Wow, this will definitely be a season to remember. I battled hard in two season-long race series’ (is that the plural of series???) and ended up in 2nd place in both of them. On the road, the inaugural SRS (Southeastern Racing Series) was a phenomal series of five races spread across five states – Georgia, Alabama, North Carolina, Tennessee, and South Carolina. Fields were really large averaging maybe 75 riders or more in the Pro/1/2 fields.
On the mountain bike, I started off my season with a surprise win at the Southern Cross ultra cx kick-off event. I started to look a bit deeper into the series with the aim of seeing how well I could do in the whole series as I was planning out my season. The seven race series was scored based on your best four races with points assigned based on your placing (1 point for 1st, 2 points for 2nd, etc…) Lowest point total wins. Three out of the seven races conflicted with my road racing schedule — including two which fell on weekends of SRS races. I came very close to winning it but fell short in a somewhat spectacular fashion. Skipping straight to that moment in yesterday’s Gravel Grovel race in Indiana, I came into the final cyclocross barriers (shown in the pic below from my pre-ride on Wednesday) with a shot at winning the race and the series if I could only outsprint the rider with me. But the rider with me was a skilled cyclocross racer, Andrew Messer, who dismounted his cross bike, hopped both barriers, and was completely across the bridge by the time I was across the first barrier. With less than half a mile to race after the bridge, there was no way I could catch him.
Finishing the race anywhere in the top 3 was still good enough to give me the series win as long as there was at least one rider between me and the current series leader, Mike Simonson. But it wasn’t to be – Mike was riding so strong and a couple minutes later he emerged around a bend in the road, crossed the final creek, and crossed the finish line exactly one place behind me giving him the series title by a single point. Had he been one place farther down, we would have been tied on points with me winning the tie-breaker of the placing in the series finale.
The outcome of an entire season of racing came down to the final moments of the final race. Both moments – my getting dropped at the barriers and Mike’s successful creek crossing on a cross bike – capture an essential part of the essence and beauty of the ultra-cx race series. Ultra-cx races are gaining popularity so rapidly because they represent the perfect marriage of all the core disciplines of cycling (road, cross, and mountain biking). Plus, the courses picked are epic — stretching the road racer’s technical handling on gravel and trails, stretching the mountain biker’s time trial and solo mentality with the strategy of drafting and stretching the cross racer with the endurance of a four hour event instead of a 60 minute event. I’m hooked.
We spent the night in one of the cabins right there at the Midwest Trail Ride hosting the start of the race. This was super convenient and a bonding experience for our family of four taking up the two bunk beds in the cabin as the temp dropped down into the upper teens early in the night before starting to rise throughout the night to the middle 20s by morning. By the start of the race the temp was in the 30s and rapidly rising. I realized within five minutes of the start of the race that I was way overdressed.
We took off out of the horse camp and out the paved road heading towards the first climb of the day up to the hickory ridge fire tower. The pace was much faster than I was expecting, but I managed to work my way to the very front by the time we hit the gravel. The field of 205 quickly dwindled down to a group of maybe 25 riders still contesting the race by the time we reached the fire tower. By the time we made it to the Story Inn checkpoint 1/3rd of the way through the race, there was only about 10 of us left in the lead group. We pacelined on a very flat road at speeds approaching 25mph. After we made the turnaround, we could see the entire race behind us as they passed us heading out to the checkpoint. There were two fast groups behind us. It was hard to see the composition of the groups as I was trying to make sure no gap opened to the rider in front of me as I was spinning out my 38×11 on the flat road.
I had gotten stuck behind a couple of the cyclocross riders on the first short section of singletrack so I wanted to try to get the holeshot for the second singletrack after the Story turnaround. Mike Simonson and Tim Proctor and just about everyone else in our group had the same idea so there was a bit of jockeying for position through the short parking lot leading into the singletrack. I entered third and had no problem keeping up. Tim dropped his chain and I went around content to just follow Mike up the trail. Tomasz Golas, who like me was also riding a mtb, was having none of it though and wanted to get around me even though I was keeping up just fine with Mike and going as fast as I wanted to go. The singletrack was quite narrow with only one good line which I was not going to give up to let him get around me. About halfway up the climb, though, there was a widening of the trail where it flattened out a bit and I let Tomasz around me. I believe he also went around Mike. When the singletrack kicked up again I took a bad line and ended up in a deep rut I couldn’t ride out of. I had to unclip and the rest of our group passed me before I could get going again.
