Hotter N Hell Ride – Review
by David Butterbaugh
- Name of event: Hotter-N-Hell Hundred (HHH)
- Type of event: Bicycling Endurance Rally
- Location: Wichita Falls, TX
- Race/event course: 5 Star
- Race/event cost/entry fee: $35
- Race/event management: 5 Star
- Race/event Volunteers & aid stations: 5 Star
- Would you do this event again? Yes, Definitely!
- Would you recommend this event to others? Absolutely YES!
2014 Hotter N Hell 100 Ride Report
My day of August 23, 2014 began with the alarm on my iPhone sounding off at 4 AM, awaking me from a pretty sound sleep in a bunk bed in Byers, Tx., a little town about 20 miles up the road from Wichita Falls, the location of the historic Hotter-N-Hell Hundred (HHH) bicycle ride. This event was created in 1981 as part of the 1982 centennial celebration of the founding of Wichita Falls. There were 1,203 riders in that first event. The ride has grown to the point that there are now over 13,000 riders that come from all over the United States and some from around the world to tackle this eventful and unforgettable bicycle ride.
I am a member of Dallas Athletes, a friendly group of like-minded individuals who enjoy the challenges provided by always pushing our bodies to do “a little bit more” in a bid to be in better condition and fitness than most of us had settled for in our lives. We love swimming, biking and running – all parts of the triathlete experience. A group of 32 of us had signed up for the various distances provided during the HHH weekend, some doing the 60 mile ride (which takes you directly through Sheppard Air Force Base) and some of us accepted the challenge for the 102 mile distance.
Most of us had actually made the drive to Byers, Tx. on Friday afternoon / evening and stayed at a church camp facility there. We had access to a large kitchen where a delicious Lasagna (carb loading entrée) meal was prepared, complete with salad and desserts. After dinner, we sat around under a sheltering tree outside in the pleasant evening air, making sure we all knew one another and telling a bit of our story of how we arrived at this occasion. We retired to our bunk rooms and were in bed by 10 PM, little knowing what awaited us the next morning.
As mentioned, alarm at 4, a quick “face wash” and dress in cycling gear, pack up and off to the kitchen for whatever breakfast we each had brought for ourselves. Then make the 20 minute drive to the event site in Wichita Falls to stake out our parking places and gathering location for the post race fellowship we would enjoy after this grueling day.
We gathered at Scott and 3rd Street for some pre-race photographs and to share in the excitement of the start of the race at 7 AM….The National Anthem, a Fly-Over and a Canon Blast and we were off! I have run multiple running events with thousands of people in participation, but this was my first bicycle event of any kind, other than our group rides, and what an experience to find myself immersed in this throng of 13,000 cyclists headed Northwest out-of-town for our various ride distances. As soon as the initial “compaction” of riders thinned just a bit, we settled in for a nice pace, varying between 17 and 22 mph. I was amazed at the number of people I soon saw at the side of the road in the first few miles, changing flat tires or making minor repairs and adjustments to their rides. I had put 2 new tires on my Specialized bicycle within the previous couple of weeks in an effort to insure myself against a flat tire experience, though it seems from what I saw that the “flat demon” appears out of nowhere and jumps on anybody’s bike to sideline them for a few minutes along the side of the road.
I also saw numerous accidents and mishaps as someone would thoughtlessly cut off another rider without warning and looking, and wheels would get locked up, and down one or more riders would go. I heard reports at one rest stop that they had several broken arms at that location as riders pulled over right in front of other riders who were continuing on without stopping. I made it a point to give a quick glance to the right or left whenever I intended to change lanes or make a move of any sort. Bare skin and chip sealed asphalt are not friendly cohorts!
I had learned in the previous 12 weeks of our training rides that hydration and nutrition on any endurance ride are paramount to having a successful experience. I learned to mix up one of my water bottles with a heavy mixture of available protein formulas, and to have an electrolyte mix in my other bottles, plus a Camelbak with ice and water for ease of liquid intake along the route. Other gels, salt tabs and nutritional items were stored in my various small, available spaces. I was told to be sure to drink lots of fluids in the days leading up to the ride, and to hydrate and snack regularly along the way, especially during the first couple of hours. I tried to do the best I could in an effort to ward off problems later in the day.
I passed on the first rest stop at mile 10, intending to continue to move past the throng of riders who stopped to use the Port-a-Potty’s so soon in the ride. I had planned to make my first stop at the 32 mile rest stop, but at mile 18, the perspiration on my face caused the sunscreen I had applied to my nose that morning to run into my right eye, and I was tearing up bad and could barely see. I tried to wipe it out, let it tear and wash out, but it continued to get worse. I stopped at the 2nd rest area at mile 21.3, and the medical tent supplied me with a wet towel to flush it out and off I went! Problem solved, thank goodness!
My first real rest stop came at mile 42, where I used the Port-a-facility and refueled with some of the incredible bounty of fruit and liquids provided for us. This particular rest stop was sponsored by volunteers from a local church, with bananas, oranges, watermelon, cookies, sports drinks, pickles and pickle juice all available….as much as you wanted to ingest. It is reported that pickle juice has 10x the electrolyte content of any sports drink available, and electrolytes are lost quickly in sweat, so drink up I did! Yum-yum!
