START LINE CHAOS
Mandy wove through Bergen Park in the Suburbaru , dodging cyclists on and off their bikes, support vehicles and spectators. For the first time in over a week, my stomach had settled and I wasn’t worrying about this day.
Finally we pulled over along the shoulder behind an SUV where a middle aged (more middle aged than me at least) guy was unloading his bike. A truck pulled in behind us to deposit its cyclists as well.
Mandy looked at me, obviously not just suffering from lack of sleep, though neither of us had gotten much the night before and said: “I’m just gonna let you out. I don’t feel good at all,” The plan had been to get the starting line photo, but it looked like the start area was mostly chaos anyway, so I leaned over, kissed her cheek and we both got out of the car.
I was going as light as possible since Mandy was planning on running SAG for me. I worried that she wouldn’t feel good enough to make the drive all the way to Avon. But she assured me she’d be fine. So I leaned in the car and kissed both kids and told them I couldn’t wait to see them in Idaho Springs. Mandy kissed me once more and I headed off.
0:00 (6am) - Bergen Park
I cruised easily down the road, other cyclists falling in around me. At the first traffic light I came up behind about 15-20 other bikes waiting for the green. When it changed it sounded like a 21 gun salute or a pack of semi-dud firecrackers going off as 40 bike shoes clicked into 4o pedals simultaneously.
Everybody seemed to scatter around the roundabout near the RTD lot in Bergen Park. But as I approached the eastern terminus of Squaw Pass Road I saw that there was one point of convergence. All the bikes bottlenecked at the intersection and then we were all headed west, toward Avon, 120 miles away.
THIS IS ME CONSERVING ENERGY
As the mass of jerseys slowly snaked up Squaw Pass Road I was passed by many and only passed a few myself, but I crawled along at a steady 7-9 mph. I didn’t push it, I knew there were many, many miles ahead.
1:30 - Squaw Pass
The views open up and you can start to see big mountains to the northwest. Squaw Mountain looms in front of you on the road. I felt good. I was going much faster than on my Squaw Mountain summit ride a few weeks prior. And just before Squaw Pass I had started to pass more people than were passing me.
Just before Juniper Pass on the first downhill section a guy pedaled up next to me.
Me: Is this the end?
Guy [chuckling]: Where are you here from?
Me: Lakewood. You?
Guy: Casper, Wyoming, but I used to live in Denver.
About that time another cyclist screamed past us in the left lane.
Casper Guy: Showoff!
Me: He can’t be Lance, because Lance is in France.
Casper Guy: Ha!
CHANGE OF PERSPECTIVE
2:00 - Juniper Pass aid station
Coasted through the aid station crowd and stopped on the far side to let text Mandy and let her know I was on my way down toward Idaho Springs. Then I hopped back on the bike and let gravity take it away. I knocked it up into higher gear and started pedaling hard. It was level for a short distance, and then the angle increased and I really started passing people for the first time.
I was rocketing past people who were pedaling hard. It was an awesome descent. I love to ride my bike down long hills. It’s an amazing feeling. I knew the road, but had never ridden it on a bike.
I was finally feeling 100% positive about the ride. After Juniper Pass I knew I was going to finish, even though Loveland Pass loomed in the shadows of my mind.
2:30, 40 miles – Idaho Springs
I was anxious to get into Idaho Springs because I knew I would see Mandy and the kids there. There were a lot of people with signs for other riders and traffic was a gnarled mess so I left the course for the public parking lot behind Beau Jo’s and called Mandy.
“Where are you guys?”
[Pause] “Still at home. I fell asleep.”
I understood. Mandy’s not been feeling good and neither of us got much sleep the night before. She went home to get ready for a day of riding along and meeting me along the way and dragging the kids with her. It would have been expecting a lot for her to have been there. It was only 8:30am after all.
“No big deal. I’ll ride on to Georgetown and we can meet there. It should give you plenty of time and I’m feeling good and don’t need anything right now.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yep. See you in Georgetown.”
So I got back on route and continued through Idaho Springs to Stanley Road. I had ridden Stanley Road on my Berthoud Pass ride a few weeks before. It’s a nice ride along Clear Creek and there were lots of other riders around so it was a fairly easy section, except for the part just below Georgetown where they were doing construction and the road was dirt.
