Monday, March 10, 2008

Solvang Century Ride Report

This weekend, I took Torch and a group of friends up to Solvang, CA (4 hours north of San Diego) for the Solvang Century. Solvang is a Danish town in the middle of gorgeous wine country, nestled in the Santa Ynez Valley (near Santa Barbara). Remember Sideways ? That's Solvang. Fun, little town with lots of shops, perfect for strolling around. Neat architechture--old-European style with windmills everywhere (the Dutch touch). Carriage horses trotting up and down the streets. A bakery on every corner. Mmmm. The drive was absolutely gorgeous with spectacular ocean views on one side and rolling, lush green hills on the other. Weather was clear and 70s. I anticipated an amazing century ride. I wasn't to be disappointed.

Solvang, CA--a taste of the old country

Friday night, we met at the Hadsten House for dinner. I had steak and wine. Yummy. Then, stopped at Baskin Robbins for a 2-scoop, hot fudge sundae before hitting the sack. Hey, I had a big ride the next day!

Friday night dinner--(Brent, Chris, me, Rick, Elena (Joe's wife), and Joe--left to right)

Saturday, we arrived bright and early. The directors had organized a rolling start, which helped diffuse the 5,000 century riders on the course. I had been worried about packs of cyclists swamping the roads but the rolling start brilliantly thinned out the bike traffic. We unloaded the bikes and hit the road at 7:30.

Brent and me at the start.

Thick globules of tule fog clung to the valleys and meadows like wet, icy cotton sheets. The temperature hovered in the low 40s. Even though I knew the temps would rise to the upper 60s, I was freezing. I put on everything I had--arm warmers, leg warmers, toe warmers, vest, head band, and fingerless gloves (would have been full gloves but I left these at home, argh!). As we rolled out of Solvang (downhill, of course), my face and fingers burned angrily in the freezing wind. I cursed, shivered and pedaled to warm up. It didn't help--neither the cursing, the shivering, or the pedaling, although the latter held the most promise, all it did was produce more bone-chilling wind. I vowed to never again complain that an ocean swim was cold. At least I can wear a wetsuit in the ocean! I wondered seriously if I should have worn my wetsuit for this ride.

We headed into the countryside, and luckily encountered some rollers. Can I please have some hills? I desperately needed to warm up. I attacked the hills with glee, rising out of the saddle, feeling my warm breath expand in my chest. I began to take in the view. Rolling farmland stretched into the hills before me, dotted with black angus cattle and sleek, dappled horses. We passed an ostrich farm, and I giggled at the sight of the large birds with elegant black and white plumed feathers, awkwardly snaking their long necks through the grass and pecking the ground as they grazed. The hills were covered in a thick blanket of brilliant emerald grasses. Patches of flowers interrupted the velvet green in splashes of yellow black-eyed Susans, purple lupine, and white daisies. Golden California poppies peeked up from the roadside.

Gorgeous countryside on the Solvang Century

I realized I had been enjoying the scenery too much as I was now separated from my group. I began hammering to catch up. Groups of roadies passed me in small pacelines. I tried to hold on to the end of each one to no avail, glaring at their sleek Campagnolos, Times, BMCs, Cervelo Soloists, and Orbea Orcas. Drool. I looked around. I've never seen such a flagrant show of bike porn in my life!

Finally, a large peloton of about 30 cyclists passed me, and to my surprise, I held on to the back with ease. I was gliding along at 20 mph, enjoying the recovery. I had officially become a wheelsucker. I rationalized that it was legit since I wanted to be pulled back to my group. However, I have to admit, it was really, really fun. Until a girl in the middle of the pack crashed, and all of us had to brake and swerve to avoid a pile-up. I heard the sickening thud of her body hit the pavement. And bounce. She grunted as she hit. Luckily, she was conscious and nothing seemed broken when I passed by. However, it tomorrow was going to be a rough day for her.

I carefully pressed on, relishing in the safety of riding solo. Shaken but alive and well, I reached the first aid station in Lompoc at mile 25 and was able to regroup with my buds. I slammed some PB&Js and oatmeal raisin cookies and was on my way. The fog had lifted, the skies were blue, and the sun was out. There was still a slight chill in the air but I was comfortable when riding now. I had warmed up.

I was quickly dropped by the group again (that's what I get for always riding with stronger riders--argh!) and looked down in dismay only to realize my computer had stopped working. Torch's computer is an idiot box--1 magnet with a simple reading of speed, distance, and time. I guess the aero bottle dumped a ton of water on it at some point when flying over bumps, causing it to go on the fritz. Whatever, the reason, it drove me crazy to not know where I was, what mile I was at, how fast I was going, or how far I had left to go. I had to concentrate really hard on zoning out. In addition, a strong headwind had picked up, a force to be reckoned with. I hunkered down in my aero bars and found a low gear to spin in, trying to block out the misery and doom welling up inside me. Ross from the group called me to inquire on my whereabouts. "I have no idea. My computer isn't working. I'm on some back-country road all alone in the middle of nowhere." He assured me I was close to the next aid station, probably wondering what kind of crazy person he had chosen to ride with for the day.

Then, I hit a very rewarding descent and for a brief moment, could forget all my worries and enjoy the free speed. I especially enjoyed letting Torch go and allowing him to race ahead and catch the group of hard-core roadies ahead of me on their sleek road bikes with their well-defined quads and cut calves, despite the fact that I weighed a good 30 lbs less than them. Gotta love the TT bike. The next aid station (Santa Maria; mile 59) appeared shortly after.

Quick photo-op after stuffing my mouth with cookies.

