There was a time when I didn't even think of possibly attempting a double century; such a distance seemed completely out of proportions for a casual century rider like me. Not that I wouldn't have liked, deep inside, to do longer distances; but over the years, the constraints related to raising four kids and holding a demanding job eventually succeeded in discouraging me from pursuing loftier goals. I had to content myself with just riding a century, every once in a while.
Six years ago, in the context of visiting with friends in Shell Beach, I had an opportunity to participate in the century option of what would later become the Solvang Spring Double Century (after the century option had been dropped). It was a beautiful, perfect cycling day - just like last Saturday. About half-way through, somewhere on Betteravia Road near Santa Maria, on the way from Sisquoc to Guadalupe, I found myself in a paceline of about ten riders, in the next-to-last position, nearly effortlessly gliding along at well over 20 mph, when I hit a big lump of dried dirt left on the road by some tractor from the fields. My hands rested in a relaxed way on the brake hoods without gripping them (big mistake!) - they got thrown off by the bump, and I was unable to avoid going down. I'm still proud today to recall that I barely suffered a scratch; only the new jersey was scratched on the back - nothing else. But as soon as I was on the ground, the only rider behind me rode his front wheel into my ribs, and I felt some air get kicked out of me. So, after a little while, I resigned myself to call Ghislaine (who spent the day in Solvang) to come and pick me up, and to bring me first back to our friends in Shell Beach. From there, eventually, we went to the community hospital of Arroyo Grande to check me out; I told them that I might have broken a rib.
To make a long story short: I had seven broken ribs, and I learned a new word: pneumothorax.
During the five days at the hospital, sleeping was unexpectedly difficult, and so I had enough time to think about what was important in life. One important conclusion was that from now on (or, rather: as soon as I could normally breathe again), I would take bike riding more seriously. I resolved to pursue bigger goals in order to motivate me during my recovery.
The following year I joined the Randonneurs USA and completed my first couple of 200 km brevets. After that, I decided to prepare for Paris - Brest - Paris 2007. In 2005, I would get used to double centuries and 300 km brevets. In 2006, I would try to complete a full qualifying brevet series of 200 - 300 - 400 - 600 km distances as a dry run, and then in 2007 safely qualify for and participate in PBP.
And so, end of March 2005, Ghislaine and I went back to our friends in Shell Beach, from where I went to Solvang to participate in the Solvang Double Century, to start getting used to double centuries. I deliberately wore the scratched jersey from my spill two years earlier, avoided pacelines as much as I could, and finished conservatively, slowly and happily.
I also completed it in Spring 2007, much more confident already, in 14h25. Not a very good time at all for this relatively easy and fast course; but I progressed and that was all that mattered. Consequently, this time, I announced that I wanted to finish in less than 14 hours.
I felt in good shape and enjoyed being able to stay on the uphills with many more other riders than in the past years. Many of them also pursued their own goal of a new personal best; and I noticed how startled they were when I announced that I would now stop on the road side to take a picture of the poppies which exuberantly flowered nearly everywhere. It was the best day of the year for being out on a bike ride, and I didn't want to spoil it by staying on the bike all the time!
In various places, I remembered vividly how slow I had been there in years past, and how I had to resort to the smallest chain ring for certain uphills. This time, I never used the smallest chain ring at all, and was able to always keep a decent rhythm. Oh, it feels good not to be among the very slowest riders any more!
The Rock of Morro Bay - and the check point
At the check point in Morro Bay, I noted with satisfaction that I had a big time cushion for my 14-hour goal; I might even be able to finish in 13 hours if I put my mind (and legs) to it! But this was not the goal, and I dutifully discarded the thought. Instead, I started justifying a more easygoing attitude for the trip back to the finish: I should save my legs for the next weekend where the calendar says "600 km brevet in Oceanside", and I should just enjoy the beautiful day and the outrageous tailwind!
So that's what I did.
Guadalupe rest stop with playground
On the lower slopes of the Drum Canyon Road (1000 ft in 3 miles, 16 miles from the finish). Four years ago, I was grinding up there in complete darkness, even though I had started half an hour earlier in the morning. Trust me: it's much easier and much more fun in daylight!
For the first time, the start and finish was not in Solvang any more, but 3 miles away in Buellton. I arrived there with a big smile on my face at 7:15 pm, 13 and 1/2 hours after I started. By the time I got back to our hotel in Solvang where Ghislaine waited for me, it was nearly dark again, after all. - I guess I really will have to shoot for a 13 hour finish, next time!