Friday, September 3, 2010

Hotter N Hell Recap

The Hotter N Hell is getting more crowded every year.  I remember the first year I rode it the mass start took forever to get through the starting line, but then after 50 miles or so I'd be on a stretch of road with dozens or hundreds of meters between me and the next cyclist.  Now, they've switched to wave starts (which really helps), but there was not one moment when we were by ourselves on the road.  The total participation has gone up by a few thousand, so maybe it is just that or maybe a greater percentage of people are riding the century.

We made great time the first couple dozen miles and probably we went out too fast.  I had to catch up to Dan to tell him we wouldn't be able to sprint through the crowd because the crowd would never end.  At about 16 miles  we came to a complete stop in a traffic jam of shoulder to shoulder riders.  Someone ahead had wrecked bad, and between the gawking and the slowing the traffic jam was as bad as on any car dominated freeway.  Is this the future of cycling?  When everybody does it, will it just be another congested roadway with people dripping sweat instead of belching car exhaust?  In any case, we got through.  Some members of our family weren't so lucky - they were stuck for half an hour while cyclists were cleared off a section of road and no one was allowed to proceed until the Careflight helicopter had landed and retrieved the downed cyclist.

We didn't stop again until mile 50 when we reloaded our camelbaks and grabbed some snacks.  Well, that's not entirely true - we took a brief hop off the bike when the group was stopped by a train crossing the road.  After the mile 50 stop we planned to keep on truckin' until we hit Hell's Gate.  That almost worked.

Jason, Dan, and Jon at a rest stop yet still baking under the sun.  Does wearing the ride jersey at the ride make you a dork?  Does wearing a sleeveless triathlon jersey make you a tool, even if you trim up so it doesn't look like you have a squirrel in a headlock?

Just before we got to Hell's Gate, Dan got a flat.  We pulled off safely to the side of the road and took a look.  Upon pulling off the tire, we found the hole and saw that on the inside of the tire there was a worn section where the wires were starting to show through.  Very strange.  We cut a section of the old tube to prevent the new tube from blowing out as well and got it aired up again.  With the wheel mounted again, we noticed something malignant - there was actually a bubble forming on the tire itself!  It looked like a cancerous zit forming in the middle of the tire, angry and swollen and threatening a blowout of the tire.  We crossed our fingers and rode on, hoping it would hold up for the next 40 miles.

Somehow this held up for 40+ miles

If you don't reach the Gate in time, you either have to SAG it in or take a shorter route back home.  Our fast pace paid off and even with the flat and the rest stop we sailed through the Gate and on to the rest of the 100 mile route.

Dan, Jon, and Jason at Hell's Gate.  Towing enforced, apparently.

By this time we were starting to feel the fatigue and the burn of the last 70, then 80, then 90 miles.  Endurance events tend to bring out the quirks in people.  The general weariness, the mile after mile of riding and getting beaten up by every bump in the pavement, the rhythmic spin of the pedals.... it's easy to space out, to lose your focus, or just lose your mind.  About this time is when things start getting silly - we quote from random movies ("Nobody can eat 50 eggs!"), sing songs from our Scouting days (off key, of course), and generally try to ignore the pain as we press on to the finish line.  The "endurance" part of an endurance ride is just as much mental and psychological as it is physical.

The last 10 miles are some of the easiest - the finish line is getting closer, close enough to seem like an attainable goal.  Dan's evil tire had so far held up, though the cantankerous wart was growing larger and angrier by the mile.  The cycling gods were with us that day, and we made it back to town and saw the finish line looming ahead.  We raised fists in the air as though we were winning a stage in the Tour de France and mugged for the photographers.  I slapped the outstretched hands of family members waiting on the sidelines as we cruised to the arch and felt a little bit of glory as we finished the ride.  We are not racers, we'll never win a professional bike race, but just finishing an event like this is a major accomplishment for most mortals.

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