The weekend started well. We avoided sliding into a ravine at the Gaviota pass, where half of the road was washed out, and had a delicious night-before dinner at Mattei’s Tavern. Wined and dined, sleek and satisfied, we were ready to ride 100 miles on our trusty bicycles.
The next morning, Ron and I both got up early without trouble, and were ready to go almost on time. This time, it was Ron who made us slightly late! Oh, I was happy. Not that being slightly late was bad — it was foggy, and cold, and I hadn’t successfully purchased riding gloves with fingertips. Neither had Ron, for that matter, but it didn’t seem to bother him:
(Click on the photos to make them larger)
(Note how poor the visibility is: Ron is in focus, but I’m a shadowy, mysterious figure)
And actually, I lied just now about Ron making us late. He would have made us late, but then I had forgotten my little paper wristband, which might have been (but which was not, in fact) important, perhaps for being fed, for example, and so we went back to get it, and then there was a brief, terrible search, until it was found in the motel room’s second trash can. Ron had his, but wouldn’t wear it until he found out whether or not it was required.
Hoo, boy, it was cold! The first 25 miles of the Solvang Century is just a big downhill, interspersed with a few uphills to wake you up, and I couldn’t warm up to save my life, or my fingers. Eventually I had to stop and just stand there with my hands in my armpits, trying to keep my fingertips from falling off. They still felt a bit frostbitey this morning, actually. Later, hearing this, John Blackburn commented, “What is it with you and gloves?”
Cyclists glided by while I stood there, helpless to avoid their concern and/or scorn:
There they go, thinking, “Wow, that guy’s already having trouble? I mean, what does he want?”
After a solid ten minutes of armpit-warming, my fingers felt brave enough to carry on, and shortly thereafter, Mr. Sun made some brief forays into our sphere. At one point, I came upon an entire fog-shrouded valley, seen from above:
Sunny riders, about to descend into a Foggy Doom.
Panning right, showing the extent of the foggy wasteland.
Those peaks peeking out of the fog are far, far away. Everyone down below is in foggy despair.
But as we continue to pan right, we see that Change is Coming. The fog practically lifted as I panned.
Valley’s end. Someone should stitch these photos together for a panorama! Not me, of course.
Right after I took the last of these pictures, my camera sadly complained about a low battery, and refused to take any more. I had just charged it the day before! I looked at it in disgust, but also in commiseration: “I know what your real problem is, darn you — it’s just so cold! Well, just see if I try to take any more pictures until it warms up.”
I made it to the first SAG (Support And Gear) stop in Lompoc. The nice thing about going on a “supported” ride like this is that they have regular stops such as these, stocked with food, water, toilets, and repair staff.
Ron was really wondering what the heck had happened to me, and even just in pure seat time (not counting armpit-warming stops), he was ahead by five minutes. But apart from that, the ride was going great. We had both noticed that, although this leg of the ride had not changed since the first time I had ridden it in 1995, its few uphills, once notable, were now inconsequential.
This particular SAG stop was at a huge barn with a pretty mural on the side.
All the SAG Stops were as jammed as this, a tribute to the way Ron and I infested the middle of the bell curve.
The views were idyllic, and I really mean it. Solvang is in the middle of central California wine country
(perfect for Pinot Noir, but about 125 miles too far south for delicious red Zinfandel):
A totally-typical view. There were many better than this, but I mostly felt like cycling.
Our co-workers Carlos and Vincent had found us at the first SAG stop, and Vincent and I ended up sailing in to SAG stop #2 together. I should make clear that Carlos and Vincent are much faster than we are, but they had driven up from Los Angeles on the day, starting later than we had. And plus, they were bedeviled by some equipment problems:
A helpful fix-it guy gets ready to examine Vicent’s crank, while Vincent looks on.
Ron had picked up another few minutes on me by SAG stop #2. He might have been 6.5 minutes ahead at this point, in seat time.
