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2005 - HHH 24th Anniversary and My 11th Time!

For fear of developing a major case of writer's block, I find myself avoiding reading and reliving stories of previous years to avoid confusing my perception of this year's ride.  While many parallels exist from riding the event 11 times over the past 13 years, the HHH can only be described as being a distinctly different experience each time.  Putting down the story the day following the event while the physical stresses and strains along with the emotional high are still in abundance is a first!

The allure of the HHH must be contagious to more than myself evident by the sheer numbers that attend one of the largest rides in the world.  Participation has increased by ~1,000 riders each year for two years running with this year's total reported as 9,962!  Despite its name, it is not always 'Hot' with variable weather and many individual's complete the event before noon which is a huge factor.  Finishing in the morning before noon and attaining one of your fastest century times ever is not only possible but common due to the many pace-lines that pull you along over the mostly flat to lightly rolling terrain.  The biggest challenge is mainly the weather whether it be heat or wind.  Having experienced starting temperatures ranging from 68-84 degrees, this year's start at 80 degrees was a bit on the warm side with the potential to be a real cooker.  Enough digress......


Photo Jeffrey Haderthauer/Times Record News

Arriving early is highly exceptional for this team (those of you that know us are no doubt nodding your heads right now!) but 15 minutes early?  Wow! ...unheard of.  Being fashionably late is more or less a trademark of ours but....  sometimes things happen.  The chosen breakfast of champions, namely KrispyKreme donuts, must have been to blame!  Rolling up to the start line we were greeted by various tandem acquaintances ranging from tandem customers to wonderful folks we have met at rallies and for once we were not short on time nor looking at the last minute for the elusive porta-potty.  Two triplets were immediately spotted near the front row (our favorite starting place) with one having a trailer bike in tow.

On the way to the start, Julie's comment was "Iíll do the best I can, but please donít kill me, okay?"  Knowing she had not been feeling well I assured her we would just take it as it comes, hide often, stay out of the wind and just ride smart.  Hence playing it by ear was our only goal and ambition this year given last year's results would be hard to repeat with Julie emphasizing she would not be able to put forth an effort like last year.  She verbally expressed concerns by recalling other starts where the tandems raced out of the gate at over 30 mph for many miles and how bad it felt when she was feeling good.  My assurance to her was that every year is different, not all starts were super fast and that we would just take it as it comes.

The racers were given the signal to go before 7 AM as the sunlight was gradually beginning to prevail.  We started off only 4 minutes behind the last wave at 7:05.  Leading the way down the starting stretch we geared down for an easy climb up the overpass hoping everyone would literally follow our lead and not open the proverbial gap right from the get-go.  We were passed by two tandems just before the top but restrained ourselves and let our bike work for us.  The momentum and gentle acceleration down the other side gradually reeled us back up to the leaders at which time I said 'okay' through the intercom to Julie as a signal that we were back on and to take it easy.  Knowing the importance of being able to rest a bit more during times when we were in a good draft without a headwind I would ask here to ease up.

The start this year revealed that hundreds of riders had skipped the official start and were already on the road causing a plethora of conflict and potential danger given we were running double the speed of many road hogging packs.

A quick glance in the mirror showed a huge pace line behind us as far as my vantage point would permit.  We elected to stay in the top 5-7 places which worked well at keeping us out of trouble plus giving us the margin needed to work our way out of the line and into the opposing lane when things looked a bit too dicey for comfort due to the huge speed differential of those being passed.  Several singles were mixed in with us this year, immediately, which was odd.  Usually the tandems dominate but the 'unofficial' random placed starts resulted in people being all over the early part of the course well ahead of time. 

The mind does play tricks as the first turn seemed to have been mentally displaced this year evident by our flawed recollection as to the distance of some of the turns and other landmarks.


Photo Gary Lawson/Time Record News

We positioned ourselves well as we negotiated the first turn ahead of the ever increasing size of the draft line, one of the problems with a slower than normal start.  We accelerated immediately after the turn over the relatively smooth railroad tracks with a reminder to hold on to the rear handlebar mounted water bottle.  We increased our speed as two or three singles passed, swept a hard fast right hander and watched the scramble of those trying to get back on.  Having been caught in the pack other years we knew the effort put forth by those that were able to bridge back up as our speed crept past 30 mph.

Various tandems would make their appearance up in the front to drift back at times.  Many teams were truly fit looking and certainly worrisome given the fine equipment complete in many cases with Shimano Sweet 16 or Rolf Wheels.  One particular team and their tandem we recognized from pervious years as they are very strong and seem to always be in the lead group close to the finish line. These guys are fast and have the equipment to help as well.  Needless to say we kept an eye on them!

