By Bill Plock
In 2010 in the middle of Iowa, near the old Lincoln Highway (there is a significance to the Lincoln highway related to the Triple) it really struck me how iconic the Triple Bypass is. I was riding RAGRAI, the annual bike ride across Iowa that attracts about 20,000 people on a week long journey of some endurance, some partying, some crazy and lots and lots of people watching. You see about every kind of bike jersey ever produced. What struck me, was besides the RAGBRAI jerseys, there was no jersey more prevalent than Triple Bypass jerseys. I think I counted about 15 different versions.
In other words, in an event where people from all over the country want to perhaps showcase that they “can ride a bike”, apparently proof of conquering the Triple is a badge of honor!
Indeed its reputation is warranted with the trek up Squaw, Loveland and Vail passes connected by what I think is the hardest part of the course—the jaunt from Idaho Springs to the tunnel with false flats, some punchy climbs and not much relief for the longest stretch of uphill on the route. All in all it’s a 126 mile trek climbing more than 10,000 feet.
The Triple Bypass began in 1988 when a group of cyclists thought it would be fun to ride from Evergreen to Vail, when it was pretty much impossible to legally ride between the front range and Vail along the I-70 corridor. Riders used to have to ride on I-70 until just a few years ago when a bike path was built from Bakersville to the Loveland ski area.
But if we re-wind history just a bit more, the Triple Bypass actually follows much of an historic auto trail called the Victory Highway which later became, basically US40 which much of I-70 follows.
In the early 1900’s there were no roads built with the idea of connecting across the nation. In 1912 a group formed to build the coast to coast Lincoln Highway which was basically a connection of roads and trails that led people from New York to San Fransisco. The route utilized Southern Wyoming to cross through the Rockies. Much like when the Trans Continental Railroad was built, Colorado was left out, short of spur of road (and rail) that led to Wyoming. But we didn’t have our own route through the Rockies connecting us to the East and West.
As a competitor of sorts the Lincoln Highway, in 1921 another group formed the Victory Highway Association connecting other roads, trails and paths across the country including some through Colorado. The Victory Highway cut a path used by both US6 and US40 forming most of the I-70 corridor we use today. By 1926 the government started United States Numbered Highway System and the Victory Highway went away.
In 1961 the first portion of I-70 opened in Colorado. Planning the route through the mountains happened in the early 60’s and the first bore of the Eisenhower tunnel started in 1968 and was completed in 1973 and the second bore wasn’t open until 1979.
Another interesting fact to think about as we bypass the tunnel heading over Loveland pass; (this part courtesy of Wikipedia) “the tunnel construction became unintentionally involved in the women’s rights movement when Janet Bonnema was accepted for an engineering technician position in the construction of the Straight Creek Tunnel in 1970. Bonnema was restricted from entering the tunnel itself, however, due to the miners’ superstition that women who entered underground mines and tunnels would bring bad luck. In 1972 Bonnema filed a $100,000 class action suit against the Colorado Department of Transportation, citing Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. As Colorado voters had passed the Equal Rights Amendment that year, the state settled Bonnema’s case out of court for $6,730. Bonnema entered the tunnel for the first time on November 9, 1972, prompting 66 workers to temporarily walk off the job; most returned the next day. She continued with the project until the tunnel opened.”
So as we ride the Triple on Saturday, think of all the engineering, politics and history that make this ride just that much more special!