Category Archives: Training

Six Gaps 2019

On the final weekend of July, an incredible 14 riders packed up for two nights and one crazy day of riding in Vermont. The Six Gaps ride, a route going up and over Middlebury, Lincoln, Appalachian, Roxbury, Rochester and Brandon Gaps in the Green Mountains has become something of an annual MIT masochist tradition. Nothing brings a group together quite like a marathon day in the saddle covering over 130 miles and climbing more than 11,000 feet. Even with a few inevitable mechanicals, everyone completed the ride! Many thanks to Dmitro for organizing this year’s trip! We hope to be back next year (after most of us have had plenty of time to forget about the suffering).

Miles uses his wingspan to capture all the smiles before we headed out in the morning

Carolyn explains how she found herself joining the ride:

“This insane adventure began in a now-familiar fashion: with a gentle nudge from Amy: 

I had heard legends of six gaps rides from years past, and was appropriately intimidated. I had done Eastern Ave reps and swapped out my cassette for an 11-34, but I still wasn’t sure it was enough. Even though I had done rides that were this long before, I knew that the elevation was the real challenge. 
The ride certainly delivered. We hit the famed Lincoln Gap second, and morale was high even as I struggled with every ounce of strength to turn my pedals over as the grade hit 20+%. However, gaps three and four were not much easier, and I felt my spirit starting to break. I cheered myself up by purchasing a toothbrush and toothpaste at the next gas station along with the requisite soda and candy bar (I don’t think I’d ever consumed this much sugar in a single day, and my teeth felt awful). From there, we had just two more gaps to go, and suddenly the end felt within reach. All in all, this was a crazy adventure with an amazing group of teammates. Thanks for the push Amy!”
One of many, many country store refueling pit stops
Trevor reflects on the countless highs and lows of the day:

“I’ve never really ridden bikes much; at least, nothing that wasn’t a beach cruiser or a mountain bike. Even since joining the team 9 months ago I wouldn’t exactly nominate myself as “proficient” in any aspect of riding a bike. So when the call for the 6-gaps ride came out–135 miles and 12000 ft of climbing—I of course decided it would be well-measured decision. To prepare, I followed a rigorous regiment of 2-3 rides per week, totaling around 90 miles each week and amassed a total of approximately 2000ft of climbing in my last 3 months of riding. The picture of health, thoroughly trained, and stubborn as a stick in the mud I entered the week with full faith that these mountains would be but speed bumps in my path.

Regrouping at the top of Middlebury Gap, our first of the day when most of us still felt fresh

On 6:30am Saturday, we set off and beaming with confidence, I rattled my way with the rest of the crew down the second half of the Brandon descent. One hour and one Middlebury Gap later, I was inclined to believe my training program was more than enough; my legs only throbbed with 7/10 intensity, and I had managed to keep in touch with the group all the way up the hill. This feeling of success however was shattered, along with most of my will, on the second half of Lincoln Gap which I attacked with full intensity simply to avoid a prolonged track-stand practice or a nature hike up the hill. Gasping for air at the top, jersey open, sweat pouring out, water bottles empty I boldly declared to myself that I was ⅓ down, ⅓ to go. The rest of the day (another 8 hours) laid ahead and to make a long story short, over the rest of the ride I:

  • Ate at least 12 bars of the Clif or Nature Valley variety
  • Drank about 3 gallons ( I think) of poorly mixed Gatorade
  • Fell hard into some rocks on Baby gap
  • Bonked on App gap
  • Made full use of my disk brakes on descents
  • Ate 80% of a loaf of bread generously donated by Amy
  • Sat on the group’s wheel for about 20 miles
  • Got aggressively saddle-sore at mile 90
  • Bonked on Rochester
  • Bonked, recovered, then Bonked again on Brandon
  • Stood up all the way down Brandon because my ass and my legs hurt 
Joanna and Amy power their way up App Gap

All in all, 6 gaps was an incredibly awesome, tiring, and humbling experience. It certainly cemented my love for (type 2 and 3) fun and also my appreciation for being able to be part of an awesome team of people that make even the most painful experiences fun. Looking forward to some more extended “#coffee rides” with the team for the foreseeable future”.

Recuperating at the top of Roxbury Gap, a tough climb on our fourth pass of the day with two more to go
Meia describes her day:

“Six Gaps was a wonderful mix of Type 1 and Type II fun – although mostly Type 1 thanks to the amazing group of people I had the pleasure to complete it with (see https://www.rei.com/blog/climb/fun-scale for a great explanation)! Climbing gaps sucked – and by that I mean I wheel-sucked Tobi up all of them, who wins the award for the most consistent rider. Lincoln really put me to the test – it was by far the steepest road I’ve ever been on. I zigzagged my way up so slowly my Garmin auto-paused on me (sad reacts only). I really thought I was going to puke coming to the end of the climb; but I’m happy to have made it up in one piece, and without walking! For better or for worse, I am now much more comfortable biking on the left side of the road. On other Type 1 fun notes, our group made uncountable country store stops, zoomed down the descents, pacelined the flat sections as a big family, cooked an amazing dinner with real food (not straight sugar!), stargazed in the evening, and some of us even hopped in the pond adjacent our Airbnb for a refreshing cool-off! Despite intense suffering (or perhaps because of it), this is definitely a highlight of my summer”.

 

Nic cheers on Lee as he rips up the final climb of Rochester Gap

Michael offers his take:

“From the moment I learned of the *experience* that is Six Gaps, I was all in. Some people need to have the latest iPhone or watch the latest Marvel movie. I needed to ride Six Gaps. And boy, it did not fail to live up to the hype. I must have experienced the full spectrum of human emotions on that ride, from the despair of climbing up the 24% grade on the Lincoln Gap to the exhilarating chase to catch the fast group on Brandon Gap. At some point along the Roxbury Gap when the road shot up towards the heavens, the morale got so bad that I considered hopping (or rather, falling) off my bike and calling an Uber back to the house…but then realized how expensive that ride would cost (and the logistical nightmare that would entail) and resigned myself to finish the ride. It had been a long time since I’ve had to dig this deep and I feel as if some dormant part of me was awakened by this experience. Looking back, I’m glad I didn’t call that Uber (or was it because I had no signal? I forget…) because the sense of accomplishment, the endless stories and friendships built from that ordeal are things I will cherish for a lifetime”.

