Here’s another look back in time to another memorable ride, the 2008 Triple Bypass. At the end of this grueling day, I wearily told my wife, “I’ll never do this ride again!” The next morning I added, “That is, until next time!”
Dateline, July 12th, 2008, Evergreen, Colorado
Another Triple Bypass ride has come and gone.
Unlike last time in 2006 when it was wet and miserable, this time the day was sunny and wonderful. The weather was ideal — blue skies and temperatures nice and cool in the high altitudes. As good as it gets.
5:45 am. Evergreen
I leave Evergreen just as the sun lights up the forested slopes of Bergen Peak, imparting everything with that familiar, high altitude, alpen glow. The morning starts out beautifully, a bit chilly, not a cloud in the sky. I do fine for the two hours up Juniper Pass, 15-16 miles, grades mostly 4-6%, keeping my heart rate just above a medium, easily maintainable steady-state pace (140-145 bpm). The snow-capped peaks of the Continental Divide provide a northwest backdrop to the cool evergreen forests we are winding our way up, ever higher. So far, so good. Nothing is hurting, and my “locomotive breath” isn’t anything out of the ordinary for me.
Along the way I chat with a gal from Oklahoma City, who says her training consisted of short 30 mile rides with her husband, with hardly a hill in sight. I don’t have the heart to tell her about all the miles I had ridden the past spring, including 12 centuries, and a double century.
7:45 am. Top O’Juniper
I pull in to the first rest stop near the 11,100 ft summit of Juniper Pass, at a place called Eagle’s Aire. To prepare for the chilly descent to come, I don jacket and tights, and refill water bottles, mixing in the Perpetuem powder that’s to be my main source of fuel for the day.
Before departing down to Echo Lake, I pause for a private moment of silence. For this is the spiritual resting place of a former pastor and friend — a friend who had passed away some 13 years before. I wish her significant other was riding with me today. We had ridden the Ride the Rockies together a few years past, but our lives have taken different turns, and he hasn’t ridden much at all since those times, not nearly enough to attempt the feat that lies before me.
High off to the south looms Mt Evans, 14,000 ft and change, with the highest paved road in the U.S. winding up its slopes. We’re not going there today, at least I’m not. Some of the 3,500 riders are, in a feat unofficially called the “Quadruple Bypass.” Some day, I’ll do Mt Evans, but not today.
The descent to Idaho Springs is exhilarating. Though I shiver all the way down, it’s the most fun I’ve ever had on a bike. The tears coming down my cheeks aren’t just from the biting wind, but also from the sheer joy of speeding down the curvy roads, part of this special pack of humanity – crazy human beings who share this same compulsion and affinity for the child-like, high adventure that makes up long distance road cycling in the mountains. I keep my speed under 30 mph (I’d like to ride another day, ya know?), but could easily be doing 40-50 mph like some of the crazies that pass by.
Unlike last time, (2006), there aren’t sheets of water crossing the road in the pouring rain. Unlike last time, I actually remembered to change my brake pads beforehand!
I reach Idaho Springs and begin the gentle climb up to Georgetown, the second rest stop. I’m starting to feel a bit of a headache, and realize I haven’t been drinking enough water (and thus the Perpetuem). But it’s hard to drink, because every time I take a sip, I spend the next minute or so gasping for breath.
I thought I was prepared for the altitude. My wife and I had spent two nights in Flagstaff at 7,500 ft, four nights in Dillon, CO, at 9,000 ft, and then two nights in Evergreen itself, at 7,500 ft. Surely that’s enough to get acclimated. Surely …
Not so lovely grind up the I-70 corridor
It’s a long grind (16-17 miles of 4-10% grade) from Georgetown up to Loveland Ski Basin, the site of the third rest stop. It seems longer than when I passed this way in 2006, even though today we have incredibly nice weather, compared to the soggy, sloppy mess of two years ago. Five miles from Loveland Ski Basin, my legs give way, and my energy level drops like a rock.
