Words: Cindy Lewellen | Photography: Jake Stangel | Date:
FILM: Droptree Productions
Everyone thought we were crazy. “You’re attempting the Triple Crown? The day before the Fondo?”
“Sure” we replied, a bit cavalier but completely out of ignorance. How hard could it be?
It was hard.
The Triple Crown is loosely defined as the summiting of Vancouver’s Seymour, Grouse and Cypress mountains in one effort. There’s no rule regarding in what order the climbs must be done, only that they have to be completed in one day. Apparently this was no easy task on rested legs and we were coming off two rides the day prior. Throw in Grouse’s gravel road and maybe we were crazy after all.
We met our ride hosts, West Lion Cycling, bright and early at Café Crema in West Vancouver. The coffee didn’t disappoint and after a few handshakes and brief hellos we rolled out alongside our new cycling mates. The skies were blue and the rising sun was already starting to warm our lightly kitted bodies. We formed two lines of riders and chatted with our neighbors as we made our way towards the first ascent, Mt. Seymour. Houses soon outnumbered city buildings then trees outnumbered houses. We climbed a bit then descended a rough, steep, single-lane road, slowed only by sharp switchbacks that took a few in the group by surprise. The road came to an abrupt end at the bottom of the hill. Confusion set in. Was that Seymour, our first climb?
Our stellar host and ride leader, Brian Young, then dismounted his bike and led us down an unassuming path masked by trees and foliage. Invisible to anyone unfamiliar with the area, the path turned into a steep, planked walkway that in turn descended to a dock on Indian Bay. Here, to our surprise, a television crew was at work, watched by a handful of spectators as they prepared to release 10 rescue seals from the Vancouver Aquarium. We watched as the seals were set free from their crates into the bay, some seemingly more excited than others to be back in their natural environment.
Still in awe of what we’d just witnessed, our thoughts of seals switched back to cycling as we retraced our wheels back up the steep, adrenaline rush-inducing hill we’d descended just minutes ago. Shortly after we were at the base of Seymour, a nicely paved 7.6 mile hors category climb with an average gradient of 7.6% over 3,020 feet of elevation. When the pace settled, we finally had time to get to know the folks we were pedaling with. I immediately bonded with Cynthia, the thoughtful, beautiful wife of Brian, an ex-pro mountain biker. A mother of two, Cynthia was a 2007 women’s pairs winner of the BC Bike Race and all round kick-ass lady both on and off the bike. There was also Awesome Adam, sporting the Red Truck Racing kit on a body and bike similar to professional cyclocross racer Ryan Trebon’s. And he could climb like Ryan, too.
Dave, also flying the Red Truck Racing flag, was not only a chef but a sports nutritionist (thankfully he was absent when the guys refuelled with burgers and beers atop Grouse). Sam, a cycling/windsurfing/kiteboarding physio and life coach had clearly got the life-balance thing figured out. Jay was our speedy descender and David a golfer-turned-cyclist who had only recently traded his khakis and clubs for spandex and a different line of carbon and metal toys. Even as a newbie to the sport, David managed two of our three climbs then the Gran Fondo the next day. Impressive. Then there was Marty. Kind, strong, generous, strong, unassuming, strong, and always humble Marty. Did I mention strong? He pushed and pulled some of our friends up Seymour without breaking a sweat. We later joked that while we were riding in the red, Marty didn’t even hit pink. There was more to Marty in his red Devinci kit than met the eye, I was sure of it.
The steep grade on Seymour was relentless and the heat contributed to the suffering. Sweat dripped down my arms and off my nose. The conversations became less spirited as the ascent wore on. Marty was doing more pushing and pulling and even then he spun effortlessly up the hill. I silently wished each turn would be the last and wondered if I was the only one ready for this hors category climb to end. Then, around one last turn and up one final steep section that opened into the parking lot, there stood Gerben and the big blue Rapha Sprinter van. Gerben and the van would become a more welcome and symbolic sight as the day progressed. One down, two to go. We spent a fair amount of time enjoying the views as we readied for the descent.
The wide open bomb down Seymour required little braking. Our new friend, Jay, slid out on a fast corner sprinkled with gravel but popped back up before most of us knew what had happened. It wasn’t until we stopped at the bottom of the hill that we noticed his severely road-rashed body and torn West Lion kit.
Our hosts led us through a maze of neighborhoods to our next victim, Grouse Mountain. There are two ways to get to the top of Grouse: by gondola or by the ironically named Old Grouse Mountain Highway, which resembles nothing of the sort with its mix of loose gravel, chunky rocks and sharp switchbacks. Because bikes aren’t allowed on the gondola and few in their right minds would choose to ride back down ‘the Highway’ on road bikes, cyclists normally take Capilano Road to the base of the mountain, where the gondola starts, and call the end of the climb there. However, the nice folks at Grouse Mountain Resort agreed to allow our bikes on the aerial tramway, so our route up would be the gated gravel road followed by a ride down on the gondola. According to Strava, Old Mountain Highway is a 7.1 mile Cat 1 climb averaging a 6.6% gradient, gaining 2,462 feet. Ground conditions considered, it certainly felt more like a hors categorie climb to me.
