This was the third time in as many years that I had come down to Santa Barbara and SLO counties to do this ride. And despite my growing familiarity of it, I enjoyed it as much this time as if it were 2003 again, when I came here to knock off the first double century I'd ever attempted. The event may have undergone a metamorphosis of sorts, but none of its charm has diminished whatsoever.
The areas surrounding Solvang this time of year are simply gorgeous. A generous, late-Winter helping of rainfall in Southern California yielded a pastoral countryside in the first half of this ride more lush than I'd ever seen in it in prior years. While wildflowers were late to bloom, I believe due to the same climate trends, they were present and beautiful to behold.
Lisa and I traveled down Friday afternoon with friends Charlie Jonas and Dana Habegger. This was Dana's first attempt at a double century and Charlie's first on a fixed-gear bike, both of whom achieved their new benchmark accomplishments with what appeared to be much greater ease than I had in finishing this ride two years ago.
I suspect that there were lots of other people out there that day with their respective firsts. Planet Ultra, who organizes this event, reported almost 530 registrants for this ride this year. In prior years, registration was limited to just over 300 riders. This year, there were a whopping 467 official finishers. And while I initially had some concerns about the suddenly huge number of participants Planet Ultra would support compared to what they've been accustomed to, they and their liege of volunteers did a stellar job of making this not just one of the best supported doubles I've been on, but one of the best supported rides overall. And thank goodness the gigantic order of Hammer nutrition products they ordered arrived on time as well (which were shipped a week before the event by ground transportation), else the tune I sing today might have sounded slightly different.
Lisa and I rode nearly the entire course together. We set off at around 5:30A, along with Charlie and Dana. Not more than 15 minutes before this, I had already repaired my first flat of the day - in the hotel room (faulty presta valve). Thankfully, this would be the only anomalous incident I would experience throughout the day. I certainly didn't want any encores of the sorts of adventures I experienced last year.
Damp morning air was not especially cold, but the high 40F temps definitely do a good job of waking you up. So do the many rolling hills between Solvang and the first control of the day in Sisquoc. Lisa and I were dropped by our travel companions very shortly after we started, mainly because Lisa was so distracted by trying in vain to reset her bike computer. After about 3 minutes of slow pedaling and mumbling, I'd had it and said, "Give me that!! Just pop it off the mount and let me do it!" Grrrr. I reset the computer, handed it back to Lisa, we're all happy again.
As we began to descend from Foxen Canyon into Sisquoc, we began to see the real hammerhead groups just fly past us. Some of them must have been sustaining almost 30mph. And I imagine they were only getting warmed up. I was pretty certain a real cool cat I recently met, and highly accomplished ultracycling racer, Bruce Carroll, would be in the thick of the fast groups. I didn't spot him that day (perhaps too much of a blur as he sped by), but I know he finished the ride in 10h42m. Weeks later he would tell me he was having just an OK day. (Don't get me wrong though, this guy is hardly a braggart, which only elevates my admiration of the fella).
Lisa and I managed to hook up with Dana and Charlie again in the stretch between Sisquoc and San Luis Obispo. This was a good thing, especially since we were riding through the areas hit by the worst of the headwinds last year. The winds were much calmer this year, thankfully, but the steady pace and equal share of quarter mile pulls we shared with each other really made the next 15 miles or so fly. At reaching Highway 166 outside Nipomo, and with the group's blessing, I took off on my own for the next 30 miles or so to push my own pace a bit. My own reasons for this would be an unorthodox manner of training for future endurance events, basically riding the second half of this ride in perhaps a more tired state than I normally would be in if I rode more prudently. This way, I'd know and learn how to cope with ENDURANCE when more needed.
Shortly before reaching the second control, I hooked up with Ralph and Judy Burton from San Dimas, CA, a tandem team that Lisa and I were chatting with briefly in the morning. I complimented them on how easy they made it look to pedal out of the saddle together whenever they did. Lisa and I being new to tandem riding ourselves, I couldn't help but express the appreciation in the hopes of learning a thing or two from them as we yapped some more.
