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2010 - HHH - Another Record Year
In More Ways Than One!


What is it all about anyway?  The question has been asked by many, myself included and with increasing frequency of late.  With 16 HHH's under my chamois since 1993 and multiple goals met, it does make one ponder and reflect more than a bit.  Concerned non cyclists would likely sum it all up in a colorful non understanding way.  We missed riding it only 2 years since our 1993 initiation, 95 and 99, which were both PBP ultra marathon event years. 
Paris-Brest-Paris '95

Sue rode 3 of the early events prior to being blessed with our little ones.  Our riding buddy and friend Jay stoked in 97 and with the help of several tandem teams we managed to make up the 20 minute head start the racers had on us midway through and cranked out a near 4 hour century.  
Hotter'n Hell 100 in 4 Hrs!

Julie's first taste of Hell was in 98, the year prior to our 99 PBP completion.  
Paris-Brest-Paris '99

Much to her credit or insanity, she's returned to Hell every August since for the past 13 years aside from the 99 PBP year.

One would think that with our experience preparations would be like falling off a log.  Not so as each year we go through the same scenario of wondering how much we drank and carried the year before, what we had for breakfast, what time to set alarm clocks, etc.  Our collective memories and with her notes we usually figure out some semblance of how it all either fell together, or apart as in some years.  This year was no different but erring on the conservative side, 4:30 AM was the agreed time to start the day.

The evening prior we checked out the local McDonalds to make sure it would be open before the sun made itself known.  For some reason they were not able to make our breakfast burritos thus we made another choice.  So much for fast food given it took 15 minutes for them to plop the Egg McMuffins into the sack after which we hit the motorway to Wichita Falls.  

The 50 minute drive from Lawton to the HHH start region was thankfully uneventful.  We arrived at our secret yet to be revealed parking place, used now for many years, assembled the tandem in the dark while running through our respective mental check lists and keeping an eye on the watch.  Why didn't I pack a flashlight?  Oh well.

A stop at the quickie shop and we were good to go.

At 6:50AM it was time to make our way across town.  The tandem start was taken away last year but apparently brought back by popular demand, something we were very glad to see.  We were scheduled to start at 7:09 after the USA Cycling licensed racers had cleared the area and had a several minute lead.

Full zoom from our starting position, and with a mostly steady hand! ....just lacking on light.

Rolling up to the start we noticed a very large cycling 'team' dressed in white, obscuring a great deal of pavement.  We wondered what it was all about having not seen such a group before.  While visiting the porta-potty they were apparently given the go sign as they had disappeared.  

HHH Pace Group
Photo by HHH Photographer Richard Cleaver

A bit of after the fact research revealed that it is a "Pace Group" limited to 100 members that one can register and ride in for a mere $150.  The goal is to apparently ride a pace to achieve a 4:59 finish time.  For the $150 you apparently get to draft in a pack and, according to Athletes on Track you receive "Pro-level support. Elite-level coaching. Full support, including wheels and water. A custom jersey. And access to Pace Group merchandise, coaching, and preparation events."  ...end of website quote!

A spectator was kind enough to take our photo in front of a less than prosperous building.

We were unable to slither into the front line of the tandem group as in other years given a railing barrier was in place.  At 7:04 I glanced toward the tandems lined up on the bridge just behind us and saw them heading towards us, a full 5 minutes early!  "Here they come.  Get on the bike!"  Julie plugged in the intercom and slid up on the stoker saddle in record time.  Even so we were gapped hugely by 3 tandems and a couple of recumbents right off.

As we paced up the bridge and hearing her labored breath, I asked her to back off given we'll muster up some momentum on the downside and fall into a steady pursuit pace.  The request to go easy was the first of at least 12 made during the next hour!  We call her "Mighty Mouse" for a reason!  

Tandem Start
Photo by HHH Photographer Richard Cleaver

We maintained our momentum but 28 mph just wasn't enough.  Treading water just was not going to cut it hence we struggled, straight out of the chute, being forced into time trial mode with only a minimal warm up.  After 2.5 miles of chasing at 28.5 - 31 mph, it was a relief to feel the effects of the draft as our aching lungs and legs could now recover a bit.  We were to pay for this effort later.  As Julie said, "There are only so many matches to burn in a match book!", and we had used up a few.

