Survival of the Fittest: Triple Bypass Ride 2014
Going back to the dead of winter, I am still not quite sure what I was thinking when I clicked the submit button to register for the Triple Bypass. I had local friends give me lots of training advice from mental cues, do’s and don’ts, how to handle being a flatlander in high altitude, nutrition, where to train locally…All I can say is almost every piece of info went out the window once I sat down on the saddle.
So let’s skip forward to the trip, you do not need to be bored to death hearing about my long winter on the spinning bike and indoor trainer. From the get go, I had planned to go with my friend Jim and his wife Kay (she was just tagging along for the trip), my friend Kristen who decided to sign up for the the ride to give her motivation post chemo, and the one’s who talked me into the ride Bob and Stephanie. Long story short, Bob and Stephanie had to drop kids off along the way to Colorado so we never got to connect, Kristen decided recovery was not going so well so better pass on the ride this year, so the road trip ended up just being Jim, Kay, and little me (literally).
The road trip was fun as they always are. We cruised west on I-80 and once we crossed into Colorado, I knew this ride was for real. Once we could start seeing hints of snow in the mountains, my mindset started to change a bit. Kay was nice enough to pull up the ride info on my phone, yeah probably not the reminder I needed to see.
Once we arrived and got settled we headed up I-70 to Evergreen to pick up our packet and get a feel for the start of the ride. I fell in love with the town almost immediately, just much more mellow version of Estes. We played tourists a bit,checking out the lake, downtown, local bar and grill, and hit the bike shop for our race packet. I about fell over laughing when I opened it up and in very easy to read print, ” First Timer”!!!
We were lucky enough to be staying with some folks the split time between Omaha and Colorado. I had never met them before, but through the cycling groups, was familiar with their names. Our one host, Garrett, was nice enough to take us on a ride the day before the big day to get slightly acclimated to the altitude and climbing. We cruised all over the foothills of Littleton, around Red Rocks, the Manor, and some beautiful residential neighborhoods. The one thing that surprised both Jim and I was how rude drivers were to cyclists. For being such an active, healthy area, most drivers did not give us 3 feet when passing, sat on their horns behind us, and just drove erratic. But this little taste of riding in Colorado at about 6,000 feet of elevation gave me a small taste of what to expect. My legs felt fine, but the lungs were definitely angry and neck was already acting up. During the ride Garrett who lives and trains in Colorado and has done this ride many times gave us lots of advice for Saturday. The three tips that I listened to were, take it easy on the downhills-don’t get too close to the riders; keep your head up; and do not stop at the first aid station. Overall the ride was what we all needed. The rest of the day was spent playing tourist in Boulder, getting the bikes tuned up, carb loading for the big day, and packing a full day’s worth of riding which was an adventure in itself.
Alarm went off at 4:15. Pretty used to that from all the races and events I have done over the years. First thing I felt when I got up was that the pasta dinner from the night before was probably not the best idea. Lovely, I knew from the get go that the binding in my gut would be an issue. We were ready to roll under a full moon and made the drive up to Evergreen. I had hoped to connect with Bob and Stephanie, since I ride with Stephanie, but could never get through to her 😦 Once we parked and unloaded everything we rolled up to the start, hit the bathroom, and boom it was go time. We started off slow because of the large pack of riders, but it spread out pretty quick, and of course Garrett was already long gone. Oddly enough, a rider, Tom that I had connected with on Twitter was doing the ride and I had given him info about what I was wearing and to look for a short girl with a tall guy. A few miles in to the ride and to no surprise, here comes Tom. It was nice to connect in person with him since over the winter he had given me some good training advice. He road with us for a while then took off. And as soon as Tom left the ride started to become more real. The climb to the top of Juniper Pass (thank goodness it was not Mt. Evans) was about 16 miles and took 2 hours. Slow and steady climbing is all we did. The oddest thing for me was to do a seated climb the entire time. I am so used to standing to sprint up hills. I told Jim about halfway up the climb that this ride was going to be a survival ride. There is just no way to train properly for long climbs in high altitude. So we did survive and made it to the pass where there was an aid station. We listened to Garrett’s advice and did not really stop. But I am glad we stopped for 30 seconds to roll back on our arm sleeves. Nobody ever told me how flippin cold it gets on descents. That first descent scared the crap out of me. Tight twisty unexpected turns, crazy cyclists flying 55+ mph without their hands on the brakes, and bitterly cold. And to top it off, my descents in the midwest are usually no more than 1/4 mile long, try 10+ mile decents. When we got to the bottom in Idaho Spings I could hardly feel my hands, feet, and neck was an absolute mess. I tried to use my IMBA Instructor skills on the decent, feathering the brakes with level pedals and butt behind the seat, but that constant grabbing in the drops just beat me up. After that descent it was time to pop some Aleve, refill my Tailwind, stretch and get back to it.