I spent about 20 minutes at the second control, about twice as much time I normally would on my own, but I'd been feeling rather carefree all morning, and was content to just enjoy this ride at a leisurely pace. No sense in making the first double of the year (or any for that matter) less fun and more work after all. Lisa and I took off together shortly before Dana and Charlie. But the four of us would resume our paceline by the time we reached Highway 1 on the way to Morro Bay. This time, we were joined by some 5 other riders to share the work as well.
My position in line was, as before, behind Charlie, so I was entertained by the amazing feat he was undertaking today by riding a fixed gear bike. Knowing his abilities, and despite this being the first time he would ever attempt to do a long ride on a fixie, I had no doubt in my mind he would pull it off without a hitch (he did) and kick our asses in the process (he did). But the greatest thing about witnessing this accomplishment was seeing him manage descents like those on Highway 1 where a brake-controlled speed of 28mph would still have his legs spinning madly at around 150rpm. Crazy.
Reaching Morro Bay on this ride is always special. If not for the beauty of Morro Rock and the Pacific Ocean, whose breeze would breathe upon us for most of the rest of the day, you also know you're halfway through the ride. And at this point, despite having hammered for a 1.5 hour stretch and pushed some big gears up the climbs and rollers, I was feeling pretty good. Even better, we were about one hour away from the lunch control in San Luis, and we were guaranteed to have some tailwinds in Los Osos valley.
Lisa and I spent nearly 25 minutes at lunch. The time just slipped away from us, but I knew the extra time relaxing would be good for Lisa, who admitted she struggled a bit in the last few miles. She was riding quite differently this year from last, having pushed herself more than she might normally do in the early hours of the ride today. But I didn't doubt that she would finish today comfortably.
And just as I thought, the next section of the ride that traveled along Pismo Beach would rejuvenate her. Charlie decided to go off ahead on his own. Dana continued with us. We found ourselves in a group pulled by Ralph and Judy on their tandem again. Ralph and Judy probably got excited at pulling a long train (like Lisa and I occasionally do on our tandem) that they picked up the pace. At some point, I was the only one in a group of 8 able to keep up that pace on the descents and the rest of the group got shelled before we got out of Shell Beach. I decided to let go of the tandem wheel at that point and just wait for Lisa and Dana (can't leave my stoker behind, after all, even if she's detached today).
The three of us resumed our workshare in Arroyo Grande and kept it together until the next control in Guadalupe, and I taking some slightly longer pulls along the way. All the while, there was a guy at the end of our line sucking wheel, while never making one offer to take a pull. I actually don't mind freeloaders on a paceline, especially if I want to keep a small number of people who know each other in control at the front, but one thing made it easy for 3 of us to see that this guy was simply a jerk. After over an hour of just sitting there, he decided to bolt past us all without as much as a smile or even a breath of thanks. How rude. How uncool.
Lisa, Dana and I managed our off-bike time in Guadalupe much better. I think the fact that Charlie was carrying Dana's transparent eyeglass lenses ahead had something to do with Dana's sense of urgency to take off. In the 5 miles outside Guadalupe heading back towards Highway 1, Dana latched on to a quick-paced group of about 4 riders ahead. I felt pretty worn out and was going pretty slowly compared to the rest of the day and couldn't bridge. Lisa looked like she was pretty fresh again at this point and gladly pulled my tired butt for a while until I recovered. And for the first time all day, we'd feel a sense of isolation since there weren't many riders around us at this point.
But 15 miles outside Los Alamos, a group of about 4 riders made an effort to hook up to us and asked if they could sit in a while. No problem, I said. And since it was understood that the 5 passengers would just sit in, I felt some license to increase the pace a bit if we pleased so long as they could hang on. And so, Lisa and I soldiered at the front, riding in the drops, sustaining a nice, 20-21mph clip, exchanging minute-long pulls while everybody just held on. By the time we reached Los Alamos, we were both pretty charged, and amused to discover that the group behind us swelled to 8 riders. But we were also definitely ready for our Cup-o-Noodles.
