Horribly Hilly Hundred

June 14, 2003

Mount Horeb, Wisconsin

67.6 miles

Bicycle:  Co-Motion Americano

Ride Info: Horribly Hilly Hundreds

The Horribly Hilly Hundred is called 3H for short. As it turned out, a fourth, unadvertised " H" did me in... heat. Sometimes one is so concerned about one problem that another sneaks up and causes even more trouble. But I'm getting ahead of myself...

Since my wife was out of town, I had to drop off the dogs at my parents' house on the way to Wisconsin. As I was leaving home, I had a nagging feeling that I was forgetting something, but I couldn't think what. It was driving me mad. Finally, while fighting rush hour traffic on the Tri-State Tollway, I figured it out. I had forgotten my cycling shorts! I had neither the time nor the desire to return home for them, but fortunately I knew where there was a Performance Bicycle on the way to my parents'. I ran in, bought a pair of their Elite shorts (on sale!) and was back on the road in five minutes. When I got to my parents', they had dinner ready. On the bright side, I got to eat, but on the down side, I would be that much later getting to my motel. As it turned out, I got to the Motel 6 in Madison around 11 PM. Perfect--I could go to sleep by 11:30 and get up at 5:30, giving me six hours of sleep (90 minutes more than the previous night).

As is often the case, though it still surprises me, I awoke a minute or two before my wake-up call from Tom Bodett. I put on my new shorts and an appropriate jersey: the Republic of Anaerobia (slogan: " veni vidi vomiti" ). I had a feeling I would be spending a lot of time in that state this day, so I may as well dress for it. The " hidden" message in the back pocket became my rallying cry for the morning: " Komrade! Why look here? Your destiny awaits you in the road!" I was checked out by 6:00 and arrived at Mount Horeb High School around 6:30. There, I picked up my T-shirt and a nearly empty goodie bag (aside from the Trek 100, most bike rides I've done haven't had nearly as much stuff as most running races I've done). I was really bummed out that it didn't say " biking like a Viking" on the T-shirt, although there was a somewhat abstract illustration of a Viking-helmeted cyclist. The bib had the slogan, so perhaps I'll permanently pin that to the shirt. I took a look at the profile for the course posted by the registration table--the 62-mile ride had grown to 66 miles with 5,484 feet of climbing. My decision not to do the 112-mile route was reinforced by its extension to 120 miles (awfully long for a " century" --the announcer apologized for not adding a few miles to make it a double metric). Indeed, 66 would prove to be about ten miles too far I would have been much better off had it been only 62 instead. Since the finish was at Blue Mound State Park, I left my bike at the school with the " bike valet." I drove out to the park, where I boarded a school bus that took me back to the start.

The start was a little like the neutral zone of a bike race. In fact, this was a " ride" not a " race" yet they were tracking finishing times for bragging rights. We rode along at 12-14 mph behind a police escort which led the 450 riders to the edge of town. From there, we experienced VERY light traffic throughout the day, possibly averaging less than a car a mile. " Stage One," as they called it, was 30 miles to the first rest stop, an unusually long distance between stops for a century ride. I climbed 2,019 feet over that distance, but in general it wasn't too horrible yet. With my Americano, I had great gears for the steep hills. A lot of roadies were suffering, standing up for long distances in low gear because they had to in order to turn the cranks. Indeed, even many of those with triple chainrings were having a hard time. My Americano has mountain bike gearing so, while road triples typically have a low gear of 30 front/27 rear, I have 24 front/34 rear. Typically in Chicagoland, I'll never even use my 24-tooth chainring, but the 3H was exactly the type of ride that required it. Several riders noted my gearing as they huffed and puffed along with me. " It helps, but it's still hard!" I replied. The route was very scenic, rolling past dairy farms (one that caught my eye was the " Hi Ho Dairy," a play on " Hi-ho the derry-o" from " The Farmer In The Dell" ) and picturesque country graveyards. There was even a big cow mailbox--the box was just the head, with timbers outlining the whole " body." I enjoyed this part of the ride the most, and I wish I had taken more pictures.

