Solvang Double Century (fixed gear)
Wow. What went wrong here? Granted, I should be pleased that I was able to finish this ride a seventh consecutive time, and for the fourth consecutive time on a fixed gear bike, this went down as one of the most difficult days I've had on a bike. In the grand scheme of double centuries, brevets and other ultra events, this is supposed to be an easy ride. But, if anything, this plainly reminds me that there really isn't such a thing as an easy double century. In essence, no matter how many of them you've done (this was my 32nd), they're supposed to be hard.

In numbers, my ride didn't look super terrible. My finishing time was comparable to last year's finish (OK, that also means it's par with the slowest time I've posted on this ride ... by far). But I sure felt tragically weak most of the day. Fatigue began to set in alarmingly early (before we had even hit the 60 mile mark), and I never did recover from a bad mental funk until I was three miles from the finish.

Solvang Double Century Route Map


THE BRIGHT SIDE

Overall, this was an enjoyable trip. Lisa and I finished the ride together, caught up with otherwise distant friends in the cycling community (mostly during rider check-in the day before), and enjoyed terrific weather pretty much the whole day. We were treated to a spectacular sunrise on Foxen Canyon Road in the Santa Ynez Valley, and the morning chill was the mildest I can ever recall in all the years I've done this ride. Hurray, too, for having managed to avoid any/all navigational flubs this year. There's just something confusing about the first three turns in the morning, confirmed by the fact that dozens of unsuspecting riders blew past them again this year. This time, we didn't mess it up and add bonus miles. Yay.

It helped that ride host Planet Ultra finally put in a visible effort to mark the course. I've grown to NOT depend on roadside navigational aids from any their events, so this came as a pleasant surprise.

Other members of our own local riding posse went and gave it their shot, too. Bryan K. and Michael B. each nicked off their first double century and I could tell they were pretty stoked by it. Jason P. used this event as his first attempt at a double century on a fixed gear bike and finished it with flying colors. JasonMc and LisaMc did well on their tandem, too, just as they had two years ago.

The course itself certainly makes the suffering worth while. Every time. Foxen Canyon, Morro Bay, Pismo Beach, Los Alamos, the fragrant farms of the Santa Maria basin (in which an abundance of cilantro and strawberry crops perfumed the air): they're all quite special.

There was a slight change in the nature of the course given the relocation of the start/finish to the Buellton Marriott after the prior host hotel decided it was going to be a $750 per night deluxe resort (yes, for real -- in Solvang). The cool result from this relocation was the elimination of the final pesky rise up to Solvang on Mission Blvd right before the finish. That bump on the road now lay 3 miles up the road from the start. Sweetness.

THE FIXED GEAR HABIT

Lisa and I are guilty of habitually wanting this ride aboard our fixed gear bikes. I've done it four times in a row on a fixie now. Lisa: three times in a row. It doesn't get easier each time, but we both feel as if we've reached a point where we can't imagine enjoying the ride more if we would decide to ride it on regular road bikes. Or has this just become an issue of stubborn pride? Like we can't go "back" to the road bikes, or something? I think after this year's ride, I may feel differently -- that, should we decide to do this ride again next year, we actually might enjoy it more again on a freewheeling bike. It might be just the thing to mix up the experience again, to break away from the habitual mold and pressure we put on ourselves to live up to last year's standards.

Honestly, given the continuing upsurge and explosion of the fixed gear bike trend, I would have expected way more riders on fixed gear bikes out there. There were five, including ourselves, and I knew all the others but one. The stranger was rockin' an electric blue vintage Peugeot with a handbuilt wheelset using anodized gold rims. As he passed me on the way to Guadalupe, I ribbed him with a snarky comment.

"Blue vintage bike with gold aeroheads? Dude that's SO cliché."

For the record: I ride an electric blue '78 Argos with anodized gold aerohead hoops. He chuckled. We exchanged small talk. He dropped my ass like a brick while making some loud, unsolicited proclamation that he usually pedals 82 gear inches or something macho like that. Good for you, chief.

LEAD IN THE LEGS, COBWEBS IN THE HEAD

Everything started reasonably well during the ride, and before the ride, for that matter. I had quality miles on the fixie care of two 200k brevets earlier in the month. I had a wonderful meal at the Hadsten House across from our hotel (hallelujah -- a downright good, if not kind'a pricey, restaurant in Danish Capital of California, at long last). I got a solid night's sleep. I felt great in the opening miles.

Then it all started to turn to shit. Somewhere between Arroyo Grande and San Luis Obispo, barely a quarter of the way through the ride, fatigue and sleepiness started setting in. At first I tried to dismiss it, hammer for a few miles to wake myself up, but all that did was turn my legs to rubber even faster. I was drinking well, fueling well. At least I thought I was.

The halfway point at the majestic Morro Rock came and I was just getting more and more tired, and now considerably demoralized that I hardly even appreciate the beautiful view of the Morro Bay ahead of me. Crankiness ramped up on the way to the lunch stop in San Luis Obispo, abruptly interrupted by the sight of a fellow rider who appeared to have gone down hard and was being handled by paramedics on the roadside. I thought about the rider, silently wished him a speedy recovery, then no sooner resumed in cranky self-debate as to whether I could, or wanted, to carry on.

