Wednesday, June 30, 2010

2010 Summer Solstice Century

Last weekend, we headed up to the mountains to visit Linda and ride the Summer Solstice Century. This is a most excellent organized ride on gorgeous forest roads out of Quincy, CA that is relatively little known and thus not crowded like some other rides we've done. And there's a bunch of climbing, which is always an attraction.

We've done this ride before (most notably in 2007 when we got engaged on the ride!), but always chosen shorter routes due to not getting up early enough to do the big loop. Both the 100 and 150 km routes follow the road from Quincy to LaPorte up and over the first big lump on the profile before turning around and heading back towards Qunicy. This year, however, we were determined wake up early enough to do the 200 km loop route, which would take us into some new territory.

On paper, this looks like a 2-lump ride -- one big lump in the morning, a descent down to Lake Oroville, and another big lump of about the same size in the afternoon. We knew the first lump was steep-ish from having done it before, but it seemed entirely plausible that the big loop could be a very pleasant ride with gorgeous terrain.

However, as is often the case with these big rides, the map and route description on the event website made it easy to overlook some critical details. The paper map we got had even fewer details, lacking an elevation profile and not making it clear exactly how many miles between rest stops. My bike computer has been obnoxiously turning itself off whenever I go over a bump lately, so I chose to ride without it, leaving me with very little information about how far along I was at any given moment. Fortunately, the route was well-signed and easy to follow, and there were markers telling you how far you've gone every 10 km.

We got started shortly after 6am, and were pleased to find that the first big hill wasn't as steep as either of us had recalled. Getting that early a start meant it was still nice and cool. This first big hill is on an utterly gorgeous road through the forest, with decent pavement, many stunning views off to nearby peaks, and very little traffic. There were wildflowers and still some patches of snow off the side of the road near the top to look at too. Pretty much as good as it gets, in my book.

Time for the long, restful zoomy descent.

I'll give long and zoomy. Restful, no. There are actually quite a number of small rollers on the way down -- just short enough that one is tempted to repeatedly power through them in a relatively high gear rather than repeatedly dropping in and out of climbing mode.

Somewhere in there, I realized "Oh, that minor lump before lunch is actually a real hill." It looks insignificant on the profile provided on the website, but is something on the order of 1000 feet of climbing. No biggie, and it was relatively gentle, but a bit unexpected.

Despite this, we still felt pretty fresh by the lunch stop at about 60 miles, though I suspected I might tire later in the day from the repeated bursts of energy required on the downhill. Lunch was yummy (wraps, fruit, and roasted potatoes with salt for me), and the stop was staffed with lots of cheerful, energetic volunteers. I'd have to say that they had a most excellent crop of volunteers at all of the stops, as well as having a good variety of food and drink. It felt like an extremely well-supported ride, given that there was a total of only 200-250 riders.

Drop drop drop down to Lake Oroville. At this point, we were no longer in the mountains, but getting down toward the edge of the Central Valley. It was hot, as one would expect in June. About a hundred degrees hot, to be more specific. The road surface by the lake had been recently chip-sealed, making it bumpy and somewhat annoying. Ick.

All misery was forgotten at the next rest stop, as the volunteers had set up a shade tent with a large powerful fan and a mini snow-cone operation. It was pretty hot and it felt like I had just eaten lunch, so I skipped the actual food, drank an icy cold coke, had a small blue snow-cone, and headed on up the hill.

Climb climb climb climb. Chad disappeared up the hill ahead of me. Drink drink drink. Hot hot hot hot. Where'd that nice forest go? Good thing I used to live in Phoenix, this doesn't seem THAT bad. Drink. Climb climb, hot hot. Not brutal, but hot. Hot hot. Drink drink. Tummy full of water. Glug glug slosh slosh.

Eventually made it up to the next rest stop, stumbled into the shade, looked at volunteers who appeared to be wearing kilts and jaunty Scottish hats, decided I must be imagining things due to heat. Poured water on head. Rubbed ice on limbs. Nice volunteers still wearing kilts. Hmmm. Drink drink drink. Gatorade now seems too thick to drink. Water water water. Eat a few grapes, cookies seem too hard to masticate.

Tummy full. Glug glug glug. Keep drinking. Up up climb climb. Strong Chad disappeared up the hill again. Really pretty forest reappears, with interesting looking rock formations off to the left. Note to self: go hike Bald Rock sometime. It looks neat. Not many riders around me, but those I do see seem to be suffering. Climb climb. Slow.