Swapping stories from the day over a delicious and well-earned home cooked dinner

 

Winter Training Camp: Days 5-8

After tackling Palomar on day 4, there was little rest for the weary! Dmitro writes about day 5:

“On day 5 of training camp it was time for the TTT practice, and the much anticipated mock race (the Kool Katz were itching to redeem ourselves after our dismal performance during trivia night, and I was waiting to break out my skinsuit – because “aero is everything”). We started the day riding some beautiful roads that we had enjoyed early in the week during a recovery ride. The road rolled through farmland, affording some spectacular views – we then dropped down off of the mountain and into the valley where the “flat” road we would practice TTTing on was located.

We were eight on the day, four men and four women, so we split into a men’s team and women’s team and set off. I was riding with collegiate ITT national champion Erik, the incredibly strong and full of boundless energy Berk, and the massive diesel engine most call “Miles” – needless to say my legs were getting ripped off from the start. We did two practice 10 min TTs, and by the end I was absolutely toasted, I had used everything I had in the legs – but I wouldn’t have traded it for good legs for the rest of camp. There is something special that happens during a TTT; massive speeds, teammates working in harmony, and smooth and seamless conservation and economy of motion. When it all comes together it’s a beautiful thing. While we were far from having it come perfectly together, we still were able to tap into a little of that feel and that magic.

Taking a break between Team Time Trial (TTT) efforts to strategize.

After the TTT practice we decided to forgo the mock races; a number of mechanicals and people deciding to take rest days meant that our numbers were pretty limited and honestly I think we were all a little beat. We hammered one last climb and then rolled back to the house together chatting, laughing and generally having a good time.”

Day 6 was another much-needed recovery day! We went for a 15 mile ride in the morning to loosen up our legs, and then hunkered down inside for the rainy afternoon. Despite the weather, we did manage to dash outside for a team photo (see above!). Sarah describes day 7:

“Ever since I’d seen the 109-mile ride in the schedule for WTC, I’d been afraid. Not only was this a ride at the end of many days of hard riding, not only did it include 11000 ft of climbing, this would be the longest ride I had ever done. Making it through the previous rides at WTC boosted my confidence a bit, but the night before I also knew that my body was fatigued from the 300+ miles we’d ridden in the previous few days. A small part of me was tempted to take the “easy” option skipping part of the main climb and doing “only” 90 miles, but I wanted to take on the challenge and be a part of the entire team making it through this crazy ride.

Ready to roll out for the century!

After a filling breakfast, my group headed out, enjoying a lengthy ~35 mile downhill section with some fun speedy descents. There was a brief relatively flat section, then we started the 35 mile climb that would make up the middle chunk of the ride. After zipping along at 20+ mph, it was hard to not feel frustrated by the <10 mph slower pace climbing up the hills. The sun was beating down, and I quickly began to overheat. We were only 10 or so miles into the climb, and less than half way done with the ride – to feel so challenged at this point really started to get me down. However, a brief pause to de-layer, drink some water and eat some sugary food (PopTarts for the winning ride snack!) made all the difference, and the next 10 miles flew by. As we took a quick break at mile 66, the weather started to cool and clouds started to roll in. We rolled out, eager to attack the last part of this climb by summiting Mount Laguna, this time from the paved road side.

Lee and I were pacing ourselves and feeling pretty good about the smooth pavement, consistent grade, quiet road, and beautiful views, when I glanced down and noticed that my front tire was looking awful squished out at the bottom. We both pulled over and confirmed that I must have a small leak leading to the low tire pressure. We swapped out the tube, doing our best to both check the tire and rim but without finding the cause of the leak. Reinvigorated by the small break, we pushed the pace on the next part of the hill, but a few miles later I noticed my front tire was squished out again! A second stop, a second check of the tire and wheel, a second tube swap – and at a higher elevation, I was starting to get pretty cold. Amy and Dmitro came back down from the summit to keep me company, and we all hurried up to the top to meet the group and start the descent (and get back to the house before dark!).

I love descending, so was jamming on the way down drafting off of Dmitro, when I went over a bump and heard a “POP!” and knew my front tire had flatted again. At this point I was super cold and super frustrated, as I’m sure my group members were as well – but everyone was nothing but positive and helpful as we did a third swap of the tube (and my biceps were so thankful that Stan had a CO2 cartridge!). The last 20 miles were chilly, foggy, and dark, but it was such a high to make it to the house at the end and know that, with the physical and mental help of my MIT teammates, we had conquered an incredible ride. The ultimate cherry-on-top to the ride experience was definitely relaxing in the hot tub, and then eating delicious homemade pizza for dinner. All in all, even with the frustrating flats this was the perfect way to cap off an amazing Winter Training Camp!”

Faced with a suboptimal weather forecast on day 8, many of us opted to stay indoors, or to go for a hike. However, a few of us could not be deterred from riding on our last day in California! Tori recounts the day:

“On the last day of training camp, four of us (Stan, Amy, Miles, and I), packed up the minivan with our bikes, and drove into the desert in an effort to avoid the rain that was forecasted to hit Santa Ysabel and the surrounding area. We parked the van at Agua Caliente Park, and set out towards Ocotillo. In terms of the amount of climbing per distance traveled, this was by far the flattest ride of training camp, with only 2500 feet over 50 miles, and we pacelined the whole way to Ocotillo. The ride offered vast views of the desert and mountains, and it was fun to be in such a remote and beautiful area that had minimal car traffic.

Pacelining in the desert!

The turnaround featured an unexpected cyclocross adventure, where in an effort to make the route more “interesting”, Amy had planned a small square loop that turned out to contain a road that was made entirely of sand. Stan and Miles had conveniently missed this final turn, and enjoyed watching Amy and I pathetically struggle to ride through the sand. After a brief stop in the booming metropolis of Ocotillo*, we headed back the way we came, getting rained on only very briefly. Our final ride in California was a great way to cap off a very challenging and fun week of training.

* Ocotillo, with a population of 266, is technically not a town, and rather a “census-designated place””

Ocotillo!