I knew that lunch and the chill-out respite that comes with it might help me reset a little bit. Further down the road, I also expected the sights of Pismo Beach and the short uphill kicks after Oceano to work as well as a tablet of no-doze; they did. But soon after we left the Guadalupe rest stop further out, I was back to frequent yawning, mounting fatigue, and more scary moments of momentarily dozing off on the bike. I know I managed to keep the bike straight despite these episodes, and I'm guessing that the gyroscopic forces (or whatever -- I'm no phycicist) resulting from my fixed wheel and cranks in constant motion may have done me favors. Or maybe I was just a lucky bastard.

That sleepiness couldn't have climaxed at a worse possible time in the ride: historically my least favorite because of the interminably long, straight, nearly scene-less haul to Los Alamos. As if by some strange curse and blessing rolled into one, a climax of a different sort gave me a bit of a jolt and a recharge.

MISS MANNERS IS DEAD

It wasn't just tired old me that was fueling my generally irritated state of mind that day. More than I can ever remember in this event, there was a disturbingly frequent occurence of shameless/rude and uninvited wheelsucking going on, and other sorts of remarkable rider stupidity. Take, for instance, the rider who passed me, only to slow down on a slight hill to pull his shorts, whip out the weasel and whizz into the wind while riding erratically across both lanes of the road. Let me make this clear: unless you're paid to ride your bike and you're in a critical race position, that whole rolling piss break business just makes you a pretty remarkable dumbshit.

But back to the shameless wheelsucking: it was like a goddamn cancer that day. Most people know the type: the guys who just appear and latch on to your wheel for a few miles taking a free ride. With the slightest bit in speed decrease, they ditch ya without as much as a "hi" or any offer to repay the favor. It's common to encounter a few of these losers on any given organized ride, but this was happening again, and again, and again with countless people who lacked any form of ride manners, let alone social skills.

It all came to a head for me on the way to Los Alamos, when Lisa and I were trading minute-long turns blocking the wind and yet another guy came along and imposed his free ride upon us. Finally, as I ended one of my turns up front, I pulled slightly to the side so I could just stare at him, then flick my arm in a manner that said "YOU can take your share of this work any year now, buddy." And what does he do? He bolts past us both without a word and DROPS us. I just about had it with that kind of bullshit, chased the asshole down as I heard Lisa's voice fade behind, "Don't, don't..."

I bridged to him in short order, sat on his wheel, then exercised my resolve to give him a piece of my mind when we arrived at the next rest stop. Great restraint was applied in order to avoid using more ... abrasive ... language and tone. More so when he offered this as a reply:

"What?" (complete with the hand and shoulder shrug)

Thank goodness my ability to see the hilarity of the situation surfaced, and I simply started laughing, while explaining excerpts from the code of common decency in the casual peloton. It appeared to sink in with him, and he apologized. Sort of. I thought, OK, he's not an asshole. He's just fucking clueless.

The curse of this behavior really stood out in contrast to my first experience with this event in 2003, when I was awestruck by the amazing skill and cooperation of the riders I had encountered. I can't help but feel that this event has become as overcrowded with nitwit cowboys as any average sell-out century does nowadays.

NEW SPEED RECORD

I suppose my little flare-up and confrontation had an convenient benefit. I was awake again. Mentally, I was in a charged state -- and that definitely helped as I slogged up the final climb of the day on Drumm Canyon Road, legs spinning at a whopping 30 rpm.

By complete contrast, earlier in the day, I managed to achieve a personal best in the max. velocity department while on this bike: 36.5 mph, according to a freewheeling rider who had trouble shadowing me at the moment I let it happen. Based on my gearing, that meant I sustained a cadence of 178rpm to go that fast -- I can tell you I was definitely on the edge of getting ridden and thrown off by the bike. Scary and thrilling stuff. But, just like the pissy moment did later, it sure woke me up.

SO ... WHAT WENT WRONG?

Time and again, I still get bothered by how crappy I felt on the ride despite what seemed like an ideal pre-ride day, meal and night of sleep. I admit I lacked the some speed work coming into this ride, but honestly I've finished harder rides more comfortably on less "training" than I've had this year. What else could I possibly pin the blame on other than the lame, usual "random bad day" crap?

The glass of Viognier I had with my dinner? OK, maybe. But it wasn't the first time I've had wine before a long event, and previous occasions suggest it alone shouldn't have been a big deal (I drank a large glass of Cabernet the night before the insanely difficult Terrible Two one year).

The week-long, solo 1,900-mile backroads and mountains trip on my motorcycle I finished just two days before the ride, before packing up and driving 300 miles south? I know I got back home from that moto trip pretty whupped. Could it have taken more out of me than I would have imagined?

Whatever. I'm not looking for excuses. Really. Just lessons. In the end, I'm still comforted in the fact that, despite sucking so bad one day, I still made it all the way on my own power, and toughed it out.

Ya. I'm content.

RIDE DATA
Distance: 199 miles (including hotel commute) | Elevation gain: 6,300' | Ride time: 13h30m
Info: planetultra.com
Files: GPX | KML (Google Earth)
previous Solvang Double Century reports: 2008 | 2007 | 2006 | 2005 | 2004 | 2003

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