A Skeptical Cyclist in Tucson

By Chris Kostman

Originally published in Endurance News #57, January 2008.

You don’t have to call me a skeptic; I’ve been a member of the Skeptics Society since it was founded by fellow Race Across America competitor Michael Shermer in 1992. Not only that, but I bagged out of the last two week-long cycling camps I attended because they were so poorly organized and populated with people who had zilch to talk about besides, well, cycling. In one case I left after less than 24 hours and in the other I survived 48 hours before I escaped to another hotel and my own itinerary.

So what the heck was I doing on my way to Tucson, en route to the December cycling camp hosted by the cycling food gurus at Hammer Nutrition and based at “The Cycling House?” I guess I was wishing for “third time’s a charm” and not “three strikes, you’re out.” (Not to mention a leg up on the impending holiday food fests.)

Fingers crossed, I exited I-10 in Tucson after a 400-mile cruise from my base camp.

Tucson is a city in the middle of the desert that sprawls a million miles in every direction. The last time I rode there, at the famous century ride, I was incredibly nonplussed by the landscape and urban sprawl. Although it was well organized, I was bewildered as to the ride’s popularity.

It was literally 15 miles from the freeway exit to the driveway of The Cycling House, a 6,000 square foot, two-story mini-mansion located in the Sabino Canyon area of northern Tucson. This location put us well away from urban sprawl and afforded truly spectacular views from the house of the Coronado National Forest, the Santa Catalina Mountains, and innumerable saguaro cacti, those huge, ubiquitous hand-like cacti with “fingers” as big as telephone poles which reach towards the sky in this part of the country.

OK, a great setting, but what about my fellow housemates? Let’s put it simply: I never once heard, or was asked, “So, what do you do for a living?” I also never heard a single comparison of century times or Ironman PRs or the like. There were fourteen of us (13 men and one woman) and we were all there for the same reason: to truly get away from the day-to-day accoutrements and business of life and work; to cycle daily in relative good weather (for December); to learn; and to enjoy the entire experience. The atmosphere was non-competitive, welcoming, inclusive, and just plain relaxing and pleasurable. We had cold weather escapees from North Carolina, Boston, Texas, Manhattan, Long Island, plus one Arizonan and myself from California. There were cyclists, triathletes, and an adventure racer. There wasn’t a “dud” in the group, I’m happy to report.

Running the camp was Brian Frank, the president and founder of 20-year-old Hammer Nutrition, a man whose company and products are incredibly well known in the cycling and endurance sports worlds, but who has employees more “famous” and commonly seen than he is. As a company, Hammer is built upon quality of products and service, rather than hero-worshipping its founder as many companies in the cycling industry seem to do. Co-hosting the five-day camp with Brian was Jim Bruskewitz, a cycling and triathlon coach from Madison, WI. Both men were extremely affable and approachable, while also being rock-solid encyclopedias of information and wisdom as well as sneakily impressive athletes.

Running The Cycling House as well as driving the sag van on each day’s ride was Owen Gue, a semi-retired professional cyclist in his early 20s who is also the co-founder of 53x11 Coffee. He was assisted by Andy Schultz, a 24-year-old professional mountain bike racer who is the reigning under-23 national mountain bike champion. Both from Montana, like Hammer, they are friendly, accommodating, helpful hosts. They’re also supremely fit and the kind of well-mannered boy-next-door type that most mothers probably hope their daughters will marry. Andy was the on-bike ride leader and was joined each day by one or two locally-based (at least in the Winter) pro cyclists such as David Glick and Brendan Halpin who rode sweep. I’d never head of any of these guys, but they rode like stars while being friendly and helpful; they all oozed that kind of skinny confidence and charisma that people like George Hincapie exude. I think they’ll all be famous some day.

OK, so great house, great participants, great hosts, great cyclists, but what about the riding?

In a word: superb! Each day’s ride was progressively longer, from a 20-mile stretch-your-legs cruise on the afternoon we arrived through 40, 50, and 60 miles in length as the days progressed. The routes were each a bit different and involved rolling terrain, almost always quiet roads, and explorations of the perimeter of the greater Tucson area and beyond. We rode a loop through the Saguaro National Park and we climbed all the local epic climbs like Gates Pass and others whose names I’ve forgotten.  We rode in pacelines, in small groups, and occasionally alone, but there were numerous regroups on each ride and nobody ever went missing or felt “all alone out there.” As each day started off cool, we could peel clothes and dump them in the sag van as needed, as well as refill water bottles and partake in the endless supply of the entire Hammer product line.

