Having loaded my Kirk Terraplane (Hi Dave) into the back seat of the car, I drove down to Solvang on Friday afternoon, March 28. The entire drive it was very windy. In Solvang, the wind seemed to be in the 20-25 mph range. This did not bode well for the double. It was windy all evening and into the night. I checked into the hotel, walked around town a bit, and checked in at the ride registration desk. At registration I learned that the course would not be fully marked and event organizers strongly encouraged riders to keep a keen eye on the route sheet. Also, no post-ride meal (booo!). I had a quick dinner and went to bed.
I intended to get up at 5:30 to have adequate time for breakfast and to ride to the start around 6:15, just four blocks away. I woke up at 4:00 and couldn't go back to sleep. As I lay in the dark, I saw dots of light dancing on my room’s ceiling: reflections of parking lot lights in the hotel swimming pool water. Water was not calm -- wind.
After 90 minutes of sleeplessness, I got up at 5:30, ate, and at 6:10 rode to the start at The Royal Scandinavian hotel. I found 30 riders waiting for a group to get going. Almost immediately, three guys began riding, and I decided to follow them. It was overcast and still dark. The wind gusted a bit, but it was not as bad as on Friday. For just starting out and riding into the wind I thought this group was going pretty darn hard, but I was willing to stick with them for a while. At first they looked at me like “what the hell are you doing here” but after 15 minutes, seeing that I wasn’t going anywhere, they accepted me. I told them I was riding alone and asked if they minded if I rode with them. They didn’t. I started taking pulls and chatting with them. The chattiest was Chris, a 52-year old who'd done all but one of California doubles last year AND Paris-Brest-Paris. The other two were Bruce, a 58-year old with thighs the size of my waist who lives at the foot of Mt. Baldy, climbs the mountain regularly, and goes by “almighty;” and Steve, a mid-50s guy whom I didn't get to know at all.
For the first hour, we rolled fairly briskly, picking off individuals and small groups, as we rode over rolling hills and through rural valleys of northern Santa Barbara County. The hills were green with fields of lupine and California poppies covering many hillsides. After a few rollers, we began a long and gradual descent toward a valley southeast of Santa Maria. We had dropped Steve early on a climb and Bruce fell back later. On the descent Bruce caught up and the three of us worked well together, taking 1-minute pulls. Suddenly, a rider passed us at ~30 mph. We jumped on his wheel. He was riding close to 30 mph for mile after mile. Eventually, breathing hard, he eased off and I, then Chris, took turns, but not at that speed. Either our new companion was unhappy with the pace or he felt very refreshed, but he went to the front and again, pulled ferociously for good 5 minutes (I dubbed him “one-man tandem”). At this point, Bruce dropped off and Chris sat up. Not wanting to ride away from them I sat up too. As it turned out, the first rest stop was just half a mile away.
One-man tandem said that he had plenty of food and drink and took off. Steve pulled in soon after us. We refilled bottles, ate a bit, and popped mineral supplements when we noticed two tandems, one just pulling into the rest stop, the other about to leave. “That’s a train,” said Chris. I said “whooo, whooo!” A handful of other singles were leaving with the tandem. We slotted into the paceline and were off.
Since we were only 35+ miles into a 196-mile ride (yes, not quite a double century) there was no need for the tandem to blow its wad in the first quarter of the ride. So, they took it nice and steady, averaging speeds in the low 20s. Somewhere on a flat around mile 45 I looked at my computer. It said 24.5 mph. Then I looked at my heart monitor. It said 133. Then I looked back at the computer. It still said 24.5. The monitor still said just 133. :-)
The tandem kept chugging along. As we passed people, they latched onto the back of the paceline. At one point I looked back and saw that the tandem was towing about 15 riders. As I mentioned, we were warned that the course would be poorly marked and it was. Time after time, we went past intersections when someone in the paceline would call out that we missed a turn, so we’d all turn around and go back. That was not fun. At one point we were about to catch another long paceline – they were about 25 yards ahead – when they went right instead of left. We followed them blindly, then someone in our paceline said, “it’s left!” we yelled at them that they missed a turn but they kept going and nobody in our paceline wanted to chase to tell them they were going the wrong way.
