Hell Hath No Fury
2011 Hotter ‘N Hell Endurance Ride
August 27th, 2011
Hotter ‘N Hell History
While Hotter ‘N Hell has been around for 30 years, I have only recently become aware of the race and events that make this ride such a pleasure to be a part of. When I first heard about the Hotter ‘N Hell Hundred (HHH) a little over a year ago, I was impressed that there were actually riders that could get out there and ride 100 miles. I was very new to cycling and that far of a distance seemed like something only extreme athletes would participate in. Never the less, I set my eyes on this event and swore that one day I would ride it. I knew that to take on such a feat, I would really need to step up my training. Therefore, my decision not to ride the race in 2011 was an easy one to make. Simply put, I just wasn’t ready. Even though I felt like I was in the best shape of my life I just didn’t feel that 100 miles was something I could take on – at least not at this stage in my training.
My older sister, also new to the cycling game, made a last minute decision to ride this event. What she knew, and what I later found out, was that there were multiple mileage routes that you could participate in – not just the unattainable 100 miles. After giving it some thought, I decided 5 days prior to the event that if she could do it, so could I. Hence began our adventure on the 50 mile course of one of the Nation’s oldest and largest cycling events.
To fully understand why so many people love this annual ride it helps to know a little bit about the history of this event. The race was founded in 1982 as a way to celebrate Wichita Falls’ centennial. The Hotter ‘N Hell Hundred was named to celebrate the cities 100th year by being a ride that was 100 miles in distance and a race ridden during the hottest part of the summer with temperatures most assuredly in excess of 100 degrees.
Race Committee members expected 5-600 riders the first year of the event. Much to their surprise, 1200 bicycle enthusiast registered. This doubled what they had planned for and race directors were left scrambling the night before making race numbers from paper plates! This made the Hotter ‘N Hell the largest single day 100 mile ride in the nation – and it still is one of the largest to this day. This year, 2011 marked the races 30th Anniversary and a record number of participants were expected – 14,000+!!!
The HHH is always held every year on the 4th or 5th weekend in August or 9 days prior to Labor Day. Amateur riders have the choice of participating in the infamous 100 mile ride, 100K, 50 mile, 25 mile, or 10K event. These rides are also open to inline skating (not important to the story but never the less an interesting fact). An event this size takes months of planning, over 4,000 community volunteers, 2,800 gallons of Powerade sports drink, 4,000 oranges, 10,000 gallons of water, 8,000 pickles, 70,000 pounds of ice, and don’t forget about the 100 port-a-pots that line the routes. After 30 years of holding this event, directors have the logistics down to a “T”! This race is also very inexpensive. Forty dollars covers your registration fee, gets you a bag of goodies, and a free t-shirt as well. I have participated in many races and must say that this ride was the best executed event that I have ever been a part of.
Being an avid racer and traveler, I have stayed in a multitude of accommodations from hotels, motels, rental cabins, & tent camping. However, this was the very first time that I have stayed with a host family. For those of you that are unfamiliar with what a host family is, it’s simple. A host family provides lodging for racers or a group of racers for little to no charge. Prior to this experience I would hesitate at the very thought of staying in a strangers home. Now, I am a little more open to the idea. Staying with a host family is a fairly common practice not only in the United States but in other countries as well. It can be a scary experience for both parties involved. The home owners have no idea the caliber of guests that are staying in their homes and vice versa, the athletes do not know what kind people they have agreed to stay with. As for my experience, it was top notch.
The host family was an older couple that had a daughter that lived in Wichita Falls with them. The daughter, a school teacher, was friends with another school teacher from the Dallas area. That school teacher was friends with another educational diagnostician from the Dallas area as well. That diagnostician was friends with another diagnostician (my sister), who in turn invited me. There was also another couple staying with us as well that was tied into the education field. I know you’re thinking what I’m thing – What an unlikely group! So, under one roof, the host couple and 7 other strangers were united together to share the experience that was Hotter ‘N Hell 2011.
