Posted by: Sue D. Gelber | April 20, 2011

Biking Camp Day One, or The Apex of Anxiety

The first day of our biking camp in Santa Rosa, CA, dawned bright and clear. I opened the curtain of my hotel room to take in a blue sky punctuated with small white clouds. I thought about the gray chill of Chicago I’d left behind and smiled. Ah, vacation. Alas, this vacation required rising early, donning cycling clothes and lathering up with Chamois Butter. A lot of it.

I was nervous as I headed down to breakfast. I don’t do a lot of group riding – rather, I like to think of myself as a Lone Wolf. In my mind, I picture myself alone at the top of a hill, the wind tossing my hair, a tough and determined look on my face. Of course, that scene has never actually played out in real life, but like I said, I like to think of myself as the Lone Wolf. In any case, I sometimes ride with friends, but mostly I go solo, so the organized ride construction of A, B, and C groups was only vaguely familiar to me. When we received our group assignments, I was relieved to see I was in the C group. Phew, no pressure. Even if I wasn’t in great biking shape, I certainly would be able to hang with the slowest group.

Then, someone corrected me that no, I was in the fastest group. What? Are you kidding? With Five Full Ironmans gal? Panic ensued. I was struck by a sudden desire to forget the whole biking thing and sit by the pool all day. Just as I was on the verge of vomiting, someone else informed me that my original assumption was right. I was in the slowest group. Waves of relief washed over me.

We assembled in the parking lot and prepped for our ride. Nervous energy filled the air. Luckily, a good friend was in the group, someone I ride with regularly, so at least I had one familiar wheel to follow. Still, as we pulled out, there was palpable tension.

In addition to not being a frequent group rider, I especially don’t like riding with people I don’t know. Quite simply, I have a hard time trusting a stranger with my life, and when you ride in tight formation, that’s pretty much what you’re doing. What if this person calls an “all clear” at an intersection when, in fact, there’s a car coming? What if she forgets to call out a pothole and I hit it and break my neck? What if…well, you get the picture. I was far from relaxed as we rolled away from the hotel and through the streets of Santa Rosa, navigating traffic and road debris. I could feel the stress creeping up my neck. Really, THIS is what I chose to do for vacation? I paid money, jumped through hoops to coordinate time away from my family, flew halfway across the country, only to be stressed out to the point of giving myself a neck-ache? What kind of idiot am I?

Fortunately, as we got further out into the lovely roads surrounding Santa Rosa, the tension eased. The women I was riding with were fabulous. They were careful riders, diligent about calling out obstacles, and also fun to chat with. It was slightly different from riding in Chicago, though. In addition to calling out the usual obstacles, like “Gravel!” and “Car right!”, we also had to call out things like “Turtle!” and “Turkey right!” As we settled into each other, we all relaxed and had a chance to appreciate the beauty around us. Once we hit the hills, however, the group fractured. Four of us crept ahead, four others fell back.

Ah, the hills. Other than a highway overpass, I hadn’t ridden a single hill since last year’s Half-Iron Tri, and honestly, those hills were nothing compared to these. These were small mountains rising up out of the Pacific, growing in elevation with each pedal stroke. They were monsters, taunting us, chewing us up and spitting us out. They were massive walls of elevation tossed haphazardly in our path. They were killers.

Okay, in reality, I think they were about 500 feet. But still, they SEEMED like killers. However, I have to confess, they were pretty darn fun. It was on the hills that I met KC, a spunky, compact blond with a great attitude and strong legs. She and I played cat and mouse up and down the hills (with her as the spry mouse and I as the lumbering, wheezing cat). On the way up the hills, I would almost catch her, and as we crested the top, she would fly down the other side, quickly vanishing out of my sight. I’d pedal my heart out to catch her on the next hill, often getting to within just feet of her at the top, when she’d take off down the other side again. Dang, how does that girl do it?

In the end, I had a great time chasing KC as best I could. We were rewarded with a nice view of the Pacific and a fast, mostly downhill cruise back to the hotel. We arrived never having gotten caught by the other groups and feeling reasonably pleased with our efforts. What was even more exciting was the wonderful lunch buffet that awaited us, followed by express massages from the soigneurs. I even had time to take a quick dip in the hot tub. Now THIS was what I expected vacation to be like.

At dinner, I sat with my new bike pals from the day’s ride, KC and BJ, plus my other friends from back home. We had a lovely time, with fabulous, nutritious food, plus a much deserved glass (or two) of wine. We laughed and recapped our day, feeling pretty darn pleased with ourselves. Until, that is, we got the details on the next day’s ride.

The ride was the infamous Geysers route and was considered a 9 out of 10 in terms of effort. The hill, we were warned, would be formidable. I’m pretty sure the word “mountain” was used. An expletive popped into my head. Several of them, in fact. There was good news, though. In light of the fact that our first day’s ride had been harder than expected for many people, the plan for the next day would be altered. The “A” group riders would ride the whole route, but everyone else would be shuttled out to a point closer to the climb, cutting a good 20 miles off the ride. Phew. OK, well, that mountain thing still sounded bad, but at least I wouldn’t be exhausted by the time I got there. I was slightly relieved. Until the list of groups was posted.

There, under “A” group, was Sue Gelber. Wait, what? No, no, no. I do NOT want to do that. I want to take the van. Heck, I want to stay in the damn hot tub all day reading my book. What group do I need to be in to do that? Fortunately, my new riding pals KC and BJ were in “A” group too, and as they say, misery loves company. I wish someone had taken a photo of us sitting there, looking as if we’d just been sentenced to 10 years in prison. A feeling of dread settled over our table. I downed the rest of my wine and headed up to my room. And so, once again, I found myself drifting off to sleep thinking about taking up knitting, but soon I was plagued by visions of California mountains swallowing me up and grinding me into an exhausted pulp. So much for a relaxing vacation. I vowed that next year it would be Club Med, all the way.

The First Ride


  1. That area is so beautiful! Calling out turtles and turkeys gave me a good laugh. It’s nice you made some new friends, although I think you need to change your name to SG, so that you’ll fit in with the others.

    • Ha, I like SG idea. Thanks ADLF!

  2. Perverse-vacations are underrated. I can also almost see those ‘mountains,’ all the way from here in the flatlands. Great post.

    • Thanks Pat. And “mountains” are all relative, right?

  3. Shall I admit that as the Ironman addict I was equally, no, MORE frightened than you the first and second..and whole week? LOVING reading your recaps. I only wish I knew how you were feeling so when I was awake at 3am worrying about “mountains” I could have called you :).

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