In fact, I was off the back a bit by the time I got back up to speed and just barely managed to chase back on by the end of the singletrack. The next section was a long road section that eventually turned into a gravel climb. We hit the bottom of this climb at exactly 30 miles into the race. Having pre-ridden the course on Wednesday, I discovered that the fast line up the climb was in the leaves off the side of the road. The gravel was so loose and bouncy, you were much better off riding over the leaves and sticks on the side. Surprisingly some people chose to ride right up the middle of the gravel road expending a lot more energy than I was over on the side. I took this as a confidence booster knowing that I was conserving energy while other people were wasting it.
At the top of the climb we made a turn and then headed straight back down a fast paved section. I had pre-ridden so I knew the turns and wanted to see if we could hit 50mph in the race … didn’t quite happen but we came close – 49.4 mph. Our group was down to just five riders by this point. We continued to rotate and work well together, although there were a few attacks here and there. Unlike a road race where that would just kill the cohesion of the group, we seemed to dive right back into rotating and working whenever one of these attacks failed. I led the way into that singletrack because it came at the top of a steep hill. I hit it as hard as I could not wanting the people behind to get antsy and want to come around and I ended up dropping everybody through the muddy descent back out onto the gravel road.
I certainly wasn’t trying to get away at this point knowing how strong everybody in the group was riding. So I took the moment to eat a powergel and wait for them to catch back up. Then there was an attack that saw Tim Proctor ride away from us. A panic set in and we all chased eventually catching him before the tiny two house community of Tennessee, Indiana. On the “Polk Patch” rolling descent, Andrew Messer drilled it hard and our entire group flew down the long, gradual, rolling descent. I was at the back and really suffering the entire descent in heartrate ZONE 5. At the bottom high speed point, I got a little off balance and was heading straight for a chair one of the volunteers helping to manage the intersection had setup. I managed to slow down and get back in control of the bike but in the process of doing so came off the back of the already extremely fast paceline.
Keep in mind that the entire descent was on large gravel rocks with very little firm ground. Across the flat road at the bottom of the descent, the gravel continued and I had to chase really hard to get in touch with the group. In fact, I was just barely onto the back of the group when we hit the next hill. It was super steep and surprisingly this was much easier for me. I really feel like my mountain bike disc brakes were rubbing hard whenver I was hitting bumps at speed on descents and even the flat roads. But on the climbs, the brakes weren’t rubbing so the climbs were so much easier for me than the fast, bumpy sections on the gravel where my rear wheel was just bouncing all over the place. Thankfully, there was one more large climb and even though I was already hurting pretty bad, I went to the front to try to set a fast pace that would discourage any attacks.
It almost worked. My pace up the final climb was fast enough to gap the other four riders in our group, but it wasn’t fast enough to discourage Tim Proctor from attacking. He came flying by me like a rocket. I thought “well, that’s the end of my race” because there was no way I was going to be able to catch onto the back of the group. After a second or two when no one else came by, I looked back and saw that I had a good 50 meter gap on the rest of the group. At this point I was confused because I was expecting to be dropped and instead had dropped everyone in the group except for Tim.
My legs were screaming bloody murder because the section where Tim came by was flat and I just felt like my bike wasn’t moving anywhere nearly as fast as the amount of effort I was putting into the pedals. Still, I hit it as hard as I could and looked back again to discover that only Andrew had bridged across to me leaving Mike and Tomasz chasing not far behind. I had renewed hope again that perhaps I could still win the series, but I had given up winning the race b/c Tim was clearly on another level. Little did I know that he was actually in the Male 40+ race so Andrew and I were still racing for first place in our race (Male Open).
