Eddie’s Hell of the South

Shortly after the tragic death of Eddie Arguelles, Wally announced that the Hell of the South would officially be re-named Eddie’s Hell of the South in remembrance of him since it was his favorite race to do. I had been looking forward to this race this year from the moment I finished it last year.

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The difference this year was that Eddie was not riding by my side. What remained the same was that Monette, his wife, and their children were.

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There is an incredibly high degree of honor and pride in being a part of this underground, not-so-talked-about, super secret squirrel race. There’s even more pride in taking first place! The bragging rights hold the utmost prestige among the riders not only because of the degree of difficulty of the course but because of the camaraderie that surpasses competitiveness… it is the ultimate example of good sportsmanship that I have ever experienced. Which makes my experience last year with Eddie, Javi, Kelly, Ramon and Wally that much more special because everyone made us feel as if we came in first even though we were the “back of the pack”.

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Finishing HOTS made us winners.

This year, as I had hoped last year, I was not the only girl. Everyone knows I adore a good love story and this year love was in full bloom! This was all my blessing because the better halves rode the course with us this year and made for some excellent company!

When you are out for hours at a time on a bike ride, you begin to pass the time with some pretty deep conversations and trusted friendships between cyclists are often formed. At least this is what I experienced this year. So hearing their stories of new love or enduring love fed into my romantic side and I looked forward to each new ride.

Ok… lets get this story started!!

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At 6:00 a.m. a huddled mass of eager cyclists circled around Wally. He gave a sweet, short talk about how Eddie loved this ride and it was enough to move several of us to tears. Clearly this was not the crowd to break down in front of so we all quickly manned up and wiped away any trace of emotional liquid escaping from our eyes and we tried to disguise our actions by adjusting our glasses and/or wiping lens. He quickly went over the rules and course description and then called for a group photo.

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I have to admit… I did get a little nervous when he did the head count. Did he think some of us wouldn’t come back? (Wally, if you’re reading this, please don’t answer that if you thought I was going to be one of the lost heads)

The girls stuck together as we all ventured off into the rolling start. Lisa was clearly the most nervous of us all. Laura was her chipper self and completely unphased of the challenge ahead of her. But at this point, what I’ve learned about Laura is that she really CAN do anything she sets out to do. This would be papitas for her. Irma, like her husband, was a quiet force. Without a word, I could see the intensity of her desire to conquer this challenge. And then Velisa… the supreme wonder woman who had finished the SB250 just days before. How she convinced her sit bones and legs to ride 250 miles from McAllen to San Antonio and then another 56 from McAllen to Sullivan City and back in the roughest toughest terrain ever imaginable is completely beyond me.

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So the rolling start was nice paced. It gave me time to catch up with Ironman Billy who updated me on his new puppy and field questions from the girls on what to expect in the next coming miles. The troops of SAGs were vigilant in keeping us safe and photographing us every split second of the ride. They were certainly the most cheerful paparazzi I’ve ever encountered!!

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The expressions on our faces should say it all!!!

And before I knew it, the pavement ended and the games began!!! The pros hit it hard and zoomed off as if the Tour de France started with them. Where’s the cloud of dust? What happened to the tree branches slapping me with thorns? What happened to all the guys who had flats in the first segment???? Ohhhhhhhhh yaaaaaaa…. nice job Border Patrol for making the trail wider and for flattening out the road and for adding more gravel and caliche to the pot holes!!!

The increase of illegal border traffic had clearly pushed our Federal system to make changes to these little dirt trails so that their jobs could be done easier. Nice! It made for a much better and easier ride than last years!!!

Well… except for THAT pot hole! Oh! and that one there!!!! Oops! Oh God! Velisa! Watch out for that one! ugh! Whew! Ok, that first part was a lot easier than I expected it to be. We had already reached the overpass by the Butterfly park and my confidence was starting to sky rocket. If the rest of this trail was taken care of like this first part… maybe this was going to be papitas after all for me, too!!! And then I remembered… Hey, didn’t I start thinking like this at this very point last year? And then I vocalized it…

“This is where I got fooled last year.”

