Another successful training camp is in the books! 12 of us headed out to Escondido, CA for the annual team Winter Training Camp (WTC). The trip had three main themes: riding bikes in beautiful places, team bonding, and challenging ourselves, each other, and our equipment to try new things and achieve bigger goals. The community is settling back after a few years of COVID disruption and everyone came away psyched about this team!
Riding in beautiful places
The scenery of Southern California is nothing like home, and boy was it beautiful. On day one the group split into two rides (one longer, and one ease-in ride to accommodate those of us who were tired or missing key bike parts from traveling). Half the group made their way out to Oceanside for the beach, tacos, and palm trees. Devin, Vinh, Charlene, and Hannah set out early and made great time despite a brutal headwind thanks to Devin’s hero pulls. After a stop at the bike store in the morning, Derek, Felix and Zak caught up with the group later in the day for a leisurely ride home together.
Meanwhile, the “ambitious” group set off for 95 miles that included a spin up Mount Woodson. With the massive, granite boulders, it’s easy to see why its Kumeyaay name is Ewiiy Hellyaa, the ‘Mountain of the Moonlit Rocks.’ That said, taking in any of the scenery was a challenge at the 12.2% average grade for the climb.
The two groups switched it up on day two, which unfortunately turned out to be rather rainy. Needless to say, the beach wasn’t quite as scenic and the views were not nearly as majestic. We have some pictures but they are mostly of suffering and not worthy of a blog.
After letting things dry out for a rest day, the allure of Palomar was next up. Palomar is a MIT Cycling tradition so virtually the entire rest day was consumed by discussions of pacing strategy, MIT Strava records, and how to save a few watts. The climb did not disappoint: it was both hard (11.6 miles at 6.8%), and gorgeous, as promised.
The top of the mountain was still glistening in snow as we made it to the general store. This made for a serene soundtrack of melting ice and fairly terrifying black ice on the road. We all stayed safe and eventually warmed back up after the descent. Highlights from the rest of the ride included a camel farm, an escaped goat on the road, and pie.
In answering “what was your favorite part of WTC?” a common refrain was the team bonding. Zak said it was the “first time really feeling part of MIT cycling” and Derek hit the nail on the head with how the team dynamic had evolved: “I feel like we came together … and are more than people who occasionally see each other on rides and closer to teammates.” Along similar lines, Felix and Berk (in order) highlighted the collegial and supportive spirit over the week: “It was amazing to go on ride after ride with a posse of fast, considerate cyclists.” “Having my faith in humanity restored was my favorite part. WTC reminded me that there are people out there who just get along and have fun while getting cracked and help each other along the way.”
Out on the road, nothing brought folks together quite like the food stops. The Julian Pie Company had a profitable week, including stops there during the Palomar and Mount Woodson rides, as well as a few grocery store pies at the AirBnB too.
WTC also fostered camaraderie with team alumni to a degree that was unexpected to me as a new team member, but also very appreciated. On Friday, team alum Amy O met up with the group as we rode down to Mt Soledad in San Diego. She led us on a more scenic route than what we initially mapped out, pointed out the best coffee shop for Vinh (who was left wondering why he chose MIT and not a sunnier, prettier campus like UCSD), chatted about rebuilding the women’s team with Hannah, and made Lee feel like old times had returned as he was being dropped off the back while Amy pulled us all up a hill at blistering speeds.
Another team alumni shout out goes to Berk O. While each and every one of us on WTC made the trip what it was, Berk’s institutional knowledge of the Cycling Club and how to build the cycling community accelerated team bonding in a way that wouldn’t have been possible without him. Thank you for being our chief bike mechanic, polar plunge enthusiast, cheerleader, vision quest initiator, and grill master.
When Derek and I asked Coach Robbie earlier this season if WTC was usually a good time for “base miles”, his response was an adamant “No, people usually wreck themselves at WTC.” He immediately followed it up with “but people also call it one of the highlights of their time on the team.” This year’s WTC lived up to the predictions, cracking almost all of us by the end of it, alongside the aforementioned team bonding.
At the same time, we had unexpectedly terrible roads too, where we hiked our bikes past a pick up truck stuck in the sand, or narrowly avoided traffic on a windy descent, or had to ride over snow in order to get to our destination.
But through it all, spirits stayed high and we kept riding. Even if our bikes did not want to be ridden… Along the way we had a few flats (13 for 12 people…) all on GP5000s. This could have also been caused by the road full of broken glass on the way to our airbnb, but who’s counting.
As expected, someone did break a shifter cable this year too. With teamwork, we got Zak back on the road with everyone the next day.
The last day of WTC was intended (for some) to be an epic “Vision Quest” that had been concocted over the course of the week. The route was 127 miles over Palomar and out to the Montezuma climb in Borrego Springs. What started out as a group of 7 who were potentially interested on Friday morning the day before the ride, ended up dwindling to two humans left standing by mile 30 of Saturday’s Quest. While the rest of us stayed at home nursing overuse injuries, cracking on intended recovery rides then eating a gallon of ice cream, or just vibing on actual recovery rides, Seamus and Berk powered through the full route.
Personally, WTC lived up to the hype. The week inspired and motivated me to try hard both while we were there, and for this upcoming season of riding and racing. We gelled as a team. We all stayed safe (!) despite rogue goats and tires that “turned into paper on the cali roads”. We pushed our limits and encouraged each other. And above all, we had fun.