I did stop at the aid station near the Empire exit and filled my water bottles and grabbed a couple of muffins.
4:00 (10am) – Georgetown
I rolled into town and parked at the Valero just off the interstate to wait for my SAG wagon. I was there about 10 minutes before Mandy and the kids showed up. We moved over to the visitor center and found a shady picnic table and I took a nice long break and visited with them.
I tried not to think about the section above Georgetown to Loveland Pass. Loveland is the highest point of the ride and even I-70 between Georgetown and Loveland is steep.
I gave Mandy directions to the cool playground in Georgetown and bade them all goodbye and said I’d see them in Frisco. I rode around the Visitor Center and Mandy got a picture as I rode past on the road. Just past the visitor center three women stood on the side of the road, cheering all the riders on holding a sign that read “Nice Legs!” They were ringing cowbells as they cheered. Oddly, a lot of people were ringing cowbells along the way. I guess they needed more cowbell.
On the switchbacks up the bike path above Georgetown people had written messages to riders in sidewalk chalk. It made me think back to a passage in It’s Not About the Bike when Lance Armstrong wrote about seeing his name in faded paint from a previous race on a climb in North Carolina when he was training.
And then I was headed up…toward Loveland Pass and the deciding point.
BEATING MY DEMONS
5:05 – Exit 218
After Georgetown the route goes along a really nice, but steep bike path to Silver Plume and then goes back onto the two lane road for a few miles before going onto the shoulder of I-70. I stopped on the hour (5:00 on my bike computer) to suck down a Clif Shot and drink some sports drink. I learned from
my failed Mount Evans attempt that I needed a better fuel system.
Team Evergreen’s FAQ for the TBP suggested that you take one energy gel packets (Power Gel, Clif Shots or the like) every 45 minutes. So I decided, without having tried that before to do that for the ride. I didn’t take water at all, only sports drinks.
So every hour I stopped, got off the bike and took a gel packet, drank a lot of fluid and stretched, got off my tingly feet and then got back on the bike.
After my scheduled fuel stop I got back on the bike and five minutes later as I approached exit 218 I saw Mandy, Boone and Lily waiting by the road. I slowed to stop and hugged Lily as she ran up to me.
So I answered natures call at the trailhead parking lot restroom near the exit while Mandy filled up my water bottles and with renewed spirits I got back on and headed toward Loveland Pass. I was glad I got to see them and it definitely helped me stave off the looming dread I felt.
6:00 – Loveland Aid Station
As I exited the interstate there were signs for the next aid station at the base of the climb up the pass. I wasn’t going to stop but I decided to anyway.
Special Olympics of Colorado was giving out watermelon and I ended up getting four pieces. Another restroom stop and I then I walked my bike back over to the pavement.
It looked steep. It looked mean. But I felt good. I felt strong.
Leg over the bike frame. Shoe into pedal…up.
It was a crawl and I did it with a lot of other cyclists. Cars passed respectfully, as well as one semi going over the pass, restricted from going through the Eisenhower Tunnel on I-70 because of the volatile contents of its load no doubt.
People were pulling off all along the pass. Cyclists were coasting down, obviously haven given up before reaching the top, or maybe at the top, not wanting to go on. I knew if I reached the top of
Loveland Pass that nothing would keep me from finishing.
I followed one guy for about half the climb before he staggered to a stop on the shoulder. I kept going.
And after the big main swithback on Sniktau’s northwest flank I could see the rest of the climb up to the pass itself and it didn’t look bad at all. Grrr!!!
6:40, 60+ miles – Loveland Pass Summit
The summit of the pass was somewhat anticlimactic. I had been there before, four times in fact: when I summitted Mount Sniktau last year, when I attempted to go back to Sniktau a second time in a storm, when I took Tom and the kids up there in the fall and when Mandy and I drove back over Loveland from Keystone after our first Nordic skiing trip. It was that last time, after I had registered for the Triple that I really looked at the road and considered what it would be like to ride my bike up it. That was when the demon had been conceived in my mind.
It died quietly as I texted Mandy: “Over Loveland”
The skies had grown dark and ominous as I climbed Loveland. And as I screamed down the other side I knew it was going to be bad weather ahead.
As I cruised through Keystone I resolved that I wouldn’t let rain stop me. I’d go on no matter what.
