A fun day of suffering on the 2011 Triple Bypass

Triple Bypass 2011

Triple Bypass 2011 Profile

The east-bound version of the Triple Bypass on Sunday, going from Avon to Evergreen, CO, just outside of Denver. Roughly 120 miles with 10,300 feet of climbing.

This year, there were 3,500 riders on the west-bound Saturday ride, and 1,900 riders on the east-bound Sunday ride. Of those, over 500 did both days, on what is being billed as the “double triple.” That’s 240 miles with over 20,000 feet of climbing over the course of two days.

Avon CO, July 10th, 2011. From sea-level to sky-high.

Just two weeks ago, I was riding along the Pacific Coast in Malibu, CA, on the Grand Tour Double Century. And here I am today, climbing up to 11,990 feet in the Colorado Rockies, as I complete the 2011 edition of Team Evergreen’s Triple Bypass ride.

I’ve done this ride before, in 2006 (worst weather in their history, and yes, I finished) and 2008 (nice and sunny all day). This year, I participated in the inaugural east-bound version on Sunday, a day after the traditional west-bound Saturday ride. I had a feeling the east-bound version was going to be harder, and that proved to be the case. As the profile above shows, Vail Pass is significantly longer and steeper coming from the west, and the south side Loveland Pass is also steeper. Juniper Pass is about the same from both directions, but being the last pass of the day on the east-bound ride, it proves to be a long hard slog.

Mile 0, 5:30 am – Avon, CO.

It’s raining as we arrive at the parking lot near the start line in Avon. My wife is with me, and will serve as a private sag for today. And we bring along one other rider, someone we met at the hotel in Edwards who originally planned on riding to the start. Given the rain, he was glad for the ride in the Jeep.

It’s a light rain, so I’m not too worried. I don’t think we’ll have the rain-fest of 2006. If we do, then c’est la vie.


Yours truly, ready for a fun day in the mountains. Though I’m prepared for cold-weather riding, it’s really not that cold out. I’d say mid-50’s.

An interesting perceptual illusion on Vail Pass.

When we drove to Vail and then on to Edwards the day before, coming down the pass on I-70 and on our way through the town of Avon, it seemed to take forever. The road goes down, down, down. If I hadn’t been familiar with this route from numerous other occasions, I would have been getting real nervous about now. That’s a lot of climbing to be doing. Even though I know this route well, I still wonder how the heck I’m going to make it up the west side of Vail Pass.

But an interesting thing happens on ride day. As I pedal through the town of Avon, then Vail, and on to the slopes of Vail Pass, it doesn’t seem that bad. It doesn’t seem to take any longer to climb this route on my bike than it did coming down in the car. It’s an interesting illusion, one I have noticed a few times this year on double century rides. It seems that long endurance rides warp your perception of time.

Going up the west side of Vail Pass is tougher than the east side, at least that’s what I’m anticipating. I haven’t climbed the west side in sixteen years. I remember it being hard back then, even with legs sixteen years younger.

And sure enough, after leaving the highway/frontage road at the end of Vail and onto the bike path that would carry us over the pass, the grade kicks up to 10% and stays there for quite a ways.

A few miles up the road, someone passes me and says hi. It’s a gal from the Gainey Ranch Tuesday/Thursday rides back in Scottsdale. Karen’s on her way to a double triple, going both directions on back-to-back days, one of 500 or more riders attempting this cycling feat of 240 miles and 20,000 feet of climbing over the course of two days. Way to go Karen!

Even though she should be tired from the long ride the day before, Karen passes me without difficulty. Due to my lackluster climbing abilities, I don’t see her for long, and she slowly pulls away.

Warning: Steep grades ahead.

A few miles up the road, the path crosses a bridge and then goes underneath I-70. This is where the real fun begins.

Somebody had warned me of the steep corner to come, so I had already shifted into granny gear. The hill is a solid 16% grade for a hundred yards or so, and then settles into 11-12%. It’s at this point I’m glad I had changed out my cassette for this ride, opting to put a 12-27 on the back instead of the usual 12-25. This gearing, coupled with my triple’s 30 tooth granny gear, may have seemed like overkill beforehand, but I’m counting my blessings now that I made the change. I end up riding in the extra-low 30×27 granny combination for a good portion of the day’s climbs.