Winter Training Camp 2019: Days 1-4

For this year’s winter training camp,  the team headed to Santa Ysabel, CA for 8 days of fabulous riding! This post has accounts and pictures from days 1-4 and the next post will cover days 5-8.

Remembering how to assemble our bikes upon arrival.

On day 1, we had intended to have a relatively easy ride to start off the trip, but vicious winds made it harder than most of us had bargained for. Here’s Lee’s account of the ride:

“It was still dark outside when I woke up the first morning in Santa Ysabel. This was my first WTC with the team, and today would be the first day of riding. The last couple of days I had been feeling a bit nervous. I knew I would be doing more riding in the next week than I had ever come close to doing in such a short space of time before, and my main hope going into training camp was just to last until the end of the week. But as the sun came up that morning, any lingering apprehension immediately gave way to excitement. After months of being stuck inside on the trainer, I’d finally be riding outside again. And with the forecast that day calling for temperatures in the 70s, I had none of the layering-related anxieties that are normally a fixture of my winter riding routine. All I would need were bib shorts and a short sleeve jersey, and I’d be ready to go.

Since nearly everyone’s sleep schedules were still stuck on East Coast time, we had no problem getting ready to roll out at 8 in the morning. The weather that morning was perfect, with hardly a cloud in the sky, and the first 35 miles of the ride flew by. We put in several intense efforts on the intermittent flats and hills, but we were mostly helped along by gravity on the first part of the ride, descending 3,500 ft over those first 35 miles and averaging 23 mph. When we stopped at mile 35, it was hard to believe we were already more than halfway through the ride. Realizing that I had not eaten yet, I went to work on the food that I had stuffed into my jersey pockets before leaving the house that morning. Unfortunately I made the mistake of eating based on the mileage we had ridden rather than on my actual level of exertion, and since coasting downhill doesn’t burn many calories, I ended up overeating by quite a bit. I’d later regret it. I knew we were being helped along by gravity on the first part of our loop, but I didn’t realize at the time that we were also being pushed on by a very generous tailwind. As we reached the outermost point of our loop and turned back toward Santa Ysabel, the tailwind that I failed to notice earlier turned into a nasty headwind, and the challenge of climbing 3,500 ft back to the house, which I was previously looking forward to, suddenly became a daunting task.

Miles and Liam cruising along one of the long downhill stretches.

The ride back to the house that day was the most difficult stretch of riding I’ve ever done on a bike. My most vivid memories from the ride back are struggling for the longest time to reach 6 mph up a 5% gradient due to the wind, feeling nauseous the whole way after having eaten way too much food at our mile 35 stop, and suffering a sudden leg cramp so severe that I had to get off the bike and stretch before I could even clip my right leg back into my bike, let alone pedal with the leg. The group had also split up in the second half of the ride, so I was riding on my own for most of that time. With about 10 miles to go I saw that Amy had stopped on the side of the road, and I pulled over too. Sarah joined us a short while later, and having gotten some much-needed rest and having found some much-needed company, the three of us rode the final 10 miles back to the house together.

When we finally arrived back at the house, I didn’t feel the relief I was expecting to feel the whole time I was struggling back. I felt even more nauseated after getting off the bike than I did on it, and my right leg was still killing me. (Thankfully both the nausea and the cramping were gone by the next morning, and neither returned at all that week.) But now when I reflect on that first day of WTC, I realize that it is just as inextricable from my overall WTC experience as every other day that week would become. Just as I would later in the week do my biggest climb ever, and on a different day that week do my longest ride ever, in the return trip on that first day I did the most difficult stretch of riding that I have ever done in my life. Even if my personal suffering was all I could think about during the ride, what I now remember most from that first day was having my teammates there with me when I needed them. Beginning with the last 10 miles of that first ride, which I’m certain I could not have done alone, my teammates were there for me throughout the week to help me get through the rough times, and to make the good times even better. Thanks to them, the week of WTC has been by far the best experience I’ve had in grad school, and I’m already looking forward to doing it again next year.”

On day 2, we tackled our first HC climb of the trip, ‘Kitchen Creek’. Here’s what Joanna had to say about the ride:

“After remembering how to corner and descend on Day 1 of WTC, we hit the hills hard on Day 2 with 82 miles and 8,400 feet of climbing. The route took us over two lengthy climbs: Engineers Road and Kitchen Creek Road. We all clipped in with ambitious goals for Kitchen Creek, our first HC of training camp, and it seemed like everyone was planning to take it easy until mile 45 of the ride when we would hit the base of the 11 mile Kitchen Creek climb. Those plans were shattered once we turned onto Pine Hills Rd in Julian, into a beautiful sweeping descent shaded by beautiful trees and vistas into the canyon below. Once we hit Engineers Road, Tori and I (along with most of the team, it seemed) decided to push the pace up the 25 minute climb. It felt great to climb in warm weather, on shaded roads, and without traffic but I burned a few too many matches keeping up with Tori. We rolled along into Pine Valley, where everyone scarfed down some calories and I inhaled a few snickers bars to prepare for Kitchen Creek.
Amy and Emma making their way up Kitchen Creek (which is car-free!).
The initial turn onto Kitchen Creek brought us into direct sunlight and intense heat. Adding insult to injury, we had the slightest tailwind which mimicked having no wind at all for our long slog up the 11 mile climb. I was determined not to ride all the way to the top of Laguna Mountain alone and hung onto Amy and Emma for the first few miles of the climb, realizing that my typical 60 min of Z2 wasn’t enough of a ’training plan’ to keep up with the MIT women. However, halfway up Kitchen Creek we had to dismount to cross a gate, sending us onto a section of the climb with a gorgeous unmaintained road and tons of turns. This section was amazing and totally brought me back into focus about why I came on training camp, and why I love to ride my bike. The second wind I had here helped me contribute to the team effort of Amy, Emma, and myself snaking our way up the mountain. At mile 8, we were met with another gate to lift our bikes up and over, along with Dustin and Liam who took a break to finish the climb with us (yes, MIT cycling has a lot of team camaraderie!). In this final section of the climb we ascended into pine forests and at this point I really perked up about reaching the top of Kitchen Creek and went full speed ahead to the Laguna Mountain Lodge and Store for more snickers bars. Regrouping as a team at the top of Laguna Mountain, everyone looked exhausted and sunburnt from an hour twisting our way up in the midday sun. Luckily the final 25 miles of the ride allowed for leisurely descents overlooking the desert to our East. I appreciated all the amazing geology on this section of the ride — taking in all the granite pegmatites and keeping an eye out for some faults in the road cuts — and took a break from using those climbing legs. Upon arriving back at the team HQ in Santa Ysabel, I devoured an absolute feast of a snack and agreed with everyone else that it was time for a rest day.
A well earned rest stop at the top of Kitchen Creek, the highest point on our trip at 6000ft.
Day 2 of WTC challenged my fitness and mental resilience, but really affirmed my decision to come to WTC and race with MIT cycling. Even at the most challenging sections of Kitchen Creek, Amy and Emma were there to help me out or amp me up. It doesn’t get much better than getting to ride your bike all day with friends who will pull you up mountains!”