It was sprinkling, but the roads were still dry.
I started up Swan Mountain with a group I had seen on and off throughout the ride. The views over the lake were amazing, mountains as a backdrop all along. One guy joked about the rain, he sort of reminded me of the main character in American Flyers, and I responded: “I hope the rain holds off til Frisco. All my rain gear is there.”
We pedaled on up the slow grade for a few minutes and then I stated: “Has anyone seen my lowest gear? I keep trying to find it but it seems to be gone. I think it fell off,” I was rewarded with a few chuckles.
“You might have lost it on Loveland Pass,” someone added. Another round of laughs.
At the top I bade them all goodbye and jumped on my pedals, screaming down Swan Mountain on the west side into Frisco. And then near disaster struck…
Banking around a tight curve I found myself bearing down on a deep pothole. I bunny hoped (at 35+ mph) to avoid it, but the bike came down hard, at an angle and my front tire barked out a loud objection. Fortunately I continued without immediate damage, but I’d soon find out my tube was leaking air.
At the bottom of Swan Mountain, just before the next aid station the roads were very wet with recent rains that we had somehow avoided. To that point the precipitation had only been sprinkles…refreshing actually.
7:30 75-ish miles, (2:45pm) – Frisco
LAND OF CONFUSION
I rolled into the aid station, dialing Mandy on my cell.
“Where are you?”
“Near the interstate at a Conoco and Wendy’s. We’re near the dam.”
“I think I’m at the upper end of the lake. Do you see any cyclist?”
“We’ve seen one.”
What to do? I had no idea where they were. None of us had ever been to Frisco.
“Ok, I’ll head on toward town and see if I can find you.”
I followed the mass of riders on to the bike path which would through a forest and eventually came out behind some condos. But ahead it appears as if the route was heading into a canyon, a canyon where I knew I-70 must head on toward Vail Pass. I had seemingly missed town.
And then I saw a sign indicating “Main Street.” I made the snap decision to leave the route and try to find my SAG crew.
I was pedaling through a neighborhood, seemingly nowhere near downtown. My front tire was getting lower with every turn. I had to find Mandy before I had a complete flat. I was beginning to worry that I might be thwarted, not from physical ailments, but because of poor preparation on my part in figuring out where we needed to meet. Idiot! I thought.
I stopped at an intersection and called Mandy. Again her description of where she was made no sense to me. So I continued on until I found Main Street.
I stopped on a main corner and tried to figure out where she was, still not seeing the lake, the interstate or anything that looked like what she was describing. And then a local on a mountain bike rolled to stop next to me, preparing to cross the street.
I relayed the description to him and he said: “Yeah! Its right down there,” and pointed north.
“Be there is a few minutes,” I told Mandy and hung up the phone.
“You riding the Triple Bypass?” He asked. I guess the jersey gave it away?
“Yeah,” I replied.
“I passed some of your fellows coming down the bike path.”
So I followed him across the street and then up the bike path along Summit Avenue (or something like that). When he went to turn he pointed on ahead and said, “Keep going straight!”
“Thanks!” I called to him and pedaled on. A minute or so later I saw Mandy in a parking lot and coasted to a stop. My front tire was almost completely flat. As I dismounted from the bike I felt pain for the first time. My thighs were sore and tight.
BACK ON TRACK
I changed the tube in my tire, stretched a little, drank some water, ran Boone into the restroom at Conoco and then Mandy drove me back to the spot I left the route. Just as we were loading up at the Conoco the rain began and thunder rolled. I quickly donned my windbreaker and settled into the car.
Mandy hinted that I could stop then due to the rain.
“I made it over Loveland. I’m going to finish.”
“Ok,” she responded with a grin.
We stopped by the path in a downpour. I commented that no one was coming along the path. I wondered if I would now be bringing up the rear. And then Mandy pointed up the trail to a lone cyclist coming down.
I kissed her, and said I’d see her in Avon. I got out and settled the bike on the pavement. She rolled down the window and asked, “Do you need anything?”
“I’m good. See you soon.”
I stretched my quads a bit before throwing a leg over the bike and shoving off behind the lone cyclist.
