A Long Day at the Hotter ‘N Hell Hundred
Every August as the Hotter ‘N Hell Hundred weekend draws near, I look forward to it with both anticipation and a fair share of nervousness. I get excited for all of the hundreds of great photo ops I’ll see and I get a little nervous for having the responsibility of being the Chief Photographer for the Times Record News and bringing back some key images for our coverage. It is the largest event we cover every year. Either way, it makes for a very long day.
Our photo coverage usually begins on Wednesday as HHH personnel and vendors begin getting the MPEC Exhibit Hall ready for about 15,000 cyclists and their friends to pickup registration packets and shop for every type of cycling/fitness piece of apparel, equipment or accessory at the HHH Consumer Show.
Then on Thursday, the early birds begin to arrive like the Swallows returning to Capistrano. The trade show opens and most of the more than 60 tents associated with the HHH are erected.
Friday, the pace accelerates with the grueling off-road mountain bike races and blistering criterium races. I usually have most of my ducks in a row, having printed out maps of the routes, gone over photo responsibilities with other photographers and reporters and have positioned the big boom lift for the Mass Start the next morning.
I never seem to get to bed any earlier the night before, even though I’ll be getting up about 4:45 in the morning to be downtown at 5:30.
Saturday arrives, I drag myself out of bed, get ready and get a decent parking spot by 5:32. As I get all my gear together, there’s a rider parked next to me, putting on his skintight cycling jersey made of Spandex or Lycra or some other high-tech moisture-wicking fabric. I comment that it seems weird to be slathering on sunscreen in the dark at 5:30 a.m., but I might not get a chance to later as the day moves forward.
The sky gradually gets lighter and the anticipation builds for the upcoming National Anthem, flyover and cannon blast which signals the start of the 32nd Hotter ‘N Hell Hundred endurance ride. Approximately 12,000 riders begin streaming toward me as I perch in the basket of the cherry picker about 20 feet above Scott Street. I’m shooting as fast as I can, using a variety of exposures, focal lengths, lenses and compositions. I also shoot some video for the website and a quick frame or two with my phone that will be Tweeted and posted to Facebook within moments.
After several minutes, I’ve gotten just about every combination the situation will allow and I come down to work the scene at ground level. It’s always a thrill to see the sheer mass of humanity that rides in this event. It’s the largest 100-mile ride in the entire country. It’s impressive, watching thousands of cyclists of every shape, size, skill level – riding bikes of every size, shape and type. It’s very uniform, yet incredibly diverse. They’re all doing the same thing, just a few thousand different ways. It’s SO many people, yet it’s so quiet, with just some light conversation and the whirr of the bike chains.
I work my way toward the back of the pack which actually takes about thirty minutes and head to my car. I drive over to Iowa Park and shoot riders splitting off as they choose the 100K route or the less-serious 50-mile route. The rest stop features Powerade being mixed in large trash cans and they’ll go through about 120 gallons of it, not including the water and pickle juice options.
Back in my car, I head north to Burkburnett, stopping for a few minutes to shoot riders silhouetted by the sun. In Burk, I shoot a few shots from near ground level of serious cyclists blazing around a corner and like what I see on my camera.
On the way back to town, I remember that a big part of the ride is where a couple of the routes go through Sheppard Air Force Base and hundreds of airmen turn out to cheer the riders on as they begin the last legs of their rides. All their clapping and cheering must be a big boost for the tired cyclists. Very cool.
Back downtown, I trek over to Finish Line Village where all of the action is. The sun is much higher now and it’s getting HOT. It’s not bad, though, because of all the excitement in the air. A big inflatable arch marks the finish line with announcers keeping a running account of interesting HHH facts and encouraging riders barely able to make it to the finish.
There’s also live music, lots of energetic vendors with energy bars, energy drinks, energy supplements and tips on how to have more energy. Some more serious riders come breezing across the finish line having ridden the 100 miles like it was a trip down to the corner store and back. And then there are others. Some are near tears, exhausted, bruised, scraped, dehydrated and delirious from too much time on a tiny bike seat and too little time spent preparing for that many miles. A lot of fun photo opportunities.
After a few hours, it’s time to get to my office at the newspaper and begin the task of culling and editing the hundreds of images I’ve shot in the last several hours. I’ll also go through photos taken by reporters and freelance photographers, to build a comprehensive collection of images for our online product and for the next day’s newspaper. The paper has a limited number of pages and therefore limited space for photography, but the website can hold everything we want to showcase.
After several hours of editing, cropping, captioning and uploading (and several slices of pizza – thanks Boss) the day is done. It’s been about 14 hours and I’m ready to go home and enjoy a cold beverage or two.
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