Solvang Century Ride – March 14, 2009

GT rides the Solvang Century and lives to tell about

There is an unmistakable energy and buzz which builds with every minute closer to the start. People smiling, talking excitedly, fidgeting, checking and re-checking gear, expressing hopes and fears and finally the “Whooo-hoooo’s” as the first group of 30 riders is allowed to leave the gate.

To get to the ride was bitter sweet. Bitter, because I was laid off the previous week and no longer had worries about finding the time, sweet because I had no longer worries about finding the time.

Since the ride and the hotel was already paid for, we (my wife Sue, our dog Shep and I) packed up on Friday the 13th and headed North. I was pretty late in signing up for this ride so the closest I could find was a Holiday Inn in Santa Maria (that is still a good 45 minutes North of Solvang), but it had all we needed. When you travel with a 100 pound German shepherd you need at least a mini suite, some type of kitchenette and a pet friendly hotel. At times I can be a bit of a snob, but I have to say, the suite was large with good amenities, a full kitchen, a great bed and a huge flat screen TV, access to a small fenced patio (nice for the dog) and a large tub (comes in handy after the ride).

We got there late afternoon and first order of business was to lay out everything for tomorrows ride. I used a handy little check list by , to make sure I had everything in place. Once that was done it was time to go and have dinner. Pasta, pasta, pasta – bring on the carbs. Once again the Holiday Inn surprised with their little restaurant called Portobello. The place did not look like much but really served decent food. A good salad, a very nice al-dente Linguine with seafood and a nice Firestone Merlot made for a satisfying and carb loading meal. After that the biggest challenge was to get to bed (and even more challenging to sleep) early, as wake-up will be 4 am. I think I managed to finally fall asleep around 10 with visions of riding strong dancing in my mind.
It was pitch dark and COLD when we got up and I was worried that I might have not brought enough layers of clothing. The temperature was in the low 40’s and all of a sudden those visions of riding strong were not dancing as lively. A base layer, arm warmers, jersey and windproof outer shell along with knee warmers and riding shorts would protect the body, a wind proof skull cap under the helmet turned out to be the saving grace and the neoprene booties as well as full finger gloves came in handy in protecting the extremities. Still, I wondered, would it be enough?

Sue dropped me at the check-in point right around 6 am. Walking into the banquet hall to pickup the ride number & route slip made you appreciate the organization of the event. These volunteers are AMAZING, and getting my bib, bike and helmet numbers were a breeze. (to learn more about the organization and history of the ride check out the official website). Once all numbers were secured it was time for a final pit stop, bike and self check and head on over to the start line. This is the time when you can feel the high. There is an unmistakable energy and buzz which builds with every minute closer to the start. People smiling, talking excitedly, fidgeting, checking and re-checking gear, expressing hopes and fears and finally the “Whooo-hoooo’s” as the first group of 30 riders is allowed to leave the gate.

I ended up in the second group of riders going out, right around 6:45 am.
Hearing dozens of TOC, TOC’s clicking into the pedals, sounding like machine gun fire, the low whirling of chains spin up, CHP blocking major intersections guiding us out of town center onto HWY 246, the peloton picking up speed and in no time cruising around 25 mph towards Buelton. And then it hits you – the COLD. Right outside of Solvang a huge elevation drop and even the adrenaline can’t fight off the utter feeling of ‘damn, this is cold‘!! Your eyes are flooded with tears from the cold as you shoot down the hill, all the while this is the time you have to be most careful about other riders. At this point there is a lot of jockeying for positions going on and it is a pretty scary time for riders who are not used to being in a pace line. It gets all better once we reach the flats and the line starts spreading out and the groups break apart.

