Monday, August 8, 2011

Copper Triangle fun

Last weekend Susan and I achieved one of our big goals - riding in the Copper Triangle bike ride. The ride is 80 miles long (in one day!) and climbs 6,000 vertical feet over 4 ascents in Summit and Eagle counties in Colorado. This was a race that I had wanted to do last summer but had to pass on when I got sick with my lung problems from the Bleomycin. This spring when I went through the intense BEAM chemo protocol and got my stem cell transplant, we decided to aim for this as a big  milestone celebrating my return to health and our collective return to a life of activity with less focus on medical issues. I'd done the ride in 2009 and really liked it. For Susan, this would be the longest and hardest ride she had ever under taken. We both worked hard in June and July getting ready for the race, culminating in a 73 mile, 5400 ft of vertical training ride in Boulder County last weekend. After that ride I was pretty confident that we would be OK but we were both pretty anxious about whether we would get through the ride successfully.

Here in Colorado in the summer there's always a risk of afternoon rain so most rides start pretty early. The CT is no exception. We were on our bikes and starting the course at 6:01 am Saturday morning. We had a brief thunderstorm the night before but the sun came up at about 5:45 with no clouds in sight. The starting temperature in Copper Mountain at 9300 ft was in the low 50s which was quite warm compared to previous years. Right out of the start the course climbs for about 12 miles to the top of Fremont Pass at 11,200 ft. We had done this part of the course in a training ride so we were both comfortable with the climb. From Fremont Pass you're treated to a 6-8 mile fun descent that goes down about 2,000 vertical feet. Imagine yourself on your bike at 7:15 on a Saturday morning, the sun out, a brilliant blue sky, snow capped mountains surrounding the valley, wild flowers by the side of the road, the quiet hum of hundreds of cyclists zipping down the road. Next, compare this to spending 32 days in a row sitting in a room at the infusion clinic getting toxic chemicals squirted into your chest, transfusions, nausea, etc. Quite a contrast! Although my fingers were kind of hurting from the cold temperatures and some 35 mph descending, I was pretty euphoric about being out on the ride with Susan. The course is very, very scenic - here's a photo of some of the mountains around Fremont Pass:
The ride over to Minturn through Tennessee Pass and over Battle Mountain was really fun as well. We did see one bike accident coming down from Battle Mountain. A girl hit a rough patch of pavement and went down. We saw her sitting by the side of the trail getting care and she looked OK. But we did ride over a pool of her bright red blood on the road which was pretty sobering. Last month a cyclist died coming down this same mountain pass in another bike tour so it's a place where you have to pay attention to what you're doing on the bike. So down from that pass in one piece and all the way down to about 7700 ft in Minturn. Then, the big grind - 20 miles of road, 2400 feet of vertical up to the top of Vail Pass at about mile 72 of the ride. We were both feeling pretty perky up to the East Vail aid station. From there, it's about 8 miles to the top of Vail Pass and I think that no matter how fit you are, at this point in the ride you're suffering a bit. Early in the ride there's a lot of chatting on the bike as you and 4,000 of your closest friends grind up the mountains and fly down the other side. But on Vail Pass, the cyclists are pretty quiet. There's a bit of suffering going on which I really like. Nothing like shared pain to remind you that you're alive and doing something hard! At this point I thought of a couple of people I had known during my chemo treatments that have passed away. It was another powerful moment to call out their names (Roy and Mary!) and think about how thankful I am that I could be out there sharing it with Susan. We both cried a bit as we got to the top of Vail Pass. A celebration of life, of companionship, of love, of hard work and creating a realty (Fra Jaad would call it a narrative) where we can do this together. Super powerful and yes, we did pass some people going up Vail Pass and that made me feel pretty good!

Over the top and a 6 mile coast down into Copper Triangle. A few hours later and here's a look at us enjoying the post ride dinner with our friend Suzi:

So in summary, a very, very happy day. After 4 months of training we achieved our goal. We weren't the fastest around the course - but we weren't the slowest, either. It was a special day. The goal now is to do this ride every August for another 20 years or so! Consider yourself invited to the 2012 CT; I would love to have you along for the ride next year!


  1. Congrats! This was the first year I did the CT and it was an amazing experience. Looking forward to next year.