Cycle-Smart Cross Camp
#crossiscoming has been used more and more frequently as the calendar ticks closer to September. I for one am excited to get back to cyclocross racing but I am even more excited to get back into training mode!
The Cycle-Smart Cross Camp in Northampton, Massachusetts, is my personal kick off for the cyclocross season! The camp includes three days of cross specific instruction from some of the best coaches and racers in the country. I, for one, am looking forward to learning from these great minds and experiencing the great riding in the Pioneer Valley that I have heard so much about.
Day 1 - Ride by Google Maps
Thursday started bright and early with a 7a flight from DFW. Thankfully my roommate was kind enough to suffer through the early morning drive and drop me off. After a short (read as: rushed) layover in Washington D.C. I continued the journey up to Hartford.
Hartford is probably the most convenient airport when it comes to traveling to the Pioneer Valley of Massachusetts. I made the trip a bit more interesting when I jumped on the Enterprise shuttle then went to check-in a the counter, only to realize that my reservation was at National... I blame the lack of coffee. Of course, the blame should be my own since there were no less than 5 Dunkin Donuts between my gate and the rental car desk, as is customary in New England. Sorted and on the road, the drive was a short 45mins.
Ate a quick lunch at Haymarket Cafe in downtown Northampton. It was a quaint little shop serving tons of vegetarian (maybe even veggie only) options. After some scrumptious food, I ventured over to my host house and met my hosts Alicia and Dave - very kind people! After settling in, it was time for a bike ride!
The riding here is fantastic! There are mountains to the west, rolling hills aplenty, and even some flat roads along the Connecticut River. I chose to hit the flat roads today and was rewarded with some bucolic scenery of the western Massachusetts countryside. There were plenty of farmstands and ice cream stops on the side of the road, and the weather was hot enough to make it all the more tempting! But I was good and finished my workout instead.
After cleaning up, I ventured back into town for some food and indulged in a bit of ice cream (don't tell coach!). The first day of Cross Camp was pretty darn good and I'm looking forward to doing some more exploring tomorrow!
Day 2 - Bike Fits + Hills
Second day in Northampton and the weather didn't cooled off much. Fortunately for me, most of the day was spent indoors with work and watching some of the Olympics - does that count as work too? Anywho...
The afternoon was spent at the BikeReg headquarters just down the street in Easthampton. With a brand new bike in tow, I headed down to town and hopped on a trainer to get fit to my bike. For those who have never gotten fit on their bike, shame on you! I can't stress enough how important it is to get some kind of fit on your bike. If you're considering racing or just riding for extended periods of time, getting a fit by your local professional is money well spent (some places even provide the service when you get a new bike!). Adam Myerson provided his expertise as we talked about positioning and got the bike dialed to better suit my small stature.
After moving this and that, it was time to go for a short spin to get a feel for the changes on the open road. The adjustments definitely made the bike feel different (as it should) but in a good way. Looking on Google Maps I headed West of my host housing to check out some backroads. No more than 20 mins into my ride, I noticed a sign for "Stage Rd". Hmm, I've heard of that road before, so I took a left and quickly found myself struggling uphill in my easiest gear.
"Whew, that was a bit more than I expected," I thought.
Another quick glance at my map and I decided to check out Kings Hwy which would spit me out along a road where I could turn left to keep pedaling farther, or turn right and head for home. The road started gentle, steadily rising past some rolling hills and farms that are so abundant here. Then came the kick in the teeth. What was nice and gentle became a steady and steep gradient that seemed to drag on forever. With a 1 x 11 gearing, I had plenty of gears to keep climbing but my "easy spin" was turning out to be much, much harder than I anticipated. I finally made it to the top, and was greeted by some awesome gravel roads and a quick descent to the next fork in the road. After enduring those steep climbs, it goes without saying that I elected to turn for home.
The Kind Human Kudu is a ripper! The bike was super stable on the fast descents of the backcountry roads and responsive ever time I stamped on the pedals. Today was only my second ride on the bike, but I can already tell it is an awesome machine!
Tomorrow is the first official day of Cross Camp! Hopefully I still remember how to do this cross thing! =S
Day 3 - Skills, Drills & Smiles for Miles
Finally the first official day of the Cycle-Smart Cross Camp has arrived! After a couple good days of exploring all the Northampton has to offer, I decided to start the morning with a bit of an adventure. Heading West of town I ran into Outlook Farm about 5mins down the road. From the outside it didn't look like much more than a barn and farmhouse conjoined, as many country homes are in this area. But inside was a treasure trove of goodies. From antiques, to art from local artists, to fresh fruits and vegetables, to fresh meat straight from the farm, this place had everything! I did a quick walk through to scope everything out but I'm sure I could have spent hours looking around. What could have abbreviated this walk, one might ask? Breakfast, that's what.
I had a hard time trying to decide what to eat, between the fresh from the oven pastries to the homemade donuts, my inner fat kid was giddy and I wanted it all. Instead I elected for the best of both worlds with a solid breakfast platter and a oven fresh blueberry muffin on the side. And it was an oh-so-delicious way to start off the first day of cross camp!
