I participated in the Hilly Hundred Ride to benefit the Arkansas Sheriff’s Youth Ranch in Bethesda, AR, just outside of Batesville. It was, as my friend Sean said, “a hard, stupid ride”. This is a weird recollection of the event.
“Line up your bikes for a group photo!” is Batesville-speak for be ready, because we are starting after the photo.
None of us are as dumb as when we are on the bike. At mile 30, Paul and I had not decided if we were going to do the 64 or the 100. At mile 33, I asked him what he was doing and he said he was going to do the 100. I followed him - there was no discussion.
This was 1 mile after the following road sign: “Crooked and Steep Next 20 Miles”. What you don’t think about is that actually means 40 miles when the ride is an out and back. Even worse, this warning is for cars.
At one point I found myself watching Russ (from Arkadelphia) pedal. What struck me was that he was pulling up as hard as he was pushing down. You could see it in his legs, each of which are the size of my torso.
There were two women on the ride: Tanya and a German woman named Sandra. If Tanya wasn’t so easy going, I suspect there would have been a confrontation when Sandra yelled out to Tanya, “Shift down.” and Tanya yelled back, “I can’t”, and Sandra said “You have so many gears, I thought you could shift.”
The Lyon College students who manned the rest stops were great. I wonder if they think that all cyclists do is eat.
When I got to the turnaround (mile 50), I was shaken when I realized where we were: we were at Angler’s on the White River. If we had kept going on the road we came in on, we would have made it to Blanchard Springs. I have been out there in my car, and to come up on this place that I didn’t know I was riding to, well, that shocked me .
Paul occasionally stopped and waited for me when he didn’t need to. I appreciated that. I should have bought a Slim Jim like he did at Angler’s, instead of dreaming of Sonic in Melbourne.
I had dreamt of a large Cherry Vanilla Coke and a little burger the whole ride, so when I finally got to Sonic (mile 70), I was convinced it was exactly what I needed. Waiting, I saw Sandra and her two male companions pass. I got my food and ate the first bite of the burger so hard and fast, I bit my lip. The coke was great, but I don’t think any of it went to my legs. I got back on the bike with half a hamburger in my pocket.
From Sonic to about mile 75 was slow and brutal. At 70 miles into a ride, you tell yourself, after all the crooked and steep in the middle and with food on your stomach, the trip back should be easy. When you hit the road and you realize the next 30 miles have a 10 to 20 mph headwind, you die a little bit.
At the next rest stop, I talked to the guys, asking for bananas. There were none left. They told me I was the last one out on the course. So I guessed that Steve and Tanya and the german contingent were done. The guys at the rest stop had no room and I knew the sag wagon was full (if I were the last one left), so I pressed on.
At mile 75, I suffered a calf cramp so painful I could not twist my leg to unclip, and since I was going uphill into the wind at the time, I almost fell over. I knew I was done. I had no idea just how far back the sag wagon was. If they were right and I was the last one, it would have passed me already. And if Steve & Tanya were still on the course (after eating a real meal at Angler’s), I had no idea how long it would be.
Honestly, I was not in the right mental state to ride in a sag rescue at 8 mph for the rest of the ride watching people suffer (if there were any left) as I just had. My mind became a blank slate as it does during a ride like this, where the muscle breaks before water or food runs out. Shredded, broken, done.
I called Sean. He and Ron were just finishing and he volunteered immediately to come get me. I didn’t argue, thanked him, told him where I was and that I would try to head south as best as I could. The call was encouraging for many reasons: Ron and Sean actually finished, that I wouldn’t have to wait for hours for the sag wagon, and that I would not die out there in the wind.
I got back on the bike and could pedal again. Slowly. So I went south, eyeballing every single northbound driver looking for Sean. I was desperate. Even at my speed, I didn’t see anyone behind me or in front of me. No sag wagon. No Steve & Tanya. No germans.
Do you remember the scene from Alien where the alien is moving around below the skin of the guy before it bursts through? That is what my thigh cramp looked like at mile 85. I got off the bike and started walking, pushing my bike up the hill.
That is where Sean found me. I don’t remember much of him picking me up - only little snippets of things. I think my brain was forgetting things quickly so I wouldn’t realize the trauma I was experiencing. From now on, Sean can do no wrong - I don’t know if I have been happier to see anyone in my whole life.
I thought I saw a mirage loading up the bike. It was Steve and Sandra riding along, Sandra’s companions behind them aways, with the sag wagon and Tanya inside. People were still riding. I don’t know how they did it. I don’t know when I passed Sandra and her companions and I don’t know how Steve caught up to them.
In the truck, Sean told me that Paul had gotten a lift back, so everyone was accounted for - I was happy to hear that.
I got a shower at the ranch after Sean dropped me off. It took 6 minutes to put on socks afterwards because my feet kept cramping up. I ate some good food and talked to Russ. As I was getting ready to leave, Steve & Sandra, then Sandra’s companions all rode in. It was truly amazing. You guys who finished it are tough.
My hands cramped up twice driving home.
Kim took me to dinner to eat thai food in Jacksonville at our new favorite restaurant, Thai Taste. My fortune cookie said: “Your strength will grow stronger by being tried.” I hope so.