The highlight ride of the camp was the ride up Mt. Lemmon, a 20-mile and 6000 foot ascent through multiple micro-climates and bio-zones. Like all mountain climbs, it got cooler as we climbed higher; ultimately we rode up into a damp, chilly fogbank in the 7000-8000’ elevation range which was literally 30 degrees cooler than at the foot of the mountain. It was a relentless, but not impossible, climb and the weather change made the experience all the more epic and memorable. With a quick change into warmer clothes, we enjoyed a downhill which seemed to go on forever and afforded expansive views in nearly every direction. It was a truly awesome ride and worth the trip to Tucson just for that!

But life in The Cycling House at Hammer Camp is not just pedaling. To ensure we would be strong and ready to ride each day, we drank Recoverite immediately after each ride, then we could get optional massages each afternoon and/or hook up to Globus e-stim units to help our muscles recover with an electrical current. I particularly liked the Globus unit and definitely seemed to benefit from the “active recovery” it provided. I “should have” had tired quads by day three or four, but I never did and the skeptic in me gives a chunk of the credit to the Globus unit.

We also enjoyed very tasty, wholesome meals which were brought in by a healthy food caterer each afternoon and evening. (Breakfast was oatmeal with nuts and raisins or pancakes pumped up with Hammer protein powder, plus lots of 53x11 Coffee.) As a vegetarian for 17 years, and, to my surprise, the only one attending the camp, I was provided quality alternatives to the meat entrée which the others ate. The menus was crafted to not only taste really good (usually featuring a Southwest theme) but also to refuel us well in order to enhance recovery and overall health. We all learned some new cooking and shopping tricks, for sure. The only snack food in the house was fruit and trail mix, but that was fine and I didn’t feel the need to graze between meals.

We also had the option each afternoon of going to the pool for swim coaching by Jim. I wish I’d brought my goggles and swimsuit so that I could have done that. Some people also went for a run each day, while a few of us also made a coffee and chai run (by car) a few of the afternoons. Some even took naps!

After dinner each evening we had a group chat in the living room. People asked questions about Hammer products, about training, about anything they were curious about. Brian and Jim - and sometimes the rest of us - gave thoughtful answers. People were really forthcoming about their goals (“I want to be able to finish an Olympic distance triathlon comfortable” or “I want to figure out how to fuel properly because I’m sick of getting sick when I race” and such.) We all learned a lot and the conversation would often go on for an hour or more. The camaraderie and lack of judgment was refreshing.

We were at The House a lot, so much so that many of us started to comment that we felt like we were stars in a reality TV show, except without the histrionics and sleeping around. Actually, though, we all got along very well. No cliques formed and I think we were all happy to share a table, a paceline, or a couch with anybody else in the group.

Our last day’s ride was rained out. A few people went for a run. A few waited for a break in the weather but still got rained on while riding. A few of us went to a café. Nobody seemed to be “climbing the walls.” I drove there so I could have cut out a day early, but by day four I was in no hurry to head home, besides there was our one meal “out” to look forward to. The Cycling House had become home away from home and a chance to truly “check out” of daily life as we normally know it. So what if the last day’s ride was rained out? I read a book, enjoyed pleasant conversations with cool people, and relaxed instead! That is luxury!

In the end, my five days at The House were a true vacation. I got to do something I really enjoy. I hung out with fellow athletes, all of them totally non-pretentious and able to converse about lots of non-cycling topics. I learned some really great stuff, like how to make and use a “four hour bottle” (four scoops of HEED and four scoops of Perpetuem, all sipped carefully to last an entire 4-5 hour ride), how to use the Globus unit help my quads recover, and how important and effective it is to take fueling and supplementation, on and off the bike, seriously and be consistent about it. (How often can one feel the benefits of anything in just a day or two or three?) Best of all, I completely “tuned out” the rest of the world and just enjoyed my life as a cyclist for five days. Hammer Camp at The Cycling House will have to be an annual ritual at the very least.


Chris Kostman produces ultra endurance events in Death Valley and beyond through his company AdventureCORPS. He wrote about “Ironman Revisited” in Endurance News #56 and was profiled in Endurance News #44. He has used Hammer products since 2000.

For more information on Hammer Camp and Hammer Nutrition, click here.

For more information on The Cycling House, click here.

For more information about coach Jim Bruskewitz, click here.

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