Posted by: Sue D. Gelber | April 27, 2011

Biking Camp: All Good Things Must Come to an End

I woke up on the last day of Vision Quest‘s biking camp to find various parts of my being arguing with each other. My heart was sad that camp was over and this would be our last ride. My nose, however, picked up the scent of sweat-soaked bike attire, suggesting it was time to go home and do some serious laundry. My brain then kicked in to protest that going home was a bad idea, because it meant doing things like laundry, dishes, and having to make my own bed. As I went to sit up, my legs chimed in that they’d had enough and were going on strike. After some quick contract negotiations, they agreed to one more day of biking in exchange for some time on the couch the following week. Whether my various body parts liked it or not, we had one last ride and then it was time to say goodbye to lovely Santa Rosa.

Our scheduled ride for the day was the course for Levi’s MedioFondo, part of Levi Leipheimer’s King Ridge Gran Fondo event. Who is Levi Leipheimer? Only one of my favorite pro-cyclists ever! He’s from Butte, Montana, and my Montana neighbor, Mrs. Staples, also from Butte, said she remembered Levi when he was growing up. “He’s a good boy,” she told me. Dominates the Tour of California for three years and gets a podium finish in the Tour de France? Yes, I’d say he’s a “good boy.”

I was hoping Levi would show up to ride with us, but apparently that pro-racing circuit keeps one rather busy. Maybe he’ll appear at my door in Montana one day. You know, just to say hi. In the meantime, I was happy to ride the routes of his adopted hometown, Santa Rosa, one last time, including the killer Coleman Valley Road. The day was clear and sunny, the route would take us to the Pacific and back. It had the makings of a perfect day, assuming my legs cooperated.

We were split up into groups, and I was once again with my new bike BFF KC. We rolled out of Santa Rosa on roads that now felt like home, enjoying the sun, the scenery and the company. Our group divided into sub-groups and I found myself riding with Coach Gardie who led us along the Russian River. I thought briefly of how many Russian River wines I’d consumed over the years. The number was staggering. I fought off the urge to stop at every winery we passed.

Soon enough, there was a change in the flora and the first faint stirring of a sea breeze. We were nearing the Pacific. We went up a small climb, and there it was, bright blue and glinting in the sun, a vast open ocean. We pedaled along the Pacific Coast Highway, stopping at a state park to get some snacks from our SAG wagon. I stood for a moment admiring the view, searching for sea lions in the surf, lost in my thoughts, when I heard someone yell that we were rolling out. What? I didn’t even have time for pictures! Heck, I hadn’t even finished eating! I headed out of the parking lot with my peanut butter sandwich dangling from my mouth, trying to clip my cleats into my pedals, while also trying to put on my gloves, while also trying to chew and swallow, while also trying to steer my damn bike. After a few minutes of swerving like a madwoman, I got my shoes, gloves and sandwich all where they needed to be, and heading down the Pacific Coast Highway. I alternately focused on the road in front of me and gazed out at the crashing ocean to my right. I experienced some significant real estate envy when we went by a cluster of modest homes with expansive views.

Coach Gardie pulled my focus back to the road, however, when we approached a sharp hairpin turn. He instructed me to follow his line as we sped downhill into the turn, veered sharply to the right and out of the turn up a small incline. It was like being on a roller coaster. I felt as if my stomach had actually left my body and been flung off the side. I laughed, then grimaced with a slight wave of nausea, then laughed again.

I was still reveling in the excitement when Gardie motioned that it was time for us to turn away from the Pacific and up Coleman Valley Road. To say it was steep is like saying Donald Trump is self-confident. It went up. And up. And up. Our group fractured. I found myself climbing alone. Every now and then Robbie Ventura would appear out of nowhere and he’d spend a few moments trying to distract me from the pain and encourage me on. Then he’d effortlessly pedal on to the next person.

The views were stunning, but I had trouble seeing through the sweat dripping in my eyes. My pace slowed to the point that I may have been going backwards. I counted off 10 pedal strokes at a time, agreeing that I’d just do 10 more. Then 10 more. Then 10 more. I was about to keel over when another rider from my group, Kelly, drifted past me. She’s a petite but strong rider, light as a feather,and she was gliding along the way an empty plastic bag might float in the breeze.

“Thanks,” I grunted in response to her encouragement as she sailed by. I then went back to counting 10 pedal strokes at a time. Finally, just as I was getting to the top, my pal KC pulled up next to me. We alternately cursed the hill and lauded the views. We relaxed, happy to have reached the top, until we hit the next climb. I heard a bad TV announcer in my head proclaim “But Wait! There’s More!” Are you kidding me? Apparently we hadn’t been quite at the top, after all. There was more cursing and less scenery appreciation, but eventually we made it to the top – the real top. Then came the descent.

Now, KC is quite the little descender. Me? I’m a big chicken. I figured KC knew what she was doing so I let her lead me down the whole way, I just followed her line and did what she did. The road was rough, the patches of sun making it hard to gauge the road surface. It was difficult to distinguish between gravel and shade. Fortunately, there was almost no traffic, save that one car that appeared out of nowhere and almost took us out. KC did an excellent job reacting and averting a collision, and I just did what she did.

All too soon, it seemed, we were at the bottom. We assembled for a brief rest stop, but this time I was ready to roll out early. Our group had fractured and caught up with the group ahead of us. We shuffled and re-formed with different riders and different coaches. Once again, I found myself riding back towards Santa Rosa coached by the one and only Dave Noda. We only had about 20 miles back to hotel, and after what we’d just done, it seemed like nothing. But when we hit a small climb, my energy lagged a little. At that moment, like an apparition, Robbie Venture appeared out of nowhere (how does he do that?) and distracted me. He even sang. Elvis Costello. He passed along some music trivia about the song “Allison.” And then in a flash, he disappeared again.

Dave meanwhile, was left to shepherd us back to the hotel. Since it was the last ride of the trip, he didn’t let us take it easy. Instead, he pushed us to ride as hard as we could, even convincing us to race to a street sign on a straightaway. By the time we got there, my legs were screaming. Even Dave Noda couldn’t convince them to work any more. The hotel appeared up ahead, and my body cheered.

Somehow, we ended up being the first group back. (Where’s my cash bonus? Seriously, someone owes me some money.) The major perk to being first to the hotel, of course, is being first at the buffet! I went in, grabbed a plate and loaded up. Then I noticed no one was with me. Where was everyone? I looked outside and saw them all standing in the parking lot, socializing and taking pictures. I was conflicted. On one hand, this was our last ride and it was a nice bonding experience to stand together, cheering the other groups as they came in. On the other hand, lunch looked amazing. Finally, the tug at my heart won out over the growl in my stomach, and I joined in the picture-taking melee in the parking lot. We chatted with each other, reflected on the week, and vowed to stay in touch. Eventually everyone came around to their senses and we went inside to eat.

The ride stats? Well, according to my Garmin we had 3800 feet in elevation gain that day. Coleman Valley Road registered as over 1000 feet of climbing in less than 4 miles, with about 800 of that in less than 2 miles. No wonder I was so hungry. As I sat eating my second helping of the fabulous lunch spread, I looked outside to see that the skies had opened up and it was hailing. The Santa Rosa Weather Gods had taken excellent care of us. Camp was over, my legs were recovering, my stomach was full, my mind was relaxed. Let the rain come down.


  1. Another great piece Sue!!!

  2. Your descriptions had me laughing and agreeing with you at the same time – will we feel more confident next year or more fearful knowing the kind of riding we will be facing?? Better start preparing now!

    • Thanks Jane! And yes, clearly we need to start preparing now!

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