Photo courtesy of HHH

The Bacchetta recumbents were helping drive the pace along with another low slung bike of unknown origin.  There were 2 other tandems in this fast line too, both Co-Motions, one orange and the other having a blue and red fade.  The team on the orange tandem looked very strong, they were very fast, and it was piloted by a very skilled captain obviously one with racing experience.  They appeared to be set to go the distance being loaded with bottles and a Camelbak. The team that we beat in 2008 that took our glory last year was nowhere to be seen.

A 10 year old map!  The 100 mile route is in Red

Our pace line had grown from 6 or 7 bikes to one of incredible length.  The bandit start folks had been piling on the entire time, unbeknownst to me given my concentration was on what was going on in the front.  I've said many times that the bandit starts have gotten worse each year.  This year was no exception to an increasing problem given the road was literally getting clogged with bikes.  In fact, it is totally out of control these days taking away any semblance of order and superceding certain aspects of planning done by the HHH folks.  I'm not sure what they have at their disposal to correct the problem since it is not with them, but it is with the 'bandits'.

Typical Bandit Start!
Photo by HHH Photographer Richard Cleaver


We made the familiar left turn over the railroad track at Iowa Park.  I was appalled to see an open 3" wide and 14" long gap running perpendicular to the tracks that one's wheel could easily fall into, ....and remain there..  Thankfully I saw it amidst the confusion of the disorganized pack negotiating a turn.  Granted I cut the turn and was on the wrong side of the road briefly before the track but still it was a problem needing attention.

We made the sweeping curves with our speed being curbed by single bike traffic when we heard "stopping, stopping" hollered out my multiple riders!  We came to an abrupt stand still with what looked like hundreds of riders filling the road from shoulder to shoulder.  Law enforcement had apparently blocked the road curbing the bandit's tactics.  Unfortunately the efforts were now interfering with all of the endurance riders.  The log jam created was not going to go away any time soon with a 14,000 hoard of riders piling into the area.  We finally started rolling at a very low speed.  There were many slow riders and the result was major traffic congestion.  I was more than a little disappointed and certainly disgruntled remarking that they had ruined it for everyone.  Some folks are riding the event in a competitive way such as our selves.  Others compete against themselves and their earlier documented times, an easy thing to do these days if you purchase the timing chip option for $5.  I said, "It's RAGBRAI in TX" as we picked our way through the mayhem.

Perhaps the HHH folks should consider announcing that law enforcement will pull all early start bandits over and release them only after the racers, tandems and recumbents and the fast endurance riders have cleared the area, and or when bicycle traffic volume declines to permit safe entry.  Doing so would send a clear no tolerance message to the bandits, and they would have a price to pay that would hopefully result in appropriate behavior modification.  After all, it did NOT use to be this way.

Sheppard Air Force Flyover
Photo by HHH Photographer Richard Cleaver

As we topped a rise hugging the left ditch, the sea of bikes was seen to stretch for a mile meaning it would take us probably an hour to work our way through and out the front.  The orange tandem was making good progress as did the one with the fade finish although they lagged on the hills.  We found an opening and were able to pass them but the progress made was short lived as singles would pull in front of us.  Any thoughts of attaining a personal best time this year had been dashed by an element never experienced during our previous years.

This stretch has some hills, not bad ones mind you but never the less they are taxing for a bit.  The mix of rider abilities amongst the bandits caused successive rolling log jams particularly on the hills with many attempting to pass simultaneously.  Riders would fan out shoulder to shoulder causing our speed to drop to as low as 4 mph.  And then we would get rolling again, at least for a little while still hugging the left line.  

We finally reached our next turn that afterwards would put the wind at our backs.  Traffic was thinning a fair amount but we had the official pace group team now in the way.  They were dropping some of their own members too so I'm not sure what the whole thing was about but can say they were effectively blocking the road and causing congestion.

Finally, after being 30 miles into the ride and having our high average speed swept away, we finally felt free to ride.  Some early bandits were still on the road with some in small groups but all was now manageable and safe.  Somewhere during this time the red and blue fade tandem had disappeared.  We passed a few early start tandems sprinkled in amongst the single bandits, many of which jumped on our line.

Somewhere on the course we saw the Devil!   ...Twice!

We turned north at Electra and enjoyed the fast tailwind stretch taking us to our turn that would aim us towards Burkburnett.  The volunteers at the sags were cheering us on being short on business given the racers did not stop and the hoard of riders was yet to come.  No worries for lack of business though as it would not be long and they would have their hands full.

