Carpenter Phinney Bike Camp – Aug 1997

This is Liza’s trip journal from her week at Carpenter Phinney Bike Camp in Summit County, Colorado. There were only a few photos in the original word doc/pdf file and they’re of pretty poor quality, unfortunately.

Saturday, August 9

Liza on the road in Summit County

I was not a nervous flyer. I’ve bounced through turbulence often enough and kept drinking my coffee or reading my book while others around me paled. But I did have one flying weakness: I really disliked flying alone, but much preferred to have Robert at my side, ready to give my hand a squeeze as we took off, and then to be able to giggle at each other about how we were on our way to wherever it was we were going.

But he wasn’t with me this day. He kept me company at the airport, kissed me goodbye, and watched me board the plane, but I was then quite alone, on my way to the long-awaited Carpenter/Phinney Bike Camp in the Colorado Rockies. My beautiful red Bianchi Eros bicycle had been packed and repacked, and finally turned over to the United Airlines baggage handlers at LAX; I worried extensively as to whether it would be crushed when it arrived, or whether the case would pop open and spew bicycle parts all over the runway. I fretted about not having a hand to hold, what the weather would be like in Colorado, whether I could put the bicycle back together if it did manage to arrive intact, and how I would perform at camp in the thin air of 9000 feet and up.

And I actually paid for this!

The flight was fine, I read the latest Tom Clancy book, Executive Orders, finally in paperback, taking my mind off my myriad of worries. The bicycle did arrive at the oversize baggage claim in Denver, the case looking remarkably intact. I found my Resort Shuttle, was driven two hours mostly in rain up to Frisco, and checked into my inn, the Galena Mt. Lodge, at around dusk. Beautiful place; I had a nice large room to myself. The surrounding scenery looked as if it would be awesome once I could see it in proper light. And with a teeny bit of help, only to adjust a brake, I got my bicycle back together, looking as good as when I’d packed it, in very short order. And best of all, I talked with Robert on the phone before heading out to dinner.

Sunday, August 10

I awoke to the sound of rain falling steadily. So much for a morning get-acquainted ride. The view from the various windows of the lodge towards the mountains showed lots of gray clouds. Every now and then a patch of blue sky would appear, and a tantalizing bit of sunlight, but they would soon disappear, and the raindrops came and went. I thought perhaps the afternoon would be better, and for the time being curled up on the window seat in my room and continued reading Executive Orders.

The sun finally made an appearance about noon, so I went on out on the bike, intending to ride to Breckenridge. I missed some turns on the otherwise decently marked bike path, and instead wound up in Keystone, sort of the opposite direction from where I thought I was going. It didn’t matter, though; the path skirted past lake shores and across the low-lying Dillon Dam, with the mountains rising in the background; if the skies ever became completely blue, I knew it would be absolutely gorgeous.

The bike path ended in a t-intersection on a regular road marked “bike route”, with a handy sign saying “Frisco 8 miles”, so I figured I’d go back that way instead of the way I came. Sort of a mistake; the road was called Swan Mountain Road, and while the climb wasn’t particularly steep, it was about three miles in length and at altitude had me feeling pretty wiped out. I had to stop some 100 meters from the top and walk the last bit. Sigh. But at least I got out and semi-acclimated.

Dinner that night was at the inn, and was our official “welcome to camp” gathering. Connie Carpenter led the proceedings, minus her husband Davis Phinney, who was on a business trip but planned to join us later that evening or the next day. Connie was just a little older than I, having been born in 1958, and Davis in 1959; Robert and I in reverse. She was tall and very thin, taller than I expected, being nearly six feet tall. We all enjoyed a very healthy dinner and then watched a slide show she had prepared. The slides were great, being mostly photographs of her, Davis, and other well-known racers (Greg Lemond, Eric Heiden, et al.), to give us an idea of good form and what we might try to learn here at bike camp. With all those positive images and good thoughts, I went to bed relatively early, trying to psych myself up for the first day.

Monday, August 11

The first day dawned very clear and sunny – hurray! I ate a light breakfast and then joined my small group under the control of group leader Bill Lahman, a tall, lanky ex-racer who now works at cycling events in various capacities (supposedly 86 events this year alone!). At camp he doubled as one of the mechanics (“very popular fellow at womens’ camp,” Connie noted). The other four women (Raylene, Carol, Diane, and Beki) in the group looked to be of about the same level of fitness as I, or so I hoped.

