Archive for the ‘cycling’ Category

RMNP Trail Ridge Rd E-W-E

September 27, 2014

Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park ascends up to 12,183 feet as it passes over the Continental Divide, connecting the cities of Estes Park and Grand Lake in Colorado.  It is the highest continuous road for automobiles in the United States.

The weather had started to trend colder and wetter, and I still had my heart set on riding over Trail Ridge Road from Estes Park to Grand Lake (and back) in 2014.  I knew it was important to not wait too long since Winter hits the top of Trail Ridge Road early and often (see photo of snow plow).

Trail Ridge Road being plowed in Spring (303 Cycling)

Trail Ridge Road being plowed in Spring (303 Cycling)

The idea for this ride came from my friend, Phil, with whom I had twice ridden up the eastern side of Trail Ridge Road, to the Alpine Center, and back down (43.8 miles, round trip; ~5037′ elevation gain).  Phil couldn’t follow through on what I feared was the last good weekend, but another friend, Chris was game for the extended journey. We booked Sunday, September 14 for the attempt.

Trail Ridge had been used by native Americans to cross the mountains between  their home lands in the west and hunting areas on the east side. Arapahoe Indians called the trail located on the ridge as “taienbaa” (“Where the Children Walked”) because it was so steep that children could not be carried, but had to walk.

Trail Ridge Road profile (by xxx)

Trail Ridge Road profile starting from Grand Lake and end at Estes Park  (Wikipedia)

Our ride would start just outside Estes Park (and a bit inside the northern entrance to RMNP), and would take us over the Continental Divide, near the Colorado River’s headwaters, and end just outside of the western entrance to RMNP (near the town and body of water called “Grand Lake”). Of course, from there, we would have to turn around and retrace our path to get back home. Our cycling adventure would cover approximately 80 miles and would climb (and descend) about 8,700 feet of elevation, and nearly all of riding would between 9,000′ and 12,000′ of elevation (more mileage above 9000′  than the 120-mile Triple Bypass ride).

 The Start – 6:30am

We started up the Trail Ridge Road in the dark at 6:30am, shivering from the freezing temperatures the weatherman predicted we’d find.  We started at such a terrible, cold hour to reduce the traffic we’d dodge (tourists sleep in) and to minimize our exposure to the possible afternoon thunderstorms (moderate likelihood; devastating consequences).

Photo of Many Parks Curve in 2013

Photo of Many Parks Curve in 2013, taken at dawn. The shadow of photographer (me) can be seen on right half of photo.

Riding hard to warm up, we quickly passed West Horseshoe Park, where the road signs warned of frequent encounters with bighorn sheep, deer and elk (but, I guess they slept in as well), and then we went by the Horseshoe Park Overlook before we finally had warmed up enough to shed some clothes.  We stopped at the intersection merging US-34 with US-36 to remove a few clothing layers and eat a bite of food, and then we turned right to follow Trail Ridge Road past Hidden Valley.  From Hidden Valley (9,239′), we knew we had 10.5 miles of 5% grade road that climbed 2,898′  to reach the Rock Cut (approximately the start of the up and down traverse to the Alpine Center, 4 miles away).  That was our first objective.

A photo of Brian at Rainbow Curve in 2012.

A photo I took of Brian at Rainbow Curve in 2012, with Ypsilon and Fairchild mountains in the background.

We continued upward, passing Many Parks Curve and later a sign announcing we were 2 miles above sea level (5280′ x 2 +10,560′). Higher still, the trees we passed became increasingly beaten down by the brutal weather they endure for much of the year.  After we passed the Rainbow Curve, a tourist favorite for the amazing views of the northern end of RMNP, we passed through the treeline.  The next 11 miles would stay above the treeline, which meant no protection for cyclists from the freezing wind we were sure to meet.

Treeline is the edge of the habitat at which trees are capable of growing. Beyond the tree line, trees cannot tolerate the environmental conditions (usually cold temperatures or lack of moisture). The tree line should not be confused with a lower timberline or forest line, which is often defined as the line where trees form a forest with a closed canopy.

~ Wikipedia

Amazingly, we didn’t have the wind I’d always before had to endure.  Feeling lucky and fast, we hurried through the Rock Cuts (12,137′), and started the 4.5 miles of riding which would remain at an altitude of around 12,000 feet. We started down the first long descent of the day, and enjoyed the rest as well as the awesome feeling of speed.  But all too quickly it was over, and then we had to climb back up every one of those ~400 feet of altitude and then some to reach 12,183′ (the highest point on Trail Ridge Road).  One last fast descent led us past the Gore Range Overlook and then to the Alpine Center, which we reached at 9am.

As I feared, it was closed until 10:30am, which meant no source of water to replenish our dwindling drinking supplies.

Alpine Center (11,717′) – 9:00am

After putting on my rain jacket to cut the wind (and windchill), and with dehydration looming, we set off down toward Grand Lake. I had never traveled Trail Ridge Road between the Alpine Center and Grand Lake; I was excited to be exploring a new part of RMNP.

From the Alpine Center, the road immediately hits the hairpin Medicine Bow Curve, which displays a sign indicating the State of Wyoming can be seen in the distance.  And, as the road steepened, so did our speed.  I quickly lost my body heat and started shivering.

Continuing the decent, the road reentered alpine forest and then reopened as we approached Poudre Lake (the official “source” of the Colorado River). The sunshine felt so good.  Once past the lake, we went over the Continental Divide, the virtual line marking where all water east of the line flows towards the Atlantic and all water to the west flows to the Pacific.

Trail Ridge Road map (by Darekk2)

Trail Ridge Road map (by Darekk2)

Trail Ridge Road route Sept. 14, 2014

Trail Ridge Road route Sept. 14, 2014

Once the road reentered the forest (and we lost the sun), I had to stop to put on my fleece jacket under my rain jacket. I just couldn’t stand the shivering it any longer.

Chris went by me while I changed, and then I happily spent the next 30 minutes chasing him down, warmly.

Two miles after the last of several hairpin curve, we went past a sign for the Colorado River Trailhead, which facilitates a modest walk to the Colorado River where is it only a small stream.  This also coincided with the end of the steep descending.

Continuing toward Grand Lake, I was still hurrying to catch Chris.  This distraction was welcome given how dull (flattish, straight, not much to see) it was to ride this 10 miles of road simply to get water at the Kawuneeche Center.

Dehydration on a long bike ride leads to phone calls to annoyed wives who have to drive a long way to bring stupid husbands home.

I caught Chris after a few miles of this flattish section, and then we continued down the road that was getting warmer and warmer, especially to those wearing fleece sweaters beneath rain jackets.

We reached the Western RMNP entrance around 11:30, and after stopping to make certain we could get back into the park, we continued another mile down to the Kawuneeche Center.

Kawuneeche Center – 11:30am

Ah, the half-way point.  All we had to do was turn around and go home.  Unfortunately, it had taken us 4 hours to do the first half, so we were going to have a long day.  But first, lunch!

After a 30 minute lunch break, and topping off our water bottles, we started for home.

The reclimb of the flattish 10-11 miles of road was a misery, but then we got to enjoy (translation:  suffer on purpose) the 2,604′ of climbing from the Colorado River Trailhead to the Alpine Center (about 10 miles of 5% grade road).  And, going slower allowed us to enjoy the scenery whenever we managed to get ahead on our breathing and didn’t have to stay on the edge of the road to let the cars go past.

Once we passed Medicine Bow curve and turned to head toward the Alpine Center, the brutal mountain winds found us.  It was unreal; only the 40 mph, freezing winds on Pikes Peak were worse.  Fortunately, we only had to ride 1/4 mile before turning off to get more water/food at the Alpine Center.  We arrived at 1pm, and we found that the tourists had decided to come to the Alpine Center.  Not one parking spot was available, and cars were crawling through the lot hoping to catch someone leaving.  It reminded me of shopping on the day before Christmas.

Average daily summer wind speeds at the Alpine Center are about 48 mph with gusts up to 79 mph. During summer, winds are generally most turbulent at midday and least turbulent at sunrise.  Alpine visitors have a unique opportunity to be standing in a breeze one moment and a hurricane-force wind the next.

