Solvang Double Century

April 2, 2007

Originally posted to ydnar.vox.com in April 2007.

Tina and I got back this afternoon from our second double century, this time in the “Danish” village of Solvang. The town is an odd mix of hotels, windmills, bakeries, and restaurants offering authentic Danish (Swedish? Does anyone here care?) smorgasbord. The movie Sideways was filmed here, and Lance Armstrong and other pro cyclists train in the neighboring hills and valleys.

This is an annual ride organized by Planet Ultra, and reportedly a good ride for novices or first-time double century riders. It has roughly 7000 feet (2114 m) of climbing, roughly half in the first 20 miles, and the only real climb of the day landing at mile 173. The weather held out, and aside from a bitterly cold start at 6 AM, it was a reasonable 60-75 degrees until the sun went down.

Tina’s parents drove up from southern California to see her, and we met them for dinner on Friday night before the ride. Meeting your girlfriend’s parents, regardless of how nice they’ve been described as, can be a little stressful. Luckily I enunciated well & didn’t spill anything on my shirt while eating. I think it went OK. Marion & Brooks are pretty cool. They regaled us of stories of slot canyons and slab cities in the desert, and we gave them the dish on Planet Ultra (along with the usual kid/parent updates). We ate dinner with them after the ride, and again on Sunday morning. When doing endurance cycling, meals tend to be more about fuel than conversation. I’m happy to report it was more of the latter. There wasn’t a dull moment between mouthfuls of carbs (& bacon).

The actual ride was made of two parts: The hard, cold and stressful opening 100 miles, and the quick, warm and fun back 100 miles.

As we were getting ready to leave, we ran into Bernd, who we met on the last 50 miles of the Butterfield double. He’d made some adjustments to his riding setup (including a trick new GPS computer) and a key element we were missing: full-fingered gloves. We all took off together at around 6:15 and were off down rolling California hills.

Masses of cyclists were around, strung out as far ahead and back as we could see. At this point the cold started numbing us down. My fingers went from cold to frozen to numb. At some point after the second turn, the numbness was starting to creep up my wrists. Even in a blizzard at the top of a volcano in Japan, it never got this bad.

Tina spotted a market along the highway, so we pulled off to warm up. My useless fingers could barely tap out my PIN on the debit card machine to buy tea & hot chocolate. We sat under a space header for 40 minutes getting the blood back to our extremities.

At 7:30 or so we got back on the bikes. The sun had come up and it was starting to get warm. We made it to the first summit, and started the long (20-mile) descent into the central valley, where we’d spend the next 50 or so miles. At that point, the 7:30 AM riders started passing us. A couple packs of riders sucking the wheel of tandems blazed past us on the downhill. We made it to the first rest stop at mile 34 and regrouped.

At the second rest stop, we were greeted with what was to become a theme of our ride. A volunteer working the ride announced our arrival with a smirk and commented that the rest stop was about to close and we should “pick up the pace.” He suggested that we must have started at 9AM. I contemplated channeling Whitaker, but bit my tongue. It wasn’t until the second-to-last rest stop did we get an encouraging word from anyone. A woman who’d seen us at the first rest stop observed that we’d made up some time.

At mile 100 we rolled into Morro Bay and got The Sticker (without which we would have been marked as DNF, as threatened multiple times on the website, route sheet, by volunteers and postings). We’d braved a climb up the Pacific Coast Highway with a headwind & brisk traffic to get there, crossing a few exits and dodging cars in the process.

After lunch at mile 114, things started to pick up. We caught a tailwind and started passing other riders. I’ll admit to feeling a little good about passing people after being passed by so many earlier in the day. The climb out of one valley to Guadalupe was immensely satisfying, our Bay Area legs finally doing what they’re good at: crushing hills. From Guadalupe to the final rest stop was a short, 20mph average ride through farmland, passing (and picking up) other riders, taking turns pulling our short paceline.

The final rest stop in Los Alamos at a vintage (read: abandoned, overgrown) gas station was the best of the day. The general mood among the riders there was good, and we’d made it to this stop with almost two hours to spare. They had hot soup, so we chowed down and put our cold weather gear back on. The sun was almost gone, and I wanted to get done with the Big Climb ahead before it was completely dark.

We made the turn up to Drum Canyon, and after a flashback of last weekend, we climbed to the top. It was a windy, crappy, one-lane road filled with other cyclists in an otherwise completely desolate wooded canyon. A cattle guard signaled the summit, and we revised our clothing once again and switched on Tina’s new light for the descent.

After a scary 2 mile drop into the next valley, the last hint of twilight left us with nothing but the waxing moon and the sound of crickets. This side of the hill was considerably colder than the previous, so we endeavored to return to Solvang post-haste.

We made it back to the hotel at 8:40 PM, where Marion, Brooks and a few other supporters cheered our arrival. We were dead tired, and happy to be back. We cleaned up and had dinner in the Meadows restaurant next to the hotel. Beer never tastes so good as after a ride like this. After dinner, we took our fading selves back to the room for 10 hours of horizontal time.

Overall, it was a good ride. As for the organization behind it, Planet Ultra, I have some serious reservations. They’ve missed some opportunities to promote the sport to younger or less-experienced endurance cyclists, and in many instances done the opposite, alienating us with their words and actions. They’ve done little to engender feelings of trust or admiration, and in the end our experience with them this time (as with last) left me with a bad taste in my mouth. I can’t say for certain, but this is likely the last event they organize that I will participate in.

Despite our problems with the organizers, the experience as a whole was great; I got to spend time with Tina, met her parents, saw beautiful country and logged good miles.