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Kathy's story: Vapor Trail 125

BaseCamper Kathy Duryea shared her experience at the 2023 Vapor Trail 125 event in Salida, Colorado.

It’s been 10 days since Vapor Trail 125. It took a while to sink in, but I better write it down before it seeps out. I can't remember a day that ever went so well. I was first place overall female, as well as the oldest person to finish the race, male or female. It was a perfect plan and a perfect race. That does not happen often. I usually spend about six months training for a target race that will last 20-24 hours. And more times than not, the unexpected happens at some point in the race, and I have to resort from plan A, to Plan B, to Plan C.

This race I only had 8 weeks to train by the time I signed up, but I found a great program through Tim Cusick and the Basecamp cycling program to take me from my 16-week winter training program to an 8-week summer mountain-bike-specific program.

To describe this mountain bike race, the website says it best: "You've never done anything like the Vapor Trail 125 before. It is unique and really hard. You ride technical singletrack trails (125 miles) at extreme elevations (approximately 16k elevation gain), much of which will be in the dark, and you will encounter temperatures from sub-freezing to 80 degrees."

The race starts at 10:00 p.m., forcing you to do many of the technical descents in the dark. You are in the Colorado backcountry trails with no sag support. If you have a mechanical, you must get yourself out to a road.

Rather than rehashing the entire 19 hours and 44 minutes I was on the course, I want to share how great the local support and volunteers are for this event. Shawn Gillis, the owner of Absolute Bikes in Salida, CO, was one of the founders of the race, and he and his employees were gracious enough to spend hours with me, maybe even days, helping me think through and order the perfect bike I wanted for the event and to get me custom fitted to it. No question I had was too stupid. Each employee at the shop treated me like all my questions were legit, even if they were stupid. They are inclusive, and I felt it.

The race director, Mike Franco, had me at "just login and signup" when I was there in person on one of my many visits. He was so welcoming, with advice ranging from bikes to lights, to speed, to nutrition, to spare parts. He introduced me to other racers and gave me last-minute refreshers on my flat-fixing skills before sending us off into the night with encouraging words: "Start slow, and then go even slower."

And what tremendous volunteer support there was. There were 50+ volunteers out there split between the 5 aid stations. They truly made a racer feel as if we were the only one on course. They did anything and everything for you. They filled water bottles and hydration packs, provided abundant choices of food, cleaned and lubed my chain at each aid station, and sent me off with goodies in my pack.

Even with all that, I had my own support crew consisting of my beautiful wife, Johnan, managing to arrive at each aid station ahead of me with our two dogs, Gracie and Howie. Lori Caramanian and Barbara Caramanian made a sign for me and some tasty treats but more than anything provided moral support on race day while many were sending support from home and following my GPS tracking dot. Special thanks to my sister, Tambra Wilkerson, for keeping everyone posted of my whereabouts during the race. And thanks to Antonia Cooper and Antony for the post-race Snickers bar and pre-race dinosaur hug.

The race was hard and as epic as I had hoped for. There were no age categories, and the field is limited to 100. There were 3 female finishers and 36 male finishers.

Normally I take hundreds of photos on any daily adventure, while here I only took one. I waited until the sun came up at the highest altitude of the race, 12,600 feet on Granite Mountain. It was a sight to behold: no wind, and a spectacular 10.5-mile downhill lay ahead of me. The rest of my pics were taken by friends and support crew at the race.

I've had a week of eating anything I want, but it's time to get back to clean eating and logging the miles again. Thank you, Namrita Brooke, for the last-minute nutrition guidance (if you didn't know, nutrition, or lack thereof, is the number one reason many fail at longer endurance events).

Who knows what all adventures I will pack my schedule with for my 60th birthday year in 2024. Fair warning, there will be something epic each month, most likely. I can hardly wait to plan it all out.


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