By Bill Plock
August 23, 2021–What makes the Triple Bypass ride so epic? Other rides like the Copper Triangle traverse three mountain passes? Rides like the Steamboat Gravel are longer, gorgeous, and well is on gravel after all. Each is epic, an overused word probably, each is well run and organized, but there is just something unique about the Triple.
One is history. Cyclists have been climbing those three passes between Evergreen and Vail (it used to finish in Avon) since 1988. Until the bike path connecting Bakerville to the Loveland ski area was built in 2010, riders had to ride on I-70. Only participating in the Triple Bypass made it possible to complete the voyage as cyclist were prohibited on I-70. Today you can do the ride unsupported thanks to the bike path, but it won’t be nearly as much fun, or as safe.
Riding the Triple requires a fair bit of planning, logistics, agility and flexibility. But it offers great rewards in scenery and most of all camaraderie. Somehow the 110 miles mesh into remembrances of conversations on the bike and in the aid stations separated by head down periods of quiet climbing and sharing the work with others in the same boat.
Planning builds anticipation. It brings the event to you in doses before the first pedal stroke. You have to figure out how to get to the start and back since it’s not a loop. Many stay the night in the mountains and return Sunday. Some even ride back. It requires most to team up with someone or a group which leads to a stronger feeling of being part of something bigger than yourself.
By agility and flexibility I mean planning for everything and counting on making changes on the fly. The weather variety alone requires many people to throw a bag on their bike for extra clothes, or in the case of 303’s ambassador, Sasha Underwood, craft a vest out of a trashbag.
Temperatures can swing wildly from 30 to 95 degrees. Because of the distance and threat of historically predictable thunderstorms, pre-dawn start times mean a cold first descent from Echo Lake to Idaho Springs. Thus the trashvest came in quite handy and was easily stowed and not really needed again-but good to have just in case!
Thanks to well timed and well stocked aid stations there isn’t a need to carry much nutrition luckily. But there is a temptation to linger and possibly tighten up a bit too much before heading out on the next climb so carrying some nutrition helps keep the pace. A bento box is nice to store easily accessible food and leave your pockets stuffed only for necessities.
Mental agility is overlooked I believe. The name Triple Bypass is deceiving. It represents the three main passes of course; Juniper (a.k.a Squaw), Loveland and Vail. But those hardly tell the story and mentally it’s easy to forget about the parts in between, which can be very challenging.
The “climb” from Idaho Springs to the Loveland ski area baits you with a feeling of relative easiness after conquering Juniper pass and recovering from the shivers on the 13 mile decent. The rollers on the frontage road hugging Clear Creek and passing through Lawson, Dumont and a number of rafting lodges distracts you enough to forget you are climbing if even relatively little. It’s the ultimate false flat until you get to Georgetown and as they say the “the shit gets real.”
This year they moved the aid station from near the lake at Georgetown to the rest area overlooking the railroad trestle. I must admit, as a train lover, the sound of the whistle and chugging of the big iron wheels motivated me as I chugged up that slightly ass kicking climb from the train station to the rest stop next to I-70.
After some snacks, off we went to what I believe is the hardest part of the ride and requires the most mental gymnastics. It’s easy to look ahead at Loveland Pass as the next big thing. In reality it’s the next 13 miles and 2,000 feet of climbing, before you get you to Loveland Pass that is THE next big thing—that many forget about.
So it’s back on the frontage road climbing to Bakerville at a steeper rate than earlier and then on to the bike path (the one built in 2010). Don’t let the sudden peacefulness of the black ribbon of pavement cutting through the woods fool you. There are some punchy climbs and decisions that burn a few matches. Like, do you pass a long string of cyclists or stay put. If you pass, you gotta hit it because some one might be coming down.
It’s also mentally tough because the climb before the pass doesn’t offer a visual destination. “How much longer” dangles around each bend in the never ending forest. Eventually you shoot out of the shadows and pop into the open and before your eyes is Loveland Pass—and lunch!
It may not be ideal to pound a couple of delicious sandwiches before climbing Loveland Pass, but in reality its a very similar profile to climbing Lookout mountain and is a relatively gentle four miles to the summit. Altitude is the biggest foe here and luckily for us, the weather couldn’t have been better. The lack of any wind was surprising.
As a veteran of this ride, I knew, for the most part, the hard of the day was over. Swan mountain loomed as a 500 foot, often hot, short 8% finish but for the most part the bulk of climbing was over. I had forgotten they moved the last aid station a bit closer to Copper Mountain to a church in the woods on the bike path. I had to mentally forego the desire for some Oreos and a Coke a little longer. (My only compliant was not having Coke, but using Shasta, a first world problem:))
The climb up Vail pass seems to go fairly quickly on the tranquil bike path and while the top isn’t revealing, it’s suddenly there after passing under the highway.
It’s all down hill to the finish and ending at the Ford Park in Vail was a nice way to end rather than tour the Vail valley traditionally ending in Avon. It felt like a bonus not to have to fight a typical headwind going downhill after achieving so much. There was no reward in the extra miles to Avon.
Looking back, I can’t remember a ride that long feeling so safe. I don’t recall Loveland Pass being entirely closed in previous years but that was nice. There were virtually no cars on the frontage road between Idaho Springs and Georgetown and with the uphill of Squaw Pass road being closed, as well as Swan mountain, the rest of the ride was on bike paths. Any nervousness came from fellow cyclists pushing the downhills or maybe not paying attention in tight spots—but that was far and few between.
The Triple Bypass is an accomplishment of more than just an endurance ride. It’s mental perseverance and constant adjustments of expectations with spectacular reminders of nature’s beauty and of our strength to keep pedaling.