I'm just gonna shoot ya straight on this post: I'm not inclined to write a narrative recap of last Saturday's Hotter 'N Hell 100. If you seek such posts, I steer you toward the super blogging skills of That Pink Girl and Mama C, who were among the fantastic friends who descended upon Wichita Falls for the 31st annual cycling extravaganza. Their recaps are quite good. Now on to my 13 things:
|This vantage point is probably the middle of the entire field of riders. If you squint, you can see the starting line two or three blocks down the road.|
1. Hotter 'N Hell is a well-run event. There's so much to see and do. In addition to riding the main event — Saturday's ride — it boasts: the most crowded expo in the history of expos, a gang of vendors outside the expo, live music and food and beer, a 13-mile mountain bike race (the trail runs right by a sweet camping spot by the creek), a criterium and a trail half marathon/10K. Is there any doubt why 14,000 people participate each year?
2. Leading up to the rally, I rode several times in 100-plus temps; so I felt confident I could handle the heat. However, it was not hotter than hell last Saturday. The temperature in the morning was in the 70s (!!!) and stayed in the 80s and low 90s for most of the time I was riding. That was a blessing.
3. Bike lockup is a great thing. A Wichita Falls church offered the service outside the expo center — a perfect option for those of us who were camping. Most of the bike guards were teens who were nice and incredibly entertaining. They assisted with covering bikes in case of rain and one girl even noticed a burr stuck in my rear tire when we checked in the night before the race. With everyone staring, I did my best to quickly change the tube right there, which was preferable to discovering a flat the morning of the race or realize the tire was leaking air during the race. And I even received another assist in inflating the tire from Dana at Richardson Bike Mart (the SAG wagon dude at Cow Creek) who was set up at the RBM van/tent 40 yards away.
4. Wichita Falls is flat. Like seriously, really flat. I remember three minor descents and do not consider any portion of the ride significantly uphill. The feeder road at the end of the race is the most "climbing" the course offers. It's annoying because, a) it's at the end of the ride and b) it is seemingly endless. The roads also are in fairly good condition. Cracks and potholes are not a concern but there's plenty of road feedback/vibration. You definitely want to change your position on the handlebars often and make sure your water bottles are securely in their cages. I lost one and saw at least 25 on the roads.
5. What the rally lacked in heat and hills, it more than made up with wind. The wind really picked up around 11 a.m. There was a section of the route — probably around mile 60 — when it was fiercely slapping riders sideways. A group of about 30 of us huddled together to lessen the effects of the 20 mph winds that gusted above 30 mph.
6. There's not much scenery to soak up in this section of West Texas. There are oil derricks and some ranches with cattle, but nothing out of the ordinary.
7. The volunteers are excellent! I had two bottles and a full, 100 oz. Camelbak; so I hoped I wouldn't need to stop at any of the plentiful rest stations. I eventually did run out of water after the first 50 miles and reloaded with local agua (lots of minerals) a couple of times. The three rest stops I visited were packed with plenty of volunteers. It was great to see smiling faces pouring drinks, passing out pickles and restocking banana and cookie stations.
8. People in small towns rule. I saw several families in towns like Electra, Iowa Park and Burkburnett sitting on their porches taking in the event, which is easily the biggest thing that happens in the area all year. Many of them waved and cheered, which was very cool. I waved and said "Howdy" to as many as I could.
9. The best spectators of all: The men and women at Sheppard Air Force Base. The final leg of the 50-mile, 100K and 100-mile rides rolls through this landmark. It was a privilege to see the base and several planes close up. But the real highlight were the dozens of Air Force members cheering on the riders. I thought my energy was empty, but they pushed me to get into the drops and haul ass. It felt incredible hearing their encouragement as I found an extra gear and sprinted until I passed them all. My legs yelling at me and my breathing heavy, I slowed down considerably once I was out of their sight. It hurt a bit, but it was worth it. Easily the highlight of my ride.
10. Medals! They hand out medals at HHH! Most rallies not only lack a li'l jewelry, they also rarely have an incredible finish line like Wichita Falls'. A rally usually ends anticlimactically with very little fanfare — perhaps an actual finish line if you're lucky. HHH has an announcer and hundreds of people hanging out at its finish line.
11. If you enjoy looking at fancy bikes — like a $14,000 Specialized S-Works Venge Super Record EPS — this is your place. Not that you have to own anything nearly that fancy. Plenty of people rode the endurance distances on hybrids and mountain bikes; a few were on unicycles; and even one guy did the century on an ElliptiGo. The best bike to ride is the one you have. Run what ya brung, son!
12. Surprises! Who doesn't dig surprises? Well, I got a cool one from Marci, the official bestower of Team FIGJAM T-shirts. It even has my name on it and everything. So cool! It really is an honor.
13. Overall, I had an excellent experience. I got to hang out with friends and I felt strong and confident the entire ride. It was the confidence boost I was hoping to get as I continue to train for the 2012 Texas Time Trials.