We rolled out of the driveway after the first two groups had departed, and headed pretty much the way I had ridden the previous day. On the bike path out of Frisco, unfortunately for me, I got stuck on a small hill with no place to maneuver (the people in front of me slowed down too much and I was too close), had to stop, and couldn’t get my foot out of the pedal…so over I went, landing on my right knee. I felt very shaky immediately after that but it was only ten minutes into the ride, and people were looking at me as if I were a big klutz, but oh well…so I tried to shake it off and kept going. However, I remained fairly jittery for most of the ride, and wasn’t too thrilled to be riding in close when Bill had us working on a doublefile echelon and pacelining, but did my best anyway. I did resolve to try to stay clear of the others when we were climbing, though.

We worked around the dam as I had the previous day, and sure enough, Bill took us up Swan Mountain Road. This time I was determined to make it to the top, and I did, but it did take my breath away. It was hard to imagine going over a serious pass later in the week, the staff probably considered this one a speed bump! But I made it, and that’s what counted. Or so I kept telling myself.

Returning to the inn before lunchtime, the weather started to look threatening, so we did a little cornering exercise before lunch instead in the afternoon as planned. That was interesting, trying to ride around cones in a parking lot, remembering to keep one’s knee up near the top tube on the side of the direction of the turn, and the opposite leg straightened out and pushing against the pedal, leaning the bike while trying to keep the body a little more upright. It all looked so easy but it was a different matter when trying it. I did a little better on my second chance to run laps through the circuit, coincidentally with fewer people on the course and I could get up a little bit more speed. Davis, of course, looked awesome when demonstrating; with his hands in the drops, he could tap the one-foot-tall cones with his fingertips as he went around them.

Lunch at the inn…then they had planned more cornering and a bumping (oh joy) exercise, but the rain washed us out. So instead I shopped at the Pearl Izumi boutique, used up all my money and owed Connie even more, and had to go off and visit a bank subsequently. Picked up a nice red vest and some knee warmers, but no jersey. Then a bike fit by the camp experts; very useful, turns out I’m in very good shape except they recommended I put the seat back a little bit, but mine wouldn’t go back any further without changing the seat angle. I was about to look for another seat anyway, as I had worn the cover off of the current seat.

Rolling into Frisco after a long morning ride

Dinner was on our own; I went off and got a salad and calzone, and left some of it in the guest refrigerator for tomorrow. We then had some “psychology” sessions emphasizing the power of positive thinking, all to get us thinking “Yes, I CAN make it up over the mountain passes.” I was trying pretty hard to believe that, but the doubts kept creeping in anyway. I would have to work on that. In the meantime, my knee completely stiffened up from the morning’s idiot fall. Camp doctor recommended lots of ice, and ibuprofen. I thought I’d have to stick my leg in the jacuzzi in the morning to get it loosened up.

Tuesday, August 12

Another beautiful morning; the apparent weather pattern was going to be clear mornings, afternoon rain. After breakfast, our Equipo Eros picked up another member, Susan (very strong rider, mid-50’s, who had recently lost 70 pounds!), and we headed up Ten Mile Canyon bike path towards Copper Mountain and Vail Pass. Our group worked on echelons on the first six miles or so up to Copper Mountain; I found it claustrophobic and completely unnerving, to the point where I became a basket case by the time we got to Copper Mountain. Connie and Bill both were very supportive, though, and got me calmed down, and they had me ride with Andy Pruitt (camp doctor, cyclist, and amputee below the knee) up to the next stop to work on side-by-side riding and getting comfortable with having someone in close proximity. Andy was great; while the others worked on cornering, he took me up and down the long street we had just come up, to practice drafting and switching places, and being able to hold on to the other rider’s shoulder and keep a straight line. We then added a third rider, Andy’s business partner and sports trainer Kari, to try a three-person paceline up and down the street. By the time they finished with me, I was less shaky and had regained some measure of confidence.

Liza, Bill Lahman, and the rest of the “Love Goddesses” atop Vail Pass

Then Kari and I started on up the bike path to Vail Pass. The bike path I still found unnerving since the right-side person (me) was uncomfortably close to the gravel edge, but Kari kept a steady pace next to me, and crowded me a little here and there just to make sure I could do it. The path went steadily up for about six miles, and in a couple of places steepened just a touch as we went around some switchbacks, but all in all it wasn’t bad, and I didn’t shift into my small chainring in front until the last mile or so. When we reached the top, Kari said it was at about 11,000 feet; I’d never have thought it. And it turned out we were the first people on top, riding up to meet Connie.