Velisa caught on and immediately warned the rest of the girls… “Myssie just said that this was where she got fooled… that must mean there’s something coming up!!!” She deciphered my coy smile very well.

The pavement ended once again but not before Ramon forewarned us “Keep some distance between us.” Ahhh yes, the gravel!

My eyes immediately went to try to identify tire tracks of trucks that had compacted the gravel trail the most and the bike tires that followed them. All I saw were fishtailed bike tracks swerving from one to the other. Oh NO! Which ones do I follow???

Stay to your right Myssie!! Go right!!!

Oh thank God! She’s back! My sarcastic inner voice has returned and seemed to offer some helpful… demands. I go right and although I fishtailed like the rest, I was able to keep my Mimi steady enough to not fall. The additional gravel, I thought, would help with the road. I was wrong. It seemed to make the fishtailing even worse.

Don’t you let go! Don’t let go! Keep her steady. Come on! You got this. You did it last year. Don’t you dare DNF this one. That’ll surely put you at the top of XXXX’s hater stories if you mess this one up.. and this one will finally be true! Do you want that to happen?

No! No! I don’t! I can’t let that happen. I won’t let that happen! Nor will I let those stories and gossip limit or define me. No! No!!! I WILL FINISH THIS! And I’m going to do it to the best of my ability and I’m going to have the most fun doing it, too!!! So there!!!

Suddenly I was filled with a quest. BEST. FEELING. EVER.

I looked up. The sun was shining. It was beautiful! I looked down. My hands weren’t in their “death grip”. In fact, I had two fingers sticking out. I was loose. I was in control. I was having fun!!! Lisa yells out “I think I feel my brain rattling.”

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Hahahahaha!!! Yep! That’s the feeling!!! That’s what I like about her… she’s exactly the way I was last year with my fears and she’s gutsy enough to vocalize them genuinely to the world. Javi, her husband was right by her side. I knew he would take great care of her. There was absolutely nothing to worry about with those two. Onward I went passed the rail road tracks and the gravel ended. Then I heard the woes from the other girls… “What is that? Is that a… ”

Yes, it’s a field. A field where they grow crops like sugar cane, grain sorghum, cotton, etc. Without looking I could still see their heads wonder.. “Oh my God, are we riding through a field???”

But then I hear Laura say “What’s that sound?”

Every couple of seconds I’d hear a squish. Was it a bird? There were a lot of chachalacas. Is that what a chachalaca sounds like?

“Wait, it sounds like it’s coming from my bike,” I say.

“Do you have a flat?” Laura asks.

I look down. “Yes… oh no!!!”

The whole back of the pack stops and I dismount Mimi. Ugh! I have to change my tire. Last time I tried to change a tire, I ended up ripping the tube apart. And just like that… it was almost like the heavens parted and the angels sang… and Fernando walked up as if he was the love child of Chuck Norris and McGyver.

“Ill take care of that for you.”

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And faster than you can say Speedy Gonzalez… it was all over with. Done. Papitas! Flat fixed.

Lisa counted this as a blessing for her to catch up with the group and Laura took this time to go potty behind the SAG truck.

Zoom zoom… we’re off. Brrrrriing brrrrrriiinnggggg….

“It’s Wally,” says Laura. “He’s probably calling to see where we are.”

Guilt overwhelms me. Because of my flat, we broke off from the rest of the group and he was worried about the love of his life. Awwwwww!!! 🙂

“I’m sorry Wally,”  I cried out as we rolled past him now at this point since he stopped during his freak out session. “I had a flat and they stayed behind with me.”

I could tell he was a little upset. Ok, a lot upset. I felt bad.

But that feeling didn’t last long because just ahead of us was the steepest caliche hill of the course. This is the one where my sarcastic voice let me have it when I got off.