Super low gear notwithstanding, the steepness is wreaking havoc on my lower back, just as it has done on steep climbs the last few months. I try to ignore this, and soldier on, reaching the top of Vail Pass by 8:30 am.


Looking southeast from Vail Pass, at 10,560 feet. It’s 8:30 in the morning. It took me a full three hours to make the trip from Avon to this pass, a distance of 25 miles.

I have trouble breathing – down Vail Pass!

While climbing Vail Pass, I didn’t notice the 10,000+ feet in altitude at all, but as I’m zooming down to Copper Mountain, I’m having trouble breathing. This doesn’t make any sense. Why would coasting down to lower altitudes cause such an effect? Later I realized that Copper Mountain isn’t that much lower than Vail Pass, being 9,700 feet in elevation. In fact, the route stays above 9,000 feet until the 80 mile mark.

I was prepared for the altitude – or so I thought — having spent four nights in Flagstaff, AZ (7,000 feet), one night in Denver (5,280 feet), and two nights in Estes Park (7,500 feet), including time on Trail Ridge (12,000 feet) in Rocky Mountain National Park, and one night in Edwards (7,500 feet).  One thing I have learned from doing the Triple Bypass a couple of times: If you are coming from lower elevations, (Phoenix sits at 1,100 feet, for instance), it behooves you not to come up only a day or so prior to the ride. You will feel like crap if you do. Give your body a week to get used to the altitude, or if you don’t have time for that, just arrive the night before. This may sound crazy, but it’s been my experience that you won’t usually feel the effects of altitude until the second or third day.

The ride down Vail Pass is glorious. We’re on a scenic bike path, riding along a babbling brook. I was going to stop and take a picture at one of the numerous bridges that cross this stream, but I pass the last bridge before I realize it is the last bridge. It takes all of fifteen minutes to cruise from the top of Vail Pass into the town of Copper Mountain.

After Copper Mountain, the route stays on the bike path through fabled Ten Mile Canyon. The route so far has been absolutely gorgeous. The mountains seem exceptionally green. I thought this was my imagination – my Phoenix-addled brain being used to brown, and more brown – until I later hear a local TV announcer mention how green the mountains are this year.


Riders zooming down the bike path along Ten-Mile Canyon. Cycling doesn’t get much better than this.

Mile 40 – 9:20 am, Frisco Nordic Center Rest Stop

I cruise into the Frisco rest stop feeling like crap. I’m still having trouble breathing. This ride has never bothered me much in that department before, but it’s bothering me this year. I call and check in with my wife, and we arrange to meet at the Loveland Ski Basin rest stop – after Loveland Pass. She tells me later that I sounded terrible on the phone, and she was sure she’d be rescuing me long before Loveland Pass.

And I’m wondering just how I am going to climb Loveland Pass, feeling like this. Not only is my breathing labored, but my legs are sore, already. I still have two passes to go! Just how will my back respond?

These feelings will surely … pass, won’t they?

Just before I click in and head out, I take a picture showing how nice the day is, regardless how I’m feeling:


The scene at the Frisco rest stop, near the Frisco Marina, around 9:30 am. The volunteers are great here, having lots of fun trying to convince us that this is the best rest stop ever, and wanting us to tell all our friends. Okay, then. Best rest stop ever. Ha!


A view of the Frisco Marina, from the other side of Dillon Lake. For a large portion of the first 50 miles, we are on a bike path. Makes for a nice, safe, enjoyable ride. Summit County has some of the finest riding you’ll find anywhere.


Looking east across Dillon Lake. Loveland Pass lurks in this direction. Featured in this picture are three peaks I’ve climbed – in a former life. Grizzly Peak (13,427 feet) is on the left, Torreys Peak (14,270 feet) is in the center, and Grays Peak (14,267 feet) is on the right. I once climbed the two fourteeners on the same day. This double fourteener climb is a very popular hike for the locals.

Mile 55, 10:20 am, Keystone. The climbing suffering begins.

