In the Saddle: Copper Triangle
VAIL I’ll never look at Vail Pass the same way again.Any cyclist knows that you develop a whole new appreciation for terrain when you cycle through it; especially in the mountains, elevation takes on a whole new meaning when you use your own power versus simply pressing the gas pedal.I knew, simply from having driven Vail Pass in many weather conditions and in many vehicles, that it’s steep and relentless; I’ve earned a speeding ticket for hurtling down the pass westbound. But I’d never ridden it on a bicycle.Last weekend, however, I joined the annual Copper Triangle, a 78-mile gruntfest from Copper Mountain to Leadville to Minturn and back to Copper. The ride crests three high passes – Fremont (11,318 feet), Tennesee (10,424 feet) and Vail (10,666 feet) – but there’s no question that Vail Pass is the crux and climax of the ride.There’s also no question that the organizers planned it that way. Copper Mountain, with its gigantic parking lot and abundant lodging, is a perfect staging area for such an event. But for a rider it makes all the difference to have the most punishing climb at the end of the day, after you’ve already ridden two other passes, 55 miles and more than 2,500 vertical feet. From the Minturn exit on Interstate 70, where the Copper Triangle starts its final ascent, it’s about 16 miles and more than 3,000 vertical feet to the Vail Pass summit. It’s a gentle cruise through Vail proper, but it gets steeper as you go. By the time the last road turns to bike path, you’re wondering how many miles are left and when the familiar gunsight of the top will appear. It’s the worst possible state of mind for a cyclist (but familiar to every cyclist) – there’s always another bend, another rise, until you’re ready to weep. I might have wept on this climb, if it weren’t for all the hard-bodied females in close proximity.There’s a lot that you don’t see from the road, including beautiful lakes, peaceful woods and stream crossings hidden from the interstate. The scenery, of course, helps to pass the time.Clif Shots and other artificial stimulants help to pass the miles; I somehow spun over Vail Pass in decent shape and finished the race with enough energy to meet a friend for beers and a huge pulled-pork sandwich.It was a great way to spend a summer morning – and I’ll never look at Vail Pass the same way.