Ok Myssie. This is a tough hill girl. You know what to expect. You know you can do it. You conquered Nevada. You can do this. *See, last year, I didn’t make this hill. I had to unclip and walk up.

I saw the rest of the gang slowly climb the hill. Lisa was right in front of me. Yay!!! She did it!!! Oh you should have heard her voice when she got to the top!!!

Argh!!! But I didn’t!!! Again. I lost hope in myself and got off. I walked it just like last year. My sarcastic voice had it with me. She gave me the silent treatment and I think that was probably the harshest thing to do to me at that point.

I hopped back onto Mimi and mashed it hard. We were riding along the Border Fence. The feeling was surreal again. The pot holes were deeper and scattered all over the place but that didn’t seem to phase us one bit. My Garmin marked us at 23 mph on that caliche.

I knew what I was feeling was exactly the same thrill that the others had in their hearts. We were all concentrating so hard on not falling victim to the caliche pot holes that all our problems were nonexistent. The hot humid wind was blowing in our faces and as we kept fighting the circumstances, the border wall kept getting higher. Yes!!! We’re doing it! We’re doing it!!!

But first… lets take a selfie.

The back of the pack took formation. I walked over to the Border Patrolman sitting in his SUV and simply said – I did not ask – I said…

“Excuse me, this day last year, we took a picture like this with Eddie Arguelles”

As soon as I said that he responded “I understand. It’s my pleasure to do so.”

Wow! Wow! Wow! He took my phone and took the photo. No questions asked.

Can you imagine??? That is respect! All I had to do was say his name. That was awesome! That was the sign. He was right there with us.

“Andale Myssie! Take the selfie!!!” I heard his voice in my head…. and my heart.

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And we all rode off once again. It didn’t seem to take as long as I had remembered it from last year so when the descent of the caliche hill approached, I warned Velisa, “Hold on!”

The downhill ended in polka dots of three foot deep potholes. At the speed we were doing, it was extremely difficult to maneuver our steeds. But we all did it!!! Yay!!! We all did it and didn’t fall!!!

Ohhhhhhhh except for Laura who didn’t unclip in time. Sassss

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I swear to you, she had THE most graceful fall I’ve ever seen in my life!!! It was like animated blue birds and rainbows exploded around her. Her hand shot straight up in jazz hand formation – spirit fingers for you 90’s kids – as if she was going to pop up and yell out “Ta-daaaaa!!!”

A scrawny little stray mutt that looked a little like my Woo-Woo but taller and skinnier came over to check us out. I remembered that a couple of girls were afraid of dogs so I did my best dog whisperer act. It worked. His tail wagged as he circled us. He was harmless. Thank goodness because I wouldn’t want this experience to go sour on them with a pack of rabid pit bulls!!!

Another short part of pavement came up. Ahhhh yes, I remember this part very well. This was the peaceful pavement by Walker Lake. The pavement is fresh and solid – except for the part right by the rail road tracks and that wicked sharp turn. It’s lined with tons and tons of sunflowers and scenic farms. Along the fenceline I saw a birdhouse with a boot hanging below it. Birds were singing the most melodious tunes. Two rabbits with poufy white cotton tails ran across us. One scared Velisa thinking she was close to running over it!!! A coyote crossed as well. It was the best of Mother Nature coming out to greet us and cheer us on!

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And this part zoomed by quickly, too! Way too quickly… for the next part was the dreaded sand pits. This was the part that I feared the most. Thankfully the rains had blessed us for a few days before packing down some of that loose sand. Don’t get me wrong, it was hard to manage but certainly not as hard as last year. The sand was way more compact than last year and I was way more grateful, too! My conversations with Velisa, who was by my side almost the entire time, was light and colorful… and then just like that I was reminded of the real dangers that surrounded us. I red laser beam held it’s grasp on her and then me for a couple of seconds each. We stayed quiet until we got to the half way point where we saw Mike, Wally and Kelly waiting for us.

