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2008 - HHH Record Year
The increasing strength of the Hotter'n Hell Hundred magnetism allured a record setting 12,000 riders to the Wichita Falls 2008 event! A few more riders obviously continue to spread the word.
Time really flies! It is really hard to believe that Julie and I have now completed HHH 10 times on a tandem, with our first running in 1998. In 2006 we added a twist by taking the quad and riding with the girls when they were 8 and 6 years old. We titled that story, The Fourth Dimension! The only year we missed was 1999 since the logistics of being there were not possible with us in France doing Paris-Brest-Paris (PBP). 2008 was my 14th time of riding an event that has been challenging, rewarding and fun with this year being no exception.
Our 2007 experience was 'oookaaay' but disappointing in ways too which may be why the story was never written. One could say it sucked compared to other years but those earlier exceptional experiences are really hard to beat hence the descriptive falls short of being fair. We learned that complacency is one's insidious enemy and last year it raised its ugly head only 7 miles from the finish. We were off the front with one remaining tandem team when it was made obvious that it was our turn to take a pull. We tried but found ourselves off the bike in short order with severe leg cramps causing us to helplessly watch our impressive (16 year younger highly accomplished Cat IV captain / 11 year younger stoker respectively) tandem team rivals from El Paso, TX ride on to victory.
Our mileage was down some that year and although we had a couple of week long tours to our credit they did not offset a bit of weight gain nor missing a final prep long ride or two. Additionally we were on a much heavier aluminum bike compared to a 24 pound Magnesium Paketa, a bike that had taken us to two other HHH victories. Toss in a couple of silly novice mistakes leading to a nutritional and hydration deficit and we ended up literally parked on the shoulder with the hot sun beating down on us. Even so our long lead over the other tandems allowed us to be the 2nd one in, a bit satisfying at least.
The look on our faces in 2007 pretty well says it all.
Old dogs do learn new tricks as last year's 'live and learn' experience spawned a determination that motivated us to up our monthly butt time and to work in a couple of long prep rides too. The captain was feeling rather feathery light these days having shed some poundage causing scale numbers to appear that had been absent for exactly 30 years. No way you say! To prove it to myself and to see if those pounds shifted anywhere I did not want them to go, my old 1978 double breasted tailor made suit was retrieved from mothballs and well..... it fit! I should probably have 11 year old Courtney step in and be my ghost writer as she just walked by seeing the picture stopping and saying, "I can't believe you fit into that thing!" Julie on the other hand is much more disciplined at the dinner table. Now if I was only that way! Enough digress.
Despite it being my 14th time one never ceases to wonder how the day will unfold as each year is distinctively different.
It was dark when we left our secret parking location. As we worked our way to the official tandem starting lineup we saw multiple parking lots and side roads filled with riders itching to hit the road from the increasingly popular bandit start locations. We were running a tad behind and arrived just as the tandem mob headed right towards us. A well executed U-turn allowed us to blended right in and in short order had to be mindful of the bandit start hoards recklessly pulling out in front of the now fast moving and evolving pace lines.
Photo by Richard Cleaver
A speedy tandem group formed quickly but the pace was off compared to other more anaerobic years. We were thankful that we were afforded a good warm-up, something sorely needed after the previous day's long drive. Even so the pace seemed a bit dicey as hip cramps were forming, something that often plagues me following long auto drives. I relayed the concern to Julie that my hip may seize up, a problem in the past that has caused a degree of injury known to keep me off of the bike for several days. In fact this was a very big problem during my 1st HHH in 1993!
The weather was perfect and we enjoyed riding and trading pulls with the 8 or so tandems. One team was spotted that looked all too familiar. Memories of a HHH 1 year ago came flooding back, a time when we were forced to watch this team ride away as leg cramps had forced us to come to a complete stop. I related those memories to Julie and naturally we decided to keep a watchful eye on them.
I really had one spirited stoker on this day and no less than 21 times was the request passed back through the Intercom to "back off", "take it easy", and "save it for the end." It was really nice and comforting to have that much reserve power back there!
Since our tandem group pace was a bit off, the first wave of singles flew by when we were only 20 miles out causing us to chase and get into the action. Other tandems scrambled to join in but some were unable to bridge the gap while others were blown off in short order by the fast pace. A quick check of the computer revealed that our average speed was rapidly climbing as we were regularly running 25-28 mph. All the other tandem teams except one dropped before the 45 mile point and it's no wonder with the disorganized whiplashing accelerations. It wasn't long before we found ourselves trading pulls in the front with the other tandem team while the singles were way too content to sit in.
