Solvang is a little town north east of Santa Barbara that makes the most of its Danish heritage. I'm not sure about windmills and Denmark, but Solvang would have you believe that they are an essential part of Danish architecture! The last time we were in the area was a few years ago, just passing through, so it was a chance to return to the Santa Barbara area and enjoy the weekend!
Despite participating in triathlons for a few years now, this was my first organized ride - not race, and I woke up on Saturday somewhat nervous about the ride but nothing like I feel before a triathlon. Talk about a stress-free morning! I kept reminding myself that there was no set start time and that I should just enjoy the experience. That, fortunately, was not hard to do at all! There was great energy as people wandered over to the official start line and took off - whenever they wanted (again, this was such a novelty to me). Also, there was a greater range of bikes, attire and people which made me feel so relaxed.
Once I finally settled on what to wear (arm warmers, check, vest, check...), gave myself a little pep talk about riding solo, I took off - over the start line, through the quaint streets of Solvang, just riding along... The first 24 miles or so were really great - easy rolling hills, nice roads, beautiful countryside. Some sights were memorable - I passed an ostrich farm, Alma Rosa, a winery that we visited our last trip up here, and also an Icelandic horse ranch (they are so small and cute!). Others just blur together - the vineyards and rolling hills. I felt good when I hit the first SAG stop but also didn't mind getting off the bike for a pit stop, eating some fruit and I also grabbed an Uncrustable to snack on.
At that point, I felt great and actually regretted that I hadn't signed up for the full Century, and my good spirits - mental and physical - stuck with me until about mile 38. At that point, we were riding along a stretch of farmland and different parts of my body were going a bit numb. So, it was with relief that I hit the 2nd SAG stop - where I took another Uncrustable and ate more fruit. Less than 20 miles of the official ride, easy stuff! Ha! I did not realize that right after the SAG stop, we would hit a major climb and deal with crappy road conditions. After creeping along for 2 miles or so (hey, at least I didn't walk my bike!), I felt like I was inches to bonking, and I started to curse myself for being such an idiot and for not fueling properly. Fortunately, the climb evened out for a bit, so I unclipped, drank the rest of the bottle of Osmo that I had and ate a few gels. That seemed to help tremendously, as I finished the climb and started the downhill. Sadly, the downhill, which I had anticipated with pleasure during the climb, ended up SUCKING. Most of the roads on the ride were pretty good, but this part was sub-standard, to say the least. I white-knuckled it for the entire descent but made it down safely, which was no mean feat (apparently one rider lost control on the descent). Things finally evened out around mile 50, and from there to the finish line, I relaxed and enjoyed those final miles. It was hard to ride past our motel to get to the finish line and then ride a few miles back to our motel, but, hey, I wanted an "official" finish!
Once I met up with Michael and Gus, who had enjoyed their morning by touring all of Solvang, we were ravenous, so we filled the rest of the day with lunch, a nap, a walk, and dinner. And plenty of good beer, especially at the Firestone Walker Taproom in Buellton.
This is not an official finish line photo but I was done! We had lunch in Los Olivos, and Michael took this quick photo of me - to remind us both of my past life in 4H.
Technically, this ride was part of Ironman training, but I had SO MUCH FUN. It did not feel like training, or maybe it reminded me that training and racing do not have to be work, they can and should be fun. Ooh, what a concept - training and fun are not mutually exclusive!. Even the challenging climb and tricky descent left me feeling happy about being out there, riding my bike. It's hard to describe what a treat the ride was or to articulate the why? Maybe it was the scenery? Or sharing the experience with random people who were also ridiculously happy to be out biking on a lovely Saturday? Or just being outside, on two wheels, in a beautiful part of the world? I'm not sure, but I'm already looking forward to the Solvang (Metric or Full) Century in 2015!