Ascent Cycling is a team from Canada, where winter happens for a long time. Being Canadian and a bike racer equates to hours spent on the trainer or the rollers, grinding through intervals and staring at walls, laptops, televisions, the stem of your bike, and walls (twice, yes). There are a few of us who chose to suit up in every piece of clothing we own and brave the elements throughout the winter, but then there are also those of us who do not like cleaning our bike EVERY TIME WE RIDE. So, to preserve – and replenish – what was left of our sanity and partially broken spirits, five of us decided on a week-long training camp in and around Greenville, South Carolina.
Leaving Toronto on a cold February morning, Keith, Geoff, and I (Mike) set off quite early with only a few technical difficulties getting the bikes onto the car. We split the drive into shifts and arrived 14 glorious hours later in Greenville, meeting Eric and Simon who had arrived three days prior. Thankfully, the drive was somewhat uneventful, scary weather and poorly-maintained highways through the mountains of West Virginia notwithstanding. Somewhat unnerved and hungry, we tucked into a hearty dinner of Olive Garden and a Dale’s Pale Ale (the beer of the trip, very good - Oskar Blues Brewery please sponsor us, somehow).
We rode 7 days while out in the beautiful South Carolina weather and honestly, I could probably write thousands of words describing each ride, but that would be boring. I will, however, touch upon my favourite day of the trip – Caesar’s Head. We set off from the house toward Caesar’s Head State Park in the late morning on the third day of camp. We planned to ride up the climb twice: the first time “easy,” the second full gas. Riding up this climb is never really “easy” though, as it is a 10.37km slog up a mountain with 6% average grade, amounting to 627m in elevation gain.
The “easy” effort was mildly uncomfortable and we found that the higher we went up the climb, the foggier and more eerie the surroundings became. It was wet, cold, and strange, but it was awesome and I cannot wait to go back. Descending in those conditions, not so fun – for me. The other guys handled it perfectly fine. I learned that descending in the wet and cold, around blind corners, with near zero visibility, is something that takes a little practice. The second “full gas” effort took us about 30 minutes as we raced each other up the climb. I can confirm that it was a painful experience, yet incredibly fun, and has left me with a lot of hope and excited for the racing season ahead. Many gummies and pop tarts were consumed at the top of the climb before we began the second descent and our journey back to the house.
(Eric and Simon descending through the mist)
During our return to the house, things got a little strange. We were chased by a dog, or dogs. This happened almost every time we would ride the backroads of South Carolina, so I suppose the dog encounter was almost common. The scariest dog of the trip, was a pit bull that had a set of shoulders and traps that even Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson would be proud of, and he came darting off his property faster than a middle linebacker on Sunday afternoons. Most of the boys had started a max sprint in the opposite direction, but Geoff was feeling confident and tried to settle the pup down. Although he turned out to be friendlier then we first thought, he was still unsure of 5 guys in spandex (who wouldn’t be) and wasn’t completely relaxed. Finally, the owner came out and ensured us that “he ain’t never bit nobody before, it must be those wheels you guys got.” Thankfully, we almost got the assurance we needed and continued in the planned direction.
The strangeness happened as we headed toward Traveler’s Rest in an unsuccessful search for an open coffee shop. I noticed a black pickup truck driving sketchily in our direction, riding the line and then sort of swerving back toward its own lane. As the truck drove past us safely, thankfully, I had a look at the driver: it was a small child. I’m going to guess that this kid was about 2 or 3 years old, sitting on his cell-phone-occupied father’s lap, doing a not-so-bad-I-guess job of driving a large truck considering his limited level of experience.
Below is the link to my Strava activity from the day, one of my favourite days I’ve had on the bike:
(Taken at the top of Caesar’s Head, after smashing each other up the climb. The difference between the conditions at the top and bottom of the climb was astounding)
The rest of the trip was full of amazing weather, hard rides, and lots of candy. So much candy. We took the start line on our last day in SC, a Saturday, for the 3rd stage of the Hincapie Spring series. The boys looked great in the race and were active throughout. I was in pain and questioning the decisions that I made in my life, but I’ll come good.
Although the riding was amazing, the pro cycling lifestyle of simply riding and recovering was slowly getting to the boys. So, after realizing that this was also a vacation, we decided to mix things up with off-bike activities. A highlight of the week was our Go-Karting night where the squad put their money where their mouths were and left it all on the track. Eric was descending his road bicycle quickly all week and thought that would translate into a big “dubya,” (dubya= “W” =win). Consequently, he came in over-confident. Unfortunately, for him, he was humbled when Keith lapped him in the first race. Eric, after two poor races, his reputation on the line, and under considerable pressure to perform, ended up putting a decent race together. This, despite a pass (or collision, depending who you ask) with Simon that failed consider his teammate’s safety whatsoever. Overall the racing was easily worth the $50 fee, and if anyone is looking for a future NASCAR driver, Keith is your guy. He cracked the month’s top 10 fastest laps, and has certainly done some secret training.
With the whole training camp done and dusted, we now shift our focus onto the Ontario road racing season, which begins on Good Friday with the reborn Mosport Classic. This training camp was an opportunity to bring our team closer together as we inch towards our sophomore season. We shared some tough rides, and numerous Dale’s – thankfully, the kilometres to IPAs ratio on this trip skewed heavily toward the healthier side of the spectrum.
(Mike at the top of Paris Mountain, near our accommodations)