~ National Park Service

Alpine Center – 1pm

We decided to stop for a lengthy rest inside the gift shop to get our bodies ready for the long push exposed to the terrible wind.  The tourists were packed into the already overstuffed (with stuff for sale) gift shop / café; I suppose they were hiding from the wind as well. Everyone was startlingly friendly. We were approached a number of times by people who wanted to talk about cycling.  It was quite fun until there was a gigantic crashing noise which indicated someone had knocked over one of the large glass structures containing breakable, expensive items for sale.

That was our cue to head home.

We started up the first climb toward the Gore Range Overlook, competing with cars for road space and heading directly into the teeth of the wind.  The pace of riding was painfully slow, but at least I had put on all my clothes to avoid hypothermia.

Fortunately, the wind direction remained largely out of the west, so we only had to deal with the headwind during the opening climb.  Generally, we had side-winds, which was unsettling but not physically challenging.  And on the last climb of the day, we actually had a tailwind pushing us up the mountain.  Nice!

Fairly quickly we reached the Rock Cut, which left only the descent, albeit a very long one.

After an hour of careful avoidance of speeding cars and oblivious pedestrians for an hour, we reached my 4Runner at 2:30pm.

Finish – 2:30pm

We had hoped for a 6 hour ride, but took 8 hours including over an hour of stoppage time.

The ride not only took longer than I thought, it felt harder than I expected.  After-the-fact, I attribute it to the long exposure to high altitude….or old age.

We had ridden 81 miles and climbed (and descended) 8,700′.  A worthy effort for a day in the Rocky Mountains.

Another great ride was in the books.

See Mountain Ride Reports listing

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Pikes Peak Hill Climb Shiverfest

August 31, 2014

shiv·er  \ˈshiv-ər\
: to undergo trembling : experience rapid involuntary muscular twitching especially in response to cold

After completing in the Mount Evans Hill Climb in late July 2014, I knew that I had to ride the only other paved road to the top of a Colorado 14er:  Pikes Peak (14,110;).  After a bit of a search, I found the Pikes Peak Cycling Hill Climb was scheduled for August 26, 2014; I signed up as soon as I could figure out how (it’s a long story).  Little did I know that the Pikes Peak Cycling Hill Climb would be an epic adventure rivaling my most extreme mountaineering adventures.  Three hours worth, anyway.

pikespeakridephoto

A view of much of the Pikes Peak Tollway, including the Crystal Resevoir (the start of the race), the lower switchbacks lead to Glen Cove (the 1/2-way point of the race), the treeline, and the start of the infamous “Switchbacks” above treeline.

I had done a lot of riding since my first organized ride, The Triple Bypass in July 2014.  The road cycling thing had begun to feel like old-hat: I was no longer consumed with attention to every variable or stressing over potential disasters.  For the Pikes Peak ride, I really only had two major concerns:

  1. What would the weather be like at 14k?
  2. Would my lingering illness-related breathing issues (asthma?) be resolved by race day?

Both questions would be slow to resolve, and the answers would reveal themselves rather dramatically.

On Saturday the night before the race, as I lay feeling sorry for myself in my Manitou Springs motel bed, I wondered why I put myself into such a miserable place.  I wondered how I could leave my family so early on a Saturday evening to live alone for a night in a dirty hotel room attempting to watch Bronco football on a TV with reception so poor as to be unmatched since my teen years watching Benny Hill reruns on a UHF station.  The uncertainty of my health and the weather, and the dread of waking up at 3am was making me feel stressed and unhappy; and I wondered out loud why I did this to myself.

But almost immediately, the answer came.  I did it because I loved it.  The feeling of stress and misery vanished, replaced by a feeling of anticipation and excitement.  Although I did retain a hope that I wouldn’t catch anything serious in the nasty room which had not been adequately cleaned since the previous night’s occupant.

I awoke before my alarm and made ready for a hard morning workout.  My first task was to check the weather for the morning. I was surprised at the low temperatures for the early hours (high 40’s), which suggested very cold temps nearly a mile higher, on the summit.  At the least the question of whether to wear my arm and leg warmers was resolved.  I ate, dressed, packed up my car, and left for Pikes Peak at 4:15am to pick up my packet at the tollway entrance, and then drive another 7 miles to the starting line.

Climate data for Pikes Peak summit
Month May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Average high °F 28.4 38.5 47.6 48.1 39.2 28.4 16.0 10.7 25.8
Average low °F 14.3 24.6 33.7 32.9 24.3 14.2 3.9 −2.7 11.9
Snowfall inches 31.5 25.0 11.3 11.0 13.5 20.9 33.1 36.3 337.6

I didn’t know what sort of speed I could sustain over the 12+ mile, nearly 7% grade course, so I didn’t have much to go by in predicting a finish time. I understood that I had to finish within 3 hours to get a medal, so ‘better than 3 hours’ was my original goal. As always, I hoped to do better than the minimum, and I planned to go as hard as I could. I definitely would not stop, give up, quit, or die before reaching the summit, as per usual.

Official map

Official map

The day before the ride I discovered that the course pro records were only about 10 minutes over an hour (~10 mph), I decided I would do much better than 3 hours but still could not guess at a time. On the Mt Evans ride, I averaged just under 10 mph, but that route is not nearly as steep on average. I just didn’t dare hope for under 2 hours.

After dropping off my summit gear bag (I would not make that mistake again), I arrived at the start line with my jacket in my pocket and 5 minutes to wait.  I managed to secure a spot close to the front, near mile marker 7; the ride would take me to the Pikes Peak summit, just past mile maker 19, for a 12.4 mile ride gaining over 4,700 feet of elevation.

As we waited, the riders around me worried aloud about the wind we all could hear blowing through the tops of the trees. High winds plus cold temps would make for a very difficult day.  I was pleased that I had put on my arm and leg warmers.

“More than 300 riders took part in The Broadmoor Pikes Peak Cycling Hill Climb in the early hours, braving it through bone-chilling temperatures, low visibility, steep cliffs and furious winds at their head.

And the higher they climbed, the tougher the conditions became.

‘Just being a part of this climb this year is an incredible achievement. The times don’t matter,’ elite rider LeRoy Popowski said.”

~ The Gazette

Mile Markers 7-9 (2 miles)

The race started at 6am, and I took off very fast to maintain my near front starting position. The first mile was a mild incline and was behind us very quickly.  The second mile was a bit steeper, but also went by quickly.  The 3rd mile began at mile marker 9, and that was also the start of the hard climbing.  The wind was occasionally strong but didn’t seem life changing, unlike previous mountain rides.

Mile Marker 9-11 (2 miles)

I stayed with my group for about 1.5 miles of steep climbing, but I could not catch enough air to sustain it. I lost contact with the group as I focused on getting enough air.  As feared, my lungs were not working well, and I was suffocating.  It was tremendously disappointing, but finishing was the priority.

Mile Marker 11-13 (2 miles)

Pikes Peak Cycling Hill Climb Route copyI stayed with the effort, though, concentrating on fully exhaling and inhaling. And, slowly my breathing improved. I was able to pick my pace back up and keep my breathing under control. And I stopped losing ground to the other riders that I could see.  I also started drinking my water to prepare for a stop at the 1/2 point at Glen Cove.

At 6:50am, when I reached the half way point (near mile marker 13), I checked my watch and was amazed to discover only 50 minutes had gone by; I was under a 2 hour pace.  I hadn’t finished my 1st bottle of water, so I decided to skip the aid station.  I’d stop at the next station further up the mountain.

Mile Marker 13-16 (3 miles)

Emboldened, I pushed harder. I started passing the people who had earlier crept by me. And the wind started getting worse.

I started up the switchbacks as I left the trees, and the wind transformed into an opponent.

pikes metalWatching the riders ahead of me fight uphill like salmon swimming up waterfalls, the experience was surreal. The buffeting of the wind felt like some of the worst mountaineering experiences I’d suffered through. There were times when I was moving <1 mph, so slowly that I could only barely go faster than the riders who had gotten off their bikes to walk up the road. And, the wind-chill was deadly.  The real fear of death or injury combined with the extreme effort made for a powerful feeling of adventure.

