Hancock Horizontal Hundred: Practice for TOSRV!

NOTE: This entry is dedicated to Bob Whittington, who thought I would have nothing interesting to write about for the Hancock Horizontal Hundred. Look how long this entry is! =)

On September 9, I rode the Hancock Horizontal Hundred, a well-known Ohio ride organized by the Hancock Handlebars Bicycle Club in Findlay, OH. In the weeks leading up to this ride, I was warned by numerous ABCers about the boring flatness and scenery of this route. Having ridden my only other centuries in Toledo (the MS 150, where on the first day I’ve done the 100 mile route for the last two years), I thought I knew exactly what they were talking about. So I must say that I was quite surprised by the scenery and route in Findlay — both of which were not quite as flat nor as boring as everyone implied. I found this ride to be more challenging and more scenic than the naysayers predicted.

Sorry, folks, but Toledo is way flatter. The HH route did have the occasional slight incline and it wasn’t just over the highway overpasses. There were a few slight rises in geography. Still nothing to bat an eye at. In fact, I laughed when one of the Hancock club riders I rode with after the lunch stop pointed out at one part of a stretch of road, “Okay, we have to climb a little here.”
I blinked and, yeah, I could see that the road had a slight incline. I could feel an ever-so-slight tug on my leg muscles. The wind was also blowing in my face, so the extra exertion could have been from that. Still, Toledo does not even know “slight” incline. Toledo is literally flat. Findlay and its surrounding areas seem like rolling hills in comparison. I swear, go to Toledo sometime and you will get what I’m saying.

The HH route brought me on roads lined with trees that passed parks. It wasn’t all cornfields and farms. It had its charm, its moments of beauty. We went through small, quaint towns I’d never heard of, such as Vanlue. I was reminded of the first time I did the MS 150, of a riding through sleepy towns that somehow felt like home to me even though I grew up in a fairly big suburban city. I guess I’ve always had an affinity for the small little country towns; some part of me has always wanted to live in one because they seem cozy and remote. Simple and laid back. A place to set up my telescope in the backyard and look at the stars without needing to drive an hour away from the city; a place to cycle 40+ miles without encountering too much traffic. I could get to like those hidden away places in Ohio… I have many hobbies that would thrive in a place away from everything else.

I paint a romantic picture of this ride, but I’m mainly thinking of the second half of the ride when the cycling became pleasant. I woke on the morning of September 9th to a steady rain. I looked outside from the hotel room door with dismay, thinking, “I’m so not going to ride this.”

It’s a little harder to back out of a ride when you’ve already paid, months ago, to do it. You’ve worked yourself up to it, excited about an upcoming ride in a new area you’ve never been. With dread, I packed my bike into my car to drive to the starting line. I told myself that I could start the ride, but I could quit any time.

Of course, the truth of the matter is, once I sit my butt in the seat and start pedaling, I’m already committed to the ride, for better or for worse. Mars Girl never quits. Well, unless lightening is sighted. I’m a big coward about lightening.

So at around 7:30am, I reluctantly rolled out of the Findlay High School parking lot. My friends, Jeff and Diane, cheered me out the window of their truck as they pulled into the high school driveway. They were doing the 32 mile route and were therefore starting later, catching (literally, catching) their Chris Cakes pancake breakfast at the school. They sounded happier than I felt.

Right away, my legs just did not feel like they were going to get into the groove of the ride. They felt stiff and heavy. I guess my muscles were just as reluctant to take part in this ride as my brain. Still, as rain splattered on my glasses (I finally got to use the clear lenses) and water tasting of my Mary Kay hydrating cream dripped off my face into my mouth, I rode on. I hated every second.

“Well,” I thought, trying to cheer myself up, “at least it’s not raining as hard as it did on Two Rivers.”

Yeah. Well. There will never be weather like what I experienced on Two Rivers. (Thanks, Bruce.)

“This is practice for TOSRV?” my mind tried a second reassurance. The Tour of the Scioto River Valley is the premiere Ohio cycling event. Held every year over Mother’s Day weekend, the weather is traditionally pretty crappy because May in Ohio is manic-depressive (or, as I always like to say, “a cock tease.”) Last year, the weather was uncharacteristically warm, though riders reported a pretty strong headwind both days. I’ll take a headwind over rain any day. Some might debate that with me, but rain is demoralizing. I hate being wet. I decided this summer that next year I was going to try this 2-day, 210 mile ride (105 miles/day). Which means, I’m going ride through rain, sleet, hail, wind, just like everyone else. I think you’re only allowed to claim TOSRV as a ride you’ve done if the weather was bad.

A rain-drenched Mars Girl at 32-Mile Rest Stop

My misery was not abated. It became my best friend — or my ever-charging enemy — all the way to the first rest stop at 32 miles. By this time, I was a drowned rat. Fortunately, the rest stop was in the reception hall of the church running it. I got twenty minutes out of the rain in which to contemplate my situation and dread going back out in it. I wasn’t about to back out.