The other riders all came in after that over a period of about 30 minutes, and we took some group photographs before heading back to Frisco. I apologized to Raylene, at whom I had snapped earlier in the morning when I was unglued, and we began the descent. The descent was nice and swift, and although I thought

I was going fast (about 25 mph) I still lost contact with them. I didn’t mind too much; I could concentrate on how I was going to take the turns. We regrouped at Copper Mountain and I suppose they weren’t thrilled to wait for me, but too bad; as soon as I got there we started down again. That time although I was still last, I kept contact pretty decently, sticking reasonably close to one other woman maybe no more than 30 seconds behind the rest of the group.

Before we went back to have lunch at the inn, we all rode over to a nearby park to practice bumping and wheel-tapping. The grass was thick and a little damp, making it hard to ride on, but it was nice to have a spongy surface to practice elbow-bumping. The wheel-tapping I could have done without; the idea was that bumping the wheel of someone in front of you doesn’t automatically mean you have to eat the pavement, but you should be able to lean away from the side you tapped and stay upright. In the circuit of the park I only managed to tap the wheel of my partner once, and then as I had my foot out of the pedal already, just stopped. Not the intent of the drill, I supposed, but that was life. Lunch was pretty good, consisting of a mushroom-risotto quiche-like thing. The weather still looked good after lunch, so I went out to ride back up to Copper Mountain (12 mile roundtrip) so I could practice both keeping a good rhythm on the steady ascent, and try my hand at the descent again. I finished the day with 45.5 miles and probably about 2500 feet of climbing. Not bad, I figured.

The afternoon featured a stretching session and a talk by Ed Burke, who worked with the US Olympic cycling teams and many top cyclists. Mostly about the value of heart rate monitors and the impact they can have on one’s training. Interesting, but I don’t know if I’ll run out right away and buy one. ☺

Wednesday, August 13

Another beautiful morning; this time the temperature was a little warmer, though. Our team Equipo Eros, now also nicknamed “Bill’s Love Goddesses”, rolled out from the inn just past 8:30 AM. This day we were headed for Montezuma Peak, a ski area up from Keystone. We left town by a different route (so at least I didn’t have to repeat my “fall over on the little hump” of Monday), and went on around the reservoir as we had on Monday. We were joined by Andre Boesel, a world-class triathlete, who kept a really nice pace with me at the back of our little group. I basically hung back today, joining in the echelon only when I really felt like it, and everyone was very understanding…I just really did not like the inner positions in the echelons, at least not on the bike paths. Sigh.

At any rate, we regrouped around Connie’s van the other side of the reservoir, then went on up to Keystone. From there we could see the path we’d take the next day, to Loveland Pass, which looked much steeper initially but supposedly didn’t last long. I guessed we would all find out the next day. The path up to Montezuma was somewhat easier, although still a bit of a grind; I was definitely happy to see the top. I did keep up a good steady pace, and as we practiced standing up “on the hoods” on the climbs, I had both Bill and Davis tell me I had good form. (Hurray!) Davis rode with me for maybe five minutes on one of the steeper parts near the end, giving me some tips for how I could relax and improve my breathing (keeping the back straighter, move my hands up out of the hoods, sliding back on the seat a little…). It was very helpful. It also didn’t hurt just to watch him; he was incredibly strong and made tooling along beside me look ridiculously easy before picking up the pace and moving ahead to the next rider. Plus he was pretty cute, too.

So we made it to the top, put our jackets and arm warmers, etc. back on to keep warm, and scarfed down some fig newtons and water before being requested to get going back down the hill. It turned out we had quite a tailwind coming up, as it was very much in our faces on the descent. A really nasty headwind it was, but I concentrated on my turns (almost like skiing) and had a good time coming down. Nearer the bottom I had to pick up the pace to rejoin the group – most everyone descends faster than I do – and with the headwind it was very hard to do so. Luckily Andre paced me back up to the group. The wind remained very nasty back around the reservoir and I hung back at one point to try to stick with Beki, one of our group who was having a really hard time. The attempt was sort of pointless though, as she couldn’t keep up even with me, and I wound up in a no-man’s-land between groups fighting the wind on my own. But soon enough we reached a regroup spot, and from there on out it was easier for us all to stick together.

Re-entering Frisco, we stopped a few blocks away from the inn to get some sprinting practice. Both Davis and one 15-year-old in the camp demonstrated sprinting technique, i.e. how to hold one’s arms, move the bike underneath you while keeping your body pretty straight. They both looked awesome. But of course Davis would look good doing just about anything, he’s so fit. I got off a couple of practice sprints and got beat both times; first time I was in too easy of a gear, the second time I was in a better gear but my opponent just had much better turnover and pulled away from me. I decided I’d have to practice with Robert when I got home.