'nother rest stop, refill water, can't eat, pour water on head again. Climb climb glug slosh. Now passing people that passed me on the first climb in the morning. Tummy tummy drink slosh. Hot hot. Climb, climb, gotta be more downhill than up at this point, right? Repeat that hopeful thought to others suffering around me. Get weird looks in response. Note SAG vehicles going by now have bikes on the back. Poor suffering cyclists needing to be peeled off of the oven pavement. Climb climb. Where is that darned rest stop? And shouldn't this grade be easing up soon if the ride is 200 km? Revel in the knowledge that the last 20 miles are downhill and I must've already done about 90 miles. Climb climb hot hot.

Silly other rider riding on wrong side of road, claims there is more shade there. Silly rider, there is no shade. Only sun. Big bright hot hot sun. Drink drink. Glug. No I will not ride over there with you silly rider, no matter what you say. Hot hot hot climb climb. Tummy tummy tummy slosh.

Other rider on wrong side now walking, claims forward progress is good. I'm stronger than you silly rider. Augh augh arrrrrrgh! Small patch of shade has tractor beam. Bike has stopped of its own volition! Sloshing queasy carcass has sat down! On the side of the road not at a rest stop! Food desperately needed!

Have food with me, but can't eat. Uh oh. Full blood sugar drop bonk augh. Need food but too queasy from sloshing water. Silly walking rider on wrong side of road has disappeared up the hill. Uh oh. Sip water. tummy slosh sick slosh. Choke down half a nut/fruit/seed bar. See guy in yellow shirt who I passed earlier coming. See SAG truck. Better get back on the bike. Slosh slosh queasy slosh pedal pedal hot. Pedal.... pedal.... pedal.... pass guy in yellow shirt, exchange suffering sympathy. Climb climb climb. Where is that rest stop??????? Need rest stop to sit and eat. Climb climb climb. Yellow shirt guy passes me. Almost catch back up. Pass wrong-side-of-the road cyclist.

Rest Stop sign. Would say "Woo-hoo!" but need food too badly. Still feel queasy. See Chad at rest stop. Woo hoo. Splat in dirt with water bottle.
Food being offered, but can't eat.
Eat grape. Nope. Eat energy chew. Bleah. Queasy.
Nibble banana. Mmmm. Nibble again. Nibble nibble nibble nibble. Banana all gone.

Friendly volunteers point out that that section was thought to be the worst of it. Watch SAG vehicle pull in with cyclists retrieved and given a lift. Note that perhaps 50 cyclists expected through that rest stop total, some of whom got a ride for part of it. More got lifts over parts of the next section.
Don't feel quite human, but do feel somewhat better. Get back on bike. Request Chad keep an eye on me for a few miles just in case.

After all that time waiting for me to recover, Chad flatted just a few minutes past that rest stop -- a sharp fragment of that evil chip seal down by the lake had worked its way into his tire. I stopped and ate a little bit while he changed the tube. Oohh--no longer queasy. Woo-hoo!! The SAG vehicle stopped to see if we were all right; Chad took advantage of this to borrow their floor pump to finish filling his tire, and we were off rolling again. Perhaps not as vigorously as earlier in the day, but making good progress.

We passed the 180 km sign. At this point, I realized the ride must be longer than the advertised 200 km; Chad, having looked a little more closely at the map, confirmed my suspicion. Argh. Half the reason the earlier climbing seemed so relentlessly long was that it was relentlessly longer than I had mentally allocated for. Another rest stop, a few more rollers, fabulous views and nice cool breezes coming off the snow patches on the side of the road, and then


down the hill. And I do mean zoom -- there was quite a long section of fun, not-too-technical descent. Chad was grinning when I caught up to him at the bottom of that section. Somewhere in there, we passed the 190 km sign.

There was no 200 km sign. Perhaps they didn't want to rub in the demoralizing fact that the "last 10 km" was actually 20 miles. At any rate, I tucked into Chad's draft, and he was nice enough to make sure I didn't drop on the last flat section into town.

All told, 137 miles with a bit over 13,000 feet of climbing. Wouldn't even have been that bad if I had eaten properly -- but then again, if I hadn't made that error, I wouldn't have experienced the requisite amount of suffering :) I actually do think this route was tougher than the Markleeville Death Ride (that being the previous Ride of Most Suffering), just because of the relentless-seeming climb section from miles 75-110.

After getting home, I made a better ride profile using the tools over at MapMyRide.

Not only does it show useful grade information, but it is easier to note some critical things:
1. The descent off the first big hill has a lot of little rollers -- not really a resting descent.
2. There's a smaller, but still significant lump about halfway through.
3. You drop to a significantly lower elevation in the middle, meaning that the second large hill is larger than the first.
4. The ride is 137 miles rather than 200 km (though I should have picked that up from the route info on the web site had I looked carefully enough).

None of these are bad things -- it's just useful to have a clear picture of the ride for proper pacing and feeding from the beginning!

We're now back home and recovered (aside from my left hand, which is sore from being leaned on too much) Already plotting and scheming the next adventure...

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