By now, the tandem had been pulling for good 30 miles and they sat up. I went to the front to offer to pull, but they explained that they didn't like to follow wheels, so 15 of us dawdled along at 16 mph. No one seemed interested in forming a paceline to go ahead, so we waited for the tandem to recover and go to the front again. This they did fairly soon. We sailed past Santa Maria, Nipomo, and another small town and were on rural roads again. We hit some rollers and though the tandem climbed better than most singles it was towing, the tandem sat up. Again, many chose to stay with the tandem. I went ahead and rode alone for about 10 miles into the next rest stop at mile 85. The tandem group arrived within 5 minutes.
More drink, food, pills. I was standing and chatting to a woman about her friend's bike, when I looked over where the tandem had been parked and it wasn't there. I remarked to her that they must have left already, but she said, "the tandem is leaving right now!" And sure enough it was. I blurted apologies for leaving abruptly and sprinted after the tandem, my mouth stuffed with remnants of a PB&J sandwich.
The next destination was Morro Bay (mile 100), where we had to get our numbers marked as proof of making it to the half-way point. We went through beach cities south of San Luis Obispo and through San Luis Obispo, when the route took us onto Highway 1. Highway 1 is a four-lane road in those parts, with a 55 mph speed limit, which means cars were traveling at 65 and we were on the shoulder. For 12 miles. Into the wind. My hat off to the tandem. They never sat up, never complained, never asked for a pull. They just hammered into Morro Bay, going over 20 mph the whole time. A couple of times I pulled out of the paceline to blow my nose and the wind felt like 15-20 mph straight-ahead, full-on, headwind. That pull was very impressive and very much appreciated. Our paceline grew tremendously on that stretch of the road.
We made it into Morro Bay, got off the freeway, made a right and started to climb a short hill, when coming at us in the opposite direction over the hill we saw Vespa scooters. As we climbed, there were more scooters. As we crested, we saw lots more scooters. It was a giant Vespa rally. There were 5-6 blocks of two lanes of bumper to bumper traffic consisting of nothing but Vespa scooters. Vespa riders waived at us, we waived back at them. It was very cool, though a bit stinky from their exhaust.
We descended to the harbor, had sticker dots attached to our numbers and rode off. I assumed the lunch stop would be there, but after finding no one to feed us and consulting the route sheet discovered that lunch would be 14 miles away. The tandem took it easy, so Chris and I set off on our own. We rode through a state park along the ocean -- Monterey pines and ocean views -- very pretty and windy. In the park we caught up to a fast looking guy on a Cervelo time trial bike. So, we sat on his wheel. As soon as he realized we were behind him he sped up. We sped up too. I sat on his wheel thinking, "I really don't need you to go that fast at mile 103, though I probably would have done the same thing. Why do we do that? Why do we speed up when someone catches us?" After about a mile of this, we came to a T intersection and Cervelo dude stopped, saying he had to wait for a friend. Buffeted by side winds, Chris and I continued.
After 15 minutes of oceanside rollers, we came to a turn that took us inland. At that intersection, we caught up with a guy in a yellow jersey (never got his name). And as soon as the light changed, he took off too, going 29! I sat on his wheel for a mile or so, then took a pull at 27-28, then discovered that Chris was way off the back. Yellow Jersey and I traded a few more hard pulls, then we decided to ride smart and slowed down and began to talk. This was his first double. Last year, he rode 15,000 miles. This year he is averaging 400 miles a week riding 4-5 days (I ride 200-250 miles a week). Anticipating my next question, he said, "I don't work." No sh*t(!) and no family either. He is 46, used to smoke two packs a day, drink lots of hard liquor and smoked pot. Discovered cycling four years ago, ditched his bad habits and is now addicted to cycling. Friendly guy, good talker. I didn't ask him how he pays the rent. We rode together to the lunch stop. The tandem arrived a few minutes later.
LUNCH! Sandwiches and V-8 juice. Protein and sodium, yum! I learned that three (small) cans of V-8 and a big Subway sandwich can congeal in one's stomach, producing an uncomfortable sensation. Oh-oh, the tandem is leaving. I jumped on the bike, the uncomfortable sensation still with me, burping V-8, as we rode. (I burped V-8 the rest of the ride.) Fortunately, the tandem was a freight train rather than an express, the pace was mellow and my stomach settled gradually. So it went again: the tandem pulled and pulled at fairly high, yet comfortable, speeds for long periods, then sitting up. Though grateful for the pulls, I wasn't interested in dawdling at 15 mph. My average speed hovered in the low 19s since mile 33 and I wanted to do everything I could to keep it at 19 or higher for the duration of the ride. Now, whenever the tandem slowed down I went ahead. Yellow Jersey usually went with me and we had one or two other people with us. We traded pulls, echeloned where traffic conditions permitted and winds required, and talked.