I’m not bonking am I? No. It can’t be. I’m smarter than that.
11:30 am. Loveland Ski Basin
Riding slowly into the rest stop, I search for and find Leslie. After watching me limping along, walking my bike over to the Jeep, she wants to know if I want to bail. Of course not, even though I can barely walk! Riding another mile seems impossible. But I know from experience it’s not, regardless how I feel at the moment. That’s the advantage of having done this ride before, and from having done lots of training.
Bad judgment or not, I make it a point not to eat any of the lunch provided at the rest stop, other than a slice of watermelon, and a banana. I’m relying mostly on the Perpetuem powder for fuel, and a few pieces of beef jerky. The reason? Last time I had eaten a turkey sandwich and stuffed myself in general, which I paid for dearly towards the end of the ride, in terms of stomach cramps. My stomach’s fine today. My legs? Well, that’s another matter.
I ride slow and steady (4-6 mph) up Loveland Pass. My quads aren’t feeling so hot, on the verge of cramping. I try to stand and pedal to keep cramps at bay, but every time I do this, my heart rate skyrockets, and I gasp for breath for the next few minutes. This repeats itself multiple times up the climb.
My spirit isn’t soaring like last time. But I persist, soldiering on.
12:30 pm. Top of Loveland Pass
I summit the pass, which tops out at nearly 12,000 feet. Compared to the ride in 2006, my time is very good, almost two hours sooner. But back then, I had wasted lots of time at the ski basin, shivering in the Jeep and waiting to get my brakes pads replaced.
I’m ready to head down the pass. I stuff a garbage sack down my jersey to block the chill on the way down, but really, it’s not that cold. The weather couldn’t be nicer.
Well, except for one thing: the wind is something else on the descent down to Keystone. As I negotiate the switchbacks, I can’t hear much of anything but the rush of air past my helmet, and due to the squirrely wind, the front of my bike begins that slightly scary but familiar-to-most-riders-down-mountains wobble. I clamp down on the top tube with my legs to keep the wobbles at bay, and cruise into Keystone and beyond.
Upon reaching the outskirts of Dillon, a last-minute route change means we won’t be going over the little pimple of a climb called Swan Mountain. Last time, that little pimple nearly did me in. Thank god we aren’t doing it this time — although I don’t realize the full truth of this until later. I still believe my legs are in decent shape.
1:45 pm. Frisco Marina
I ride into the fourth rest stop at the Frisco Marina on Dillon Lake. It’s 1:45 pm. I try to make up for the fact I haven’t been drinking/fueling enough. While Perpetuem makes a good long distance endurance drink, the problem is, you do have to drink it, and if you don’t, you are cheating yourself out of both fuel and water. Not a good thing. I drink and drink and drink, but it’s too late.
Dual leg lock – up Ten Mile Canyon
On the way to Copper Mountain, along the fabled Ten Mile Canyon, I finally crack, and have to get off my bike to recuperate. Last time, I was zooming along at 20 mph (well, maybe 13-15 mph on the uphill stuff), but not today. This wimpy little climb (1-3% grade, mostly) is doing me in. I’ve never had to stop before along here, except for the first time I ever rode this way, some 14 yrs ago. And then I had an excuse, for I was still a newbie, and was riding a very heavy (Can you say 36 lbs? Sure you can!) mountain bike.
As I’m stopped alongside the road, a memory comes flooding in, causing me to shake my head in mild disbelief. Why, only a year before, while my wife and I were on fall vacation in nearby Breckenridge, I had rented one of those “city bike path” bikes — a beater bike, no clipless pedals, heavy, and generally slow. Still, I had made it up to the top of Vail Pass without difficulty (though my feet kept slipping off the pedals and I couldn’t get my usual efficient pedal stroke), shocking some riders I met at the top, who were amazed I had attempted such a thing.
And, even this year, just a week before, I had climbed this pass in preparation for the ride today, and it felt like I was carving butter.
