Thursday, March 19, 2009

Solvang Century ride report

DISCLOSURE: My memories of the ride itself are a little confused. I can't remember exactly what happened exactly when. Please forgive me if I refer to someplace at the wrong time, or some time at the incorrect distance, or if I just scramble the whole thing up. What I remember is here, in whatever order I seem to remember. I suppose I could browse through other ride reports and get it straightened out, but I want this to be what I went through, not what someone else experienced.

I took Thursday and Friday as vacation days. Although I travel to lots of races, none of them have required cycling gear except the triathlon. I was nervous about forgetting -- oh -- anything, and wanted Thursday to pack in peace. By the time I hopped into bed Thursday night my car was packed up and ready to go.

Bree met me at my house Friday morning and we transferred her bike and gear to my car. Although she accused me of being Count Pakula there was still a bit of room for her to load up a couple of things. We stopped to pick up coffee and hit the road at 8:40 am.

Long drive. We stopped once to find a bathroom (all that hydrating) and once for lunch. As we drove we pointed out hills that we hoped we wouldn't be climbing during the century (and it turned out that one we only jokingly included as a probable due to its very large size was in fact one of the larger hills we climbed). We arrived in Solvang, Buellton actually, in very good time and went into the hotel to see if we could check in early.

Bree was able to get her room. The hotel had no record of me. As I steamed and fumed the ("I'm in training") clerk repeatedly tried my name and found nothing. I called our team manager and discovered that although she was in the hotel, she was involved in a staff meeting. While I knew that I wouldn't have to sleep in my car no matter what, I didn't need the extra worry and stress.

When the meeting was over our manager pointed out to the hotel manager that my name was indeed on the list that TnT had sent. It was at the top of a page in what looked to be only a header row so their missing it wasn't terribly surprising, but it was there nonetheless. The hotel manager got me a room, apologising repeatedly and asked me if she could send a few sodas or something to my room. I said a bottle of white wine would be nice and she said she'd have it sent along.

I had enough time to unload my car and change into cycling gear before we were supposed to meet for a tune-up ride. Because not everyone arrived at the same time, we set out in groups. It was a short ride, just down the road to Easy Street. I'm not making that up. We turned around and were able to try out all our gears, the brakes, everything on the bike. When I got back I looked at my tires since we had ridden through a patch of broken glass. I pulled a couple of tiny slivers out of my front tire and was sure I'd have a flat tire in the morning. Luckily this isn't foreshadowing. My tire was fine through the whole ride.

The pasta dinner was the usual TnT affair; pasta, salad, chicken, bread, speeches, the video (a new one that didn't leave me in the slightest bit weepy), more talks, Go Team! In addition to our San Francisco Chapter, there were the Los Angeles and Northern Texas Chapters attending. It was a large, boisterous crowd like most TnT pasta parties. The biggest difference at this party (to me) was they announced my name as one of the two Triple Crown earners. After that people started congratulating me and I told them to cut it out, they were jinxing me. Ride first, Triple Crown after.

We met up afterward for final instructions and arrangements and talks from Coach Cyd and Coaches Beth and Lorraine. Our little group were all given pieces of purple boa and pipe cleaners to attach to our helmets. I thought it was a little overboard and precious, but it turned out to be a great idea.

Bree and I drove over to the ride expo since we had picked up our bibs at the TnT table in the hotel. The race branded gear wasn't exciting. An expensive jersey out of odd mesh-like fabric, a jacket, a white tee shirt, a twill hat. There were several booths selling cycling gear and nutrition. We wandered around and decided we didn't need to buy a thing.

Although it was advertised that registration included a tube of Chamois Butt'r, a Clif Shot and a Mojo Bar we only received the tube of road rash remedy. It looked like the registration table at the expo didn't have any either, so maybe there was a foul-up somewhere. We also received a Solvang Century magnet with the logo.

