100 miles, 10,205 bikes and a broken shoe

I joined another club last weekend, a club that eludes many but contains thousands of others just like me-‘warped individuals who for one reason or another, decide to see if they can pedal a bicycle for 100 miles around the city of Wichita Falls in the middle of August. I became aware of the bike ride known as the Hotter ‘N Hell Hundred 20 years ago when my brother, Todd, entered and completed the endurance feat. The century ride (which is a misnomer in and of itself because the ride is actually 102 miles) has become to Wichita Falls, what the Goat Cook-Off is to Brady. The event is embraced by the town and those that are along the various routes. I wrote in this column a few weeks ago that my brother had challenged me to meet him at the ride and complete it with him. No big deal for him, he has completed it four other times and he knew what to expect. Now I know there are those out there (a number of whom work with me at the newspaper and also at City Hall) who are wondering what on God’s green earth made riding on a bicycle for six hours in the summer heat sound like a fun thing to do. Well, after more than a month of pretty consistent training, I found out what it was like last Saturday morning when I was one of 10,205 cyclists who left the start line. Notice the five digit number I just mentioned. There aren’t even 10,000 people in McCulloch County. I would guess that with the Cook-Off crowd, we could easily come up with 10,000 folks this weekend, but take that mass of people, have them don padded lycra shorts, a DOT certified helmet and hop on the back of a bicycle and then put them all on the same street. Now you have an idea of the HHH (triple H as it is affectionately known) but that is only the beginning. Those 10,000 bikes may range from a classic that was purchased 20 years ago for $150 to a top-of- the-line carbon fiber techno-gadget that costs several thousand dollars. Bottom line’any type of man-powered wheeled machine was fair game as an entry. As a matter of fact, there was even a roller blade division and, had I not witnessed it with my own eyes, there was one man at mile 32 zipping along at a pretty good clip. I initially got into cycling 20 years ago when my brother started, but when my bike was stolen during my freshman year of college, I never replaced it. Fast forward 15 years and with my knees and back telling me not to run anymore, cycling was next on my list. I purchased a used hybrid a couple of years ago, but still missed the smooth ride of a good road bike. One day, the topic of purchasing a road bike from Jack Turk came up in a conversation. For those of you who know Jack, he is single- handedly responsible for introducing more folks in this area to cycling than anyone else around. Not only that, but he has been a dedicated cyclist for years. His influence has affected so many that there is a group of riders who formed the ‘Turk Cycling Team’the ‘Jack-a-lopes.’ The team is more a term of endearment and an honor than an actual competitive cycling team. We even had jerseys made with a logo. In talking with his wife, Susan, over the past months, she touts that had Jack started his cycling career earlier in life, he could have easily been a successful competitive rider. Several years ago, Jack was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis and was forced to hang up his cycling shoes. I was honored and fortunate to be close enough in body size that I was able to purchase virtually his entire cycling outfit to revive my cycling career. From the custom shoes that fit me perfectly to the gloves, shorts and even long cool weather pants, I had the entire outfit, bicycle and all. The HHH is a ride that is sort of a right of passage for cyclists around the nation. Completing it is a feat. Doing so in a respectable time is a badge of honor. I am not the first Brady cyclist to succeed at getting a HHH pin. Rex and Cathy Ewert have finished it numerous times, both on solo bikes and also on their tandem. Dr. Steve DeFiore has at least one HHH pin and Jack, well, last I heard, the bike I purchased from him had already been around the course six or seven times. For the past month, I have been training with the goal to get at least 100 miles on the bike each week. With daily updates and ride challenges from my brother in Missouri, we kept tabs on each other, trading tips and successes and comparing distances and average speeds. Amazingly enough, we were just about dead even except for the fact that he had a three-week jump on me on the training. The plans were made and I borrowed a friend’s RV and truck setup and motored up to the campgrounds after a week’s worth of preparations. The idea was to find a camping spot close to the convention center so we didn’t have to worry about fighting traffic and such. I could go on about the issues that cropped up, but suffice it to say, God was in control of all of the challenges that came before me and after a quick trip to the RV repair shop, I was back and hooked up and ready for the weekend with all of the proper extension cords. Besides wanting to spend time with my brother on the ride, I had a second, and more personal reason for wanting to ride the HHH. With Jack’s MS hitting him hard in recent months, I wanted to ride the HHH on his old bike’shoes and all’in his honor. It was to be my own tribute to Jack. To say I was nervous was an understatement. I slept fine until 3 a.m. and then tossed and turned until I finally quit fighting it and got out of bed a little after 5 a.m. Race time was set for 7:09 (official sunrise) and we wanted to be there early to be at the front of our respective pack. The starting line’never have I seen anything like it and pictures are the only way to explain it. Eight different starting blocks and we were in the second, just behind the ‘scorchers,’ with the idea that we wanted to minimize any chances of pileups