Sunday, March 15, 2009

Solvang Century 2009

After dating for a few months, Brent and I rode the Solvang Century last year. Needless to say, I was a little freaked out when the very next day, Brent made reservations at a hotel in Solvang for the following year. I didn't know what I was going to be doing tomorrow, let alone a year from now. He reassured me, "Don't worry. We can always cancel." One year later, Brent and I returned for a second time. And I'm SO glad we did.

Solvang--a small Danish town nestled in wine country in the Santa Ynez family (made famous in Sideways). Nothing says Solvang like their historic windmills!

Friday night, a small group of us met for dinner. I had the sea bass, a glass of wine and the molten lava chocolate cake. Mmmmm.

Brent, me, Mark, and Michelle at dinner on Friday night.

Saturday, we somehow got out of bed before the sun rose and slipped into our winter biking wear. I convinced Brent to put on the leg warmers; it was in the 40s outside. He stepped outside after breakfast to sample the cold. "It's a bit chilly," he agreed. "It's cold as shit!" I responded. Overhearing my exclamation, a few cyclists chuckled. We headed out, trying not to freeze. I was grateful for the full-fingered gloves, the jacket, arm warmers, headband, and everything else I had on (I'm from SoCal; I'm a wimp, ok?). I had figured it would warm up when the sun appeared; however, the sun decided not to perform that day. I was actually a bit relieved; I didn't have to shed my many layers and stuff them into my jersey, causing a big, nerdy bulge like a hemorrhoid on my back for the rest of the ride.

At the start: back (L to R) Mike and Mark; front (L to R) Brent, me, Solene, Michelle, Steve

We started off, bracing ourselves against the chill of the wind generated by a 5-mile downhill, difficult to deal with at the onset in the morning fog before even warming up. I nervously tried to ride single-file as myriads of cyclists overtook the road, reminscent of a much kinder Critical Mass . We obediently stopped in large packs at each stoplight. As the light turned green, the sound of hundreds of feet clipping in echoed like popcorn popping. I stopped after turning left at a light to regroup, immediately getting chain grease on my calf. Great. Now I have the mark of bike dork and it's only mile 7, I thought to myself. "Sexy! You should get a tattoo of that," Brent commented. Other cyclists had similar, annoying comments throughout the ride as they whizzed by. Ha ha. Very funny.

Then the bike crashes started. I guess they come in waves. It was early into the ride, before the first rest stop. First, an older gentleman, not paying close attention, crossed wheels with the cyclist in front of him and went down. Luckily, it was on the shoulder, and we had just taken off after a light so our speed was very low. Then, someone's bottle flew out of the back, hitting a guy behind her, and he went down. Feeling terrible, she immediately stopped to see if he was okay. Oops. Then, all of a sudden, as a cyclist slowed to a stop at a stoplight, he did a head-over-heels flip on a very nice, new-looking Cervelo, landing, somehow unscathed (both bike and rider) on his back. Stunned and ashamed, he pulled over to the side to give his bike a once-over. We all looked at him in astonishment. As one girl passed, she called out to him, "Why did you do that?" We all chuckled to ourselves. Maybe he was practicing for his next BMX race.

Only 2 miles down the road, packs of hard-core roadies with very muscular, chiseled calves started whizzing by, so close that they brushed me as they passed. Zoom, zoom, zoom, zoom! Since they were coming from behind, I couldn't see them or react until they had passed. It made me very nervous. I'm a fairly confident rider and can hold a steady line but usually give riders I am not familiar with a wide berth. Afterall, just because I can hold a steady line doesn't mean other riders can. It's one thing when you're riding in a tight pack of cyclists you ride with all the time; you're a team like small cogs of one large, well-oiled machine, accelerating, turning, and reacting as one. It's quite another when you blindside other riders that are not in your pack with not so much as a warning grunt. "They're too close!" I exclaimed. Brent nodded in agreement. As if forecasting what was to come, only seconds later, BOOM! BOOM! And several riders in the pack went down. Hard. Prepared, we slowed and picked our way around the crash. Two girls limped slowly to the side of the road. They were in for a rough night. One guy's derailer had cracked in half. Carefully riding single file in the bike lane, we proceeded down the course, deciding not to follow in their tire tracks.

Regrouping at the first rest stop. (Michelle, Mark, me, Brent and Nikee)

The scenery was devastatingly breathtaking. I had forgotten the lush, green rolling hillsides dotted with poppies, lupine, and daisies, the old, gnarled oaks, the neat, geometric lines of grapes making up vineyard after vineyard, the serene herds of deer calmly grazing amongst the trees, and the myriads of green pastures filled with gorgeous, plump, happy grazing horses. As an avid animal lover, I oohed and aahed at all the horses, cows, ostriches, and bison. I was able to forget the chill and the winds and simply enjoy the countryside.

happy, shiny broodmares grazing in a pasture

California poppies along the roadside

An ostrich trotting about in his pasture

I also enjoyed drooling over all the bike porn whizzing past, gaping at the Ridley's, Time's Orbea's, Cervelo's, Look's, Serotta's, and BMC's. The variety of cyclists stretched from teams of hardcore roadies, solo triathletes in their aero bars, couples on their tandems, a few duking it out on their mountain bikes, groups of Team 'N Training riders, recreational riders on their old, creaky beaters, and even a guy on a unicycle.

About mile 50, the wind began to rally for an encore with gusty head and sidewinds. To bestow double punishment upon us, the winds actually picked up force along the long false flats. Watching my speed drop on my computer, I started practicing negativity drills. Everything started to hurt all of a sudden. My wrists and forearms had pins and needles shooting through them, my triceps were sore and tired, my leg warmers were chafing, my legs were aching, and my left ankle began to throb. I became extremely quiet and morose, trying desperately to focus on my pedal stroke and the next aid station. To match my mood, the skies became even darker as black storm clouds rolled in and plump, wet raindrops fell on my nose. I began to feel extremely tired. My eyelids grew heavy, heavier, heavier, and began to close. If I could just sleep for a few minutes....