By the time I was ready to leave the rest stop, the rain had slowed. Filled with hope, I removed my rain coat. The skies still looked gloomy and grey and pregnant with rain. I figured, though, that if the rain just held off, I’d be happy enough with the ride, even if the atmosphere was dismal.

Of course, it started raining about two miles out of the gate from the rest stop. And then, I noticed, my front tire had a flat. I grudgingly got off my bike and began pulling out my spare tube and tools, grumpy because I knew this would take me awhile. (The last time I had to change a flat myself on this bike, it had taken me over an hour. This was on the fateful day that I met Bruce and Michael on the first ABC ride I did this season…) I had gotten used to changing tubes on my old hybrid and could readily do it in about fifteen minutes. I still don’t have enough experience fixing flats on my new bike and I haven’t had a flat since I bought new tires after the Vandalia Freedom Tour.

Fortunately for me, a couple just happened to be passing. The guy asked me if I needed help. I grumbled back to him that I knew how to change the tire, but it would take me awhile. He got off his bike and offered to do it for me. He was quick and had the whole thing installed and pumped back up within 10 minutes. I heartily thanked him. If it hadn’t been raining, I might have waived him off. I don’t like to play the “damsel in distress” card, for I should know how to change my own tire (and I do, it just takes awhile). But the quickening rain had washed away my patience and hardened feminist tendencies.

The flat fixed, I reluctantly donned my rain coat once again and got back on my bike. As I started to ride again, I found that I’d reached a state of acceptance. This is the only way to get through any ride, as I’ve explained numerous times with my theory of TPL. Tolerant pain level is not just about physical muscle strain, but also includes the pain of discomfort. I had decided that I was going to do this ride. I was already as wet as I could be — couldn’t get any wetter. I chose to ignore it and just settle concentration into the act of riding. And that’s how I managed the next hour or so.

About 10 miles from lunch, the rain seemed to be settling down again. Like a desert mirage, I thought I could see “light up ahead” and a break in the clouds (this had been Bruce, Michael, and my mantra on the famous Two Rivers Tour). I wasn’t completely giving into that fantasy, since the rain had stopped at the first lunch stop. Yet, I was hopeful.

There was a point in the route where the road markings indicated a decision: “~100 miles” turn left; “102 miles” continue straight. Considering these rides are usually short of the miles they advertise, and I usually end up having to ride around a parking lot or up and down a street to make up the lost mileage, I decided to go with the 102 mile route. After all, what was 2 more miles after 100? Nothing but a stroll down the road!

I found out later from a Hancock member I rode with after lunch that they had done a test ride of the route the previous weekend and they had learned that the route was 102 miles. Therefore, they decided to turn the route at a shorter point for those who just wanted to do an exact 100, but leaving the option open to do 102 for those who didn’t care. More practice for TOSRV, I say, where it’s not over at 100 but 105!

By the time I made it to the lunch stop (at 52 miles), the sky was indeed lighter. I parked my bike and went into the Arlington High School cafeteria to enjoy a feast of turkey sandwich, potato salad, macaroni salad, pasta salad, and a bag of Baked BBQ Lays. Yes, I ate all of that. It’s no wonder I never loose any weight from riding. I didn’t realize until I started serving myself food that I was famished.

After eating and sending a few quick e-mail and text messages via my cell phone, I off again. I was more than halfway there. The weather had vastly improved. There was still “water in the air,” but it wasn’t really raining. You kind of “ran into” the water while riding. I tentatively removed my rain coat again. My legs were feeling a little tighter than they normally do after a 50+ mile ride, though nothing I couldn’t live with. I was finally starting to feel sufficiently warmed up.

Over the next 25 miles, I ended up riding with two guys (one of them was the aforementioned Hancock Handlebars member). We rode a pretty stiff pace of 18mph, despite the wind and the fact that neither guy seemed to want to do a paceline. I was going to suggest it, but I was afraid they’d be offended or something (since neither of them offered it or showed any signs of attempting to draft off of me). Some people are sensitive about the whole “drafting” thing, so I just decided to drop it. Besides, part of me likes to do the ride by my own power. I sometimes feel like drafting is cheating.

When I hit the rest stop at 75 miles, the sun was actually out. I had to change out the clear lenses on my glasses to the ambers (which I’d packed in the morning, hopeful). The temperature went up a little and it felt a little humid. I guess you can’t have everything. I personally was glad to be out of the rain — humidity was not going to bother me now. The only thing I regretted was not packing sunblock… I guess I had not been that hopeful that morning.

The HH guy kicked it up a gear out of the rest stop and I never saw him again after the second mile when he turned into a dot on the flat horizon before me. The other guy — we’ll call him “Cinci Boy” because he was from Cincinnati — and I alternately passed each other during bursts of energy. We stayed pretty close together throughout the rest of the ride, though often riding apart from each other.

