by Franz Kelsch
There were twelve club members who took on the Solvang Double Century challenge this year, including Joe Farinha, Dave Zajac, Jon Kaplan, Gary Franck, Barry Schwartz, Marnel King, Barbara Murphy, Fred O’Leary, Louise McCracken, Steve Sundstrom, Ken Emerson and myself. In addition I knew a couple of others that I ride with that joined the event. This is the account of my experience.
Last week I took a look at my data from last year trying to figure out how I could improve on my time. I wrote about my strategy in a prior personal blog entry.
Just as we did last year, I started with the 7:30 am group, the ones that wanted to be timed. Joining that group was Gary Franck, Joe Farinha and Kley Cordona. This 7:30 start group is made up of mostly fast riders. We had a large gathering, maybe over 40 riders. The pace was brisk but I didn’t feel over taxed. After 20 miles we turned to head up Foxen Canyon. This has two moderate climbs and after the second one there is a longer descent. It was on this second descent that I lost the group last year and never was able to catch back on.
My strategy this year was to stay right near the front of the pack for the second climb so I had a better chance to stay connected. It may be the fact that this year there were no tandems to chase down the hill, or that I had been working on descending down faster, but in any event this time I was able to stay connected to the front pack, something only about half the group were able to do. We lost the other half on either the climb or the descent and I knew that they would never be able to catch back on.
We stretched out to a single pace line. Except for a few wheel suckers at the back, everyone was taking a turn pulling, some longer pulls than other, which was okay. One guy, who was particularly strong, would ramp up the pace every-time he pulled. I found myself right behind him on a couple of rotations which meant I had to drive hard to hang on his wheel, then do a pull and still keep enough left to rotate to the back.
I had already planned to skip the first rest stop and sure enough this group went right by it. We made one wrong turn which costs us an extra 2 miles and some lost time trying to get back on course. There were some rollers right before the 2nd rest stop (our first one) that proved a bit difficult due to the pace. I was glad when we finally stopped with a total of 84.8 miles averaging 22.0 mph.
Some of the group had a very quick stop, just enough to fill water bottles. I needed a bit more time but was was able to get back on the bike in less than 6 minutes. There was only one other fellow from the 7:30 group who started with me by the name of John who was from Nevada. He and I biked together for awhile. We were soon joined by others from the 7:30 group that had taken a little longer at the rest stop. But there was a couple of young guys who were driving the pace too high for me, so I eventually dropped off the back. I slowed down to wait for John who had fallen off earlier. We biked together, taking turns pulling until we hit the check point at Morro Bay. We had to wait 1 minute there to get the dot to prove we had gone to the turn around point.
While riding through Morro Bay I hit a bad bump and came down on the back of my saddle, which tipped up the nose. I couldn’t get it to move back level. Although it was quite awkward to ride like that I decided I could not afford to stop so I rode that way until the lunch stop, which was another 14 miles from Morro Bay.
It took me about a minute to fix my saddle and then another 6 to 7 minutes to get some food. We saw some of the 7:30 riders leaving, so John and I jumped on our bikes and caught them.
We started to form a pace line behind a tandem and rode with that group for awhile but eventually some of us moved out ahead and we never saw the tandem again. Soon it was just John and I again as we pulled into our third rest stop with an average speed of the last section of 19.5 mph. The pace was clearly slower while we kept behind the tandem for those miles.
After a 5 minute stop John and I took off, again just the two of us. I hit another bump and my seat got tipped once again with the nose pointing up. I didn’t want to take the time to fix it again so I decided to just keep riding that way. It made it hard to use the aero bars but I felt maybe I could just wait until the next stop.
We were taking turns pulling but on one uphill grade on Highway 1, where I was pulling, I notice that John had fallen way off the back. I had been doing some calculations in my head and figured at this point I had some slight chance to finish under 10 hours so I made the decision to ride on solo, which I did for the last 50 miles. I had a thought of skipping the last rest stop completely but was down to a half of water bottle so I made a 1 minute stop for water. Fatigue was setting in so I was having a hard time keeping my heart rate up. Fortunately we had a tail wind now. There were several club members at that stop who had started earlier. One told me that Gary was about 10 minutes ahead of me, so I jumped on the bike to chase after him. I noticed at that point I had averaged 20.6 mph rolling from the start.
On the way up Drum Canyon, I heard a popping noise so I stopped to check my bike, only to find I had broken a spoke. That was so unexpected for a light guy like me. I wrapped the broken spoke around another spoke, opened up the brake, then jumped back on the bike and started to climb. I had yet to fix my saddle and wondered if I had time. I decided to stop again and to level the seat. As I started to climb again I kept worrying about breaking another spoke and was not sure how hard I should be torquing the pedals as I climbed. I decided to climb carefully, but steady. I was getting very tired and found it hard to do the math in my head to see if I could still finish under 10 hours. My rolling average speed had now dropped to 20.1. When I made it to the summit, I was wondering how fast I should go down, considering it is a rough road. I decided to ride down fast, just hoping no more spokes broke.
Periodically I would calculate again how much further I had to go and how much time I had left. It seemed to be an impossible task and I was about ready to give up trying to make it under 10 hours. I felt lucky to make all the traffic lights in Beulton, thinking one single stop was more than I could afford. That final uphill as you are entering Solvang was just about enough to kill my chance. I then started to hit the traffic in the town of Solvang so I turned right one block early to take a back street.
I finally made it to the end and clicked the split button on my Polar Heart Rate Monitor just as I came to a stop. I was almost afraid to look down but when I did it read 9 hours, 59 minutes and 51 seconds. Ann was there, a bit surprised I finished so fast. She watched my bike as I ran to check in. I had averaged 20.3 mph for the entire ride and had a total stopping time of less than 23 minutes. Funny thing was that I felt better than I did last year after finishing 43 minutes slower.