The "Crest" as it's known among locals is as uplifting as it gets, but it heads toward Starvation Creek. Starvation Creek lives up to its name and is the number one complaint of all who dare partake in the Vapor. It's a curly-cue loop within the giant course loop that descends deep into a valley only to spit the rider back up a five-mile, loose rock, jeep trail. I knew if I could just get through Starvation Creek the end would be in sight. I entered into the quickly dropping singletrack and was still reeling from the emotional lift of the "Crest". Making up time I pinned the descent and finally popped out onto the jeep trail called Poncha Creek Trail. Poncha would guide me back up to the Continental Divide one more time. "Hold on tight. This one's gonna hurt", I told myself as I dumped gears and began the long spin. The sun now beat upon my shoulders and sapped precious moisture from my body. Sleepy spells overtook me from time to time as I crawled up the climb. About three miles up the climb (which I'd been misinformed about and believed was only two miles long), it happened again. I slowed, and suddenly my legs just stopped. I commanded them to move, but they just sat still, the left foot in the forward position, the right back. I began to tip to my left after a short trackstand. My tank had gone completely dry. My foot hit the ground with a thud. I dismounted and stood there in the middle of the trail, baking in the high altitude sun, unable to move. My eyes moistened one more time with what little hydration I had left in me. The teeth of the Rockies had me by the scruff of the neck and I had succumbed like a wild animal in the grasp of its predator.
"Just move forward. Just walk a couple of steps", I commanded. I began to move, while I desperately dug for a caffeine-rich gel pack. "If you can get to the top of the Divide, it will be all downhill to the finish", I told myself. Without warning the trail leveled out and I saw the pink ribbons that marked course direction. I was back on top and looping back to Aid Station 4 at Marshall Pass. I felt a rise of emotion as I saw color through the trees. It was the volunteers. They prepped me for the final leg of the course. Just then, a voice from behind me, "Do it for Duluth, Tim!” it was Tom Purvis the race director. He laughed as he did not fully realize the desperate state I was in. I pushed out of the aid station toward more singletrack thinking about what he said. Just then I felt the pull of my family and friends all watching my SPOT tracker at home...all rooting for me. I could feel them pulling me to the finish line.
At the top of the Silver Creek descent I met my old partner from the climb up to Granite Peak. "Hey Tim, you're gonna love this descent. You should go first", he said. I told him that I was unsure as my vision had begun to blur and I was experiencing weird shifts in my balance that caused me to stumble on my bike. "No, I think you better go first, I'm really in trouble here", I told him. He looked so fresh, like the ride didn't even hurt him. He insisted I go as he felt I descended better. I obliged and dropped into the trail. I felt myself taking huge risks almost as if I didn't care what happened to me anymore. Safety was no longer my concern. Getting hurt might mean being done with this. I was no longer thinking rationally.
We leapfrogged our way to the "Dinty Moore Station" or Aid Station 5. There we introduced ourselves to the volunteers, fueled our bodies and embarked on the Rainbow Trail. This was a roller coaster through the woods, with occasional pop outs to mountainside meadows. The trail rolled on and on, but it felt good as the pull of the finish was like a magnet as it came closer. The familiar sound of cars moving fast along a highway came to me through the trees. 'I'm close now, clear this section, then ten miles of road to the finish,' I thought. It finally happened; I popped out onto blacktop in front of a young couple just heading out for a mountain bike ride. They were clean and fresh...maybe on a date? They gave way to me as I straddled my bike, walking it up through a ditch to the shoulder of the road. My foot slipped and I stumbled almost to the ground. I saw the 20-something girl look at me and awkwardly smile, but truth be told she looked worried, as if she had just seen a sailor who'd been lost at sea roaming through a beach town.
I spun through the ten miles uneventfully and it felt good to be on a smooth surface. My arrival back to Absolute Bikes was a bit anti-climatic as most riders who had finished had already moved on. One lone man clapped for me while a girl with a clipboard approached me to get my number. She placed my bike in a rack for me and simply said, "Good job". I took a moment to think about the fact that I was done. I had done it. I had struggled with failure and I soared with triumph.
While out on course I often thought to myself, 'I wish my wife could see me now' as I railed through descents or topped out on the Continental Divide time and time again. I wished she could see me succeeding amidst a world that was crumbling down around me. I wished she could see me changing out there, becoming something better. I told myself that when I got home to Minnesota I'd hold her cheeks in my hands and ask her to look into my eyes, then she'd be able to see what I'd done...what I've become.
I'll never forget the Vapor Trail, the place where eagles fly.
Special thanks to Mike Riemer of Salsa Cycles for all his support with gear and supplies, but more importantly his personal support. Kid, you always take the pressure away and remind me to do it for the right reasons.
Thank you to the Salsa crew that created the Spearfish. This bike was pounded on, battered and beaten. Trust me, I didn't always choose the best lines. My Spearfish never missed a beat!
Jeff Clarkson of Schwalbe tires, I can't thank you enough for your personal support and going above and beyond for a guy you've never personally met. Your efforts to overnight the Nobby Nics to Omaha says a lot about your commitment to the riders you sponsor. The tires were top notch and vital to my finish of this race.
Tom Purvis and Earl (race directors), I can't thank you enough for giving me this opportunity. This "ride" that you have going out there is a life-changing event for so many people.
Thank you to my family and friends. I really did feel you pulling me to the finish line. When I was really hurting I could almost hear you saying, "C'mon Tim, you can do it!" It's one of the main reasons I kept going.
Finally, to Amy, my wife. "You do it, because you love it". It's those words that you say to me that keep me remembering what I'm out there for. Your belief in what I can do is often stronger than my own and there are many times that I head into the unknown thinking, "If Amy thinks I can do it, I must be able to." I know you can't see or feel the things I saw and felt while I ground out those miles, but I really believe that in a deeper way you can. I know you know what I mean. Thank you!
A number plate worth keeping...