Saturday, March 26, 2011
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The Solvang Spring Double starts and finishes in the town of Buellton, which is located a few miles from the Danish village of Solvang. This event is limited to 500 riders. The route is 197.5 miles with 7500′ of elevation gain, 5 check points (CP), along with a time limit of 17 hours. The course closes at 10:00 pm. It’s touted as being “the fastest, most scenic, most popular and easiest” double among the entire CTC series.
The route takes you through the towns and regions of Solvang, Los Olivos, Sisquoc, Santa Maria, Nipoma, Arroyo Grande, San Luis Obispo, Los Alamos and back to Buellton. You cross the county lines of Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo.
The ride starts at the Santa Ynez Valley Marriott Hotel. There is a wave start at 5:00 am for riders that may need more than 15 hours to complete the course. Michael and I are amongst this group. Each person must call out their rider number to Debra, the ride director before exiting the parking lot.
It’s a cool 44 degrees outside and I feel like a stuffed sausage with my 5 layers of clothing on. The day’s forecast calls for overcast skies with a few scattered showers in the afternoon. We normally choose not to ride in the rain but thought we can handle getting wet here and there; so here we are! We roll out of the parking lot at 5:07 am.
The route immediately takes us on SR 246 for the next 8.2 miles on mostly flat terrain. We quickly take notice that many cyclists are buzzing by very closely on our left, literally within inches without a call out and some even pass on our right! What ever happened to courtesy? Anyways, while making the short climb up into Solvang, we hear a CHP officer on the loud speaker saying “stay on the far right” multiple times. Moving any farther to the right would mean us falling into the ditch!
We cross Hwy 154 to Armour Ranch Rd. There are a few rollers before we take the turn onto Happy Canyon Rd. There are about a dozen or so riders ahead of us that missed the turn and continued straight on Armour Ranch. I can see all the blinking lights descending into the darkness. It seemed like a pretty long climb up to get back on the course. The next few turns on Baseline and Mora/Roblar takes us back to SR 154.
Michael and I have learned from past experience and from the advice of others to always pre-drive portions of the route; the beginning and near the end. Basically, drive the sections where you’ll be riding in the dark. That’s helped us a lot on previous doubles.
We take a right and stay on Foxen Canyon Rd for the next 21+ miles. Twilight is at 6:26 am. There are a few wineries, vineyards, farms and horse ranches along this road. There are two climbs within the first 4 miles; both being about one mile or so with the gradient ranging from 6-8%. There is a nice descent to the intersection with Zaca Station Rd where Foxen Cyn continues on for 17.2 miles. The climbing start up again very gradually at around 3-4% and then increases to 5-6% and maxes out at 8-9 % as you near the top.
The road levels out and you can see the lush green open fields dotted with cows and horses. There are more vineyards and wineries too. We get passed by the guys on “fixies” and exchanged greetings with Randy, who is a friend of
Toshi’s. With the recent rains, some sections of the road were completely
covered with mud and gravel. I can feel my rear wheel slipping a bit as I roll
on by. There are miles and miles of open vegetable f ields on both sides of the
road. We reach CP#; Sisquoc, mile 41 at 7:48 am. I think my only pet peeve on these doubles is the long lines for the porta-potties. There are never enough of
them! The rest stop food is very basic; PBJ sandwiches, bananas, snack cookies, energy bars and Hammer products. I see Jim K and we exchanged greetings.
We continue on Foxen Cyn for another 7 flat miles. The fields are abounding with kale, collards greens, cabbage, red leaf lettuce and strawberries. There are also magenta colored flowers growing along the embankments. Being a farmer is not easy; they have to provide the food to feed the nation.
We continue over a bridge on Suey Crossing Rd into Santa Maria on Bull Canyon Rd. Bull Cyn has a steady grade of 2% for a few miles and increases to 5-8% on the approach to Hwy 166. It’s a flat run with head winds for the next 3.2 miles on 166. The overall landscape here is the endless bright green fields.
It starts to lightly sprinkle as we make the next turn on Thompson Ave at around mile 60. There is a slight climb on this road leading into the town of Nipoma. The next 8-9 miles are completely flat! We ride pass plant nurseries, vegetable farms and a lemon orchard on Los Berros and Valley Rd into Arroyo Grande.
The turn on E Cherry Ave to Branch Mill Rd takes us through the back roads of all the vegetable fields and farms. This area reminds me of riding through Healdsburg; Michael simply says ” it’s like wine country with vegetables”. We get passed by a bunch of guys that started later in the morning.
The route continues on Huasna Rd to Lopez Dr with more farm land and vineyards in sight. The magenta colored flowers are a nice contrast to the green fields. I catch a glimpse of Lopez Reservoir and can hear the frogs croaking as I roll on by.
