What I did at Summer Camp

workI got sent to camp. Though it sounds like punishment for cumulative misbehaviors that result in sleeping on the proverbial couch, it was actually my idea – endorsed by my sweet wife.

Cycling House sponsors a yearly training camp in many places – including the Driftless region of south-central Wisconsin. Here a body climbs about 1000′ every 10-12 miles of riding. By comparison, in northern MN we climb 300-400 feet for each 10 miles of riding. All of my training barely got me a toe-hold of readiness for this camp…but you don’t come to camp because you’re already a monster. We come to become more monster-ish.

DAY ONE: Shall We Go for a Two Hour Spin?!

I was at the front with the hard-men for the first 30 minutes. Due to my weight, I descend like a freight train, but when we started climbing in earnest, I got dropped. I chased back on to the group – again befriending gravity – but ended up falling back on some wicked  grades. The climbs weren’t that long, but what they lacked in length they make up for in suffering. This was billed as a casual get-to-know-ya ride where we get to stretch our legs. I didn’t use up my nine lives…I have six left. Ride details include: 45 miles, 4521 feet of climbing, 15.9 mph average speed.

The swooping hills in this area are so much fun! I hit 43 mph three times on these descents. In the drops, pedals at 9 and 3 o’clock, top tube of the frame gripped between my knees…it’s a beautiful thing.

DAY TWO: And He Lived to Ride a Second Day

I woke up several times in the night thinking about death by hills. I tried to comfort myself by tiredthinking about the benefits of suffering, but I was unmoved. Yesterday I spent 40% of my ride in the red – my pulse above 150. This is called ‘threshold’, and you can’t ride at threshold very many days in a row before something bad happens to your body.

After breakfast and core workout we got on the road by 930. Today was a game changer. We went 50 miles and climbed 4377′, but managed to avoid the extreme grades. We definitely worked, but more importantly, I kept my heart rate below threshold and allowed myself some cardiac recovery. It’s an optimum arrangement: work the legs, spare the heart. The hills were perfectly spaced. Once escape velocity is attained at around 40 mph, we tuck and allow the gravitational pull to carry us mostly up the other side. I finished the ride with a long pull into the wind up a steady 6-8% CAT 4 climb – returning with something still left in the tank.

DAY 3: Recovery Day?

pain-suffering-cyclingThe Cycling House experience before and after the ride is centered on Jura the espresso machine [pronounced YOUR-a]: unlimited shots and cappuccinos await. Since today is rainy, we’re all hanging out drinking high test. As the shots flowed, we became more animated and talked faster. It’s the exact opposite of the beer hour before [and after] dinner – where we eventually get less animated and talk slower.

The debate is whether to ride in the rain. Everyone agrees that sometimes we ride and it starts raining – that’s life. We have mixed opinions on the wisdom of beginning a ride while it’s raining. So we’re all sitting around dressed in cycling kit, the drone of the espresso machine cranking out shots in the background.

We went out the door at 10 am and rode for an hour in the rain. After it cleared off, we began to recover by climbing hills with 16-18 % grades. One climb, simply known as The Wall, left my legs trembling. Today was an adventure complete with a few wrong turns, varying theories on how far we were actually riding, and generally making it up as we went along. When the odometer hit 44 miles  I passed a small, out-of-the-way bar and decided to stop for a pint of Guinness Stout. Inside hangs a picture of a man pulling a wagon with the horse riding in back. The caption: GUINNESS FOR STRENGTH. Ride details: 46.3 miles, 4121′ of climbing, 14.2 mph avg speed.

DAY 4: Into the Great Wide Open

We  headed out dressed in arm and knee warmers into 48 degree mist. Today’s destination was Blue Mounds State Park – which contains a climb, curiously enough, by the same name. Because discretion is the better part of valor, [a nod to William Shakespeare], I ditched that climb and went on to finish the rest of the ride. This was a good thing. Doubling my climbing each day has brought sufficient challenge –  do I need to go 220%?

Our camp director Brendan Halpin  gave me some great feedback, calling me an ‘impressive rider’ because of my physical strength in relation to my size and weight. He predicted very good things if I can lose  another 10 pounds. [Hmm…time to reconsider my nutritional habits] It was a super confidence booster to hear this – quite a validation of the hard work I’ve put in so far this year. I needed to know that I have a special skill beyond descending like a loaded shopping cart. The whole point of attending this training camp is to prepare me for the volume of climbing [30,000′] I’ll be doing in CO this August. It appears to be working. Ride details: 56 miles, 3915′ of climbing, 15.4 mph avg speed.

DAY 5: Goals Are Made of This

raleigh-smokeIt was cool, but sunny when we rolled out at 9 am. John and I paired up once we fell-off from the faster guys, and enjoyed the empty roads without the pressure to keep pace with pack. We did five categorized climbs with swooping descents past red barns and indifferent cows. THIS is the spirit of cycling: working on the climbs to gain admission to one’s own private roller coaster. Some of the climbs were so steep that I traversed diagonally back and forth to give my legs a few seconds of relief.

I had it in mind to climb 5000 feet today, but when I got to the turn-off for our lodging the computer was just coming up on 4700. I thought for a moment, and then decided to descend and re-climb some hills in the vicinity until I got my 300 feet. It took three passes before I finally turned into the driveway with my 5000 feet of climbing in the book. As of today, we’ve ridden 253.8 miles and climbed 21, 957 feet. Kinda makes a guy want to smoke a cigarette to celebrate.

Tomorrow we ride 74 miles on a mostly flat route…which should only be about 3500′ of climbing.

DAY 6: All Good Things

All good things must come to an end – said Thornton Wilder…and many others since. Some hear this quote as the ultimate bummer: PARTY’S OVER, NOW GO HOME. I believe that good things come to an end to make room for the next good thing. God’s Divine Design moves us along through times of celebration, growth, heartbreak and healing at just the right pace. So it was with the 2013 Cycling House Wisconsin Camp. Today we finished with a 75.6 mile ride, climbed 3177 feet and averaged 17.2 mph.

People come to a training camp for lots of reasons. Most come to improve. Some come because it’s a gathering of friends made at other camps. Others come striving to be the strongest rider. I came to improve, and did it by diving in the deep end. I certainly ran the gamut of emotions during the week as I struggled with the unfamiliarity of the terrain and coping with the demands I placed on my body. I rode 329.5 miles and climbed  25432 feet over 25 categorized climbs. I learned that I could climb 20% grades, and that my body – strangely enough – didn’t hurt afterward. I lost four pounds and gained more perspective on enduring through suffering. I don’t believe I’ll ever forget this time spend with other men, as we struggled to better ourselves through our common love for the bicycle. Oh, the places we have gone this week.

TCH riding


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