But I was feeling pretty great, actually, and this next section was supposed to have quite a bad headwind, which Ron doesn’t care for (yeah, I know — who does?). I got in line behind Ron, and another fellow, in red and yellow, but no number, got behind me, and our little train headed out into the wind. Whoa, it was kind of awful. Ron later said that it had been much worse in 2007, but it was bad enough, believe me. Nothing like mixing a headwind and a climb. But I had my little altimeter watch, and it was reassuring me that we weren’t that many hundred feet below our starting point. We hadn’t gotten too much of a free ride.
Oh, the wind. Ron was pulling away from me, and the guy behind me pulled ahead so as not to lose Ron, because you really have to follow the guy in front of you rather closely to get the benefit of drafting. There they went, choo-choo, the train had left the station, and I wasn’t on board.
And I might have trouble catching them: somewhere around mile 35 or so, I had already started noticing a bit of saddle-soreness, and right-knee pain. Great, no problem there, only 66 miles to go.
But here’s the funny thing. In my other rides in the last six months or so, I had either tried ignoring the pain, and it hadn’t worked (“Oh yeah? OK, how about this then?”) or else I had been careful, not wanting to put my training schedule in jeopardy, kind of like someone preparing for the Olympics: if you screw yourself up, you’ll miss it, and then it’ll be another 4 years. An exaggeration in my case, but a good analogy nevertheless. But here I was, at the Olympics, figuratively speaking, and I didn’t care if my knees were going to be sore for the next month or not, and it just didn’t feel like I was putting them at risk for anything longer term.
So I went for it, ignoring my knee pain, and catching up with the drafting train. And my knees never said anything more for the whole rest of the ride. They just continued their low-level soreness, muttering to themselves, bitterly. But here I was, keeping up.
After a while, I felt that Ron had had his share of being in front. The headwind was only supposed to last for 10 miles or so, and he’d been in front for a mile or two at least. So I pulled in front to take my turn. Wow, it was staggering, no fun at all, but I soldiered on.
And here’s one of the great things about riding in an event like Solvang, in about the middle of the pack. There are always people who are passing you, and people who you’re passing. If you look carefully, you should be able to find a pack of riders who fit you perfectly, and you shouldn’t have to wait too long, either. The train behind me was growing, but another pack of riders was pulling ahead of me, and it seemed to me that keeping up with them wouldn’t be any harder than leading my own train. And hey, they had a guy, about my age, about my weight (and consequently an excellent wind break!), and who seemed to be pretty aggressive and just slightly better than I. Let’s try to keep up with that guy!
So I latched on to the passing train, behind rider #861, and off we went. I could feel my own train fracture behind me, as some riders moved to join the faster pack with me, and some hung back.
I liked this train of riders. There were about 10 of them, and they were all very followable. I had led my own train for a few miles, and didn’t mind hanging in the back of the pack for a while. Man, this was great, we were really hauling!
This whole riding-with-a-pack thing is kind of tricky. When it works, it’s the greatest thing there is. If it’s a little too fast, you can totally burn out trying to keep up with the too-fast pack. Whoops, #861 had lost the thread, we had been jettisoned. I pulled alongside him, announced that according to the technology, we were +10 feet above Solvang, and shortly afterwards said, “Let’s go catch those guys again.”
I pulled ahead, and felt #861 pull in behind me, just us two. We charged along, and…eventually…here’s our old friends, the previous pack, we’re slotted in, it’s great. And so we went. Occasionally I would see #861 pull ahead, and I’d tag along, and at one point the red and yellow guy who was my original follower caught up as part of another train, laughed, and said, “You’re still hanging in there, eh?”
He went ahead, and I latched on after him, vowing to enter SAG stop #3, the Santa Maria airport, mile 58 or so, alongside him.
Which I did.
Ok, that was an outstanding segment, and I knew I had caught up with Ron quite a bit on that one.