The next rest stop was in Guadaloupe at mile 143. Guadaloupe is a neat town with an old western cowboy feeling' downtown. I know because I got to see it three times. Thanks to inattentiveness to street signs and absence of route markings (thank you, ride organizers), Yellow Jersey and I rode past the rest stop, on through downtown and almost out of town, when we realized that street numbers were getting lower rather than higher and that we should turn around. It was thus, that we got to see downtown Guadaloupe for the second time. Third time was when rode through after leaving the rest stop.
This fifth, and next-to-last rest stop, was stocked with the same food: fruit, cookies, PB&J, energy drinks, gel, and pills as all the others. There was an important difference. This rest stop was in a public park with a permanent rest room rather than portable toilets. The permanent rest room, however, was permanently locked. Men went number 1 behind the permanent rest rooms and behind other public buildings. I do not know where women relieved themselves at this rest stop. The tandem took a short break and we took off. We rode through Guadaloupe for the third time (do you get the feeling that you know the town pretty well by now?) and out of town. We turned left and tailwind, baby! Half an hour behind the tandem at 27 mph. The wind was actually a bit from the left, so I got to sit next to the tandem stoker and talk to her (more draft than on the wheel) and looking ahead could see other things than the tandem's rear wheel.
We missed our turn again, retraced our steps, and turned onto a rural road that ran past lettuce and cabbage fields. One field also had operating oil pumps as in pumps pumping oil out of the ground. I hope I never eat vegetables from that field. We had a strong side wind and the tandem again lost interest. I went ahead. Rode alone for 3-4 miles, made a couple of turns, looked back and saw a group gaining. I assumed it was our tandem. It was a tandem, but a different tandem -- Bob and Brenda Fletchers, a couple from Vacaville , CA with their names emblazoned on the top tube. Marc, an English guy with whom I played leapfrog for much of the ride, went by sitting on tandem’s wheel, grinned and gave thumbs-up. I jumped into the paceline. Pretty soon I found myself directly on the tandem's wheel. Unlike Healdsburg tandem, which spun very quickly, the Fletchers rode bigger gears and their cadence matched mine. I watched their feet going 'round and 'round. After a while that became mesmerizing, as if I was watching myself pedal. I found out that the Fletchers race mountain tandems at ultra events like Leadville 100, that they're out of shape (bah! they started at 7:30, I at 6:15 and they caught me with 50 miles to go), both recovering from mountain tandem crashes, and were using the double as a training ride. Mountain tandem crashes... Ouch.
At around mile 160, going toward Lompoc, we found ourselves on Highway 1 again. One two-mile stretch was strewn with small gravel and bikes started pelting each other mercilessly. I've ridden in hail and this section felt like I was riding through a gravel hailstorm. Legs, arms, shoulders, face, bike -- I was spitting out bits of gravel! Showering after the ride, I washed gravel out of my hair. That part ended eventually, though not soon enough. I even felt fresh enough to take a pull, which the Fletchers gratefully accepted, as they were beginning to tire and were standing up and stretching pretty often. And, so, we pulled into the last rest stop at mile 172 (173 for me due to multiple detours).
Average speed 19.5. The big climb of the day lay just ahead.
A quick mark on the number from ride staff as proof that we were there, more drink and pills and we were off again. As soon as we left, Brenda said that we were about to start climbing the only major hill of the day -- four miles. The first mile was almost flat and went past a regional park. By the side of the road stood an 11-year old kid with a bike who said, "my friend wants to race you." Ten yards up the road was a kid on a mountain bike with a skipping chain, pedaling uphill. We followed, as that was our route, laughing and yelling at him, "go kid go! don't let a bunch of old farts catch you!" After a quarter mile, he declared victory and turned into a parking lot. We continued. The climb was on a badly surfaced and bumpy road, over a green range of hills. It was foggy, almost misty, cool, peaceful and very pretty. Also hard. Even though it was ~6%, I definitely felt it and was unpleasantly surprised to find myself in my 25 with nothing to downshift into. The Fletchers dropped back, Yellow Jersey rode ahead, Marc and I rode together and talked. Then we caught up with yellow jersey. Finally, I asked (two guys who've never ridden these roads before, what was I thinking?) whether either of them knew how much longer this climb was. Marc guessed, "the cattle grade?" And, yes, just then we were at a cattle grade. And, yes, that was the top. (Average speed: 19.1!)
