“Is this your first?”

“No, second, but I’m riding alone this time.”

The pace was easy enough we could easily talk. This was how I met three guys from Fort Bragg, who would become my escort for the rest of the ride. We were all in Wichita Falls for the Hotter’n Hell Hundred in 2004, aptly named for the 100 degree average temperature typical of late August. I’d struggled through the 100-mile century bicycle ride the first year, dealing with heat rash, dehydration, and exhaustion, but I had finished it. This year, I’d done all of my training alone, so I thought that completing the event solo wasn’t that different.

The soldiers laughed and joked with each other while keeping me in their group, moving around me, but never leaving me behind. They set a decent pace and I worked to keep up with them. This was how we completed the final hour or so. They didn’t know me, but they stayed with me all the way until the finish line.

Less than a month after my first HHH, my husband asked for a divorce. Two months after I finished the first HHH, I defended my masters thesis. Four months after the first HHH, I moved to a duplex alone. In the twelve months between my first and second HHH, my entire world had shifted. I thought that completing the race again would prove that I could still do it, that I wasn’t giving up just because things were hard, but it turns out I couldn’t do everything alone.

It was my friends that moved me into my duplex. My sister, mom, and my new boyfriend were all waiting for me at the finish line in Wichita Falls. And, it was a group of strangers who picked me out from the thousands of riders that day that made sure I finished strong, crossing the line together before disappearing again into the masses.

Writer, researcher, observer