Solvang Double Century (fixed gear)
Our annual Rite of Spring, this ride has been a mark on our calendars since a time when gasoline cost nearly half what it does now. This was the sixth consecutive year that I've completed the ride; Lisa's fifth. It was also the third consecutive time I've done the ride with a fixed gear bike; Lisa's second.
Ho-hum, been there, done that, right? Hardly.
Like we did last year, Lisa and I rode the whole day together, and finished together. Only about an hour slower, year over year (and the slowest we've ever finished this ride), and a tad more whupped afterwards. We didn't have adverse weather to blame, nor a lousy night of sleep before the ride. Just less conditioning in the months and weeks prior, and maybe more accumulated sick days in the Winter this year.
The later finish was tough to accept at first, but we did finish (ultimately, our only goal when it comes to these rides), and we did pedal nonstop the whole way. By my calculations from the ride two years ago, over 54,000 continuous pedal revolutions from start to finish (even more for Lisa given her lower gear drive).
Even better, I feel as if I managed the later challenges in the ride -- the long stretch to Los Alamos, and the climb/descent over Drumm Canyon -- far more comfortably than I have in the past. Strangely, it was the first half of the ride that proved more tiring to me this time -- highly unusual.
Fatigue started to set in quite noticably by the time I reached the lunch stop in San Luis Obispo. Uncharacteristically, Lisa and I spent almost half an hour off the bikes at this point, but also due to the fact that a couple of Bay Area friends who recently moved to SLO (and lived a few blocks from the lunch stop, for that matter) paid us a visit. Apparently, it all made for a good recharge -- both physically and mentally.
Still, knowing that I was enduring a higher level of fatigue at this point had me dreading the miles ahead, and the climb up Drumm Canyon more than I have in the past. What a relief it was to have found myself riding better in the second half than I feared -- let alone better than I did last year.
Another surprising element in this year's ride was the lack of other riders on fixed gear bikes out there. With the exploding, trend-driven popularity of fixed gear bikes, I would have imagined more and more riders giving this event a go on fixies this year. As far as I could tell, there were only two others besides us in a field of 420 starters. And guys we've grown accustomed to seeing out there year after year were conspicuously absent this year as well.
Weather conditions were simply perfect. Wildflowers were slightly behind schedule, but many hillsides were saturated with purple blooms this time. 385 riders completed the ride, yielding a remarkably low 8% DNF rate on this year's ride. Of these riders, I had the pleasure of briefly conversing with a guy with double prosthetics for his legs. He and his riding companion (one of the other fellas on a fixed gear), in fact, completely humbled us in ride pace, probably finishing the ride hours earlier than we did.
Apparently, thorough knowledge of the course from having done the bloody ride so many times before doesn't make you immune to navigational flubs. Lisa and I successfully navigated the first tricky turn in the morning that most early starters have customarily missed, but this year we missed the turn immediately following that. It took a while to realize we were on unfamiliar roads, and by the time we retraced our steps and got back on course, we had put on some five bonus miles.
The quality of the support provided by Planet Ultra, in my experience, continues to deteriorate. I find this mostly unfair to the group of people who loyally volunteer to staff their events, but I'm questioning myself more and more whether I'm willing to pay the $80 fee for an event in which I'm relying on my own resources increasingly because of the lack or poor quality thereof supplied by the event organizers. I feel that I've reached a point where I'd very much prefer to do this ride on our own from here on.