But I haven’t mentioned the onlookers, and that’s one lovely thing about Solvang: there are well-wishers scattered all along the course, ringing cowbells, shouting encouragement:
A gaggle of bell-wishers at the Santa Maria airport. Note the small dog being held by the lady in yellow. I tried to get a picture of them cheering and ringing their bells, but was thwarted by my smaller camera’s horrible shutter lag and the near constant intrusion of some cyclist passing by.
Wow, we had covered over half the distance, and I had a 15.1 mph average, seat time — not bad! I was waiting around for Ron to be ready to go, but he had disappeared into the mob, and…my knees, oh, my knees were seizing up, I could feel them. I had really started to notice, on our training rides, that the breaks didn’t seem to help me at all; towards the second half of the ride, I was always better if I could just continue pedaling than if I was stuck standing somewhere.
Man, where was Ron? Hey, he’s got an iPhone! I tried calling him a few times, and finally left a message, saying that I just had to take off, the knees had spoken. And off I went, pedaling not so very fast, waiting for everything to smooth out again. Ah, and here’s Ron, excellent!
We chugged along, and almost immediately found ourselves at Clark St., a long, terrible uphill where I had seriously bonked in 1996, and where I first discovered the healing power of Skittles. (It was like magic: I had been completely drained, and after downing a bag of Skittles, just went charging up 500′ of Clark St. like nothing had ever been wrong). I didn’t need them yet, though. This year, I had been sipping on Hammer’s Sustained Energy throughout, with a 1/2 peanut butter and jelly sandwich and 2 or 3 cookies at each SAG stop as a supplement.
Ron left me in the dust, though now that I think about it, I had stopped to wash the salt off my face. Man, I have to remember to do that at the SAG stops, where it won’t slow me down. But Clark St., and the 250′ or so hill following, held no terrors for me — couldn’t have been easier.
And so I arrived at the Sisquoc SAG stop, the SAG stop immediately before Foxen Canyon Rd., which features a relentless 10-15 mile uphill of 1,100 feet or so. Oh yes, I’ve bonked there, as well. I refilled my CamelBak with two bottles worth of water and Sustained Energy, thanked the small local boys who were helping out with the water, gave them each a small Halloween bag of Skittles, and took a dose of Skittles to fortify myself for the climb to come.
Off we went. And I’ve got to say, I just love having an altimeter watch. Because what you really need in this world, what you need more than anything, is a progress meter: “You are 74% done climbing this horrible hill.” I just pedaled along, and every so often I’d check and see that, ah, yes, a little more progress, excellent.
This was so great! I wasn’t running out of energy at all! I jammed along, hitting the big gears on the occasional slight downhill, riding the higher gears on the following uphill, climbing, climbing, just excellent. Half-way up I stopped to wash the salt off my face. Man, when am I going to remember to do that at the SAG stops? Ron pulled in a few minutes afterward, and we chatted briefly, agreeing to meet again right before the much-steeper 200-300 foot climb approaching the Foxen Canyon summit.
I took off again, still feeling great. About half-way to the meeting point, #861 passed me. I cried out, “#861! You’re an animal!” He laughed, and allowed as how he’d noticed that we’d been trading off for the last 40-odd miles. Nice guy. Never saw him again.
At the meeting point, I stopped and awaited Ron, who arrived within a minute. Hey, I was surely getting closer to Ron’s time! Ach, no, he’s still 1.5 minutes faster, and there’s less than 1,000 feet of climbing left to go — bah. And there goes Vincent; his crank’s either all better, or better enough that he can pass the likes of us. Carlos stopped to chat for a minute, but quickly pulled ahead of me on the steep part of the Foxen Canyon summit climb.
And it slowed us down, of course, but we were still passing people, just as we were being passed. I was standing up a lot more often on the steep hills, which allowed me to use an entirely different set of muscles, and by the time they were wasted, which wasn’t very long, maybe a minute, the regular muscles used by the regular position felt as if they had gotten a wonderful vacation. Long enough, but not too long. Up I went. The gears were super quick and sure, after being fixed just a week earlier at the terrific Win’s Wheels (360941 W. Agoura Rd., Suite #302, Westlake Village, CA 91361).
