I decided early this season to try the Triple Bypass this year. 120 miles of three mountain passes and 10,000 feet of climbing, all in one day: Juniper Pass, Loveland Pass and Vail Pass.
Was I up for the challenge? The world may never know.
I secured an AirBnB house in west Denver for Tammy, Dina, Cela (the mini wiener dog) and I; flew out to Denver on the Thursday morning before the Saturday, July 8, 2017 ride; and arrived at the condo, got settled and got some lunch only to be informed that the ride was Canceled. Due to an un-contained wildfire near Breckenridge all emergency resources had to be pulled from the Triple Bypass Ride and diverted to saving property and protecting lives (makes it kinda hard to get all indignant about the ride being cancelled).
No worries. Talk about First World Problems: I was “stuck” in Colorado with my bike for three days with an open schedule. There are probably worse places to be.
Day 1 – Denver -> Golden
So Friday morning we decided to ride from the condo in Denver to Golden to Lookout Mountain. A 42 mile ride with 2700 feet of climbing, but a nice average 5% grade over about 4.5 miles. Just a little something to warm up the legs in perfect Colorado weather.
Dina carefully mapped out the route for Tammy and I (generally something that ends up being a complete waste of time since neither of us can read a map or remember more than the next two turns). And we set off figuring we would take the bike path to 32nd Avenue which would take us straight to Golden, and immediately got lost….multiple times…
Eventually we located 32nd Ave (and only inexplicably turned off the course once), and headed to Golden.
Once we got into Golden we used our tried and true method of not getting lost by asking every pedestrian and cyclist that we saw whether we were heading in the right direction to Lookout Mountain, and eventually found the base of the pass. Once we got to the base of Lookout, Dina and Cela showed up in the car to do S.A.G duties and keep an eye on us (after finding us after we took and “alternative route” through downtown Golden).
While mountain passes are generally pretty scary from inside a car, I find that I feel very safe climbing on my bike (especially in Colorado where I also believe not everybody is trying to kill me). It’s usually pretty peaceful and beautiful, even though it is also work.
I found a good gear and just started cranking it out. There weren’t many switchbacks or surprises, just a steady incline with few trees, so great views.
I did stop once to take a gel, as I had no idea how much longer I might have to climb, but this was a really nice ride and a few miles later I had reached The Buffalo Bill Park at the summit of Lookout Mountain at 7,300 ft.
While I can climb all day, I suck at descending. As I gain speed and see those switchbacks I picture every errant chipmunk, major mechanical failure, operator error, and runaway car scenario imaginable and end up gripping all the way down. Lookout Mountain was no different, but Tammy was nice enough to wait for me at the bottom. We then caught up with Dina and Cela in Golden for lunch (note to self – next time maybe not such a big lunch before a 15 mile ride back to the condo). The total climbing on the ride was 2700 ft.
It was a really pleasant day!
Day 2 Evergreen -> Guanella Pass
Team Evergreen is a big promoter of the Triple Bypass. While it is a Colorado cycling group, when I read about them I paid the nominal fee to become a member. I can’t remember why, but something in the ride information made me think it was a good idea. Score one for Red! This was a good idea!
After the Triple got cancelled, Team Evergreen sent out an email to its members listing several different unsupported rides (with clickable links) they would be hosting starting from where the Triple Bypass was supposed to start.
Our friend Carrie spoke with the ride director and determined that the Guanella Pass would be a good ride. It was posted as a 70 mile ride “but might be a bit longer.” What was not at all clear in the “Guanella Pass” ride was that in order to get to Guanella Pass, you had to get over the Squaw Pass. What I did not know until several days later was that the Squaw Pass was actually the Juniper Pass and the Juniper Pass was the first of the three passes in the Triple Bypass. So, yeah, I pretty much went into this knowing nothing about what was in store
So Squaw/Juniper pass is a nice 15 mile (wait, whut?) climb at a 4-5% grade. It is not a bad climb, but OMG it just never ends. Most of my Colorado climbing has been at about 5-8 miles and I thought I was a badass. On this pass, I hooked up with a local guy who knew the climb well and kept giving me information I did not want. Things like, after climbing for what seemed like forever, “Oh, this is the half way point!” (I thought he was kidding. He wasn’t). There were a lot of trees so it was hard to tell whether/when you were close to the top.