The east bound version of the Triple Bypass doesn’t go over Swan Mountain from Frisco like the west-bound version does. Instead, we wind our way via a bike path along Dillon Lake and over the dam. Soon we are on Highway 6, heading for Keystone. At roughly 55 miles in, the climbing begins in earnest.

I knew east-bound Vail Pass would be hard, and that Juniper Pass would be hard too, being the last pass of the day, but for some reason, I thought east-northbound Loveland Pass would be a piece of cake. I have no idea why I thought that. A quick look at the profile reveals it’s a steady, long, eight mile climb.

It’s mostly 7% grade along here, sometimes upping to 8-10%. And it’s relentless. These steeper grades once again wreak havoc on my back. I suffer like a dog up Loveland Pass. Suffer. Like. A. Dog. Probably my worst climbing experience ever. I have to stop frequently. I can only thank my lucky stars I had the presence of mind to put that 27 tooth gear on the back. Otherwise, there is no way I would have made it to the top.

One thing that isn’t bothering me: My breathing. I’m not feeling the altitude at all here, even though we’re on our way to 12,000 feet. My breathing would be fine the rest of the day. It’s weird to have had trouble earlier.

But my lower back is not a happy camper, and by the time I reach the top, I’m not either. I can’t imagine doing another pass. And of course, once you can’t imagine doing something, that usually spells doom.

I know, though, that on long days in the saddle, you will feel highs and lows. Best to ignore the lows and continue on.

Here are some pictures I took from the top of Loveland Pass.


Three riders top the Loveland Pass climb, all with determined looks on their faces.


Looking south from the top of Loveland Pass.


The view to the southeast from Loveland Pass. I’m not sure (it’s been too many years since I’ve hiked in this area), but I believe in the peak in the background on the left is Grizzly Peak.


The view to the northwest from Loveland Pass. There is still quite a bit of snow for this time of year.


Looking north, down to the bottom of Loveland Pass. That’s I-70 far down below. I’ll be riding there shortly.


Here I am at the top of the route. It’s 12:40 pm. I’m bundled up for the ride down, but it’s really not that cold, and not all that windy. That’s amazing, because every other time I’ve been up here, it’s been both cold and windy. After this picture was taken, I notice ominous clouds to the west. Best I be getting off this mountain!

Mile 67, 12:59 pm, Loveland Valley Ski Area

It takes no time at all to cruise to the bottom of Loveland Pass. Just as I roll into the Loveland rest stop, it starts raining. Hard. Talk about timing! I head for the lunch table and grab a sandwich, and then discover that there are several white canvas tents filled with cyclists. These are “warming” tents, and in fact, two of them are heated. Sure beats standing out in the cold rain. And it is quite cold at this point. It’s hard not to shiver.

I eventually rendezvous with my wife, and she brings a warmer pair of gloves. The rain has tapered off, and I tell her that, even though I don’t think I’ll be doing the last pass, I’m going to continue on, at least to Georgetown. She looks at me like I’m crazy.

“If you’re not going to finish, why not just quit here?” she asks.

“Just because,” I say. “Plus, you never know, I might be feeling fine later on. No sense in cutting the ride short unnecessarily. Besides, the next 30 miles are all downhill.”

It’s amazing how quickly a person can forget pain and suffering. A half an hour ago, I had all but given up ever doing another mountain climb. I was forever finished with that nonsense. Ha!

There is another reason to continue on: We’ll be riding on a brand new bike path that allows us to skip a nasty ride on I-70. I’m curious to see what this path is like.

The bike path is real nice, that’s what. More or less paralleling I-70, it winds it’s way through a deep forest. Even though we aren’t that far from the freeway, you can’t hear traffic at all. Very pleasant.

Well, except for the fact that the road surface is wet from all the rain, and being in a deep forest, there are lots of blind corners. It makes for a dicey descent. On numerous occasions other cyclists try to pass. This starts to get annoying. What is this, a race or something?

But there’s not that many riders out on the course now. Later, my wife tells me she saw a lot of cyclists pack it in at the Loveland rest stop.

There’s an orange stripe painted down the center of the path. I try to stay off that paint stripe, knowing that when wet, it might be real slick. Not having my bike slide out from underneath me would be a good thing.

