Riding in the Bardo (or how not to ride a bicycle)

This past weekend I drove to Wichita Falls, TX to do the Hotter’n Hell 100 mile bike ride on Saturday and their half-marathon the following day. Going in, I was a little apprehensive about the biking part. I had not trained as much as I wanted to and was not comfortable in a crowded field (Yeah, sign me up for a ride with 13,000ish other people).  I felt OK about the stamina that I needed to get through the course, the drafting was a little nerve-racking for me.

I had done some training with a few friends who are very experienced in cycling. They took me and my wife under their collective wings and showed us the basics. I felt good about drafting them, I know them, I trust them and their judgment, but what about race day? What would I do if I needed to draft a stranger whom I did not know or trust?

Luckily they agreed to stay together as long as possible. Did I mention that there are a lot of people at this race? Staying together was going to be a challenge. Once our wave started, we managed to keep pretty close, drafting off each other as much as possible. The ebb and flow at the beginning of a bike race is much like the start of a foot race, speed up, slow down. Spreading out and compacting up like an accordion. Somehow, we managed to stay together the first few crowded miles, not drafting close but within seeing distance.

About five miles in , the crowd started to thin a little. I was starting to feel comfortable with the race. We were able to draft each other much easier now. Things were clicking like they should. Mile ten came and for the first time I started to feel confident. The crowd wasn’t as bad so I relaxed a little, I had this!

Then came mile sixteen…

The friend in front of me said she was slowing, she had a flat. Before I knew what was happening she was down. Honestly, all I can remember is an image of her laying in front of my bike, rolling. The next thing I can recall is another friend on the phone telling the riders in the front of our group what had happened as she was running up to us. The three of us were spread out in the grass, dazed and wondering how bad the others were hurt.

From what I have been told, when she moved over to the side of the road, my friend’s tire stuck in the grass and this threw her. When my bike hit her, it caused me to go over the handlebars. I landed on my head and IMG_2322rolled. My wife, who was behind me, hit us and somersaulted. She landed on her left arm which she had hurt the day before in the mountain bike race.

We stayed there a few minutes to get our senses back and absorb what had just happened. A quick once over of the bikes and there did not appear to be any major damage. The flat was quickly fixed and we were riding again. A little dazed, but moving none the less.

The riders in the front of our group had stopped to wait on us about a mile up the road. The group was back together and we were rolling again. Suddenly, I noticed my wife slowing and her arm was swelling more and more. I could almost watch it getting bigger. My head was starting to throb, along with my neck and shoulder muscles knotting up.

Then it got scary, my wife began to weave a little and was loosing speed. She swore that she was keeping a good pace. She was doing 8 mile per hour and getting passed. I knew I had to try and get her to stop. I also knew that I probably shouldn’t go on myself. When I mentioned dropping, she broke down. She was attempting to do what is called the “Triple Threat”. This is where you do a 12 mile mountain bike race on Friday, a 100 mile road bike race on Saturday and a half-marathon on Sunday. Dropping meant that goal was out.

Once at the aid station she went to the medical tent. They had her lay down so they could check her arm. It was while she lay there, getting her arm wrapped and iced that she realized  the “Triple Threat” award would not happen this year. We both checked out, but felt it was for the best if we did not proceed. This was a tough call for both of us as we’ve never dropped from a race. If we pushed to the end, we may be in so much pain that we couldn’t do the half-marathon.

As painful as dropping was, I had to keep my goals in mind. I was there for the run, the cycling was supposed to be for the fun of it. I need to get to the Bandera 100k safe and healthy, pushing through could have made any injuries worse. I plan on returning at some point and finishing it, but only when I’m ready and focused on it. Hotter’n Hell 100 will not beat me.

All in all it was a pretty bad situation, but it could have been much worse. As we were being driven back to the start/finish, I heard some chatter on the two-way radio. Apparently there was another accident a few miles past ours, they were calling for a helicopter to carry someone to the hospital. The three of us had walked/limped away. Sure, we were bruised and cut, our pride was hurt, but didn’t need to be carried out.

I will share my experience with the half-marathon in my next post, so keep watching for it!

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