February 10, 2014

In 2014, we’re hoping to post some stories sent in by fans of Team Garmin-Sharp. Having followed along on twitter, we reached out to team fan Luke Allingham to see if we could re-post a story he wrote for his blog about a week at Camp Tommy D.

Luke is a 15 year old cycling fan from Chicago, Illinois. He’s written about the sport for the past three years and continues to do so as he progresses through high school. Tom Danielson invited Luke to his Tucson cycling camp for a week so that he could write about the camp and experience it from the inside. You can check out Luke’s blog here, or follow him on twitter here!

During Thanksgiving Break, I got an unexpected message on Twitter one morning. I read it several times over in disbelief. It said “Would you be able to come to Tucson in early December?” It was from Garmin-Sharp’s Tom Danielson. The message was unsolicited and proposed a once in a lifetime opportunity. He was offering me a trip to his newly opened cycling camp in Arizona. I immediately began looking for someone to share my news with; I found my mom and explained the opportunity to her. Fortunately, she understood it was something that I couldn’t turn down. Over the next several days, we set up flight arrangements, got everything confirmed with Tom, and made arrangements with teachers to miss a week of classes.

On Monday December 9th, I boarded a commercial airplane towards Phoenix, and eventually Tucson, Arizona. I hadn’t flown in the past few years, so I was a slightly nervous about traveling across the country by myself. After a delayed takeoff from Chicago, a sprint through the Phoenix airport, and a 20-minute flight between Phoenix and Tucson, I finally touched down in Tucson.

Once I claimed my bags from the terminal, I met Scott who had been sent to pick me up from the airport. Scott and I made the 30-minute drive to the house. During the drive, Scott showed me the many cacti that line the roadways, Tucson’s aircraft museum, and the local military base.

As the Camp Tommy D SAG wagon pulled into the gravel driveway of the ranch, I knew I had arrived to a place where I automatically belonged. We were surrounded by cactus and Tucson’s mountain ranges; coming from the flat lands of Chicago, I was blown away.

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Scott and I walked across the gravel driveway, approaching the blue-painted brick house where I would be staying for the following six days. The moment I stepped through the doorway I knew that this would be a great week. I was with my own kind, so to speak. I walked into the living room and met the others who had arrived earlier. I exchanged introductions with Rick, Keith and Ian. Rick assisted me with my bags and said “Luke, let me take you to your room and give you the grand tour…” The setting of the house had such a relaxed atmosphere. I let the reality of being there sink in as I passed through the corridor between the living room and my bedroom. It was truly a house designed for cyclists with the bedrooms, living room, and dining room all decorated with bike-inspired art.

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Throughout the rest of the day I met Chef Sean Fowler and Tom Danielson. That evening we all gathered around the dinner table for a delicious meal prepared by Chef Sean. For our first course we had a cold tomato soup. We had swordfish over sweet potatoes for our main dish and a pumpkin-cranberry cake for dessert. While I am not a fan of cranberries, the whole meal blended together beautifully.

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The following morning, after what seemed to be only a few minutes of sleep, I wandered out of my bedroom and into the kitchen to the smell of fresh coffee brewing and oatmeal cooking in the crockpot. It was Tuesday, and there were only a handful of hours before we’d be pedaling around the eight-mile loop of Saguaro East National Park. We suited up, filled water bottles, and rolled our bikes out of the garage onto the wide-shouldered road.

Only a few hundred meters into the eight-mile loop, I crashed. I felt my rear wheel lock up and heard the sound of my Cervelo S5 bike skidding across the asphalt. I watched in disbelief as my bike went from facing vertically to horizontally, then coming out from underneath me. After my body first smacked against the pavement, I watched the road fly by as I tumbled across the asphalt. I whispered, “Give me a second…” as one of the ride leaders attempted to lift me from the road. After I got off the ground, I walked back up the hill where I had just crashed with Tommy D. Jokingly, I said there is “nothing better than watching the asphalt pass you by as your body scrapes across the ground…” After having my wounds bandaged and head checked at the back bumper of the car, Scott drove me back to the house to shower and rest. Upon arrival, I assessed the damage: my left hip looked as though a shark had bit me, and I had two chipped teeth. It wasn’t pretty, but it could have resulted in much worse injuries. I was alive and well, but this had definitely been an unexpected start to the week.

Wednesday’s ride was probably my most difficult day on the bike. On the approximately 30-mile ride, 17 of them up Mt. Lemmon (which has an average six percent grade), I learned where my physical abilities end and my mental toughness begins. I suffered through tendons tightening, lack of miles in the legs, and general soreness before meeting Tommy D at Windy Point – 12 miles up. I was told earlier in the day that I could stop at Windy Point; however, Tom had other plans for me. I don’t know how he did it, but Tom convinced me to ride another four or five miles up the road with him. My legs were torn apart and my mental toughness was low, but we pulled through it. For not one minute did Tom give up on me. He kept pushing me over the five miles, and eventually I pushed back.

