WICHITA FALLS, Texas — The nearly 12,000 cyclists making their way to the finish line in this past week’s Hotter ‘N Hell 100 mile ride enjoyed temperatures in the mid 90s. But the relatively mild day didn’t matter when we turned south for the final 16 miles and were met with a 13 to 24 mile per hour wind, gusting to 32 miles per hour.
Many took to pushing their bicycles up the interstate access inclines. Others took advantage of trucks and farm trailers for a ride to the finish line. One motorcyclist with a trailer was ferrying riders the last few miles. There was no shame in accepting a lift. For veteran cyclists, heat trumps wind any day.
For those that chose to stay the course, the best was yet to come. About five miles from the finish line in downtown Wichita Falls, the course took them on a two mile roll through the heart of Sheppard Air Force Base.
Whatever fatigue we were experiencing evaporated as riders turned the corner and were greeted by hundreds of young airmen lining both sides of the route to cheer us to the finish.
The route was changed this year to allow all cyclists — not just those choosing shorter distances — to go through the base. Good idea.
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Every airmen encountered had a cheerful smile and kind words at their base rest stop and along the route. No matter that this was Saturday and the ride began well before daylight.
The young men and women held our bicycles, poured water and ice in our bottles, retrieved cold towels and offered encouragement. It couldn’t have been any more uplifting. It made me feel good about the Air Force and my country.
The HTH ride is the believed to be the largest, single-day 100 mile ride in the nation. Hotels are booked as far away as Duncan, OK. Modern hotels that wouldn’t think of taking in pets or smokers gladly welcome bicycles inside their rooms. (Suggest more ceiling hooks next year). Spandex, bike shorts and cleats are accepted attire everywhere, even in church.
Riders choose marked routes between 10 kilometers and 100 miles. Rest stops along the way provide water, sports drinks, fruit, cookies and cold pickle juice, the desired drink of many distance cyclists.
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Norman had a good contingent of riders represented. Bicycle League of Norman jerseys could be spotted in the sea of brightly colored shirts.
Besides local riders, the community turns out in force for the annual event, now in its 31st year. More than 4,500 volunteers help make the ride successful. They bake cookies, staff the 15 rest stops, check-in riders, treat those who have medical or equipment needs and drive the “sag” wagons hauling riders who decide they’ve had enough.
In 2011, temperatures peaked at 109 degrees and medical personnel were overwhelmed for a time. When they ran out of ambulances with real gurneys, ailing riders were hauled on flat bed farm trailers, strapped down with their bikes.
In the small towns like Iowa Park, Kamay, Electra and Burkburnett, residents line the roads, wave and shout encouragement to the riders. Traffic is limited and most intersections are controlled by law enforcement.
This year’s route took riders by historic cemeteries, pump jacks, longhorn cattle, horses and fracking trucks.
We also were sent through a working Texas ranch, complete with cattle guards that aren’t always friendly to skinny bicycle tires. My favorite sign: Warning: Loose Cattle Ahead. Judging by the obstacles on the road, they were right.
Andy Rieger email@example.com 366-3543