HOTS – the real story from the inside

So you know that a while back ago I vowed to start filling my bucket list and get over my fears because life is just too dang short, right? Well, I think I may have taken that promise a little bit too far….

I got a phone call a few weeks back from the coordinator of the “Hell of the South” bike race. Maybe it was because I was in the car with the kiddos and running errands that I didn’t really pay attention to the details nor ask a lot of questions about it so a few days before the actual race, I questioned my involvement in this event. Rather, it was one of those palm to forehead moments. WHAT WAS I THINKING?!?!?

“It’s an annual event that the shop hosts as a thank you to our favorite customers. It’s kinda underground.” he said.

“When is it?” was all I asked.

“The morning of July 4th,” he responded.

“Sure! I’ll do it.” —- pendeja

I don’t remember asking how far the ride was nor any other important details.  So when I received the email reminder with the route and the rules, I was a little shocked – and yes, that was an understatement.  When you read the rules and it states “there are no rules”… you get kinda worried!!! I immediately went up to the top of the email to see who else would be riding it and was clearly outsmarted. He blind copied the participants to keep it super duper secret squirrel underground.

This annual event was an invitation only ride that was clearly designed for the adrenaline junkie who got a rise out of speed, danger, endurance, pain and bragging rights. It was a sizzlin’ hot 56 mile ride through pot holed pavement, dirt, caliche, gravel, sand, hills and streets lined with dogs waiting on the attack. It was EVERYTHING I needed to train for Viva Bike Vegas!!!

The best part about it??? It’s hard to name that one time… but afterwards one moment stands out. I got a facebook post from the mother of Sarah Morales who said she was “Berry berry habby for you”. I love that little girl! I hope to make a big difference in her world.

So here’s how it went:

Always go with the choice that scares you the most, because that’s the one that is going to require the most from you. — Caroline Myss

We all gathered in the parking lot and formed in a half moon around Wally. In his usual nonchalant manner, he told the group of  how the race came to be. The ones who had completed this race before knew the story… us new kids had to pick up our mouths from the floor.

He told us that the first couple of years of opening the shop, he biked this path to and from his home to Wally’s Bicycles. Now, I had heard all the legends of this horrific scary path. To think that this guy traveled on two skinny wheels fifty miles twice a day to and from work and was nothing to him.  And we turn it into a one time annual race?!?!? The guy must be Superman!

“The rules are… there are no rules!” He exclaimed and pedaled off. Like the suckers we all were… we chased off right after him!!

Cautiously, I kept myself at the back of the pack. These guys were la creme de la creme of local cycling. Surprisingly, they were riding at a very comfortable pace and then it hit me… ah ha! They won’t be like this for long. This first little stretch on paved road was all a farce. They were playing mind games!!! Yup! The moment the pavement ended was when the games began!!!

Man, they all shot out like demons from hell!!! I was a good twenty seconds behind the speedsters so by the time I got to the dirt path, it was extremely difficult to see the pot holes, dips and turns through the cloud of dust. I pedaled on through though as fast I felt was safe for me. BLAM! BLAM (my bike hits hole after hole)! WHACK (a tree branch with thorns hit me)! WHACK again! BLAM! BLAM! And hairpin turns left and right all over the place! Not one minute in I already see two guys on the side of the trail fixing a flat.

“Oh Lord! Please hear me! Momma! Take care of me! Please don’t let me fall or get a flat!” I pray silently as I pass them.

“Quiebro mis huevos!” I hear one guy cry out and can’t help but laugh.

I see a second group of guys fixing a flat and roll on remembering Coach’s words “It’s going to be very important that you put your training first from here on out.  It won’t matter how kind or thoughtful you were during training when it comes to the event.” Two flats already. Please God please don’t let me get a flat!!!

I see a paved road just ahead. Javi Cavazos is right by me. We both stop and look at each other with the same doe-eyed expression that said “Now what do we do?” So I bluntly blurt out “Let’s wait for the others so we don’t make a wrong turn.” I don’t think either of us knew where we were going even though the both of us had driven (or tried to drive) as much of the course as possible the day before.

It didn’t take long for the pros to fix their flats and move along… and we’re off. Now, I’m in familiar territory – the paved bridge by the NABA Butterfly park. Ok, I got this now… or so I thought.