 

After two hard days of riding, it was time for a recovery day! We had milkshakes for breakfast…

and fit in plenty of stretching!

On day 4 we tackled Mount Palomar! Those of us who had done it before all wanted to beat our previous times and there was definitely some apprehension in the air as we set out. Here’s Guillaume’s account of the ride:

 

“For our fourth day, we aimed at tackling Mt Palomar. I’ve never heard about it but just by hearing everyone talking about it, I assumed it was a big deal. As usual we left at 8, and the first part of the ride was almost only descents (and some downhill climbing as we call it). It obviously felt very easy, so when Palomar’s gradients started kicking in I felt fresher than I actually was, and ended up burning matches too quickly. The ascent was gorgeous and partially shaded, which sadly, was not really enough to make this climb easy. At the top, we spent a decent amount of time hanging out around the general store to refill the batteries and enjoy the sun. The descent was probably the most spectacular and fun of the entire training camp (especially the view on the lake). Unfortunately, this is the moment when we faced our first derailleur cable snap of the trip, as a result, Sarah had to wait for for a car to pick her up at the bottom of the last climb.”
Our hard work paid off, as we were rewarded with spectacular views at the top of Palomar.
Looking forward to the way down!

Stay tuned for days 5-8!

FTC Day 2 – Escaping to Wachusett

On day 2 of fall training camp, we hoped that the snow would’ve melted so that we could ride around Killington, but it was not meant to be. In fact, the driveway was so slippery that we had to bust out the shovels to get the cars out of the driveway! Instead, we decided to drive to Mount Wachusett, where the riding weather was meant to be better.

Thanks Amy and Tori for shoveling!

Although it was still wet and pretty chilly, Wachusett was snow free and everyone was excited to ride outside (especially those who had elected to ride on the trainers the day before).

Bundling up before heading out.

Here are Carolyn and Nic’s accounts of Sunday’s ride.

Carolyn:

“The biggest takeaway from FTC weekend is that Mother Nature is no match for the logistical prowess of Amy and Miles. Wintery mix was still coming down on Sunday morning, but Miles had personally guaranteed nice riding on Sunday. Luckily the road captains had a plan B up their sleeves, so we piled into the cars and drove two hours south to western Mass.

The new plan was to ride up Mt Wachusett, and then continue on through the rolling hills of western Mass. My original thought was to ride the longer route (75 miles) but after being dropped by the speedy group just five miles in, I started to reevaluate. Irene and I ground our way up Wachusett solo. At the top, I ate an entire bag of sour peach gummies and felt immediately both better and worse. We were happy to see the medium group summit a few minutes later. I ate half a pop tart for good measure (thanks Jon!).

It was cold up at the top, so once we regrouped we quickly descended. The last 35 miles of riding were harder than I expected, as even the small rolling hills felt tough on my post-Wachusett legs. I really appreciated the veterans’ commitment to making sure none of the newer riders were left behind (thanks Miles and Daniel!) This has been a theme on every MIT ride I’ve been on. Overall, it was a fantastic weekend – huge thanks to everyone who helped make it happen.”

Fueling before tackling Wachusett.

Nic:

“As Google Maps swallowed my last crumb of data to announce the final mile of Sunday’s ride, I was struggling. Not for fitness, though there had been plenty of that when Jon wasn’t so charitably positioned into the wind ahead. Rather, I was struggling to control a brewing irritation; irritation with the road grit periodically thrown up in my eyes, irritation with the insurgency a chugged Coke was starting in my stomach and, most of all, irritation with the cheerily mechanical voice announcing I still had a mile left of all of it.

I’m sure the voice meant well. To be fair, it could hardly have known that so far during the weekend I’d enjoyed 1 ejection out of both Saturday’s pace line and my fitness fantasies, 2 surprise appointments with the tarmac and a combined 4 hours of sleep. And yet despite my drops, crashes and insomnia, and despite my growing unease (Coke-related and otherwise), writing now a week later I can confirm it wasn’t just dehydration talking when I concluded, fully swathed on Sunday night, that FTC 2018 was the single most enjoyable weekend of my time at MIT. 

Sunday’s ride alone provided fodder for months’ worth of nostalgic gazes out of windows; Neosha’s savage solo effort up Mt Wachusett; Tony’s self-described gladiatorial ITT to catch up after an ill-timed helmet adjustment; Daniel’s investigations into just how many watts can be dissipated through sound and Carolyn’s clinical recall of high school bio, to name but a few. But more than any single memory, what remains from the weekend for me is the feeling of camaraderie and congeniality that filled the house we stayed in, the cars we drove and any Dunkin we pulled up to. This was a feeling to melt the sharpest sleet, to warm even a hot-tub-less night and, hopefully, to numb the worst pain any ECCC course dare offer.”

Quiet roads and fall colors!

Despite the sub-optimal weather, everyone had a fun weekend of riding and bonding together and it was great to see so many new riders come out for the weekend!

FTC Day 1 – Braving the Snow

This year for fall training camp, we headed to Killington, Vermont. Miles and I had planned some challenging routes, including climbing up Mt. Ascutney and to the top of the Okemo Ski Resort! Unfortunately, snowy conditions presented a different set of challenges.