A huge line of singles came roaring by, stretching as far as my vantage point permitted.  It was tough to sneak out of our line and mix in but we managed to do so without incident rather than the alternative of getting caught in the back with the resultant whipsaw effect that sucks so much energy from the body for little gain.  And there is the danger of having to work our way back through the field, not a good position to be in.  Our average speed up to this point was rather mediocre this year, probably more so than any other year but it was climbing now and rapidly!  As usual, the lead group picks up some early birds that jump in for a short time, blow up in short order, and cause gaps to form hence fighting to stay in front was more important now than ever.  The single bike accelerations are harder to match than those of tandems so we were grateful anytime we had the wheel of a long bike in front of us.

One notable place was passed some 35 miles into the ride where I had to stop and take a 'nature break' last year causing an extreme 3 mile do or die effort to get back to the pack.  Not a good thing but going into a 100 mile non stop event being a bit dehydrated can have its benefits.  

We flew through the first feed zone without picking up what appeared to be an abundance of bottled water left over from the racers on this overcast morning.  We were at maximum capacity with my four water bottles (two on the frame, one on the handlebar and one in my rear pocket) and with Julie's three water bottles and her full size Camelback.  Usually the weather is so hot that we opt to grab a cold one from a friendly out stretched arm and pitch one we have carried that has gotten hot.

Turning east toward the notable 100K point, synonymous with the town of Burkburnett, we found our speed running over 30 mph consistently for several miles.  I whispered to Julie through the intercom that the home stretch this year would not be fun with such a strong wind.  The predicted mid morning rain skirted our course for the most part but we did ride through a teaser hard sprinkle that dampened the roads and added a bit of refreshing coolness as we faced fair weather skies ahead.

Feeling the need to do our share, or at least part of our share, we would take a turn now and then pulling but did not go at it hard but did so for fairly long stretches.  The second feed zone was coming up and it was cleared with Julie that no water was needed.  Going into this hill is not a good thing at the back of a pack whereby experience caused us to accelerate to the front and pull up the hill passing all the friendly smiling faces holding out cold water for any thirsty souls!


Photo Jason Palmer/Times Record News

By the 100K point we had shelled off most of the entire long line with only one tandem remaining and 12 single bikes.  Wow... where did they all go we asked ourselves?  Our minds were starting to realize that we stood a chance at being the first placed tandem again, unbelievable  given a not up to par stoker!  We noticed the other tandem lagging behind a bit on accelerations and on  some of the shorter climbs when caught behind the singles.  We teasingly tested this seemingly point of weakness by going around them quite strongly and going back to the leaders only to find them locked to our rear wheel eventually causing me to ponder the possibility that they were toying with us in an effort to wear us down by having us bridge back repeatedly.  I communicated this to Julie after one particularly strong acceleration to unexpectedly find them right there with us.

Yet another gap formed.  We accelerated hard closing it down despite the increasing feeling of fatigue which was getting to be a worry with more than 30 miles yet to go.  The other tandem lagged this time but caught on after about half a mile towing up a few remaining singles.  Now we were 90% certain that another well placed and timed effort might do it and it came quickly.

Going into a previously known fast stretch, we went up front and cranked it up putting in a good effort which resulted in singles rolling by saying "nice pull" after we relinquished our turn.  It was a good but paced effort and certainly short of the muscle destructive all out ones.  A considerably larger than expected gap had formed given this would normally be a tough place to drop folks with it being flat, fast and having a bit of tailwind.  Two singles were also in limbo land with the tandem.   Not really believing it was true we both kept a watchful eye expecting them to be right back any time.  Knowing we had succeeded in getting away with the now remaining 6 singles, we kept the pressure on knowing we might pay for it later but it was insurance for the tandem placing.  A nice rolling light downhill came along causing us to get out front and roll it out to 37 mph.  The other tandem was no longer in view.

Julie asked how many miles we had remaining.  Scanning the Flight Deck I related less than an hour and less than 25 miles.  She let me know she was dumping most of two bottles of water saying, "That should lighten this thing up!"

We backed off and really made an effort to ride smart as the efforts and time on the bike were telling on us.  Gaps were now continually forming with the remaining singles and hard accelerations were needed to bring back the leader.  We were also beginning to hear grumblings from some about the need to stop at a sag.  Good for us we thought... the fewer to worry about the better!  

About this time increments of songs kept playing over and over in my head including.   "Mellow Yellow.... that's right.... Mellow Yellow.... that's right."  It didn't stop there as the mental record tracked would jump to Queen's, "We will we will rock you!"

We found ourselves on the dreaded uphill stretch that runs for miles that so often has a strong headwind.  This is the do or die stretch where we have been dumped off more than once.  We have seen complete packs disintegrate to where no one was riding together from this point on.  Strangely our earlier south wind seemed to have died down or perhaps switched as we were able to maintain our speed better than other years.

The right turn onto the main highway that takes us back to Wichita Falls was confusing given one arrow was for a right turn, the next only feet away pointed straight and the final one went right!  For some reason there was no one actually on the course pointing the way like all of the previous intersections.  Making this right turn is always a relief knowing we are basically on the home stretch, the light climbing is over but generally there is a good deal of wind to contend with.  It was a relief to discover that the wind was fairly light this year and certainly less than expected.  

