Riding for Jeff: a Triple Bypass Memorial
This weekend would’ve marked the 32nd annual Triple Bypass ride. Thousands of riders would have bravely ridden over 3 gorgeous mountain passes – Juniper, Loveland and Vail for a total of 120 miles and over 10,000’ of climbing
This epic ride started with a group of avid cyclists and friends. One July day in 1988, this group decided it would be fun and challenging to ride from Evergreen to Vail, Colorado. 32 years and thousands of more friends later, the Triple Bypass is an iconic ride for cyclists in Colorado, the US and beyond.
For some, it’s a “one and done”. For others, it’s an annual tradition. For one group of friends, 2020 was going to a very special reunion. A pilgrimage in memory of a dear friend (Jeff Gockley) that introduced them to the Triple years ago. In light of COVID, this pilgrimage for Jeff will have to wait. Though the Triple is cancelled this year, you can’t cancel the community and people behind it. This story is our attempt to honor Jeff as it shows the very spirit of our ride; cammeradie, inspiration, and the motivation to achieve your goals together on the bike.
Abbey Wick is an Associate Professor at the North Dakota State University, a mom, and a Soil Health Specialist. You can find her on the “Soil Sense” podcast. Her Twitter feed is full of pictures of tractors, fields, dirt, classes and farming conferences.
Abbey did what many of us do when we sign up for the Triple. When her registration was complete, she shared it to social media - one of the best ways you can hold yourself accountable. But her tweet had a very special personal motivation behind it that prompted us to reach out. Here’s our Twitter exchange from early March.
We reached out to Abbey to see if we could share this inspirational story. Below is an interview with Abbey as well as a letter from Jeff’s parents. Both paint a picture of who he was and all those he touched.
Triple Bypass: Tell us about Jeff. What was he like, how did he motivate you all to do this ride?
Abbey: We all met Jeff when we were in graduate school at the University of Denver. We all got to know each other, but I think of Jeff as being the person who brought us together in a fun way. He was always figuring out a happy hour somewhere or snowshoe trips to Berthoud Pass. He was really into cycling and I remember him asking me if I wanted to ride the triple or just up Mt. Evans one time, I told him that there was no way I’d be able to do that. So, I unfortunately never rode with him.
Over New Years 2004/2005, he found out he had brain cancer and by Feb 2005 he had passed from complications with surgery. One of my favorite memories of what he said before passing, “Abs, I’ve gotten to see the best in all my friends in the time since I got sick. What a gift.” And he did, we were all there for him and each other. Still are apparently despite distance and time.
We then decided to honor him by riding the triple bypass for him in 2005. We did a couple training rides, my friends made sure we all had bikes to ride and we did it. I rode (our friend) Steve’s old bike, which is still in my garage (I used to ride it back and forth to work when we moved to Fargo).
TB: Give us a quick description of you/your group back then vs. now.
Abbey: We had finished graduate school at DU and some were living in Denver (Kim/Steve, Trent, James, Patty), Steamboat (Sara), Laramie (me). Now, we are all over the country and some still in Colorado. Some have gotten married, started families, moved for careers. We’ve stayed in touch, but it’s been a while since we’ve all gotten together.
TB: Tell us about the day you all rode it in 2005. How did you prepare - training/gear/food, etc.?
Abbey: Well, I didn’t prepare well at all for it in 2005. I was living in Laramie and had no clue about cycling (didn’t own a bike until I got Steve’s), so I came down a couple times to do a canyon ride, ride around Washington park and Vail pass. I bought a good pair of padded shorts, a helmet, some shoes and well that was it. I feel like I ate the entire Triple Bypass. I was so worried about bonking, that I probably overate!!*
TB: *You can never overeat on the Triple, Abbey. Never.
TB: What was the biggest challenge?
Abbey: Riding up Juniper Pass, I was behind another woman who had a photo of her partner on her jersey. He had just passed from an injury while mountain biking in Evergreen (I had remembered reading about him). She told her story while we rode and we both shared a few tears. That was a challenge...crying and riding up the pass! Chest was pretty tight on that one.
