle!

It rained on and off on the drive up, but I refer to the rule above – never pass up a free crest shuttle!

Besides, the crest is one of the best places to watch fog and clouds climb up and over the divide, swirling and combining in so many unpredictable and beautiful ways. It’s nothing short of magic up there.

My body didn’t have too much energy in it for withstanding Sawatch Range trail (which is rough, even on a 5″ bike), so I took the quickest exit on Green’s Creek.

Biggest mushroom I’ve seen in my life!

It’s a beautifully rowdy descent, especially with some moisture. Dinner at the Thai food place on the ride back to Salida put the day well beyond the awesome category.

We attempted to ride with the Buena Vista high school kids the next day, but got rained out. These storms would hammer Boulder beyond belief, and lead us to not return and instead hole up in Salida for the balance of the fall. A great, great decision, because there is so much to love about Salida and the mountains and trails all around it.

5 comments to Vapor Trail to Salida

  • > so we proceeded to clean out the town of Salida of all its lithium AAA’s,

    Oh, So that was YOU! 🙂

  • The last I read, the three main shooting areas in Redington Pass were still closed down. I love biking there, much more without the automatic weapons fire.

  • Scott

    Scott – you are right, shooting has been shut down near the main road on Redington — all the main shooting areas.

    Justin – Ha! I did regret cleaning out Safeway especially, knowing some racers would be looking for last minute batts. Oops!

  • Oh, wow. My friends and I had to cancel a backpacking trip slated for this weekend, and the disappointment just about killed my stoke. Thanks for revving me back up again just in time for the weekend. Those pictures are amazing– can just about smell the crisp air and the trail dirt…

  • I’m so glad you got to experience the full wrath of that loop up Lefthand with the final descent into the shooting range. Why an official trail drops into the busiest unofficial range in the area is beyond me. Three small forest fires have also started in that range in the past few years. I should have advised you that the best procedure I developed was to stop at the top of that hill, survey the shooters, roll a few small rocks down the slope to catch their attention, and wait for them to wave me through. It’s a real bummer to hear that that the area with the pie shop was so hard hit by the flooding. Oof. I can’t wait to get back and ride that stuff…

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