In a weird part of my mind, I loved it.  It was a thrill to be a part of it, right up to the point that I couldn’t feel my hands anymore.

While I knew I should do it to protect my core, I hadn’t put on my jacket yet; I kept thinking I could finish without it due to the massive calorie burn. I didn’t want to lose the time.  I did have on arm and leg warmers, but my well-ventilated, full-fingered gloves were not nearly enough. My hands were so cold I had to keep looking down at my hands to make sure I wasn’t inadvertently pulling on the brake levers.

At 7:35am, the small group I was with finished the switch back section just after mile marker 16, and sped up to capitalize on the temporarily easier terrain before the last 1.5 miles of climbing.  I had 25 minutes to finish under 2 hours; surely 25 minutes was enough to ride 3 remaining miles to the summit.

My legs were still strong, especially when standing on the bike.  While I could no longer stay with the group while I sat in the saddle; I could close the gaps whenever I would stand up and brave the brutal wind.  I decided to pass by the final water station as I hadn’t even started on my 2nd bottle due to an inability to take a hand off the handlebars; I just didn’t dare lose any control while under attack by the wind.

“High winds that forced the windchill factor below 20 degrees thrashed the riders who attempted the 12.4-mile climb to the peak’s 14,115-foot summit.”

~pikespeaksports.us

Mile Marker 16-19 (3 miles)

I couldn’t find mile markers anymore but the ride organizers put up kilometer remaining signs starting with 5k (3 miles).

At 3k (1.86 miles), the final climb was on.  But this final stretch averaged 10% grade.  It would be very painful.

I was feeling strong despite getting progressively hypothermic.  I wasn’t even feeling cold anymore, just numb, as the wind-chill was finally penetrating my core. The thought to put on my jacket was never out of my mind, but I just couldn’t give up the time. I really wanted to beat 2 hours, and it looked like I would be just a couple minutes slow already.

Riders were stopping left and right, and I was determined to stay with this group, and I would sprint to the finish, so help me God.

1 km to go.

I was going to make it for certain; but ‘under 2 hours’ was getting away from me. I couldn’t afford the distraction of calculating an estimated ETA…I just pushed as hard as I could.  The group was bunching up and continued to drop jacket-less guys who were too cold to keep up the pace. We went by another couple guys who had accelerated away from my group a few miles before.

The visibility was bad as we were finishing in a fast-moving cloud. Through the haze, I could see the finish line. This was my time.

I accelerated, finding speed I didn’t think I still had to pass the entire remaining group, ‘counting coup’ as I went by each one.

Results for Pikes Peak Cycling Hill Climb   Fun Ride   USA CyclingI finished at approximately 10:05 am.  I did not finish in under 2 hours.

My finish time was 2:05:55, yet, I still felt I had recaptured that portion of my pride lost during my weak finish to the Mt Evans Hill Climb.

“With bone chilling temperatures, 40 mile per hour winds and a dense fog limiting visibility at the summit this year’s event was a true challenge to every rider!”

~Pat McDonough, Event Director

The race was over for me, but the adventure was still on. I had to get out of the freezing wind NOW.  The thought of taking summit photos never entered my mind.  I was focused on survival, which meant escape the wind, get on more clothes, and get the hell down.

And as I scanned the mostly blank summit area, I realized I had no idea where to find my gear bag or find shelter. There were a couple parked vehicles next to a building in the distance; I rode over to the parked vehicles hoping one of them had my gear bag. A guy in a down parka rolled down his window and told me to put my bike in the van if I wanted a ride down. I asked where I could find the gear bags.  He said to look in the Cog Railway building, and pointed to the other side of the summit. I walked my bike as quickly as I could over broken, sloping ground where I found a door in what appeared to be an abandoned building.  I tried the door and was surprised it opened.

I went inside the abandoned building to escape the wind; I would at least be able to put on my jacket.  But when I entered I found a dozen people milling around or sitting on the floor amid a sea of gear bags. I had found it!

It wasn’t a warm room, but it had my gear.  Unfortunately one-half of the bags looked exactly like my own, which I eventually found at the far end of the room. By this time, I was shivering violently and struggling with stiff fingers to open the bag and put on my fleece sweater. I finally got the fleece on and my rain jacket over the top. My hands were starting to thaw and hurt, so I decided to accelerate the process to end the pain. I put my hands on the skin of my torso, which didn’t feel much warmer but still worked. Absolute agony. The thawing pain was severe; I hurt so badly I was afraid I’d throw up. It subsided after 5 minutes that seemed to last an hour.

I looked in the gear bag to see what else I had managed to pack; I found a balaclava and a pair of socks. I did not find the hand warmer packs which I had expected and counted on to keep my hands warm on the ride down. (I later found the hand warmers in the front seat of my car).  But it was enough; I would definitely ride down.

I put on the balaclava, which prompted another rider asked me if I was riding down. I replied “I had to”; I just couldn’t come all this way and then ride the bus down. Still, he had a point. It was cold, the wind was dangerous, and I was not starting from a warm base.

I consumed the 2nd bottle of water I had carried from the parking lot, and then filled it again out of habit.  There was zero chance I would take a hand off the handlebars on the descent.  Then I left the building and started down the road.

Almost immediately, I started shivering.  But I was making decent progress down the winding road, also weaving between the riders and walkers who did not look up from their misery and efforts. Occasionally, the wind was too strong and I slowed to nearly a stop to keep from crashing.

I was shivering so badly my arms were pulling on the handle bars, twisting my front wheel as I was trying to stay upright despite the blowing wind. The combination of uncontrollable arm twitching and violent gusts of wind made for some of the least well controlled riding of my life…all while riding along-side a steep cliff.

But I made it.  A few hours later I was home and pulling myself together to join my wife at her company picnic.

A couple of days later I found I had finished 17th of 96 finishers of the “Citizen’s Ride”. Not too bad for an old dude.

See index of Mountain Ride reports

Red Rocks Century

August 25, 2014

I had heard the Red Rocks Century was one of the hard ones. I thought I’d like to do it; and, I was right, mostly. It is truly a wonderful ride through the beautiful Front Range Colorado mountain terrain.  But, on this day, I started out too fast, and had to hang on like grim death.

“For five years the Red Rocks Century, formerly the Healing Wheels Tour, has been known as the toughest and most scenic of the Colorado Front Range cycling events.”

~ 303cycling.com

Iconic photo of Red Rocks Century

Iconic photo of Red Rocks Century

I selected the Red Rocks Century from among a number of great sounding rides.  I was originally interested in the Copper Triangle (8/3), and then it was the USA Pro Challenge Experience (8/10).  I settled on the Red Rock Century because of the low cost (boring, eh?) and its reputation as being hard (yes, seriously).  I was also attracted to the relative closeness of the start/finish to my home; I could be home in the early afternoon.

The Red Rock Century would be my 2nd long organized ride; my 1st was the Triple Bypass.  This one would be 96 miles vs. 120 mile with 10,200′ vs. 10,900′ of climbing. While shorter by 24 miles, the Red Rocks route would be somewhat steeper.

I wondered how much better I would ride than I could muster on the Triple Bypass.  My endurance and speed seemed to be getting better over the last few weeks.  The week before, I rode from Lafayette to Brainard Lake, and then through the town of Raymond on my way to Lyons.  I made it home after 6 hours, completing a 84 mile / 7400′ ride.  And, the previous weekend, I had finished the Mt Evans Hill Climb in under 3 hours. I was feeling very strong and confident.

Unfortunately, three days before the Red Rocks ride I started to come down with a cold, or some cold like symptoms.  I hoped it was allergies, but it didn’t seem like it.  Over the next couple days, the symptoms didn’t get worse, but they didn’t go away.  I stopped my workouts all together (no taper) to fend off the illness, imagined or otherwise; but, it didn’t seem to do any good.  I resolved to proceed with the ride no matter what, and just take it slow.  I hoped that by going slowly, I could ride 96 miles and climb 10,200′ of elevation with an illness.  Consequences be damned!

My only other concern was getting lost.  The route seemed complicated, and me with no GPS or bike computer, I had to rely on a map in my pocket.  I just couldn’t see how that was going to work.  I hoped for good signage.