We worked well with the other tandem but were tiring with only one other team to help all while dragging 30+ singles. As we rotated with them for the umpteenth time, I remarked that somehow we needed to get the singles to share in doing some of the work too. They agreed. We were able to drift back 12 or 15 bikes by riding far over on the wrong side of the road. Occasionally an oncoming car would pull off on the shoulder allowing the fanned out pack to go by without too much interruption. After analyzing who was a squirrel versus not, we settled into a reasonably safe spot but found it challenging to keep in the crosswind draft and maintain our position.
A very few of the 12,000 riders!
Photo by Richard Cleaver
Finally we were able to relax for a bit aside from having to watch the occasional erratic movements of the pack. We had picked up more and more riders from passing early start bandits that had fresh legs from their earlier leisurely pace. A couple of singles went off the front but with short lived efforts as they were quickly drawn back within the folds of our peloton. Keeping Julie apprised of them sneaking slowly off of the front was easy and done so privately through the Intercom. In short order they made another leisurely and non threatening attempt that allowed a fairly sizeable gap to grow. Hmmm... very interesting 'me' thinks.
We had taken what advantage we could of the crosswind draft and had rested a bit. The other tandem had been drifting back on the right side of the pack at times too but was seen intermittently on the front. They drifted back all the way as well after spotting our position on the left side of the pack. Seeing the increasing gap of the two singles and the seemingly momentary complacency of the pack, I suggested to Julie that we should try something a little sneaky. We idled up the left side in the wrong lane (no center line rule in this pack!) and slowly pulled away from the group not wanting to appear threatening in any way. Our gap slowly widened over time as we watched our mirrors closely. We slowly increased our speed in an elusive way as the increasing distance permitted.
It was not long before our 300 yard gap was recognized as a threat. The guard in the front changed and the pace was now obviously coming up. We pushed the pace to match and to test the seriousness of their effort. We were closing in on the two singles when I said, "Let's push... but not all out, at least make them work for it." We put in a long hard 90% effort passing the singles who scrambled for our draft. Our gap widened and in short order the remaining competitive tandem was on the front towing all of the cling-ons.
We were really starting to feel the effects of the speed and push of maintaining 27 - 30 mph by ourselves. We would back off and recover some but never took our eyes off of our Mirrors. Asking the singles for help proved fruitless as they flat out told us they couldn't do it. The tandem had come to the front and was now charging at full gallop towards us and closing in fast. Their speed seemed nothing short of incredible leaving us wondering how long they could hold it. It was time......... "It's now or never! Let's go!" We pushed and we pushed hard knowing this was our chance to wear them down and take advantage of our gap and psychological vantage point. We recognized that we had to keep the pace high with hopes of getting out of their sight. We did not have much time though as were nearing Burkburnett about 60 miles into the ride. We flew over the RR tracks and through town with the locals cheering us on while continuing to drag the two singles. Passing the KOA near the interstate brought the frontage road into view where we would have a slight uphill and headwind, a very difficult stretch to hang when tired let alone stay away from a pack on a mission.
"Look at that huge group!", came through the Intercom. "Where?", I asked intent on the road in front of me and watching the chase group behind. "I think its the racers!" Sure enough, we were catching the Cat 4 group. We carved the slight hairpin turn as hard as we dared maintaining precious momentum as the wind hit us in the face. We were now on a mission to catch them for the draft benefit on this headwind stretch. It was hard, real hard but after a mile or two we bridged the distance despite our protesting legs.
Photo by Richard Cleaver
We were instructed by the race official to either pass the pack or stay behind the wheel cars so as to not interfere with their race. We had some time as the tandem and chasing singles had lost ground unable to match and maintain our earlier acceleration. Some of the racers chatted with us saying maybe we should go up front and stir things up a bit. It seemed pretty entertaining for them to have us catch them. One comment heard was, "Hey, we don't care if you are in here with us!"
The road had leveled out and we felt a bit recovered from our hard effort. Ramping it up a bit we worked past half of the pack when a rise would cause us to drift back. We did this see-saw effect several times getting further and further forward each time despite following the far left line sans any draft. After what seemed like 4 miles, we finally made it out the other side of the pack with the two singles (1 bandit early start and 1 regular start) still in tow. It was a relief to know that we had more than a psychological barrier between us and our nearest tandem competitor at this point and we wondered if they would even attempt to do what we had just accomplished. All in all we felt like we had a good buffer between us at this point.
The feed zone hill was coming up and we drifted to the right to grab some water. I missed the first but got the 2nd handing it off to Julie. Two or three racers decided it was an opportune time to jump the field and they shot past us before we were aware of what was going on. Their efforts were short lived as we soon passed them before being quickly swallowed up by the field. This same scenario played out about 3 times before we distanced ourselves leaving us wondering why a group of 3 off the front could not work together and match our speed.
