THE HANCOCK HORIZONTAL HUNDRED
The Hancock Handlebars Bicycle Club ride.
• by John David Fawcett •
As part of the training for my Ecuador mountaineering trip I participated in the Hancock Handlebars Bicycle Club ride, the Hancock Horizontal Hundred.
It was tougher than I expected. After several hours of baking myself in the broiling sun I tend to lose my already tenuous grasp on reality. But that isn't the reason the ride was hard. No, the reason the ride was so tough is because its flat. No hills. Nothing but the sun and miles of soybean fields as far as you can see, which is damn near into Kansas. It sure didn't look like Ohio anymore.
You see, no hills means there is nothing to struggle up and more importantly, nothing to fly back down. In others words, you earn the entire one hundred miles, pedal stroke after pedal stroke. Makes for a long day, especially when the wind picks up, which is right after the route turns and heads thirty-five miles west. Directly into the wind. And did I mention the lack of shade?
Actually, I enjoyed it, as much as one can enjoy self inflicted suffering. I got up at three o'clock in the morning and drove out to Findlay, about a two and a half hour ride from my house. I wasted about twenty minutes after I followed a detour sign that led me into the Stygian darkness of the rural mid-west. Sure can see a lot of stars out there. I finally ignored the detour and found the starting point at Findlay High School with time to spare. I was surprised to see how many people were there, and how many motor homes and tents were in the parking lot.
I picked up my map and lunch ticket before heading to the restroom to unload the quart of Gatorade I had on the drive in. Imagine my dismay when I discovered the line went out the door and twenty feet down the hallway. The hostess offered to take my name and call me when a seat was available, but the pressure was mounting so I decided to take matters into my own hands.
Walking carefully, I made my way back to the car and drove across the street to a McDonald's restaurant that had just opened. To assuage my guilty conscience I bought an Egg McMuffin that I really didn't want. After discarding the flesh I hastily stuffed the sandwich in my mouth. Unfortunately I forgot to swallow and ended up attempting to pass half of it through my nose.
Trying to remain inconspicuous while I choked and hacked, I made my way to the restroom only to find it already occupied. About the time I finally got myself straightened around I was granted admittance, and in no time I was back at the High School. The sun had just started to rise so I suavely donned my hot new "bike stud" sunglasses and made my way to the start. Although I could hardly see through the dark sunglasses I didn't run into anything. Taking that as a good omen I eased my way into the steady stream of cyclist pouring onto the route. I was amazed how many people were riding. There were people as far as I could see in either direction. I haven't seen that many bicycles at one time since the last century ride I attempted nearly twenty-eight years ago.
I fell in with a few riders that were moving at about twenty miles per hour and we moved along through the cool, foggy farmland, the only sound that of hundreds of bicycle tires hissing on the pavement. I arrived at the twenty eight mile rest stop in an hour and fifteen minutes. My time and speed was much better than I expected and I was still feeling fresh. I had an excellent bannana-nut bran muffin and enjoyed it so much I had another before heading back out on the road.
The ride to the lunch stop was uneventful save for the rising temperature. The terrain seemed to never change. Soy beans as far as the eye could see with the occasional odd stand of field corn. But I was still maintaining an average speed of 19.8 mph and I was quite proud of that. Lunch was an ordeal in itself. Held in a small town grade school, the cafeteria was reached by a long flight of stairs whereupon one passed through a working facsimile of the gates of Hell. Hot does not even come close to describing the temperature. The three small floor fans did little more than create small eddies of torpid air that felt much like a dog breathing on your face. I had arrived earlier than the main group of riders but even so, the line went halfway around the room. When I finally got to the food table I was confronted with Ham and Turkey on White Bread sandwiches, a paper plate with some peanut butter that had long since melted into a slightly viscous brown liquid, some gray bananas and a tub of pasta salad. Considering the heat, I decided to pass on the pasta and helped myself to a handful of carrot and celery sticks along with another fabulous muffin. I was going to top off my water supply but the valve on one of the water coolers had jammed and orange drink was oozing its way toward the door. What I mistook to be a Three Stooges comedy team armed with mops chased after it. I decided to leave while I still had a chance.
