Yesterday, in Wichita Falls, Texas, I did my 16th bike rally of the year and my 412th overall. I’ve been doing the Hotter ’n Hell Hundred since 1990, when I was 33 years old. I did the 100-mile course the first 12 years; then I did a 74-mile course of my own devising for five years; and this year I returned to the 100-mile course. It’s hard to describe this event. Suffice it to say that there is no other bike rally that comes close to it in terms of organization, difficulty, or scope. I read somewhere that more than 10,000 riders participated this year. During my ride, I asked a few people where they were from. The first couple (on a tandem) was from Tulsa, Oklahoma. The second person (a woman on a single bike) was from Springfield, Missouri. The third couple (on a tandem) was from Wichita, Kansas. The fourth person (a man on a single bike) was from Boerne, Texas, which is near San Antonio. People come from every state and many foreign countries to participate in this event. (I was tempted to ask the third couple whether they’ve heard of Pat Metheny’s album As Falls Wichita, So Falls Wichita Falls [1981]. What a great title!)

As usual, it was a long day for me. I rose at 4:00 after a fitful night’s sleep and pulled out of my driveway, in the dark, at 4:27. Amazingly, my newspaper was already here. I drove at 70 miles per hour (the speed limit) for almost two hours, reaching Wichita Falls at 6:20, which was right on schedule. It took a few minutes to find a parking space, which was annoying, since I always park in the same spot; but it turned out to be a good spot, maybe better than the other one. I got the bike out of the trunk, put the wheels on, and did the other necessary preparations. It was still dark. I stretched, locked the car, answered nature’s call in the nearby weeds, and got on the bike. I reached the flagpole of the convention center at 6:40, which was five minutes early. My friends, who drove up the day before and spent the night in town, were waiting for me. The sun was coming up.

For many years now, we have left early. The USCF racers leave at 6:40, while the rally riders leave at 7:06. We rolled onto the course ahead of the assembled riders at about 6:45, thinking the racers had already departed. Wrong! Within seconds, a police car with flashing lights approached us from behind, followed by a pack of about 50 riders. This was the fastest race group, the professionals and Category 1 and 2 racers. As soon as they passed, we resumed our ride out of town. Usually, there are only a few people who leave early, but this year there were hundreds. I guess people got tired of waiting in a huge throng and having to pass hundreds of slower riders on their way out of town. My friend Joe said there should be an open start, with people leaving whenever they’re ready. I agree.

My goal for the day was simply to ride 100 miles. Speed was no object. I haven’t ridden 100 miles in six years (since the 2001 Hotter ’n Hell Hundred). The course is 102 miles in length, so I was secretly hoping to finish in six hours, which would be 17 miles per hour. I’ve done worse on the 100-mile course, believe me. (I’ve also done much better; my fastest HHH was 21.69 miles per hour.) Joe and his son Jason always ride 100 miles on their tandem. I decided to ride with them the entire way, stopping when they did. We were joined this year by Phil and Randy, whom I have mentioned many times in this blog, and by Joe’s old friend Dave and Dave’s 14-year-old son Jacob (on a single bike). It felt like a little platoon. As we pedaled out of Wichita Falls, thanking the spectators for their applause and the police officers for stopping traffic for us, we chatted about what was to come and did the usual teasing. (Phil and Randy are eminently teasable, and I, of course, am the Big Teaser/Taunter/Tormentor, as Yankee fans have no doubt noticed.)

Joe and I always stop at the rest stop about 20 miles in so that Joe and Jason can have a Polaroid snapshot made. This is just one of our many traditions. As soon as we got going again, I messed up my computer by pushing the wrong button. Damn! I love having accurate data for this rally. A year ago, as you may recall, my computer stopped working on this rally. Oh well, at least I didn’t have a flat tire at the same time my computer stopped working, as in 2006.

On we pedaled. We had to restrain ourselves from hammering, because we knew we’d be on the bikes for six hours. The easier you take it early on, the easier it’ll be at the end. What’s nice about this course is that it’s flat. That means no pressure on the legs while climbing hills. I don’t ride enough to have leg muscles. I ride primarily on my heart and lungs, which are strong from all the running I do. I can ride forever on flats. I get dropped on hills. If you can believe it, this rally was my 16th bike ride—the 16th time I have been on the bicycle—since 18 November, when I did the Denton Turkey Roll. That’s an average of one bike ride every 17½ days.