I finally did achieve the summit at 11,100 feet (for 3000 feet of climbing on this one pass), and while the ride was long, it really wasn’t bad. I took some pictures at the top.
The descent was pretty cool since there were not a lot of switchbacks and the incline was not really steep and it was the last pass I got to descend while it wasn’t raining (of course I am still a brake grabbing, chicken shit but I was having fun). The descent ended in Idaho Springs, where I re-hooked up with Tammy, Dina, Carrie and Sean. We got some nutrition and used the restroom, then headed out ten reasonably flat miles to Georgetown and the Guanella pass. When we arrived in Georgetown it was noted that Tammy decided to forgo Guanella and SAG with Dina. [Shrug] I was still having fun! Weee!
Georgetown is this adorable little town at the base of Guanella. Unfortunately, just as we arrived it started raining. It wasn’t too bad, but unlike Austin, Texas where when it’s 98 degrees and starts raining it becomes 98 degrees and raining, when it rains in Colorado the temperatures drop 20-30 degrees. I stopped to put on my windbreaker and looked at my Garmin. Inexplicably we were at mile 42. If you scroll back a bit you may recall that this was supposed to be a 70 mile ride. I may not be the sharpest crayon in the box, I can do rudimentary math and this ride is gonna be a hellava lot longer than 70 miles:
So I rode through this idyllic downtown not knowing the horrors that awaited.
Confession: I did not actually look at any maps or grades or really anything concerning this ride, so everything was a surprise to me. I trusted the information my friends had.
My new Motto: Trust No One.
The Guanella Pass road starts with a switchback. In fact, the first mile climbs about 500 feet over 4 switchbacks! There is no joking around with this one. While the “average” grade of this 10.5 miles pass is “only” 5.5%, there is this weird false plateau and a reservoir at mile 3.5. It lasts a little over 2 miles with some downhill segments. Thing is, this part of the pass counts towards that 5.5% average grade, meaning you have to make it up (and then some).
By the time I got to the reservoirs I was sweating profusely and took off my jacket. I was wondering (a) what the hell was going on with the downhills, and (b) how much longer it was to the top because I must be close the way the road flattened out (ha! jokes on me).
Once I got passed the flat section the road started climbing again. I would stop to eat because I was moving so slow I feared falling over if I took one hand off the handlebars. Then I would stop to drink… Then I would just stop to rest… Occasionally I would catch up to another rider and we would commiserate and ask each other “how much further” as we passed each other (talk about molasses running uphill).
Occasionally a rider would pass in the other direction flying downhill, but beyond a “You’re doing great!” No one was saying “You’re almost there.” 😦 Surely I must be “almost there” I’ve been riding up this hill for 1 and 1/2 hours!!
I had heard that the pass got steeper as you approached the summit, and the road seemed to be getting steeper but most of “what I had heard” ended up being lies and I was running out of food and water, so maybe it just felt steeper.
Finally, a gal coming down the pass shouted “You’re close! Last incline!”
Ok, seriously, WTF does that even mean? Last incline? I had been on the last incline for the past two hours. Also, I can say with confidence that “Marathon Rules” apply to long tough rides. Marathon Rules include: never say “last hill” if there is anything can be construes even slightly resembling a hill in the distance. Also your not “almost there” if you cannot see the finish line.
So, I interpreted “You’re close! Last incline!” to mean that the summit would be around the next bend. Nope, just another switchback… then another… and another. Apparently, in Coloradoan “You’re close! Last incline!” means you have at least a half mile of 8-10% grades.
Fun facts about Guanella Pass: According to the interwebs the first 3.5 miles has a 6.7% average grade and the last 2.3 miles has an average 7.4% grade (with some sections at 10-12%). The total climb is 3600 ft (so 600 more feet of climbing than Juniper over 4 fewer miles). Good times!
I finally reached the summit, and I was DONE. Cooked. D – O – N – E! Completely out of water/Gatorade, down to one Maple Bacon gel (don’t ask, because even I have no idea where that came from), and it’s now raining and cold. I see Carrie right before the Summit and she says, “Did you see Tammy and Dina driving down?”
