Experimental music, photography, and adventures

Hilly Hundred 2007, Part I

Tuesday, October 16th, 2007

The Hilly Hundred was this weekend and I’ve been trying to figure out how to write about it. “The Hilly,” as it’s often called, is a two-day, 100-mile bicycle ride that starts and ends in Ellettsville, Indiana. It’s billed as a touring ride, not a race. This was the first one I’ve done, and I’m overwhelmed by all the things I saw, the hills I climbed (and rode down!) and all the different people I met there. Even though I’m familiar with some of the roads, I saw so much — and at such a faster pace than at the Brown County Breakdown — that I’m having trouble fitting it all back together.

Friday Night – Registration

I had preregistered for The Hilly online, but I still had to register in person once I got there. I figured this would be as simple as giving them my confirmation number and walking away with a map and some other information, but what I didn’t realize was that there’s also a mandatory safety session. This took a lot longer than I expected, and I’m glad that Sarah talked me into doing it Friday night instead of waiting until Saturday morning. We also stopped by the tent where several vendors were selling biking clothes, parts, and even complete bicycles. I got a headband/ear cover thing, a hat, and a Descente Element jacket, all at 50% off retail prices. I almost didn’t buy the jacket, but Sarah talked me into it. It turned out to be awesome, so I’m glad she did.

Saturday – 48 Miles

I was a little unsure what time to arrive on Saturday. The information I was given said that the start time was staggered and went from 8-10:00 am. I needed sleep pretty badly, so I decided to shoot for a 9:00 arrival. I got there a little later than I expected, but it was no problem. I was astounded by how many people were there. I knew that this event had over 5,000 riders registered, but it hadn’t yet occurred to me exactly how huge this thing was. People were directing cars through several lots to one that wasn’t full. There were cars and bikes everywhere, but things were being run very smoothly. I was led right to an available parking spot, all the way there gaping at how many cyclists there were, and all the different kinds of bikes. Mountain bikes, road bikes, touring bikes, recumbents, tandems … all present. Expensive bikes, cheap bikes, etc.

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A few people riding by, with others gathered at the start in the distance

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Tons of parked cars

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My bike, all ready to go

I got my bike off the roof rack on my car and got everything ready. One thing that was in the packet of information I got when I registered was a name tag that had my name and hometown on it. I hung this from my saddle so if I took my jacket off it’d still be visible.

Once I was ready, I rode to the start point and rode right through, realizing that the people gathered in the photo above were simply the ones waiting for part of their group. I rode right through and realized immediately that there was a line of bicycle stretching literally as far as the eye could see.

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Riders behind me

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And some ahead of me

It was a beautiful morning and chilly, somewhere around 42 degrees. I was dressed appropriately and pretty comfortable. It was clear that some people were not as well prepared and they were suffering for it. In all fairness, it was tough to plan what to wear because the low was in the low 40s and the high was predicted to be in the upper 60s.

The air was crisp and the leaves were finally starting to change and this made for a great fall morning. The air felt great on my face and while I hadn’t slept well, I quickly felt alert and glad to be outdoors. The sun was still casting long shadows and bathing the landscape in a warm glow. We passed many quaint farms and fields dotted with cattle.

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Beautiful farm scene

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Obligatory corn shot

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A barn in the hills

I learned a lot when we reached the first hill in the course. “Heartbreak Hill” wasn’t terribly steep (11.7% max), or terribly long (0.6 miles), but it was enough of a climb to get my heart pumping a bit. As soon as the climb started, many riders dismounted their bicycles to walk the hill. Many others struggled valiantly against a hill that quite simply kicked their ass. Some barely made it and there were a few who had little trouble with it at all. Others made it, but stopped as soon as they got to the top to catch their breath.

Myself, I had little trouble with this hill other than trying to get around the congestion that occurs when hundreds of riders in various states of fitness try to climb a hill at the same time. I learned from this experience and moved to the left before climbing most of the other hills so that I could pass those slower than me, while still leaving room to my left for faster riders to pass me. On most of the climbs, the faster riders would end up in the left (“wrong”) lane passing slower ones on the right with those stopped or walking all the way to the right. People didn’t always get over when they should have, but for the most part, they did.

The first ten miles were surprisingly flat, with only two more notable hills. Similar congestion occurred at these hills but my tactics worked well. I made sure to give people plenty of room, and to give myself enough room to get around them. We passed by the towns of Whitehall and Hendricksville before reaching the first SAG stop at about the 12 mile mark.

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Arriving at SAG Stop #1

I didn’t really feel I needed to stop yet, but I did anyway. I was glad I did as I was greeted with some fun music that sounded like some kind of German folk music. It was highly entertaining and some children were dancing in front of the band. There were a lot of refreshments including apples, bananas, water, apple cider, donuts, muffins, and probably other things. I ate a banana and against my better judgment, a donut. I was worried it might slow me down, but I didn’t have any trouble with that. I had to wait a few minutes to use a Port-O-Let but it was worth it.

After a few minutes, I started riding again and I really felt I was riding well. The first ten miles were good, but I felt refreshed after the SAG stop, had a lot more energy than I expected and rode very well. There was a little bit of a headwind but it didn’t even bother me, and I felt surprisingly strong when climbing. The air was electric as everyone was having such a great time and I’m sure that contributed to my own state of mind.

