Do you see things a little differently?

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

I have been to the Mountain...

It has been good to take a break from everyday activities. Sometimes we get so caught up in the details of what we do all of the time, that we forget to look at the bigger picture. This trip afforded the opportunity to step back and look at the big picture.

This year's trip was centered around a bicycle ride called "The Triple Bypass". The ride consists of two separate legs, the first going from Evergreen to Avon, and the second making the return trip. The traditional ride is day one, going west. The west to east route is new this year, with up to 800 participants able to sign up for both rides. We entered the lottery for day one (Saturday), and hoped for the best. The plan included riding with friends, some of who have done the ride before. With what I consider to be exceptional luck, we all managed to gain entry to Saturday's ride.

Katy and I left Illinois on Friday night, attempting to get a few hours travel out of the way. We made it to Iowa City for the night and settled in at the local Holiday Inn. 
The next morning we continued on to Estes Park, making it there just before the KOA office closed.  We parked the truck and camper for the week and settled in.
The plan was to acclimate to the higher elevations before taking on the 3 mountain passes.  On Sunday we went to Bear Lake for a hike. The hike was fun and proved that the air really is thinner there.
Some friends in Estes recommended a nice loop to begin acclimation which was about 11 miles with nothing more serious than an 8% grade.
By the middle of the week, we had done a ride through the Rocky Mountain National Park, and things were looking up. Here I have a series of photos from that ride using the gopro. The shots are taken every 60 seconds, from the handlebars of the bike.

On Friday the 8th of July, we packed up the camper and truck, and headed for Longmont, to the house of our new friends Tom and Holley. There we met up with our other friends from the Midwest who were out there to do the Triple. We all took a short spin around Longmont to help the new arrivals get their mountain legs, then Katy and I headed to Avon where we had a two night stay at Beaver Creek resort. The room included a ride to the start making it the obvious choice.

Saturday morning we caught the bus to Evergreen at 4:30am. We wondered how the bikes would be transported, and I figured they would have some kind of trailer.  How wrong I was....
Turns out that those bars you use when standing, actually worked okay to hold the bikes. Bit of a pain to load, but hey, the bus got us to the start.

Katy and I missed the other guys, so we started on the ride. About 10 miles up the hill, we caught up with the gang. We continued a few more miles, then it happened.  Katy had not been feeling that great to start, but at this point it really kicked in. After a bit of discussion, it was agreed that the symptoms indicated altitude sickness, and the climb to about 9000' after a bus ride that needed Dramamine, put her over the edge. Fortunately a SAG truck came up right then, and she was able to catch a ride back to Avon.

I continued with the group up Squaw Pass to the first aid station. By the time I hit the top, the temperature had dropped at least 30 degrees and the wind was adding some additional chill. Fortunately the group had warned me, and I had leg, and arm warmers in the Camelbak. I also zipped up the windbreaker, and we continued down the first pass. For the record, I really LOVE descents. We all coasted down twisting roads, and switchbacks enjoying the payback for the long hard climb until we reached the bottom. This is the first time, I actually was a little tired from doing a descent. The descents go on for miles and can take a long time. This is not the Midwest! I took some more pictures with the GoPro, and managed to capture some of the route.

The next challenge to conquer was Loveland Pass. We continued on with a climb to the highest pass of the ride. After going through Old Georgetown, we were soon on the most incredible bike trail I've ever seen.  Here we were in the Rocky Mountains, in the middle of nowhere, and we are on a fabulous paved path through the woods heading for Loveland Pass. The Loveland Pass aid station was at the end of the wooded trail, so we rolled in and took a break. Once we started again, I learned that we weren't quite to the top. From the aid station, we continued on to a road, which proceeded to wind up the mountain with steep switchbacks, and breath taking views. By this time, I was starting to tire a bit, and was the last one up to the top. We paused to catch our breath and admire the view before heading down.