We passed the first feed zone without taking on any water.  We had plenty on this cool morning and it would likely carry us through. 

The crosswind was tough necessitating riding to the left to seek shelter.  We got caught in the front for too long a pull as we had worked it pretty good intermittently during the tailwind stretches.  We worked our way to the back and realized there was a blue tandem in the line.  There was still no sign of the fade paint Co-Motion but the orange one would drive the pace now and then.

We were nearing the 50 mile point and noticed the orange tandem was lingering more towards the rear.  Somewhere before Burkburnett they disappeared.  The captain had remarked to Julie that it was getting hard.  The pace line was long and a bit disjointed as fatigue of being on the bike for over 50 miles was setting in.  The wind was slowing us, killing our average, and no organization was evident in the pack nor willingness of others to go up and pull.

Every year results in a different spectacle making it impossible to predict how it will go.  One's time is totally affected by the ability and willingness of groups to work together as a team.  It was just not going to happen on this day.  

We cleared Burkburnett which had fewer cheering and well-wishers as compared to years past.  As a side note, in 2008 we made a successful break about 10 miles before Burkburnett and were on our own, spotted the racers just east of the town and successfully chased them down.  Memories came flooding back and we shared bits of those between labored breaths.

We were to turn and parallel I-44 heading south into the wind, an area with a false flat, headwind, and rough seal coat.  This stretch taking us towards Hell's Gate does not last long but it takes the wind out of anyone on the edge and it is easy to get blown off the back.  

Hell's Gate!
Photo by HHH Photographer Richard Cleaver

We pushed towards the front to avoid getting gapped at the turn.  Sweeping it wide on the outside we maintained momentum and picked up some positions.  We kept in contact with whom we could as the pack accelerated.  Someone remarked that the racers were ahead and that some guys in green were hell bent on catching them, the reasons for the accelerations now having been explained.

Crossing under the interstate and working our way east once again is always a relief.  The racers were in sight now along with some splintering in the front where the guys in green were making last ditch efforts to latch onto them.  We had maintained our momentum and rolled toward the front and spotted another tandem, the blue one seen earlier.  We rolled by in light pursuit mode reeling in the remaining 1 or 2 green jersey guys and the racer group.

We received compliments from a few of the racers including, "We are always glad to see you guys!"  As we caught them, the same motorcycle referee we had coach us through the racer field in 2008, said "put the hammer down and pass them!"  He obviously enjoys the heck out of these events and wants everyone else too.

Putting the hammer down and passing a group of racers is no small task!  We were near the red line as it was and 65 miles into this thing.  The feed zone hill was here.  We maintained and pushed hard but did not kill ourselves.  This is a dangerous area with all the hand-ups.  Not in need, we rode to the far left escaping a crash.  I hate that sound.  

The racers were now taking advantage of the hill and feed zone confusion with some making breaks, that did not stick.  We tried rolling past with 2 or 3 other singles from our group that remained with us.  One smaller guy would help and rotate now and then but the other two ignored the elbow twitches, side glances, and lane position changes hence they were of little to no help.

We ended up literally in the racer pack along with the 4 or 6 of the recreational racers.  One by one the motorcycle referee asked them to ride on the left side of the road and the racers on the right.  Being unable to maintain a speed faster than the racers through the lightly rolling hills with a cross wind, the long line of recreational riders caught us filling the left lane behind.  Drat!  Once again we were dragging everyone else.  We had hopes that our gap would stick and others would not make it past the racers.  The psychology of the racer thing is interesting in that the recreational riders passing them gets them excited, and their real race then starts.  We've seen this each year when we have been successful at catching them.

We passed the 68 mile sag curving north and picked up a tailwind.  Three of the racers made a move as the pace ramped up.  I've loved this short stretch in other years and recall it well.  We accelerated into the turn, in anticipation of the tailwind, to stretch things out.  It all timed well with some racers choosing the same tactic, so we were there literally accelerating with them rather than getting lagged and forced to chase.  We stayed out of their race and maintained our own left lane position as the 3 racers were getting organized while many others were ramping up and beginning to chase.  We were approaching 30 mph now and the peloton was forming into a splintered pace line.  It was obvious that everyone was struggling and putting out some major wattage.  I was thinking at the time that this is the absolute best thing that can happen for us, with regard to us getting away from the huge pack of rec riders we had been towing.