After a regroup, more cookies and PB&Js, we were off and rolling again. The headwind had not relented. A tandem passed us at a good clip. Okay, actually, they were hauling ass! I swallowed my pride and allowed them to block the wind. I hunkered behind this group for awhile until my pride convinced me to try and pull for a bit. I zipped out in front for maybe 2 minutes before they pulled ahead of me again. Well, if you insist. I decided it must be fate and enjoyed the pull to the next aid station.

We turned and rode through Foxen Canyon. Gorgeous, scenic, beautiful...and 14 miles of a false flat. I have decided no matter how beautiful a bike ride is, after 70 miles, it just doesn't matter anymore. In addition, no matter how comfortable my seat is, after 70 miles, my ass is going to hurt. It just don't matter. Brent pulled up beside me and asked if I was okay, the look of pain in my face obvious. I told him I was hitting a low point but was waiting it out. I've also learned that on any long workout, there will be lows, no matter how great everything else is. I just have to be patient and have faith that the low will pass. It will pass. My ass hurt, and my feet had started to swell. I was struggling to maintain a 14 mph pace. It will pass. It will pass. Even if I didn't believe it. I kept saying it. I stared at the donkeys and cows grazing on the side of the road, trying to block out the pain with the scenic beauty. All that did was make me jealous. Why couldn't I be out there eating and laying around in the sunshine?

A steep hill came out of nowhere, winding up in front of me. "Interesting," I said aloud. Okay. Here we go. And I was up out of the saddle and climbing. I was worried the steep ascent would make my tired body completely exhausted but somehow, at mile 85, I felt invigorated. People were walking their bikes up the hill. Not an option. I somehow zipped my way to the top. At the crest, I drank in the view. I felt like a new woman. Butt pain--gone. Foot pain--gone. I felt wonderful. As we screamed down the descent at 40 mph, I felt like I could keep going forever.

The next 10 miles wound up and down like a roller coaster, making things interesting. I've come to realize I much prefer rolling hills to flats. This is very different from 6 months ago, when I avoided hills like the plague. At the crest of another hill, a wicked side wind kicked up, pushing Torch and me across the road. The death grip on the handlebars only made my weaving worse. Suppressing my panic and the feeling like I was about to be hurtled off the bike, I allowed the wind to take me a few feet across the road before gently leaning into it and trying to work my way back to the shoulder. The road turned and as I headed down the hill, the tailwind pushed me unwillingly to 43 mph, while I sat straight up in the hoods of the bike like a sail. Freaky! I was happy to reach the bottom where the winds were calmer.

We passed the final aid station at mile 95, opting to skip the stop. Stopping now would just tease my tired legs. Let's knock this thing out! Another steep climb arose, and we wound our way up. Eagerly, I alternated between climbing and seated, working my way to the top, settling into a comfortable rhythm. Since when have I liked hills? Now, they were fun little projects, breaking up the monotony of the miles. I knew we were almost done.

We snaked our way down, and I tried to enjoy the green hills, knowing our ride was coming to an end. One last final steep climb appeared out of nowhere with several switchbacks. I could see riders just beginning the climb behind us as we wound our way to the top. The traffic on the roads picked up, and more stoplights and buildings appeared. I knew we were reaching town. I actually felt a sadness rise up within me as we rolled into the finish. The ride was over.

Mark and Jackie at the finish. Time for steak and wine!

We met up at the Hitching Post (featured in Sideways) that night for dinner for a well-deserved post-ride celebratory meal and wine. It was a fabulous weekend and amazing century. I've already reserved my room in Solvang for next year.

dinner at The Hitching Post--Jackie, Mark, Brent & me (l to r)

In preparation for IMAZ, I've done 4 centuries over the last 2 months, each one a little easier than the last. This was by far, my favorite. I felt I could have gone farther. I felt like it may have even been possible to run quite a ways (26.2 miles?) afterwards. I felt energized and refreshed. Hungry, but invigorated.

Route Details:


Anonymous said...

Rachel, you've written a very interesting and enjoyable race report. I enjoyed reading the vivid descriptions that you've provided. Glad to see that your making good progress towards your IMAZ goal. I'm sure your going to do a great job. Cheers.

Chad in the Arizona Desert said...

"I've never seen such a flagrant show of bike porn in my life!"
Hands down, the funniest line of the year. Just awesome.

Great job on the ride. Despite the cold, it sounds like you had a lot of fun with it. It also sounds like you are very ready for IMAZ.

Wes said...

Good Rachel! You are awesome!! I can hardly wait for my first century ride this year. I need to check my schedule and see how many long-ish rides I'm going to be able to get in. The century on my schedule looks ALOT more complicated than yours. LOL... Well done!!

Paul said...

Nice report Rachel. You're going to do great at AZ.

CVSURF said...

Great report Rachel. All these centuries are money in the Ironman Bank.

Mon said...

That place looks awesome!!!! Like a festival or something what an interesting town!

Rainmaker said...

Wow, great day! The ride looked incredible and that must have indeed been a kick drafting along at 20MPH. And 40+ mph? Fun-fun.

triguyjt said...

you just make me itch for my first long ride of the year...
great ride..gorgeous countryside..

like how you described the morning.."like icy wet sheets" nice job...

Anonymous said...

Loved the description of the roadies and their bikes ;-) What an awesome ride!

teacherwoman said...

Great race report! Sounds like fun!

Thanks for stopping by my blog! :)

JeffM said...

Great report!!
You must be in great shape if those hills are fun- that's a steep looking profile.

Steve Stenzel said...

What a ride! Nice job! And ice cream is the BEST thing to get ready for a ride!!!! (well, second best after pizza)