Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Solvang Double Century—March 2004

Solvang, California

Once again we were greeted with superb weather, great riding conditions and excellent hosting at the Solvang Double Century. It amazes me how this part of the country is so perfect for cycling. We started our adventure at the wee hour of 0540 in the morning with a staggered mass start. In groups of 64, the hearty soles were released from the starting gate unaware of the most excellent conditions that would come our way. The only downside to the whole day was the brisk temperature during the first part of our ride. That, too, was abated quickly as the sun rose unopposed in the eastern sky. I must say that the sunrise over the eastern mountains near Santa Barbara was breathtaking. The initial route took us through the Solvang area of rolling hills, horse ranches and farms. I vowed to maintain my planned pace and conserve energy for the long miles ahead.

At about the 15 mile point we encountered a rather long but not impossible climb that gave me the opportunity to tag up with a very cheerful couple on a tandem. Marty, the stoker, and I struck up a great conversation about various topics including Double Century conquests, etc. As we continued to chat, she informed that her Captain had done 41 Doubles and she was working on her 47th. Geez, I thought to my self, I'm a real rookie, informing her that I was proudly working on my first one! To make things even more humbling, we passed two older gentlemen on a tandem and Marty promptly informed me that the Captain of this tandem team was the "King." I asked rather inquisitively, "The King, huh?...King of what?" Marty said, "the captain of that tandem has 87 Doubles to his credit." I thought to myself that I have truly met the Yoda of endurance cycling! As it turned out, I would see them again. More on that later. I lost Marty and her captain someplace on the downhill run towards Foxen canyon. I've always maintained that when you lose a Tandem wheel, you won't get it back. Anyway, by this time the temperature managed to climb out of the 30's and quickly into the pleasant upper 40's. For those not familiar with Foxen canyon road, let me describe it in a few words here. The road is about 20 or so miles from Solvang and winds it's way for miles through some of the most beautiful countryside in California. The road meanders through vineyards, horse farms, and pastures. It is about the closest thing a perfect cycling location you will find anywhere.

As I pressed on down Foxen canyon, the two older fellows on the tandem passed by me and somehow I managed jump on the back. As it turned, I was lucky enough to take advantage of their draft for 20 miles to first rest stop. Along the way, I managed to strike up a conversation with the "King of Doubles" and asked him how he managed to achieve such fame. His answer was short and to the point, "just spend twelve years doing it." If you do the math, that's seven and a quarter doubles a year!

The energy at the first rest stop was pretty high with folks quickly relieving themselves (in true road biker fashion), filling water bottles, and grabbing food. The key at these rest stops is to spend as little time as possible off the bike. As such, I fueled up with some of those great PP&J sandwiches, stoked the water bottles/camelback and pressed on. It appears that leaving quickly had its benefit. A rather large peloton with Tandems in the lead (of course) blasted by me like the Tour de France. As I stood to quicken my pace, one gentleman spouted out the obvious and told me if I wanted to join in, I would have get on the back. As it turned out, this group was composed of the Furnace Creek 508 vets from Bakersfield, or Kern County Wheelmen. For those unfamiliar, the Furnace Creek 508 is a 508 mile race that transits Death Valley; a real popular event for all the endurance fanatics. For the next 50 miles, they joked, whooped and hollered and really made the whole ride quite fun. My planned pace went out the window as we blasted through Santa Maria on our way to San Luis Obispo at well over 20 miles an hour.

This is about the time the temperature started to climb towards the 80s so off came the arm warmers, etc. The funny thing about cruising along in a fast group, is the fact that you don't realize how much you are sweating until you stop. Lesson learned here is: riding fast equals drink a lot! Out of San Luis for the first time we pressed towards Morro Bay along Hwy 101 to see the "Rock" before returning to San Luis Obispo for lunch. Not to my surprise, the "King" and his stoker blasted by me, and once again, I used up some juice to get on their wheel. By this time, we had a really nice tailwind literally shoving us down Los Osos road. We topped 30 mph easily for about 20 miles. What a ride!

As usual, Planet Ultra did a great job supporting the lunch stop. I grabbed a turkey sandwich and a can of v-8 juice and munched away. It always amazes me how your stomach doesn't even feel like you put anything into it when you do these types of events. Anyway, fueled up, I popped a couple of e-caps and pressed on my way to my next goal: the rest stop at Guadalupe. I slowed my pace going through Shell Beach and up the climb to the Guadalupe plateau. At 125 miles, I wanted to make sure I would finish this thing. At the top of the Guadalupe Plateau, you are presented with a really nice view back over your shoulder at Shell Beach: vast sand dunes and an awesome picturesque view of the Pacific Ocean. This is the spot that leads into the farmland of the central coast. Tons of acreage growing everything from garden flowers to red cabbage. This is also the spot where the wind is either your friend or your nemesis! Fortunately, the wind gods were in our favor and we enjoyed a nice tailwind and screamer downhill run all the way into Guadalupe.

I must say that Guadalupe is not your average California town. It is small and more reminiscent of central Indiana. Old looking movie houses and architecture from the 30s or 40s. Nonetheless, we were greeted by some awesome volunteers at this rest stop and the topic of conversation amongst riders was the quick pace. Almost to a rider, everyone was well ahead of planned pace and personal timelines. I, too, thought I'm gonna finish this thing before dark. So, what seemed like my 50th PP&J, I pounded down nourishment and pressed on my way. I soloed out of Guadalupe but was quickly caught by some other friendly riders who kindly let me join their wheel. We exchanged pulls for about 15 miles, but the pace seemed a bit fast for me so I dropped off the back to conserve energy. The route from this point is relatively flat until you reach Hwy 135. From here it is a long 3 or 4 mile grind up to the summit that finally leads into the last rest stop at Los Alamos.

About 7 miles out from Los Alamos I tagged up with an elderly gentlemen named Howard. As we rode together, we exchanged pleasantries and stories of rides gone by. He informed me that he was 73 and his doctor and family thought he shouldn't be doing doubles any longer. I asked him how many doubles he does in a year and to my surprise, he said he was trying to cut down from 5 to 3! There again, I felt like such a rookie compared to these seasoned veterans. The story also gave me the motivation I needed to finish this ride!

Los Alamos is a lot like Guadalupe, it is a little out of character, at least in my mind, of what a town in California should look like. The rest stop was nestled up against a house that looked like something out of Mayberry RFD gone bad. Nonetheless, the food and refreshments were a welcome site and I had made it to 170 miles! What got my attention here was the look on some of the riders’ faces. There was this far-off stare amongst a lot of them that looked like they were concentrating on something beyond their immediate vision. I think most of us call it BONK! There were even a few that huddled together while nursing down a well deserved hot bowl of cup-of-soup. I kept thinking to myself that if I stay here too long, I’m going to start looking and feeling like these guys. Apart from the 3 mile climb at 5 percent grade and horrendously bumpy Drum Canyon road, the last 21 miles into Solvang was rewarding and rather uneventful. My total ride time was: 10 hours, 35 minutes and 36 seconds. 12 hours and 14 minutes unofficial total time. As they say, most of a double century is mental and I certainly concur. See you on the road!

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