Friday, September 01, 2006

surviving the HHH

Well, I did it... I completed the 100-k of the Hotter'N Hell Hundred in Wichita Falls this past Saturday (August 26). I've been road biking for about a year, and this was the first organized ride I've participated in.

I had to leave the house early -- about 0325 -- and arrived in Wichita Falls around 0500. I had been worried about not being able to find a place to park, but there were still plenty of spots at the MPEC (Multi-Purpose Event Center). They filled up fast, though, so it's a good thing I arrived when I did. By 5:10 I was standing in the registration line for pre-registered riders... they opened at 5:30 and I picked up my number and t-shirt, and grabbed some breakfast (scrambled eggs, sausage, pancakes and orange juice). Everything seemed to be very well organized; the only problem was a lack of available restrooms. There were long lines at every restroom at the MPEC, and also at the ones that were open at the adjacent coliseum.

Around 6:30, I unloaded my bike and pumped up the tires. Somehow, I managed to break the valve on my front tire, so I had to replace that tube with one of the three spares I had brought. D'ohhh... changing a flat before the ride even started! Good thing to get it out of the way early, I guess... throughout the day, I counted dozens of riders with flats -- many of them in the first few miles of the ride.

Now that I had my tire changed, I proceeded to the start line ... well, as close as I could get to it which was about 6 or 7 blocks. They lined up everyone according to the distance they were riding -- 100 milers up front (with the "fast 100-milers" at the very front), then the 100k riders, then 50-mile, 25-mile, in-line skaters, etc. My group (100-k riders) was several blocks back. The cannon sounded at 07:05 signalling the start of the race, but it was about 07:45 before I even crossed the start line. We had to walk our bikes from our line-up point all the way to the start, and then another block or so past that before we could get on and ride. I was starting to get impatient... my strategy, if you could call it that, was to make good time early in the ride so that I'd have most of the miles behind me when it started to get hot and and when I started to get tired. Finally, at a quarter til 8, I was on the move...

a crowded start at Wichita Falls

The ride started out going west on Business Hwy 287 toward Iowa Park. The highway had two lanes on each side, and the riders took up all of both westbound lanes and then some. It was crazy, I've never seen anything like it... cyclists as far as the eye could see, ahead of me and behind me. Riders of every age and walk of life seemed to be participating... I saw senior citizens who must have been in their 80s and small children who probably weren't more than 5 or 6. Lots of people seemed to be participating in groups -- families of 4 or 5, bicycle clubs consisting of a dozen or more riders wearing matching jerseys, loose-knit groups of two or three friends. I saw road bikes, mountain bikes, BMX bikes, recumbents, tandems, everything you could possibly think of that runs under human power on two (or more) bicycle wheels. Every few hundred yards, someone was off in the grass changing a flat. Homeowners who lived along the highway sat in lawn chairs at the foot of their driveways, waving and cheering us on. Due to the size of the initial crowd, I couldn't ride as fast as I wanted... I was making about 16 mph and kept having to slow down for slower riders whenever I tried to go faster. Eventually, the crowd thinned out after the first rest stop, and after the 25-mile route diverged from the main course. Starting out, the weather was very nice for a ride... it was about 80 degrees with lots of low clouds. The high, however, was forecast to be over 100, and by the time I finished, it would be very deserving of the "Hotter'N Hell" name.

race fans near Iowa Park

After we passed the first rest stop at the 10-mile mark in Iowa Park, the route made a couple of jogs south and west, and then headed due west on FM-367 for close to 10 miles before we hit FM-2384 and headed north. The second rest area ("R2") was located at the junction of 367 and 2384. I had skipped the first one at Iowa Park. R2 was quite crowded but I joined the crowd and lined up for refreshments. Volunteers were handing out ice water and PowerAde styrofoam cups, but they also had pitchers so they could pour them right into riders' water bottles. They also had fresh fruit (sliced watermelon, oranges, bananas, etc).

The rest areas were pretty much the same throughout the ride. Volunteers stood under tents passing out fruit and drinks. Some of the rest areas later in the ride were handing out fresh-baked cookies, dill pickles (the salt helps prevent muscle cramps) and ice-cold, wet paper towels. Each stop had a first aid station, and provided cots for riders to sit or lie down for a few minutes. Some of the stops had bike mechanics on duty to attend to emergency road repairs.

Overall, the course was mostly flat with some rolling hills west of Iowa Park ... just a few short, moderate climbs. Scenery along most of the route was typical of west Texas -- mesquite and scrub brush, with hardly any shade anywhere.