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Another great barn

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Climbing one of the easier hills

I got some interesting comments as people saw me shooting while climbing this hill. It wasn’t one of the harder hills, but it was tricky riding and shooting at the same time. I wouldn’t have done it if I felt it was unsafe. During one of the less steep parts, I just put my bike in a low gear and continued spinning up the hill while taking a couple of photos.

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Some riders climbing behind me

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Bikes behind me stretching as far as the eye can see

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Hilly, windy road past a power plant

We rode along the top of a ridge for a while, enjoying some gorgeous views of the scenery below us and in the distance.

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Great view from the road

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Power lines near a barn and a pond

Somewhere along the way was the Three Sisters Hill which was more like three hills to climb, with 1.5 miles of climbing and a maximum grade of 14.2%. This was one of Saturday’s tougher hills and while I did a good job, it took a lot out of me. I heard a lot of cursing during this section; many people walked their bikes, and those who were moving weren’t moving quickly at all, myself included. But we persevered and people encouraged each other on the way up. It was great to see people cheering their fellow riders on and encouraging each other to conquer these hills. We passed through Solsberry and Newark.

It wasn’t long (only about 12 miles or so from the first SAG stop) before I found myself at lunch. This was about the halfway point of Saturday’s ride, which was going by surprisingly quickly. There was more live music, this time it was Craig and the Crawdads, with one guy (presumably Craig) proclaiming, “To boogie or not to boogie, that is the question!” The food was good; I had some pasta salad, fried chicken, vegetables, cookies, fruit, and even an ice cream sandwich. More delicious apple cider was provided, and I drank copious amounts of it. I found the fried chicken a little heavy and hard to eat, but there were plenty of other great options. There was also a repairs tent, which I fortunately didn’t need.

Curiously missing from all the SAG stops was Gatorade. They had water, apple cider and pink lemonade but I had sort of assumed they’d have Gatorade. I had some in my second water bottle but I was counting on refilling it there. I made it last all day though and supplemented it with some gels I had brought. I don’t really care for them but I needed to replace some electrolytes and they are great for that purpose.

I ate too much at lunch and felt pretty full, but I was glad I took my time, and I found I really enjoyed stopping frequently to eat along the ride. The SAG stops seemed to me to be a little closer together than necessary, but it made for a nice easy ride and I could always skip one if I felt like it. I never felt the need to skip one altogether, but I spent more time at some stops than others.

So, I got back on my bike feeling a little full and a little sluggish because of it, but refreshed from the stop. But the lunch stop was at the top of a climb and that meant I started my post-lunch riding with a fantastic descent. I had to watch my speed a little more carefully than usual due to all the other riders but still had a good time with it, passing many and dodging potholes on the rough road actually became a lot of fun.

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Trying to get moving again after lunch

At some point along the way I met another guy with the same name as me, and we cracked some jokes about the post office switching our mail. He was riding his 15th Hilly Hundred or something like that and was riding with his daughter. They seemed to be having a great time and I talked to him for a few minutes before excusing myself to pick up the pace a bit. I also met a guy from Evanston, IL and talked to him since I went to Northwestern, which is in Evanston. He said he’s an executive recruiter there. Our conversation didn’t last long because he’s not used to hills and was really struggling to catch his breath. I wished him a good ride and continued on my way.

We passed through New Hope, and I reached the third SAG stop pretty quickly as it was only at about the 32 mile mark. I didn’t spend much time there, thinking there’d be another stop at about the 40 mile mark. As it turned out, that was the last stop of the day. I didn’t really need anything anyway though and just drank some more cider and ate another banana and took a few photos before moving on.

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SAG Stop #3

There were two notable hills after the third SAG stop. The first was Cemetery Hill which was comparable to Heartbreak Hill near the beginning, but it was a lot more difficult because the pavement had been scored during some construction but never repaired, and the road also curved as it climbed. The second was Water Tower Hill, which was steep and curved for the first half mile or so and the grade lessened and the road straightened out, but it continued climbing for about another mile. This was especially tough because we had already ridden over 40 miles at this point. The climb paid off with a fun downhill run and the course was mostly flat back to the start point after that.

I really felt pretty good after the first day. I definitely could have ridden more — although I knew I’d be tired on Sunday. We really lucked out with some great weather and a great group of people riding. The forecast looked great for Sunday, too, and I was really looking forward to Sunday’s ride.

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Approaching Watertower Hill (I think)

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Another great barn

6 Responses to “Hilly Hundred 2007, Part I”

  1. furiousball Says:

    Beautiful country. Nice job bro. Nice pink water bottle too.

  2. Sarah Says:

    Dude — it’s a red water bottle. *I* have a pink one, that he refuses to use even if it’s the only one clean. Why? Because of people like you. Hmphk.

  3. Doug Says:

    Looks and sounds like an interesting ride. If I lived in the area I’d definitely do this ride. Most of the time I prefer to ride alone, more then 99% of the time. But I have turned out for the Minnesota Ironman ride the last 3 years. It’s sounds similar to this ride, without the hills. But it has a 41 year history and has over 5,000 people turn out for it. It’s just fun to see all those riders in one place.

  4. Ear to the Breeze » Blog Archive » Hilly Hundred 2007, Part II Says:

    […] photos « Hilly Hundred 2007, Part I […]

  5. Ear to the Breeze » Blog Archive » October recap Says:

    […] Hilly Hundred [Part I | Part […]

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