And deciding when to quit was hard too. I wanted to finish but I had nothing left in the tank at mile 81. Because I had ridden Vail Pass once before, I knew I wasn’t going to make it. I was happy I made it that far because my boyfriend (now husband) literally had push me on the bike to get going in Loveland Pass!
TB: What was the best part of the day?
Abbey: Seeing everyone at the finish line and putting on our Team Gockley t-shirts. It was fun to hear how the ride went for everyone and to share some stories.
TB: What made you decide to do this ride again 15 years later?
Abbey: Every February I think about Jeff - I do something biking-related to honor him. I sent some pics and a few thoughts about Jeff to my friends who rode in 2005 and here we are registering for the ride and making plans to see each other and meet each others’ families! It’s pretty cool!
TB: What is the group’s plan for this year?
Abbey: Some of us signed up for the full triple and plan to make the decision then on how much we can ride. Some signed up for the shorter ride (they are probably the more reasonable, smarter ones of the group!), some will cheer on. We have another friend that used to ride also, Alex Muleh, who was also in grad school at DU. We found out he passed in 2017, so we will also be riding for him this year. Hopefully we’ll get together to BBQ to hang out and have fun while we are all there. Lots of families coming with - my husband and son (almost 5 years old now) will probably drive with Patty and her kids or Gini and her kids and meet us along the way where they can. I can’t wait for my son to see his mom do something cool!
TB: What are your personal goals for this year’s ride?
Abbey: I won’t be fully trained to ride it, but in 2005, I rode it on a bike I borrowed, no triple chainring, and it was my fourth time riding a road bike. I made it 81 miles on motivation and strength from my friend. Granted I was 26 then (and 15 years plus a kid and a career have passed since then) but I still am motivated by Jeff. But I did ride it the two following years and completed the ride, which felt really good! Then I moved away to Virginia. This year I thought, “Maybe I’ll sign up for a shorter ride starting in Georgetown...that may be a safer bet!”. Well that was a good idea until I got online and signed up for the whole ride!
TB: What do you love about the Triple Bypass / people who ride it?
Abbey: The open conversations while riding or eating at aid stations — everyone has a story and it’s a great day to talk while sucking air going up the passes.
TB: What would you say to anyone on the fence about registering for the TB (any distance)?
Abbey: Just do it, you never know if/when you won’t be able to do it at all. I am sure there are a lot of groups riding the Triple in honor of someone or to celebrate their life after a difficult battle. It’s an awesome way to find out what your body and mind can do when you are riding for a reason bigger than yourself.
A letter from Marianne and Fred (Jeff’s parents) to Abbey and the TB:
These emails came as such a surprise, and brought back a lot of memories. All of you helped us cope with the worst possible situation....you were all there to support us when we didn't know how to get through it all.
Thank you so much for initiating this reunion. We are so full of different emotions. To think that his CO friends want to honor and remember Jeff by doing the TB, is beyond words. It's strange how conflicting emotions like sadness and joy can occupy your headspace at the same time.
Jeff had an impact on all of us, and as parents we were lucky to have him as our son. Growing up, Jeff pushed us to ski on slopes that were beyond our abilities. When we came to CO for a visit, he took us on an uphill hike and on the way down he asked if we were now up for some horseback riding!! When he mentioned he wanted to be an exchange student in New Zealand, we had a lot of fear in allowing our 16-year-old to go live half-way around the world, but we let him follow his dreams. He was ready to try any new adventure, including bungee jumping without our permission. What a great life he lived.
We will seriously consider coming out to cheer you on. Know that Jeff will be with you in spirit. If 120 miles (YIKES!) isn't achievable, you still get bragging rights for whatever you can do.
Again, thank you so much. Keep us posted.
Marianne and Fred
Our sincere thanks to the Gockley family, Abbey Wick and “Team Gockley” for sharing this story. We can’t wait to see you all next year at the finish line. If YOU have an inspirational story about the Triple Bypass, we’d love to hear it! Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.