You know, it’s a great feeling to be a tough independent woman who can conquer a physically challenging endurance race… but it’s another thing to be a defenseless woman with another defenseless woman when a red laser beam shines on you. It was really really really awesome to see the three tough guys there.

I took the opportunity to wait for the rest of the girl gang to come in..YAY!!!! Laura, Lisa and Javi roll in. Wally jokingly says “It looks like a kid and her parents riding” poking fun at Laura’s petiteness…. and she falls a second time and even more gracefully than the first!!!

“You know there are expectations to being Wally’s girlfriend,” The guys teased. “This IS THE Wally after all.”

“Did I embarrass you babe?” Laura looked up to Wally.

We all knew that answer. He is soooooo in love.

Of course, we took a group picture! yay!!! 50%!!! Yan Yan is seriously the coolest photographer in the world!!

A random cyclist rode by us.

“Suuuup?” she yelled out to him.

Instant smiles on all of us!!!

Monette and the kids all get down from the truck. Cheese!!! *I’m going to take my time photoshopping that picture. COOLEST PICTURE EVER… ok, well in a long time!

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And then we return the same way we came.

Half way through the sand pits, a man in a white truck with a Hidalgo County logo on the door driving head on to us locks eyes with me. I see his smile. It wasn’t a nice smile. It was an evil grimace kind of smile. Fear filled me. I knew exactly what he was going to do and so did everyone else. Immediately, Velisa swerved to try to avoid him but the sand was too thick to move that fast. She fishtailed and lost control and fell. She landed perpendicular to me causing me to run over her back wheel and in my fear I lost control and fell. It was a chain reaction and another rider who was behind me did the same thing just missing me by inches.

The driver stopped and opened his door laughing at us.

“Don’t you laugh at us!!!” I screamed at him. “Velisa, are you ok? Are you ok Velisa?” She didn’t answer at first so I repeated until she did.

The driver’s face then turned white. He realized quickly that in all his bravado… he took down two GIRLS!!! How cool is that?!?!? What a man!!! (that is sarcasm)

“Just leave man! Just leave!” Wally snapped at him. By this time, all the surrounding cyclists had seen what had happened and gathered around in support. Still on the ground propped up on one elbow, I glared at driver. They unclipped me and warned me to take control of my temper.

I do not understand how people can be so mean. He really thought he was doing something funny. He could have hit us! All three of us have families. We have children. We could have died! What was so funny about that? Does that not enter their head???

I dusted myself off and charged back. I felt really really bad about running over Velisa’s bike. At my speed and my weight, I could only imagine the impact that put on her body and bike as I rolled over. I looked up and the others were gaining speed. They must have been just as angry as well.

Wait, no… They’re just fast naturally.

By the time we got to the short paved portion, I had calmed down a bit. I had asked Irma where the big huge tree was. She said it was at the first Levy entrance. Maybe it was the result of my brain jiggling around during the ride but I seemed to have asked her “Is this where? Is this where?” at every single levy entrance and hill. Poor thing was so intense in her concentration, I am sure my questions got on her nerves.

Kelly and I hadn’t ridden together in ages so we took this chance to catch up on everything. He gushed and gushed about his new found love. Let me paint this mental picture for you. Kelly is probably the palest human being in the Rio Grande Valley. So the combination of flushed red cheeks due to this wicked bike ride and his love blush during the conversation turned him completely tomato red!!! He was absolutely adorable!! Clearly his heartbeat was working overtime after bragging about his girlfriend’s love of running and fine food that he said “You go on ahead.” He needed a break from the speed.

Not to worry. Just a few minutes later, the oasis appeared. Mr. Alaniz, Wally’s dad, had parked his truck by the side of the road with tons of ice cold bottled water and endless boxes of honey buns!!! His dogs, Pee-Wee and Herman, herded us all like lost sheep and stood guard over us and we hydrated our worn, limp bodies. Mel passed out Sport Beans and a few laughs later… we were good as new.

Onward!!!