Fueled up, I got sorted out at the house and then hopped on my bike to pedal off to camp. Honestly though, it was more like the first day of school. The weather was terribly humid, but the sun was out and everyone had a smile on their face. After downing a few more cups of coffee and some chit chat, Adam Myerson provided a short intro to the camp and the other coaches introduced themselves as well. While the camp is put on by the Cycle-Smart coaching group, there are several JAM Fund graduates and current members that are on hand to help out as well. Folks like Ellen Noble, Stephen Hyde, Anthony Clark, Scott Smith (all JAM Fund alum), and the expert coaches of Cycle-Smart such as Al Donahue, Michael Van Den Ham, Jacob Fetty, & Dylan Postier are all providing expert tips and guidance to help you dial your cyclocross skills and better yourself as a rider.
For our first day we covered some elementary skills like remounting, dismounting, cornering and shouldering. And even though it may sound boring to do such basic skills - Where is the bunny hopping?! Where is the sick nose wheelie session?! - those basic elements provide the foundation upon which you build your cross race and your season. Too many times we try to run (literally) before we walk, and I am guilty of it myself. But by slowing down and working through the basics at a steady pace, I was able to feel like I could devote adequate time to each task and do it properly. Moreover, taking it slow also (a) reduces the risk of injury and (b) helps me to do the maneuver right so it is second nature in the race.
It wasn't all basic skills practice though. The group I was with did take some time to work on riding an off-camber rut and practice chasing each other through corners. All the while having fun and making new friends from across the country! Sunburnt and soaked with sweat, I packed up my things at the end of the day and headed home. And even though I'm feeling it now, I'm already looking forward to what tomorrow will bring!
Day 4 - Sun, Sand, & Friendship
Sunday was the final day of Cross Camp. After a long, hot day on Saturday, the cooler temps and strong breeze was a welcome sensation on Sunday morning. I decided to take my palate on another breakfast adventure this morning, heading to Sylvester's in downtown Northampton. After a hearty meal (and probably healthier than pancakes and bacon), I rolled out to Black Birch Vineyard for another day of cyclocross education.
The day began with some flexibility and balance practice, picking up bottles from the ground, followed by some work on the barriers. It may seem silly that a group of riders who compete in elite and pro categories ride around a field doing basic drills. But again, these seemingly simple drills have wide-ranging applications to race-specific skills.
After a brief warm up, we turned it up a bit and headed for the nearby sandpit. While it wasn't THE Sandpit, as featured in the JPow + Motofish video, there were plenty of solid sand sections with whoops and some short, punchy, and rutted ascents and descents. It is hard to find those types of resources here in Texas, but you can imagine when you have all the tools available to you, your abilities to conquer any cross course continue to improve. I won't promise that a couple hours in the sandpit have prepared me fully for the season ahead, but I definitely learned some more tips and tricks that will help me along the way.
After a quick lunch we finished the day with some more cornering drills, practical bunny hopping, and an amazing game of 'Footdown'. During our cornering practice, Stephen and Al would jump in ahead and behind us to create a bit of race pressure. I messed up a few times, but it was the pressure that I needed to push myself a bit more. 'Footdown' - a game where riders stay within a marked area and try to knock each other off their bike. Put your foot down and you're out - was a great way to wrap up camp. What started with a few riders from our group, ended with over half of the camp, plus coaches, bumping, crashing, and laughing until the 5 o'clock hour. It was pretty cool to bump and play with some of the best cyclocrossers in the nation.
During the weekend, friendships were forged, lessons were learned, and memories were made. We wrapped up camp and I rolled back home with a smile on my face and more than ready for September to come.
Day 5 - One Last Ride
Though camp ended on Sunday, my trip back home didn't start until Monday evening. I took the morning to catch up one some work and get ready to head out later in the day. I did get out for a spin with Stephen and Tim around midday. We met up at Outlook Farm (the location of Saturday's breakfast) and rolled around some of the local roads.
It was great playing tourist for the morning and checking out some quiet roads and amazing bike trails that western Massachusetts has to offer. I can certainly see why so many elite racers move out to the Pioneer Valley. After a quick stop at The Roost, we stopped by the local skatepark to pump the bowl. That was a first for me, but good practice in learning The Flow and pushing myself outside my comfort zone. Skate park session complete, we pedaled back to Easthampton and parted ways.
If you've followed along for the entirety of this post, I'm sure it seems like I was just on another vacation with my bike. While I did have lots of time to tour around, the main purpose of this trip was to learn new skills from some of the best cyclocross riders in the North America. That was accomplished. Tenfold.
The coaching culture that exists in the Northeast, specifically in Western Massachusetts, is one that is likely hard to find elsewhere in the U.S. I learned a lot in just two days of riding and those skills will no doubt benefit me int he season to come. If you're thinking about attending a coaching clinic in your area, I would highly recommend it! If you come into it with an open mind, there's no telling what you might learn, and at the very least you'll benefit from some extra time getting back to basics!