The rest stop in Cross Plains was nice, with " real" restrooms, which seem to be common in Wisconsin city parks. I refilled my water bottle, popped a Succeed electrolyte  capsule and merrily headed out for Stage Two, which was only 15 miles. I was already nearly half-finished... Little did I know that was in more ways than one. Those 15 miles weren't exactly easy, of course. I climbed another 1,300 feet over that distance. I often used 2nd, 3rd or 4th gear during the first stage, but by this time I was relying more on 1st gear. When I rode across the country, I only used my lowest gear once, in Jerome, Arizona. From this point on at the 3H, I used it a lot, often on several consecutive hills. Eventually as my morale withered, I resigned myself to just leaving the bike in first gear, coasting downhill and only pedaling again when I had lost sufficient momentum on the next uphill. I could only pedal 3-5 mph in first gear, but I had already lost the will, if not the ability, to push harder. Besides, all I wanted to do was finish. It occurred to me that the designer of this route was evil and sadistic. A favorite " trick" was a 90-degree turn at the bottom of a steep downhill, after which the rider immediately faced another steep climb. I was deprived of momentum, which has always been one of my strong points as a cyclist (I'm not a daredevil descender I just fall fast). Rolling into the second rest stop in Black Earth around noon, I was a little tired but holding on. However, as the announcer had warned us at the start, this course was back-loaded--the hardest part was the end. I ate a little, drank more and took another Succeed capsule. As I went back to my bike, I suddenly felt rather lousy. I could say " really lousy," but then I'd run out of adverbs to use later. I stood around and drank some more, but I knew I was in for a long afternoon. The bright sun began to seem very hot. It was probably 75-80 degrees. I got a bit of a shock when I heard a woman working the rest stop say as she walked to her car, " I'm going to crash planes now." Huh? Oh, she said, " I'm going to *Cross Plains* now!"

Soon after the first rest stop, I climbed this long but gentle hill.

Unfortunately, steeper hills like this were more typical.

Stage Three was another 20 miles with 2,166 more vertical feet, including a killer grand finale which rose 912 feet in 3.5 miles to the highest point in southern Wisconsin. But I was nowhere near that climb yet. Not far into this stage, both of my legs cramped, and my legs have *never* cramped on a bike before. This was a bad sign. Then again, perhaps this was just my way of biking like a Viking--like Norwegian Thor Hushovd in Stage 2 of the 2002 Tour de France. Well, at least my cramps weren't nearly as debilitating as his. I took a short break at the top of the hill and the cramps never recurred.

I struggled a bit for the next ten miles. As a few clouds passed in front of the sun, I realized just how darn hot it was on these climbs when the sun wasn't behind clouds or trees. The reason? No wind, and I wasn't climbing fast enough to make my own. I did something that I never dreamed... I wished for wind--a headwind, any wind, just something to cool me down as I chugged slowly up the steep hills.

This farm had an imposing entryway.

Regardless of the heat, I convinced myself that I wasn't doing so badly and it would be over soon enough. Then I turned onto the aptly named and terribly demoralizing Pinnacle Road. I took on the first few hills as valiantly as I could manage, but as the road curved to reveal another, steeper hill, I cracked. I pulled over to the side and stepped off the bike. Then I drank some water and hunched over the bike seat, panting like a dog in mid-August. I felt a little nauseous and started wishing it would come. At least vomiting, with consequent dehydration, would be a reasonable excuse to climb into the sag wagon and take the easy way back to my car. Standing there, it was hard to hold the bike from rolling back down the hill. I even had the thought of tossing the bike to the ground and kicking it like a madman. Then I remembered what I paid for this bike and decided it wouldn't be prudent. If I had ridden another bike, it may have been a different story. I don't know how long I was standing there. It seemed like twenty minutes, but it was probably half of that. A few riders caught up to me, and I made some weak attempts to look like I wasn't feeling so bad as they passed. " You okay?" Sure, fine, never been better. Got a pistol? One rider was walking his bike up the hill. I was too proud to walk, even if riding was becoming sickeningly difficult.

After a few more minutes, I climbed back on the bike and continued up the hill in low gear. I only had another 11-12 miles to go, so how bad could it be? A few hundred feet later, my pride apparently vanished. I was walking. Even walking a bike up a steep hill is not easy. I tend to be a brisk walker, but according the the cycle computer I was only managing 2.4-2.8 mph uphill. Even in my slightly delirious state of mind, I could still do the math... eleven miles to go... more than half of those miles climbing... that's two hours just for the climbs. I did *not* want to be doing this for another two hours. Walking was still tiring me out, so I stopped again. The only thing that kept me from sitting on the shoulder and waiting for a sag wagon was my memory of the 200K brevet in Iowa that I had bailed out of in April 2001. I rationalized at that time that with 45 mph headwinds keeping my speed in single digits, I wouldn't make it in under the time limit anyway, but I still felt like an incredible failure. This time I couldn't even really blame anything but myself. I was the one with weak training. More critically, I was the one who was wilting in the heat and couldn't manage to properly hydrate myself. If I caught a sag and begged for a mercy ride, I could never wear the T-shirt. It occurred to me that as a Viking, I never would have made it to Newfoundland. Maybe not even Iceland.