Red Rocks Century Route (I had to recreate to get the correct altitude gain)

Red Rocks Century Route (I had to recreate to get the correct altitude gain)

I arrived at Bandimere Speedway, the start of the Red Rocks Century, at 4:45am for a 5:30am race start.  I was the 5th vehicle in the lot that could hold 2,000 vehicles.  I picked up my packet and made ready to ride (after waiting for the organizers to run to the store to buy a box of pins). During a brief start delay at the start line, I looked around at the mass of riders around me and was surprised to only see 100-150.

We set off at 5:40am, following our police escort (5,767′ elevation).

I was delighted to find myself among the first 30 cyclists on the road.  Maybe I’ll get a high finish!  But, no; I quickly realized that the fast riders would, annoyingly, be going by me all day.  Rather than a buzz kill, though, I found this inevitability to be a motivator; I’d stay away as long as I could, dammit.

So much for my plan to take it easy.  But what the heck, I felt great.

I started passing riders until I got behind a strong-looking, largish (for a cyclist) fellow on a $5,000 bike who looked like he knew what he was doing without going too fast for me to follow.  I decided to ride his wheel for a while.

The pair of us pedaled north up the frontage road adjacent to C-470, then turned onto Alameda Rd heading west through North Dinosaur Park.  After a climbing, winding few miles (~4.5 miles overall; 500′ of climbing; 2.1% grade), we turned onto Trading Post Rd to descend past Red Rocks Park to reach Red Rocks Park Rd on which we descended toward Morrison reaching Bear Creek Rd (Hwy 74) after losing most of the elevation gains of the day (~6 miles overall).

We would climb to the famous Brooks Forest Inn for the next 19 miles, gaining 3,000 feet; 1,000 of which would occur in the last 3.5 miles.

The first 15 miles of this section wasn’t too bad.  I followed my lead-out for about 1/2 this distance until I got squeezed out in a merging of two groups.  Rather than go to the back or sit in the wind, I powered ahead to catch a guy in a Copper Triangle Jersey who had blasted past both groups earlier but was still in sight.  I caught up to him after about 20 minutes and hung on his wheel.  He was fast!

Luckily for me, the Copper Triangle guy knew where he was going.  I followed him through a complicated multi-way, weird-angled, stop-sign intersection; I had no idea where to go and saw no sign or mark on the road until after we were through the intersection.  We picked up another rider (Tony) who said he had been dropped from the lead group, and he couldn’t figure out where to go, either.

The three of us turned onto Brooks Forrest Rd, heading toward our first water/food station of the day (the 1st scheduled water station had not opened yet when we went by).  With the grade steepening, my earlier extravagant energy expenditures began to catch up to me.  With about 2 miles to go to the top of the climb, I got dropped.  I didn’t bonk; I just could generate enough power anymore.

I put my head down, got into my lowest gear, and spun my legs as best I could manage (creating an oxygen-free dead zone along the way).  And, I kept Tony in sight.  Eventually, the top neared and, at 8:45am (25 miles in; 8,918′), I stopped for a much needed rest.  Copper Triangle guy was gone already, but Tony was just leaving.

I discovered, to my horror, that the aid station didn’t have any electrolyte replacement other than Poweraid. Crap! (I left my Nuun at home thinking there was a zero chance of this outcome). Yuck. I filled and finished a bottle anyway, and then refilled both bottles. I also ate a banana and a Clif Bar, counting on a long descent down Shadow Canyon Rd. to digest. Then I took off, seeking to catch Tony if possible.

Surprisingly, I caught him quickly, and we traded leads back down to Hwy 73, which we followed back into Evergreen (after a quick recovery from a wrong turn).  As we approached Bear Creek Rd from the opposite direction, completely turned around and not finding any route signage whatsoever, we stopped to consult the map.  We correctly divined a left onto Bear Creek Rd was the way; and then, we barely managed to notice the turnoff to the left to Upper Bear Creek Rd.

This beautiful cycling route had turned into orienteering exercise.

We followed Upper Bear Creek Rd for 4.5 miles, passing Evergreen Lake and then turned right onto Witter Gulch Rd (42 miles in; 7451′ elevation).  WARNING:  if you ever see this name on a road sign, and you are not ready for a leg destroying climb, flee.

Witter Gulch Road was a beautiful ride.  It would be one of my favorites if nearer to my home.  It is 4.6 miles of 7.1% grade (including many double digit spots), gaining 1,736 feet to reach Squaw Rd at 9,187′.   Apparently, the last 2 miles of Witter Gulch Road was only recently paved; the last 3 miles is a sustained climb of almost 8% with multiple switchbacks near the top.  Thankfully my Mt Evans ride had prepared me, mentally, for this leg killer.  Tony wasn’t so fortunate; he kept saying it was steeper than anything he had ever done.

Tony led the first part as my legs were still recovering.  When it was my turn, I found I was strong again.  I pushed hard to reach Hwy 103.  At the end of the road, Tony was starting to fall back a little bit (~30 feet); after the last switchback, I yelled back that it was almost over.

Turning onto Hwy 103, I happened upon a group of riders from Evergreen.  We chatted for a while, while the grade allowed a bit of talking.  They laughed about how much I would ‘like’ the Floyd Hill climb back to Evergreen. And, Tony was gone.  I’d dropped him somewhere since the start of Hwy 103.

After a few miles, the Evergreen group pulled off the road to enjoy the views.  So I was all alone, not chasing anything but the clock.  Except for the two real cyclists who rode past Tony and me earlier, I was still among the first 5-10 riders as far as I knew.  I liked the feeling and didn’t want to let anyone get by me without earning it.  So I kept pushing.

I found the aid station at Squaw Pass at 11:15am and stopped to refill my bottles and grab some food.  As I was leaving, Tony pulled in.  I asked him what happened to him.  He replied, “I got my ass kicked!” He wished me well, and I took off with fresh legs to climb to Juniper Pass (54.5 miles in; 11,148′) and then to fly down past Echo Lake to Idaho Springs (71 miles in; 7,500′).

The descent was fun and fast.  It was my 3rd descent from Echo Lake in over the past month; I knew the road well.  As I entered Idaho Springs, I had some idea of where to go but managed to catchup to another rider who seemed to know where to go.  Together we passed through downtown and found an aid station at a public restroom I had used many years ago on a rafting trip.  As I arrived, just leaving the aid station was my old pal, Copper Triangle guy, who I’d last seen before the top of the climb to Brook Forest Inn.

Another bottle refill and a banana, a quick pee, and then another hello to Tony who was just puling in, and then I left chasing Mr. Copper Triangle.  He was somewhere ahead of me, but I was lost.  I tried to use 25th street to cross under I-70 (per the instructions) but couldn’t figure it out. I backtracked and then sprinted ahead to stay within sight of another rider who had passed me (#3) during my wandering.

We followed the on-ramp to I-70, but stayed on the far frontage road and then to a bike path which followed I-70 along the canyon wall, which skirted the I-70 tunnels.  Frankly it wasn’t much of a bike path:  patches of dirt and wildly undulating terrain. But since the route was still descending, I was strong enough to catch up to my new guide, but my climbing legs were dead. The last climb, Floyd Hill, would not go easy for me.

We crossed under I-70 to US-6, and then took the steep ramp to Evergreen which I had always wrongly imagined was an on-ramp to I-70 (76 miles in; 7,200′).  This was Floyd Hill, the 1.8 mile, 6% grade segment the Evergreen riders told me with a chuckle I would enjoy.  I did not.  My new guide was too fast, and I was too slow; but, I held on long enough to catch up to my original target, Copper Triangle guy.

The two of us climbed up the steep ramp in the burning sun, sucking down the exhaust from 100 cars backed up due to the tunnel blasting delays.  It was a hell.  Slowly we approached Evergreen. My legs were spent; I couldn’t keep up sitting in the saddle, and so had to stand up to claw back any gaps.