The tiny little portion of the levy that I had ridden a few times before was very comfortable to me. But it didn’t last long. It led us to a gravel trail where my bike immediately sunk in and fishtailed every which way. Whoa! Whoa! All that core work that Coach Sandy gave me went into action. I had always heard from the Cyclepaths to stay clear of gravel so I had never ridden in it before and didn’t know how to handle maneuvering myself through it. It was do or die.

“Don’t think about it Myssie! Just do it! Just push through it!” — have you ever met that voice inside my head? She’s super sarcastic and mean. Mean! Really mean! “Look at all those wheel tracks! It’s been done before. They all did it. They all went through it. That means it can be done. THIS is NOT impossible!! DO IT!”

And before I knew it… I had zoomed right past that gravel and onto bumpity bump bump bump caliche. I looked for the trail of wheels that treked the path before me and stuck as close as I could to the markings thinking that they clearly knew where to go, which part of the caliche track was safest to ride, and I followed. It was tough.  It was rough. The bumps were constant for miles. I think I actually felt my brain jiggle around in my head. I felt my fingers begin to go numb. I had the death grip going on. I. WILL. NOT. LET. GO. OF. MY. BIKE.

I was thirsty. I WILL NOT LET GO.

My glasses were falling down my nose. I WILL NOT LET GO.

My toes are tingly. I WILL NOT LET GO.

Oh. My. God. Is that a hill? I WILL NOT LET GO.

I pushed and pushed and pushed… and the thought came into my head… I’m going to fall. I’m going to fall all the way down this caliche hill because it’s too steep. It’s too steep. It’s too steep!

Unclip! Unclip! Unclip!!!!! NOW!!!

I made it. I got myself safely off the bike and walked up the last 1/4 of the hill’s peak. Whew!

“What do you mean “whew”?!?!?!” — ohhhh, she’s back – the voice in my head that always yells at me. “You gave up! How could you give up like that? You think your mom would have given up? You think Chavez would have given up? You think Dezma would have given up? NO! They wouldn’t have! This is nothing!  NOTHING! You get up on that bike and don’t you come back down again until you finish!!!”

And that was that.

I took a deep breath, looked up and took off. Three minutes later, I hear Ramon yell to the group “Never mind, Myssie is booking it!” I guess they were waiting and wondering where I was. We zoom off together like motley ghetto cyclists on a mission from God. 

"The few... the proud... the insane ones" -- Ramon Hermida

“The few… the proud… the insane ones” — Ramon Hermida

Until we all see it at the same time…. WATER STOP! Woo whooo!!!! Water!

I have a bad habit of connecting moments of time to music, movies or cartoons… this one was a Saturday morning cartoon moment.

We each hydrated and took off once again. That’s when it hit me… this is the fence. THIS is the fence! This is THE fence! It’s the BORDER WALL!!! I had never seen the border wall! Crazy huh? I’m riding along the border wall! People risk their lives to reach this blessed point wanting a better life. People risk their lives defending it so our lives are better than others. I am riding on sacred ground. I am riding so I can have a better life and others can receive or extend their lives. Wow! I soak it in and resist all temptation to stop and take a picture. *Thank goodness our sags captured a picture of me by it!!! 🙂

And here we go…downhill. With every hill you climb, you usually have to descend it eventually. Going downhill on loose gravel was challenging. I remembered Sebastian crashing as he went downhill on the overpass a few weeks back. He’s a strong little kid. I don’t think I am truly that strong. I may act like it sometimes… but I doubt myself a lot!!!

click click

My bike seems to lose control and I desperately try to pull her reigns. “Don’t lose it, Myssie!” my inner voice screams out. I can see the sag team at the bottom of the hill with other riders. Don’t let me wipe out here. Please God! Don’t let me wipe out.

Whew! I made it. I made it through the first two of three unpaved portions of the race. WOW!! That was…. AWESOME!!!!  And then it hits me… What do you mean I’m not even half way through this? Are you kidding me?

I take a deep breath again. There is NO way I’m calling it quits now. I’ m the ONLY girl on this ride. I must go on. Coincidentally, the SAG girls yell out to me “Woo Whooo Myssie!!!! Way to represent!!!”

My ride this morning meant a lot to me. It was the ultimate training ground for my Viva Bike Vegas ride in September. But it meant a lot to those women who thought this was a boys only ride. To them, I was opening doors for them. Although I knew that a few women had done this race before me… none had done it last year and I was the only one doing it this year. I had to toughen up. I had to finish. STRONG.

