If you watch this video, you might think that riding the Triple Crown** is a bit like a sunny walk in the park (three parks I guess). And in some ways I suppose it could be if you waited for perfect weather, took your time, eased gently up the slopes, chatting away to your friends, and taking in the views along the way.
The reality of this ride is generally much different and feels more like trench warfare than anything resembling a walk in the park with some friends. Sunday’s ride definitely fit the bill… so what did it feel like for me?
Anticipation: After being cooped up in the house for three days under rainy June skies, the window of good weather was looking razor thin. A last-minute decision to have a go at the Triple Crown left only a day of waiting, which was just enough to get the mind churning. Who would show up for the ride? Would the weather hold? How much was it going to hurt? Did I have enough to eat? Would I be slower than last time?
Tug-of war: Rarely does the sight of cloudy skies cause me joy, but after days of biblical rain, it was all that was needed to get me out of the house. The ride to the meetup point was like a tug-of-war with myself. Feeling fresh, I wanted to hit the gas, but was held back by the familiar voice of future me. In this case future me was calling to me from halfway up Mt. Seymour reminding me of the pain I was in, urging me to save every ounce of energy I could.
Kinship: Everyone showed up. And then some. A quick scan of the faces revealed that everyone was keen, yet anxious for the big ride ahead. A great dynamic groups of five riders all willing to push themselves and each other up the North Shore slopes.
Steadiness: The initial pace was perfect. Fast enough to wake up the legs, but not yet suicidal, with the exception of the usual Strava segment sprints between stop signs. We moved along together, with good rhythm, completely in sync through the approaches to all three mountains and on the flatter sections in between. The hills themselves were a different sensation altogether.
Self-Defeat: No matter how many times I ride the Triple Crown, each time I hit the first climb, I find myself wondering if I will make it to the end. I have yet to quit, but there is always that lingering feeling that perhaps I will crack, turn around and head for home.
Roller Coaster: The terrain seems to undulate with my mental state. At the base of each climb, when the legs start to get that dull sting my wind wanders to images of my future self suffering halfway up the climb. By the time I hit the halfway point, my mood turns up causing me to crank up the pace. This then throws me back into feelings of self-doubt as I approach the final couple of kilometres, and is followed by feelings of exuberance as I crest the summit, legs screaming.
Mind Reading: Time spent thinking about what other people are thinking. I’m told that this unique ability is what separates humans from the rest of the animal kingdom. I spend an inordinate amount of time in this mental state on the Triple Crown quietly pondering… Does everyone else hate me right now for choosing this route? Is Dave starting to get tired? Does Bart think he’s going to blow up before the summit? Is he sandbagging and waiting for the last kilometer? Is he going to drop me… again?
Frigid and Wet: Hammering through the fog over the top of Cypress is a common occurrence, but is a good way to cool down before catapulting back down the mountain… or so I thought. This argument doesn’t hold much water when it starts to rain at the summit. The sensation of water beading up on my shins an wind howling through my thin summer vest, knowing that just a few hundred meters down the road, it was dry and calm.
Uneasy reprieve: There is a brief moment about halfway down the first summit when my legs have stopped screaming and I forget that there are still two mountains to go. This is never as sweet as the final descent, as it is quickly followed up with the reminder of what’s to come.
Will it ever end?: Capilano Road is just a short little climb compared to Cypress and Seymour, yet not matter what order you do the Triple Crown, it is always wedged nicely in the middle. There is that final section between the Cleveland Dam and the Grouse Skyride, that never seems to end. Its deceptive corners and ever-increasing grade always trick me into thinking it’s almost over when it’s not. Hunting for more gears, grinding past the tour buses wondering if it will ever end. It does.
Throw in the Towel: This pretty much sums up the feeling on the transit between Grouse and Seymour. There are so many great places to stop along the way. Head straight down Capilano Road, hang a left and head home. Avoid the Mt. Seymour turnoff and head to Deep Cove for a doughnut. Pack it in at the base of Seymour and enjoy a coffee while gazing up at what might have been.
I’ll take anything: There are not many times when being struck by a car seems like a good alternative to riding. The approach into Mt. Seymour can sometimes elicit this response in me. At least the ditch would be a nice place to rest the legs. OK maybe not a car, but a minor mechanical, small enough to fix at home, but big enough to call off the ascent. A random, low impact sideswipe from a deer running across the road perhaps? Anything.
Suffer in silence: Between the zero KM marker and the Seymour summit, less than a dozen words were spoken on this particular ride. Somewhere around the 6km mark, someone muttered something about having spotted a 3-point buck— possibly a hallucination. I don’t recall who said what, but it was brief and uninspired. Grinding it out, side by side, two riders suffering in silence.
Quitting on the next corner: By the time we hit the first switchback, I had convinced myself that I would not be going to the top that day. Silent prayers for torrential rain or mechanical problems were not being answered. Each km marker I planned my exit and my excuse, but each time I convinced myself to keep the pedals turning over.
Please don’t be accelerating: Each time my riding companion stood up, shifted, or sped up I wondered if he was attacking, accelerating, or just stretching his legs. I was overcome with temporary panic each time this happened. Perhaps he wondered the same thing of me.
Last ditch: The final km on Seymour was completely fogged in which made it impossible to see the finish line. I decided I had enough gas for 30 more seconds. It was not enough and I watch helplessly as I was overtaken just a few metres from the imaginary finish line.
Empathy: Seeing fellow competitors climbing up the hill as you descend is a sweet feeling. Seeing your fellow teammates do this is just painful. It’s like reliving the climb all over again.
Bittersweet: Hitting the bottom of Seymour, and the end of the ride is sweet for about 3 or 4 seconds. There is some satisfaction with having done it, but it is quickly followed by the realization that the personal bar has been met or perhaps exceeded (to be confirmed by Strava of course) and will have to be met once again…
**Truth be told, we did not ride up the gravel road on the way up to Grouse Mountain like the Rapha guys. Instead, we opted for the Capilano Road summit. To make up for it, we did two things: 1) Saved face by not riding down the skyride, and 2) Rode from Grouse to Seymour via Montroyal Blvd, Braemar / Dempsey and the Seymour Demo Forest (an extra 250m of climbing).