In the bicycle world, people think of Lance Armstrong and the Tour de France. In that race over two weeks and 2,100 miles, men and machines pound out thousands of miles and endless vertical feet of climbs over 8,000 foot passes. They sweat, crash, endure pain and push themselves to the limit. In all, they make the front pages of newspapers. They become heroes. Women idolize them. They make a lot of money and they inspire the rest of us mere mortals.
In the mountain bike racing world, Americans think of the Leadville 100 Mountain Bike Race where riders must endure four 12,000 foot mountain passes with one 13,000 foot pass, single dirt tracks, 24 percent inclines, power line culverts 18 inches deep, in 100 miles, and in 12 hours to gain a silver buckle. I've competed against Lance Armstrong and ridden in that race four times. At the finish line, I felt like I had died and gone to hell. Few know how much physical energy, calories and sheer guts it takes to finish the Leadville 100. I cried, laughed and thanked my parents for giving me the gumption and determination to finish everything I start. Lance came in seven hours earlier than I did! For the rest of us humans, just to finish puts us in a class all by ourselves in the world.
Yet this summer, some of my friends and I devised a race we called the "Double Quadruple Bypass Bicycle Challenge." It started in Frisco, Colorado at 8,000 feet to proceed 100 miles over four passes all over 10,500 to 11,300 feet. It's a big loop that leads back to Frisco. Total vertical exceeded 11,000 feet each day and 22,000 feet and 200 miles in two days. The Tour de France features nothing close to the challenges on this ride in two days.
From Frisco, the ride grinds up Vail Pass 10,600 followed by Battle Summit Mountain Pass 10,800, to Tennessee Pass up to 10, 152 foot Leadville and on to 11, 318 foot Freemont Pass. After each pass, the road drops 2,000 to 3,000 feet. Time: 12 hours of busting our tail feathers, legs and minds on a ride through exquisite Rocky Mountain High Country.
On this ride, we faced heat, rain, lightning, thirst, hunger and sheer ecstasy of bicycle travel in the High Country of Colorado. You want to ride with us? "Yes!" you cry out. "I want to feel my body pulsing with energy and I want to ride my bike on one of the toughest two day rides in America." Okay dudes, let's step into the clips and be on our way.
At 7:00 a.m., we met at the parking lot on the river at the west end of Frisco. By 7:30, we headed over the bridge of the white water river crashing down from Freemont Pass. I stuck on Scott Poindexter's back wheel as a wheel-sucker, drafting expert. If I could stay with him, I could be pulled all the way up to the top of Vail Pass.
"Are you in shape for this?" I asked Scott.
"Are you?" he said.
"Piston legs and iron willed determination," I said.
"Let's do it," he said.
We raced along the river with aspen trees beginning to turn colors from bright green to majestic gold. The underbrush turned red, topaz, pink, yellow, green, brown and magenta. The single bicycle path led us past towering rock mountain ramparts on our left and a tunnel of pines and aspens ahead. We passed several small lakes lined with beaver huts. Ahead, the massive ski resort of Copper Mountain showed us "forever" ski runs.
At Copper, we headed up a lone trail to the top of Vail Pass. It followed another river with rocks strewn everywhere along the route. The pavement stood in the middle of I-70. It's a highway of incredible beauty. The pedaling becomes incidental. Up, up and still more up along the winding, curling pavement heading toward the pass.
No doubt, to ride a bicycle up passes this high; a person must be in shape. I train 35 miles per day and about 3,000 feet of vertical to get my legs ready for such a ride. Some people call it "hard work" while I call it "hard play." It's all in the mind. It's how you look at it.
An hour later, as we neared the top, a 60 year old man started talking with us about his life. He had gotten married and divorced with two kids before age 25. He joined the army as a private. Since he earned a college degree, he decided to go to OCS. He became an officer. He served until 40 and then became a police officer for nine years. At 50, he started a waste removal business and now consults all over the world on how to deal with humanity's enormous waste predicament.
At the top of Vail Pass, we stopped for water and trail mix.
He said, "The one thing I've learned as a police officer is not to carry a grudge, not to try revenge and forgive everyone including yourself. We're all human and we're all just getting down the road the best we can."