DOWN!?! I’m out of water (actually, what I said was “I’m out of fucking water!!!” and I said it loud and with feeling). I rode up to the summit where there were restrooms… composting restrooms, not running water restrooms. I was able to beg a bottle of water off a hiker and drank the whole thing just standing there. Also, where the hell is the big green summit/elevation sign? I need a picture in front of that sign! This was the sign at the summit:
Mission accomplished. But now I am at the summit of a steep grade in the cold rain, with no food or water beginning to bonk, with wet roads, and as I have explained I suck at descents on a good day.
I started talking with a gal while putting on my jacket again and looking at the steep descent in front of me, waiting for the rain to let up. I said, “I don’t think I could have done the Triple Bypass. There is no way I could ride another pass today.” She gave me the ‘oh, p-shaw’ hand wave and said, “Oh, this is way harder than the Triple!” Hmm. You’d think someone woulda mentioned that at some point.
It took me forever to get off that pass. I have no confidence in a decent and on steep wet roads I was gripping so hard that I would periodically stop to rest my “gripping-muscles” and check and make sure I wasn’t glazing my brakes. I took me over an hour to descend off that pass (which is pretty pathetic).
When I got back into Georgetown and off the mountain my phone started pinging all the messages I had received during the 3 hours I had been on the pass and out of service range. I stopped at a gas station and realized that besides not having any food or water, I also had no money as I had left my wallet in the SAG vehicle. And my SAG, thinking I had turned back at some point (or perhaps been eaten by bears) headed into Idaho Springs for beer and pizza (which did not at all inch me towards murderous rage).
It took me three tries to compose a text message expressing my dilemma and displeasure, but also appropriate to send to folks that I love and would like to continue being friends with.
A fellow cyclist, hearing my bonk-y freak-out as I tried to compose said text message, reached into his jersey pocket and pulled out a warm Chobani yogurt he had been carrying around all day. He said, “You can get some water inside and you can have this yogurt if you want it.” And as if on cue it started raining again.
Can I just say that that was the most delicious yogurt I ever sucked through a straw (no one has a spoon) while standing in the rain outside a gas station.
It was about ten miles to Idaho Springs. Tammy texted me and asked if I wanted her to come get me, but I felt like I probably needed a bit more “me time” to compose my emotions and like the yogurt work it’s magic. After taking about 15 minutes to get my head together, I set off in the direction of Idaho Springs…just as the sky opened up into a torrential thunderstorm. Funny thing was I was actually feeling pretty ok. That yogurt did the trick! So when Dina pulled up next to me and asked if I wanted a ride, I said no thanks and had a fast fun ride into Idaho Springs (I did hook up with two other cyclists who were racing in the same direction).
Upon arrival at Idaho Springs, filthy and soaking wet, I found my compadres “waiting out the storm” in a local brew pub.
While I was game to ride the 30ish miles back to Evergreen, once I was warm and dry, and all my other buddies decided they had had enough, I determine that 78 miles and 7600 feet of climbing was probably good for the day (70 mile ride my ass!). We drove back to the condo to spend the night eating breakfast for dinner and hanging out in our pajamas.
Tammy and Dina love Boulder. From what I can tell it is their favorite place in Colorado, and they have several friends there. So that night we determined that the next day we would go to their favorite breakfast place in Boulder, then re-connect with Carrie and Sean and do a fun ride there.
Day 3 Boulder -> Ward
The next morning while drinking coffee on the back patio in the cool dry morning air, I determined that I wasn’t completely psyched to ride over another mountain (which is pretty unusual for me). Dina got up and was online looking for a good ride. I made it clear that I didn’t want to do anything that looked like Guanella pass. We decided on a 40 mile ride from Boulder to Ward (Lefthand Canyon).
We rented an E-Bike for Dina. While Dina rides, she rarely rides with Tammy and I and would not be able to stay with the group on the climbs, but with an E-Bike she could stay with the group, but still get a workout since it is a power assist and not a motorbike. I have to say that this was a really cool idea and worked out great (but for one tiny incident that I will address in a moment).
In order to get to Lefthand Canyon we turned onto Old Stagecoach road. This was the first climb of the day and it wasn’t long, but hell, it was not what I was looking for after the previous days ride. It was a mile and a half of 6-10% grades. When I got over that hill I told Carrie, “If this is the ride we are doing, I will go back to the coffee shop and wait on you guys.” Dina assured us that this was just a short-cut to Lefthand Canyon and we could avoid the hill on the way back.
