Forenote: With the wild times of COVID-19, global economic downturn, lockdown, evaporating race schedules and Olympic postponement, let’s revisit something I put together a mere few weeks ago. Looking back on our time in Girona feels like months ago, lifetimes ago, but in reality my last ride in Spain was only 24 days ago.
I am truly thankful to have had that experience, make those memories and fuel the fire – a fire that burns bright enough to get us through these tough times.
Please join me in reflecting on simpler times, when the word ‘sick’ still referred to a great ride rather than the harsh realities of those affected by this pandemic.
Peter – March 23, 2020
Recently I had the opportunity to revisit one of my favourite places and recreate some of my fondest memories from my days as a junior. I travelled to Girona, Spain in mid-February and was honoured to step into a supporting role for a group of young athletes. My 3 week involvement in this OCA camp reminded me not only of my own developing years and how they shaped my career, but also of the pure joy, grit, and determination which got me hooked in the first place.
Physically, I was in Girona, a beautiful region of Catalonia northeast of Barcelona. Girona is home to a large portion of the World’s cycling professionals and their World Tour bases. However, taking part in my first OCA camp in years had me mentally revisiting Rocky Bottom, South Carolina where I began to tap into my potential as a junior.
If you ever get the chance to travel to Northwest South Carolina and are driving or riding through the mountains, you might stumble through Rocky Bottom. It won’t seem like much, but you might notice a church, a few houses, a rundown children’s camp, and a complete lack of cell service. Rocky Bottom is admittedly a little rough around the edges and at least a 20-30 minute drive from pretty much anything, but nevertheless it holds a very special place in the hearts of so many high-performance Ontarian athletes.
Being back at a junior cycling camp prompted me to reminisce about the good old days, or rather, the old days. The phrase “good old days” would imply that the life of a Professional Mountain Biker isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, but the truth is that it’s incredible. Although somewhat of an unorthodox lifestyle compared to your typical 9-5 office job, I wouldn’t trade it for the world. In a lot of ways, the junior camps were akin to living like a 13-year-old, the days your mom told you would be the best of your life. We had limited responsibility, free food and care, no job, and most of all, spending all day playing in the mud with your friends was perfectly acceptable. Today, that last point still holds true, and being pro is also an incredible life with opportunities to travel all around the world with my bike and see things I wouldn’t be able to otherwise. I’m honoured to explore little pockets of the countries we visit, taking in natural landscapes by bike rather than as tourists. My memories of those junior endurance camps in middle of nowhere South Carolina hold a very special place in my heart and I’d like to use this medium to share a little about it with you. So without further ado, let’s reminisce!
My first OCA junior endurance project took place over March Break, 2011 when I was in grade 10. At this point, I knew how to ride a bike and I knew how to boil water, but that was about it. What I would come to learn from those camps built a skillset and understanding of sport, which would be refined over the years and has shaped both the person and the athlete I am today. Whether it be culinary lessons or learning how to ride in a group efficiently and effectively, these newfound skills set a foundation for future success. New skills aside, when I really reflect on the 3 or 4 consecutive years of OCA endurance camps, I obviously remember the epic rides and sign sprints, but also the fun comradery. With no cell service, no internet, and 40 athletes in a worn down summer camp, memories like damming the stream behind the cabin for recovery baths, having obstacle races, and plastering the walls with pages from the newest Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition also stand out (Kate Upton and I shared that Rookie Year, and what a year it was.)
After being given the opportunity to go to Girona, Spain with the OCA again, 9 years after my first camp, I knew I had to go. The thought of reliving those youthful, fun, honest years was intriguing. I thoroughly enjoy being around younger athletes. I feel now at this point that I have something I can offer them, something someone like Mitch Bailey or Matteo Dalcin might have told me back in Rocky Bottom. Even if it isn’t in the form of advice or tips, I remember bearing witness to the training and physical capabilities of some of the top U23s on those camps and being inspired, or at least becoming aware of what it would take.
I had a phenomenal time in Girona with the OCA. The athlete ages ranged from 14 – 20ish with some elder guests. The first few days were quite challenging for me as I had to remember how much and how little I knew at that stage of my life. This was thoroughly humbling as I reflected in real time to how far I have come. I set a goal to chat and connect with as many of the athletes as I could. It was great to get some insight into their current paradigm and provide guidance if I could.
Although smaller than the Rocky Bottom camps I attended, the comradery was still present. After a few days of living and riding with this crew it was clear that they were making those valuable memories and connections. There were times of hysterical laughter, teasing and joking around. It was apparent that they were able to raise the bar and rise to the occasion of challenging training with their peers. I was genuinely pleased to see the excitement, motivation and professionalism surrounding such a young group of athletes. For myself, I fed off of that energy and had an amazing camp. The energy surrounding young, passionate athletes is untamed and raw – being immersed in that again stoked the fire within me. I am thankful for that.
My wish for these athletes is, regardless of what they go on to do, one day they can look back on this camp in Girona with fond and inspiring memories as I often do when I think about Rocky Bottom. Although, now as I write and reflect on my time in February, maybe I won’t have to go so far back in time to reminisce about those youthful, inspiration, and energy infused times.
Final Fun Fact: I turned “Pro” in 2014. February 13th, 2020 was my first time EVER riding a drop bar bike in Europe. It is all it is cracked up to be!