Another (and last) rider passed us (#4 so far for my day), and then the hard part was done.  We exited Floyd Hill (Hwy 40) onto Rocky Village Dr. (80 miles in), and then lost and gained a hundred feet over the next 4 miles to connect with Evergreen Parkway.  We rode north on Evergreen Parkway a short way to reach Kerr Gulch Rd (84 miles in; 7,784′) and the descent back into Morrison.

The descent was nice except for the volume of cars driving down the two-lane, winding road with only an intermittent shoulder.  I stayed behind Copper Mountain guy to make sure I could find the finish line.

Thirteen miles later we hit Morrison and a confusing intersection.  I followed the police officer’s directions and ended up ahead of Mr. Copper Mountain on a bike path for the last couple hundred yards of riding.  I raced ahead with visions of a top 10 finish.  As I passed under the finish arch at 12:40pm (96 miles in), I couldn’t find a single Official to ask for my official finishing time (I didn’t know that no one keeps track in a Century ride). And since the shorter route options had already finished, the finish line expo area was jam-packed with people. So, I had no idea if I had my top 10 finish; I admit it was a letdown.

And then I saw Tony.  We congratulated each other on a good day of riding, and then the sky opened up and dumped rain.  We sat under a huge tent eating our free fish tacos & free beer as I told him of finally catching Copper Triangle guy.

I finished in 7 hours, including 40 minutes of stopping time.  That’s about a 15 mph average, which is about the same as I did on the Triple Bypass.  I’m satisfied.

P.S. – I did finally come down with a cold the next day.

See index of mountain ride reports

Mount Evans Hill Climb Done Right

July 31, 2014
Photo by Footwarrior

Mt Evans parking lot seen from summit. Photo by Footwarrior

I first stood atop Mt Evans in 1997, after an amazing car ride up the highest paved road in the United States.  The Mt Evans road first opened in 1931, and was planned as a segment of a 150-mile road linking Longs Peak (14,259′) to Pikes Peak (14,114′). Alas, the road yet extends only 14.5 miles to just below the Mt Evans summit at 14,130′, fulfilling a 100-year-old prophecy to become, “…a road that starts nowhere, ends nowhere, and never gets there” (W.F.R. Mills, Commissioner of Improvements, 1915).

But as far as cycling is concerned, it is certainly enough.

Official course map

Official course map

Prior to 2014, I had returned to the Mt Evans summit four times to hike or climb some snowy aspect of the mountain. The last time I did so was 10 years ago, in May 2004, when my good friend Brian tricked me into riding my old mountain bike from the parking lot at Echo Lake (10,500′).  The excuse was the Forest Service road would be closed to car traffic for the day due to recent snow fall, and we could have the road to ourselves for once.

The affair was total misery for me (and a funny story) as I was not nearly in shape for powering an old, heavy bicycle up 7 miles of steep road carrying an extra 50 lbs of blubber and snow climbing gear (click to see and laugh about my Mt Evans Climb and Bike Ride trip report).  I have long desired to return to do it right, and reclaim a bit of my dignity.

I waded and crawled, I rolled and hopped, I cursed and yelled.  And then I finally lost my cool completely and swore out loud that I’d never do another snow climb.

With my last drop of energy, I crawled onto the road; and then I stood up, collected myself once more, and thought, “that was a good bit of exercise.”

~ excerpt from Mt Evans Climb and Bike Ride trip report

Mt Evans summit on the left with Summit Lake and the highest paved road in the USA below

Mt Evans summit on the left with Summit Lake and the highest paved road in the USA below (taken in 2002).

On July 26, 2014, full of cycling confidence after successfully completing the Triple Bypass Ride (120 miles; 11,000′ climbing) two weeks before, I started riding up toward the summit of Mt Evans once again, this time from Idaho Springs, a little over 27 miles away and nearly 7,000 feet below. The 49th Annual Bob Cook Memorial Mt. Evans Hill Climb would keep the cars away and bring my dignity within reach.

Awaiting the start of the Mt Evans HIll Climb Gran Fondo

Awaiting the start of the Mt Evans HIll Climb Gran Fondo

The Gran Fondo didn’t start until 7:20am, but I needed to arrive before 6am to carry out a number of tasks:

  1. avoid long delays for I-70 tunnel blasting (did it)
  2. secure a reasonably close-in parking spot (did it)
  3. have enough time to get my race packet containing my race numbers which had to be pasted/pinned to the various parts of my body and bike (did it)
  4. send some clothes to the summit to wear on the ride down (decided I didn’t need to do it; big mistake)
  5. secure a good placement in the Gran Fondo mass start (did it)

The Mt Evans Hill Climb came highly recommended.  It is advertised as one of the great cycling climbs in North America; not only a test of physical fitness, but also a means to measure a rider’s mental toughness. Heck, I guess there just aren’t many places where riders can climb for hours on end without a rest, which must be the definition of ‘awesome’ in cycling climber-speak. Starting in Idaho Springs, road grades to Echo Lake average 3.5% for 6.7 miles and 5.8% for 5.8 miles. Echo Lake to the summit averages 5.6% for 5.5 miles, then 4.1% for 2.7 miles and finally 5.7% for 4.25 miles through 11 switchbacks to the top.  Still, the experienced riders say the Mt Evans Hill Climb isn’t hard due to the grade.  It’s hard due to (1) length of the climb, (2) the gain in altitude, (3) the high altitude (low oxygen) reducing the ability to produce power, and (4) the challenge of staying hydrated due to drier air.

course stats tableThey also say, half of the challenge is in the mind, and patience is the key:  ‘focus on small victories along the way’, ‘focus on the 10 feet in front of you’, and ‘find a mantra to repeat or sing to yourself for motivation’.  And, lastly, ‘when you reach the summit, take in the splendor and accomplishment of riding up one of the highest peaks in America.’

Anyway, they had me at ‘no cars’.

Heading up on the relatively flat road out of Idaho Springs, I found myself conflicted between my twin objectives:  (1) conserve energy to make sure I could finish (ego preservation) and (2) go fast enough to beat my 3 hour time estimate (ego maximization).  This internal conflict was made more difficult by my lack of bike computer or even a watch; I couldn’t tell how hard I was working or how fast I was going.  I had to go on feel alone.

The pack thinned out pretty well after the initial few miles.  The very fast riders were quickly gone, never to be seen again.  Luckily, I did find a strong rider my age who was pulling a pace just above what I liked; he must have started further back in the pack and passed me a few miles in.

I figured I’d stay on his wheel for as long as I could, which turned out to be quite a while.  He was a chatty fellow out of Grand Junction, having a quick conversation with everyone we passed along the way.  As we approached Echo Lake, I was looking forward to taking a short but needed rest while I refilled my water bottles.  We sprinted along the lake, taking advantage of the short downhill section just before the Ranger Station; I had no problem burning through my energy reserves knowing I had a rest coming.  As we neared the Ranger Station, I could see the aid station was not what I expected. They were handing out filled water bottles as we went by…no stopping.  No rest. I was going to have to do the 27.4 miles and nearly 7,000′ in a single push, doubling the height of any single climb I had ever done.

Mt Evans road above treeline (CDOT photo)

Mt Evans road above treeline (CDOT photo)

As we got above treeline, I was starting to struggle to stay with my ‘rabbit’. We did have a chat along the way where I assured him that I would not have brought my cyclocross bike up Mt Evans if I had a lighter weight bike. He estimated we were on a 3 hour pace, which by then sounded like a very good time.  Around mile marker 5 above the Ranger Station, my rabbit got away from me and my tiring legs; and I picked up another, somewhat slower host.

This point is also about where the riders can see the rest of the ride, and I assure you it is a soul crushing sight to see so many miles of winding, treeless road that must be ridden before a rest.  Fortunately, I had been scarred by this sight 10 years earlier and was psychologically buffered against such a reaction. I followed my new rabbit to about mile market 9 where I passed him on the short descent to Summit Lake (12,830′) over shockingly rough, winter-broken road.

Joe nearing the top of the Mt Evans Rd

Joe nearing the top of the Mt Evans Rd

The 1/4 mile downhill ended at a sharp left bend which led to a final 5-mile, 1,400′ climb along guardrail-less road hanging over cliffs above oblivion. And, for the first time, I was alone, riding up the first of 11 switchbacks all by myself, battling the wind without any help.  I could feel the growing empty spaces in my body that used to contain my vast reserves of energy. And, now, the altitude was getting very high, and my limiting factor was shifting from muscle strength to available oxygen.  Unable to collect enough oxygen to fully power what remained of my muscles, my body temperature plunged.

