So this weekend I will be riding in Hotter ‘n Hell. The Hotter’N Hell Hundred is an annual bicycle ride in Wichita Falls, Texas. It is held each year on the 4th or 5th Saturday in August (always 9 days before Labor Day) and includes professional as well as amateur races and a rally. For the rally riders, there are road routes of 100 miles, 100K, 50 miles, 25 miles, and 10K. The race was first held in 1982 as part of the Wichita Falls Centennial Celebration, thus the description: one hundred miles (i.e., century) in one hundred degree Fahrenheit weather (the race is held in August, usually the hottest month of the year in Wichita Falls), to celebrate the city’s 100th anniversary. Approximately 10,000 to 12,000 riders participate each year, making the Hotter’N Hell Hundred the largest sanctioned century bicycle ride in the US.
Last year I rode in HHH as my first century ride. Jess and I got a hotel room in Wichita Falls about 1 mile from the starting line, so I was able to ride my bike right to the start. Some years Mother Nature is nice and temps for HHH are in the high-80’s or low-90’s – not last year. Last year we had record heat (it got up to 108 degrees). I figured that I would finish the ride in 6 hours, 6.5 if I took my time at the rest stops. I saw some of my buddies from Panther City Bicycles at the start and decided to ride out with them. Unfortunately, the start of the rally for HHH is crazy, with 10,000 plus riders trying to get up-to-speed. So I decided to hammer away on my own and try to break free of the masses. The first bad omen for the ride was at mile 15 where a group of very fast moving riders came by me on the left, weaving-in-and-out of much slower riders. When they got about 50 feet ahead of me someone touched wheels and about 30 guys went down HARD. I had to swerve off the road in order to avoid joining the pile-up. At that point I decided that I would ride solo the whole way, instead of jumping in a paceline and working with riders that I didn’t know (or trust).
I was making good time and got to Hell’s Gate in 3 hours. Hell’s Gate is at mile 60 and is the time cut-off point. Normally, if you don’t make it to Hell’s Gate by 12:30, they won’t let you finish the 100 miles and instead send you on an alternate route that totals ~78 miles (this is done for safety reasons depending on the heat). Last year it was so hot that they closed Hell’s Gate at 10:45 (it was already 104 degrees by that point).
I hit mile 80 in just over 4 hours. I was tired, and hot, but energized by the thought of finishing in under 6 hours. Suddenly around mile 88 we started to hit some fairly large, rolling hills. This was odd because everyone I talked to that had done HHH said it was totally flat for the last 30 miles. Some of the hills got so steep that people were getting off their biles and walking up. I hadn’t seen a rest area for 20 miles and was basically out of water. Finally I approaced a small rest area at mile 95. I decided not to stop and press on, heck, I’d be done in 5 miles and could drink and eat all I wanted to at that point. As I passed the rest area one of the workers yelled “20 miles to go”. 20 miles? It should be 5. So I turned around to find out what was going on. Long story short, some joker moved a bunch of the directional signs around, so myself and about 500 other riders that were out front had been sent 20 miles off course. We were basically in Oklahoma. But the worse part was this news from the rest area worker, “This isn’t a real rest area. We just threw this together when we found out where you guys were. We have no water or food here and there isn’t another rest area between here and the finish. We’ve called in SAG wagons to come take all of you back to the finish.”
There was no way that I was riding back into town in a SAG wagon. The workers tried to stop several of us from continuing for fear that we would get further lost, or heat stroke. Luckily the Joy, TX fire department came to our rescue and brought bottled water for those of us that wanted to continue. They also offered to hose us down with the firehose. Remember the joy you had running through your sprinkler as a kid, multiply that by 10, that’s how good the firehose felt. When it was all said and done, with the delays, with the event workers not letting us leave, etc. I finished in 7.5 hours and actually covered almost 120 miles. My first century ride had almost become my first 200K ride (for the metric-challenged, 200K is 125 miles).
I rode back to the hotel and dragged my dehydrated, tired carcass into the lobby. The first sight I see is Jess running towards me with tears in her eyes, “What happenend? You said 6 hours, and then all these people started coming in the lobby that had been in a crash, then I hear that they hospitalized a bunch of people for heat stroke, I thought something had happened to you.”
Well, I survived what many people said was one of the toughest HHH’s ever. I promised that I would come back the following year and do better. Little did I know at the time that I would be coming back to compete in the Cat 5 USCF 100K race. This is the biggest Cat 5 race in the country (field size is 100, which is huge for a Cat 5 race) and is also one of the longest at 62.5 miles (most Cat 5 road races are around 40 miles).
This year Jess and Grant will be there to cheer me on and for the first time ever Jess should see one of my finishes (every other event Jess has attended, she’s missed seeing my finish, normally by a matter of seconds). But the heat shouldn’t be a factor for me this year. I should be done racing by 9:45 (62.5 miles at about 22 mph), so the heat shouldn’t the same factor for me like it was last year when I finished around 2 p.m. @ 108 degrees.
This will probably be my last race as a Cat 5 since this race will give me enough to move up to Cat 4. So I’m going to do everything I can to place well, since it might be a while bef0re I see the podium again.
UPDATE – AUG 2008: Read about my evolution as a cyclist . . . here