8:00 (4:00pm) – Leaving Frisco
ON TO VAIL PASS
Riding in the rain is miserable. But the scenery almost made up for it. Actually, the worst of the rain stopped almost as soon as I was out of sight of the road. The bike path climbed up along a raging whitewater stream, jammed up against towering rock walls above. The section up to Copper Mountain ski area was beautiful and somewhat relaxing.
Everyone had commented that Vail Pass was the easiest of the three. But it comes at the end. So easy or not it could still be the deciding factor, and while I acknowledged that I maintained that since I had beaten Loveland Pass I was going to finish.
At Copper you leave the path for a little while, turn right up a valley that doesn’t look as menacing as the one you left and eventually get back on the bike path that winds up to Vail Pass between the lanes of I-70.
The Vail Pass bike path is amazing. It winds through an alpine meadow with a gurgling stream, separate from the interstate which is high above on both sides. The climb is fairly gentle and with the overcast gray skies there was an ambiance that I could truly appreciate.
My odometer approached 90 miles as I climbed up from Copper Mountain. I was eagerly anticipating that magical 100 mile mark…my first century.
Sprinkles started up higher, with thunder menacing in the near distance. I paused under a tree at the 9:00 mark to choke down another Clif Shot, drink more Gatorade and stretch. A few people labored past as I rested. One was walking and she looked like she was in pain.
I got back on my bike feeling good. Vail Pass and the last aid station was a few minutes further. I cruised on through, still doing good on food an fluid. I had 30 miles to Avon and 20 or so of that was going to be downhill.
Bypassing the aid station I felt good. I paused at the apex to text: “Over Vail Pass C U Soon”
TRIPLE BYPASS BICYCLE FLUME
Gravity pulled. I pushed.
Down the bike path toward Vail I flew. I FLEW. I passed and I passed and I rocketed down, down, down. The rain had started in earnest immediately below the top of the past. My windbreaker flapped angrily in the wind.
I slowed as the path curved into thick trees and thankfully so. The ribbon of pavement wound through some tight, blind curves before exiting back along I-70.
Looking down I saw 99.25 on my odometer. A silly grin spread across my face and began collecting raindrops.
I kept glancing down. Even though I had surpassed my previous distance record of 83 miles a while back I wanted to know when I hit 100. And when I hit 100 I almost hit a hillside.
I had been paying more attention to my odo and not enough to my speed or the curves in the path.
Once I had regained my composure I let out a howl of delight. It was drowned out by the wind, rain and traffic on nearby I-70, but it felt good to hit that milestone.
The rain stayed with us from Vail Pass beyond Vail proper. It seemed like I would never reach Avon, but thankfully it was ALL downhill from the top of Vail Pass.
Unfortunately my hands started tingling around Vail and it made riding hard. I wasn’t sure if it was a compressed ulnar nerve (typical cycling malady) or windchill or a combination of both. But as I approached an intersection in Vail I repositioned my hands to be able to grip my brakes and it felt like an electric shock in both hands and up my forearms.
So I had to try to rest my hands differently on my handlebars. It would have been easy on flat ground in dry conditions, but in a full on downpour heading downhill I needed to stay close to my brakes. It was difficult to say the least.
And then after Vail and a few miles on down the bike path I saw signs for Avon. Avon was supposed to be this little town, but the road went on and on and on. And on.
Finally I knew I was getting close. I approached an intersection and a police officer directed me to the left and as soon as I rounded the corner I saw Boone, Lily and Mandy waiting for me. I had made it!
10:50 (6:00pm), 120 miles – Avon
OVER AND DONE WITH
Now I can relax. A great weight has been lifted. I don’t feel the pressure or urgency to go out and ride longer and further, to climb hills and passes, to ride to work every day, to fret over the days I don’t ride or am unmotivated. I can go back to eating whatever whenever (yay cheeseburgers!) and my family can have me back and have normal weekends.
I don’t think I’ll do the Triple next year. I may do another shorter ride. Probably won’t do it the year after. Maybe in a few years. Maybe five…
Maybe when Mandy decides she wants to or is ready to join me doing it…maybe when the kids are older, though I’m pretty sure Boone will opt out.
It was an amazing experience, and in preparing for it I had a whole host of other amazing experiences. It was a great learning experience and I am so glad I decided to do this and that my family supported me in it. I couldn’t have done it without their patience and support.
To the best SAG crew out there: thanks, I owe you and I love you!