"You doing okay?" Brent asked, worriedly. I grunted at him, not wanting to let on how badly I was really doing. Finally, we reached the 3rd rest stop. He rode off to refill his bottles. I unclipped, propped myself on the handlebars, and began slamming chocolate-covered espresso beans, which I, thankfully, had the clever foresight of packing. I loosened my shoe and repressed the urge not to lie down on the sidwalk for a nap. Brent raised his eyebrow at me. "You okay?" he asked again. "Let's go. I don't want to stop for too long," I replied as a deep chill started to set in.

Pandora and Bella huddling together as Brent and I make the rounds at Rest Stop 3.

The coffee beans didn't kick in right away. But as long as I kept pedaling, I felt warm. I kept throwing the beans into my mouth. About mile 65, my spirits started picking up. I started talking again....more and more rapidly. Brent smiled at me. The rate of speech that flows out of my mouth is always a good barometer of how I'm feeling. Soon, the speed on my computer began to match the amount of my jabbering. I knew I had successfully gone through my low point for this ride. Elation and relief followed. Good to get that over with! We turned and soared downhill with a tailwind at our backs. All the pain I had suffered just a few miles before had evaporated. Once again, I was drinking in the gorgeous views. Only a few miles before I didn't think I could go one more pedal stroke; now I felt like I could go forever...effortlessly. Funny how that happens. This endurance stuff is truly 95% mental.
Brent and me at Rest Stop 4 (mile 73). Having done a 180, I'm in much better spirits.

the beautiful wine country in the Santa Ynez valley we had the privelege of viewing atop our bikes.
Smiling at mile 80 as I crest a hill. Yea for coffee beans!

At mile 80, the hills began. I attacked them eagerly, feeling like Hercules. The change of pace and use of different muscles felt wonderful. Plus, the view at the top of each hill was spectacular. I don't know why I felt so amazing on the hills this late in the ride but I didn't want to question it either. Brent rode ahead on each hill and waited at the top, cheering me on loudly and obnoxiously as he snapped my picture. "Go, Rachel! You can do it!!!" he screamed. I smiled and chuckled. A cyclist struggling at my side as we toiled up the hill asked, "Does that help?"
"Not really," I responded.

feeling great and up in the pedals on a steep hill at mile 85

I may have felt deceivingly good due to a high volume of coffee beans but fatigue was setting in, giving me telltale signs in other ways. For instance, higher cognitive reasoning, particular math skills, apparently go out the window when I'm physically taxed. "Mile 80 is to a century what mile 20 is to a marathon, isn't it?" I asked Brent.
"I guess," he responded.
"What percentage of 26 is 6?" I asked. Afterall, he IS the accountant.
"I don't know," he shrugged. Guess his higher cognitive reasoning (HCR) was affected too.
"Well, what percentage of 100 is 20?" I asked innocently.
"I'm going to pretend you didn't just say that," he replied, laughing. Yes, people. really do have a PhD in cell and molecular biology. Really! I swear!

The fatigue was setting in for other riders too. However, instead of brain farts, they were weaving across the road. A great combination at 3:00 on a Saturday afternoon in wine country. Tired weaving cyclists don't mix well with drunk weaving motorists! I got a little nervous as some angry cars zoomed past. A few more minor bike crashes peppered the end of the ride as weary riders weaved into each other. One cyclist dropped his chain in the middle of a particular steep hill, stopping suddenly.
"Hey!" other grumpy, tired cyclists complained.
"Hey!" he responded.
"Don't stop!"
"My chain fell off! I can't do nothin'!"
"Call it! Say, 'Stopping!'"
I laughed to myself. We were all so tired and pissy, and it showed. "Okay, Cranks!" I called out playfully. The whole group burst into laughter. We were acting like three-year-olds who needed cookies, milk, and a nap.

At mile 93, we hit the final big hill. It looks intimidating, with sharp switchbacks that rise up and up into the clouds. However, looks can be deceiving. Knowing we had only 7 miles to go, Pandora easily whisked me to the top. The final few miles were all downhill. I luxuriously coasted to the finish line, feeling like I could have gone 10 more miles.

--Brent and I, smiling at the finish.

The next day, we pulled on our running shoes and set out for a 10-mile run. We brought the camera, making it a "running tour" of Solvang. I mapped out fun destinations to run to, and we stopped periodically to snap a picture. This gave the run a fun twist, and I didn't want to stop at mile 10 but Brent reminded me that check-out was at 11:00 and I still had to take an ice bath. Aftewards, we had a fantastic brunch at Paula's Pancake House, grabbed some pastries at one of Solvang's famous bakeries for the road and began the 4-hour drive home. My only complaint about this weekend? It wasn't long enough.

petting some of Solvang's gorgeous horses (next to Monty Robert's farm--THE Horse Whisperer!)

--all smiles on our 10-mile "Running Tour" of Solvang


Wes said...

Ok. wait a minute! Having chain marks on your calf means you are a bike dork? Dear GAWD! I've got a tattoo that appears permanent on my leg from Callaway Gardens from LAST YEAR!!! What does it mean???

Chad in the AZ Desert said...

I'm amazed that you felt up to a 10-mile run after the century the day before. That's quite a weekend. Loved the picture, too.

Grey Beard said...

A beautiful ride, beautifully executed, and beautifully told.

don said...

Fantastic race report. So well written that I was just salivating and wanting to join in the fun.
Ps. You two are just too cute for words.

GTinLA said...

Very much enjoyed the recount of your ride - thanks for sharing.