Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Hotter N' Hell Hundred Mile Bike Ride: My First Century

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The Hotter N' Hell Hundred: A Texas Tradition of Suffering


Sunday Morning Crit Race.


It's 2 o' clock in the afternoon. The sun beams down on my skin, attempting to sizzle in a sunburn through my mesh gloves and every exposed section on my body. Around me there is carnage; riders strewn across the road, some convulsing with heat strokes, some leaning against their bikes, staring with steely eyed, glazed expressions out into the nothingness of the prairie land. Some rider's bikes have broken down and ill equipped riders stand perplexed not knowing how they are going to change their flat tire. As I ride along past these mangled and distressed characters, I know there is little that I can do to help them; I have my own plight to contend with. I have another 18 miles to go, however between me and the finish line is a constant 20 mile an hour headwind to contend with. 

I couldn't figure out which was hotter, the wind which was blowing in my face or the sun burning me from above. The wind covered me with a fine coating of red dust from the famous red river on the Texas-Oklahoma border. My legs are on auto pilot at this point, turning the lowest gears of my bike in order to keep spinning. I could barely move the bike over 12 miles an hour for the rest of the way. "I have to keep going, I have to survive this" I kept telling myself. As I struggled for survival, in the sense of making it within the cutoff time of eight hours and literally my own physical survival, I kept asking myself "How did anyone talk me into this?"

After the Collin Classic, I was almost sure that I wouldn't be doing another big ride for the rest of the year. I was making friends outside the sport and becoming interested in other types of physical activities. I was playing pickup soccer games on the weekends, working out at the gym, losing weight, feeling good.



Meet my friend Levi. Yes, he's the one posing awkwardly with the horse statue. Levi and I have been riding on and off for a couple of years now. We had been toying around with the idea of doing the Hotter N' Hell for the past year, but neither of us had committed until about a month before the ride. 

Having had my first Sunday morning off in a really long time I met Levi and another friend Carlos for a few laps around White Rock Lake in Dallas. That's when the idea finally materialized. I told Levi that I would ride the Hotter N' Hell and train for the next three weeks before the ride to get my miles and my endurance up. By the day of the event we were averaging 18.5 miles an hour on every ride, and riding over 30 miles at a time. This is the absolute fittest on a bike that I have ever been. I have been lighter as a rider in the past but never this fast. Even at this level of fitness and training nothing could prepare me for what lied ahead. 

We rented a RV camper since by the time everybody decided that they were in all the hotels in Wichita Falls had been booked. I managed to talk another friend, Raymond, into doing the ride with us. Raymond organized the RV rental and put the cash upfront to get us to Wichita Falls. At 44 years old, Raymond is a beast on the bicycle. He finished the ride in a little under 6 hours, with time to spare to take a shower, come back to the finish line and wait another hour for me before I finally got there. 

From right to left: Raymond, Levi, myself and Carlos

The RV Camper we rented!

Here we go!

Being the youngest one there, I was the brattiest one in the group and therefore the butt of everybody's jokes for the weekend. On Friday night before the race, I had so much pre-race anxiety (and caffeine) that I didn't sleep at all. I kept everybody awake with my rolling around in bed. Finally, I got up at 4 in the morning and took a shower, double and triple checked my bike and gear, and started to get ready for the ride. Everybody was pissed that I had woken them up. "You crazy" was basically all I heard Levi say, for the rest of the weekend. 

We made it to the starting line early, and got some good spots in the scorcher section, although I had signed up for the Keeper category. Scorchers try to finish the ride between 5 and 6 hours, Keepers are 6 to 8 hours. 

Left to Right: Levi, Carlos and Raymond


I was the prankster on the group, on the far left.

This year I have had a love affair with my Woodrup bike. It survived the Collin Classic and a whole summer of training hard for the Hotter N' Hell. It has pretty much been my go to bike for long rides and hard efforts. Carlos calls my bike "La Poderosa" or the powerful one, conjugated in the feminine tense, so it's more like "My powerful girl" in Spanish. I'm going to stick with that from now on, and call my Woodrup La Poderosa. 

"La Poderosa"
The first 50 miles were literally a breeze, as in we had the breeze pushing us the whole way. I averaged 20 miles an hour, up and down rollers and easily keeping up with the rest of the guys. The 50 mile rest stop was awesome. They had hot dogs, baked cookies and free massages. It was like a siren's beckoning call, and I stayed for almost 30 minutes at this stop, way too long for my own good. Little did I know that all that stalling would catch up to me later. I would get caught in the blasting furnace of what this event is renowned for, being hotter than hell (or at least hotter than having your head stuck in an oven for 3 hours). 

At one of the earlier rest stops, hanging out with the Comic Con crew.

At the 50 mile rest stop. I don't think the chubby guy made it though.

At the second to last rest stop there was a long line to have our water bottles filled. One lone tree stood outside the service tent, where a couple of old dudes and some Nigerians were hanging out. I asked one of them how far we had left and if the route ever turned with the wind. "You don't have the ""butt"" to push against the wind", one of the old guys said, and no, he didn't say butt, he used the other word. One of the Nigerian guys told me that I couldn't bring my bike under the tree, as if it was his tree to make the rules. I'm guessing the heat had made everybody ornery, but the ridicule these guys gave me served as fuel to make it across that finish line. 

This story does have a happy ending. With everything I had, I pedaled myself, at least 15 pounds of gear including water bottles, my digital SLR camera (I was wearing a Camelbak) and my 1980's steel bike across the finish line in a time of 7 hours and 46 minutes. I didn't break any records, I had stopped at least five times for water and lunch, but I made it. Making it is such a big deal that you get a medal once you cross the finish line. For as many people who make the hundred miles, there are many who don't. Many end up riding the SAG wagon of shame, or worse, end up riding back in an ambulance or being air lifted by a helicopter. The 103 degree heat is real and so are the risks. I myself had heat exhaustion for the rest of the day, kept saying things that didn't make sense and ordered a chili fry appetizer with chili fries and mash potatoes for the main course of my dinner. Maybe I was subconsciously starved for carbs, I don't know. 



Will I do it again? Most definitely. The tradition of suffering must continue, even if it's only for a few more times. The next time I ride the Hotter N' Hell, I'll be better prepared. I might take the plunge and get a carbon fiber tri-bike if I ever put this event on my calendar again. That would be much to the displeasure of my wife, but I figure that 18.5 miles an hour average speed on a steel bike is the fastest I'm going to be able to take an 80's racing bike. It's no longer about the rider, I have reached my physical limitations. The bike and my gear need to help me go faster now. Steel bicycles are still the best. They are the most comfortable, most durable bikes someone can own. There is no way I'll get rid of my steelie. But if I'm "in it to win it" in this kind of event, I need a triathlon bike, plain and simple. They don't make those in steel, so I might as well get a carbon one. For now, crossing that finish line was it's own reward. Saying that I rode 100 miles in August is it's own story. Subscribe for more posts and adventures from a Bicycle's Point of View.