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HHH the 31st Running
(It's not about the bulls!)
I love the Hotter'n Hell 100 logo that heads many of our previous year's ride stories. With time of course comes change and an updated logo appeared this year.
The Endurance Rider's venue was seriously revamped with a new course and that in and of itself carried a premature wave of excitement and anticipation. Reminiscing caused a look-back at the 1997 story "Hotter'n Hell 100 in 4 Hrs! " where it was related that the last course change was way back in 1995.
2012 Route - Runs Clockwise
1995 - 2011 Route - Runs Clockwise
1994 -1993 Route and likely older too - The course ran counter clockwise in those days.
Anyway, on with the story. Hard to believe but this was the 18th time of once again going to Hell for me and Julie's 14th. And with that comes a bit of experience and less trepidation despite this year's purported unknowns. It is now so routine that the old Motorola Razor cell phone (remember those?), which refuses to die, continues to have the same 4:30AM alarm time in memory. We've also learned to no longer be bogged down with too much food and drink. Not that we don't need the fluids and nutrition but there has always been a problem in the consumption department while on the bike, in the heat, and with our labored breathing.
We grabbed breakfast at McDonalds and arrived at our yet to be revealed parking location some 15 minutes ahead of schedule. And this year one of us brainy-acts remembered to bring a flashlight. It's those little things that help to start the day right when in the pre-dawn darkness. Putting the tandem through the trunk and into the back seat of a car requires a bit of disassembly as one easily imagines. With the wheels, saddles and posts installed followed by the chains, we gave a quick check of having our other necessities on board, including a functioning taillight. We were good to go.
It looked like we were easily going to make the 7:06 tandem start and have at least 15 minutes to spare. What? Early? Way early? No way!! This never happens. We started the 2.3 mile ride to the start and intercepted the course about half way there. "Damn bandits." Here we go again, I thought. The growing problem of all the groupie bandits starting early and clogging the course in front of the tandems and the fast "scorchers" group obviously continues.
As soon as we turned onto the route, a high speed field of riders flew by in the dim light with a tandem sporting a time trial disc rear wheel pulling along the entire string. They had to be rocking and rolling at 30+ mph. We noted that the jerseys looked all the same and speculated that they were racers but then quickly squelched that idea since those guys were on a different course this year. "It is the pace group!" Moments later another larger field with matching light colored jerseys also flew by, but at an obviously slower speed. "There's the other pace group!" Now, a bit about these pace groups. For a mere $200 you get a jersey, hand-ups, a pace set to get you a 5 hour century (if you keep up), and a mister cooled VIP tent at the end. Maybe there's a beer in it for you too, but I'm not sure on that one. This group is limited to 80 people with them starting early at 6:45. I guess there is a seminar and some coaching available as well. It is a bit confusing but there is another 'pacers' group limited to 18. I'm not entirely sure but I'll bet that rocket fast tandem with 17 singles in tow was out to set whatever time they could on this day.
As we climbed the overpass hill, tandems and recumbents were coming towards us in small pace lines and waves. I'm thinking, "What is going on? Are these bandits?" Many more of the long bikes were going by now. We rode on toward the tandem start area to activate our timing chip and quickly verified that everyone had already left, some 18+ minutes early. "Nice." I'm thinking what a bunch of crap. A posted start time of 7:06 with no intent of adherence to their own schedule. It was disappointing to have driven all this way, arrived way earlier than any other year, and then to have this happen. So much of this ride for us is about getting started right and with the right people! It really sucks having to ride by yourselves and missing taking off with the fast tandems. Talk about having the wind taken out of your sails from the get go. We activated our timing chip at 6:51:39 by riding under the sensors, stopped and reset our computer, and started the ride.
We paced ourselves and settled into a 22.6 speed on the flat stretch to Iowa Park rarely hitting 21.9 or 23.4. We rolled by a tandem now and then, some recumbents too. And then some small pace line of tandems. I'm thinking, "There are a lot of tandems out here." And I verbalized to Julie that we have never started way behind to know how many were there or to know what else may be going on near the back. We passed increasing numbers of tandems, groups of tandems, and pace lines of tandems. Seeing such numbers was a bit inspiring. We paced along with no clue what lay ahead aside from the predicted slow moving bandits being in the way. On occasion we said "Hi!" to a familiar tandem couple as we passed.