On Saturday, instead of riding the planned routes, we split into three groups. One group stayed at the house and used the outdoor porch to get in some quality trainer workouts. A second group headed for lower ground, hoping to escape the worst of the weather, while a third embraced the snow, tackling Vermont Overland, one of the hardest gravel rides in Vermont! Here are Jeremy and Pat’s accounts from their Saturday rides.

Jeremy:

“I was really excited for fall training camp. Zipping along winding country roads in rural Vermont past old farmhouses and rolling hills of autumn foliage on a crisp and clear morning? Nothing better. Then the Nor’easter came. Turns out Killington, a ski resort, is not the best place for road cycling when the first winter storm of the season rolls through. Everyone was frantically scanning the forecast in the days leading up to the weekend, but once every weather site stubbornly refused to budge away from 3-5 inches of mixed snow and freezing rain on Saturday, our road captains, Amy and Miles knew an alternate plan was needed. Their solution was to drive before dawn to a lower elevation where the temperature would still be near-freezing, but at least it would be raining and not snowing.

Determined to make the most of the trip, we found ourselves bundled up for a near-arctic adventure at just past 7am in the parking lot of the Price Chopper outlet grocery in West Rutland, Vermont. The weather, at least initially, proved more cooperative than expected. After a no-warmup, no-nonsense climb to start the ride we found ourselves hurriedly removing layers. I had an awesome time pushing an aggressive pace with Miles, Tori, and Jon, even as the wind picked up and the clouds grew darker. I couldn’t help but thinking that those who opted to stay behind for a day on the trainer had definitely made the wrong choice. After a 40 mile loop (complete with requisite bucolic Vermont countryside vistas), three of us decided to push our luck for another short time trial loop. That’s when the weather truly turned nasty and we returned to the car an hour later, thoroughly cold, wet, and definitely done for the day.

Enjoying the Vermont scenery before the precipitation begins in earnest.

Little did we know, the adventure was not over yet. A seemingly innocuous hot chocolate stop at Dunkin’ Donuts on the way back to the house proved to be our undoing. The small delay synchronized our drive back into the high country perfectly with the peak of the day’s snowstorm. We felt confident that Miles, a well-seasoned winter driver, would get us home safe, but the comical inadequacy of our two-wheel drive Nissan Sentra proved the dominant factor. After stalling on a steep incline less than a mile from home, Tori and I had to get out of the car (still in wet gear and cycling shoes) to push the car up and over the hump. We returned to the house smiling and laughing triumphantly, but thoroughly exhausted. It’s good to know I’ve found a group of friends just as crazy as me.”

Happy to have made it up the hill!

Pat:

“It all started with a friendly enough e-mail from Berk a week out from Fall Training Camp: “Vermont is famous for dirt. Yes, you heard right. Not craft beer, not maple syrup, and not skiing or outdoorsy things. Dirt.” Then something about tires, vertical feet, and shoes you can walk in. But for Berk’s two takers, he had us at “dirt”.

As the team arrived in Killington (along with the tail-end of hurricane Wilma), the talk was all about weather. Amy and Miles were huddled around 2 laptops and 5 different weather sites trying to find roads below the snow line. But, for Berk, Daniel, and Pat, we wanted to be in the snow and on the gravel. Who would choose pavement and 35 degree rain over Vermont gravel and snow. Plus we got to sleep in an extra hour, who cares about beating the storm? Bring it on.

Morning arrived, with at least one of us too excited to have slept all that well. It was perfect outside. We crammed down some calories and drove to the start of the Vermont Overland course. The drive was beautiful, classic Vermont. And just a few snow flurries. We turned onto our first gravel road, drove a few miles and debated where to park. We opted not to park in a pasture, deciding even the small chance of getting towed was too high. We found a spot out of the way on the shoulder, threw hand-warmers in our gloves and we were off.

The first two hours were quintessential Vermont gravel riding. Steep climbs. Rolling, swooping descents. Cows grazing and horses running in their pastures. Farm houses overlooking valleys that still held some golden colors. All of this maybe giving us energy to ride maybe harder than we should.

The MIT Overland crew.

And we were treated to what they call Vermont pave, with sections with names from the Tour of Flanders. The turn up the Vermont Koppenberg was one you’d never notice if you weren’t looking for it. It was barely an abandoned road, and covered in inches of loose leaves. Up we went on sections like this, again and again. And loving it. Some of these ATV roads seemed mostly used to keep the networks of maple taps up and running.

Vermont countryside!

Somewhere around hour three, the weather turned. The friendly flurries changed to excruciating ice pellets. And from then on, the weather alternated between sleet, snow, rain, and ice – often all four at once. Oh, that is why the other group got up so early. Now the roads were covered in an inch of slush. We let air out of our tires for grip, but our pace slowed to a crawl. Our shoes slowly filled with water, we hammered climbs to warm up.

Snow begins to accumulate.

By hour four, we were all cratering. We were dreading the pave sections with their round stones covered in wet leaves and snow. There were crashes. Brand new brake pads worn completely from the wet grit and steep descents. Berk grabbed his levers so hard that his cables pulled out of his canti-brake straddles – front AND rear.

Amazingly, spirits stayed high the entire ride, even as the misery and crashed energy levels piled on. Even when, at mile 40, our GPS told us to go straight but the sign said “Dead End 0.8 miles”. It was a great day of riding that I don’t think any of us will forget. The joy and beauty of those early miles, the suffering of the later miles, and the joy of reaching the end. Something all riders can relate to.

Stats: 42.5 miles, average temperature = 29F, low 27F, and 6,381′ of climbing.”

Winter training camp: Days 5 – 8

Day 5 we tackled Palomar (for the first time)! Palomar is an HC (hors categorie) climb, the toughest category of climb out there. It is 11.6 miles at 7%, about 4200 ft of elevation gain. It was the biggest climb many of us had done yet (including me!) so we had to make sure to pace ourselves. The climb itself took me 82 minutes, so I was so glad to have a Stages power meter to help pace me! We regrouped at the top and took a break, drinking cokes and replenishing salt and electrolytes we lost on the long climb.

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The women relaxing (recovering) at the top of Palomar

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Liam, Charles, PK, Quinn (and a tired Tori) happy after crushing Palomar

 

We put all of our layers on to descend the mountain, stopping a couple times to take pictures:

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Photos from the top before descending the mountain

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The road we went up and down!