I was stopped at R2 for maybe 10-15 minutes... I finished most of my PowerAde while walking back to my bike, so I had to go back and get a refill. After that, I was ready to get back on the road. FM-2384 headed north, crossing the BNSF Red River Valley Sub at Fowlkes, where an eastbound coal load was stopped. Then the 100-mile route diverged to the west toward Electra, while the 100-k route continued north across Hwy 287 to a junction with FM-1739. (the third rest area on the 100-k route was located here). This was some of the best riding on the route... the wind was behind me, it hadn't gotten too hot yet, and I was really flying. Two volunteers were stationed at the 25-mile mark, telling us "good job" and "keep it up".

approaching the railroad crossing at Fowlkes

An ambulance passed me between mile 25 and 30,

on the overpass above US 287

Typical Hotter'N Hell scenery between

mile 30 and 40 on the 100-K route

I had hoped to skip the third rest area and proceed to the fourth, but I was running low on fluids and decided to stop for refills. Then the course headed east on FM-1739 toward Burkburnett. By this time, the crowd had thinned out a little more, and gaps were beginning to develop... a couple of times, I looked behind me and saw a quarter-mile gap between me and the next closest riders. That is, until I passed a pack of slower riders, or someone faster caught up to me... I was still feeling good as we headed east... it was getting warmer but wasn't too bad yet. I stopped again at the fourth rest stop for more water and PowerAde, a couple of iced towels, and a pickle. I called K on my cell and informed her of my progress. Then I got back on the move as the route made a couple of turns north, east, and south toward and through the town of Burkburnett. By now, 45 miles into the ride, it was after 11 am. I was getting tired and it was HOT, especially when the route turned south into the wind. The route headed south on the I-44 frontage road, past a highway picnic area where several riders were sprawled out on picnic tables and under large trees. I continued on to the next rest area where I made a longer stop and sat down for about 10 minutes under one of the large tents.

rest stop south of Burkburnett

I was ready to get this thing over with... it was about 12 miles back to the finish line in Wichita Falls, so I pedaled on. As we entered the north side of Wichita Falls, the route diverged from I-44 and passed through Sheppard Air Force Base. The route twisted and turned through the base... at one point, we rode under the wing of a plane parked near one of the hangars. The interesting route helped to take my mind off how hot and tired I was. Then we continued south, exited the base, and ended up back in the downtown area of Wichita Falls where the ride had started. The finish line was set up in front of the coliseum, and a large crowd was on hand, along with a clock so you could see your time as you crossed the finish. I made it in 5:29:30. If I had been able to cross the start line when the clock began, my time would have been about 4:50. I was just happy to be finished.

Pedaling through Sheppard Air Force Base

This faired recumbent was one of the

more interesting bicycles on the course .

the finish line

Final impression -- overall, a very positive experience. It was cool to be part of such a large group with a common interest, all participating in a single activity. As far as being proud of my accomplishment, well, I guess it is pretty cool to be able to say I rode a hundred SOMETHING, even if it wasn't a hundred miles. 64 miles is no chump change, but I didn't feel like it took everything I had in me... I had just ridden 60 miles the Sunday before, and 50 miles the Sunday before that, under similar weather conditions, so I was pretty sure I'd be able to handle this. And I did. I don't know if I could have handled the full hundred miles this year. Probably not, considering I hadn't really trained toward that goal.

The big question: will I be able to handle a hundred miles next year?

It would definitely be more of a challenge. And a couple of things on that... one, I hear that "Hell's Gate" closed at 1130 this year... it's located at the 60-mile point on the 100-mile route and riders who don't reach it by a certain time are directed to a shorter route back to the finish so they don't get stranded on the hundred-mile course late in the afternoon. They finish the day with something like 74 miles. I think that just making it to Hell's Gate by the cutoff time would be a challenge in and of itself... usually it doesn't close until 1230, but due to the extreme heat in this year's race, it closed earlier.

Then there is the issue of practical jokers changing the signs around to intentionally direct riders away from the marked course. I read about that happening at this year's ride; a group of cyclists ended up 10 miles off course near Jolly or Henrietta. I'd be plenty pissed if that had happened to me!

I'd still like to attempt the "big hundred". But I have a whole year to work on it before it rolls around again. For now, I'll work on keeping my miles up, try to improve my speed, start some cross training (as K keeps telling me I need to do), and start working toward a hundred miles next spring and summer. And maybe I'lll be able to do it.

One last note concerning the pictures in this entry: no, I didn't lug my Canon EOS cameras and lenses with me during the entire ride... the photos you see posted here were taken with my new Fuji Finepix F-470, a pocket sized point & shoot digital that I purchased specifically with "portability" in mind... in other words, something I could stick in my pocket and take with me on bike rides. I've been pleased with it so far... at 6 megapixels, most of the images I've been getting have been plenty sharp. I'm sure you'll be seeing more from it soon.


nr: Jack Kerouac - On the Road

np: Fugazi - Repeater + 3 Songs


Blogger Chris Crook said...

Funny, I only discovered this blog a few days ago, but upon checking in today, the first thing I thought was 'he brought a camera on a 100 mile bike ride?'

Damn fine musical tastes, as well, as a short aside.

If you click on the 'railroad photography' link in your profile (as I did in mine) you come up with your blog, my blog, and a few others that don't post much. I clicked on yours and thought 'hmm, that profile photo looks familiar' and after reading for a little while, I figured out who Whiskey is. I won't reveal it to anyone, I promise, but I do enjoy your blog, and maybe if you don't mind, I will throw a link to yours in mine.

10:32 PM  

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