The 1999 Solvang Double Century was my first 200-miler of the year. This was supposed to be an “easy” double century–one I had already done without major problems in 1998–which would help prepare me for the much more challenging CA Triple Crown Stage Race events. In addition, it initially was supposed to be a double I would ride with a friend as his first double, but he had to bail at the last moment. Ah well, I’ll just try for a new personal record and break the 14-hour mark, I thought.
So the night before I drove the 300 miles down to Lompoc, where I would have an excellent-but-inexpensive Thai dinner while studying for the Fundamentals of Engineering Exam. By the time I was finished it was already past 11:00p, just 4 hours before I planned on waking up to get ready for the ride. But I spent another 30 minutes on the phone with a friend, and now I had just 3.5 hours to sleep! By this time it was pointless to get a motel room, so I just snuggled up in my Porsche, right in front of the Inn of Lompoc–the start of the ride. I did wake up at 3:00, registered, changed into my cycling clothes, etc., and by 4:00 I was standing in a long line to be checked out as this was a timed event. Let the ride begin!
I actually was only able to get started at 4:30 due to the long line, but that was okay as I’d rather start mid-pack and be passing people along the way as opposed to starting at the front and have everyone passing me up! I quickly joined a group of 8 riders or so who were going a decidely leisurely pace through Lompoc.
But not for long! Turns out they were just warming up. Soon we were keeping a steady pace of 22+ mph, which was not time-trial pace, but fast enough to be passing scores of riders! I was feeling good and pleased with our time. After 28 miles, my average speed was 19.1 mph. At this pace, a new personal record shouldn’t be a problem!
I stopped only for a few minutes at the rest stop, and was off and running again. Now I would be riding mostly alone, as there seemed to be far less riders on the road. My pace was far less frenzied than during the first leg of the ride, but still feeling pretty good. One thing I noticed, however, was a thirsty sensation in my mouth. Despite all the water I would be drinking in the next few hours and all the times I had to use a Porta-Jet, this was a sensation that would never really go away until Mile 180 or so.
The rolling countrysides north of Solvang were semi-green, although not nearly as luscious as I remembered from the year before. Unlike last year, the skies were entirely clear and the bright sunlight was seemingly washing out the surroundings. Not nearly as pretty as last year, I thought, although I’d rather stay dry. But the scenery was rather unremarkable this time around, I thought.
Nevertheless, my spirits were still pretty high until a few miles before the second rest stop, when the winds started picking up. The wind seemed to be travelling in the south-southeast direction, exactly the opposite direction we would be travelling until we got up to Morro Bay, the turnaround point of the ride. At the time I couldn’t remember from the year before when we would start going in the opposite direction, but was hoping it would be around Mile 125 or so. (It ended up being at Mile 140). We’re going in for the long haul, I thought.
From Miles 65-108 I bounce from rest stop to rest stop, no longer going a frenetic pace but at least my average speed was still ~16 mph for the ride now. I passed the 100 mile mark after 6:50 hours, which was slower than what I was hoping I could do, but still on pace to break the 14-hour double century mark and set a personal record. But alas, Miles 108-140 would keep me out of the running.
During those miles, I was averaging only 10 miles per hour! The terrain was not especially difficult–a very gradual uphill at best–but the winds were persistent and unrelenting. They were making my eyes water, and the incessant howl in my ears had an extremely demoralizing effect. When would they end?
Canny, my faithful race bike, was not helping either! The week before I had got her a beautiful Campagnolo Racing T Crankset to replace my old 13,000-mile Shimano RX100, and thought that had eliminated all of Canny’s creaking/clicking noises under load. To my dismay, the creak/click was back, as loud as ever. Where was it coming from? It was so irritating!
My body was definitely breaking down, but even moreso was my mental state. I kept on trying to psych myself up by telling myself that the strong southward-bound winds only meant a fast return to the finish when we turned around, but was not very successful. There was a particular moderate uphill grade which put us right in the brunt of the airstream, and I was barely managing 6 mph. The other cyclists seemed to be faring better. I even stopped a number of times to try to regain my senses, but nothing could uplift my spirits at this point. Except for the turnaround point… which would eventually come.
I got to the rest stop right before Mile 140 with a tailwind. Yet, I was still struggling, and my mouth was still very dry. I kept chugging down water, and my bladder would fill very quickly, but my body did not seem to be absorbing any of it! I speculated that I hadn’t be ingesting enough salt and other electrolytes, which would aid the absorption of fluids. So I spent 15 minutes at the rest stop having one of those Maruchan Instant Lunches (noodle soup) and a banana. Their effect was not immediate, but since I would feel better later in the ride, they probably helped.
When I left the rest stop, it was almost 3:00p. Just over 60 miles to go… could I finish by dusk? Clearly, a personal record and a 14-hour double were all-but-out of reach now, so I set a new goal: to finish by 7:00p. It would mean having to average more than 15mph, which I was not doing in the last few hours, but with this new tailwind? Very possible, I thought!
So through Morro Bay and San Luis Obispo we went! We were very near the coast now and will be going south on Highway 1 for most of the rest of the ride. The tailwind and descending grades were heavenly. In my previous training rides I had made a conscious effort to spin quickly but lightly (say, 115 rpm) on these downhill sections to aid recovery of my legs, but for this ultramarathon ride, I was just trying to conserve energy. I got in a really aerodynamic tuck and did not pedal at all, letting gravity do most of the work. I was actually passing quite a people by doing this, although everyone was passing me on the ascents. I could have pushed harder, but I was content with my progress and was averse to breaking down my body even more.
The tailwind continued to propel me for the rest of the ride, with the only exceptions being two uphill grades. One was right after taking the Lompoc Exit off of Highway 1; but the steepest grade would come at Mile 190. I had anticipated this, however, having done the ride last year, and conserved my energy for it. I resolved that I would just gradually go up it, not pushing so hard as to screw up my back or ankle as I did last year. Yet, my ego prevented me from using my granny chainring, which I avoided using the entire ride, and hence was climbing in my 42X21 gear. As a consequence of all this, everyone was passing me here, and I couldn’t even keep up with a recumbent! But I knew the steep climb wasn’t more than a mile or so, and that I would eventually make it.
And after the climb… woohoo!, a long downhill! I quickly caught a lot of the riders, including the recumbent, who had passed me on the climb by maintaining my super-aerodynamic tuck. With less than 15 miles to go I was confident that I could make it back before 7:00p, but to make sure I would, I started cranking pretty hard in my big ring. No one would pass me anymore!
My spirits continued to increase as we diverged off of Highway 1 again and sped by the U.S. Penetentiary, as I knew we were very close. The end of the ride went through some residential areas in Lompoc, and the lights of downtown Lompoc were now clearly visible. 6:40p, then 6:45, then 6:50… I knew 7:00p was approaching fast, but I also knew I was approaching the Inn of Lompoc even faster. And finally, 5 minutes before 7:00, I rolled in. We did it!
- 201 mi.
- 4:30a start, 6:56p finish—14:26 hours
- Average Speed: 15.3 mph moving, 13.9 mph overall
- Max Speed: 45 mph
- Total Climbing: 6,500 ft
(1=ho hum; 5=best)
- Scenery: 2
- Support/Organization: 4+
- Food: 4 Well stocked!
- Weather: 2 May have gotten a 5 if 80 miles were not plagued by a horrible headwind.
- Relative Difficulty: 2+
- Overall Rating: 2+. Not quite as fun as the 1998 Solvang Double, although much drier.