Camps Teach the Ups and Downs of Mountain Biking

Everyone, it seems, has enjoyable memories of a time spent at summer camp.

For most of us, summer camp was a couple of weeks in June or July up in the mountains or some similar location. It seemed as if every camp had some kind of Indian-sounding name like "Camp Winnebago" or "Camp Hiawatha."

There, miles from Mom and Dad, we filled the final days of our summer vacation with horseback riding, swimming, hiking and campfire songs.

Feeling nostalgic? Ready for a second childhood? Well, for those of you who thought that summer camps were just for the young of age, take note: There are plenty of off-road camps for the young of heart, too.

If you're an addicted off-road cyclist and, like most of us, enjoy mingling with those who share your compulsion, a few days at a mountain bike camp just might be a way to relive memories of summers past. And the best thing about mountain bike camps is that they don't discriminate on the basis of sex, job status or, most important, age.

Finding the proper camp, however, isn't as simple as it was in the old days. Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on your point of view) there are more good camps than you can shake a training diary at. The names may be less romantic (Dirt Camp, for example, instead of Canyon Ranch Spa), but the settings are just as idyllic and the activities just as plentiful as they were at the camps where you spent your youth.

Choosing one camp from among the myriad available, then, becomes as difficult as picking the gears for the terrain you are riding. Although each camp's information brochure promises that participants will have the time of their lives, some offer only an experience to forget, not remember.

Most off-road camps are located in secluded resort areas. The wildflowers, snow-capped mountains or desert setting make aching thighs endurable. No television, no newspaper, no job. Just beautiful scenery, ideal weather, great cycling and good friends.

Although the approaches may differ, the daily schedules at most camps are surprisingly similar. Two rides a day are common, with lectures on everything from diet to heart-rate monitoring to fill the time between rides. In addition, hot tubs, saunas and massage sessions are available at most camps.

While the premise of every camp is to introduce you to different coaching philosophies and ways to make trail riding more enjoyable, the success each camp has in attaining those goals depends greatly on the instructors (remember when we used to call them counselors?).

The lure of a summer vacation in a scenic, natural setting, surrounded by fitness-minded individuals and friendly camp administrators, doesn't affect only serious racers. Weekend fitness cyclists find themselves attracted by the same things that appeal to the sub-Olympians.

Because most camps are held at resort areas, the words "camp" and "campers" are actually misnomers. The cyclist don't actually camp out at all, but are lodged instead in rustic cabins or motel rooms. These camps often use lodges or hotels located at ski resorts. Other camps house their cyclists in college dormitories.

Although cost is the first thing most people consider, I've place it down on my list of things to consider first, and with good reason. For starters, most camps, like most good single suspension bikes, fall within the same price range. But, more important, sacrificing a few features for the sake of a few dollars will likely lessen the enjoyment of your experience and could leave you feeling as if the whole week was little more than a waste of time and money. In this case, a penny saved will often not be a penny earned.

Don't judge a camp by its pamphlet; get someone on the phone and ask questions. If you can't find someone to answer those questions, eliminate that camp from your list. You wouldn't think of entering a race without first finding out how long it was and what the course was like, and you shouldn't sign up for a camp without finding out what you're getting for your money.

"The best thing about cycling camps are the friends you make," more than one cyclist noted at a recent camp I attended. And another camper took that theme a step further: "Off-road cycling camps aren't just for kids. Now adults have an excuse to cycle, play and learn instead of having to go to work, worry and earn."

Interesting in attending a mountain bike camp? Search for one here.

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