CORTE MADERA -- Paul Solon was sitting in the caf?on the ground floor of the Bay Club Marin recently, not far from his home, when he had a minor epiphany. Solon was explaining how he always works out on his bike for a little more than an hour because it allows him to break through a mental barrier, when he suddenly paused.
"I just now realized, anything that I do, I'm doing more than an hour," Solon said. "I just realized that. I mean, swimming, weightlifting, stretching, you name it. I always go a little bit more than an hour."
Solon is a cyclist of almost superhuman capacity who has excelled in many different events, but he is now hyper-focused on one goal: breaking the world record for distance ridden in an hour. The rest of his life is organized in support of that prize.
Solon, 59, clearly tends toward obsession, but he came late to cycling. He was 33, working as a lawyer and living in Santa Rosa, when he began to take it seriously. Solon had been a decorated football and basketball player in high school in New Mexico, but it didn't take him long to realize he'd never do either of them professionally. Later he dabbled in triathlons. Again, he was very good — but not good enough to win elite competitions.
Highly competitive by nature, Solon decided to focus on the strongest of his three triathlon legs: cycling. He entered a 552-mile race from Tucson to Flagstaff in Arizona, and won.
"Yes, it surprised me. The first race did," Solon said. "The Race Across America did not. Based almost exclusively on what happened in Arizona. I thought, 'Man, I'm a natural cyclist.' "
In the 1980s, Race Across America (also known as RAAM) might have been this nation's favorite cycling event. It was televised on "Wide World of Sports" and got better ratings than the Tour de France. Solon rode the race several times, and in 1989 he not only won but set a record of eight days, eight hours, 45 minutes that would last for three years — despite an excruciating neck injury that knocked him off the bike for nearly 24 hours.
Since then, Solon's life has been an epic two-wheeled travelogue, especially since he quit his job as assistant U.S. attorney 13 years ago to focus on cycling. "Year by year, I'm slowly going broke," he said.
Solon has set track records for 24 hours, 12 hours and 100 miles. In a three-month stretch in 2010, he established records riding across Europe (North Cape, Norway, to Palermo, Italy: 4,040 miles), the length of Italy (Brennero to Catania: 1,120 miles), around the island of Sicily (620 miles) and the breadth of Italy (Tyrrhenian Sea to Adriatic Sea: 185 miles).
Last fall, Solon rode from Mexico City to Washington, D.C., to Ottawa, Canada, in 18 days. He rested three days and rode back to Mexico City, outlasting a partially torn Achilles' tendon, a torn quadriceps and a case of dysentery.
Solon admits that his dream is to ride UCI-sanctioned stage races like the Tour de France, Giro d'Italia and Tour of California. Approaching 60, he realizes his chances of making an international team are receding. So he concentrates on extreme distance races and closed-track records.