So, 39.8 miles for the day, and about 1500 feet of climbing. I thought we must not really have gotten near 11,000 feet yesterday, it was probably more like 10,500; it would have been nice to find a map with altitudes on it. [I later found a topo map and sure enough Vail Pass lay at about 10,500 ft, so that’s 2,000 ft of climbing on Tuesday, not 2,500.]

In the afternoon, after logging in for a bit (I’m so hopeless) and calling Robert to wish him a good trip to Arizona (he was heading off for the Southwest Wings Birding Festival at the Casa), I listened to part of a talk on gearing and how best to shift on hills. It turns out I’m mostly doing what I should do, except for one thing: they recommend when one stands up on the mid-point of the hill, to shift UP while you’re standing, one or two gears, and shift back DOWN when you sit down. It sounded as if that would be difficult to do, and I wanted to go outside and try it, but decided to wait until the morning and try it on the easy humps on the way out of town. I then went off for my half-hour leg massage; ooh, baby! What a good use of 30 minutes and $25. The masseuse Nancy was also riding with us each day, and she got all the kinks out of my leg muscles for sure. If I wasn’t prepared for Loveland Pass by now, I never would be.

Thursday, August 14

Loveland Pass day dawned pretty early, probably because I didn’t sleep very well. My stomach did a bunch of somersaults all through breakfast (or, as Coach Andi put it, kept up a 90-count cadence). And it was cold outside; ominous-looking clouds spilled over the mountain tops, blotting out the sun, and the wind was really blowing. Bill’s Love Goddesses pulled out of the driveway at a little after 8:00 AM, with Davis in tow. The start was definitely chilly, but as we got out of town the sun started to peek through the clouds a little, and the wind kind of died down. We moved along quickly around the reservoir and within an hour were on the road up to Keystone. We stopped only briefly at Keystone, long enough to stuff arm warmers and jackets in our jersey pockets; Connie encouraged us to keep moving so I took off quickly. The fellow who gave the gear talk the previous day, John, had said that the first fifteen minutes were the hardest, and then it was just a slow grind to the top, going past a ski area, then making a couple of big switchbacks up to the summit.

The initial climb was a little tough, but not overly so. I glanced at my watch every now and then to see how those fifteen minutes were going (and wondered, fifteen for Davis, or someone like me?). The grades lightened up and averaged about 5% for the duration of the 8.8 mile climb. I stopped at about the three-mile point just to take a drink and give my seat a brief rest; the support van nearly instantly pulled over to check on me, and I assured them I was simply taking my time and pacing myself. Connie gave me a running start and I was again off, now behind everyone on my team, but I figured, I’d be in better shape when I finished. I soon passed one team member, Diane, and had Beki in my sights, but Raylene and Susan were long gone (they eventually finished third and fourth on the day).

Liza atop Loveland Pass, cold but happy

Most of the people that went by were working hard. I stayed in fairly low gears and basically eased my way up, never really accelerating, never standing up on the pedals even, just keeping a nice steady pace. Davis came by me around the five-mile point, just past the Arapahoe Basin ski area, on his quest to catch the leaders. I made one more brief stop to stretch right before the second of the big switchbacks, and then proceeded on to the summit. Bill came back to check on me and to warn me about gusting winds near the top; he wasn’t kidding! I caught up with Beki, and together we struggled against a ferocious crosswind. I thought we might “cross the line” together, but she had a surge of energy the last 100 yards or so and pulled away. I didn’t mind too much, though; the other women who had already finished (about nine, I thought), and a bunch who had not ridden, but instead were driven up, stood at the roadside in the freezing wind and cheered all of us who made it to the top. It was great! Connie came and hugged me too; I was so happy I started jumping up and down.

And then I looked around and saw the sign: Loveland Pass, elevation 11,990. After hurriedly putting my arm warmers and jacket back on, I rummaged around in the support van and got my new red fleece vest out, and then drank a cup of coffee in the nearby and very warm bus there just for that purpose. We dashed out a few at a time to take our photographs near the elevation sign, and then ran back over to the van where Connie was taking team photographs. (She even said she’d send us copies – how wonderful!)

Bill Lahman and his group at Loveland Pass

We’d frozen up top for about 15 minutes, and after our photos Bill said it was time to get down the mountain. The descent was long, very very cold, and really scary due to the crosswinds. A couple of times the winds pushed me several feet to the right (or so it felt), which had me very jumpy about staying to the right to begin with. And my fingers and toes went completely numb. Eventually I did make it down, the last in my group, and after Connie loaned me a pair of full-fingered gloves, we took off again nearly immediately. By this point we had a completely awful headwind to fight against, and it was a bit of a struggle to stay with the group. Davis rode with me a little bit and helped push me along, after telling me cheerfully how much he loved headwinds. (Right.)