at the starting line. Simply put, with 10,000 bicycles on the same road, there are going to be goof ups and I had heard about it happening on a rather regular basis. Get stuck behind one and you can delay your start by 45 minutes or more which translates into possibly missing the cutoff time to complete the ride. The start went off better than expected and without incident. With just over a mile gone by, who do I pull up next to but my college roommate, pedalling along right next to me. I didn’t even know he was going to be at the race. How is that for random happenstance. But wait, here is the kicker, Monday when I was looking over the photos emailed to me by brother, who was standing only three people away in the same starting line’ Yep, my old roommate was in my photos. How is that for random. The first 35 miles of the ride went off seemingly easy. I was having some comfort issues with my shorts and did my best to fix them at the 20-and 30-mile rest stops. This issue had me out of sorts thinking in the back of my mind that if the problem worsened, I wouldn’t be able to finish the ride. Not an option to big brother. I witnessed a couple of minor wrecks along the first 20 miles and fortunately, none were too close to me. At mile 37, however, a guy who had been drafting off me was coasting down a hill just to my right and in a brief lapse of concentration, cratered another rider just in front of him, simply because he wasn’t paying attention. I saw the whole thing happen and watched them both flip head over heels into the ditch at 20 mph. One thing I was instructed not to do, both by my brother and other veterans, is to not make any sudden stops or moves when in the pack. When you are in a continuous line of about a hundred or possibly a thousand bicycles, one small blip can cause an ugly chain reaction. We kept on trucking assuming everyone was all right and not hurt too bad. Then the next challenge. I had decided to make a slight seat adjustment at the 40-mile rest stop with hopes of improving my comfort level. As I squatted down to adjust the seat, my right shoe exploded’ literally. The sole split apart from the shoe and came almost completely in two. After a brief panic, Todd took my shoe to the mechanic tent and thankfully, a roll of duct tape saved the day. We wrapped my foot and after a call to Todd’s wife, Angie, we headed down the road. The comfort issue with my shorts prompted me to ask Angie to head to Wal-Mart, purchase some moleskin, and meet us at the 65-mile mark. Thank goodness she did. She saved my keister’in more ways than one. We made it past the cutoff gate before it closed and cruised on toward the next rest stop. When you are riding in an endurance bike ride, drinking fluids is absolutely essential. When it was all said and done, I added up the water bottles I drained and number of times I refilled my 70-oz. camelback and was shocked at the amount of fluid I consumed’more than a gallon of gatorade and almost two gallons of water. The fluids and snacks at the rest stops were dispersed with coordinated precision that could serve as a model for any organized group. The entire event involves more than 3,500 volunteers who do everything from drive sag wagons to hand out cold towels and even pick up the copious amount of trash left by the massive pack of riders. I was in awe of the entire event. Kudos to the race committee for a job well done. We hit the 80-mile rest stop and I goofed and failed to top off my fluid bottles. I was hungry and in search of food and failed in that respect as well. I was regretting it about a mile down the road, but an energy gel pack was just the ticket and got me going again. If you train enough, putting the miles in is not that big a deal. My legs got a little tight between miles 70 and 80, but continuous fluid intake and power bars fixed that problem. The biggest challenge is keeping your mind busy and not thinking about what your tail end is telling you. At mile 90, the adrenaline kicked in and with Todd leading the way in the slight headwind for the last 25 miles of the ride, he literally pulled me along. He was better conditioned and was ready for the challenge, so he led the way allowing me to draft off him the last 25 miles. What are big brothers for’ The finish line was a welcome sight and reason for joy and jubilation. We crossed the line with 6:23 on my bike computer as ride time with another 1:15 added on by the rest stops and mechanic work. My computer showed a 16.3 mph average, but Todd’s GPS unit only showed 15.9 mph. I like mine better. Not bad for a first timer. No flats, no crashes and other than a duct taped shoe, no major mechanical problems. We made the trip across the parking lot back to the RV where we showered, barbecued some tasty steaks and baked potatoes and enjoyed a long evening of visiting. Of the craziest things about the entire weekend, I woke up Sunday and wasn’t sore in the least. Legs ‘check; posterior’check; neck and shoulders, great. Wow. Better then I could have dreamed. For much of the drive home, I found myself thinking about doing more rides like this one. There is something addictive about the sense of accomplishment of completing a ride like this. I found myself thinking I wanted to train harder and work at improving my time. I sent a brief email along with some photos to some family members and it appears we might add some more HHH hopefuls to the training list next year. I only wish they would pick a different weekend. With school, Cook-Off and football season all starting at the same time, the timing is a little off. We’ll see. If everyone gets involved, we might be the next ones to carry on the torch of cycling for our health. Now, if I could just lose some weight. How does it figure that 400 miles on a bike in just over three weeks and not one pound lost. Ugh. It’s a shame that food tastes so good.’JS

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