Nov 01, 2017 02:59PM ● Published by Dia
By Audrey Sellers
For local cyclist and Army veteran Keith Pardew, there’s nothing better than riding through the open air with the wind in his hair. Well, if he had hair, he jokes. The 64-year-old Grapevine resident is short on strands, but he doesn’t lack an ounce of gusto for riding his bike all around North Texas.
Pardew rides about 30 miles a day during the week and nearly 60 miles a day on Saturday and Sunday. At the end of the week, that’s roughly the equivalent of biking from Southlake to Houston.
Over the past few years, this road warrior has logged close to 40,000 miles on his bike. He has ridden in dozens of one-day, 100-mile rides, called century rides, but there’s only one he wouldn’t miss: the annual Hotter’N Hell Hundred (HHH) in Wichita Falls, about two hours northwest of Southlake. This past August marked Pardew’s 34th consecutive year to ride in HHH, one of the oldest and largest cycling events in the United States.
Pardew has participated in the iconic event, which draws more than 13,000 riders from all over the world, almost since the inaugural ride. “After 34 years,” he says with a laugh, “I tell people it just means I’m old and crazy.”
Like many young kids, once Pardew learned how to ride a bike, there was no stopping him. He grew up on a farm in rural Maryland and spent much of his childhood pedaling through the countryside. He didn’t slow down in adulthood, even when he got drafted in the Vietnam War. “For years I played basketball and racquetball,” he says. “I’ve been active since I was in the military.”
After the war, Pardew settled in Chicago and gravitated back to the bike. He took his first long ride—a three-day, 150-mile road trip with friends—almost on a whim when he was 25.
“I had no idea what it entailed spiritually, mentally or physically,” he says. “After I completed it, I thought it was an unbelievable accomplishment. I thought a team from France would be calling me!”
With that ride, Pardew’s fire was lit. He knew he belonged on a bike. When his career in the airline industry took him to the Metroplex in 1982, he was eager to hit the open road. He started going on rides with members of the Fort Worth Bicycle Association, one of the largest bicycling clubs in North Texas. He biked in organized rides in Bowie, Bonham, Forney and Rockwall, among other area towns. The Hotter’N Hell Hundred in Wichita Falls particularly got his wheels spinning.
“I heard someone talking about the Hotter’N Hell, and I thought, ‘Gosh, I’m living in Texas. It’s hot down here. Let’s see what this is about,’” he says.
Hotter Than You Know What
You don’t have to tell any Texan that it’s sweltering in August. The average daily temperature soars well above 95 degrees, with a heat index in the triple digits. The sheer craziness of riding 100 miles during one of the hottest months of the year is what compelled Pardew to go for it. And he’s so glad he did.
“I’ve always said if any town wants to have an organized bike ride, they need to see what Wichita Falls is doing,” Pardew says. “There’s nothing like Hotter’N Hell. It’s my Super Bowl, World Series and Stanley Cup all rolled into one.”
Leading up to the event, Pardew works hard to get ready, often riding six days a week, logging 250 weekly miles. “I take Fridays off because I’m not a youngster and need a day of rest,” he says.
As an endurance rider, Pardew aims to ride fast, but he doesn’t try to be at the front of the pack. His goal is to average about 20 mph. “Unless you’re the first one of 13,000, there are people in front of you as far as the eye can see,” he says. “There are bicycles ahead and behind—it’s cool to be out there with so many people.”
Although Pardew can keep up with cyclists much younger, his wife of 25 years, Peggy, encourages him to ride with people his own age. His response? There aren’t many folks his age out there. Well, not counting his longtime biking buddy, George Gergits, who lives in the Cincinnati, Ohio, area. Pardew invited Gergits to ride HHH with him in 1984, and Gergits has made the nearly 1,000-mile trip to Texas every year since.
“Hotter’N Hell is pretty amazing. Not only am I accomplishing something, proving I can ride 100 miles in the heat, but I’m enjoying myself,” Gergits says. “There’s an energy that’s contagious to all the riders and volunteers. They’re hot. I’m hot. But you’d never know it. Everyone is smiling, laughing and having a great time.”
The ride has become multigenerational for Gergits. Three of his daughters have completed it, and his fiancé has biked it three times. There are a few other upsides, as well. “I can drink beer and eat junk food. And I just look cool in those Lycra pants,” Gergits adds.
Bikes and Flights
Pardew goes the distance—both by bike and by plane. He works part-time for a Delta subsidiary, traveling on charter flights with professional baseball, football and hockey teams, including the Texas Rangers and Los Angeles Chargers. The gig keeps him busy three days a week from October through April. Though he doesn’t mingle with the athletes—his job is to make sure the flight goes smoothly—he enjoys his work. “It’s a fun part-time job I’ve been doing for about six years,” he says. “But when April rolls around, I’m done staying in hotels!”
He’d much rather be on his bike. Pardew rides with the Grapevine Chain Gang, a group of cyclists that rides out of Mad Duck, a cycling shop in Grapevine. At 6 p.m. Monday through Thursday, they ride wherever the wind blows. “Most cyclists are inclined to ride into the wind and come in with the wind behind them,” he says. “If the wind is out of the north, we’ll ride to Denton or Ponder. Sometimes we’ll go to Grand Prairie or Keller. There’s something about going down the road at 18, 19 or 20 mph. I just love it.”
As a man in his mid-sixties, Pardew admits that sometimes it would be nice to just relax, but he never misses a ride with his group. “It’s easier to sit in my chair than go out and chase 30- and 40-year-olds,” he says. “But I’ve made a commitment. When I say ‘I’ll see you tomorrow,’ I want to honor that commitment.”
From inclement weather to health concerns to major life events, nothing has stopped Pardew from getting on his bike—especially when Hotter’N Hell rolls around every August. “A friend said, ‘Do you know how lucky you are to do all these rides,’” he says. “It really got me thinking about how blessed I’ve been to be able to ride all these years. I’m grateful.”
Pardew jokingly says that when he can do Hotter’N Hell with one of his grandkids, he might be done. “My goal is to do it again and have a good ride,” he says. In the meantime, he’s happy riding with the Grapevine Chain Gang until it gets too dark to see. With the wind at his back and the open road stretching before him, every ride is a joy ride. SS