The single bike riders paid us some nice compliments about how well we were doing on the tandem, something that always makes you feel better!  We were sinking at this point though as the pain of being on the bike nearly four hours was increasing.  There were little opportunities to coast, stretch and relax and when we did the expected relief was nor forthcoming.  At this point pedaling out of the saddle was just too painful resultant of fatigue hence it had to be avoided.

The town of Dean is Julie's personal landmark for knowing we are close to the end since there are only 15-18 miles to go.  With only three singles left we paced ourselves towards the finish but managed to get gapped by two of the stronger riders when we were on the wrong wheel.  Time for the captain to pay more attention I scolded myself!  Another rider had pulled so much early in the ride that he was starting to really suffer and drop off at times.  We had been gapped and  I encouraged him to get on our wheel and we would bring back the leaders after we made it over the rise and started on the slight downgrade using gravity and the tandem advantage.  I recall thinking that it would not be hard to bring them back on this downhill run.  I felt reassured as our speed climbed over the 30 mph but the two singles must have sensed the gap and despite our efforts we did not catch them for a half a mile and that was at the bottom of the long hill!  Timing is everything!

We made the familiar remaining turns keeping a watchful eye out for traffic, pedestrians and other interference more common to this area.  A group of folks were shouting out 'free beer' knowing that these early stage riders were intent on reaching the finish line and would not have any takers.  This stretch is particularly mentally tough knowing you are so close to the end and everything in your body is hurting by now.  The mind is really wishing it to be over and not wanting to concentrate on strategy nor the increasing pain that comes with the increasing speed.

The overpass was in sight which is the last rise in the road and also the notable place of our 2002 crash described in the 2004 story.  But.... there was something new.  A flagman warning riders of the obstacle and dangers of a row of barrels placed in the middle of the road with the first one having the usual steel pole with a sign on it!  FINALLY... I thought!  I had written Roby Christie, the director of HHH, some 3 years previous expressing concerns of what we perceived and experienced as the most dangerous element on the entire course but never received a response nor any change on the course... until now!  In 2004 we saw two riders narrowly escape a similar accident to ours making me wonder what it was going to take for the HHH organizers to learn.  Earlier this year a customer called who described himself as a personal friend of the director of HHH and he spoke very highly of him.  He assured me that Roby would want to know about the problem and asked me to again contact him.  I recall relating to him that the lack of response to such a safety issue was surprising.  He assured me he would pass on the information as safety was always a concern of the organizers.  Whether this contact resulted in the needed and welcome change or whether others were hurt before it happened remains unknown but the problem was fixed for this years event... thankfully!  

A rider wearing light blue and orange was identified by me as one to watch when it came time to open it up for the sprint.  I relayed this info to Julie before going into the first of three crit type rough 90 degree turns on the old concrete in the downtown area.  I also related that the third single that had pulled so much would likely be out of contention in short order and not to really worry about him and I didn't until he cut us off on the first turn causing us to change our line and lose speed!

We had a short block run to the next turn.  We accelerated hard, cleared the single and dove through the turn as he exclaimed something about a tandem negotiating it at such speed.  I guess maybe tandems are not supposed to carve turns that fast!  We went after the other two when suddenly the lead rider hooked left onto a side street with the other single following.  Like an idiot I did the same as did the third single behind us!  What the Hell I said!  Apparently he turned because he saw barrels but they were to keep cars off of the course!  The last single called out and verified it was a wrong turn!  We made a fast U, came out on the home stretch first and started riding towards the finish in earnest.  Watching our mirrors closely we saw them group up and start charging towards us.  I called out to Julie asking for the all out effort we had avoided all day by saying "Let's go!"  

We put our best effort in towards a sprint with our very fatigued bodies peaking out near 30mph with a headwind.  We reached the crowd and finish area with one rider nearly catching us... but it was too late given the stretch was not quite long enough!  He passed us as we were sitting up and braking!  

                              

We rode by the grandstand and the announcers were hollering out that 100K riders were coming in!  As we stopped the volunteers were trying to hand us our commemorative completion HHH pins.  I started to clip back in and Julie asked, "What about our pins?"  I responded "We can get those anytime.  We have something to fix first!"  

We rode back over to the grandstand and informed them that we were the first of the 100 mile riders, not 100K while Julie signaled number one with her index finger!

Never in our wildest dreams did we anticipate being competitive to the point where we stood a chance of being the first bike in of the 9,962 official starters, singles and tandems included, at least not the way the day started.

Amazingly our time was identical to last year at 4:10 for the 101 miles with a 24.3 mph average.

Just when you think it can't get any better.... ....the unofficial race!

Next year will be the 25th Anniversary of the Hotter'n Hell Hundred.  Perhaps you should go.?.?

 

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