Ira went on ahead and the rest of us followed once the gatekeeper arrived. Only Cynthia, Marty, Jay and David were still with us. After the first few turns we all tried to find our rhythm. The grade didn’t feel any less unkind than Seymour’s but was made worse by the unsteady earth below. Aaron started pulling away from the group and I found myself next in line with Marty by my side. Despite the turbulence beneath, Marty’s hands rested softly on his bars as he floated over the rocky ground with his silky-smooth pedal stroke. Enviable.
I normally find great pleasure in gravel but I was not enjoying this. A good line was not to be had, neither was a good rhythm. At one point I recall telling Marty to go on ahead. Partly because I didn’t have the energy to sustain an intelligent conversation anymore and partly because I knew the real suffering had yet to come and I wanted to do it in silence. He pulled ahead a few meters and I attempted to follow his lines, hoping his wheel held the key to this riding this stuff. Instead it proved no line was going to be easy or make me look as effortless as him, so I resigned to settling in and simply finishing with as much grace as possible. Eventually we broke out of the tree line and the blast of heat from the midday sun compounded the misery. I asked Marty how far we had to go, not really wanting to know but at the same time wanting to know. Four miles under normal road circumstances would be a walk in the park but in these conditions it would be something else.
I kept pedaling, growing more and more thankful for Marty’s company and conversation as the climb wore on. I’d go home that night and Google Marty Lazarski to discover this humble man with a huge heart and perfect pedal stroke was actually a World Cup mountain biker, two-time TransRockies winner and BC Bike Race and TransAndes Challenge podium finisher. He also held national titles in cross-country and cyclocross, as well as having multiple Canada Cup wins. Which made Marty’s humbleness and generous demeanor even more classy.
My lungs hurt, my legs screamed and sweat poured off my body. Those last four miles felt like 40 and just when I thought I couldn’t hold the pace any longer we rounded a sharp, steep switchback in rocky dirt and there stood the Dutchman and the van, with Aaron and Ira by his side. Hallelujah. It wasn’t the summit but the short break would allow my breathing to recover before the last little push to the top. The four of us summited then Marty, Aaron and Ira rode up an even steeper (was it possible?) gravel and asphalt road to explore the massive wind turbine perched atop Grouse. I hung back to wait for the others and as the rest of the group dribbled in there were stories of punctures and falls. Greg pointed out that a double sweat line on the shorts signified a hard climb. I looked down at my legs and nodded in agreement.
One thing the Continental is good at is squandering time off the bike and we again successfully did that at the top of Grouse. Eventually we made our way to the gondola for the trip down where we, and our bikes were packed in like sardines alongside unassuming tourists. I couldn’t help but wonder how we looked and smelled. Flying in slow suspension over the vast treetops was a lovely way down the mountain. I don’t imagine Gerben was saying the same thing on Old Mtn. Highway in the Sprinter.
Marty, Brian and Cynthia were the only ones who would be joining us on the Cypress climb and they blazed the most direct route possible to its base. The mood as we started the ascent was subdued. Bodies were worn and the heat added to what had already been a long day in the saddle. Not far into the climb we stopped at a lookout point and regrouped. Greg paused only briefly then continued to press on. I followed shortly after with the rest of the group behind me. I knew this was going to be a challenge and I wanted to go it alone. My mind and body were saying it was time to quit but in order to complete our Triple Crown, ahead of us lay a 6.5 mile, Cat 1 climb averaging 6.3% over 2,227 feet.
I made it my goal to keep Greg within sight. He would be my rabbit. Unlike the other two climbs this one had long stretches of straightaways, bad for the psyche but good for some spectacular views. Head down, rhythm found. The pace wasn’t fast but it was steady. My legs were screaming, my chest pounding. I could feel my body wanting to shut down. And we call this fun? I knew that days – possibly even hours – from now, all this suffering would be forgotten and I’d be chomping at the bit to do it all over again. But in the moment, all I could think about was how much I wanted off this bike, to get down this mountain and out of this sweat-encrusted kit. I wanted a shower. Real food. A glass of wine. Aaron and Kansas would say later that they had just wanted to be home with their kids. Strange where our minds go when we’re in ‘that place’.
I could tell the summit was close by the change in the road. Gerben and the van appeared like a vision. I mumbled something to Greg, then leaned my bike against the Sprinter and laid on the warm asphalt; broken, proud, exhausted and grateful. A couple of the guys had saved enough gas to sprint the last bit to the summit.
The sun was starting to sink and Gerben made a wise but painful decision to load the bikes and forego the descent. It felt like getting gypped out of a well-earned payoff but we understood and relented and headed back down in the van.
We’d rolled out of Crèma about eight hours previously and now its parking spots served as the site for our impromptu end-of-ride tailgate party. There were beers to be had and stories to be relived. A perfect finish to an extraordinary day on the bike with our new Canadian friends. We will be back.