Davis Phinney and Liza

The group was really moving, but neither Beki nor I could hang with them. Coach Lisa* (see note below) rode with me most of the way back, around the reservoir, and it was a relief to get closer to Frisco and have the winds die down on that side of the lake. Lisa went back to fetch Beki just outside of town and I rode onto the inn on my own. Feeling returned to my toes about the time I arrived. Lunch was at the inn, and I ate loads. Bill gave a talk about bike mechanics that afternoon, followed by three of the women coaches doing a “girl talk” session, which started out to be about chafing problems, shorts, and saddles, but became more interesting to me when we got them to talk about their racing careers and what accomplishments they were the proudest of. All of them had won different races, but they all seemed to like the competition and helping out their team more than the times where they won individually; it was very interesting.

[*Lisa Goldsmith, former US National Team member and pro cyclist who raced in the Tour Feminin (Women’s Tour de France) twice! She said racing up Alpe d’Huez was one of her proudest moments in racing, even though she didn’t win the stage; just to do it well was enough for her.]

Dinner was at the inn as well, and after dinner it was “camp awards night”. Each team leader gave out group photos in plastic frames to the members; the photo Bill gave us was taken up at Vail Pass a couple of days earlier. Great photo, too! We also each got a pair of Pearl Izumi socks. We in turn honored Bill by singing our team song Venus, by the Shocking Blue, and later Bananarama:

A goddess on a mountaintop
Burning like a silver flame
Goddess of beauty and love
and Venus was her name….
She’s got it!
Yeah baby, she’s got it!
Yes, I’m your Venus, I’m your fire
At your desire.

And we also gave him a photograph that Raylene had taken the previous day around by the reservoir, framed, matted, titled “Goddesses of Love”, and signed by all of us on Equipo Eros. They had “most improved” awards for each team as well, with ours going to Raylene. Only one more day of camp, and then it would be over. I had started out not feeling confident, then spooked over my fall, and unhappy in the echelon. But by the end I was creeping back into the echelon when I could do so, riding more strongly up the hills, and powered my way up to Loveland Pass, feeling quite good when I got there. I may not have been the first person up the mountain, but I turned in a very good time, and proved to myself that I could succeed if I just kept going. I could honestly say that it was the toughest thing I had ever done, and I was very happy with my effort. I would remember this day for a very long time.

Friday, August 15

Last day of camp! We all had a minimal breakfast (muffins, coffee) before hitting the road at 8:00 AM for one last circuit of the reservoir. This morning we started in the direction of Breckenridge, coming over Swan Mountain Road the “back way” and then returning on the bike path around the reservoir. It was another gorgeous morning, blue skies, blue water, and not quite so windy. Going over Swan Mountain was a workout after the previous day’s exertions, but our tiny group of four (three people bailed out) made it around ok, and we seemed to fly around the bike path back into Frisco.

The inn had set out a huge, yummy brunch for us when we returned. I wasn’t too terribly hungry, but figuring it was at least eight hours until dinner, ate some french toast anyway. I had thought of going on a ride up to Copper Mountain after brunch and packing the bike up later in the afternoon, but as all the staff were trying to bail out as soon as possible for their respective long drives home, I thought it would be a good idea to pack up early while Bill and Andi were still around with their tools. I still could not get the darn pedals off, even though I had the proper wrench for it – sigh. Coach Andi whacked them off of there for me, and I packed up everything in about 30 minutes, stuffing a lot of dirty clothes in the bike box while I was at it.

Connie and Coach Laura were running the “Pearl Izumi boutique” until noon, and I picked up a pair of (non-cycling) shorts. After that, though, I decided I really couldn’t stand to be around and watch everyone leave, especially Connie, so I said my goodbyes, got one last hug from her, and took off on a very long walk, thinking about all that had happened the last week, and what great people we were all lucky enough to have working with us. Davis and Connie – especially Connie – were so involved; they put their hearts and souls into the camp and treated everyone as if they had been friends for years. They supported everyone from the rank beginners (yes there were a few), to the future US national team members, and everyone in-between. And the location could not have been better; I looked forward to returning to Frisco with Robert so we could hike and bike together.

I came to camp to improve my own cycling skills and to try not to base my assessment of myself on how everyone else did. Because of Connie’s support and encouragement, I was able to do just that. I’ll never forget it. As Connie would say…YES!