I kept spinning my legs.  I also kept looking up to catch of glimpse of something familiar, something to give me hope of a near conclusion.  This was an incredible, memorable ride, but I wanted it to be over.

I finally could see the astronomical observatory tower located near the summit, and then I knew the end was near.  I kept spinning my legs.  I knew to look for mile marker 14, the signal for the final half-mile; but, I couldn’t remember to look at the signs as they went by.  I kept spinning my legs.

The money shot.

The money shot.

I came around a final right hand switch back to find a 100 yard sprint finish, but, I had no ‘kick’ to give. I kept spinning my legs, and crossed the  finish line at 10:13am for a ride time of 2 hours & 53 minutes. This time represented an average speed of 9.5 miles per hour, below my hoped for 10 mph which was based on nothing.  I was never so happy to be finished with a ride.

26th of 85 riders in my age group who finished the ride (31st percentile)

78th of 334 gran fondo riders who finished the ride (23rd percentile)

I rode my bike over to the Mt Evans sign to collect a personalized photo.  When I finished (see photo), I looked back toward the parking lot to find the food and water. Instead found a man standing in front of me.  It was Brian!

I nearly had a heart attack over the shock of his presence.  Brian explained that he had climbed Mt Beirstadt and then traversed the Sawtooth Ridge to Mt Evans to say hello.  I am often amazed by my cancer surviving, great friend.

Joe and Brian in front of the ruins of the Crest House (1941–1942) a restaurant and a gift shop that burned down on September 1, 1979

Joe and Brian on Mt Evans, in front of the ruined Crest House, a restaurant and a gift shop that burned down on September 1, 1979

As we chatted about the day, I started shivering.  I realized then that I should have had a jacket brought to the summit for me to wear while riding down at 30-40 mph through the cool air. Later, I found out that the all-time high temperature measured for the Mt Evans summit is 65F.  This wasn’t it (45F). There was little wind on the summit, but flying downhill on my bike was going to be brutal. But Brian saved the day by giving me his fleece jacket to wear on my descent. What a guy.

The descent to Summit Lake was still freezing.  I flew down the steep, twisting road, teeth chattering and hopping the bike over the worst of the cracks in the pavement. The short climb from Summit Lake warmed me enough to stop the shivering, but the road was still a broken and cracked mess. Once past the Ranger Station, the descent into Idaho Springs was a delight. With good roads and minimal traffic, got my speed fix for the day.

And, then it was over.  I had done it right this time.  I had reclaimed my dignity and even captured a bit of pride to call my own.

Now I just need to do the Pikes Peak ride to earn that “14er x 2 Cycling Cap” I’d read about. Who wants to join me?

 

The Triple Bypass 1st Edition

July 26, 2014

The Backstory

Time after time, I find that an ambitious adventure goal combined with an equal willingness to suffer optimizes personal reward. I’ll admit this statement may not sound sane; heck, it doesn’t even feel true during my adventures. But, while large goals lead to large rewards, overly large goals lead to failure and bitter disappointment. For me, complete satisfaction comes only when I give my maximum effort and use all my courage to just barely succeed in an adventure. My pursuit of this feeling, perhaps a bit too casually, is the backstory to my Triple Bypass Ride adventure of July 12, 2014.

CAADX SRAM Rival

Photo of my bike model borrowed from internet

When I finally got into road biking in June, 2014 after a 15-year courtship with the sport (I finally bought a bike), I immediately started looking for adventure and fitness in organized, long, mountain rides. I quickly stumbled upon on upcoming Triple Bypass Ride, which I’d heard about and secretly coveted in the past. The ride was only 2.5 weeks away, but I was able to secure a spot in this long-ago sold-out event by buying a registration from a guy whose wife forbade his repeat participation. This left almost no time for training, but that suited me just fine. I would have signed up if the ride were the next day. I just didn’t have any doubt I wanted to do it. And the Triple Bypass Ride sounded like just the sort of challenge I was looking for, particularly since I had never in a single day ridden more than 40 miles or gained more than 5,000’ in elevation.  And, I immediately told everyone of my plans.

Official Triple Bypass Map and Elevation Profile

Official Triple Bypass Map and Elevation Profile

Having publicly committed myself to the effort, I surely would hate to not to finish (DNF). No doubt most people thought my DNF was a near certainty, making such an outcome especially embarrassing. Heck, I couldn’t even allow some uncontrollable factor, such as weather or mechanical breakdown get in the way since that would be a too convenient excuse. My ego insisted that I push the chance of any failure to as close to zero as possible.

Two Weeks To Go

(dominant emotion:  excited to do this fun event; anxious to figure out how to do it)

Once registered for the Triple Bypass, I immediately set out to determine what to bring and how to carry it with me along the 120-mile course. I read articles and blogs, and discovered, with no surprise, that good weather is not ever to be expected. In fact, the mountain weather has been quite horrific on past Triple Bypass rides, including slushy snow and freezing rain, lightning storms, and daylong drizzle. I started buying stuff: rain jacket (waterproof & lightweight & highly visible color), arm/leg warmers, shoe covers, rain gloves, and bike packs to carry it all.  Naturally, this was just in case my good weather luck failed to save me.

My research also revealed that many people consider the Triple Bypass to be their ultimate endurance achievement, and is only attempted after years of training and multiple experiences with shorter, less demanding mountain rides. Oh, yeah. The sense of fear and thrill, essential for great adventure, was growing in my mind. And, I could feel it in my body. This was going to be a great adventure.

It did occur to me that I wasn’t certain I could do it, and I had no idea how long it would take if I could finish. I thought I should see how hard I could ride on the one weekend I had before the big day. I decided I would do my first long bike ride, targeting 80 miles and 7,000’ in the foothills west of Boulder. My plan was to just keep riding until I was home again, and then I’d be able to estimate my finish time for the Triple Bypass. And, I’d also be able to tell Susan when to come get me in Avon (assuming I could not get a standby seat on the 5 pm bus back to Evergreen and my car).

One Week To Go

(dominant emotion: building excitement plus increasing stress)

On July 4th, I set out from home at 7:30 am, planning to ride a loop around Lyons, Ward, and Boulder that would cover approximately 80 miles and 7,000’ of elevation. I planned to get water in Ward and again in Lyons if necessary. Of course, I had no idea how long it would take; I told Susan I might be gone for as long as 8 hours based on my experience the week before on RMNP’s Trail Ridge (climb 5,000’ and travel 40 miles) that took 4.5 hours (including a mechanical issue).

My ride was great at first. I had a fun ride out to Lyons (I reversed the loop direction at the last-minute), racing everyone I could find. Once past Lyons, the climb up to the Peak-to-Peak highway went slowly, as I had burned up too much of my leg strength racing to Lyons. Oh well, a lesson learned. The descent was a blast interrupted only by a stop for water and a bar. I even added an extra climb up Old Stage Road before heading home. I stopped at Lefthand Canyon Road & Highway 36 to call Susan to tell her that I’d be home before 2 pm and that there was no way I’d need more than 9 hours to do the Triple Bypass. But by the time I neared home, the low water (4 water bottles in 6 hours) and food consumption had me light-headed and exhausted. I was not just bonking, I was on the verge of passing out.  And, it took me 3 days to fully recover!

It was an important lesson. I needed to eat and drink much more and do so continuously throughout a long bike ride. I wouldn’t make that mistake again. And, I needed to avoid tiring myself before the hard climbs; racing for ego sake was a mistake to avoid. But, I also learned that I could ride long enough to do the Triple Bypass.

A bit wiser, I established a Triple Bypass game plan to conserve and continuously replenish my muscle fuel to avoid the bonk. I would stop at every rest stop for water and food;  I knew from recent personal experience to avoid dehydration, which would overwhelm all my other efforts. And, I would strictly avoid pushing myself too hard at any point to avoid becoming irrecoverably exhausted or sick to my stomach.I just had to reach Vail Pass (90 miles)…it would be downhill the rest of the way.

