Yes, Solvang 300 -- more and less.
To Ride Or Not To Ride?
Double riding season is here and I'd been sick for nearly three weeks. Fell ill three weeks before Solvang, feverish for a couple of days and coughing up Technicolor sputum for two of those weeks. After two weeks of inactivity, went to Velo, but lasted only 45 minutes before the legs failed. Tried again two days later and, riding much more moderately, managed to last through the class. So there I was, three days to a double century, still coughing and just not feeling right. Decided I'd travel to Solvang and if I felt up to it, would start the ride. How long I'd ride would depend on my health and condition. Besides, I'd talked David Newman into joining me and I didn't feel right abandoning him.
Hey, Mr. Weatherman...
Weather was lousy during while I was sick. Of the three weeks, it rained about 17 days. But Weather Channel said, "20% chance of rain" on ride day, so I was optimistic even though National Weather Service predicted 60%. I insisted on disregarding NWS and looking at WC's forecast as 80% chance of no rain. Optimism aside, clothes and equipment for the ride deserved serious consideration. Should I bring the bike with fenders? booties? rain jacket? etc. David insisted that bringing a fendered bike guaranteed rain. Since he doesn't have a fendered bike, I went without. Having completely bought into WC's drivel, left the rain jacket and booties at home too. Brought a long sleeve, medium weight wool base layer, a long sleeve jersey, a vest and toe warmers -- predicted low of 39 required them if predicted precipitation did not. Speaking of predicted precipitation, I myopically checked the forecast for Solvang, but not for places we'd visit: San Luis Obispo, Santa Maria, Morro Bay, etc.
Our drive to Solvang was uneventful except for periods of rain and more rain. When we arrived in Solvang, though, it was beautiful. Clear sky, pleasant temperatures, and light breeze completely banished thoughts of rain during the ride. We went wine tasting, then ate a very ordinary meal at the restaurant locals recommended as the best place in town, checked in for the ride, picked our numbers and returned to our room. Meanwhile, the wind was picking up and the temperature was dropping. It was cold enough that I started regretting not bringing glove liners to go with my long-fingered gloves, which I did bring.
We got up at 5:00. It was dry, with clouds overhead. In a Solvang promo brochure, David had read that Solvang has 300 sunny days a year. We discussed whether that means that Solvang has 65 days of rain or whether some of the 65 sun-free days include overcast days on which it did not rain. The morning of the ride, I was convinced that we would have a sun-free and rain-free day.
What Shall I Wear?
We ate bananas with Nutella, got dressed. This was a critical moment. I put on every piece of cycling clothing I brought. David, a warm-blooded and impervious to cold guy that he is, limited himself to short-sleeve base layer, short sleeve jersey, arm warmers, vest, and shorts, booties, a beanie, knee warmers. He left a wind jacket and a long-sleeve base layer in the room. I am a wimp. I overdress and take off clothes if I get too hot. If I don't bring 'em or wear 'em I'm out of luck and I don't like that because not being prepared for the weather is my fault.
We started riding at 6:00. It was dark and still overcast. From doing this ride three years in a row, I knew the route well enough that the darkness didn't matter. There were very few riders on the road. It seemed that slow people started at 5:30 (supposedly earliest start time, but we learned later that some started as early as 5:00) and fast people wouldn't get going until later. So, we were in no-rider's-land. Just us, glimmers of dawn through the clouds, bare outlines of rolling hills. We passed an occasional rider here and there.
Sex is a Religious Experience
After a while, a group of five caught up to us and we sped up and began riding with them. They were from Southern California. David was pulling and talking to Manny (not his real name for reasons that are about to become obvious). Manny is deeply religious and he was glad to share all aspects of his faith. That included the fact that he and his wife have a weekly sex-based podcast based on keeping a Christian marriage physically mutually satisfying. Manny also told David that he and his wife had done something like a 40-day pledge (can't remember what it was called, David, help me out here), which involved having sex 40 days in a row. Manny admitted that it wasn't easy and said that periodically they needed appliances and other sexual aides to keep their streak going. The original goal had been 60 in a row, but Manny and the Mrs. conceded that they couldn't live up to that kind of pressure. My conversation partner and I discussed more conventional topics -- wars, real estate, the stock market, children, etc.
A couple of the Southern Californians were slower than the rest of group and they fell behind on a climb. While their faster friends stopped at the top of the hill on Foxen Canyon Road, David and I descended into the canyon, snickering and having fun at Manny's expense.
Cruising Before The Bruising
On we rode through valleys between ridges of hills and past vineyards. After some rollers, we came to the eight-mile, largely downhill stretch of road I like so much. Combined with the tail wind, we made good time into the first rest stop. The rest stop was crowded. We filled bottles and gel containers and took off just five minutes after arriving, intending to use nature's facilities for comfort breaks. More flat roads with mild tailwinds. Landscape shifted from vineyards and rolling hills to flat agricultural land east of Santa Maria, leafy green produce and still-green strawberries peeking through plastic sheets, people doing stoop labor across the street from cookie-cutter subdivisions.
