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
Well, 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.
I leave Evergreen at 5:45 am, just as the sun lights up the evergreens on the slopes of Bergen Peak, tingeing everything with that familiar, high altitude, alpen glow. The morning starts out beautifully, a bit chilly, but not a cloud in the sky. I do fine for the two hours up Juniper Pass, 16 miles, grades mostly 4-6%, keeping my heart rate at a high, but 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 that 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. 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.
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 my jacket and tights, and refill water bottles, mixing in the Perpetuem powder I rely on as the main fuel source for the day. Before departing down to Echo Lake, I have 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 had taken different turns, and he hadn’t ridden much at all, not nearly enough to attempt the feat that lay before me.
High off to the south lay Mt Evans, 14,000 ft and change, with the highest paved road in the U.S. climbing 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’d like to do Mt Evans, but not today.
The descent to Idaho Springs is chilly and exhilarating. I shiver all the way down. Still, 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, with me as a member of this special pack of humanity – people who shared 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 me. Unlike last time, in 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 before this ride!
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 while climbing, because every time I take a sip, I spend the next minute or so gasping for breath. But I was prepared for the altitude. My wife and I had spent two nights in Flagstaff at 7,500 ft, and then four nights in Dillon, CO, at 9,000 ft, and then two nights in Evergreen itself, at 7,500 ft. Hopefully, tha was enough time to get acclimated. I think so.
Not so lovely grind to Loveland Ski Basin
It’s a long, long grind (about 16-17 miles of 4-10% grade) from Georgetown up to Loveland Ski Basin, 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 start to give way, and my energy level drops like a rock.
No, it can’t be! I’m not bonking am I?
Riding slowly into the rest stop at 11:30 am, I find Leslie waiting in the Jeep for me. 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 that it’s not, regardless how I feel at the moment. That’s the advantage of having done this ride before, and having done lots of training.
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. 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 quads? Well, that’s another matter.
I ride slow and steady (4-6 mph) up Loveland Pass. My quads aren’t feeling so hot. I try to stand up and pedal to keep the cramps at bay, but every time I do this, my heart rate skyrockets, and I gasp for breath for the next few minutes. Even so, by 12:30 pm, I reach the top, 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 spent a lot 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 all that cold. The weather couldn’t have been 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 truth of this until later. My legs are in decent shape, I think.
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. On the way to Copper Mountain, along the fabled Ten Mile Canyon, I 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 this climb, 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 I was riding a very heavy (Can you say 36 lbs? Sure you can!) mountain bike.
A memory comes flooding in, causing me to shake my head. 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 (although my feet kept slipping off the pedals and I could not 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. So surely, Vail Pass won’t be a problem.
I take a few deep breaths and stretch a little. Ouch! My quads are thoroughly trashed. It won’t take much for them to just lock up. I climb back on the bike and soldier on, getting 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 of 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, 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 that day, the line of bikes stretched as far as the eye could see.
I make it to the top of Vail pass (roughly 10,500 feet) by 3:45 pm. A decent time for me, despite the fact my legs can barely pedal.
The descent down Vail Pass is beautiful and fast, but I keep my speed in check to around 25 mph. Anything higher along the bumpy bike path seems like a death wish to me, even though many riders apparently think otherwise. 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, er, 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 for a few moments.
Eventually, I’m able to start back down the hill, on the long descent into Vail, tentatively pedalling again, but mostly taking advantage of the declining gradient by coasting. Even though it’s only 15-20 miles or so to the finish, those last miles seem to take forever. That wasn’t unexpected, it felt that way last time. Vail is a long strung out town. My energy eventually recovers, and so do my legs. I can finally enjoy the fine weather. By the time I reach West Vail, I can stand up 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.
“Never” — a word of irony for me
I finish in Avon (west of Vail) at 5:20 pm, the sun still shining, my legs still moving. My on the bike time for this ride was nine hours and thirty minutes, for an average riding speed of 12.7 mph, after 120 miles with 10,055 ft of climbing. I’m 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.
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 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 this ride again.
My feelings about “never”, of course, 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 that stretch 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 fun part. But without the pain and suffering, would there be an adventure?