All that was left was the weather. To see if the weatherman thought my weather luck would hold, I checked the long-range forecast to find day after day of bad afternoon thunderstorms. Crap. I’d have to find a way to carry my new bad weather gear. And, I’d have to ride faster to have any chance of avoiding the bad afternoon weather.

Start FinishMapEVERGREEN2014

Official map provided by ride organizers

The Day Before

(dominant emotion: exhilarated; full of adrenaline)

I took a ½ day off from work on Friday to pickup my ID stickers in Evergreen, get familiar with the parking / start area in the daylight (ride started pre-dawn), and practice pack my gear to see what fit in my limited carrying capacity (unless I wore a backpack) and finally resolve what I would bring.

I also did a final weather check and found an 80% chance of thunderstorms starting at 1pm; the rain and lightning risk would almost certainly find me on the ride by 1 pm. I had until then to get off the high passes, and I maximized my chance of doing so by starting early. So the plan was to start at 5 am, the earliest allowed start. And, to aid going faster, I decided to not bring a backpack, and just carry what I could carry in my pockets and on my bike.

Race Day

Start

(dominant emotion:  excited to be a part of a big event; worried by the massive uncertainties)

I arrived at Bergen Park in Evergreen at 4:40 am to find it alive and crawling with people, cars and bikes. I was far too late for a great parking spot. I drove around a bit and squeezed in as quickly as possible. After taking one last look at the pile of gear that I would leave behind, I rode toward the start line, one of hundreds of riders (3,500 were projected for the ride). I went across the start line at 5:10 am, according to the starting official who I asked as I rode past. I was the only rider without a bike computer or even a watch. We left Bergen Park heading West on Squaw Pass Road (Highway 66 turning later into 103) traveling toward and then over Squaw & Juniper Passes.

It was a surreal experience, riding in the dark along side and behind 100’s of bikes with red and white lights steadily shining or blinking in unique patterns. It was a poor time to be dazzled by the pretty lights. I focused on looking at the backs of the riders ahead of me to avoid touching tires. Later, the dawn breaking over the mountains made for a wonderful memory.  I stole a moment to wonder if I could just follow other cyclists or would I eventually need to navigate for myself.

I started riding at a light pace to warm up and make sure I retained enough strength the get over Loveland Pass, 60 miles up the road, as well as be able to ride the entire 120 miles. It felt a little strange going so slowly; my breathing was so slow I felt like I was sitting behind a desk. I probably couldn’t have stayed with it at all except everyone seemed to have the same plan.

Triple Bypass Ride 2014    sat ride map21st Rest Stop – Juniper Pass (see #1 in course profile)

(dominant emotion: torn between going faster vs. being conservative)

As the road toward Squaw pass (9,807′) steepened, the crowd started to thin out and the faster people made themselves known. My pace crept higher. I didn’t try to stay with the fastest few, but I felt confident enough to go faster. I found a group of big, strong guys and stuck to their wheels. A nice descent after Squaw Pass reminded me of the pleasure of speed, which I continued in a fast climb to Juniper Pass (11,140′). After 18 miles, at 7am, the 1st aid station appeared from around the bend (7:08am stop). Even though I didn’t need a rest, particularly not right before a long, steep descent into Idaho Springs 18 miles away, I was obedient to my plan, which was to replenish the 2 bottles of water/electrolyte consumed between the start and each of the five aid stations, and to eat during the ride and at the aid stations. I also started texting Susan to keep her apprised of my progress.

Me: Top of 1st pass. 2 hrs so far
Susan: Woo hoo!!!! Great job

It was an amazing sight: heaps of bananas, orange slices, Clif bars and shots, and sandwiches. Thinking that I could digest while descending, I ate a banana, ½ a PB&J, a Clif bar, drank a bottle of Cytomax, and grabbed 2 Clif shots for future use. After about 10 minutes, after I couldn’t think of anything else I should do, I set off down toward Echo Lake and Idaho Springs, gradually disregarding my plan to rest while coasting down the road. I passed Echo Lake (at the entrance to Mt. Evans Road) and continued to Idaho Springs at a fast pace.

At the bottom of the descent, the riders were thinned out pretty well with only about 20 or so around me. As we entered Idaho Springs, we were greeted by the residents lining the road with signs waving and cow bells clanking. Their enthusiasm and encouragement added fuel to my fire, against all logic and expectation.

From Idaho Springs, we followed the frontage road for another 11 miles to the 2nd aid station just before Georgetown at Georgetown Alvarado Road, where I stopped at 8:15am. I enjoyed the sightseeing along the way from a much closer and slower platform than offered by my normal 70 mph drive up I-70. I also found another group of guys to follow, this one a bit faster than the first.

Triple Bypass Ride 2014    sat ride map22nd Rest Stop – Georgetown Alvarado Road

(dominant emotion:  exhilaration; having a blast!)

At the 2nd rest stop, I refilled my bottles and established a pattern of peeing at every opportunity. I consumed half a banana and a peanut butter & banana sandwich (a lifetime first). All of this only took 10 minutes, as this was when I started feeling stressed about my time spent at the rest stops. I didn’t want to waste any time I might need to dodge the rain (and to have a respectable ride time). What resting was actually necessary was the big question I could not answer.

Susan: Hope you are feeling good!!! (sent earlier)
Me: Good so far.
Me: Loveland pass coming up. That is the key

The frontage road passed by Georgetown and then transitioned into the new Bakerville- to-Loveland Bike Path adjacent and parallel to I-70 through Silver Plume and Bakerville, ending just before the Loveland Ski Area.I was amazed to discover that it was possible to ride a bicycle along the I-70 path without actually using the highway. Along the way I found a muscle-bound cyclist, cruising alone at a fast pace, and I locked onto his wheel.  We passed many riders over the next 13 miles. He was doing the Double Triple (I could tell from the color of his bike #); I figured his need to save something for the return trip would suit my need for a moderate pace. He held a brisk pace all the way to the Loveland Ski Resort aid station without looking to me to take a turn pulling, despite the wildly undulating terrain (they don’t smooth out the grade for bike paths). We reached the aid station at 9:57am, just under 5 hours after I started.

Triple Bypass Ride 2014    sat ride map23rd Rest Stop – Loveland Ski Resort 

(dominant emotion: disappointed but determined to finished)

I decided to take a longer rest; the weather was holding and I was starting to worry about how hard I had pushed to stay with the body-builder. I was feeling a bit of  pre-cramping in my quads and generally could feel the energy draining from my body. I was only 56 miles in, only ½ way mileage-wise, and still had 2 of 3 passes to surmount. Quick math said an optimistic 10 hours to finish, which was disappointing and left me vulnerable to the approaching thunderstorms. I started worrying that I might be in trouble.

Susan: How is weather? (sent earlier)
Me: At Loveland rest stop.
Me:  Weather ok so far. Threatening
Susan: Yippee!!!
Me: Starting to breathe hard
Susan: Pace yourself!!!
Susan:  Hardest part will be the last 20. How many miles to go?
Me: Halfway I think.
Me:  The next 4 will be the hardest. The last 30 are downhill
Susan: Hang in there!!!

I found a place to sit and stretch my back, which felt so good it was hard to stay focused. I also kept pumping the fluids and and carbs, continuing to focus on real food. After a wonderful 20 minutes, I got back on my bike and started up Highway 6 toward Loveland pass.

tbp map

Satellite image of route with elevation and grade profile. Grades: 0%: a flat road; 1-3%: Slightly uphill but not particularly challenging. A bit like riding into the wind; 4-6%: a manageable gradient that can cause fatigue over long periods; 7-9%: starting to become uncomfortable for seasoned riders, and very challenging for new climbers; 10%-15%: a painful gradient, especially if maintained for any length of time; 16%+: Very challenging for riders of all abilities. Maintaining this sort of incline for any length of time is very painful.

loveland_pass

Photo of Loveland Pass highpoint marker borrowed from internet

Loveland pass was only 4 miles away but that just meant a shorter distance to gain 1,200 feet to get over the 11,990′ high-point. I got into my low gear and spun my legs, passing many people along the way. It was a grind interrupted only by having to smile for the photographer (I didn’t buy this photo; $$$). I focused on working my legs, and, suddenly, I was done. The road didn’t quite reach the top of the world, but it sure felt good to be done climbing. I pulled to the side of the road to send Susan a text at 11 am that was not delivered due to a lack of a cellular connection.