Scott raced by so I bid adieu to Dave the cop and wished him well. He reminded me of the glories of living. Wisdom does come with age. Also, an appreciation for this gift of life. Nice to meet someone packing everything into his bucket list before he departs the planet.
I raced down the mountain as fast as I could on the western side of Vail Pass. It took me 45 minutes to drop 2,500 feet into Vail. We met Scott's friend Jim at a fast food joint and decided to ride into Minturn on Route 24 headed south. We followed the river crashing through Vail until we cut south on 24. A few miles later, we reached another river racing past Minturn, an old mining and railroad town. They used to turn the locomotives around on a big roundhouse in that town. Old cabins still dot the mountain sides. As with many mountain towns, old trailers and junk dotted the main street and mountain folks don't seem to care about looks or aesthetics.
We stopped into a food festival with 40 different tents and a ton of fun foods. We walked through the area with lots of people, food scents wafting on the air and colorful folks enjoying a Saturday morning. After enjoying ourselves and filling up our water bottles, we headed south along the river toward Battle Summit Mountain Pass.
Gotta' say that riding along a river makes the pedaling incidental. The eternal water rushes over the rocks. The trees grow along the banks. The canyon presents views of rugged rock outcroppings and high gray peaks. It's like following the yellow brick road of reality. It's not so easy, but it's not so bad. Our legs churned on the pedals with the revolution of power, relax, power and relax.
At the bridge crossing the river, we began a strenuous climb. It carved along the mountain side with the river falling away into the valley below. The higher we climbed on this six mile ride to the top, the more beautiful the view. From down on the bottom of the canyon, we saw mountain peaks, vast pine mantles covering the gray rock to the tree line at 12,000 feet. Near the top, we saw 13,000 foot peaks poke into the blue sky.
All the while, sweat poured out of our bodies. Our legs felt the climb. Our minds pressed our legs forward in a kind of a dance, a kind of a romance with the movement of life pulsing through our muscles. You cannot help but get a sense of emotional and spiritual perfection and a sort of trance from climbing a mountain. The road winds like a giant lariat loop while you tick off the miles and the altitude.
We took a break.
"Man, I'm getting really hungry for a tuna sandwich," said Scott.
"You can get one in Leadville," I said. "Maybe Jim, Scott's friend visiting from Oklahoma, could drive ahead and buy some sub sandwiches."
"Sounds good," said Scott. "I'll call him and make the order."
At the top, the "hard play" leveled off and the "gravity motor" took over. I find it difficult to express, but coasting down a mountain pass on a bicycle creates a kind of inner expression of creative joy, of a thrilling cellular rapture, of a living in the moment where my mind clears and the world falls away to perfection. I grasp the brakes to keep my steed under control while I zip around curves and descend back toward the bottom of the canyon again. Where it might take two hours to ride up a pass, it takes 15 minutes emotionally joyful minutes to coast down.
Once on the valley floor, our legs took over again. We pedaled up through the woods, across another river and on through Hale Valley where the 10th Mountain Division once trained for fighting in the Italian Alps in the winter in WWII.
Up ahead, Tennessee Pass beckoned our attention. We leaned into the six percent incline that wound up the mountain for another six miles. Just as they ride in the Tour de France, we average cyclists understand what it takes to make the climb. We needed a steady pace, pressing hard on the pedals and a sense of success to reach the top.
Two hours later, the clouds roared across the heavens and spit upon us. We slapped on the rain jackets and continued the climb. Thankfully, very little traffic passed us. We smashed the pedals until we reached the top of Tennessee Pass where it cleared once again to blue skies. We raced down to the bottom into a wide open valley. Ahead, we saw Mt. Elbert at 14,450 feet along with Mt. Massive at over 14,200 feet and a string of enormous peaks that looked like jagged shark's teeth cutting upward into the sky.
To ride across that ancient valley inspired us like few other visions. Grand, immense, majestic, striking, splendid, magnificent, regal and, really, too amazing to describe. But when I meshed my body, mind and spirit into the scene before me, it spelled total fantasy of living.
Scott and I sliced through the early fall freshness to reach Leadville where Jim, Scott's friend, served us foot longs, which we devoured in the blink of an eye. We talked about the three climbs and the biggest one at 11,318 to go on Freemont Pass.
"Better get our butts in gear," I said. "We're burnin' daylight. I hate riding in the twilight."