Back to the hotel and what seemed both like 15 minutes and 15 hours in bed trying to sleep. I didn't get less sleep than normal before a race but that's not saying anything. I was up before the alarm, turned on the coffee pot and ... turned on the coffee pot and ... turned on the coffee pot ... realized the coffee pot wasn't working. I took a quick shower, threw on half of my clothes and went down to the lobby and bought a cup of coffee. Wait. That sounds like I went down to the lobby half naked and I didn't. I should have said that I threw on the bottom layer of clothes. Back to my room and finished getting ready and was in the lobby with my bike by 6:45 am, our designated meeting time.

I wasn't too hopeful that we'd start at our 7:00 am planned time since we hadn't yet started on time all season. There was a lot of hustle and bustle and scurrying and hurrying and pictures and waiting for it to be 7:00 at which time we actually rolled out. Whoohoo! Let's do the damn thing!

We started off, boas flying in the breeze, in a tight paceline. At least I think it was a tight paceline; I was toward the front. It was still dawn, not fully light out but it got brighter as we rode on. My new cycle computer was working very well proving that simple and inexpensive isn't a bad thing. Mr. Garmin, however, decided to go signal-less for about 3 miles before I realized it wasn't recording. D'oh! I fiddled with it while trying to maintain my place in line and finally got it working. No big deal, but my geeky side was a little disappointed I wouldn't have full stats for the ride.

The little gap in the red route is where Mr. Garmin was taking a nap

For the first part of the ride Coach Beth rode in front, keeping our speed low enough on the flats that we mostly stayed in a group. The couple of early hills were enough to spread us out along the route. We all met up at the first SAG stop at about 23 miles. In what would be repeated throughout the day, I was ready and willing to continue on much sooner than the rest of the group. Also in what would be repeated, before we left our group had a "mission moment." We would talk about either one of our group honorees, or someone's personal honoree, have a moment of silence and then shout out "go team!" before rolling on. Each and every one of those moments got me teary, thinking about my dad, thinking about all those we were riding for, thinking how important was the cause.

In the beginning of the next section I sat right on Coach Beth's wheel, getting sucked along in her wake. As we continued on though, I found myself slipping back in the group. I'd speed up to catch onto somebody's wheel to block the wind, then I'd fade back again. I fell farther and farther back into our group with only the very slowest hill climbers behind me (which included Bree with her injured knee).

The second SAG stop was at mile 39, after a lengthy uphill section. I started feeling my energy flagging and realized that a lot of it was due to trying to keep up with the group. I decided to go my own pace from there. I was consuming my pop tarts and gu on a regular basis and drinking maybe not quite enough of my Ultima. The third SAG was at mile 60 after a bitch of an uphill. I think that was where I announced I was feeling craptastic. More riding, more ups and downs, more introspection, more chatting and silent time. I was on my own for long periods but always caught back up with the group at the next SAG. From about mile 65 on I started feeling sad and on the verge of tears. I wasn't hurting more than normal, wasn't tired more than normal, I was just worn out.

SAG 4 was at mile 73 and was the start of a long long long uphill section. I rode this alone and attempted to ignore anyone who tried to talk with me, including my coach and teammates. I didn't have the energy to chat, didn't have the inclination or the mood to be friendly. This section was very strange to me. I knew there was supposed to be this 15 mile or so uphill and from the map expected it to be horrible. But I felt as if I was just riding up a grade. Granted, we had a tailwind at that point. But I was able to comfortably, if slowly continue riding. Where's the hill? Where's the hill? Where's the hill? We had been told we'd stop and regroup before the hill and I kept waiting and waiting and getting more impatient and worried. I stopped momentarily a couple of times, once to pull off one arm warmer and once to eat a gel. I passed part of my group who were changing a tire and caught up to the rest of the group who had stopped just before the hill. The real hill.

That hill was a stinking bitch. A horrific steep climb with blind corners so you'd never know when it was going to end. Thinking that this was the long hill I tortured myself with visions that it was going to last for 10 miles and felt awful. I stopped twice on this particular hill to catch my breath, crested the top much sooner than I had anticipated and realized that this was the end of the big hill. At the top I considered stopping but decided to just zip up my jersey and jacket and continue along. I overheard some random guy tell his buddy not to worry, there were only 2 more climbs like that. Good thing for him he was faster than me; I would have ridden over and knocked him upside the head.