Though we were in full daylight now, due to heavy cloud cover, we didn't have much actual daylight, but rain had not come and we were still optimistic. Finally, about 12 miles southeast of San Luis Obispo, it came. At first light rain, then heavier. Two faster riders came by just as the rain started in earnest. Now we had to choose draft and deal with a face-full of road spray and sand or work harder, but remain cleaner without having spit out dirt every couple of minutes. Most cyclists are fundamentally lazy, so we chose to suck dirty wheels over hard pedaling. Soon enough, we reached the second rest stop, where the rain fell harder.
It was still early in the rain storm, so we hadn't yet become saturated. Spending time at the rest stop, getting soaked without making progress made no sense, especially with this stop's long bathroom lines. So, quickly, we set off after refilling again.
A few turns and we found ourselves in San Luis, where the rain started in earnest. It became clear that it would not be clear and that we'd have rain for the rest of the day. We rode through San Luis with seven or eight guys. Once we passed the Cal Poly campus, the group fell apart and we were down to a tri-guy on an aero bike, who'd attended Cal Poly and a 60-something Australian from Pasadena, who was the strongest of the four of us. At this point, however, we didn't know that the Aussie was the strongest. First the tri-guy rode away, while the rest of us, greatly aided by the tail wind, continued at a steady 20-something pace. As we rode on, the tri-guy came back to us and I got on his wheel. After spitting out his dirt and gravel, I took over pulling duties, as he pulled off to the side and gestured for me come through. I continued at the same pace for a while, occasionally looking back to make sure the group was intact, but the tri-guy disappeared. He fell away rather quickly and far. By this point, the wind was helping tremendously. We were on Highway 1. The road is largely flat and straight, with rare one and two percent rises and falls. We were going uphill at nearly 25 mph and downhill at over 30. On flats, we averaged 27-28. At that speed, we didn't mind eating dirt. In fact, as we ate road dirt, David and I wore shit-eating grins.
Twelve miles of northbound Highway 1 have never passed so quickly. We passed a cyclist just outside Morro Bay and he latched on. As we were about to blow past the first Morro Bay exit, he yelled at us to take the exit because Planet Ultra changed this year's course. That was good to know. I planned on continuing for another mile or two on one, then going to the harbor to get my number marked at a check point. A check point that wasn't there this year, as we found out from a group that had taken last year's course. We ended up skirting Morro Bay rather than riding through it -- a pleasant improvement over the town's tourist traffic-filled narrow streets.
Rain, Rain, Go Away
It was time for payback for all that tailwind and it came in the form of... yes, headwind. Had it only been headwind, we would have coped fine, but now we were riding into rain. Riding at 15-20 miles an hour into rain blown at us at 15-20 miles an hour felt like we were riding into 30-40-mile an hour rain. Lucky, rain was relatively mild. And lucky -- I was wearing my long-sleeve wool base layer. Unlucky -- David was just in arm warmers and he started getting cold. You know how you're only as warm as the coldest part of your body? David's wet arm warmers were plastered tightly against his arms and provided no protection. He was shivery cold. I was OK. Not comfortable, but just warm enough that it wasn't an issue. The vest protected me from the wind and the wool kept me warm. Glad sheep were able to figure out insulation business and people were smart enough to adopt ovine technology. When it rained harder, my shorts felt squishy full of water, as did my right shoe (not the left for some reason). Standing up to pedal was unpleasant -- the saddle got wetter and colder and I didn't enjoy sitting back down into a puddle.
But we coped. We caught up with the fixie group, which included Jason Pierce, riding Solvang by Furnace Creek 508 rules -- no drafting. 508 rules also forbid socializing with fellow riders, but we broke that one and talked for a while, riding into the lunch rest stop. Rain seemed to have let up a bit. But we were still cold sitting around -- riding felt much better. For David it was a difference between being cold and butt cold. For me -- between a little less than comfortable and cold. David shivered on and off the bike. I shivered after 5-10 minutes at rest stops and the only way to stop shivering was to get back on the bike. So, we didn't linger at the lunch stop -- half a sandwich and a coke (somehow I defaulted into my double century diet of gel and electrolyte supplements) and left behind a group that followed a slow tandem.