As Laura and I gained on Wally (who was obviously slowing down for a reason), he grabbed his leg and yelled out to Laura “Want some of this?” She giggled back to him in a flirtatious way. I was literally the third wheel. I zoomed off so they could continue their love games in private but not before I yelled out to them “Oh go get a room! This is a family show!”

I caught up to Ramon who was also slowing down. He said “I’m waiting for my beloved.”

Awwwww.

I looked back and Javi was by Lisa’s side the entire time. The examples of love they showed here are reflections of how they live their lives everyday, not just in cycling. They truly truly adore each other. And it wasn’t just the men who openly displayed their affection. The posts afterwards that Cheryl had of Mike was evidence that the adoration matched equally.

These are really great people.

Maybe one day I’ll be able to be that lucky and share this experience with my hubby. Maybe, one day.

Ok…. you don’t wanna hear about all that mushy gushy stuff, eh?

So, here we go. It was getting close to noon time. We had been on this trail for almost four hours and the sun was beating down on us hard. I found myself entering the “bite me zone”. *For running marathoners, this is the mile 23 mark for 26.2. So close yet so far away.

I climbed up the caliche hill and didn’t get off. I made it. Yes!!! The SAGs called out to me if I needed anything. I gave them the thumbs up. From this point forward, the SAG cars were not allowed to come up to the Border Wall. I was on my own for a while. I was up a good distance from all the love birds behind me and I kept Mike at about a block ahead of me. I felt comfortable but also needed some distraction from the heat and jiggle brain syndrome.

Time to SING!

What do I sing?

I don’t know why this song entered my head… maybe it was my love of pizza… maybe it was because this song was sung by Ramon last year on a similar hot ride. All I know is that this song got stuck in my head and it wasn’t going out… so I sang.

I probably scared the heebeegeebees out of all the creatures that Mother Nature had surrounded me with earlier. But I had fun.

As I recognized the part of the fence that matched last years photo with Eddie, I slowed down. All the memories flashed at once. I’m going to keep this part sacred but I will tell you that it was more powerful than expected. Yes, he was certainly there with us.

"Was it here that we took the picture?" The heat and fatigue had eaten up all our senses.

“Was it here that we took the picture?”
The heat and fatigue had eaten up all our senses.

There we were. The 5am Riders at the top of the levy.

“Andale Myssie. Take the selfie.” he told me.

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Invigorated with his memory… we all blasted off. Probably faster than we expected. Mike shrieked like a little girl as he zoomed down the last caliche hill.

I wanted to get out of the heat as soon as possible. I was beat. Those last few miles on Military Highway were the absolute hardest. The rider in front of me yelled out “Gravel!!” and did his hand sign… I couldn’t help but laugh.

“Are you serious? After what we just rode through, you’re gonna call ‘gravel’ on THAT?!?!?”

We both burst out laughing.

As we rolled into the finish line, we saw no one was there. It took all of two seconds to decide to ride back to Wally’s shop as fast as we could so we could eat some burgers!!! Again, my legs had other plans. I struggled going up the 2nd street turn. I saw him look back and I had to apologize. “I’m sorry. My legs are burning!!!”

“We’re almost there. We’re almost there,” he said trying to comfort me.

As we crossed Old 83 and entered the parking lot, the cheers exploded.

YES!!! YES!!! I MADE IT! I did not give up. I did not fail. My inner sarcastic voice softly said “I knew you would.”

Best feeling ever: a few minutes later the back of the pack shows up. Lisa wobbled up and gave me a huge hug. The smile on her face was priceless. “I am so proud of myself! I feel like I can do anything now!”

And you know what? I think she can, too.

Eddie convinced me of that of myself and of those around us.

Thank you Wally from the bottom of my heart.

It’s been a tradition that every 4th of July I wait at this very spot to cheer on our superhero!! Today was no different!!! I know you were there today and will be there every year!!! Congratulations to all who finished ‘Eddie’s Hell of the South’!!Much love to you all!!!! You made my day!!! ~Monette Escaname-Arguelles

 

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