A steep downhill (and we know how much I like twisty downhills on rutted roads) and then the second stinking bitch of a hill. That one I had to stop 3 times to catch my breath, the effort seemed to be cumulative. At the SAG stop where I caught up with most of the team I assured them that the ride had sunk to new depths of suckitude which amused the heck out of some of them. After our last mission moment where I really thought I would lose it, we took off in smaller groups (or alone) and were told we'd meet up before the finish and all ride in together. I've actually blanked out whether that last SAG came after the first hill or the second, I was that zoned out. Or in the zone, whichever applied.

The road surface continued to be crap on the downhills, making any speed risky and highly uncomfortable. I attempted to put all my weight on my feet instead of my hands or my increasingly sore sit bones, but to do that I'd have to stop pedaling or braking.

And then came the "last" hill. Wide open road, up up and then up some more. While I was tempted, highly tempted to walk it, my stubbornness just let me make a couple of breathing stops. I finally got to the top and started crying. I was so thrilled that I had done the last hill, thrilled that I had gone more than 10 miles past the farthest I'd ever gone, saddened over so many personal issues and the tears poured down my cheeks. For only a few moments though. Just like when I run marathons I told myself to suck it up, shut up, take a breath and get on with it. I knew I didn't have the energy to completely melt down and had to refocus on the rest of the ride.

The rest of the ride had more rutted roads and a couple more hills. Hey, where'd they come from? Although the majority of it was downhill or downgrade, the roads until about mile 100 were awful. Then we arrived back in town and road conditions improved. I looked for the team and finally came around a corner and there they were, my group, with helmet boas flowing. Everyone was a little giddy while we awaited the arrival of our final members. I was too tired to be giddy and was just grumpily pleased that I was almost done.

The scenery on the ride varied from lovely green hills and valleys sprouting with wildflowers to ugly freeways to residential/commercial areas to vineyards. The Napafication of the area was frankly scary, knowing the habitat and landscape destruction of the Napa and Sonoma valleys. Sadly, a burgeoning wine industry is likely to cause hills to be topped, slopes to be denuded, waters to be fouled and the natural beauty of the area changed beyond recognition. Because most of the day was gray and overcast it wasn't quite as scenic as it could have been. Also, after several hours on a bike everything starts to look similar.

The weather, as I mentioned, was ok but not great. It started off cool and overcast with a wind and it ended cool and overcast with a wind. I believe it was low 50's the entire day with a steady 10 mph wind that gusted much higher. I didn't take off my glove liners until about 60 miles and never removed my ear covers. I also never removed my jacket and only unzipped on the sweaty uphills.

The purple feather boa decorations on our helmets turned out to be a genius idea. We were able to see our group members, know if someone was part of our group or not. Other riders frequently commented, mostly with teasing and humor. The boa didn't bounce or drag or blow in the wind and I really didn't even know it was there. It was funny when I rode behind the group to see purple feathers drifting along the road.

Our last stragglers arrived and we headed off in the same big group we had started in, ohsoverymany hours earlier. Of course, then we got split up at a couple of stop lights so we ended up not rolling in together after all. Whoops. In fact, the last few of us to arrive at the meeting place were among the first of the group to finish. Or should I say "finish" since we still had to ride back to the hotel.

still boa'd after all those miles and hours

There was an actual finish line and as we rode across we received our finishing goodie bag (which contained our patch, a mini-Clif bar and a pile of papers for other rides).

We walked over to the team tent and received our "100" pins and our medals. Yep, TnT realizes that we do these things for the bling and made up medals specially for us. Very nice, very appreciated. And as a special bonus I received my coveted Triple Crown pin showing that I'd completed (and fundraised for) TnT marathon, triathlon and century events. I thought that Triple Crown was just a title, didn't know I'd get an extra pin.

oooooh, shiny!

