Three weeks ago I received a call from my friend Brent. "Let's do the Hotter 'N Hell this year." I mulled it over for a moment. "Sure," I said. The only hitch? I hadn't been on a bike in several years.
Still, I had been exercising throughout the summer, and felt I could get prepared for the ride. I dusted off my old Cannondale hybrid, and started riding after work. I started riding the 9-mile loop at Lake Hefner. After the first couple of rides I felt rough. My bike was forcing my body to remain upright, and several sections of the Hefner course take you into some pretty strong lake winds. I rode 9 miles in slightly under one hour. This wasn't so good.
Then, I was offered use of a vintage road bike (Thanks, M.X.A.) and started riding it around the Lake. My time improved dramatically, and I was biking the 9 mile loop in 30 minutes. That's an average of 18 mph, which was pretty acceptable for a recreational rider.
But because I was working during the day, I had trouble starting my evening lake rides before 7:00. That gave me enough time to do 2 loops around the lake before it started getting dark. Also, as the sun sets at the lake, thousands of pesky bugs would appear for their evening feeding. If I rode much past 8:15, I was inhaling swarms of gnats, and they weren't tasty.
Bottom line: I never biked more than 18 miles in a day. The HHH would require me to bike at least 50 miles, in furnace-like conditions. I was only cautiously optimistic about my chances.
But during the actual HHH yesterday, a few factors worked to my benefit:
• The heat. It's not unusual for temperatures at the HHH to reach 108 degrees. Yesterday's temperatures peaked in the low 90's. The temperature was the talk of the day, and even the most masochistic riders didn't seem to be complaining.
• The bike. Riding a proper road bike put my body in a low position, which allowed me to ride much faster than I would have on my hybrid Cannondale. The bike has been kept in impeccable shape, and performed marvelously.
• The setting. The HHH is truly a standout event. Armies of volunteers, interaction with the men and women from the local Air Force base, and the 14,000 riders make you push beyond your normal limits.
I'd planned on biking 50 miles. I wound up biking 100K, which is approximately 63 miles. I took frequent breaks, probably more than I needed, but I wasn't trying to break a record, I was just trying to finish. The bathroom lines were long. I probably spent about 30 minutes off my bike, taking breaks. I finished biking 100K at high noon, which meant I was on the course for five hours.
I know I could have biked 100 miles, but that would have been foolish, given my age and lack of serious preparation. I felt very tired driving home last night, and my legs feel heavy today. Despite slathering sunscreen all over my body, I'm still burned and still slightly dehydrated.
Next year, who knows?