4am is real early to get to a bike ride. It is real important at the Hotter N’ Hell. Parking has becomes limited and you need to get onto Scott Street as soon as you can. If you lollygag around, it could take you hour to just get across the start line.
Justin, Bob Jung and I made it to my parking place at about 5am, thanks to the fine folks at Hudson Blueprint. This was Bob’s first Hotter N’ Hell. I was a tad concerned about the level of training he had put in, but he seemed confident he could do the hundred miles.
We made it to the start line on Scott Street at about 6am. The Hotter N Hell organization goes to great lengths to have markers so that fast riders do not have to comingle with the slower riders. I think about 75% of the riders pay attention to where they should start. I always try to start towards the front, most of the time I am where I need to be. Another cycling buddy Jack found us at the start.
Scott Street is amazing the morning of Hotter N Hell. 13,000 plus cyclist all crowded together makes quite the atmosphere. One can look back and see a sea of colorful cycling helmets. One can look back and see the temperature on the downtown bank building. We were very pleased to see it at 70 degrees.
After the national anthem, fly over, and the shot of the cannon we were off. Actually we were not, we scooted our bikes for about ten minutes until we crossed the start line. I would guess there were about 500 people in front of us at the gun, but by the time we cross the line, you can see cyclists for miles.
The mass of humanity was off. I had set a goal of completing the ride in 5:30 minutes. I have done it much faster, but felt this was realistic. Justin was shooting for a little better, Jack’s goal was 4:30 and Bob had aspirations of just fewer than six hours.
I rode with Justin and Jack for as long as I could. You spend the first hour of the HHH trying not to wreck. There is a high percentage of “Freds” at the HHH and they are scary to ride around. Moreover, bikes are flatting; water bottles are hitting the pavement and well as riders. This problem is solved by riding 25 miles an hour in a group on the wrong side of the road. Lucky for us, the roads are in essence closed and police support forgives us for this transgression. They even stop the train for us when cross the tracks in Iowa Park.
With all the chaos of the ride, I lost Jack and Justin in front of me. I kept a close eye on my speed; I wanted to sit around 22mph so that I would have something left at the end. Bob was somewhere behind me. There is always a group to ride in at HHH so this was not a problem.
Bob came screaming past me at the 20 mile rest stop. He was really cooking. Luckily for me I could check my ego and I let him go. I knew it was going to be a long day and head wind and heat was in our future. I caught Bob as we approached the 30 mile rest stop; I cautioned him it was going to be a long day. He was stopping for water, but I kept rolling.
I found myself in a very good group and we were cruising. I was wearing my Texas Tech Cycling Jersey so for the next 40 miles or so, there was much Big 12 football discussion with my newly found friends. Most were curious on my position on Tommy Tuberville. (Good hire) My Tech Jersey got me lots of “Go Tech” and “Wreck’m Tech” yells by fellow cyclist, event workers and just spectators.
I was still averaging 21.5 mph when we passed through Hell’s Gate. By then I was riding with Jack again but no site of Justin or Bob. I had not stopped yet and knew I would need to fill up my bottles at the 70 mile rest stop. I was starting to get quite optimistic that I might be able to pull off a sub five hour HHH. I pulled over quickly at the 70 mile rest stop, filled up, got back on the bike and found another group. All was well.
This group was moving slower, but I was pleased. Somewhere right after the 80 mile rest stop, the wind really picked up. I was struggling to stay on the back of this group and then the “bonk” arrived. I have come accustomed to bonking, but it became suddenly clear that I had nothing left. I comforted myself knowing that I had just did 80 or so miles plus 20mph average, but I still had a ways to go to the finish.
I kept getting into groups and riding at 19mph, 18mph, 17mph, 16mph, and 15mph and at times by myself I was doing 10mph. I kept looking at my computer watching my time extend and my average drop. I knew I wanted to be 5 miles from the finish at 5 hours so that I could do 10mph and still make my 5:30 goal.
The last 15 miles were brutal. In addition to my suffering in the head and the headwind, everyone around me was suffering as well. Groups are dangerous during this period because everyone is tired. I rolled through a crash site of a group that just dropped me. I glad I missed it, but I am also glad I missed the fight that was breaking out between the guy that caused the crash and the one of the guys that hit the ground.
I was six miles from the finish at 5:00 hours, so I knew I had to keep it above 12mph to make it. I actually got a second wind and started to move above 15mph. As I went by the “beer stop” at mile 98, I kept moving. I just wanted off the bike. I was pleased when I crossed the line at 5:20 minutes (19mph average) with the PA guy announcing “We have a Red Raider crossing the line!”
I snaked my way through the finish line and rolled back to the car. Justin found me their sitting on the pavement under the shade of the hatchback. He had completed the HHH averaging 19.4mph. (I learned later Jack finished in 4:55) Bob was nowhere to be found.
Justin and I loaded the car headed over to the Agriculture Barn where they set up showers. Yes they are the same showers used to wash horses and cattle, but they are very welcome to get the combination of dirt, sunscreen and salt off your body.
When we got back in the car, Bob had texted me he had finished. So we headed back and gathered him up. I was quite surprised on how well he looked. He finished just over 6 hours, so I was real impressed.
There was only one last thing to do before we left town. That was for me to swing by Whataburger and have a triple meat triple cheese. That is 1,400 calories with about 75 grams of fat. But on a positive note I burned over 7,000 calories on the ride. A good lunch was had and the tall tales of the ride had begun.
I will be back next year and in better shape so I will be willing to stop at the beer stop.