Day 6 was another (much needed) rest day. Everyone enjoyed the route for the first rest day (and there were very few other “flat” options in the area), so we did that same route again. Afterwards we walked to a winery nearby our house to have lunch:

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Rest day winery for lunch

Later that night, Quinn White crafted a cycling-related trivia for us to play! The categories were “General Cycling Knowledge,” “History,” “Current events,” and “Quotes,” with ~10 questions in each category. We split up into the teams we were going to be in the following day for mock races to get pumped up and have some team bonding. Charles Wu of team “Katy’s Angels” was the clear MVP, but the game spiced up when he got a phone call in round 3 and the other teams—“The Lord of the Chain Rings” and “No Quinn, No Win”—tried to claw back. In the end it was in vain and Katy’s Angels won in a landslide victory.

 

Day 7 was mock races! We rode for ~25miles as a warmup (and to see a different area, Diamond Valley, which was pretty stunning) and then got to the 1.5-mile “race course.” We rode the course once all together and then did 3 races: the first was a normal race; for the second the top-3 finishers of the first race were not allowed to place (but could help teammates); and for the third and final race only the women could place. Charles won the first race, Wade the second, and I won the third. Charles said:

“For the first race the winners were unrestricted, which made Youyang, the strongest TTer of the group, the clear favorite. Our team devised a strategy where Dustin or Wade would mark any Youyang attacks and I would try to hang on for the sprint in the field if it came back together.  In the race, when Youyang attacked, Dustin marked and I was in the right position to sit on Dustin’s wheel and follow.  We never quite caught Youyang, but I was rested enough that I opened the sprint early and came around everyone in the last 100m to take the win!”

Wade said:

“To me, one of the most comforting things about having teammates is that the burden is not entirely on you to win. I figured that I would give these races whatever I had, and if I didn’t win, Dustin or Charles would win. It turned out that Charles and Dustin tag teamed the first mock race in spectacular fashion, placing 1st and 3rd respectively. While that was an awesome result, the rule for this race was that the top 3 of the previous race were not in contention to win. Furthermore, our team’s plan was to keep Katy fresh for the last race. Thus, I was the only one of Katy’s Angels that was in contention to win the second race. Being the team’s designated finisher made me very nervous, but knowing I still had help from my teammates was comforting. Our plan was to launch midway through the course, leading me out to the finish. The mix of adrenaline and nerves blur my memory, but I do know that the first 1/3 of the race was excruciatingly slow. I managed to maintain my position behind Charles’s wheel until the pace picked up halfway through the course. The leadout was going as planned until I saw Youyang attack. He was not in contention to win, but I made a split second decision to jump on his wheel hoping that no one else would. After quite a hard effort, Youyang sat up and it was just Berk and me 400m from the finish. I went all out and had just enough left to secure the win for Katy’s Angels by a wheel length!”

For the third race our team had a plan: I would attack, Youyang Zhao would bridge and pull me for as hard as I could go. If another team caught us, we would have Tori Wuthrich fresh in the pack, shielded by Constantine Weisser and Quinn White, to sprint for the line. Youyang and I talked before the race about what power he should put out to pull me so that I would be going all-out for a couple minutes but not get dropped. It went pretty perfectly for Youyang and me, and Tori had a great lead out and sprinted from the pack for second!

Day 8 was our final day, so we had to make it count. Laura Treers and Charles went for a 70 mile mixed-terrain adventure ride, and the rest of us set out on a 113mi ride which included another trip up Palomar. Laura wrote about their ride:

“After some very creative route planning Friday night, Charles and I had the exciting idea of an all-day backroads “adventure ride” to cap off the week.  Rolling out at 7AM on Saturday, instead of heading down towards our usual routes, we headed upwards, towards a maze of neighborhood dirt roads.  After hot air balloon encounters and navigating some pretty washed out sections, we hit a small bit of pavement and then veered onto Stanley road, a dirt path which climbed steadily through the Cahuilla Mountain wilderness. Despite the occasional deeper sand and some grueling climbs, this was probably the highlight of the ride for me.  Being so far from the beaten path, in the wake of the huge snow-capped mountains of San Jacinto was truly breathtaking, the kind of wilderness experience I’d never really had before on a bike.  After a fun technical descent of Red Mtn Road and through some neighborhoods into Hemet, we stopped for a taco lunch break and then made a detour to Diamond Valley Lake.  This part of the ride was ~10 miles of sandy & gravel bike path, filled with these awesome panoramic vistas of the lake and surrounding peaks.  We then made our way back south, making some more alternative road choices and finishing by climbing to the uppermost point in our neighborhood as the sun was coming down. Sitting there just taking in the view for a while, I was getting pretty sad that I would have to leave this amazing place the next day.  All in all, it was a pretty epic last day, the kind of ride that forces you to slow down and take it all in, and really made me appreciate just how beautiful this little piece of California is.  I think it was probably the best way I could’ve possibly ended this week that I wished would never end.”

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View from Charles and Laura’s epic adventure ride

 

Tori wrote about the other ride:

 

“On the 8th and final day of training camp, a group of us decided to end the week with a bang- a 112 mile ride with 10,000+ feet of climbing. The route featured our second time up Palomar that week. We got an early start, rolling out around 7:30, and headed towards the mountain. This time climbing Palomar, we took another road which offered different, but equally spectacular views over the long climb. When we reached the top, we were actually above the clouds! After taking a rest at the top, we began the 11 mile descent, which had lots of switchbacks- great for cornering practice. The ride back home featured more beautiful scenery with several other, smaller climbs. Despite somehow getting more flats and mechanicals than our teammates who rode 70 miles on the dirt, it was a great ride. For several people on the team, including myself, it was our first ever century, and longest ride yet by 20 miles!”

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We were above the clouds climbing up Palomar the last day!

 

And then it was back to the house to pack our bikes :(. We are all home safe and sound, and after a few rest days were ready to get back on the saddle! Of course, then a snow storm hit Boston and we haven’t been able to go outside, but it gives us motivation for our racing season which is rapidly approaching!

