Last weekend, I rode the Vapor Trail 125, an unsanctioned bike ride out of Salida, Colorado. It was my third time at the event, and though I didn't have the smoothest ride ever, the experience reminded me of just how fun small-scale mountain bike races can be. Fifty-some people lined up at 10 p.m. to race 125 rugged miles of backcountry two-track and high-altitude singletrack. There's 17,000-some feet of climbing, including a two-mile hike-a-bike over 12,000 feet in the blackest hours of night. Finishers trickled in from mid-morning 'til late evening the next day, and the only fanfare was a low-key barbecue behind event sponsor and local shop Absolute Bikes. It was exactly what bike racing is supposed to be: laid back, complication free, challenging, and—most of all—fun.
Even as big races like the 24 Hours of Moab are having trouble generating interest, grassroots events like the Vapor Trail are popping up all over the country. In part, the attraction is the simplicity. Registration fees are low (often free at local events), there are no overwrought rules or lengthy pre-race meetings, and pressure is almost nonexistent. It's just a bunch of like-minded riders lining up for a shared experience and a good time.
This little event had a big-name entrant this year, three-time 24-hour national champion and 24 Hours of Moab course record holder Josh Tostado. The Alma, Colorado, native originally planned to race the 24 Hour World Championships in Alberta, Canada, but when they were canceled he shifted his plans to Salida. And good thing. Tostado blazed the trying course, beating his nearest competition by almost an hour and setting a new course record of 12 hours and 42 minutes. I caught up with the new VT champ after the ride.