The bike path ends at Bakersville and the route continues on old Highway 6 until near Silver Plume. I don’t see any other cyclists for miles and miles, and begin wondering if I made a wrong turn somewhere.

Soon, the bike path picks up again, and I encounter cyclists. We’re riding right next to the freeway, and the traffic is loud.


The bike path on the way to Georgetown. The traffic on I-70 is beginning to back up. It does this every Sunday afternoon along this stretch.


The tracks of the Georgetown Narrow Gauge Railroad as seen from the bike path above. We’ll be riding through that parking lot shortly.


A view from the bottom, as we’re about to cross under the tracks. I can hear the train, and hope I can get a picture of it crossing the trestle. I never did see the train, though, and don’t waste too much time waiting for it.

Mile 80 – 2:20 pm. Georgetown Rest Stop.

I meet my wife in Georgetown, and tell her I’m going to continue on to Idaho Springs. The day is turning sunny again, and it’s noticeably warmer. I take off my jacket and full length gloves once again, and cruise on down the road to Idaho Springs.

Mile 91 – 3:00 pm, sunny and warm Idaho Springs.

I reach Idaho Springs same time my wife does, even though she was driving the Jeep down I-70. However, there is a traffic jam on I-70, just like there frequently is on Sunday afternoons. It’s pretty funny you can make this distance the same time on a bike.

It’s at this point I need to make a decision. Do I continue on up the last pass of the day, or cash it in?

I had already made up my mind on the way to Idaho Springs. If it is still sunny and warm when I reach town, then I’ll do the pass.

It’s still sunny and warm. If anything, it’s sunnier and warmer.

“My back may never forgive me,” I say to Leslie. “But I’m going up Juniper Pass. I just have to.”

She of course looks at me like I’m crazy. But she’s used to my craziness by now.

I look at the course map. It’s a full 15 miles to the next rest stop. Now, my prevailing speed up Loveland Pass was a whopping 4.5 mph. I suspect it’ll be the same up Juniper Pass.

You do the math.

It’s going to a long, long afternoon before I’m finished with all the climbing.

And I think I’m not crazy because …?

I winch along in survival mode.

The road out of Idaho Springs starts out gentle, as in 1-2% grades. This lasts for a few miles, before slowing ramping up to 5%. We’d see 8-11% occasionally up this pass, but overall, Juniper is not as steep as Loveland Pass, at least it doesn’t feel that way. My back is thankful, and in fact, does not bother me the rest of the day.

Can’t say the same for my legs though. They are tiring, and I feel the beginnings of cramps. I down some extra electrolytes and stop frequently to work out the cramps.

I am determined to finish this pass. I crank along slowly, imagining that my bike is hooked by cable to a winch on top. The winch is being turned, inch by inch, using sheer willpower.

At the 100 mile mark, my legs cramp up big time. Downing extra electrolytes doesn’t seem to be helping. Stretching isn’t working either. Hmm, let’s see, it’s still six miles to the top. At 4.5 miles an hour …

I begin a routine of stopping every 1/2 mile to stretch. This soon shortens to 1/4 mile intervals. Are we having fun yet?

At the 103.5 mile mark, I round a corner and see a sag vehicle. The driver asks how I’m doing.

“Not well,” I say to the driver.

“Do you want a lift?” he asks.

“No thanks,” I say. “I’m going to the top, even if it’s 100 yards at a time.”

I do this 100 yard routine several times and soon get tired of it. I know it’s not far to Echo Lake from here (and it’s a few miles to the top from there), but I don’t think I can pedal anymore.

I hear thunder, and see that nasty weather is imminent. Being at high altitude during a thunderstorm does not seem like a good idea. Another sag vehicle passes by.

Hmmm … cramping legs, imminent nasty weather, and a passing sag vehicle = a broken winch.

I flag the sag vehicle down. As soon as my bike is strapped on the rack and I climb in the van, the rain comes.


A stormy scene across Echo Lake, at 10,600 feet, near the top of Juniper Pass. It would rain heavily most of the way from here.

We pass by Echo Lake, only a 1/4 mile up the road, and I see the lodge on the east side of the lake. I could have ridden here and waited out the storm. I knew that. I’ve been here many times. But noooo! Somehow that hadn’t occurred to me earlier. Doh!

