Reaching New Heights – ET Spring Camp 2014
Solvang is known as the Danish Capital of the World, and is nestled in the Santa Ynez Valley. Its location among the mountains and vineyards is ideal for challenging hill climbing, breathtaking scenery, and of course, wine tasting. ET Camp Director, Suzy Cerra, and ET’s Founder, Joe LoPresto, produced another world class triathlon training camp filled with cycling, running, swimming, and yoga while exploring the quaint town of Solvang and appreciating the terrific food, wine and shopping the village has to offer.
After arriving at LAX and securing our rental cars, the trip officially began! The car ride to Solvang from Los Angeles was approximately 2.5 hours, and it was beautiful!!! As we approached the town of Santa Barbara, we had our sights on the Pacific Ocean. The waves were crashing up against the beach to our left, and the rolling green mountains were on our right. It was an exciting view! We then turned north and climbed over the Santa Ynez mountains toward Solvang. Returning campers knew that we’d soon see that same mountain pass from the seats of our bikes. The views were breath-taking and made the car ride go very quickly. The excitement was building, and we were all thrilled about starting our camp adventure.
Once we arrived at our resort hotel, the Santa Ynez Valley Marriott, we began to explore all the amenities the hotel has to offer: Luxurious rooms with comfy beds, a Starbucks, outdoor pool, hot tub, fire pit, free cookies in the afternoon, and a fabulous hot breakfast buffet each morning. What more could you ask for?!
After settling in, some headed out for an easy, short run from the hotel, while others opted for a pre-dinner glass of wine in the hotel bar. Then it was time for a great dinner on the patio at Cecco, an Italian bistro café in picturesque downtown Solvang . This was a fantastic venue and a wonderful way to start our 5 day training camp adventure! We were able to relax, enjoy good conversation, and discuss the upcoming events. The topic of the night was the next day’s bike ride. This would be the first ride of the trip, and we were ready to conquer the mountains!
Friday morning came quickly, and we were ready for our first big ride. We were picked up at the hotel by our tour guides, and after a quick shuttle bus ride we found ourselves at Santa Barbara Wine Country Cycling Tours bike shop. We retrieved our bikes, grabbed our helmets, took some pictures, and off we went! We did a nice 10 mile, rolling terrain warm up ride on Happy Canyon Road, which hooks up to the base of the world-famous Figueroa Mountain. This mountain draws elite cyclists. In fact, Lance Armstrong has been known to visit this mountain each year while training for the Tour de France. Once we began climbing, we quickly understood why it’s a great training ride. There were gradients up to 18% on a few hills that we encountered. The overall average gradient of this section was 12%. Individual riders were able to ride as far up the 10 mile mountain as they felt comfortable. This was a great way to customize the overall ride to each athlete’s current fitness level. The descent was just as daring. We were flying downhill, but with extreme caution. It was so steep that you really had to brake often to ensure safety. We were in amazement of the challenging ride, but what an experience! The views were spectacular!! It literally took our breath way. Grassy, green, rolling hills surrounded us, and they went on as far as the eye could see. Just wow!
Thus far, the morning’s ride was very exhilarating, and we were all having a great time! After a few hours on the bike, we broke for lunch, which was not your typical lunch either. This was a gourmet style lunch on the outdoor patio at the beautiful Bridlewood winery, which was situated among a gorgeous backdrop of mountains and vineyards. Lunch included a variety of gourmet salads, prosciutto, salami, cheeses, fresh fruit, vegetables, and desserts. After lunch, some of the campers took part in a very educational wine tasting seminar presented by the winemaker at Bridlewood.
After lunch we pushed on to finish our first full day of riding. We biked part way up the other (north) side of Figueroa Mountain before turning back toward the quaint town of Los Olivos, featured in the movie Sideways. From Los Olivos, we made a very steep, circular climb up to the mystic Ballard Canyon. We were instantly transformed to another world along this continuously variable terrain of up and down and sweeping turns. We felt like kids again as we flew through the canyon trying to keep our eyes on the road and not the amazing scenery and wildlife. This was a truly transformational part of the day for us.
We finished the 50 mile ride back at our hotel with some of our campers heading out for a brick run and others making a quick T2 transition to the hot tub and pool.