I will have to admit it is a strange concept to make yourself at home in a strangers home. But our wonderful host family, whom by the way were not cyclist nor had children that are, were the perfect hosts. From the moment we pulled up in the drive in front of the house they were waiting with open arms – literally. The daughter came out to greet us, hug us, and even made a joke at my expense. Upon arriving at the house I had inadvertently run slightly upon the curb while looking for the house number. As she was walking towards me with open arms she exclaimed, “Nice driving, skinny”. It turns out that I may have been the skinniest of the group and also the worst parker. Coming from a family of jokesters and sarcastics, I immediately felt at home.
After briefly getting to know the family (this group sure could talk up a storm), we unloaded our bikes and gear and got ready to drive down to the race site to pick up our race packets and look around. The daughter of our host family so graciously offered to take us down and drop us of at the Multi Purpose Event Center where all the goings on would be taking place Friday evening before the race. Doing this would eliminate the need for us to find parking and walk blocks to get to the expo. We graciously accepted and off we went to pick up our packets and information for the next day’s events.
For an event that hosts 14,000 plus riders I expected very long lines at registration, paired with mass confusion, & not enough packets or the right size t-shirts to go around. Boy was I wrong! I have never been to a more organized event. There were no lines at registration or at packet pick up. Everything was spelled out for you so there were no questions on where to wear your race number or how to adhere the timing chip to your helmet. Kudos to the race committee and directors for putting on such a flawless event. They thought of everything from places to keep your bike securely over night to showers after the race for those people that had to check out of their hotels and needed a shower before their ride home.
One of the things I enjoy least about races is how early you must wake up in the morning to prepare. Couple that with not sleeping well the night before from nerves and being in a strange place and it makes for a groggy start to the day. For me, having participated in so many races and events, I have it nearly down to a science. I have planned everything from the time I eat my pre-race meal to the order in which I put on my shoes. For those of you who know me best know that I have a mental (and probably physical) checklist of everything that needs to happen. This particular ride started at sun up or 7:04 am exact. Since we were unfamiliar with parking and where to go for this race we wanted to be at the race grounds nearly an hour prior to start. This meant my alarm sounded at 4:50 am. Luckily, our host family lived within 7 minutes of the race start area.
The alarm sounds and we were up and running. My sister and I had showered the night before to help eliminate a bathroom traffic jam. Plus, with record high temperatures, within an hour of getting to the race start we were all going to need showers again anyway! Much to our surprise our host had made breakfast for us. He was up at the crack of dawn to help send us off with our bellies full. And for someone that wasn’t a racer or that had children that were, he sure knew what to make. Before us was a buffet of fresh cut strawberries, grapes, water melon, & cantaloupe. He even made honey nut muffins the day before for us.
After a quick breakfast we were off!! Cars packed and bikes loaded we headed down to the race area. I was very skeptical of the parking situation for 14,000 riders but was pleasantly surprised when we found parking in the 2nd lot that we came to. Even better was the fact that from our parking spot to the staging area for the 50 mile it was only a short quarter mile ride. So, we loaded up our gear – in the dark I might add – and headed to the starting area. As we arrived, we were amongst thousands of other riders that would also be joining us in our 50 mile journey. With so many riders, we were lined up 8 blocks from the start of the race.
Promptly at 7 am the National Anthem was sang and were all filled with pride as fighter jets did a fly by in missing man formation to conclude the song. Everyone cheered and the cannon booms to signify the start of the ride. And now the waiting game begins! With so many riders and being so far back from the start, our group waited 40 minutes before we are able to get on our bikes and begin to ride towards the starting line. Not to worry though, every rider was given a disposable timing device to attach to their helmet that activated their own personal time clock when the crossed under the starting arch and again when they crossed to finish line. I almost felt like a mouse in a maze with my every move and route being tracked by GPS! How great is technology!!