 

-Emma

Winter training camp 2017: Days 1- 4

Day 1 was a bit of a shock to the system for two reasons: heat and climbing. We rode 67 miles with 7000 ft of elevation gain around the De Luz area to the west of Temecula. The scenery was stunning and it felt like we were in the middle of nowhere with very challenging, steep sections and even some “river” crossings (due to flooding from the rain):

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Tori crossing the river that formed due to rain in the area before we got there. Great shouldering!

So we were all really enjoying the ride until we realized that we were in the middle of nowhere, so there were no stores or gas stations anywhere around for water. We met a very friendly woman who let us use her hose to fill up our water bottles so that we could all make it home! Thank goodness for the kindness of strangers.

Day 2 was 73 miles, but this time “only” 5000ft of climbing. We went down south around Lilac for more stunning scenery with really beautiful descents and scenic flower farms.

Day 3 was a recovery route near the house, touring around horse tracks and wineries:

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Rest day spin

On Day 4 we went to Oceanside for TTTT (Taco Team Time Trial). We broke up into a couple different groups and practiced pace-lining and TTT commands on a wonderful, flat, straight bike path that led us in and out of Oceanside. Wade Wang wrote about the day:

“Day 4 was unique from the other days in training camp as it was predominantly downhill all the way to Oceanside and uphill all the way back. After pleasantly coasting most of the way there, we arrived at a flat rail trail, which was the perfect opportunity to get in some team time trial (TTT) practice. We further split into two groups to keep the average group size representative of a real TTT. I joined Dustin and Youyang, and the three of us managed to maintain ~40 km/h (25 mph) when in a paceline to Oceanside. It was quite refreshing to go fast on a flat after all the climbing over the last few days. Upon arriving, we treated ourselves to some delicious fish tacos on a pier overlooking the ocean. Berk took the day off to avoid injury, but drove over to Oceanside to join us at the pier. He also provided us with much needed ride food and electrolytes in addition to taking our jackets back to the house. The warm sun and refreshing breeze made it hard to leave, but having eaten our fill and taken some pictures it was time to go back home. The way back consisted of more TTT practice followed by climbing. Dustin and Youyang provided me with great company and encouragement, making the 74 km (46 mi) return trip pass quickly. Our self-control to not overeat fish tacos at Oceanside paid off on the climbs back, rewarding us with first dibs on the food in the house. It was a long but satisfying day to mark the halfway point of training camp.”

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Women’s TTT into Oceanside

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Wade and Youyang chow down on tacos in Oceanside! Nom nom nom

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The team in Oceanside

Tomorrow we’ll go through the rest of the trip (Days 5-8) and wrap it up.

Winter training camp 2017!

Written by Emma Edwards (women’s road captain), with help from other training camp attendees. Stay tuned for more recaps in the next couple days!

We traveled to Temecula, CA for our winter training camp (just like the team did last year) for 8 days of riding in warm, sunny southern CA. I didn’t get to go last year because of my PhD qualifying exams, but training camp was one of the highlights of my first year, so I was really excited about going again this year. We had a bunch of new people this year: only 7 of the 17 people that went had been to training camp before! Przemyslaw (PK) Krol (men’s road captain) made a great video that summed up a lot of the week:

 

PK said about the week:

“9 fantastic days filled with beautiful rides, friends, shared meals, and shenanigans; It doesn’t get much better than this. This was my first time at training camp and it’s one that I’m sure I’ll remember forever. Throughout the week we got to climb a mountain(twice!), see the ocean, and eat sooo much delicious food. It was so awesome to see people do their longest rides to date (and the most climbing, too!) and smiling at the end. I’m sad training camp went by so quickly, but I’m glad to have been a part of it.”

 

Dustin Weigl said about the week:

“I’m a first year masters student so this was my first time attending training camp and was also my introduction to most of the team outside of a couple club rides that I joined in the fall.  I came on the trip not knowing most of the group but was excited to meet my teammates while getting in some good ol’ fashioned miles on two wheels.  The week definitely didn’t disappoint and I can confirm that the case of FOMO you feel yourself coming down with might be worse after reading this blog.

The week had plenty of volume and coming out from Boston made the hours outside on the bike that much sweeter.  Day 1 brought more climbing per mile than I think I’ve ever done and unfortunately my back paid for it and forced me to take time off the bike on day 2.  Of course, starting a week-long training trip with injury made me pretty nervous but luckily I was able to build my way back through my day off and the following rest day.  And for the rest of the week, the team kept checking in on me which speaks to the camaraderie the group had during the trip.  We also had the pleasure of adding a few alumni to the group and it was great to hear about everything they’ve been doing both on and off their bikes in their time since leaving MIT.

Outside of riding, we had our fair share of shenanigans at the house playing some group games, eating absurd numbers of bananas, and seeing what kinds of weird noises people make when introduced to the foam roller.  Delicious family-style dinners, a beautiful location, and seamless organization.  A HUGE thank you to PK and Emma for their hard work in organizing such a successful trip!  Overall, the trip made me excited to see what kind of firepower MIT can bring to the ECCC this spring and to meet the rest of the group.  Just a few more weeks until the first race!”

I was getting pretty worried about the weather in the weeks leading up to the trip. California was having an unusually rainy period. This was great for California to help get out of their drought, but not great for our training! There were reports of ~40-50 degrees and rainy, which was barely warmer than Boston, where it was unseasonably warm. But we absolutely lucked out and had perfect weather the entire time we were there. Highs were between 65 and 75 every day and it didn’t rain on us the entire time! Each of us racked up 523 miles with 41,172 ft of elevation gain, riding for 35hr 21min over the 8 days of riding. So many times over the week I thanked myself for going to get a bike fitting before I left. Chris Duffy (Belmont Wheelworks) did an amazing job getting me into a position I could be in for hours and hours without discomfort. (Well, without too much discomfort!)

We rented a house outside of Temecula in wine country. I was immediately very popular for picking a house that was on top of a hill so that you had to climb 800ft up to the house at the end of each day. But it did make for a beautiful setting to spend a week and a half:

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Views from the house

 

We were particularly excited about our 3 alumni who could join us: Jen Wilson, Stan Prutz, and Chase Lambert. Jen and Stan were among the 7 who had been to training camp before, so it was great having them there for their experience and advice. Stan made the team very happy when he made chocolate-chip blueberry portables. Jen, along with Anne Raymond, were part of the silver-medal winning women’s TTT team last year at nationals, so her advice on TTT-ing was particularly useful!