Friday night we dined at Full of Life Flat Bread Pizza in Los Alamos. This was a Camper favorite in 2013, and it did not disappoint this year. We dined right next to the large brick oven, enjoying the artistry of the pizza maker and the warmth of the super hot oven as we consumed a large quantity of pizzas made with locally grown, organic ingredients. YUM! 🙂
The next day, Saturday, was a lighter day to recover from the previous day’s ride, but it was a perfect day to incorporate running, swimming and yoga. This was also the day where we were able to explore the town of Solvang, visit the adorable shops, and eat! The first activity of the day was a beautiful run around Solvang. Just when we thought the hill workouts were over, we experienced them again on the morning run back through Ballard Canyon. They are so beautiful that you don’t mind running them. Between the horse farms, strawberry fields, vineyards and rolling mountains, there is always something that will catch your eye. It had rained over night, and the mix of haze and sun over the mountains was mesmerizing. Another of many “take your breath away” moments at camp.
After the run, we headed to downtown Solvang where we ordered the “Danish Breakfast” at Olsen’s Danish Village Bakery. This place is not to be missed!! They had excellent pastries, cookies, and breads. Have you ever heard Coach Suzy talk about the Danish Bakery and thought to yourself, “Can it really be all that good?” The answer is it’s absolutely that good and better. 🙂
Workout number two for the day was swimming at the local YMCA. Once we all arrived pool side, Coach Joe led us through a great swim workout. How could it not be great in a pool like that? Glass walls on two sides with picturesque views of the mountains around us. This was not a leisurely float though. It was a great warm up, then a broken 1500 descending pace main set followed by several triathlon specific swim sets such as polo thirds and tri-sighting. It felt great to get in the water and stretch out the muscles we fatigued the day before on the bike and earlier in the day with the long run in the hills.
We practiced our “fast transition” skills in the YMCA locker room and headed to our private yoga session at Bloom Yoga. Our yoga instructor, Kimberly, clearly understood the stress we put on our bodies and tailored the practice to our needs. She was amazing and kept up with our group’s shenanigans like she was one of us. She made sure that we had fun but also understood the appropriate positioning to help our bodies stretch, open up, recover, and relax.
After yoga and a fun, action packed morning, it was time to chill out a little with a nice lunch on the patio of Panino, shopping, and people watching in wonderful Solvang. What more could you ask for?
Saturday night we dined at the brand new Red Barn steakhouse in Santa Ynez. This white table cloth, 5 star restaurant served up the best dining experience we’ve ever had in our many camps to Solvang. Rivaling any of the fine dining experiences in the Chicagoland area, this restaurant is a “must visit” on any trip to Santa Barabara wine country. The steaks and seafood had amazing flavor, and the food just melted in your mouth. “OMG” is all we could say on our way out the door as we complimented the owners.
The following day, Sunday, was our second bike ride of the camp and our last big workout day. It was the day we had be waiting for. Some campers were a little nervous after hearing veteran campers describe the epic journey to Jalama Beach on the Pacific. The 70 mile route is considered to be one of the toughest in this part of southern California. With almost 6000 feet of elevation change, two, 10 mile continuous climbs across the Santa Ynez mountain range, and winds that can gust to more than 30mph, this ride can test the best of riders. Last year we had high temperatures of almost 90F to deal with, but this year we had the high winds to push most of the day. Many return campers and ET coaches felt this was the most difficult ride we’ve ever done in Solvang, and our professional cycling guides confirmed that by saying it was one of the toughest, longest days to Jalama they had seen. While we struggled and pushed our way back from Jalama in those high winds, we did not quit. We pulled each other with great team work all the way back to the hotel where several campers training for Ironman races this year quickly transitioned to head out for their brick runs. Together, we reached new heights in our epic trek to Jalama in 2014. Great job, Team ET!!
We closed our camp with an amazing group dinner celebration at The Vineyard House in Santa Ynez. Coach Joe thanked the campers for coming to ET Camp and taking time out of their active, busy lives. He also thanked Camp Director, Coach Suzy, for all her had work and many hours putting together this world class experience for everyone. Coach Suzy also thanked everyone for coming and for flowing through the camp and working together to make things go well. Camper, Jada B., gave a short speech on behalf of all the campers, thanking Coach Joe, Coach Suzy and all the campers for their “passion” and for making this camp one of the most memorable experience of her entire life. There were tears, hugs, and, of course, many wine toasts! 🙂 It was an emotional ending to a camp we will never forget.
One final personal note: We’d like to send a big THANK YOU to our friends at Santa Barbara Wine Country Tours: Owners Tim and Doug, guides Neal, Nills, and Robert and their catering staff. For almost a decade, Tim and crew have provided first class service for our Camps. When Suzy and I first visited Solvang to develop our Camp outline, Tim promised he could deliver a quality experience for us. And deliver he did. They’ve provided bikes, ride leadership, sag support, safety, education, mechanical support, gourmet foods, skill building and more. Santa Barbara Wine Country Cycling Tours is a top-notch, full service company that ET can proudly call our partner in delivering our industry leading camps.
Click here to enjoy all the photos from our 2014 Camp!