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Defeat and Redemption on the Road to Julian (by Nate Dixon)

On Sunday morning, as our first full day in California began, the team suited up in the main house and anxiously prepared to roll out to the road. For many of us, the New England fall and early winter meant scattered rides alone and in varied groups. For the veterans, there had been hints at who had been putting in massive training hours and would be ready to take the upcoming racing season by storm. Now, at training camp, the progress of each rider would be laid bare. In a few months, the MIT team would be dishing out pain to conference rivals, but it would be teammates that got the first taste.

In the mountains, there is no hiding. Drafting and tactical tricks offer minimal protection, and you’re alone with only your fitness and tolerance for suffering. The first day’s loop would head up the long, steady, 5% grade of Yaqui Pass, continuing upwards towards the town of Julian, a backcountry gem lined with old-western storefronts, famous for apple pie—75 miles in total. Sunlight saturated the flat, dusty desert from which we rose. As the team started the Yaqui Pass slope en masse, a compact pod of veterans floated to the front, and began the first subtle game of “mercy”. As we climbed, so did the pace, and conversation became sparse as power meters and heart rate monitors were warily watched, breathing stifled to hide distress.

By our arrival at the top of the first grade, the unanimous peace offering to “start easy” had been entirely forgotten. It didn’t get any easier from there. As we wound briskly up the mountains towards Julian, the group thinned, some riders deciding to save their strength for the remaining 50 miles in the day. I was not so wise. As I clung to the back of the barreling paceline, my heart rate rose and my power fell. Finally, a gap opened, I sat up, and was on my own. I was quickly caught by Kamal Ndousse and David Koppstein, who mercifully slowed their pace and dragged me up the mountain as I struggled to recover.

By the time the road leveled into Julian, the sun was engulfed in dark clouds, and the temperature had dropped into the low 40s—a nasty surprise after a week of pristine, bright weather had lulled us the previous year. We caught up with the lead group at a coffee house and put on what little extra clothing we had for the long, fast descent down from Julian. Still staggered from the climb, my warm-weather kit was quickly saturated by rain, and after just a few miles of high-speed descending, my muscles were locked and my teeth were chattering. With no reprieve in sight, there was little to choose from but hypothermia or shelter. David and I stopped at another local shop and huddled by a fire while a gracious alumnus, Martin, borrowed a car to trek from Borrego Springs to our rescue. We drove back along the remainder of the route, returning home safely, but not before picking up another shivering refugee along the way.

By the following Sunday morning, I had made a full recovery, logging 420 miles and 32,000 feet of climbing for the week. The day before, I had my revenge on the Julian loop, this time with 3 slices of apple pie on a stop along the way. Now, with just a day remaining, I was prepared to wrap up training camp with an easy spin and a few hours by the pool. Our captains, however, were not interested in wasting hours of California sun on relaxation. My legs protesting, we started up the signature climb of our camp; the spectacular, winding, 4000 foot Montezuma Valley Road overlooking our house. I started the climb gingerly, but soon felt better and better, and spun up around the switchbacks with ease. At the top, we regrouped, and I made an alliance with Stephen Shum and David Koppstein to tackle the Julian loop again, this time in the opposite direction. Heading down from the summit on the opposite side of Montezuma with Zack, Shaena, and Scott (all bound for Mt. Palomar), we traded a round of attacks and then blasted across the rolling farmland before splitting up by destination. Our remaining trio clawed our way briskly up to Julian, devouring another round of pie before slaloming down the same slopes that had brutalized me a week earlier. The final upward kick was Yaqui pass, which we blasted over full bore, and rolled downhill towards the house. For the day, it would be 75 Miles, 6200 feet, but I still had an hour of sun and a Super Bowl to avoid. Another trip up Montezuma would get me two nice, round numbers: 100 miles, 10,000 feet of climbing. Racing the sun, I crested the summit with only a few minutes to spare, and even fewer calories­—a final day well-spent.

Back at the house, we feasted on a spectacular pork dinner, and for me, a bottle of maple syrup: one final bad decision in a week of mostly good ones.

Powertap Computer After Long Ride
Powertap Computer After Long Ride

Average Rider Statistics:
Distance ridden (8 days): 450 miles
Vertical distance climbed: 35,000 ft
Work expended: 16,000 kJ