We were now 70 miles into the ride and catching some dropped Cat 3 racers. "Come on! Jump on! We need all the help we can get!" The personal invitation worked as we eventually ended up with two on board and refreshingly enough they would help pull now and then giving us a very welcome reprieve. We expressed our heartfelt thanks too!
The painful stair step hills into the wind were soon approaching. They really aren't that bad but with muscle fatigue and the usual headwind they really take their toll and stronger riders often pull away. Thankfully the wind was behaving itself a bit this year and with concentrated effort we were able to maintain 17mph on the rises in our 56T large ring despite the 11-23 cassette. After 3 or so miles of wind and hills, the two racers and another single were unable to maintain our pace and dropped off leaving only the early start bandit, a rider that doesn't count since he must have been out there for 20 - 30 minutes riding his own pace before the start!
Julie's favorite point in the ride is the small town of Dean since she knows it is only about 10 miles to go. It is truly a turning point leaving the rough seal coat and headwind hills behind us. It is also a point when in short order the taller downtown Wichita Falls buildings come into view all while the affects of lactic acid accumulation and dehydration are really being felt. We were now riding SW into a direct headwind. After last year's cramp episode on this stretch we made conscious efforts throughout the ride to drink often, even when we did not feel like doing so. Reminders were passed back and forth to eat and drink, and to drink and eat. Julie would ask what I wanted and my tired reply was, "It doesn't matter. Whatever is easy to get to." The pressure was off and we continued to work well while being in the overall lead rider position for the past 5 miles and counting.
The course jogs by an old dilapidated looking repair garage where a friendly group tempts riders off of their bike by offering free beer. This has been going on for a few years now and as usual we were invited in as we rode by. We hollered, "We'll be back!" Our latch-on bandit single had reached his destination as the allure of a brew was too great to continue.
For the first time ever we found ourselves the lead riders with no one else around and miles from the finish. Our speed the last 15 miles of the ride had tapered down killing our average a bit as the incentive to push all out was absent.
We carved the final turns that would take us to the home stretch with Julie remarking about the roughness of the old concrete slabs and joints as our aching bodies amplified the micro traumas. We spotted the finish line and picked it up some but had no one to sprint against so pretty much faked it with big grins on our faces!
We picked up our official HHH finishing pins and a couple of spares for the girls before relaxing a bit and checking out the post ride party. A band was playing while kids and riders made use of the fire hydrant with the temperature now reaching the mid 90's.
Our tandem team rivals had met their match this year as all the planets lined up well for us this year.
The party atmosphere was really nice after such long ride which included beer and a variety of food venders. We replenished our stores with a turkey leg and polish sausage which seemed to be what was available without a long wait.
As with other years, we contemplated riding the 5 or so miles backwards on the course to the 'free beer' party garage and this year decided to actually go for it. We further justified it by saying that it would at least be a good loosen up ride after the days effort!
The free beer garage was one busy place with its popularity growing each year. Hoards of riders were going by at this later hour with temps now near 100 degrees. Several riders and other folks asked how our ride was going and as tired as some of them looked it was hard to tell them that we had finished 1.5 - 2 hours earlier. This unofficial stop now offers free food too. We chatted with the hosts, some local guys and gals that were having their own party too all while overseeing everything. They told us of how the 'free beer' unofficial stop started. Apparently it evolved by accident resultant of keg beer left over from some get-together and wanting to get rid of it they started offering it to passing HHH riders. They had so much fun doing so that the following year they planned their own keg party in the garage and invited everyone riding by to have a free beer. They had several takers with their registration records have grown to something like 1200 folks stopping. It has been going on long enough that it has become a tradition!!
A look at the race statistics proves to be interesting particularly when trying to attain a fast time. In the 100 mile USCF event there are 233 USCF racers listed with 184 completing the course.
The Pro, Cat 1 and Cat 2 group had 3 riders get away crossing the line 3 minutes and 15 seconds ahead of the field with the Flower Mound, TX winner having a time of 4:10.
The fastest Cat 3 time posted was 4:19 taken by an OKC member while the Dallas Cat 4 winner arrived in 4:33.
All total, only 49 Pro, Cat1 and Cat 2 racers of the 233 starters beat our 4:17 time. It was surprising that there weren't any Cat 3 or Cat 4 riders with lesser times.
Mark your calendar! 2009 HHH Saturday August 29th!! We'll be on the front row of the tandem start. See you there.
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