By: Alexandra Reich
The trip started in the way of all UC San Diego Triathlon excursions: trying to fit all of our bikes and gear into my car. This time I was driving Sinead and Amanda. A quick stop for some camping essentials, and we were on the road by sunset. I would have liked to leave earlier during daylight hours, but I had to stay at school for a class. All of this academic stuff really gets in the way of triathlon sometimes.
We survived the terrifying drive down Montezuma in the dark and arrived at camp around 8pm. Our first task was to set up the tent. Maggie, India, Sinead, and I were planning to sleep in my parents’ old five-person tent. It turned out that some of the tent poles were broken, making it impossible to set up the tent. Thankfully our teammates took us in, so we weren’t left outside in the cold with the kangaroo mice.
The next morning I awoke in an empty tent to Charlie complaining that we didn’t have enough muffins. Concerned that they would eat all of the muffins, I got up right away. Today we would ride an out and back to the Salton Sea. I crashed on this ride last year, back when I was a two-week-old cyclist riding a tt-bike. Our freshmen biked back and forth along the road near camp, getting a feel for their shiny new specialized road bikes and clip-in pedals before heading out for the ride.
We started out the ride in an incredibly disorganized mass pace-line. Billy sorted us out before long into smaller, more functional pace-line groups. After about half an hour, Clare’s group caught us. At that point Jason, Clare, Joey, and I decided to go catch the front group. As soon as we caught them, we hit a slight incline, and I got dropped. I did manage to hang on to Kaity and Clare, and we grouped up with Dan and George. As we passed stretches of desert and sandstone walls bordering the road, I tried to identify the spot where Clare and I crashed last year. A few stretches in particular looked familiar, but I couldn’t say with certainty which patch of road I haplessly slid across at last year’s team camp. Oh well.
We had a good number of people at the turn around, enough for a solid team picture. Our group turned around within view of the Salton Sea. We passed up on the sketchy cobblestone-like road that would’ve taken us closer. The ride back was not too eventful. We stopped for water, Dan pulled for a long time, and then we went back over the rolling hills. Clare made a heroic pull downhill. And then we hit the endless flat road. Nothing but desert on either side, nothing but never-ending asphalt ahead. I tried to stay positive by thinking of the wonderful breakfast burrito I would eat at the end of the ride.
After we got back to camp Billy gave a lecture on how to change tires and clean a bike chain, important skills for any cyclist. Amanda, our newest recruit from the cross country team, thought the color of a bike chain was supposed to be black before cleaning her bike and discovering that it was silver. Even though I was tired from the morning ride, I couldn’t resist a short sunset run with Sinead, Kaitlyn, and Clare. I’ll always be a distance runner at heart.
In the evening, a group of us went to a sit-down Mexican restaurant instead of our standard cheap Mexican restaurant. The food was good, although I felt guilty for cheating on the place that had fed me such a wonderful breakfast burrito just hours before. Then we returned to camp and hung out with everyone around the campfire. Each of us gave a shout out to someone who stood out during camp. My favorite by far was Jason’s shout out to Imperial Country for maintaining their roads (Imperial County does not maintain their roads very well, from a cyclist’s perspective).
Sunday of camp is the day that the team normally bikes up Montezuma, an 11-mile hill that probably makes you feel like a champion when you finally reach the top. I wouldn’t know, I’ve never climbed it. So I was initially a little bitter when the team was going all the way out to Anza Borrego without climbing Montezuma. My opinion changed with the weather. With the high wind advisories on Sunday, I was very, very happy not to be biking up (or down) that hill.
The Sunday ride was a series of loops and out-and-backs, including Yaqui Pass. I was in a pace-line with the faster guys until the bottom of the climb, when they decisively dropped me. It was a very gradual climb, not too difficult. I did notice the wind, but it was not enough to make me cautious about descending. I re-grouped with some people at the top of the hill and started the descent with Clare and Kaity. Clare yelled to be careful on the turn ahead as Kaity and I zipped by her. Why so cautious, Clare? I thought. I found out why about fifteen seconds later. Coming around the turn, we hit a strong gust of wind. I yelled some expletives of about four letters in length as I struggled to balance my oscillating bike. We both slowed and took the rest of the descent with more caution.
We re-grouped at the base of the hill. The road was rough, with large rocks and cracks. Eventually, to the relief of everyone, we hit a recently paved road. Unfortunately that only lasted for a couple miles. We hit the turn-around point, got water from Marcel, and then we were back on the crappy road. I had another close call with crashing when my back wheel hit a rock. My water bottles were knocked free from their cages, but I managed to stay upright. A quick check for flat tires and retrieval of a water bottle, and we were off again. We decided as a group not to go up Yaqui Pass a second time. No point trying to cheat death twice.
Further along the road, the fast group of guys passed us. In a spontaneous decision, I left my own group to jump on their wheel. From there, it was a lot of pain, and a lot of drafting to Christmas Tree Circle.
All in all, this weekend was a very successful bike camp. Our freshmen and new people really stood out – we had so many new cyclists, but not one crash.