The next section of the ride was beautiful and pretty relaxing. We went through some fun mining towns right off of I-70. We had a great experience in Georgetown getting to ride the trail as the train we going over the bridge. Hearing that horn blow with the black cloud of smoke was just amazing. We took a few stops in that area to get some awesome pics.
We continued climbing and then ended up on the bike path from hell. I got excited when we went on a smooth and pretty bike path, but like Juniper Pass, the climb kept going and going and going. Garrett said that climb was about 16 miles long. If there was a moment I could have thrown in the towel, this would have been the spot. This evil little trail was my all time low of the day. My mind went to the bad place, my body shut down, I felt like crap, and was temporarily done. And the worst part was knowing that we were not even halfway, still had 2 mountain passes, and the day was getting away from us quickly. But somehow we did survive and then heard the rumbles and saw the big dark cloud. We got extremely lucky to be at the Loveland Basin and ducked under the interstate just in time for the rain to hit. We put on our rain gear, checked in with Kay, and once the rain passed we made our way to the aid station to take off our rain gear and prepare ourselves for Loveland Pass.
So Loveland Pass was the most difficult, but also my favorite. It was the middle of the day, sun was shining bright on us, and this climb was a big one. When I think of bike rides in the mountains, this pass is what I think of. Steep, a bit more windy, steep drop offs that make the belly drop and the knees buckle, above the treeline, and even snow. We did have to stop a few times on this pass to check our heart rate, mentally readjust, and of course take some photos. My lungs were definitely in overdrive on this pass, but oddly enough, my heart rate was only at about 100. Jim was working just as hard on this pass and it showed. But gosh darn it, we did it and made it up to the highest elevation of the day. If we had time, it would have been fun to play around at the top of the pass. Lots of back country trails just screaming my name to be ran or ridden. Will put that idea on my bucket list.
So once we got to the top, once again it was time to head down the mountain. At least I knew what to expect this time and dressed more properly. It was just as cold this time, but we were excited to get to the bottom, Kay was meeting us somewhere in Keystone with a Coke for us! The oddest thing about this decent was the strange boulders laying on the road. I just figured they rolled there, but Jim said that he looked over and saw some Billy Goats pushing them on the road with their heads. Very dangerous, but very funny. Once were rolled into Keystone I was content and zen. I knew Kay was waiting for us and knew some mountain bike friends from Omaha were up at the top of Keystone racing their hearts out. It gave me a fresh perspective on the day and seemed to give me a bit of a jumpstart. My friends on top of Keystone actually got a pick of where we had just come from and it definitely gave me a fresh perspective of this ride. Wow, those mountains in Colorado are huge!
So after the quick visit with Kay it was time to head towards Cooper Mountain and Vail Pass. Oh goody, another slow climbing bike path. Not as bad as the first one, but I was done with bike paths. We took our time and of course survived again. Cooper Mountain was again a breath of fresh air and knowing Vail was our last climb was a good feeling. Plus everyone said the Vail climb was pretty and was not as challenging. Very true, but when you are tired, a mountain pass is a mountain pass. But we did the climb in preparation for our long 25+ mile descent into Avon. Once again, I was not warned about this descent. I was truly scared. It was on a tight and windy bike trail going the opposite direction of I-70 traffic with no barrier. I definitely did go slower on this descent, maybe capping at 38 mph, which is still insanely fast on a carbon fiber frame with two skinny tires separating me from the pavement. But we did do it. I kept looking at my watch and realized we had taken too much time at the rest areas and for photo opps that we were going to miss the shuttle from Avon to Evergreen. Thank goodness for Kay, she drove to Avon to wait for us! It was such a relief to see a familiar face at the finish line screaming our names. We were beyond done with the ride, but having her at the finish was icing on the cake.
The only thing that was disheartening was finishing such a monster ride to find out they ran out medals 😦 I had to be very patient, but luckily almost 2 weeks later, the medal arrived in the mail. I feel like the medal is the finishing touch to this beast of a ride!!!
So in a nutshell, I am crazy enough to have done the Triple Bypass Ride. Would I do it again, I am not sure, but seeing all the mountains gives me lots of places and events to put on my bucket list. I at least would know what to expect, but training is an issue in the midwest. This is an experience I will never forget and feel as a coach, athlete, cyclist, triathlete, and person I have grown physically, mentally, and emotionally. And I conquered one of the hardest ride in the US! Thank you to my family, friends, and athlete community for the love, support, and encouragement.