The tailwind stretch was short and after the bend the road tilts down some with a lighter cross wind.  Speeds stayed high, the racer group had mostly reformed and we were on the back enjoying hanging on to the whiplash motions of the pack.  Another turn north brought us a nice tailwind and some light downhill runs too.  The carbon wheels sported by the racers were making an awful racket at this speed.  We only had about 6 singles to contend with and no other tandems at this point making the prospect of being the 1st tandem in and 1st overall endurance bike in more promising.

A right turn at Charlie put the wind into our face making it harder to hold on, but we did.  The dreaded hairpin turn was coming in just a few miles where we would be pitted more directly into the wind with a series of light stair-step rises.

Upon approaching the hairpin turn we moved up best we could, which was not very much given the aching quads but even so getting into the turn ahead of some helped conserve energy.  It was very hard but we managed to stay in contact with the racers while trying to avoid the fatiguing squirrels, surviving the whiplash changes in momentum, and pass riders that had gotten blown out of the pack.  We made a move to pass a slowing rider on the right as everyone had been maintaining their line and there was plenty of room.  The rider suddenly crowded us a bit too much and not wishing to see the result of tangling handlebars we bailed off the pavement and did a bit of cyclocross riding in the grass.  Checking the mirror it appeared the riders behind had not and were not moving over, for some reason.  I asked Julie through the intercom if it was clear yet so I could pick a smooth pavement spot to get back on the road.  We lost a lot of speed given we were running well over 20 mph when run off the road.  Somehow I knew this was going to happen on this day and had played out the scenario in my mind as to what to do, hence the move was a mere reaction, one that no doubt saved skin and bones.

The pack had accelerated and even though we chased hard for a couple of miles in pursuit, we maintained the same distance and only caught some dropped racers.  We still had 3 singles from our group with us and we had yet to see another tandem.

We reached Dean, the community signifying that we had only 10 miles to go.  The shoulder of the 4 lane was smooth, unlike the very rough seal-coat of the highway.

One of the dropped racers would take his share of pulls and was more than willing to rotate and share the work.  The last few miles of this event are very trying and this year was to be no exception.  The crosswind, fatigue, dehydration, and hotspots in the feet had become so painful that pushing on the pedals was a real challenge.  Julie was unable to unload the saddle over bumps resultant of her painful feet.  I experienced a nerve pain in my upper left back that felt like a knife at times, a very painful left foot, and then there was all the time on the saddle too.  Never mind my broken ribs just shy of 3 weeks ago making taking a breath more difficult by the minute or legs that would barely respond to neurological commands!

We were on a downhill, had been gapped a bit, and let our momentum build with the very light assist cross wind.  We took it up to 30 mph with me muttering something over the intercom about making them work for it just before we flew by them.  Maintaining the speed to the bottom and looking in my mirror afterwards, I was shocked to see that everyone had been able to pile back on.  "How did they do that?" I asked Julie.  No response.

Crossing the Line Number 1!

We made a right off of the highway past the 98 mile [really 97 mile] Outlaw free beer stop taking us down a narrow now patched up, crack filled, very bumpy stretch of road.  Generally we fly down this and gap some riders causing them to chase back on.  The cop motioned it was clear at the next intersection as we made our left turn.  Keeping a forever watchful eye on the odometer I noted we had a bit over 2 miles to go.  We gapped one of the riders and another lagged back a bit.  What had become our favorite dropped racer was taking a pull when he suddenly accelerated hard.  Somehow our legs responded and we were able to match his efforts, likely the result of the brief rest coasting over rough spots on the previous road.  We pulled and tired.  He pulled and tired.  They were all short pulls.  And thus it went for what seemed like a long time despite it being only 1 mile.  The last single bike rider was in full chase and closing slowly, but he had a ways to go hence we had to keep going.  We pulled and pulled hard.  And it worked.  He shut down totally and the gap widened substantially despite our declining speed.

Our approach to the lane split on the overpass and turns that take us into downtown is always with trepidation having crashed here in 2002 from a barrel with a pole and sign stuck in the middle of a four lane road and a rider that dodged it not calling it out.  After the incident it took them a couple of years but they did have a cop positioned in front of the obstacle waving his flag, but for some reason he was absent this year.  It will happen again to someone else unless they add back this safety measure as we have seen several close calls over the years.  There was an ambulance and several racers stopped on the bridge attending to an unfortunate rider refreshing those memories of our own crash.

