March 11, 2006

If Only The Flying Monkeys...

Morning Workout
23 miles of the Solvang Century
Heart Rate Zone: Beats the hell out of me. I had so many layers of clothing on, my heart rate monitor couldn't even grasp the pulse of my heart. According to the monitor, I'm dead.

Random Comments: Solvang is a quaint little Danish town north of Santa Barbara. And when I say "quaint," I mean "hokey". But it's a neat place to visit once in awhile. And when I say "awhile," I mean "a decade". But seriously, we had a wonderful time, Cat and I. Mediocre hotel, mediocre meals and the ride... oh yes, the ride. It was a trip that will forever be etched in our memories. And when I say "etched in," I mean "haunting".

I rode the Solvang Century back in 2002. It was the third most miserable bike ride I've ever gone on in my life. The first most miserable bike ride took place on January 14th of this year. You can read about it in 60% Chance Of Rain. The second most miserable bike ride took place a month later, in February of this year, fully documented in The Charlie Brown Effect. When I did the Solvang Century in 2002, it was so cold that within the first half mile I lost complete feeling in all my extremities and didn't thaw out for the next four hours.

There are times when things go so horribly wrong, you reach limits of anger heretofor unknown to you. And there are times when you get so angry, you just have to laugh. That pretty much sums up todays Solvang Century - or at least the first 23 miles of the century, which is all we rode. I can say, without an ounce of doubt in my mind, this years Solvang experience was 4 miles short of being the absolute, positively, without a doubt most miserable ride of my life.

It started at the beautiful Hamlet Motel in downtown Solvang, only a few short blocks from the race start. At 6pm we arrived at our palace. The room was.... ummm... whats the word... not dusty.... not really dank... seedy is an overstatement... ghetto. Yeah, that's it. Ghetto. But ghetto in an endearing way. A very "you've really got to be in love with each other to appreciate this place" type of ghetto. We quickly settled in and after eating a fairly decent but definitely over-priced meal, got our bikes ready and snuggled up into bed for a good nights sleep before our big morning ride.

The 5:55am alarm got us out of bed and we proceeded right into our regular 35 minute preparation routine: tea, yogurt, oatmeal, bathroom activities, get dressed and be gone. Sure it was a bit of a challenge that our teapot had a three pronged plug and the room only had two-pronged outlets. But we finally figured out that the air conditioner was plugged into a three pronger. Sure it was a bit of a challenge when our teapot power cord wasn't long enough to go from the air conditioner outlet to the ground, leaving our teapot dangling in mid air. But we finally were able to move a luggage rack over to rest it on. Sure it was a bit of a challenge when we realized we didn't have any bowls or spoons to eat our breakfast. But Cat just drank her yogurt straight out of the container, drank her tea out of the mug, and then we used the same mug for our respective bowls of oatmeal, all the while shoveling the food into our mouths with a torn piece of plastic cup that we doubled as a spoon. You can call us McGyver if you want. That'd be OK.

Now it was time to get dressed. It was 30-odd degrees outside and supposed to rain. We hadn't ever ridden in 30-odd degrees and, frankly, didn't own the clothing to do so. So we decided to layer. Enough layers would surely keep us warm and dry. I piled on 5 layers and Cat did the same. If that's not enough, we shoved a few heating pads into our shoes, gloves and long sleeve jersey. We were determined to stay warm by all means necessary.

The first 10 miles of the ride were stunningly beautiful. The sun had just risen over the green mountains as we rode through central California wine country. By mile 12, we were sweating like pigs from all the layers of clothing and overheating heating pads so we stopped to unlayer a bit. That should've been our first omen. Five miles later it began to rain.

But a little rain has never stopped us before. Even though we saw other bikers turning back, we raised our noses at them and harumphed as we trudged on. These people can't stand a little rain?! Wuss. All of them, a bunch of wuss. That should've been our second omen.

It was about that time that the lightening blinded the sky a few miles from us, but a mere few seconds before the dramatic crashing of thunder. ka-BAMMMMMMMM!!!! We looked in the direction of the darkness. We had thought that darkness was the outline of the mountains in the distance. In a quick crash of thunder, we realized we were wrong. Those weren't mountains next to us - they were the shape of very large, ominously foreboding clouds. And they were getting closer. And we were headed right smack dab for the center of them. Maybe it'll pass before we get there, we thought. Omen number three.

It was about this time that the wind started picking up. And then it started getting really dark. Curiously dark. Forebodingly dark. You know how in horror movies, the heroine is walking through a dark old house down an empty hallway towards the one closet door and that ominously foreboding music is building in the background. And you know the killer is on the other side of that door because it's so damn obvious - what with the darkness, no escape and that damn music building in the background. This is just about the exact scene we found ourselves in the middle of. The wind got heavier, the sky got darker, there was only one way to ride and the crashing sounds of the thunder kept building in our ears. Somebody was going to get hurt real soon, and odds are it was going to be us. Omen number four.

It was about at this point that I felt like I was in the Wizard of Oz. I felt like we were just a few short minutes away from flying monkeys swooping down and snatching us right off this yellow brick road. But the things that came swooping down from the sky were no flying monkeys. It was hail. Big, sharp, hard-hitting, face piercing pieces of hail. I would've preferred flying monkeys. This hail was like little knives being thrown into our faces. It hurt. They were bouncing off our backs, off our helmets, and soaking into our completely drenched riding tights. We couldn't look up from our bikes to see what was in front of us - the storming hail made it hurt too much. So we had to keep our heads down and pray we didn't crash into anything or anyone.

It was at about this point that Catherine went crazy.

At first I thought she was crying. I didn't blame her - this was miserable. Then I realized she wasn't balling, she was laughing. Laughing hysterically. Quarter inch hail stones were slamming down on us, the road was a slick slip-n-slide, our bodies were wet and frozen and she was laughing. The more we rode, the harder she laughed.

My anger began to open up and a chuckle erupted from my body. That chuckle brought a laugh. And before I knew it, there we were, riding in misery and laughing our butts off.

But all good things must come to an end. Soon the hail stopped and so did the laughing. And then the temperature dropped. We had climbed a thousand feet and could already see the snow in the distant mountains. It was cold. It was freezing. Literally. And the fact that we were now completely wet, from head to toe, didn't make matters better. Our clothes neared freezing. Cat couldn't feel her fingers or toes. My legs had gone numb and my feet were following quickly. I can't do this, she said.

How many miles have we ridden, I asked her. Twenty-two, she said. Ok, I replied, there's a rest stop one mile down the road. Let's just make it there and then see what we should do.

One mile later we rolled into the rest stop and loaded up on food. But Cat was shaking violently. I can't do this, she said. I need to go back. I agreed. This was already ridiculous and quickly getting worse. There was more hail a few miles down the road, we were told, and it completely turned the road into a slick, iced-over carpet of white. And but a couple miles further, the snow began to pour down. Riders were turning back en masse.

This is absurd, I thought as I loaded the bikes onto the SAG vehicle. We have nothing to prove on this ride. Cat stood in the back of the SAG truck violently shivering. I gave her my gloves, my heating pads. I took off her wet shoes and socks only to see her feet, completely white and frozen. No blood was getting to her toes. Frostbite, hypothermia... these were the words that came to mind. Another man took off his waterproof pants and waterproof rain jacket and we draped those around Cat to try to get her warm. And we sat in the truck shivering and laughing, for that 20 mile drive back to Solvang.

Remind me never to do this ride again.