There was still over 9 miles left in the race, and I tried to work with Andrew, but it wasn’t going well. I drafted him close on the downhills and flats but was still struggling on my mountain bike on the gravel. And then every time it kicked up I would come around him thinking I could pull and he would immediately go off the back of my wheel. Then later, he attacked me twice and I was able to catch back up thinking “ok, that’s it I’m done pulling”. But then I would remember that Mike was somewhere back there and I needed to make sure that we stayed away. When we made the final turn back out onto pavement heading for the bridge, Andrew put in one more attack and gapped me. It took about 30 seconds for me to close the gap back down, and then I put in a counter-attack. I didn’t fully commit to it, though, when I saw that he grabbed my wheel right away. So I sat up to strategize again but by this point we had made it to the bridge and I’ve already described how that went down. In retrospect, my last hope at winning the race would have been to fully commit to that final attack and reach the bridge first with just enough of a gap to get over at least the 1st barrier and then we would probably be coming neck and neck into the finish so who knows how that would have turned out. But I essentially lost the race at the moment I eased up after attacking. A moment’s indecisiveness really staining/ruining what otherwise was a great season.
Still, huge shout-out to Mike for racing consistently throughout the season and especially yesterday at the Gravel Grovel. If he had faltered at all, then I would have taken the series from him. And he traveled to six out of the seven races placing really well with podium finishes in all but one of the events, whereas I only made it to the bare minimum of four races. So even though it felt like a lot of work, travel, and expense for this Alabama native to travel up to Indiana, Pennsylvania, and deep into the mountains of North Carolina (that drive was just as long as the Indiana drive!) Mike has put a lot more work and time into this so he truly is a deserving champion.
Here’s my heartrate data and the podium pictures -
You know a race is going to be epic if the pre-ride of the course is six hours long through amazing scenery like that shown in the pics above. We drove up from Birmingham late Tuesday night, and after sleeping in I set out to ride the whole course estimating it would be five hours at most. After getting lost in the national forest a couple times and bushwhacking a bit through what I’m 75% sure is part of the course, my pre-ride ended up being nearly six hours long. I ran out of food and water with nearly two hours left – so completely ravenous and bonked for the last climb and descent. The description for the race course is perfect – mix of road, mtb, and cross specific sections. This really is the perfect finale for the ultracx series. I mainly wanted to write a blog b/c I couldn’t instagram any of my pictures during the ride … too cold! Speaking of cold, the average temp for the ride was 25 degF starting out in the teens. This was a shock to my Alabama system as we really haven’t had any cold weather yet. 20 minutes in and my nose was burning from the cold wind. 20 minutes later though and I was climbing up a 15+% hill and fine for the rest of the day – except my second water bottle was drunk as a slushy four hours into the ride. Here are the rest of the pics I got:
1993 – Before my first mountain bike race – the 1993 Cumberland Classic at Sewanee, TN. 6th in the juniors and 25th in the beginners (there were 100 people in the race!). The bike pictured is a rigid fork mongoose alta with reflectors still on the wheels.
Picture this – the year is 1993. Parked outside Berry High School in Hoover, Alabama is a 1984 red chrysler fifth avenue with a mountain bike crammed inside it. The 3:00 bell rings, and a crazy bike finatic teenager races out of school to be the first out of the parking lot before flying down I-65 to Oak Mountain state park to do a lap of the bump trail before it gets dark. That teenager was me 20 years ago, and back then the trail ended at the camp road at the end of seven bridges (although I never heard that name until this year … not sure if it had a name back then). That’s where I liked to park because I didn’t have to do the extra drive up to the picnic area all the way to the parking lot.
I’d have my bike out in just a few minutes and taking off backwards up the seven bridges singletrack, connecting on the road through the parking area to the start of the bump trail (Mr Toad’s and Foreplay – again I believe these were not named until more recently). I would fly through these sections and then up Johnson’s Mountain all the way to the park boundary before flying down through the pine forest through the steep drop-off back down to the road. After a short jaunt on peavine road, you hit the trail again and started up the quarry climb through blood rock eventually spilling out onto the fire road. You could take the fire road all the way across the top and then down out to the main park road where the north trailhead is now. I would ride the road back to the starting point, and that was the entire loop. The connecting trails wouldn’t be created until a year or two later.
Fast forward 20 years, and now there is a 16+ mile mostly singletrack loop and nearly twice that much trail in spurs and connectors hosting two national/international level biking events (Bump ‘n Grind and Xterra), as well as running races and an amazing six hour race put on by Chainbusters. Add to that list an epic 100 miler – the brainchild of John Karrasch who set out to create a 100 mile race that would showcase as much of the singletrack as possible. The original idea was three 33 mile loops, but in the end some of the spurs were cut out, and a 25 mile loop was designed allowing for both a 50 mile and a 100 mile race.