After I scaled that hill on Pinnacle Road (which rose 482 feet in 2.5 miles, giving back less than half that in descents), the terrain became a little more forgiving. There was a mini water stop where I got another refill. The man said it was the last stop before the finish. This was a bit alarming because I knew I didn't have enough water for the 70-90 minutes of effort that the last ten miles were going to take. Fortunately, there were only a few short, not-too-steep climbs on the way to the final monster. Awhile after I turned onto Mounds Park Road, the pavement headed skyward and I went downhill. Okay, not literally, but I had another bout of hunching over the bike and not necessarily wishing for death but not caring if it came at that moment, so long as it saved me from having to finish this climb. In retrospect, I would likely have gone to hell and been sentenced to an eternity of pedaling my bicycle uphill, a bit like a cycling Sisyphus.

A sag wagon finally came by after I started walking up the hill. I waved it down... but only for water. I couldn't quit now, even if it took me an hour to walk the last three miles up this darn hill. By now, plenty of others were also walking their bikes, except they all looked a lot better than I felt. More people were inquiring about my condition, so I must have looked bad, too. Heck, how could one look good while unsteadily leaning over a bike and staring at the ground? Finally, I walked to the top of the hill. It turned out that there was one decent downhill remaining on the way to the park, so I remounted. However, once again my rapid progress was spoiled by the route's design--a stop sign and a gravelly right turn that forced me to ride the brakes down. After turning carefully (there was a *lot* of gravel), I was on the same road I had driven up in the morning. As usual, it seemed much steeper on a bike than it did in a car. I was walking a lot of it, as were many others. When the road leveled out a bit at the park entrance, I got back on the bike for a while. When the road kicked up again, I stopped once more and walked. Even the now-imminent finish wasn't enough to motivate me to stay on the bike. A few young women were cheering everyone at the 150-yard mark. This was greatly appreciated, and I managed to spin the pedals for a hundred feet or so before walking some more. Finally, at the 50-yard mark I remounted and pedaled to the finish, an exhausted, nearly broken man. The finish clock read 7:00:00. The numbers from my cyclometer: 67.57 miles in 5:42:08 for an average speed of 11.8 mph. I checked the web site months later to see that I finished 47th out of 61 males.

I looked a whole lot better than I felt at the end of this ride.

The post-race buffet was disappointing, but it didn't matter much because I didn't feel like eating anything anyway. I think I ate three grapes and drank a quart of water. I sat there for another 20-30 minutes in a bit of a fog, somehow managing to fill out the ride evaluation form. I expressed my disappointment about the T-shirt but admitted that it was a great ride, even though at the moment it felt like my last. In fact, there was a place to enter my bib number to win a free registration in next year's ride. I didn't fill it in--it would be just my luck to win. When I could stand up and walk straight again, I rode over to my car and somehow mustered the strength to hoist the bike in. Shaded by a tree, I sat in the car and surreptitiously changed out of my cycling shorts. On the way home, I stopped in Mount Horeb to walk around a little. It was a nice little town, and much to my surprise, my legs felt okay. I found some neat things at the Prairie Bookshop, including Bicycle Touring Utah by Dennis Coello, the same man who wrote the Bicycle Touring Arizona book I bought in Springerville, AZ last spring.

Mt. Horeb's Main Street was populated with statues of trolls, so it was called the Trollway.

After a good eight hours of sleep on Saturday night (a long time for me), I had very little muscle soreness on Sunday or Monday. That evidence reinforced my feeling that it was not my poor training so much as the heat and dehydration that caused my problems. If I had  been really undertrained, my legs would have hurt, especially my ankles. In retrospect, I should have taken more Succeed caps along with more water. I didn't realize how long I was out there because mileage is deceptive on such a hard ride. I should have looked at my watch instead, perhaps taking a cap an hour. Twice as much water and twice the electrolytes would have made my Horribly Hilly Hundred much less hellish.

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