We drive on to the next rest stop just a few miles ahead. I had every intention of having the sag driver drop me off here, so I could ride down to the finish, rain or not.

The rain has turned heavy.

No matter, I’m still riding to the finish, I think to myself. That is, until another rider in the car reminds me that the east bound lane of Juniper Pass is in a significant state of deterioration, and is filled with pot holes.

Hmmm … fast, curvy descents, heavy rain, and potholes = unsafe riding, and not fun.

I opt to stay in the sag vehicle.

I pay my penance.

Halfway down the mountain, the rain abruptly stops, and then a ways further, picks up again, though only with light intensity. The sag driver stops to help a cyclist by the side of the road. The cyclist has a flat, and no one has a tube with a long enough stem for his deep dish wheels. Our sag van is full, but I volunteer to give up my spot and ride to the finish. No sense having this poor guy standing in the rain needlessly, when I could just as well ride to the finish.

I no more get my bike off the rack when the rain turns heavy. The sag driver laughs.

“Are you sure you want to do this?” she asks.

“Yes, why not,” I say. “Besides, it’s my penance for not finishing the climb.”

Mile 120 (107 for me), 6:30 pm. The finish.

I ride the last few miles to the finish in a torrential down pour. I can barely see past my glasses. I hope and pray there are no potholes on the road. I sure can’t see them if there are. Fortunately, I hit no pot holes, but just before the finish there is an intersection with a red light. Going at high speed, it’s all I can do to stop here. I’m squeeze my brakes as hard as I can, managing to roll to a stop just inches from the cross traffic. After the light changes, I cross to the finish. It’s 6:30 pm.

Whew! What a day! I spent 9 1/2 hours on the bike, and 13 hours total for the ride, for 107 miles. Not a stellar day. I suffered a lot, way more than in past years on this ride. Still, it was, for the most part, a fun suffering. Ha!

It’s a miracle.

Even though I didn’t finish the whole thing, it’s a miracle I was able to do what I did. A week ago, I was flat on my back. I could barely stand or walk. It’s lower back pain that’s been with me ever since doing a South Mountain 4×4 earlier in the spring. A week before this ride, driving to Colorado seemed out of the question, not to mention doing this challenging ride.

And my training the past few months consisted of virtually no hills. I rode mostly on the flats, purposely avoiding the climbs, except when I had to climb during the Davis and Grand Tour double centuries.

Riding on the flats — what a way to train for the Triple Bypass!

Kudos to Team Evergreen.

I was wondering how the support for the inaugural east-bound ride would be. I’m sure Team Evergreen wondered too. But from my perspective, it was excellent. The volunteers were outstanding. All along the route, any time there was any sort of question concerning safety or route finding, a volunteer was there to show the way, even on some of the more remote parts of the route. And there were many, many sag vehicles, a lot more than I had seen on the double centuries I did earlier in the year.

Kudos to Team Evergreen for a job well done! And to all the volunteers!

My only nits: The rest stops made sense for the traditional west-bound ride on Saturday, but they didn’t make sense for the east-bound ride. The Frisco rest stop was a case in point, being less than an hour from the top of Vail Pass. Keystone would have been better. And the Georgetown rest stop didn’t make sense either. Idaho Springs would have been a better choice before the last climb — at least from the perspective of the riders.

I’m sure Team Evergreen will work out the kinks next time.

Next up, the Fall Death Valley Double.

I’ve had a busy cycling season so far. First, the Spring Death Valley Double (or my attempt of it anyway – the hardest ride I’ve ever done) in February, followed by three double centuries in as many months. The Triple Bypass caps this successful season, and I’m ready for some time away from the bike.

Except my friend Scott has already talked me in to doing the Fall Death Valley Double on Halloween weekend.

“I’ll give you three days to rest,” he says jokingly, when I talk to him after finishing the Triple Bypass. “And then you need to start training for Death Valley.”

Oh, man!


A fun day of suffering on the 2011 Triple Bypass — 1 Comment

  1. Awesome recount Bryan. I feel lucky to have gone West to East 😉 It was beautiful, and I didn’t get rained on. THanks for sharing.

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