The roads were way familiar thus far as the new course had yet to branch off. And when it did divert we were privy to some new more interesting scenery. A Cannondale tandem had sucked our wheel for many miles while ignoring my not so veiled riding language to come pull through. A few miles later Julie turned to them extending a direct invitation by waving them to come by. And that worked. "They look pretty young", she said. I'm thinking and said, "So?" "Well, they can pull us along then!" They were just that compared to this 107 year old team but seemingly rode well. They followed my lead and suggestion by working a continual counter clockwise rotation that worked best for the cross portion of the mostly south headwind. We reached rest stop #2 at 19 miles and they silently drifted back and pulled over.
We had adopted a recumbent by this time, or was it the other way around? And then team Bacchetta came along and we grabbed what little pull there was at times. So with 4 low slung recumbents making up our group, we plodded along passing the never ending line of early bandits. We went past rest stop 3 and enjoyed a cross tailwind for a short stretch. Now rest stop 4 was a somewhat busy place with people aimlessly walking into the road without looking. A few somewhat curt words to get someone's attention were offered from riders trying to get through, safely. It was very windy this year, more than recollection can draw out about other years. We had turned mostly north at mile 37 and ramped it up big time in the 56x11 with the down run and the strong tailwind. But the chip seal was the roughest I've experienced. It was a torture test for man and machine. And Julie even lost a water bottle, not a good thing on a Hot ride!
We caught a tandem team riding a Santana Beyond, that after several seconds seemed all too familiar. We had ridden with them at the Oklahoma Freewheel tour while on the quad with the girls only a number of weeks before. After briefly conversing and verifying that connection, they tromped over a hill well ahead of us. We just paced along, passed them on the next hill, never to be seen again.
At this point we are finally aiming towards Electra, a very familiar town from other years but the new route added many miles before getting there. Any tandems or groups of tandems we caught and passed were obviously cruising along faster at this point since we were over 2.25 hours into this thing now at 48 miles. "That looks like Mike and Elise!", I related through the Tandem-Com. And it was, our home town enthusiastic father and daughter tandem team. We rolled by saying, "It's time to stop loafing! Let's go!" They got in our draft and we were able to exchange info about what our respective mornings had been like. Our appearance was a total surprise to them given it was a last minute go-ahead with Julie's work this year. Later on Mike dubbed the rough stretch of road as "Bump-seal", and aptly so!
Where are the scorchers? The front group usually catches us at about 15 miles into this thing and has for years. Julie offered that they probably started at 7:06 or maybe even had to wait for a late running Air Force flyover. With that much of a time gap they would never catch on. It was not long before three aerobar tri guys came sailing upon us. We jumped on with Mike and Elise doing the smart thing by bidding us farewell. We got dropped on a rise that came in short order and rationally decided not to blow up just to stick with them with over 50 miles yet to go. We slowed looking for Mike and Elise but after not seeing them thought they were probably stopping at the upcoming town.
We turned north into Electra and enjoyed the crowds of cheering people lining the streets. And people were handing up cold bottled water! That was a very welcome sight and oh so refreshing, consoling too given the lost bottle a few miles back. Three more tri guys came by and what a monster wind we had now, at our backs. We jumped on with these guys with us wishing for a 60T ring as we cruised the next 6 miles between 34 and 39.9 mph! The tires were literally singing at this speed. We kept out of their way and rotation making room for them to come out and pass the slow people. It was really good to have a speedy draft. We made a fast hard right into the cross wind at mile 56 and knew that if we did not tactically time staying with them coming out of this turn and get back in their draft, that our ride with these guys would be over. Even rounding the corner at speed followed by accelerating hard coming out of it, we struggled against the wind to get to the left of them. We made it though but the draft seemed sketchy at best with this much wind. We stuck it out and turned right directly into the wind again at about 63 miles. I'm getting tired and hurting by this point. The first 2 hours of nearly no help and plodding along at a steady rate as compared to intermittent power and ability to rest and or coast briefly make all the difference, for me. Without a doubt I'm getting worn down and Julie's early ambitious "go out hard and early" tendency had vanished.
We must have been about 66 miles into this when the 100K route joined back with us. These riders had only gone 34 miles, so we were 32 miles ahead of them. The right lane was full of weaving 8-10 mph riders. It was dangerous with the fast tri guys picking through the left lane best they could well over 20 mph. And then another route joined in, the 50 mile merged, and at a sag too. Now these people have only done 27 miles compared to our 73, a difference of 46 miles! If you've done the math, the fast riders on the 100 are now riding with the slowest of the 100K and the slowest of the 50 miler.