Since so much happened in training camp, I’m breaking this up into a couple different blog posts: Days 1-4 and Days 5-8.

 

Fall training camp 2016: Lake Sunapee, NH

Alex Klotz shared his experience of the fall training camp that 23 of us went on Nov 4-6, 2016 in Lake Sunapee, NH:

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Last weekend I joined the MIT Cycling Club for the fall training camp near Lake Sunapee, New Hampshire. Some see this weekend as the start of training for the spring road racing season, but since I am not a student and won’t be doing much collegiate racing, I saw it more as a coda to the extended “summer” of road biking that I had been enjoying, and was also hoping to push myself a bit.

I drove up Friday with Lucy and Emerson. The team had rented out an entire bed-and-breakfast, which overall was really nice. I went for a short ride with Wade to stretch my legs and get a sense of the area, while he tried to get cell reception so he could send some texts. The roads in the area were all of pretty good quality, without many potholes and the occasional longitudinal gash. There wasn’t that much traffic, and when cars passed us they were generally courteous and gave us lots of space. Nobody honked at us all weekend 🙂

It was around freezing when we started out each day. I’m more often too warm than too cold and my general philosophy for bike clothing is “dress for the weather you want” and hope that I work hard enough to keep myself warm. A ride a few weeks ago with Berk and Liam made me realize that this was unsustainable and I went out and bought some stuff to protect myself from the cold without being too flappy. The rides were cold at first but not unbearably so, getting a little warm towards the end of the day.

On the first day I had the choice of the long, medium, and short rides, or some kind of crazy backroads adventure ride that didn’t really seem like my thing. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to do medium or long, but they started on the same path so I set out with the group and resolved to choose the route when I had to. We set off towards Mt Kearsarge and the fastest few rides quickly took off ahead of us. The first part of the involved a rolling but generally upward freshly paved road for five miles towards the base of Mt Kearsarge. At this point we started to spread out, with PK and Wade getting ahead of me but remaining within eyeshot, while Liam and I passed each other a few times. I hadn’t done too much research besides glancing at the map and knowing there was a big hill, and I took it at a fairly high but sustainable effort, and then got to the gate of the mountain, at which point the slope roughly doubled, the road quality halved, and there was a sign saying it was four miles to the top. I cranked down to the lowest gear and started grinding up, as my speed fell to about 6 miles an hour (it was at this time that I decided I’d prefer the medium ride). After half an hour of alternating sitting and standing grinding, I made it to the top, which fortunately was half a mile before I was expecting it. I got a photo at the top and started to head down before I got too cold. The road was covered in leaves and cracks and was full of sharp turns, so I basically held my brakes the entire way down and hoped it would all be ok. It was. At the bottom the faster riders were about to head off and I was still recombobulating myself so I waited for everyone else to reach descend. When gravity was finished, our group consisted of Kolie, Lucy, Amy, Liam, Anne, Stan, and myself. The rest of the ride consisted of a lot of rolling hills, gradually gaining in altitude and circling Lake Sunapee. Eventually we got to cash in all our gravitational potential with a massive descent, at which point Lucy, Stan and I separated from the group and hightailed it home. I think I reached 42 mph on the final descent. bringing the total up to about 64 miles, the second longest ride of I’ve ever done. I felt a lot less dead than after my last ride of comparable length, so that’s an improvement.

On the second day, the bulk of the group went on Emma’s PRETTYDECENTRIDEIGUESS which involved climbing the main face of Kearsarge again. I went on the medium ride again, with the same group with the addition of Quinn and Oli and the subtraction of Stan. We started out going up a different face of Kearsarge, which wasn’t quite as much of a slog as the main climb the previous day. We regrouped for a snack at the top and rolled down. The road here was much better quality than the one on the other side, and also straighter, so going down wasn’t quite as terrifying and I let myself build up a bit more speed. The rest of the ride again was a lot of rolling hills and a few segments going in the opposite direction of the previous ride. There was one very large hill in the middle of it that took about 12 minutes to bike up, but annoyingly we stopped to regroup right before the end of the Strava segment so it looks like we did it super slow. This ride was about 50 miles total, and with about five or six left we had a false-alarm flat on Quinn’s bike. Lucy and Oli had gone ahead, and we started rolling again and immediately Kolie’s derailleur catastrophically removed itself from his bike and the world of functioning bike parts. I sprinted ahead to catch Loli and told them what happened. They decided to sprint home so Lucy could come pick up Kolie by car, while I turned back to tell the rest of the group. I climbed back up the hill that they had stopped on top of, to find out that a passing pickup truck had given Kolie a ride. Anne texted Lucy telling her not to get Kolie, and we headed back to the house.

Both rides were really nice and my body and bike were mostly functioning adequately. I’m a little regretful that I didn’t try to ride with the faster group, but I’m also glad I didn’t wreck myself going at 100% for six hours or get dropped in the middle of nowhere. All in all it was a really fun weekend and it was a really nice area for biking. I’m currently on a work trip to Singapore and when I get back it’ll be almost December and summer might be over, and this was a great way to end the season.

 

Edit: PK made a video compilation of Training Camp – check it out on Youtube: https://youtu.be/66mNAZaT31M

Day 4 of Training Camp: Palomar

By Sumit Dutta

Well-rested from Day 3, team members had two ride options for Day 4: go for an intense climb up Palomar Mountain or take a lighter ride to Oceanside. The clear, sunny day with winds around 5 mph allowed the climbing cyclists to enjoy the mountainside vistas, seeing as far as 50 miles away and 5,000 feet below. All climbers made it up and down safely, including a Double Palomar by Zack Ulissi. Some of us had a great respite eating quesadillas at Mother’s Kitchen at the top of Palomar Mountain. A few went farther down the road and toured the Palomar Observatory, an incredible research facility with an enormous 200-inch telescope. We also took a few minutes to enjoy the view from the top and took photos like the one below. All in all, everyone had a great time.

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Youyang, Phil, and Tom atop Palomar