I let out a big "Wheee!" and plunged down the hill. You know how sometimes you're too tired to be careful on a descent? I was. I just relaxed and flew down. At one point I looked back up the hill and saw Marc and Yellow Jersey two hairpins above. The descent surface was as bad as the climb but there were no holes and it seemed that I only needed to brake for steep hairpins. After a while the road straightened and I could just let it out. That was nice: restful and fast. (Bottom of the hill, average speed: 19.2.)
At this point things looked good for a 19 mph day. I pedaled easily, waiting for Marc and Yellow Jersey, but didn't see them. Quarter mile up the road was someone in a red jersey. I looked back repeatedly, waiting for the Fletchers to come and pull me home or the other guys to catch up so we could ride together. But again, I didn't see anyone, so I made the Red Jersey my target and rode.
16 miles to go. Riding time 9:25.
Caught up with the Red Jersey just before intersection with Highway 246 on which Solvang sits. We were 12 miles away. Turned onto 246, riding hard. Red Jersey dropped off on a roller. I kept going. Average speed still 19.2. Wind was generally favorable, but I was starting to flag, though still riding in low 20s.
When I start getting tired on a long ride I start to do math. Speed times time equals distance kind of math. 19 seemed like a sure thing now and it appeared I'd get in at about 5:40 p.m. with riding time of 10:15 or so. I wondered where I might have lost that 15 minutes that could have made this a sub-10-hour ride. Somehow, at this point a 10-hour ride became a big deal. I remembered the scenic tours of Guadaloupe, missed turns, and tandem dawdlings. That probably added up to about 15 minutes. I cursed it all but continued to ride hard, when suddenly I saw a sign for Buellton city limits.
(Geography lesson: Buellton sits on intersection of US Hwy. 101 and CA Hwy. 246, Solvang is four miles directly to the east on 246. I was half a mile from "Solvang 4 miles" sign.)
Consult route sheet. The ride is 192 miles long. Not 196. Good and bad. Good because I'll be done really soon. Very bad because the detours were going to cause me to miss 10 hours by just a couple of minutes. Nooooooooooooo!
Tired in the brain. Tired in the legs.
Riding time 9:47. Four miles to go. Damn, damn, damn, damn, damn!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Flat and windy. Bad windy, not good windy. Felt like sitting up. Decided that if I didn't make the 10 hours it would be because I failed with my legs rather than with my brain, so I told my brain to shut up, put my head down, and rode.
GO, GO, GO.
There's a quarter-mile long curvy hill just outside Solvang. One that a fit rider would barely notice unless it comes at mile 191 (192 for me, thank you very much) of a ride. Felt like sitting up again, but resisted. Shifted down and spun like a madman. Oh, look, there's an ostrich farm just to the right.....
"Shut up and ride!"
GO, GO, GO.
Route sheet says, "right on 5th, left on Oak." There's the top of the hill and look, I'm in town.
Where the hell is 5th? Here it is, the first intersection!
Big ring. 5th is a slight downhill!
Clock reads "9:57:something"!!!
Where the hell is Oak? Just two blocks away.
GO, GO, GO.
Left on Oak. Just four blocks to go! Slight downhill!
Are you kidding me?!
I am sprinting through stop signs!!! What f---ing stop signs?!
Event staff greet me at the T intersection and direct me to the parking lot. I pull in, stop, unclip.
19.3 mph. Yay!!!5:20 p.m.Yay!!!
I checked in at the desk inside, went outside just as Yellow Jersey, Marc and the Fletchers were arriving together.
Epilogue: I talked to Yellow Jersey, Marc and the Fletchers, rode back to my hotel, showered, walked back to Royal Scandinavian to buy an event jersey, and bought a present for my daughter and some pastries. Walking back to my hotel, I smiled when I saw the Cervelo guy just riding into Solvang.