Then, although we wanted to wait for the rest of the team to arrive, a half dozen or so of us realized that we were so pooped we'd better head back to the hotel while we could. Good thing too. We had a horrible headwind in that direction and those 3 or so miles felt like 10 more. Finally, 11 hours after we started, 9 hours riding time and 103+ miles I was done.

I got back to my room, texted and tweeted and called all my friends and relatives and then took the longest hot shower I had taken since my drought water restrictions went into effect. I think I intended to drain the hotel's entire water supply but finally had to get out because I was too tired to stand any longer. I managed to dress and get myself on my feet and headed to the victory party.

Although I wasn't particularly hungry I realized I hadn't eaten enough during the day and hadn't had anything to drink after the ride except a glass of wine. None of the food looked too terribly appetizing except for the mashed potatoes but I forced myself to take some nutritious food too. And some wine since I was dehydrated. Some water too, for balance. During the ride I only drank about 4 bottles of Ultima, ate less than 6 pop tarts and slurped about 10 gels.

It was a fun party with food and drink and dancing and wonderful people. Verging on maudlin I thanked all the people who had specially helped me through the season. My mentor Amy was the best mentor I've had in all my seasons with TnT. Our head coach Cyd was always there. Always. I was astounded to see her week after week, even during her injured time off the bike. She was warm, friendly, informative and a great coach. Coach Susie and Captain Grace blew my mind by riding the entire century, despite their own injuries. Such tough, strong women. Lynn and Bob got my vote for best couple; Lynn for her fun attitude and Bob for his great SAG talents. Julie was always there with a smile and a friendly word, always helping someone along, waiting for us slowpokes despite being able to go ahead.

I don't even know what to say about Coach Beth and Coach Lorraine, the leaders of our little group. Very different in their approaches but so similar in execution. They both knew when to encourage me, when to talk with me, when to ignore me, when to get close and when to leave me along. They knew, without a doubt, that I would finish this ride. They had faith in my ability and determination and let me know that. They knew when I needed a hug, when I needed help dislodging my chain, when I entered deeply into the bite-me zone and needed the world to go away. During the century Beth pulled the front of the team along while Lorraine encouraged those of us trailing alone. I had more fun with the two of them, with this entire team, than I've had for so long.

My companion for the entire season was Bree. Until her knee acted up she was always just a bit ahead of me, always waiting, always there. Together we carpooled, we grilled cheesed, we beered and caked and gossiped about everyone else around us. We supported each other the entire season. This would have been a lonely training season without her training along with me. We rode together, drove together, laughed together and bitched together. Thank you Bree!

I'm very glad I did this even though my body has made it very clear that I never have to do it again. I'm not made for cycling over 5 hours, week after week. I'll continue with the bike since I've rediscovered how much I enjoy it. I think I'll enjoy it even more when I'm finally able to stop with the long pants, jacket and ear warmers.

I don't know what my next adventure will be. I guarantee it will be easier than this century!


  1. Great description of the ride. My wife and I rode the 50 for the first time. We live in Buellton and after seeing the Vang Century thought we would try it. Got to tell you , we werent too impressed with the rest stop food, as well as the non existant sag support. We never saw a sag vehicle at all. I have mostly read glowing reports on the ride, but it was cold all day, sun never came out. And we rode from our house to the start and had to ride home in the wind. It was blowing hard wasn't it? Glad you made it. We are going to practice for the 100 when the weather gets better.We are doing the Wildflower 75 miles in April. A much better supported ride in our view.

  2. That was something I forgot to talk about. I never saw a SAG vehicle either, unless you count the CHP. I saw 1 injured rider with blood dripping down his forehead while 4 rescue vehicles from different jurisdictions surrounded him. I never saw a vehicle with a SAG sign or someone who could help with road support or cycle issues.

    I didn't check out the food at the rest stops since I'm normally self sufficient except for water and the lines were very long. I was told by a couple of people that the food was the worst they had ever seen on a century.