And We’re Off
Finally, we were off on our adventure!! The race start wasn’t as congested as I thought it might be. I had read earlier in the week that the first 10 miles would be wall to wall riders and the most dangerous part of the ride. I was worried for my sister since this was her first bike race. With record high temperatures this summer the race committee had made the decision to start the 100 mile racers at 6 am this year to make sure their ride was safer during the heat of the day. An estimated 5,000 riders took off at this early start. Doing this alleviated congestion for the rest of the riders at the 7:04 am start.
Our first target was rest stop #1 around the 12 mile marker. My group of ladies made it there with ease. We got off our bikes so we could take advantage of everything they had to offer. To our surprise this was a full service rest station complete with medics, water, ice, Powerade, restrooms, shade, and these fantastic ice and water soaked towelettes. Those would become my favorite item at each rest stop for the rest of the ride.
After a few photo opportunities we were back on our bikes and on the road again. But, we didn’t get very far. The bike chain of one of the riders in our group and derailed and needed to be replaced. Shortly after that, we were stopped at an intersection waiting on a train – a very long train. We took advantage of the rest time and, of course, took more pictures. Up until this point the ride had been fairly flat. Once we crossed safely over the railroad tracks we next embarked on a roller coaster of small hills. Thank goodness the temperature was still fairly low (mid 80’s by this point), otherwise even small climbs for such new riders would have been a challenge.
Our course stayed mostly on back country roads and side streets to avoid major traffic. At one point in the ride we did cross over a major highway. I found it very fun to be able to look down from the top of the overpass to see semi trucks and traffic rushing by down below us.
A short 5 miles down the road later and we had made to the second rest area. By this time our morning breakfast and beverages had processed and we decided it was a good idea to take a restroom break. Now, port-a-potties are not my favorite thing in the world, but when you’ve gotta go you’ve gotta go! I was pleasantly surprised to find at this rest stop a man had set up a table next to the restrooms and was offering paper towels and hand sanitizer. He even offered to hold my sisters bike up while she took advantage of the facilities – now that’s what I call service. It kind of makes me wonder if he woke up the morning of the ride and thought to himself, “My job today will be a restroom attendant”.
Throughout the entire ride we experienced nothing but hospitality from all the volunteers. We felt as if they were there to serve us and make our ride that much easier. As we thanked them and let them know how much we appreciated them, there were many that in turn thanked us for riding. I was shocked by the gratitude of these volunteers. Not only did they give up their free time for us, but they were genuinely happy to do it. That spirit is something I will take with me next time I find myself in their position. It just made the day that much more enjoyable.
At this point we were at mile 17 of our 50 mile ride. Still feeling good we headed out for the next leg of our journey. The next rest area would be slightly after the half way marker around mile 26. Much to my surprise I ran into someone I knew at this stop. Again, the odds of running into someone you know are very low when you are in the midst of 14,000 other riders. Turns out that the president of my local bike club had first recognized the jersey I had on and then recognized me. What a small world!
At this point, the heat of the day was starting to settle in. Temperatures had to be in the mid 90’s. We took advantage of the shade that the giant tents provided and refilled our Camelbaks with ice water. Again, we encountered friendly folks and pleasurable accommodations. Our next stop – mile marker 38!
With the heat beating down on us and the temperatures continuing to climb, everyone in our group began to feel sluggish and tired. Around mile 35, all felt the heat settle in and we begin to feel the pace of the group slow down. We had been hydrating our bodies for several days prior to the race to help prevent heat exhaustion. We had lathered up with sunscreen first thing in the morning and then again along the way. My biggest complaint of the day was not my feet or my legs hurting, but my lips. I had purchased a ChapStick with an SPF of 40 and kept applying it liberally along the way, but with the sun beating down on my face I couldn’t reapply fast enough.