The next turn takes us on Orcutt Rd for the next 8 miles. It’s really beautiful back here; cows are out grazing and the rolling hills are covered with yellow wild flowers. The vineyards, farms and vegetable fields surround this whole area. It’s now starting to RAIN at mile 80.
We reach CP#2; Islay Park, mile 86.1 at 11:05 am. We’re all wet and damp and just hoping that the rain will stop. We refill out bottles and grab a quick bite before taking off.
We continue on Orcutt to Johnson Ave and enter San Luis Obispo. We ride through the city streets on San Luis Dr, California and Foothill Blvds. We take Santa Rosa Rd onto Hwy 1 heading north. The rain is steadily coming down with no respite in view. We’re on Hwy 1 for the next 10.3 miles on flat to rolling terrain. There are still riders who manage to squeeze through and pass on my right, it’s getting very annoying!
I see a sign on the side of the road that reads California Men’s Colony, isn’t that just a pretty name for a state prison? We’re rolling along and Michael starts to point out puddles to me and I just break out laughing. Mind you, I’m wet, he’s wet, the road’s wet and so is everything else. What does it matter now? There’s water everywhere!
We turn on S Bay Blvd towards Morro Bay. There are a few climbs here with the gradient not exceeding 5% as we enter Baywood-Los Osos. Just try saying that a few times over; it’s a tongue twister. We then continue on Los Osos Valley Rd for the next flat 8 miles. It’s still raining!
I hear Michael call out, he has a flat front tire. The SAG vehicle had just passed us by. All morning long, we’ve seen plenty of folks on the side of the road changing out their flats; now it’s our turn. It’s no fun stopping, I start to get cold and Michael’s gloves are wet and his hands are cold too; he’s changing out the tube as fast as he can. GO Michael!
We reach CP#3; Laguna Lake Golf Club, mile 113.2 at 1:10 pm. Again, there are long porta-pottie lines. I see people getting into SAG vehicles and calling it quits. I wonder why? It’s still raining! Michael and I continue on, don’t ask why but we do.
SLO is the turning point for this ride. We now head south on Hwy 1 towards San Luis Obispo Bay. We take Higuera Rd and cross under CA 101 to Ontario Rd which parallels 101. From there we continue on San Luis Bay Rd to Avila Beach Dr. The climb on San Luis is a steady 6%. Because of the rain, I haven’t been able to get out of saddle much for fear of my rear wheel slipping. That only means more butt time ON the saddle which may not be that pleasant with wet tights on.
The climbs on Avila Beach and Shell Beach Rds range from 4-6%. We’re now heading towards Pismo Beach. There’s a lot of traffic around here for a rainy day. I smell BBQ while passing the restaurants on this stretch of touristy road. On a nicer day, the views of the bay must be spectacular!
Michael calls out again, he has another flat; this time it’s the rear tire. Again, a SAG vehicle passed us moments earlier. We stop and he goes through all the same motions, etc, etc. But this time, after pumping up the tire, we noticed that the tube was not seated correctly, so he goes about removing the tire and the next thing we hear is the “pop” of the tube. OMG! It’s absolutely no fun changing out a tube while it’s raining! GO Michael, he scores again! He’s now 2 for 2.
We pick up where we left off and continue on Hwy 1/Mesa View Dr for the next 10.5 miles towards Guadalupe. The road is so muddy here, it’s splashing everywhere; on our faces, the bikes, clothes, you name it, it’s there!
We reach CP#4; Le Roy Park, mile 141.6 at 4:08 pm. I chomp down on a bag of mini Skittles and a mini Nestle Crunch bar. That combination actually didn’t sit too well in my stomach. I’ll know better next time.
The skies are still grey but as we look further ahead, we can see a bit of sun. Is it going to stop raining? We stay on Hwy1/Guadalupe St for the next 15 miles on flat roads. The scenery is gorgeous even under these conditions. The wild flowers are out in force, the ominous clouds serve as a great back drop to the green and brown fields. The farm equipment or truck tires make an interesting track pattern atop of the mud.
To stay on Guadalupe St/Hwy 135, we have to cross over to the left of the Hwy or else we’ll end up in Lompoc. This was the most dangerous part of the course; cars are passing us at a very high rate of speed! The rain is still pounding down on us and we just keep rolling. It’s doesn’t feel that cold as long as we keep moving forward.
As we’re riding along, I end up being about 6-8 feet behind two other cyclists; a man and a woman. I can hear them talking and quickly take notice that the guy was slowing up, so I slow up too. He then abruptly stops and turns right in front of me without saying anything or making any motions. Lucky me, I didn’t fall over when he touches my front wheel. I think he was able to clip out in time to save himself. The woman proceeds to yell at me for trying to pass on the right, OMG! Usually I don’t say anything but this time I had to correct her and she did
We reach CP#5; Collins Market, Los Alamos, mile 168.1 at 6:45 pm. It’s been raining pretty much non-stop since mile 80. We now only have 30 more miles to go. Chicken cup o’ noodles have got to be the best thing ever on these rides; it provides warmth and salt, very satisfying! I saw a few people huddled around two heaters so I inch my way in to get some of the heat. It probably wasn’t a good idea; it gave me the false of sense warmth.