"Best be getting on the pedals," Scott said.
"I'll see you guys in Frisco," said Jim.
Jim sped away in his car. We jumped onto our bikes and headed upward toward Leadville. As we turned east, the sun started to dive into the late afternoon sky. At 4:00 p.m., we needed to make an up-river climb of 10 miles to a four-mile climb over Freemont Pass.
Okay, I admit that my body felt the exhaustion, but my legs felt fine. Scott, who keeps in magnificent shape with 125 pushups daily, pounded the pedals before me. But of course, I hit 100 sit ups daily, six days a week, so I'm pretty sound at the core of my body, too.
We reached the four mile sign to the summit. Behind us, ominous dark clouds gathered in the western sky as they headed for us. We hit the pedals for the climb. Half way up, the heavens poured their fury out on us. Scott found a tree to take cover, but I decided to keep pedaling to the top. Rain drenched me, but I cranked the pedals until I made the top where the sky cleared and a beautiful rainbow spread its magic across the eastern sky. Wow! What a day to be alive.
From the top, Scott and I took pictures under the sign for Freemont Pass. We jumped back onto our bikes for a 15 mile coast all the way down to Frisco near dusk. We set our red blinking lights and our head lights on for safety.
At Copper Mountain, we jumped on the river trail for another six miles of gravity powered riding. By 7:00 p.m., we reached the car. What a GREAT feeling of joy to finish the day, four passes, 100 miles and 11,000 vertical feet.
Hungry! You ain't seen anyone hungrier than a starving long distance cyclist! We joined Jim at Ollie's Grill for dinner and to watch the Oklahoma State University Cowboys rack up an 86 to 0 score against Savannah South Institute.
Later, we camped on the Montezuma River where we enjoyed a blazing campfire under a Blue Moon. (Full twice in one month) Once the coals died, we hit the tents and slept like babies.
Next morning, Scott and Jim headed toward Rocky Mountain National Park while I got up early and departed for the start point to finish off the Quadruple Bypass Ride.
At the Frisco parking lot, I oiled the chain, checked all the nuts and bolts, checked the derailleur's, checked the spokes, blew up the tires to 100 pounds, checked my shoes, filled my water bottles, filled my food case-and headed out the opposite direction.
While I felt fine from a good night's sleep, it felt different finishing the ride by myself. Scott and I enjoyed talking along the route on Saturday. Nice fellowship. Nice "power of two" that makes the ride more fun. It would be different on the last day. Just me. Just my mind and emotions and determination to get me down the road. Also, no doubt my body would take a lot of abuse on the second day. As they say, "It's not the first 100 miles that gets you, it's the second 100 miles that will kill you."
"Okay boy, let's get this body over four passes and 100 miles and finalize the Double Quadruple ByPass for 2012," I muttered to myself.
Up the path again along the river I pedaled. At Copper, I headed left toward Freemont Pass. While I coasted down for 15 miles yesterday, I pedaled up for 15 miles today. By early morning, my legs felt strong and I crested the pass at10:30 a.m. Good feeling and the legs felt strong.
I coasted down the long curving road like an eagle that had taken flight from a far away peak. I soared down on smooth asphalt with the Arkansas River beside me. Brilliant gray peaks dominated while the first gold of aspen trees splashed over the mountain sides. Beautiful! Glorious!
At the bottom, I rolled at 18 miles per hour on a 2 percent downhill incline. I pedaled furiously to reach Leadville for the next half hour. At the city limits, I watered up and ate a Cliff Bar. On the road again, I rolled north on Route 24 toward Tennessee Pass. With a slight south wind, I breezed along the flats with great views of Mt. Elbert in back of me.
I raced my bicycle along the fence line until the road began to climb again. Upward to the top of Tennessee Pass, I climbed.
Okay, not bad! I reached the top before noon. From there, I ate more trail mix and drank a lot of water. Not as much fun as having a friend on the ride, but I was on a mission to take all four passes in two days. Those sissies on the Tour de France couldn't stay up with me today! Well, actually, if truth were told, they would be done by now and sitting around with a beer in one hand and a girl on the other hand!