Only one notable obstacle lay between Los Alamos and the finish: the climb up and over Drumm Canyon. Lisa and I had reached Los Alamos nearly 45 minutes ahead of the time we kept last year, so it meant we were able to climb part of Canyon with some amount of daylight left in the sky. Enough to appreciate some of the surroundings anyway. But by the time we crested the hill, night had fallen.
I've recently begun to use a dynamo lighting system with my road bike which consists of a Schmidt front wheel hub that powers a Schmidt E6 headlight. While their worth and effectiveness had already been proven in my opinion during some shorter nighttime rides I'd done this month, the finishing miles by dark on this ride really sealed my impression of the system, worthy of all the randonneur hype it receives.
The first half of the Drumm Canyon descent 165 miles into the ride is a hairy, technical one by day. The second half is very fast and straight, but potentially dangerous due to the poor quality of the pavement in spots. The light output of the E6 might not be the best in terms of lumens, but its reverse trapezoidal beam pattern is so much more effective than many other lights I've used or ridden by. And that includes numerous high power systems like my own Niterider Digital Evolution and various ARC lights. Best of all, I would never have to worry about the limited battery life of those systems ever again. I missed the flood beam of my Niterider in the tight, technical curves of the descent, but the E6 shines a light pattern far superior to the Niterider that allowed me to sustain a near 35+mph on the straights. I was passing riders so quickly well in the opposite lane that one rider urgently yelled "car back!!" as I went by.
I was feeling pretty content by the time I reached Highway 246 at the end of Drumm Canyon Rd. The new stuff I was using were working really well for me. The dynamo lighting system, for one; the other being these new Bergamo Peloton bib shorts I picked up recently. I was pretty apprehensive about the fancy, high tech pad that seemed excessive at first, but that was clearly working well for me today.
I waited a while until Lisa and Dana emerged from Drumm Canyon, just to be sure they negotiated the dark descent safely. Both took the descent extra cautiously as both would happen to be challenged by their own lighting issues. Dana's single light mount wasn't secure enough on her handlebar that the light would not stay aimed at the right spot for long without constant, and I'm sure an irritating series of constant adjustments. Lisa, on the other hand only had her Cateye micro spot light to rely on as her Cateye EL-500 LED was not putting out a normal amount of light given the fresh batteries she put in just the night before. And so despite the urge to hammer back to the finish as I had in the last 2 years, I decided to relax and stay with Lisa and Dana instead to proudly shine the road all the way back to Solvang.
And what a treat it was: to be able to relish the sight of the full moon rising over the Sierra ridge and unmistakably feeling the sense of excitement Dana had at pulling off her first double century so well, and Lisa on pace to finish her second Solvang DC nearly 1h45m ahead of her pace last year. I finished with a moving time of 12h05m and am satisfied with it, speculating the possibility that I could have shaved at least a half hour off that if I worked harder. And, of course, I would celebrate in my own terms as well: with a huge, heaping portion of spaghetti in the finish.
Before we hit the sack for the night, Lisa and I were able to go for a short dip in our hotel's pool (water not warm enough, unfortunately) and I managed to redeem myself in a 2-to-1 match air hockey victory against Lisa, who apparently needs to be this tired in order to surrender a win to me.
Sunday, Lisa and I slept in as planned, stumbled out of the hotel room at 9AM, and walked around town a bit just to stretch the legs a bit. We managed to find a locals' brunch joint in Buellton, where I indulged in the most obscenely huge morning meal I've had in a long time. And between the time we checked out of the hotel and got back home to San Francisco close to 10PM, we enjoyed about a dozen different detours and distractions to end our early Spring weekend.
We're looking forward to the new riding season!
Dana reported the next day that many people who stayed at the Royal Copenhagen (also the start/finish location of the ride) were quite upset Sunday morning that the showers had no hot water Saturday night. Hotel management dealt with the deluge of complaints by pulling their phone off the hook. By the time the hotel manager showed up late Sunday morning, tempers flared and people got pretty indignant. My favorite of the soundbites overheard by Dana that morning (who was one of the unfortunate bunch left without hot water) was some individual spouting off that "after riding 200 miles, the least she could expect was a hot shower..." to which the hotel manager quipped "Well it wasn't my choice to ride my bike 200 miles...". LOL.