The remainder of the route has us riding through a vineyard on a private road with potholes galore. The road drops us out on Alisos Canyon Rd which is very secluded with minimal traffic. This stretch of road is 6.6 miles long with a steady grade of 2-3%. It’s getting dark, night fall is upon us. Some guy behind us lost his light and needed his friends to guide him back to the finish.
The next turn is on Foxen Cyn Rd. This is where the route overlaps for a bit. We were here earlier in the morning. Foxen Cyn from this direction is 6 miles; the gradient starts off gradually and increases to a steady 6-7% for about a mile or so. The road levels out out at the top all the way to Zaca Station Rd.
We’re really close to finishing and it’s still raining. Suddenly I hear a “pop” from
behind, Michael has another rear flat! And again, a SAG car just drove past us
less than a minute earlier. We stop, I shine my lights on Michael, I pull out
another tube and cartridge while he is going through the whole routine again.
Upon further evaluation, he not only has a flat but a tire blow out as well!
There is a decent size tear on his tire. Meanwhile, I can’t help but get colder
while standing still so I begin to wave my arms and move my legs around to keep my blood circulating.
We’re trying to decide what to do when, lo and behold a white van coming from the opposite direction stops and asks if we’re okay. He’s a volunteer for this event. He offered to help us out and took out his floor pump. He’s out sweeping the course with his sister to check on everyone. The van is loaded with rest stop leftovers and supplies and is not designated to pick up riders.
Michael looks over to me, I have to make the decision; do we call it quits now? We’re at mile 189.4 with only 10 miles left to the finish. We actually can still make it. We are very close to the intersection at SR 154 and from there it’s 8/10th of a mile climb up Ballard Canyon. The gradient is around 9-11% and then it’s a downhill with a few small rollers in between before the final steep descent back down to Hwy 246.
I love descending but is it worth doing it in the dark while it’s raining? Call it whatever you want but, is the prize worth the risk? I don’t think so. Michael’s compromised tire is a real safety issue for us.
I believe the universe hears your call. We have put it out there that we don’t ride in the rain but yet don’t mind being caught in the rain for a short period of time. Looking back, we were given many signs but failed to get the message. A SAG vehicle would pass us by moments before Michael had his flats. I was able to avoid a fall when the guy abruptly stops and cut right in front of me. I’ve been having trouble shifting gears pretty much after mile 80. But we kept going………the tire blow out was the final message and we got it! It is now time to stop. I don’t like to quit but it’s just the smart thing to do for both of us. We asked for a ride back to the finish.
Jon wasn’t supposed to pick up riders and yet he was kind enough to move things around in the van to make room for us and the bikes. I was freezing cold by now in all my damp clothes. Jennifer gave me a blanket to help me keep warm. Michael is such a trooper; there was no complaining from him what so ever. We got back to the Marriott and checked in for out DNF’s.
In the end, it all still worked out because we got back safely. Perhaps next time the weather will fare better for us.
Congrats to Rubin and Lauren Johnson from Whittier for completing their first double!
Congrats to everyone else who finished and kudos to all the others who took it to their limit!
Much thanks goes to Jon and Jennifer for their wonderful support and thanks to all the other SAG drivers and rest stop volunteers for being there for us!
Elevation Gain: 7336′
Avg Speed: 14.5
Ride Time: 13:12:29
Weather: Starting temp of 44, daytime temps ranging from the low to mid 50’s and dropping down to 40 in the evening. Cloudy skies with RAIN.
Nutrition: Maltodextrin mix, water, a banana, 11/4 PBJ sandwich, 1/3 turkey sandwich, a few salted peanuts, 3 oreos cookies, 1 mini Skittles and 1 mini Nestles Crunch bar and a Chicken cup o’ noodles.
This is the route for the Solvang Spring Double:
Another wonderful account of an adventure under unpleasant conditions. Smart call at the end – health and safety first.
I'm glad I wasn't there. Thanks for your report. Mary A
Amazing! Either a great adventure or a gruelling ordeal. Congrats to you and Michael for enduring the pitfalls, hardships and challenges of the ride.
A friend of mine referred me to your blog … wow, a lot more detailed blog than my account. You guys had a lot more adventure to this ride than I did. It was too bad you couldn't finish with only 10 miles to go. I didn't mind the rain too much, but then again, I already did Camino Real Double in the pouring rain already..