I was in good form through about 92 miles. This is an improvement over the MS 150 where I started to feel tired of riding at 83. So, I managed to get about nine more miles of energy on a century after 2,000 miles. There was a rest stop ten miles from the end of the ride. I felt the need to stop. I munched on a few items, drank some water, and calculated that it would probably take me about half an hour to complete the last ten miles. At that point, that seemed like such a long time!

During the final stretch, as the sun beat down on my arms (and I hoped I wasn’t getting cooked), I had a moment of disassociation where I briefly wondered if I was really still riding my bike, or if I was merely dreaming that I was riding my bike. I get these moments every so often — a “pinch me” moment where it doesn’t feel like I’m awake. It’s almost existential — is life but a dream? Or are we the players in someone else’s dream? I could have delivered a Shakespearean soliloquy right at that moment! To be or not to be…

I popped myself out of it a few miles later because I was worried that I’d disassociate so much that I’d end up crashing into something (or someone). Though, I’m sure the pain would provide proof that I wasn’t dream at all.

It wasn’t long before I was rolling back into the old downtown Findlay. Stopped at a red light that seemed to last forever, Cinci Boy and I exchanged a few grunts that basically consisted of, “I’m ready to be done. Aren’t you?”

I remembered riding through the old downtown in the morning. It sure looked nicer with sun. Every thing looked nicer with sun.

The last few miles seemed to take forever. I could have sworn that the high school was just around the corner from the downtown, but before I knew it, we were riding along a long winding road that paralleled I-75 for a bit. I watched my computer count down the miles to 101 just to distract myself. So, this ride was correctly measured — it would be 102 after all!

Finally, I saw a series of stop lights and a building that looked like it could be the high school. I kept watching the arrows on the road, but at each intersection, they were still pointing annoyingly straight. “Where the hell is the entrance?” I kept thinking. I was so ready to be done.
And then, there it was, my oasis of everlasting relief: the high school driveway. I turned and headed straight for my car in the parking lot. 102.3 miles.

I know I should have probably said goodbye and good luck to Cinci Boy, but at that moment, I just wanted to get to my car and remove myself from this two-wheeled device of pain. My butt was quite sore at this point and, as I would later learn, I was quite chafed. Yuck.

I was a little disappointed that I had no one to take a picture of me by the HHH sign… Diane and Jeff were already almost home. Well, I didn’t expect them to wait four more hours for me to complete my ride. I guess I could have asked Cinci Boy, but he’d disappeared shortly after I’d made it to my car.

I went into the high school to wash my face off and change into a t-shirt. Fortunately, they had some left over food from the rest stops there and I was able to grab two chocolate muffins. Shhh! Don’t tell anyone! Even this health food nut cheats! (Even though I lecture people all the time about how they shouldn’t eat crap food after exercising…)

The drive home was actually really nice. It was early evening and the world was enclosed in what I always call “The Golden Hour.” There is a certain angle of the sun in the west that causes the sky to light up like gold and the land, likewise, appears “brighter” than usual. Even the blades of grass take on a golden hue. It only happens in the evenings in the fall.

Every time I manage to catch a glimpse of the world at The Golden Hour, I can’t help but muse about how beautiful the planet is. This moment even makes me appreciate Ohio, which I openly scorn on most occasions. I guess I have a love-hate relationship with this state, mostly due to it’s winter weather and the lack of healthy attitudes among its populous. Denver was my Mecca, but I missed my friends when I lived there.

As I was driving home, tired from a long ride yet invigorated, I realized how many different places in Ohio I’ve seen this summer on my bike. Maybe it isn’t such a bad place to live after all. Maybe in all those years of complaining, I wasn’t looking very close. Maybe I just wanted an excuse to dislike the place so that I convince myself to get out. I’ve always had a problem with living in the moment and appreciating the things around me. Now, having fed my wanderlust and returned like the prodigal son, I have the time to notice and appreciate the beauty in the place where I was born. I’m starting to hate it a little less.

I’d definitely do this ride next year. I think it was far more interesting than Toledo. Incidentally, I’ve decided to abandon the MS 150 in Toledo next year for a change of pace to the MS 150 in Grand Rapids, Michigan. I’ve never been there. As I’ve continued to learn over this last cycling season, you can’t help but notice the beauty of a new place when you’re viewing it from the seat of a bicycle!

2 thoughts on “Hancock Horizontal Hundred: Practice for TOSRV!

  1. Wow, I never had an article dedicated to me that contained references to both c***-teases and chafing! You’re right, you were able to get a lot of blog out of that ride. You must get paid by the word at your job! It sounds like you had a good time despite the miserable weather. I had the occasion to be in western Ohio that day for a different reason and was surprised that it cleared up in the afternoon. My route took me through Findlay on Rt. 224 and I saw one lonely rider still circling the high school parking lot at about 5:30 p.m. I was afraid they’d cancelled the ride. So, thanks for dedicating the blog to me and I’m glad you had a good time.Bob Whittington

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