Posted by: Sue D. Gelber | April 18, 2011

Introduction to Biking Camp, or “I should have taken up knitting instead.”

Biking camp in California in the spring seemed like a great idea when I signed up, back in the deep freeze of winter. A week in wine country riding my bike: what’s not to love about that? Fresh air, sunshine, and wine tasting with a bunch of other women, some of whom I knew, and all of whom, I was sure, would be delightful. It would be a wonderful and well-deserved vacation. I couldn’t wait.

But then, as I sat in the van being driven from San Francisco airport to the Vision Quest biking camp in Santa Rosa, I had that familiar feeling. That pre-marathon, pre-Half-Ironman, pre-swim-race feeling: the “What the heck have I gotten myself into?” feeling. In spades.

To be honest, I’d been so busy leading up to camp that I didn’t have much time to think about it. I was concerned that I wasn’t in great biking shape, but I figured I’d be able to buck up once I was there. I’d been on bike trips before – several, in fact. Really, how bad could it be?

Then I arrived in California. I’d flown with a friend who was also going to camp (and who is a stronger cyclist than I am, I might add), but I knew we’d be meeting other people at the airport and driving up to Santa Rosa together. That’s when I met Jenna who flew in from Hong Kong. As in, she came from the other side of the world just to go to this camp. “Well, that’s a long way to go for a little biking vacation,” I thought to myself, the first sign that I might be in over my head.

Then I discovered that Robbie Ventura, founder of VQ and former professional cyclist, was meeting us at the airport. So much for staying under the radar. In the car on the way to Santa Rosa, he started peppering us with questions: what are your goals for the year (um, I’m not sure); how many rides have you done so far this season (three, if you include that one where I was really just trying to break in my new pedals); what’s the most mileage you’ve ever done in a week (uh, not much, really). The feeling that I was out of my league grew a little stronger. I flashed back to the way I’d felt standing at the start of last year’s Half-Iron Triathlon: awash in a combination of fear and stupidity; I’d done it again, signed up for something that I really had no business doing. I cracked a joke that I thought I was going to Club Med, not training camp. Only, I wasn’t really kidding.

We arrived in Santa Rosa and assembled with the rest of the group for our first dinner and camp orientation meeting. After dinner, each one of us had to get up, introduce herself and state her goal for the year. It seemed like half the people there were training for full Ironman triathlons. One woman stated she did five full Ironmans last year. In response, I poured myself another glass of wine and thought up ways to fake an injury so I could sit by the pool all day.

I begin to wish I’d taken up knitting instead of biking. Let’s face it, knitting has a lot of advantages. Just like biking, there are knitting groups so you get to meet some fun people, but I doubt with knitting groups you work yourself into a sweat just trying to keep up with the other members. And it’s probably easier to socialize with the other women, since you don’t have to constantly scream “What?” because you can’t hear their voices over the sound of the wind whistling through your helmet.

Certainly, knitting seems much safer. I don’t recall hearing about anyone who ended up in the hospital as a result of a nasty knitting accident. And I doubt knitters get chased by rabid, psychotic dogs as frequently as cyclists do.

I understand that some yarn can be expensive, but it would take a several hundred sweaters worth to cost as much as one tricked out road bike, especially once you put on the new saddle, the new pedals, the high-tech cycling computer, not to mention the helmet, the gloves, the arm warmers, the knee warmers, the fancy-schmancy shoes, the wind vest, the rain jacket and the Lance-look-a-like sunglasses. Knitters don’t obsessively check the weather for minute by minute updates before heading out with their group. And I’m confident they’ve never stood on the side of the road swearing while trying to change a flat. Most importantly, at the end of a tough knitting session, knitters have a lovely sweater, scarf or hat to show for their labors. All cyclists have are saddle sores. Hands down, knitting wins.

Are there such things as knitting camp? Perhaps. Do you need to get in shape for them? Maybe. But I doubt knitting camp is as frightening as biking camp, particularly that first night of biking camp, as I sat looking at the rides for the week: a hilly ride, a killer hilly ride, a century ride, and another killer hilly ride. I went back to my hotel room that night resisting the urge to book a return ticket to Chicago for the next day. Instead, I drifted off to sleep, pleasantly dreaming that I decided to give up biking and take up knitting instead. Unfortunately, when I woke up, there was my helmet on the foot of the bed, taunting me. It was time to get on the bike and face the music.


  1. Sue – you were so ready to do this camp! Both Kathy and I felt rather overwhelmed by the level of athleticism of the other women – and me more than Kathy, who is a true athlete and competitor while I am more of a weekend warrior!

    By the way, I had a yoga class last Saturday with a friend of yours, Eileen. She says you need to get to yoga – now that’s something I can handle!

    Hope you are re-entering the post-camp world successfully! Your fellow camper, Jane

  2. At least you were in beautiful Santa Rosa, instead of cold Chicago. Remember that when we challenge ourselves and raise the bar, we get better. Look at your individual times and accomplishments. You are only in competition with yourself. I hope you will post how you tackled he hills.

  3. Sue, what I appreciate so much about your writing is your ability to make the words just flow off the page. You pull your reader in as we want to know what the scene you’re setting was like and how you managed to get through it. I love reading your adventures. Keep em coming.

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