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As we approached our finish point, my brain took control over my legs. Without considering the consequences, I suddenly put in a massive acceleration. I heard Tom’s voice behind me saying “Now that makes me mad…” As I looked back, I saw that I unintentionally and unknowingly left Tommy D several feet off my back wheel – I had just ridden away from a man who finished top 10 overall in the Tour De France! As I slowed down, he returned to my side and we finished the climb together.

I learned a lot that day on the bike. While my legs and body may have not felt great during the climb, I now realize that it was one of my best ever days riding. I had conquered my first mountain, and I had done it with a world-class athlete by my side. How many can say they’ve done that? It felt great that I’d conquered the mountain, but the evening wasn’t as glorious – I vomited during dinner. I had pushed my body past its physical cracking point. I was later commended for “christening” the house for future camps.

By the next morning I had recuperated somewhat from Mt. Lemmon. It was “coffee shop day” and I was looking forward to it. On the low-populated streets of Tucson, Arizona, we had an easy day in our sights: a pleasant coffee shop ride with no attacks, no pressure. Just an easy recovery day. Or so we had planned. My legs were feeling good, so when Cadence chose to test his legs on the rolling terrain, I followed. I stayed on his wheel, stretching my legs as well. Before I knew it, however, we were back amongst the group and had just turned into the coffee shop. The five of us placed our drink and meal orders – I had a nice hot chocolate with whipped cream. It was a great treat after the exertions of the first two days. On the hill that led back to the house Ian leapt off the front of the group. I made attempts to catch him, but I was unsuccessful. I didn’t want to risk blowing up, so I found myself in “no man’s land” with Ian just within sight ahead of me and the rest of the group behind me.

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Friday was our longest day of the week, an estimated 80-mile round trip from the house to Sonoita, AZ. Amongst the group, it was the best day of the week for me. From mile 0 Tom immediately joined me at the back of the group and began teaching me how to become a better rider. He taught me how to focus on the person’s back wheel in order to stay in a straight line. He taught me how to properly accelerate out of the saddle. We were also able to get to know each other on more than just the typical fan meets cyclist basis. I told him a little about my family and myself, and I was able to hear stories from him. It was a special day, one that will stick in the memory for many years to come.

After one hour into our 80-mile ride, we stopped to rehydrate and eat. As we got back onto the road, Tom told me “Your goal is to stay with the front group for two hours today, Luke.” I think both of us were surprised, however, how long the lead group was able to keep the pace as high as it was. Only a few more miles down the road Tom and I (Tom stayed by my side) were off the pace of the the lead group as the rolling terrain continued. I didn’t have it in my legs, but that certainly didn’t discourage Tom from pushing me to my maximum again; “15 more minutes and then you’re done,” he exclaimed. “Okay, I’ll give you that deal,” I replied. I struggled for the following 15 minutes, trying to get my legs to believe that they could push harder. Eventually we approached a pull-off on the side of the road where the other riders had gathered – it was my end point for the day. Scott attached my bike to the roof of the car, and we began driving behind those that remained in the group. While my day on the bike hadn’t gone exactly to plan, this presented a different kind of opportunity. I was able to get photos of Tom and the other riders from the car. It had been a win-win day.

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Saturday morning was my final chance to prove that I was there for a reason, other than just journalism. It was a five-mile, uphill, individually timed event up the base of Mt. Lemmon. At 6ft and 130lbs, I was “built” for this. Tom and Chef Sean labeled me a “dark horse” for the day. It was an estimated 30-35 minute effort at threshold to finish off the week. I passed my 30-second “bunny rabbit” three miles into the climb and finished with a time of 32:04. It was some 14 minutes slower than Tommy D, but he’s a professional cyclist, so I wasn’t too knocked down. I was pleased with my time and the effort that I had given. I had gone from a crash on the first ride to finishing 2nd out of four campers in the five mile timed event. I was proud of myself. I gave Tom a high five after crossing the finish line and told him “That was great!” I hope I made Tom proud, too.

During my time in Tucson I got to ride my bike a lot and interview Tom Danielson, but this week was so much more than just a cycling camp or another story for my journalism work. My experience at Camp Tommy D was about meeting new people, experiencing new things, and pushing past boundaries that I had never even attempted to break. Looking back, I’m honored and grateful that I was able to attend Tommy D’s Tucson Cycling Camp, experiences the things that I did, and meet Tom. It was a special week and I can’t thank Tom enough for the opportunity that he gave me.