RTR Cross Camp Recap


When you schedule an event in advance there are variables.  When you do anything there are variables.  In the case of the Guns, Grits and Gravel Cyclocross Workshop, beside the logistical planning that comes with the turf there is the fact that the professionals lined up to instruct are what the whole thing hinges on.

Both our experts not only had races to do leading up to GGG, they had major stage races.

For Joe Dombrowski of Trek Livestrong, it was the Tour of Utah, a five stage event one week prior, while Jeremiah Bishop of Cannondale was defending his title in the high altitude Breck Epic in Colorado, a six stage mountain bike endurance test that finished the day before our cross camp.

Their healthy return was a definite variable given the wide set of physical obstacles in high stakes pro racing.   In Jeremiah’s case simple travel dynamics were a factor.

That they both came back triumphant was a big added bonus to their presence and expertise.  Jeremiah defended his title convincingly taking four stage wins along the way and Joe handled domestique duties for his star U 23 squad (they scored two stage wins) and still managed to secure 27th overall in an international field.


This weekend I was a novice.  Despite having raced competitively for 17 years cyclocross is just  a word to me.  There is respect and  curiosity for sure but you really can’t fully know something from the outside.  Part of my reluctance is genuine since I have substantial hardware in my left leg and limited running capability.  At best I hobble and am cautious about overloading my repaired leg.  And finally, frankly, I have stayed away not wanting to be the old dog trying to learn new tricks.  Starting from scratch and being humbled yet more in a humbling sport.  I toyed with dodging the potential embarrassments by offering to wear the camp administrator’s hats and waving a clip board from the sidelines but when a Specialized cross demo bike arrived especially for me courtesy of Travis Coleman at Cycle Life USA, my excuses were pointless.  I would be in it and, in deep on the mud, sand, hills, fields and streams of Lost River WV.


Joe D. laid out the basic bones of the course before going to Utah.  The week before GGG I worked the grounds some more before he came in Friday (along with ever ready cross fanatic and racer John Cutler) to tie all the sections together and finish taping and staking.
I approximated but quickly saw how far off I was.  An area that didn’t look like much to me became a series of S turns, 180s, and circles and this is in between the sand pit and the hill run up with barriers.

That doesn’t account for the Tarzan pit (a  muddy slog next to the stream with a steady water flow from the underground spring) and the rain forest (a section of woods and brush with old  road tracks underneath the growth), which emerged from the canopy straight into the steep downhill S curves.

There was also a long field section after the run up before returning to the technical areas. The entire distance was seven tenths of a mile with approximately five minute lap times.

With only hard hilly technical crit courses to compare with, this thing to me seemed like a beast.   Several up hills.  Lots of obstacles and limited recovery chances, although what I would be learning is that in cross recovery is a very finite increment and that your ability to operate smooth and to flesh out technique efficiently as well as run the anaerobic red line closely are all components of recovery and the chance for a good ride.


We had a full deluxe Guest House breakfast both days.   Plenty of room to stretch out and keep eating while Joe and Jeremiah broke it all down.  Equipment, nutrition, race strategy, preparation – tales from the road, inside the course and beyond – Qs and As, all very informal and informative.

The course was right there.  A small little descent and onto the grounds of Deer Springs Trout Farm for the action.

Trips from station to station.  Working fundamentals and fine points both.  We adjusted the course to make repetitive runs over one section and find the rhythm in the sequence.  Reviewing the footage after dinner Saturday night gave us a clearer version of what had been accomplished (or not yet accomplished).

There was a lunch break and we rolled ‘off campus’ to the Lost River General Store where Joe told us about the fanatic Belgian fans and the Joe D playing cards.

Saturday was a full one because somewhere in the middle of the food, riding, re-riding and video analysis was the ‘Bulls and Barrels’ Rodeo, which initially we were going to ride to but wisely opted to lose the chamis and go cowboy style with some brave souls being sheparded by Joe in ‘Keith’, a trusty ’86 Ford F 150 with a broken rear gate and a faded RTR magnet.

Kids chasing greased pigs.  Kids trying to ride aggressive sheep. Horse barrel moves and the big finale bull riding.  Full action.

Sunday we did a short, but steep and scenic shake-out-yesterdays-lactic-acid group ride on paved and gravel roads.  At the top of the plateau on Big Ridge Road Jeremiah ran us through some start line drills as well as demonstrating  cutting edge pre race stretch maneuveurs, just because camp renegade Chris Soda asked.

Back at the GGG course later after lunch and some live original banjo work from gracious land host Walter Weeks, we got down with some three and four man short track heats and finally a mock scrimmage using the full course full gas as a finale.


These guys know their craft.  I already knew that but by being a participant I had the full scope of detail.  This is stuff you need to practice and work on and the faster you can do it smooth the faster you can go.  That is assuming there is fitness of course.

It was great watching the group grow and interact with the course, each other and their abilities and I am grateful to them for being part of this inaugural event.  I hope they learned as much as me and also, watch out for Jackson Burns.  He is ten years old and was giving nothing up on anyone there not to mention making the steep bumpy S turn down hill look like butter.

I know I got worked.   Lots of efforts.  Lot of resistance.  I’m not sure I will be pinning on a number for grass and mud work yet but I am definitely closer than I was three days ago.

Additional pics here courtesy of Matt Hughes.

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