Oh, the top. That wacky, wacky Foxen Canyon Road. Abruptly down, and down. I lost 180 feet in two minutes. That’s fast.
I pulled in to the final SAG stop, just short of mile 90. Hey, there are Vincent and Carlos! And…about 1.5 minutes later, here was Ron! Could it be???
“Ron, my seat time is 6:02:02 — what’s yours?”
“Let’s see, mine is…6:02:05.”
“Yes! I’m beating you! Three seconds!” I literally pumped both fists in the air.
A girl sitting at the side of the road was quite amused at my joy: “That’s brutal!” Yeah, but it’s 3 seconds.
Still, despite the fact that I carried my bike around the SAG stop with its front wheel in the air for most of the time, I’d picked up another 23 seconds on the meter by the time we left again.
Down we dropped, and I really didn’t like this road. I dropped 280 feet in two minutes, that’s more than two vertical feet every second for two minutes straight! Bumpy, with some blind turns, nice. Well, here’s the 154 coming up, and there goes Ron, passing me, gleefully: “Ha! Three seconds!”
There was one steep, but short, hill left, about 200′, and then a last hill shortly before Solvang. I took off, passing Ron. The police, who had been at many major intersections along the route, waved us through the stop sign, while holding back the highway traffic. Never mind, that stop sign doesn’t apply to you today.
I zipped up the steep hill, never ran out of steam, and just tore through the rest of the course. What was my average speed? Oooh, 14.9 miles per hour, not bad at all considering that it had been at 15.1 at the 58-mile mark, and considering how back-loaded the climbing is on this ride. Oh, surely I can get it up to 15.0 before the end!
And I did, and sailed through the stop light (thank you officer) on Mission Road, and was now just a few fairly level surface streets from the end. And it was at this point that I hit the dark side of traveling in the middle of the bell curve, which was…the incredible bicycle congestion. There are 5,000 cyclists at Solvang, and they were all coming back now, it seemed like. I fought my ride through the finish line, picked up my finisher’s bag of goodies, and locked my wheel down. Rats, 14.9 mph! Darn congestion. But wait…I’ve noticed before that, incredibly, my dopey cycling computer doesn’t report average speed accurately. It tends to read very-slightly-low. Do the math yourself, in your head. Oh, it really seems like it’s going to be at least 15mph! Ooh, here comes Ron, get a picture:
Ron sails in. 3:21pm.
So, how did we do? We totally crushed our six-years-ago selves! New personal bests all around!
Ron beat his six-years-ago self by 18 minutes. That’s good crushing!
And me? I was almost 35 minutes faster than 2002 Tom, which was only fitting, since 2002 Tom was 30 minutes faster than his six-years-ago self, 1996 Tom. That’ll show him. As John Blackburn said, when I told him, “Good for the goose, chump! Maybe you’ll beat me next time…oh wait, YOU CAN’T because you’re in the past! Second-best forever. Eat it, boy.” Wow, that John Blackburn really has no trouble at all pretending to be as competitive as I am.
And I finally beat Ron, in a long ride:
Oh, and the knees seem fine — not actually happy, mind you, but definitely fully functional.
Tom's Cycle Computer and Altimeter Watch:
distance: 101.25 miles
ascent: 4,440 ft.
saddle time: 6:44:57 (not counting stops. 35 minutes faster than 2002!)
average speed: 15.0 mph (not counting stops)
Ron's Cycle Computer:
saddle time: 6:47:50 (not counting stops. 18 minutes faster than 2002!)
average speed: 14.9 mph (not counting stops)
From Start to Finish:
elapsed time: 8:50:00 (counting everything: 06:27:00 - 15:17:00)
average speed: 11.5 mph (counting everything)
“Hey, Ron, there’s a Solvang Double Century! Ron?”