Riders were coming to a stop as the walking lolly-gag traffic choked the road at the sag. We are not happy campers any more, about this new route, the added unnecessary dangers, and the terrible pavement experienced early. Julie reminded me it had been 10 years since we crashed.... Hmmmm.... Descriptive here in the 2004 story.... Hotter'n Hell 2004 - The 10th Time! AND 1st Tandem in!
At some point while on a rise, I announced, "We're done.", and let the tri guys go on. It was warming up now but still only in the upper 80's. With the wind and the way the start worked out I'm thinking how bad this could be if temps were up like last year.
We rode through Burkburnett with only 18 miles to go, the way the new course was playing out. It was a real struggle southbound on the outer road. We drafted 3 guys that worked their butts off plowing into the wind. It was tough to hang as these guys were up out of the saddle much of the time just to keep the pace at 16mph.
Next up was a turn at the 91 mile point that would take us into Sheppard Air Force Base, a treat for us given the century riders in the past were routed further east. We navigated the speed humps, viewed some planes on display, and rode through a group of 200 fly-boys cheering us on. We wondered how long they could keep that up and how many shifts they had to cover this really long strung out event.
I'm struggling at this point as the pain of just staying on the bike was building to being intolerable. But we were almost there with probably 6 miles to go... tough it out, me thinks. So we keep going, slowly. At this point I'm just letting singles roll on by. We cross the finish line where they take photos and hand out large medals tied to ribbons.
My initial attempts to get off of the bike were just that, attempts. It was now 11:44. We had ridden slower and without any heroic or extended efforts compared to past years, not to mention it was cool by comparison, but still I felt like crap. About the 4th attempt I managed to swing my leg over the bar, and mostly remained upright with a few hops and skips.
We hung out in our usual place on a lightly grassed knoll behind the band tent. It was way loud though even with the speakers facing the other way. I sat, and sat and sat. I leaned on another chair, for a while. Julie fetched Cokes and a protein drink for me. I tried pickle juice as some mild cramping tendency was there. Eventually I laid in the grass not being able to sit and nearly dozed off. The cold wet rags and breeze felt good. Some 2 hours later after reaching the knoll I literally made myself walk around. Getting moving was no small effort and I eventually scouted out food possibilities knowing I was in a large nutritional deficit.
On the way to the car hours later.
After finally eating and sharing a giant Shiner Bock we headed out to the car some 3 hours after finishing. Many riders were still coming in with the end no where in sight.
Our timing chip results........ They showed us coming in 25th place........
|Starting Line||Aug 25, 2012 6:51:39 AM|
|Starting Line||Aug 25, 2012 6:51:47 AM|
|100 Mile Checkpoint #1 (R3)||Aug 25, 2012 7:41:43 AM|
|100 Mile Checkpoint #2 (1739)||Aug 25, 2012 9:54:26 AM|
|Final Checkpoint (240)||Aug 25, 2012 11:03:56 AM|
|Finish Line||Aug 25, 2012 11:26:03 AM|
They showed our time at 4:34 while our computer recorded 4:50 and a 20mph average. Apparently when they started the 13,000+ singles the time for everyone was reset thus explaining the 16 minute difference. But that does not explain our early finish time of 11:26. I recall my watch showing 11:44. Much of this time issue is no doubt thanks to the guy that sent everyone out early. Others missed the start too including one of the recumbent rider's wife. As expressed, this element of the start was extremely disappointing after driving 500 miles to be there to get started with the other tandems.
There were no rabbits (the racers) to chase again as the sanctioned race route remained different, a change made last year.
What a year. It was a dismal experience joining in with the really slow 50 mile and 100K tail-end riders. Why they could not predict how crazy dangerous the speed discrepancy would be makes me scratch my head. And getting through some of those sags with people walking around that were blind to riders coming down the road, was another huge safety issue, yet they say the changes were made for "safety"?? Go figure. I'll bet they make some changes next year particularly after hearing about a large pileup that was at a sag. If not, I'll be surprised.
Other frustrations included but not limited to were, the wind was about as bad or worse than any other year and that combined with missing the start and the jumbles caused by the slow riders after the courses merged, did not allow for a reasonably fast time. The wind was so bad it was very hard to find a draft and going south into the wind from Burkburnett towards the airbase has always been tough anyway. But we were able to make a left and head east in fairly short order when on the old course.
While the air base with its speed humps, concrete seams and gaps was interesting to see, it is not on my list of things to keep on the course for the 100 mile riders.
It is always a relief to get through HHH, safely.
Every year is different and if there is a typical year, this is not really a fair representation.
Yeah, I'll be back. Duh!
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