Me: At top of pass (not delivered).
Me:  Downhill for a while (not delivered)
Susan: “…..”

The backside of Loveland Pass is spectacular. And, I don’t know what happened to all the riders. I had the road almost to myself. I sped down past A-Basin and then Keystone, where the road leveled out. There was still a bit of a down angle but also a miserable headwind eating my momentum. I got as small and pushed hard to get out of the wind, but almost immediately I felt a twinge in my hamstring. Cramp. Crap. I sat up immediately to avoid the full on cramp. I stood up and stretched my legs as I had seen Tour riders do. I was able to keep going, but had to go easier on the legs.  I also had to go fast enough to keep the riders ahead of me in sight so I’d know where to turn.

Hwy 6 descending from Loveland Pass toward A-Basin Ski Resort

Photo of Hwy 6 descending from Loveland Pass toward A-Basin Ski Resort (borrowed from internet)

Triple Bypass Ride 2014    sat ride map24th Rest Stop – Breckenridge H.S.

(dominant emotion: hanging tough but worried; happy to only have 13 miles of climbing left)

The route turned west onto Swan Mountain Road which goes over Swan Mountain, climbing 500 feet of some of the steepest grades despite not being a mountain pass. The descent was fast and tight (steep!), ending in Breckenridge at the 4th aid station. I stopped for a 15-minute break to let my muscles collect fuel and electrolytes, hoping to stop the progression of cramps. The weather was still holding, but dark clouds were brewing over Vail Pass. I felt the pressure building to hurry, but I feared ending the ride prematurely in a ball of cramped muscles.

Me: In Breck now, 77 miles in
Susan: Love you!!!! Weather?
Me: Ok so far. It’s a blast.
Me: 13 miles to go to end of uphill
Susan: You can do it you can do it rah rah rah!!!  Proud of you!!!

I set off alone on the Frisco bike path toward Copper Mountain but quickly got onto the back wheel of an older guy (probably my own age) who was doing the Double Triple. He was a bit slower than my earlier pace setters, but that suited me just fine. My hamstrings would seize if I pulled too hard, and my quads would simply quit after a few seconds of standing. I only had to ride 13 miles to finish the rest of the uphill section.

2014 triple bypass photo

Photo I purchased from official photographers of Triple Bypass. The prices were too high to get more than one.

The two of us passed a few people on the twisting, crowded, and narrow bike path, but mostly just kept a steady pace.  I should say a steady effort, since the bike path continued in the crazy up and down pattern established between Georgetown and Loveland. After a short distance, we were passed by a small group moving just slightly faster. My pace-setter decided to hang onto their wheel, so I had to up the effort a bit to hang on as well.

The entire group eventually started trading lead-outs, significantly upping the pace. Fortunately, the closer we got to Copper Mountain, the stronger I felt. I was surprised and delighted. We hit Copper Mountain Ski Resort after 7 miles, and after stopping for a red light (my 2nd of the day), I took off in an adrenaline-fueled sprint. The grade increased quickly and soon I realized I was alone. But now feeling good and only having 6 more miles to Vail Pass, I continued to press forward, standing to climb the steep sections while pushing a big gear on the flatter sections. My legs continued to feel strong as well as less and less inclined to cramp. I arrived at the last aid station atop Vail Pass at 1:06pm (just after a 1pm photo opp; see photo).

Triple Bypass Ride 2014    sat ride map25th Rest Stop – Vail Pass

(dominant emotion:  relief! I was going to make it!)

What a relief! At that point, I knew that I would make it. I had ridden 8 hours and had nothing but downhill ahead of me. I would not only finish, I would have a respectable time despite my cyclocross bike and lack of training. I loaded up again on liquid and food, and even, finally, ate the Clif shots I had stashed at the 1st aid station. They were rather gruesome but felt like just the thing for a final energy suck.

Me: Top of vail pass. Downhill from here
Susan: Woo hoo!!
Susan:  We will have a prize for you (photo of giant berry pie)
Me: Awesome
Susan: You are!!!
Me: I’ve been fighting cramps
Susan: Oh no!!! Drink drink drink!!!

Vail-Pass-2

Photo of Vail Pass Summit sign borrowed from internet

I started down alone after a 10-minute eat/drink/pee break. I just flew down the bike path despite an incredibly strong headwind, slowing my pace only periodically to avoid flying into oblivion. I wasn’t certain of the route, so I just stayed on the bike path heading downhill. I quickly reached Vail, exiting the bike path onto the old Frontage road. The headwind was even worse on the flats. I pushed to catch up to a large rider ahead of me so I could hide from the wind and follow him to the finish. Another rider went by at a much faster pace, and I jumped to his wheel instead.

This new guy was very strong. I hung on and took a turn in the front while we picked up more riders. At end of my next turn in the front, I moved over to drop to the back…only to find no one there. I looked back just as the strong rider flew past me with 2 new, stronger riders on his tail. Shit.

I had seconds to decide whether to chase. Fortunately, I was on a slight downhill grade which allowed me to power up to close the gap. It was good that I did as I had no idea where to go once exiting Vail.  I followed this group up a frontage road until it turned into a bike path.  On the short uphill sections, the group would again open a gap on me. But my legs would not quit; I closed every gap. The winding bike path roughly followed Highway 6 until dumping us onto that poorly maintained highway just outside of Avon. It was an exhilarating experience. And, adding danger to the mix, the poor road was full of holes.  I had to watch the road ahead of the riders in front of me, as they were not reliable about avoiding or signaling obstacles.

triplebypassmedal

I took this photo of my medal (1 of ~3,500) given to Triple Bypass finishers. It is laying in the grass next to the finish line in Avon, CO. The photo is available for any who want to borrow it.

The Finish – Avon (living on adrenaline and endorphins; great while it lasts)

We entered Avon in a sprint, and enjoyed the cheers of the crowd. I finished at 2:10pm, for a 9-hour ride, including approximately 65 minutes of rest time. With a moving time of about 8 hours, I averaged 15 mph. Not bad for an old dude riding a pair of fat, knobby tires on a perfectly fitted, brand-new, fire engine red bike.

Me: Finished
Susan: You rule!!!!
Susan:  Doing the happy dance here!!!
Me: (photo of Triple Bypass medal
Susan: Today you reminded me why I love you so much
Me: Luv u too

FinishMapAVON2014

Official map provided by ride organizers

Susan and I made plans to do the Triple Bypass together in 2015. It is a great experience made perfect by perfect weather. Susan was also delighted to avoid driving 5 hours to get me when I was able to get on a shuttle back to Evergreen (and my car). On the ride back, I chatted with a guy who opened my eyes to many such rides held in Colorado. This was going to be a very good summer.

Lessons Learned:

  1. Do not try to lose weight on the bike; eat and drink more than enough
  2. Avoid any deficits in water or calories; eat and drink multiple times per hour
  3. Focus on real food; many hours of processed goo will make you sick
  4. Consume a lot of electrolytes, especially sodium
  5. Work with other riders to combat the wind
  6. Descent is an effective but dangerous place to pick up time
  7. Avoid needing a rest; recovery is impossible unless on a long descent
  8. Be ready for weather by using lightweight junk; leave bulky, high-quality gear at home (plastic bags, latex gloves, etc.)

 

2014 Triple Bypass By the Numbers:

RIDERS

  • 4,600 Total Riders
  • 3,500 on Saturday
  • 1,500 on Sunday
  • 1,000 Double Triple Riders
  • 30 Relay Groups
  • 43% of the riders were first-timers
  • 83% Men
  • 17% Women

TOP STATES REPRESENTED

  1. Colorado
  2. Texas
  3. Illinois
  4. Minnesota
  5. Nebraska
  6. Missouri

COUNTRIES REPRESENTED

  1. Japan
  2. Mexico
  3. Canada

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