The morning of Hotter N Hell started off very early, 5:30 am to be exact! We had stayed at a hotel that was about two miles away from the starting line; we could have ridden or bikes or driven the car. Ginny and Andy, the two other people I went to the ride with had talked to our hotel neighbors and established riding was easier than driving so we gathered our stuff, got our bikes and headed out.
It was a cold morning, chilly really and the ride to the starting line was mostly downhill so the breeze was making the chill worse. It was still dark and very few street lights were lit along the access road. At one point a dog started barking at us, we rode by and I noticed out of the corner of my eye a glisten…it was his eye! He was chasing us! I shouted out to Ginny, “go faster he’s chasing us!” It was too early to have such a scare; we hadn’t even made it to the starting line!
As we got close to the starting line, we did what I did last year, found a side road and wait ahead of the start line and just eased in with what they call the “Scorchers” who are the fastest group. The starting line has approximately 12-13K cyclists all lined up. Not starting there is good for several reasons; I have less chance of someone knocking me over, I didn’t have to get to the starting line super early to get a good spot and more importantly, OTHERS were protected from ME knocking them over. (I’m not that great at unclipping from the pedals.) As we waiting we got to watch the Pro riders start which was pretty cool.
We noticed some non race riders were going after all the race riders had started but before the official ride had started. After a brief discussion about taking off with them, we decided that would be a good idea, start early - get done early. So off we went in the dark and chilly weather.
I started well; we were all together and going about 18 mph. But I am not the best consistent cyclist, I tend to slow down and speed up a lot. Looking down at my speedometer tends to make me go slower so I tend to just pedal and hope for the best, changing gears as necessary. After a few miles Andy and Ginny were ahead of me and I made no effort to try and catch them. I decided they knew I was capable of riding my own ride and I would see them at the end.
My strategy this year was pretty much the same as last year, ride to the 4th rest stop and stop if necessary, ride to the stop at mile 60ish, which is near Hells Gate or ride all the way to the rest stop near mile 80, then ride it in with no other stops. Well laid out plans are just that, well laid out plans, but reality rarely mirrors what is planned. The ride was absolutely packed almost until maybe mile 70 or 75. The first two rest stops were so crammed with riders on the side of the road and on the road itself we were at a near standstill going past each one. I had to unclip at each for fear of falling over and not being able to get my shoe unclipped in time. I got stopped by a train at mile 26. That was comical. Most of the riders around me were “Scorchers” so they were very NOT pleased to be stopped by a train. As the train ended, there was an ambulance coming which also delayed us a bit. Earlier there had been a man on the side of the road with a bloody head, I assume the ambulance was for him.
There were actually a lot of accidents and ambulances this year, many more than last year. Ginny said one lady was out cold at a hill they were passing and one of our hotel neighbors had a nasty scabbed up elbow after the ride, he said he got caught in a slow point and tumbled. I must have seen at least six ambulances throughout the race. Very scary.
I did well in not stopping at the rest stops though and did make it to the rest stop near mile 40. I stopped, got Power Aid and checked my phone. Ginny had sent a text asking where I was; texted I was at 40 but moving on. I assumed they were ahead of me since they had been ahead of me when we started. I stopped at mile 60ish, at Hells Gate, took some pictures and checked my phone again. Ginny said she was near the porta potties at Hells Gate. YEA! I caught up to them. So I rode around to look for the porta potties and didn’t see any. Texted Ginny back, “no porta potties at Hells Gate, going to 80.”
I stopped again at mile 80 to get more Power Aid and check to see where Ginny was. As it turns out, she and Andy were behind me, they got caught by an accident and had made a few more stops than I had. I put away the phone and noticed I was sweating profusely. I was oh so grateful for the cold wet napkin a volunteer offered me. After cooling off and eating a few pickles and bananas I got back on the road. My mantra all the way was “you can do it, just keep pedaling, you can do this.”
The last twenty miles was the hardest for me last year; this year didn’t seem as hard but it was still a struggle. The wind was terrible, the road conditions were awful with all the chipseal and my legs were very mad at me. Needless to say I managed to keep pedaling. I decided pedaling at 11 or 13 mph was better than not pedaling, my level of expectation at this point had greatly declined. I was fortunate though and managed to increase my speed to 15-16 mph for part of the last 20 miles so my overall speed was still about 15 mph.
Perhaps the best part of the ride had to be the last leg of road, I think it was around mile 90, the road became completely smooth, it was absolute heaven! And wow, could I go fast! I was cruising at about 18-20 mph! I passed the time during the last 20 miles by calculating in my head what the mileage equated to compared to White Rock Lake were I trained. “18 miles, that is just 2 rounds around the lake, you can do it….15 miles, that is less than 2 times around the lake, you can do it….10 miles, so close! Just one time around the lake, you can do it!” At about 95 there is the last official rest stop and a lady shouted out “just 5 miles left!” I had to giggle a little because I knew it was more than 5 miles, it is really 7 miles. The last 5 or in reality 7 miles seem like it took eternity to complete. But I did it! I rode in to the finish line and felt so good. I finished about 30 minutes over my time last year. Based on the level of training I did this year and the extra stops, I’m pleased with that time. I will never be the fastest or the one that can be out there the longest but I am determined to always do my best.