15 minutes later, I mounted my steed again and off we rode in the then 91-degree temperature. The winds had been mostly a modest side wind, with an occasional tailwind, depending on the turns we took and the direction we were headed. BUT…the wind blowing across this relatively flat Texas landscape was a force I knew would be have to be reckoned with later in the ride. We passed through numerous little burgs and towns, including Electra, Dean, Burkburnett, and Charlie, Texas, and I was surprised at the number of people who came out of their homes and sat in lawn chairs at the end of their driveway to watch the seeming endless parade of colorful riders making their way along the road. Every few miles and ……Psssssssss…..another flat tire and a rider heading to the side of the road. On occasion, someone just stopped and bent over their handlebars in a resting position, and sometimes, someone relieving themselves of too much breakfast or otherwise emptying their stomach’s contents as the activity was not agreeing with them. Sorry, just telling you what I saw!
Just around Burkburnett, near mile 58, a hard right turn took us smack straight onto a pretty strong headwind for about 2 miles as we approached Hell’s Gate. Hell’s Gate is set up at an intersection near mile 60 that provides a turn-off for those riders who deem it necessary to cut their ride short, for whatever reason, and ride the remaining 15 miles back to Wichita Falls via that route. It is also a point that must be passed before 12:30, when race officials close Hell’s Gate, and any riders not past that point by then must make that turn so they are not cratering with 40 miles to go in the relentless Texas heat and wind. I passed Hell’s Gate at 10:45, feeling great! My hydration and nutrition plan was working nicely, the wind had been cooperating, and I was excited that the ride was already over half completed! Waving to Pyro Pete, the large inflatable guardian of Hell’s Gate, I continued on….
Mile 69, I pulled into the rest stop to rest my posterior a bit, get some refreshment, text a few family and friends about my progress, and to mentally adjust myself for what experience was ahead of me. A quick potty visit, and off I rode, my bicycle performing flawlessly. Immediately following an inviting shaded rest stop at mile 77.5 (I did not stop) the road takes a hard right, now heading South, with 24 miles to go. Feeling great! …….until I made the turn. Ever get hit right square in the face with a sledgehammer? That’s what it felt like riding straight into the sweltering Texas wind. My forward speed instantly dropped from 18 – 20 mph to a struggle to keep it around 11 – 13 mph! Nevertheless, I forged on to mile 84.5, where I took a needed break at the rest stop to get some shade and respite from the blast furnace that appeared out of nowhere! I texted a few friends on my iPhone, asking them to remember me in thought and prayer as I suddenly needed some renewed energy to ride the last 17 miles.
Back on the road, my right, inner thigh immediately began to cramp! Uh-oh! I unclipped that foot, pedaled with my left foot as I reached down and massaged the muscle knot that threatened to end my day if it didn’t let up. My pace reduced a little more as I gingerly clipped back in and tried to continue on. Wait….the left leg is now threatening to follow suit….back and forth I went with the unclipping, massaging, and re-clipping process until things seemed to be working OK again, and I promised myself that as long as my legs were pain-free, I would not stop before the ride was finished. At this point, I was calling on all the fortitude I could muster and the determination that is ingrained within me to press on in the face of adversity. The SAG wagon came by every few minutes, and I saw several riders flag it down, load their bikes onto the trailer and climb in the back of the truck….giving up on their attempt to conquer the HHH 100. I refused to be one of those riders, but could empathize and understand with those who had to make that choice. No judgment here. Better to quit and live to ride another day than to push it and develop further problems!
I pulled into the rest stop at Mile 92, hoping there was some available ibuprofen to help my muscle cramp threats, but acetaminophen was all that was available. I downed a couple, walked over to the portable stock tank that was filled with water and “how many pounds” of ice to wet my skull-cap that I wear under my helmet. Many riders were walking up to this tank and with helmet still on, they bent over and stuck their head straight into this ice water, all the way down to their shoulders. It looked inviting, but I had a road to conquer and wanted to get back to it as soon as possible.
Off I rode for the final 10 miles. Up a few gradual slopes, a couple of gentle right curves, and the wind was suddenly at our side and even for a bit at our backs, a welcome respite! Through determination, dedication, and a lot of hard work, I found myself staring at the tall buildings of downtown Wichita Falls! A couple of turns through city streets, and the glorious finish line lie straight ahead!!! Crossing the timing mat brought a sigh of relief, a great sense of accomplishment, and the coveted “Finisher’s Medal!” A picture or two by the event photographers, and I made my way over to the designated meeting area of the Dallas Athletes. A welcome applause by the members who had already completed their ride, a few containers of Lowfat Chocolate Milk, some rolling of my leg muscles with a recovery roller, and soon we were loading all our supplies into our vehicles and heading down highway 287 toward Dallas. We left Wichita Falls with great appreciation for the 4000 volunteers who gave of their time and labor to make this event a memory for all of us. Will I do this ride again? Time will tell, but at least I know I can! With a few days of rest and recovery, I’m sure I’ll be thinking about what roads to conquer next!!!
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