We snaked through the rough old concrete turns and intersections to the finish line crossing it in 4:18 with a 23.5 average, exactly 1 minute slower than in 2008, a year when we also were the first tandem in and overall single bike in out of 14,000+ riders.  Of course in 2008 we did not have to contend with the silliness of coming to a stop and wading through hundreds of riders, nor being run off of the road.

In other years, particularly 2008, I felt good, strong and even rambunctious at times.  Those feelings were just not there this year no doubt in part due to the recent rib injuries and who knows what other factors in life come into play.  Even with being down physically and with the complications experienced early on in the ride, we had a great ride time showing on the computer, thanks to Mighty Mouse, who was literally stoked on this day!

Many would cool off quickly!  The water cannon at the Ultra Finish Line Village.

Our favorite dropped racer as well as others we rode with made an effort to stop and congratulate us on our ride.  No doubt we surprised a few by our presence and being able to stick and hang.  Sometimes we surprise ourselves!

Thankfully this year's weather was cool with a 64 degree start.  The temps at finishing are guessed to be around 78 or 80 and the wind was not too obtrusive for a change but even so, this year's event took a much greater physical toll on us than many of the others.  

The post ride festivities at the Ultra Finish Line Village sported a live band, beer, and a variety of vendors serving post ride recovery food.  

Photo by HHH Photographer Richard Cleaver

The festivities and party atmosphere has progressed nicely in recent times letting riders relax and enjoy the atmosphere.

Dark beer from the Michelob Ultra tent.

A life flight helicopter taking off.  Hopefully there were no extra passengers.

It is interesting to look back and compare times from other years and the narrow margins that show up despite the distance.

8/28/1993 98.3 19.7 4:59 Sue Schwinn Shift cable broke
8/27/1994 97.2 20.2 4:49 Sue Cannondale
8/24/1996 100.8 22.3 4:34 Sue Java
8/23/1997 101.3 24.7 4:06 Jay Java
8/29/1998 101.7 23.6 4:19 Julie Speedster
8/26/2000 102.0 22.5 4:29 Julie Robusta Crash
8/25/2001 102.0 20 5:08 Julie Robusta 3 Flats
8/25/2002 101.2 22.6 4:28 Julie Robusta
8/23/2003 100.7 23.5 4:16 Julie Robusta
8/28/2004 101 24.3 4:10 Julie Robusta
8/27/2005 101 24.3 4:10 Julie Robusta
8/26/2006 102 18.7 5:27 Julie
Courtney age 9
Natalie age 7
8/25/2007 101 21.9 4:37 Julie Burley  
8/23/2008 100.7 23.5 4:17 Julie Paketa
8/29/2009 101.8 23 4:26 Julie Paketa
8/28/2010 101 23.5 4:18 Julie Precision / Paketa Run off road
Bandit traffic

We don't seem to be getting any slower and in fact we have fewer tandems up front to drive the pace than in years past.

The timing chip results linked from the HHH website show the #1 rider to be 41 years of age and out of 1177 records he finished in 4:19 at 23.2 mph.  They apparently are calculating the race to be exactly 100 miles.  We have repeatedly recorded 100.7-102 miles with a variety of calibrated computers.

The route is generally known to be mostly flat and fast with weather being the most important element in the overall time.  

From the HHH website showing the route profile.

There is always that great feeling of reaching goals and sharing the accomplishment that only a tandem can provide.  Those rewards are priceless but they do not negate the mind from questioning about when to do something different, whether it be to change the venue while on top of one's game, ride HHH leisurely for the first time, or return once again with the girls on the quad.  After all, next year will be the 30th anniversary of HHH and it will have been 5 years since the girls last experienced HHH.  Read about the 4th Dimension!  Natalie has asked when she can go again.  Enuf said.

Hotter'n Hell 100 is by far the only ride we have attended with such repetition including nearly 2 decades of regular participation.  We are within easy reach of northern Texas from Kansas City with only 1 day needed away from work making it an easy choice when it comes to participating in a challenging fast and competitive fun event.

No doubt we'll see you on the front line, or very near it, next year when we go back to Hell.  Their 30th anniversary event is bound to be something special for sure.  HHH is the largest single day bicycle ride in the USA, perhaps globally too.


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