Too Much Junk On The Road
Slow was a matter of degree, as we were riding into a fairly stiff wind that blew rain in our faces. I tried to ride somewhat to the side of the tandem to keep the spray off my face, but soon decided to pass the tandem and ride faster to keep warmer. David and several other guys came along. We played leapfrog with Jason and other fixie riders. Around mile 125, rain intensified and flat tire epidemic began. Every half a mile there was a cyclist repairing a flat or a group of riders standing around and watching a cyclist repairing a flat. I counted my blessings and thanked my 25 MM MICHELIN PRO RACE 3 tires for failing to fail so far. We rode through coastal cities south of San Luis and entered Oceano, where David flatted. We messed up his CO2 cartridge and he had to pump, as many cyclists rode past. Pumping warmed him, though minimally. We started riding, and felt acute needs to go number one. Pulled into a gas station, whose proprietress lied to us through her last two remaining teeth that there was no bathrooms on the premises. We availed ourselves of a side wall at an abandoned Main Street business and started riding for another two miles, when David flatted again. More flat repair amid shivery curses, more cyclists riding by. Oceano -- San Luis Obispo's arm pit.
Slogged into Guadalupe rest stop, where it wasn't raining. We were still cold and shivering. Back on the bikes and within five minutes it started raining again. Between Morro Bay and 50 miles later someone explained to me that sections of the ride around Morro Bay and Guadalupe were excised from the route and Planet Ultra added 15 miles to the stretch between the last rest stop and the finish, making it 29 miles. I was feeling OK. Legs were pretty good. Stomach and brain were pretty good and I kept spinning rather than plodding as is my habit when I tire. These were good signs, but I'd had enough rain. Six hours of riding in the wet, most of it into headwind, was plenty. So, I decided that after three years of completing this ride, finishing Solvang Spring Double this year -- rain or no rain -- was no great accomplishment and that I'd return the old way, over Box Canyon, or whatever they call that road. I'd had enough of spitting out road grit and wiping my glasses, only to have to spit and wipe again two minutes later. The plan was to get back, take a quick shower, grab David's jacket, long sleeve base layer, and wool socks and drive the course looking for him.
My Slow Leak
Before I got there, I had to ride southbound to the last rest stop. This stretch always gets and why should this year be different? I started out of Guadalupe fairly sprightly, but found myself riding away from David, then slowing down to wait. Once he caught up, I'd resume riding only to find myself waiting again. After a few episodes of this, David waived at me to keep riding, so I did. I rode smoothly and not too quickly. Three sides of a square outside Guadalupe removed from the route, I hit Highway 1 in about 30 minutes, then found myself feeling like a slowly leaking tire. I was slowing down gradually and inexorably until I found myself riding toward Lompoc at 12 miles an hour. Scary, I was gaining on people. It was an amazing low speed chase. Where Highway I'd1 tilted slightly uphill, I went 10 and was still gaining. After about 20 minutes of this, I caught up with the SLO tandem (it passed us during flat repairs), grinding its way up a 1.5% hill and towing a rider. I decided to rest by riding with them. Again, I tried riding to the side to avoid terrestrial rain, the one falling from the sky was plenty.
Recovered by riding back there for 20 minutes, I rode away at blazing 16 mph, but, hey, it was into a rainy headwind after 165 miles. I pleasantly surprised myself by spinning smoothly toward the final rest stop, picking up a polite wheelsucker, who asked permission as he latched on and thanked me as we approached the rest stop. He pulled over, I kept going.
The Home Stretch
I don't know which way the new route goes. The old route is a single lane road that climbs almost four miles up a 4-5% hill, which has a few short steeper pitches. I loved my 30-tooth chainring all the way up the hill. Where I bogged down a bit, I stood up to pick up the cadence, then sate and resumed spinning. A good-for-my-head climb that was about as long as I expected it would be.
As I began to descend this narrow road, around a hairpin roared a recent model remake of a 1960s or '70s American car, some Mustangy-GTO-ish hideousness that was on my side of this narrow road, traveling at 35 mph on a road suitable for 20 mph speed. "Oh shit!" My options were to ditch it to the right into the canyon or to ditch it to the right into the canyon. Going into the left side of the road was dangerous because the driver might swerve there and I'd become a hood ornament. As I processed all this very slowly, he saw me, pitched the car to his right with tires screeching, and we managed to miss each other. And I really, really had to go to the bathroom. Immediately! The rest of the descent and ride back to Buellton was rainy, windy, and uneventful.
I showered, got dressed, and collected David's clothes. Just then, my phone pinged with a text message from David, informing me that he'd just finished. How? I estimated arriving at the last rest stop 15-20 minutes before him and took a shortcut back. I texted him I'd be right there, surprising him too. I drove to the squash court, where David told me that he and other riders took Highway 101 back -- a 10-mile downhill shortcut. He was still shivering. On 101, he flatted for the third time. That shortcut was popular that day and he secured a tube from another double rider who CHARGED $10 FOR THE TUBE! Yes, that asshole profited from a fellow cyclist's misfortune. I was appalled to learn this.
After coming to our senses, we still failed to learn our lesson and had another unremarkable dinner (ordering different food) at the same best restaurant in Solvang. Slept badly, both having body temperature regulation problems. Not surprising given the weather we'd endured for last seven hours of the ride.
And that's how our Solvang Double became Solvang 300 -- 300 kilometers.