At last, rest stop # 4 at mile 38! This was my favorite stop of the day. Words cannot express my relief when we rode up to this area. My body was not tired from the ride or from dehydration. The sun and high temperatures just zapped everything out of you. At this rest area I took in some much needed iced pickle juice and stood under the misters they had in place to help cool off the riders. We took another photo opportunity and had our picture snapped in front of a giant blow up snowman and igloo with a sign in the back ground that said, “Where Hell Freezes Over – Hotter ‘N Hell”! And I sure do believe it!!
Temperatures at this juncture were surely over 100 and surface temperatures of the road had to be in the 110+ range. In fact, while at this rest stop we heard a loud pop and then a hiss from a bike that was lying on the ground. The tire had exploded from the heat. The rider was nowhere to be found – more than likely they were under the tents taking advantage of the shade and snow cones. Weren’t they going to be surprised when they returned to their bike to find a blown tire?
38 miles down and only 12 to go! We were going to make it. Just a little while longer in the heat and we would be home free! These last miles of the ride were by far my favorite. After leaving the last rest area our next pedal strokes took us through Sheppard Air Force Base. As we entered the base we were routed through the “Pit Stop”. This was an area filled with retired fighter jets, bombers, and cargo planes. We stopped yet again to take advantage of a great picture opportunity. Airmen in their flight suits were standing by to greet us and were happy to be included in this last photo session.
When finished there, we mounted our bikes and headed through the rest of the base. We encountered a group of airmen and women performing their afternoon drill session. They were chanting a cadence and even stepped it up into double time so they could get through an approaching intersection to clear the way for my group of riders.
Turning the last corner on the base was by far the most breath taking experience of the entire ride. Lining the street on both sides of us were hundreds of airmen and woman. This section of the ride was known as “Airmen Alley”. For 100 yards we rode through a gauntlet of Airmen clapping and cheering on the riders. As I rode through, I straightened up in the saddle of my bike and held out my hand to high five as many of the service men and women as I could. At a time when we as American’s should be cheering on our Countries Armed Forces, on this day they were taking the time to cheer us on. The sight and felling of this experience brought a tear to my eye and sent shivers over my entire body. The pride and spirit of those men and women was the experience that made my ride that day. This is a spirit and experience that I will never forget.
From the Air Force Base to the finish line was a mere 6 miles. Little did I know that this would be the longest 6 miles of the day. With temperatures reaching the triple digits the heat of the afternoon was beginning to take its toll on not only my group of riders but on all riders. Thinking that we were home free was our first mistake. With 3 miles until we reached the finish line, the back tire on my sister’s bike went flat. Hoping that it was a slow leak we tried putting a tiny bit of air in it to see if we could get it to hold without needing to change out the entire tube. With no luck we found a small shade tree and began the task of changing out the tire. While stopped on the side of the road a police officer drove up to check on us & make sure we didn’t need medical attention. We were also greeted by a group of men from the fire department that also checked to see if we needed help and to offer us ice water. While I finished changing out my sister’s tire she refilled out water bottles and we were soon back on the road and headed towards the finish line.
The Big Finish
As we turned the last corner we could see the giant archway of Finish Line Village. We could hear a band playing in the back ground and photographers surround both sides of the street and even above us to capture this joyous accomplishment! We were welcomed across the finish line by a PA announcer as strangers clapped and cheered us on. I felt lucky to have shared this opportunity with my older sister.
As we crossed the line were greeted by volunteers handing out medals to all the finishers and photographers that wanted to capture our defining moment of the day (for a small fee of course). The best part of the finish, besides the 50 mile accomplishment, was the water cannon that showered water for the finishers as we attempted to wash off the last hot miles of the ride.
In a short 24 hour time period I have managed to build on the strong bond that my sister and I already have, meet new cycling friends, appreciate the hospitality of a host family, value the heart of a volunteer, have a renewed pride in the spirit of America, and feel a great sense of accomplishment in myself. For $40 it doesn’t get much better than that!