I was a little relieved to be back on pavement. At least for a short while. Who cares if it had pot holes three feet deep or rabid stray pit bulls strategically scattered alongside the road… it was paved. I had to laugh at the warning sign at this point. It said “Warning Damaged Road”. Really? Was that necessary? I wanted to scream out “DOH!” to TxDoT. Damaged was an understatement.

There was one very nice paved stretch of road. It was smooth and fresh. It gave me a chance to look around at everything that was round me: sunflowers, a donkey grazing, birds singing, my death grip loosened and I ate up all the peacefulness there. I felt like a kid again. This right here.. this very moment… was my fountain of youth.

Aaaaand it stopped. Suddenly. The pack I was riding with lost Javi. We waited for him just as the pavement ended and we gazed upon the next big obstacle…. sand. Miles and miles of sand. Now, mind you, this is not any ordinary sand like you see along the beach shore. That kind of sand is compact and pounded tightly by water. This sand is 4 – 6 inches deep. It’s loose and dry and evil and has a really really bad attitude. It sat there. Waiting for us. It had a plan. It knew exactly what to do to all who dared tread upon it.

Naively, I went for it. I figured, the faster I zoom through it, the less chance of me sinking into it and the faster I’ll be done with it. FAIL. I went maybe three feet into it before I saw all the evidence of wipe outs from the cyclists who attempted the same thing before me. Nu uh! No way! I quickly got off and walked it. I was relieved to see the footprints of those who thought the same way. They may have gone a foot further than I did… but I wasn’t the one who fell. I was NOT going to fall!!!

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I remembered Wally’s advice from the day before. Each of the dirt paths have an evil all their own. They each scare you differently. This one scared me the most. But I pushed through it and saw the gang and sag truck with water waiting there like angels who came from the skies. Never EVER before in my life had I been more happy to have reached a half way point!!! I was only half way!!! Good Lord! I’m going to have to go back the same way I came!!!

Ok, what you just read… reverse it. I had to go back. The same way. Ugh!

Long story longer… I never fell. I never got a flat. I never quit. The last half mile was jam packed with doubt. I was exhausted. I saw the finish line and wondered if I had the strength to unclip my shoes from the bike. Just then, I saw a cyclist on the side of the road. His bike was laying down a few feet away from him and he was sprawled out half naked like road kill alongside it. OMG it’s Wally! That’s not a good sign. If the guy who created this path is road kill… what’s gonna happen to me when I get off my bike?!?!? I’m so doomed!!!

I didn’t want to get off. I was too scared. I had to keep up the facade. I made it! I made it! I finished!!!! I still don’t want to get off. I think I may have been in shock.

Just then, someone yells out “You want to ride it in to Wally’s or hitch a ride on the sag?”

“I WANT TO RIDE THE SAG! GET ME ON THE SAG NOW!” I thought to myself.

And I rode back to Wally’s… on my bike. Like a boss. Yaaaaaa

Wally presented me with my buckle. I earned it.

That was AWESOME!!! Most phenomenal ride of my life.

It's not a good sign when the cyclists before you look like road kill.

It’s not a good sign when the cyclists before you look like road kill.

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Going down hill.... in loose gravel... on a road bike!!! What am I doing?!?!?!

Going down hill…. in loose gravel… on a road bike!!! What am I doing?!?!?!

Riding along the levy and the Texas/Mexico border wall. Before this ride, I had never seen the wall!!!

Riding along the levy and the Texas/Mexico border wall. Before this ride, I had never seen the wall!!!

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mastered my death grip on the handle bars

mastered my death grip on the handle bars

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The fun begins where the pavement ends!!!

The fun begins where the pavement ends!!!

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Our neutral start, heading south to our demise...

Our neutral start, heading south to our demise…

As always, the last to leave...

As always, the last to leave…

On our way - this was the ONLY time we were all together as a group.

On our way – this was the ONLY time we were all together as a group.

My buckle was well earned! :)

My buckle was well earned! 🙂

25 cyclists vie for the 2013 "Hell of the South" buckle at Wally's Bike Shop

25 cyclists vie for the 2013 “Hell of the South” buckle at Wally’s Bike Shop

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