The ride was fairly unremarkable, which, when you consider how many things can go wrong, is good. We came upon two accidents, one of which occurred just in front of us. Riders do stupid and dangerous things. One of them is to cut in front of slower riders as they pass. For example, I was riding to the left of Joe and Jason in the right lane of a two-lane road at about the 25-mile mark. Small groups were flying past us. As they did so, they would be only inches from my handlebar. No sooner would they pass me than they would veer in front of me, trying to stay on the wheel of the person in front. All it would take is a touch of handlebars and both of us, plus many others, would be on the pavement in an instant, wondering what happened. I’m pretty sure that’s what happened to the riders who were getting up from the pavement when we came upon them. One of the bikes was still in the road. It looked like it was broken in half. As in driving an automobile, you have to ride defensively. Idiots can bring you down. Literally.

I expected to tire after four hours of riding, since I haven’t been on the bike for more than four hours at a time in several years, but for some reason I didn’t. (It must be the performance-enhancing drugs.) Phil turned off in Burkburnett, which is what I did the past five years. I’m glad he did, because, had he continued with us, we would have had to (1) wait for him and (2) listen to his infernal whining. (Just kidding, Phil. I hope you made it in safely and had a good ride.) I thought Randy might wimp out on us as well, but when we turned the corner at Hell’s Gate, there he was, with Joe, Jason, and me. (Dave and his son had long since been dropped.) So now it was four of us against the elements. It was getting hot. I remarked to Joe that usually the fields are brown during this rally. They were green. There must have been more rain than usual in Wichita Falls this year. Although everyone who was on the course at this point was riding 100 miles, there were quite a few riders around us. This made for good pack riding. It was especially important to ride in a pack when we turned into the wind, which was stiff. I took my turn at the front many times, and always enjoyed it when I slipped back into the pack.

Joe decided to skip the 85-mile rest stop, which was a mistake. I was almost out of water, and Randy needed a rest. We continued to the 92-mile rest stop. With only 10 miles to go, we knew we were in good shape. We stayed there for half an hour, sitting in lawn chairs under an awning, eating dill pickles and other goodies, drinking water, and commiserating. It was here that our old friend Julius joined us. We knew he was at the rally, and were pretty sure he was behind us, but didn’t expect to see him until the finish. Randy’s feet were sore, so I told him to take his shoes off, which he did. I noticed as we were sitting that there were several boxes of pizza on a bench. I don’t eat meat or cheese, but I needed something solid in my stomach (I had already eaten three PowerBars), so I asked a rally volunteer whether the pizzas were for the riders. She said yes, so I found a piece without much meat on it, removed the meat, and ate the crust. Later, I learned that the pizzas were for the volunteers, not the riders. Oops! Before leaving, I saw other riders eating pizza, so I guess it was okay.

When I reached down to pick up my bike after this refreshing stop, I noticed that the rear tire was flat. Damn again! Joe, Jason, and Randy were on their bikes, ready to roll, so I told them to go on without me. I replaced the tube in five minutes and headed out on my own. I was feeling strong as a bull for some odd reason (the aforementioned drugs?), so I fell in with other riders and hammered. We caught Randy within minutes. He was feeling the heat. I dropped out of the pack to wait for him, and we finished the ride together. I made sure Randy got his finisher’s pin, because this, despite his advanced age, was his first 100-mile ride. I had a long drive ahead of me (122.4 miles), so I said goodbye to everyone and rode to my car. By this time it was quite hot, and the sun, which had been obscured by clouds most of the morning, was shining brightly. I noticed that the wind had shifted direction considerably since the start.

Half the fun of doing the Hotter ’n Hell Hundred is compiling statistics. Although my computer messed up early on, it saved most of the data in a file called “Today’s Totals.” I was delighted to discover that I had everything except heart rates, and even that was tolerable, because I noticed during the ride that my maximum heart rate for the day was 156 (during one of my stints at the front in a headwind). I ended up with an average speed of 18.26 miles per hour for 102.6 miles. (That’s my average speed for riding time [5:37:01]. We were stopped for about an hour, altogether.) I burned 3,055 calories. My maximum speed for the day was 31.3 miles per hour. It’s hard to go any faster on this course. When I say it’s flat, I mean flat. The rally in Cleburne a few weeks ago was much hillier. Weather-wise, the temperature was 79° Fahrenheit when we started riding and 92° when we finished. The official high for the day in Wichita Falls was 94°. The average wind speed was 10.6 miles per hour. As Joe pointed out, it was a typical late-August day in Wichita Falls: not excessively hot; not unseasonably cool. I’ve seen just about everything during my 18 HHHs.

All told, I had a wonderful time. I’m usually tired on the long drive to Fort Worth, but the air conditioner in my new car is so good that I stayed wide awake. I also had good music playing on my CD player, such as Re-Flex’s The Politics of Dancing (1983). I used the car’s cruise control for the first time yesterday. It worked splendidly. Thank you, Honda!

Did I mention that living well is the best revenge?

Addendum: Here is the story from the Wichita Falls Times Record.