I was the first down again (love those descents), and continued on to the next much smaller climb prior to the next aid station. I stopped briefly at the top and the group caught up. We coasted down to the High School aid station and took a much needed break. Once rested everyone started on to the final mountain pass.  I was still a bit out of it, and dropped back as we pedaled on. Later I found out the others had stopped in Copper Mountain for a coffee, but I missed them as I pedaled through. I continued to climb to Vail Pass following another bike trail. It really amazes me that there are bike trails everywhere in Colorado, while in the Midwest, we are lucky to get more than a few inches of road beyond the white line. As I climbed, the temperature started to drop. By the time I hit the Vail aid station, Clouds had moved in, and thunder was starting to rumble between the peaks. I stopped briefly at the aid station to throw on everything I had, including my rain coat. I had been told that from this point forward, the ride was essentially all downhill, and in good weather this would be a very enjoyable end to a long ride. Drops of rain were starting to fall, and I hoped to hit the downhill and out ride the storm that was building. I started down the final descent and all hell broke loose. The rain was coming down in torrential sheets. The path down had started on a road, but soon changed to another bike trail. I rode the brakes to slow my descent in the downpour as rain water and gravel sluiced across the bike trail. In very short order, I was soaked from head to foot. The only thing keeping me from complete shock was the raincoat helping to keep my core warm. As I rode, I noticed one group of people had abandoned their bikes and taken cover in some pine trees. This was briefly considered, but I figured there wouldn't be enough cover to keep me warm at that point. A bit later I hit a tight turn that went under I-70. Apparently still able to think, I slowed, realizing there may be people taking shelter under the road. Thinking a few people might be there, was an under statement. The entire trail was packed with people under both sides of the highway.  I also stopped to wait out the worst of the downpour. While waiting a quick check of radar (thank you Android!), showed the storm was halfway through.  About 15 minutes later, the rain lightened and the worst seemed to be done. It wasn't going to get any warmer just standing there, and I was not expecting a SAG truck on the bike trail, so off I went. There were a few other brave souls continuing down the mountain on the wet roads. It took everything I had to keep the handlebars going straight. The shivering was literally making the entire bike shimmy as I rode. The trail continued on to frontage roads, and at one point, there was a twist of the frontage road under I-70.  It looked like every SAG truck from the ride was right there! For a moment, I considered stopping, but there were so many riders waiting, I figured it would be just as fast to finish the ride, so again I continued on. After what seemed like countless round-a-bouts, and a steady stream of cursing in my head, the end of the ride appeared to me as a right turn arrow.  I rounded the corner, and there was Katy with camera in hand, ready to capture the moment. 
I completed the final turn, and rolled in to the finish with 15 minutes to spare before the ride cutoff.  For my trouble, I received a bike chain medallion that states "Triple Bypass  For those who Dare".  On to the shower and a night of sleep that involved passing out, more than falling asleep.

Sunday we met up with the group for a brunch. We met Dan and Tim, local friends of the group, who had also completed the ride. It was a lot of fun, and  again convinced me that we know some of the best people.  The plan was to stay in the Vail area and do some more biking, but it quickly became apparent that Katy was not dealing with the altitude. She still had a headache, and was very much out of it.  We abandoned plans to stay in Vail, and headed for lower altitudes. Katy found a campground in Longmont, so we headed there, and set up camp.  A good nights sleep, and she was fully recovered.  We did our own ride through the area, enjoying beautiful scenery, and fine biking, then packed up again and headed for Greeley. The campground there was nothing special, but the town is a college town, which meant good food so there we stayed.

On Tuesdays we headed over to Tom's house to do the Ward ride.  This ride starts with about 18 miles of continuous climb, going up 4000 feet.  The town at the top of the climb can barely be called that, but there is a tiny general store with water, a porta-john, and fresh baked cookies that were delicious. We continued past Ward following a gentle downhill slope that takes you through some of the most amazing scenery.  This leg of riding made the whole trip worth it. I took some more pictures attempting to capture some of that beauty, but they don't really do it justice.  Once we finished the descent from Ward, our final stop was to a local brewpub for a beverage and social chat.

We followed up this interlude with a 7 mile sprint to Tom's house as a storm with something personal against us, seemed to be chasing. Later that night we all enjoyed a final dinner together before heading back to our "real" lives.

That sums up the trip.  I hope you enjoy the pictures.  We would especially like to thank Tom, Holly, Dan, Shelley, Tim, and Sandy for all of the hospitality and offers of help when dealing with Katy's altitude issues. The world would be a much better place if everyone was as thoughtful and helpful as them.