This map is the my actual ride data recorded by my Garmin Edge 705 . You can see details of my ride, such as timing, cadence, elevation, heart-rate either in snapshot form or you can use the virtual player to follow the ride on My Garmin Connect.
The ride follows Hwy 246 into Buelton and then turns onto Santa Rosa Road where you will spend the next 16 miles meandering up and down hillsides, mostly rolling terrain, but there are two good climbs, giving a taste of what is to come. The last climb is out of the valley up the mountain to join Hwy 1 which then coasts down to SAG stop 1 at “D’Vine! Wine” (wonder how much they drank before coming up with that label?) After doing a bit of research on them I found out that they specialize in helping individuals to create their own wine, an interesting approach. At the time however I was much more concerned in getting a pit stop in and fueling up on PB&J sandwiches and bananas. This, and all the other SAG stops, are manned by volunteers and I really appreciate the care they put into every one of them. Clean facilities, First Aid stations, great food and YES, great music!!. A short once-over equipment and clothes and off I go. The next 16 miles is a mixed bag of up and downs with two killer grades to boost. One is up Harris grade, sort of a short 1 mile prelude to the 4.6 mile climb you are about to face when getting back onto Hwy 1, THAT was the first time I felt WARM. Of course what goes up, must come down!! What a blast that was – the downhill is something I will not forget for a long time. Tucked in way down into the drops and LET IT RIP – my Garmin shows that I topped out at 43.5 miles/hour, which counts for the fastest I have been on my bike. I am really impressed with my Scattante CFR Elite, which is a Performance Bike store brand, but going down that hill, at that speed, the bike handled rock solid. Soon after that exhilarating downhill we hit SAG stop 2 at the 39 mile mark. More banana and PB&J, lots of water and off I go again, still heading North towards Santa Maria which is another 20 miles of rolling hills, but without any major climbs. It is somewhere along those 20 miles though when I first feel my butt not being too happy. It is a first just sort of a dull ache, that develops into this nagging need of ‘get your butt off the saddle’ sort of thing, into ‘I really don’t want you to sit on it’ feeling. I experienced the same during my last Century ride, but much later into the ride. I figured afterwards that it had to do with the number of climbs, on which the climbing motion pushes the body weight into the saddle. Needless to say, arriving at SAG stop 3 in Santa Maria at the 60 mile mark was a nice thing to get out of the Saddle for a bit, but not more than 10 minutes, to avoid the legs from stiffening up.
It’s the next 40 miles in which things get really interesting. More than 2800 feet of climbing lay still ahead, the first of which hits right after leaving Santa Maria, a relentless grade which seems to go on forever (but it really doesn’t, just feels like it after the rest stop), followed by some more up and downs, but once again I was happy to see Sisquoc SAG stop after the last 13 miles. My butt is now really angry with me, and does not like the fact that I sit on it!!!
At this rest stop all you will hear about is what lays ahead – Foxen Canyon. Of course, that is with good reason. At this point you are 73 miles into the ride, with a really good amount of climbing behind you, and now your tired legs and sore butt are staring at the toughest climb(s) yet. Foxen Canyon, almost 18 miles of false flats and rolling hills crowned by the last 600 feet of a pitch that will make you want to scream. It is at this point of the ride though, where the mind must take over, at least with me. Foxen Canyon, as picturesque as it gets and I had to focus on that beauty, and shut out everything that hurt (which at this point is basically EVERYTHING).
But I couldn’t help but tick of mile by mile on my Garmin as I keep climbing and all of a sudden, there it was, the start of the final incline. A severe pitch up, following twisty turns, leading you higher and higher around every bend. Thinking, hoping, praying the next bend is the last one – but it isn’t. Getting off the bike is not an option – FOCUS – get out of the saddle, shift into a higher gear, churn, churn, churn…and finally – the TOP!! This is the most satisfying climb I have ever done, and I am proud of myself for hanging in and not giving into the impulse to get off the bike. Shortly after I crested Foxen, there was another SAG stop right around mile 88, a good point to get off the bike for a short while and to call ahead to Sue, letting her know I am only about 12 miles out. We connected and arranged for a meeting point outside Solvang center to pick me up. The last 12 miles are not a walk in the park either. Foxen will throw one more big climb on you and before you are home free you have to climb Ballard Canyon as well, but compared to the last 18 miles – this is NOTHING. Besides you can smell the finish line now and your endorphins are working over time. Leg’s aching? Butt aching? – are you kidding NO – you just don’t feel them any-longer. It is an euphoric feeling cruising into Solvang – once you hit Atterdag Road, Eucalyptus Drive, Laurel and Oak, the streets are lined with cheering people, whistling, yelling and screaming and then you come around the last left turn – Alisal Road – you have arrived!
As I write this entry it is a couple of days later and I am checking places to stay in Solvang for 2010. I can’t wait to go back and do it again.

About GT in LA

Road cycling enthusiast
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5 Responses to Solvang Century Ride – March 14, 2009

  1. ara says:

    Hey there, just did the Solvang half century. They said it was the worst weather conditions in 23 years. I always ask myself in the middle of butt aching climb, “why am I doing this again” with headwinds slapping your face and nearly folding you over on the pavement. But now, two days later, I am planning my first century ride. Maybe Amtrak??

    • gtinla says:

      Hello Ara;
      Thank you for stopping by and congratulations on finishing the half century ride in Solvang. You should definitely do the Amtrak ride, it is a great, and well supported ride. Make sure to pay attention to the sign-up date. It is best to go to the website
      and be ready to log on at the date/time the ride registration opens, especially if you want to book the ride with the train return, as it usually sells out within the first 30 to 40 minutes. Enjoy the ride!

  2. ara says:

    Great account of your ride. I am doing this ride for the first time next March, and now I know what to expect.

    Any closer hotel recommendations you might be able to share?

    • gtinla says:

      I am glad to hear that the info was helpful to you. I booked the Meadow Lark Inn for 2010, but have not stayed there before.

      Sent from iPhone. Best, Gerhard

  3. Pingback: Century ride check list « GT in Los Angeles

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