Right now, it feels more like slicing hard-frozen ice cream with a dull, wooden popsicle stick.
I take a few deep breaths and try to stretch a little. Ouch! My quads are thoroughly trashed. It feels like it won’t take much for them to just lock up. I climb back on the bike and soldier on, pedaling slower by the minute. I reach Copper Mountain and make my way past the horse stables at the end of town, which mark the real beginning of the Vail Pass climb. It should have been a time to soak in the beautiful green mountain sides, the babbling brook, the sunny deep blue skies, and the warm temperatures. Instead, my energy is sagging, and all I can think about is just making it to the top.
I almost fall off my bike on the first steep switchback, due to severe cramps in both quads. Same story on the second switchback. I lose of lot of time here. As I stand by the side of the road, many riders come zooming by. I look back at the long string of cyclists coming up the pass. Leslie says later than when she drove up I-70, the line of bikes stretched as far as the eye could see.
3:45 pm. Top of Vail Pass
I make it to the top of Vail pass (at roughly 10,500 feet) by 3:45 pm. A decent time for me, despite the fact I can barely pedal.
The descent down Vail Pass is beautiful and fast, but I keep my speed in check to under 25 mph. Anything higher along the bumpy bike path seems like a death wish to me, even though many riders apparently think otherwise.
Can’t even pedal downhill!
Half way down, we roll over a small bridge and then have to do a climb about 50 ft long. That climb might as well be 10 miles. By the end of it, the muscles on the insides of my thighs, just above the knees, lock up big time. I didn’t even know I had these muscles. (Well … I guess that’s my problem!) It’s so bad that when I get to the corner and turn down hill again, I find to my astonishment that I can’t pedal at all, not even down hill. I stumble off the bike somehow, (just how did I get off the bike without falling over?) and have to rest a few moments.
Eventually, I’m able to climb on and start back down the hill, down the long descent into Vail, tentatively pedaling again, but mostly taking advantage of the declining gradient by simply coasting. Even though it’s only 15-20 miles to the finish, those miles seem to take forever. Vail is a long, strung out town.
My energy eventually recovers, and so do my legs. As I cruise through Vail I can finally enjoy the fine weather. By the time I reach West Vail, I can stand and pedal again, (yeah!), and really, I could have kept riding past the finish line if need be.
I guess I still have a bit of that double century fitness in me from the March Solvang Double.
5:20 pm. Avon — The finish
I finish in Avon (west of Vail), the sun still shining, my legs still moving. My on-the-bike time was nine hours and thirty minutes, for an average riding speed of 12.7 mph, after 120 miles with 10,055 ft of climbing. Total elapsed time: 11 hrs 35 min. Checking my stats from last time, I was a whopping fifteen minutes faster on the bike than I was in 2006. Fifteen minutes. That’s all! After two years of additional training. Geesh!
How did I manage to go so fast the last time? Does having legs two years older make that much difference? Nah, I’m sure it’s because I bonked this year. You think I would know better.
Never – A word of irony for me
I try to eat the barbecue of chicken and baked potatoes that’s being served. But I can eat little of it. Never can, right after a long hard ride. Afterwards, I ride a mile (uphill of course!) back to the hotel. I’m thoroughly exhausted, much more so than after the Solvang Double Century. I tell Leslie I will “never” do this ride again. I had fulfilled my dreams of doing the Triple Bypass in nice weather, unlike the epic, nasty weather of two years ago. There’s no reason to do it again.
Of course, my feelings about “never” change as soon as I wake up the next day. I’m already thinking about next time! And this year’s ride takes on legendary status in my mind. All I remember is the beautiful scenery, and Leslie’s description of the awesome sight of 3,500 bikes stretching up and down the passes as far as the eye can see.
It’s funny how we forget the pain and suffering, and only remember the adventure part, the beautiful part, the fun part. But without the pain and suffering, would there have been an adventure?