The main body of riders had arrived by now and the horde was strung out in a line that reached down the stairway and out into the school yard. I carefully made my way past all the weekend warriors dressed in violently colored, skin-tight clothing, attire that most definitely did not flatter the vast majority.
Back outside, the temperature seemed twenty degrees cooler. With slightly renewed vigor I mounted my bike and started on the second fifty mile leg of the route. I rode with several older fellows for a while until moving out on my own. The roads were rather interesting, often times narrowing down to little more than eight feet wide with no shoulder to speak of. In fact some of them were almost identical to paved bike paths I've ridden on, but perhaps what stuck me the most was that every road we traveled, be it busy state highway or seldom used back road, was perfectly paved and maintained.
The sun had now reached its zenith and of course the temperature had risen in kind. It had turned out to be an absolutely beautiful late summer day. Did I mention there was no shade? By the time I got to the seventy-five mile rest stop I was beginning to feel the effects of the heat. My average speed had now slipped to 17.6 mph. I was getting a little tired and the wind was starting to pick up. I was disappointed that there were no muffins at this stop but they did have excellent, oversized chocolate-chip cookies. I took three and ate them in the shade of a small tree while I watched a cloud of bees swarm around a nearby flag pole. I also noted how far the flag rope was being blown by the wind, not a good sign. Before leaving I took the opportunity to refilled my water. I have a hydration systems that holds 107 ounces of liquid. And I wanted it filled to the top. I knew from past experience, as hot as it was, I would need every bit of liquid I could carry in order to finish the ride.
From here the route turned and headed straight west for miles and miles. Unrelenting heat and the wind. Not much of a wind actually, more of a steady breeze, but enough that I could feel the added resistance. My average speed began creeping lower as I labored through the bread basket of America. More like the bread oven.
With only eight more miles to go I was flagged down by two young guys, one of whom had a flat but no pump. At least he did have the adapter for his presta valve stem. When I stopped and took off my helmet to wipe the copious amount of sweat out of my eyes one of the guys worriedly asked my if I was all right. I get very red and sweat buckets when I get overheated and I imagine I was a frightful sight.
The sag wagon came by just as they determined that the tire indeed had a puncture. The kid had a spare tube but had no idea how to change it. I used my tire levers, something else the kid never heard of, to dismount the tire while an air pump was brought from the sag. While the kid struggled with the tire his buddy got on his bike and rode about half a mile down the road where he waited in the shade of an outbuilding. I finally had to remount the tire for the kid or I imagine he would still be there fighting with it. After more than thirty minutes standing around the side of the road in the direct sun I was about ready to call it a day but, knowing there was only eight more miles to go, I forced myself to finish the ride. Not more than half a mile later I ran out of water.
Once I got back into town the wind became less of a factor, but the mile and a half of stop signs and crossing traffic at every block got to be tedious. Once I got back on a more traveled road I was able to get my speed up again. My throat was beginning to hurt from lack of water but otherwise I felt rather good and was in high spirits when I finally arrived back at the High School. Stashing the bike on the car I changed my sweat-soaked clothes, grabbed two more muffins and started the long drive home.
Initially I didn't have much enthusiasm for this ride because I had already completed a century when I rode the Akron Bicycle Club ride. Seems like once I achieve a goal, I'm not interested in it anymore. I also thought that this ride would be rather easy since it was flat. Actually I think this ride was harder than the ABC ride because I had to pedal the entire route. No assistance from gravity on this ride!
I enjoyed the ride very much despite the self-inflicted suffering. That's all part of the game. I knew that riding this distance on a mountain bike was most likely going to be less enjoyable than if I had a road bike. It was, but in some perverse way it added to the challenge.
The first fifty miles in the morning were the most enjoyable. I love seeing the sun come up, the fields still sparkling with dew, the fog in low lying areas, the wonderful smells of freshly mown fields, ripe corn, and even the smells of livestock. The route was well marked and the roads were excellent. All in all, this was a great ride and I highly recommend it.
The Hancock Handlebars Bicycle Club - The Hancock Horizontal Hundred is a major bicycling event. From the late 1970s when the HHH was the largest single-day Century tour in America until now, the HHH has maintained its size and quality. The exceptionally smooth, lightly-traveled roads of the "Old Mill Stream" countryside, and the outstanding organization by the Hancock Handlebars make this tour a fine example of everything a tour should be (except hilly).