Last weekend, Eric Plantenberg and I accomplished one of my big goals for 2012 when we finished the famed Triple Bypass ride in Colorado. For anyone who knows about it, this is one of the toughest one-day rides (that I know of) in America. It’s pitched as 120+ miles and 10,000+ feet of climbing, going over Vail Pass, Loveland Pass and Juniper Pass (and a few others on the way up to each). I can confirm is it marketed properly. I took inspiration for this post from one I read the other day from John Burke over at Trek. He does a big ride in France every year and I got a kick out of his ride report. I did to Clif Bars what he did to oranges, but more on that in a minute.
A little background on how this ride came to be on my list for 2012; if I were to describe my level of activity over the past two years, I would use the word sedentary. I haven’t gone sloth and am laying on the couch every day, but I made a conscious decision to prioritize my kids in the last few years and sacrifice my typically active lifestyle. So when Eric was looking for a followup to his successful Everest summit, I suggested the Triple, to which he replied, “I’ll do it if you will!” My initial though was “Yeah, right!” but then after thinking about it for a few minutes, I decided I was in fact in. Plus, it would give me a good reason to set some new goals and to get myself back in shape. Of course the whole experience left me with some fun insights that are relevant to my job.
So there I was at 6am in the hotel lobby on January 5 registering for the event via their lottery system. That’s right, signing up doesn’t guarantee you a spot, it only guarantees that you are in the lottery for a spot. Fortunately, Eric and I both got in. Unfortunately, I was selected for Saturday’s ride and he was selected for Sunday’s ride. Thanks to an exercise in holding intention and state management, the Universe provided me an opportunity to trade my spot with another guy so that Eric and I could ride together. SWEET!
Fast forward to July and I had approximately 20 rides under my belt and half of those were on the trainer in the winter. Not exactly the fitness I was looking to lean on to get through the longest ride of my life. But I felt good mentally. I was excited for the ride, I knew what it felt like to hurt and I also knew what it felt like to accomplish a task. Oh, and having looked at the course map, I knew at least a third of the ride was downhill. Guess which one I held on to most?
We started the ride at 6:15am after a quick stop in the porta-potty. Of course in my excitement to get riding and my lack of experience in urinating while wearing bib shorts this year, I spent the first 20 minutes with a really cool looking spot on the front of my light gray shorts. I didn’t get a picture for you. Sorry.
Ride started off great, but it was apparent that a lot of the people starting at 6am were doing so because they had a specific pace in mind, and that pace didn’t jive with us. We ended up hitching on to a group of fit triathletes and all of a sudden it’s 7:15 and we have gone almost 20 miles. We were FLYING! We hit the base of the first climb up Vail Pass and we were picking people off left and right. I actually commented that it felt weird to be climbing that fast. We got to the top of Vail pass in just under two hours and arrived to a swarm of people ad the aid station.
The next section was downhill (literally, not figuratively) to the valley and onto the bike path around the Dillon reservoir. All in all pretty uneventful, except for a slight mishap that may have put myself and two other riders into the ditch on a big left hand turn. Everyone made it out unscathed and we proceeded to Keystone and the base of Loveland Pass where the next aid station was set up.
At that stop, we found Eric’s family and they provided some good moral support as well as an opportunity to dump any layers I didn’t want to carry to the top. At this point I was hungry so I shoved as many Clif bars and packets of trail mix into my mouth as possible, effectively rendering my jaw useless as I had worn it out from chewing.
The next section was up, up, up. I climbed well, keeping up with and passing most riders on the road. After a 70-minute climb we finally hit the summit at 11,990ft. This was the highest I have ever been on the earth. Kinda cool, and we documented the accomplishment (quickly) and headed back down.
That descent was AWESOME! Pretty sure somewhere in that descent I hit the 48.9mph max that I recorded for the day. At the base, we fueled up again and this time there were Cokes and sandwiches SCORE!! We waited for Eric’s family which was both a blessing and a curse. A blessing because I got my arm warmers and jacket back, but a curse in that we waited for a while and I think that hurt me for the next effort.
The next section to the base of the Juniper Pass climb was probably the most gorgeous of the whole ride. We were up and down, through valleys, next to the highway and down through Georgetown which has a really cool steam engine that takes people around. About an hour of descending and we were to the base of Juniper Pass, the third and final climb of the day. We fueled up and I overheard some guys talking about the climb. They were arguing over three points; distance (was it 12 miles or 16) grade (was it easy or steep) and actual summit (where was it). None of these conversations were giving me hope, nor was the intermittent lighting that was striking on the top of the mountain.
We set off, and I could immediately tell this was going to be tough. Breathing was fine, but I didn’t have a lot left in my legs. We were 90-some miles into the ride at this point and my typical training rides had been around 25. We were riding uphill, but things were going downhill for me. I just tried settling into a comfortable cadence and effort and let the miles tick off on their own. The hardest part was probably trying to get the old Coors Light “Tap the Rockies” commercial jingle out of my head.
About 5 miles from the top, the skies opened up and we got absolutely pounded with rain. After a few minutes of Rain, Eric pulls up next to me and says, “This kinda sucks, but have you ever ridden in hail?” to which I reply, “Yes, and that REALLY sucks!”. Guess what happened next… That’s right, we spent the next 5 mintes riding in the hail.
We FINALLY hit the top of Juniper Pass and we are soaked, cold and hungry. I stop to go to the bathroom and I caught a glimpse of myself in a mirror and I looked like Skeletor. I was shelled. Fortunately, all that stood between me and a finish was a 16-mile descent. What I didn’t know was what that descent was going to entail. The short version is that the final 1/3 of the descent was tolerable. I got to the bottom, took a digger trying to unclip at the stop light across the street from the finish line, finished, got my medal and got outta there!
Overall I had a great day and here’s the main thing I learned over the course of an 11-hour day:
I was short on fitness but long on attitude and that made all the difference.
No one talks much over the course of an 8-hour ride. I think Eric and I were the chattiest riders in the state. This gave me plenty of time to really take in the beauty of the ride. I am fortunate to be able to do the things I do and I know that. I’m grateful for the opportunity to do the ride and REALLY grateful that my wife was understanding enough to spend a week in Colorado while we vacationed and I prepared for the ride. These are all things I inherently knew, but it was nice to have that kind of time to focus on them.
Final Stats from my (sometimes) trusty Garmin: 123.9 miles, 11,700ft of climbing, 8:11 total ride time, 5474 calories. A HUGE thanks to Eric for helping get me to the top and to Team Evergreen for putting on such a great event. Maybe next year we’ll come back and do the double…