To Hell and Back: A Hotter N Hell Experience

Ezrie Camp, Features Editor

   It was about mile 60. As we approached Hell’s Gate, I began to question my sanity. Why would anyone in their right mind voluntarily choose to ride 100 miles? They would have to be ridiculously crazy to even remotely consider it. Or, they have a fire of motivation, strength, and grit inside of them just waiting for the perfect opportunity to be unleashed. I would be the latter. 

   Riding one hundred miles, in Texas summer heat no less, might just be the hardest thing I have ever done, but I wouldn’t trade the experience and joy after for anything. 

   About two weeks before Hotter N Hell, a large road ride that starts in Wichita Falls, I still hadn’t decided whether I was going to complete the 100-kilometer or 100-mile route. It was almost a guarantee that I would finish the 100-kilometers without any problems, yet there was something enticing about the challenge that the 100-miles provided. 

   My longest ride up until this point was 44 miles, not even half of what I was considering riding. My dad was already signed up for the 100-mile ride, and he had signed me up for it as well in the hopes that I would join him for the challenge. As the week went on, though, my mind battled to make a decision. Would it be the 100-kilometer ride I knew I could finish or the 100-mile ride that I knew would take everything I had?  One day, a peace came over me, and I knew exactly what I was going to do. I was going to ride 100-miles, and I was going to do it with my dad who also happens to be one of my cycling coaches and greatest mentors.

   The morning of the event we woke up at the crack of dawn – 4:30 a.m. to be exact. I had chills all over my body, my heart was beating at what felt like 500 beats per minute, yet my mind was calm and my thoughts were collected. I was excited for the day ahead of us. All of the preparation was done. The years of training and the daily hours of hard work were put in, and I knew that the only thing left to do was ride. 

   When my dad and I got to the start line in Wichita Falls, there were thousands upon thousands of people lined up to ride. My heart began racing again, and my mind was shooting off in about a million different directions. “How am I going to ride with all of these people? What if they fall? What if I fall? What if I get lost? What if I can’t find my Dad?” 

   Oddly enough, we had not even started the ride, and I was more scared about being amongst all the people at the start than I was about actually completing the ride. But then the crowd began to move. People spread out, and I began to find my rhythm. There was a nice morning breeze that somehow seemed to blow all my nerves away. Each pedal stroke seemed to bring a sense of joy and serenity, and as I looked around, I knew everything was going to be okay. 

   The first half of the ride went by quickly. My dad and I finished the first 50 miles in three hours. My legs were strong, my breath was steady, and my attitude remained surprisingly positive. I was feeling good and ready to ride another easy 50. At about mile 55, though, the heat had grown more intense and my body was screaming at me. My mindset started to decline as well. “I’ve already set a personal record, do I really need to go any further,” I thought to myself. The mental struggle began, but in the back of my mind, I knew I needed to push to finish what I had started. 

   It was about mile 60. Hell’s Gate loomed over us, both figuratively and literally with a giant inflatable demon at the entrance. As we rode, I realized how appropriate the name of this section was as it would be the hardest part of the entire ride. In blatant terms, I thought I was going to die. The heat radiating from the pavement was 107 degrees. We were out in the open with the sun beating down on us. My water supply was getting low, and by this point, my whole body was hurting, from my head down to my toes and everything in between. I really thought I was done.

   After what felt like forever, we made it to the mile 75 rest stop. I was light-headed and dizzy, feeling like I was about to fall over. My body was tired. My mind was tired. I knew I needed to eat, yet my body wasn’t receptive to anything it was offered. I knew I needed to drink, but everything I put in my mouth wanted to come right back out. Every part of me wanted to stop right then and there. I felt like I had nothing left to give.

    The burning motivation inside me said otherwise, so my dad and I continued on. One pedal stroke at a time, taking turns in the lead to give each other a chance at recovery, and stopping at every rest stop possible to ensure we made it to the end. 

Mile 90. I could see the blue and white stripes of the rest stop tent just over the crest of the hill. My body and mind synched up, and I got a second wind as I realized that we were on the homeward stretch with only 10 miles to go. My outlook was renewed and my whole body somehow felt lighter, like a 100-pound weight had been lifted. Our speed picked up from a dragging 12 mile an hour pace to a solid 18. The water on my head combined with the wind that was coming up behind us created a most welcomed cooling effect. We were almost there. 

   As we entered downtown Wichita Falls, my smile beamed from ear to ear. I looked over at my dad as a crazy idea entered my mind. At the end of all of our road rides, my dad and I always sprint to the end as a way to really empty the tank, and I thought to myself, “Why should this one be any different?” 

   “Hey, wanna go for the sprint finish?” I asked him. He looked at me like I was insane, which I was, but he agreed. My eyes were set on the finish line and a grin came across my face. The derailleur on our cassettes clicked as we shifted from one gear to the next and our speed became intense. The race was on!

   As we flew through the finish line, a huge wave of joy came over me. I turned to my dad, and couldn’t help but smile and hug him. I had just ridden 100 miles. 100 miles! And I had done it all with my dad, my biggest role model and one of the best motivators I know. My whole body hurt, my mind was tired, I was drenched in sweat, and probably smelled like a boy’s locker room, but at that moment none of that mattered. I had just accomplished one of my biggest goals, not only as a cyclist, but as a person. 

   I had pushed my limit physically and mentally beyond what I ever thought was possible and found a whole new world of possibility. All it took was three packs of energy blocks, two energy gels, bottles full of water, and a whole lot of grit, tenacity, and perseverance.