I would not hesitate to recommend the Boulder to Ward ride (but avoid Old Stagecoach and just take 36 to Lefthand Canyon Drive). The average grade was 5%, which is a really nice climb. The road was tree lined a with little traffic, and most of the way had a breakdown lane for us to ride in. It really wasn’t bad climbing and the weather was perfect.
While the signs indicated it was 10 miles to Ward, this is a lie. It was 11 miles. While this wasn’t off by 40 miles like the day-before’s ride, we were all pre-dehydrated and it was a warm dry day on which we started late morning. I found myself rationing my water to finish it at mile 10 (which I did). There was a spring at the top of the canyon where I could get more water and a General Store for supplies, but the last mile and a half had an average 9% grade with a short section at 15% (good times!), and I had no water (I think everyone was rationing their water on this climb). Oh, did I mention it started raining on us again right at the steepest part? And because we started late when it was already warm when we started, I neglected to bring my jacket. Yay!
So just as I got to the fresh spring to fill up my water-bottles and not 1/4 mile from the General Store which I could see in the distance, the sky just opened up. Carrie and I ended up holed-up under a near-by tree waiting for the storm to pass. Because the rest of the group didn’t catch up to us, we figured they were probably holed-up somewhere, too (they were).
Once the rain let up to a bit of a drizzle, Carrie and I decided to get to the General Store. I discovered that there is no way to look cool trying to get re-started on your bike on a steep incline on wet roads. See, you have to get enough momentum to get clipped into you pedals without falling over, but you can’t actually start pedaling until you are clipped-in the pedals. So you end up with several false starts.
- Clip in with the right foot.
- Pull the pedal up to the 12:00 o’clock position.
- Push down hard to start rolling (but going up a 10% incline).
- In the microsecond before you stop moving, lift your left foot high and try to get clipped into the other pedal (which is now at 12:00 o’clock).
- Quickly put your left foot back on the ground before you fall over.
- Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.
- (At this point you are pretty much using your bike as a scooter)
I decided to paperboy it.
- Wait until traffic is clear in each direction.
- Turn you bike sideways so you are facing across the street.
- Clip in with your right foot.
- Pull the pedal up to the 12:00 o’clock position.
- Push down hard to start rolling across the street (which is flat).
- Clip in with your left foot and turn fast before you ride into a ditch.
We got to the general store where I got some chocolate pop-tarts and a V-8. So yummy (I’m fairly certain this is what serious athletes eat).
The rain pretty much stopped and Tammy and Dina met us at the General Store (Sean had already headed back to the coffee shop). Now we would be descending for 11 miles. There was a short argument between Tammy, Carrie, and I about who sucks the worst on descents. Then we started down.
I quickly lost sight of Tammy and Dina as they raced down the canyon. Then Carrie passed me (told ya I sucked). Then after a few minutes the street started becoming noticeably drier and I was able to relax a bit and it started to become a lot more fun. Weeeeee! Then I passed Carrie!
We stopped at the intersection of Old Stagecoach (which we would not be taking home) and Lefthand Canyon to regroup. Where we determined that Tammy is full of [:poop], but Carrie did indeed suck at descents worse than Red (if anyone one knows of a local bike handling skills course that will teach me how to descend without being a danger to myself and others, please leave it in the comments).
The rest of the ride back to Boulder was a gentle descent that made you think you were on a flat road but a real badass. When we got to Rt 36, it is a straight shot to downtown Boulder, so I passed Tammy and Dina to pull the group. When I looked back, I was very surprised to see that I had dropped everyone, so I slowed down and waited. Tammy said that she had to wait for Dina. What?! She’s on an E-bike, how the hell did we drop her?!
The tiny problem with an E-bike: Apparently, E-Bikes are electronically limited at 25mph, so once you exceed 25 mph, the power cuts off. This probably wouldn’t have been as big as deal if the bike didn’t weigh 50 pounds. But a fifty pound bike with no power would be like dragging an anchor. Every time we exceeded 25mph, Dina lost all power.
We slowed down and all rode back into town together.
The ride was a nice 42 miles with 4000 feet of climbing.
So while I could not do the Triple Bypass, I got in 162 miles and 14,200 feet of climbing.
Not too shabby!