But what is cool, we average citizens can create our own challenges, our own Tour de Mountains, our own Double Quadruple Bypass and know that we are just as alive as the big names who race in the big races. We enjoy ourselves just as much as they do-without fanfare and fame. In the end, any athletic endeavor fulfills any athlete at any sport. Some get joy out of swimming and we all cheered for 17 year old Missy Franklin or Gabby Douglas. Anybody that enjoys a round of golf loves the feeling of that "sweet spot" with a long drive. I even celebrate artists as they paint a beautiful picture or work a sculpture into a masterpiece. That's the joy of this life-self expression for mental and physical expression.
Two passes down and two to go! Legs strong! Body strong! Mind determined!
I roared down from Tennessee Pass. I flew into Hale Valley on thin metal frame with lean spokes and some rubber wrapped around aluminum wheels. Leonardo de Vinci drew the first prototype for a bicycle. His genius works around the world giving folks the ability to enjoy riding, traveling and spiritual connection without an ounce of carbon footprint.
Amazingly, Battle Summit Mountain Pass didn't faze me, but I felt my legs more than ever. I knew that I needed all my strength to make the 18 mile climb up out of Vail ski resort to the top of Vail Pass. Once again, the sun waned in the sky. No rain! That's good.
Down, down, down off that pass into Minturn with the river with me all the way. I turned up the bicycle path toward Vail along I-70.
I cruised through Vail, but the four percent incline quickly changed to six and seven percent as the mountain pass began to get serious. Up, up, up I climbed toward a summit that I knew would not treat me well. Some of the grades on that pass road exceeded 14 to 16 percent. That's Tour de France grades and they prove challenging.
But nobody promised me a garden party for riding two days and 100 miles over 8 passes.
Long ago when I enjoyed the blessings of my dad's mentoring, he said, "Son, if you put yourself into a situation, the only person who will get you out of it is yourself. Be confident and be steady. Keep your nose forward and know you will succeed."
"Thanks dad," I muttered. "Thank you mom."
A person cannot be thankful enough for good parents.
Three hours later, through rock cliffs, mountain sidings, aspens blooming and pines soaring-I pedaled my worn out body and slightly rained out bicycle to the top of Vail Pass.
While it would have been much better to have my friend with me sharing the moment and me sharing in their moment, I felt a sense of accomplishment for summiting 8 passes in two days. I talked to a few people at the top who were astounded when I told them that I had just completed the Double Quadruple Bypass Bicycle Challenge. It doesn't seem like that big a deal, but actually, it equals something grand in my own scheme of things. In the end, for all humans, it only means something to ourselves whether it be a painting, a sculpture, a macramé, at cake or a pan of cookies. It's pretty cool to be living in these times.
I turned my bike "Bambi" downward along the trail off the top of Vail. Hardly any other bikes rolled from the top. Twilight approached. I pulled on my rain jacket for warmth for the last 12 miles down to Frisco. I followed the trail like a cho-cho train following the tracks through the mountains. Trees to the left and rocks to the right.
The path ahead. I followed it. I loved my "gravity motor" ride. It carried me to Copper Mountain and on to the path along the river that led to Frisco. Darn, it felt grand. My exhausted body made it. I felt a little weary, but I felt a bit triumphant.
In the empty parking lot, the darkness raced across the eastern sky. I strapped my bike onto the roof. I drank a swig of water and ate some trail mix. I think I lost three pounds.
"Here's to you Scott for riding with me on Saturday and to all my friends who rode the original Double Quadruple Bypass...Joe, Deric, Steve, Scott, David and more to come. This will be a fun annual event of those who love to ride their bicycles, test their bodies and revel in the joy of the ride and fellowship."
I jumped into my car and drove east toward home and hearth. I looked forward to seeing my wife Sandi so I could share with her the grand adventure of the Double Quadruple Bypass Bicycle Challenge. The night engulfed me as I sped on the expressway headed for home. Life is good!
Frosty Wooldridge has bicycled across six continents - from the
Arctic to the South Pole - as well as eight times across the USA,
coast to coast and border to border. In 2005, he bicycled from the
Arctic Circle, Norway to Athens, Greece. In 2012, he bicycled coast
to coast across America. His latest book is: How to Live a
Life of Adventure: The Art of Exploring the World by Frosty
Wooldridge, copies at 1 888 280 7715/ Motivational program: How to
Live a Life of Adventure: The Art of Exploring the World by Frosty