Huge thanks to years and years of work by BUMP (Birmingham Urban Mountain Pedalers) http://bump.org/ and to John Karrasch for the initiative to put this race into action, and to Kenny Griffin and the entire Chain Buster crew for putting on an amazing race — hopefully the first of many, many more to come!
As soon as the race was announced, I knew I wanted to do it. My singletrack skills have deteriorated quite a bit from what I used to do on a 26″ mountain bike so I also knew that I would need to get out there and ride the trails more and try to get some of that skill back if I wanted to have any shot at all of doing well in the race. That was several months ago and fast forward through a busy life and busier than normal racing schedule (I haven’t written a blog in almost three months!) to this past Saturday where nearly 100 people lined up to race the Oak Ass 50 and Oak Ass 100.
I was running late but squeezed in on the front row next to Jacob Tubbs (Infinity Med-I-Spa). Kenny was driving the pick-up for the dash to the singletrack. We flew around the paved picnic area, and I tucked in close behind Jacob. We hit a hill and Jacob started to slow a bit given that he had been in the wind the whole time. I decided to hit it hard to get a few seconds advantage going into the single track. I looked back after a few seconds and both Jeff Clayton (Super Sport Athletic Wear) and Brian Roggeveen (Momentum Racing) had come with me. I swung out to the side right before the single track to let them around and then try to keep up with them through Seven Bridges. This worked GREAT as I followed Jeff and watched all his lines.
I had come off Jeff’s wheel and let another rider around towards the bottom of Seven Bridges but when we popped out on the Boy Scout road, I nailed it and was able to bridge back up to the small group. Entering the singletrack in fourth position behind Brian, Jeff, and one other rider I drilled it hard and was able to hold Jeff’s wheel through the rest of the single track. The rider I had let around crashed on one of the descents so that put me in third through the section of single track which climbs past the BMX track. I was nervous about the next section of singletrack after the climb, but I had Jeff’s line to follow and ended up holding his wheel all the way to the red trail.
Once we hit the red trail, I told Jeff I was going for the KOM and took off up the red trail. Brian was initially out of sight, but after a minute or so I could see him up ahead. The red trail is hard to go hard on not because it is steep but because there are medium sized unavoidable rocks diabollically placed at the exact spot where you have just gotten up to speed. These rocks bounce you up in the air and you lose all that momentum you worked so hard to create. I knew I was digging really deep and wasting lots of energy but I really wanted the KOM so I hit it hard finally catching Brian just before the steep section to the bridge. I didn’t want to take any chances with a dirt sprint so I hit it hard going past him and was hoping to get enough of a gap holding it to the top. I was pretty much blown with a quarter mile left to climb, but I had enough of a gap to hold on for the KOM.
I had originally told people after the race that Brian caught me across the top, but now that I think about it I also remember being the first into the bump connector with so many leaves covering all the rocks thinking that I was at a bit of a disadvantage not being able to see the trail clearly and wondering after 100 racers passed through if the lines would be easier to pick out. So I guess Brian caught me somewhere in Jekyll or right before the turn onto Jekyll. I don’t remember exactly where but I think it was early because Scott Staubach (Team Momentum) also caught me in Jekyll when I goofed up one of the large rocks before the rock shelf drop-off and that was after Brian had already passed me.
Scott was flying, though, because when I exited the technical section of Jekyll I could still see Brian but Scott had already passed Brian and was nowhere to be seen. I rode fast down the flowy part of Jekyll keeping Brian just barely ahead in my sights and thought I would catch him towards the bottom of the Peavine road. Brian was riding super well, though, and it wan’t until near the top of the second step that I finally caught him. I drilled it really hard again wanting to put as much distance between me and everybody else before the CCC singletrack and blood rock. I flew through CCC and was surpised to still have a lead heading into Blood Rock.
There were several people there so I tried to ride the whole thing not wanting to be a wuss and walk it. I made it past the blood rock and the tree, but decided to unclip and go down with one foot off for stability and then endoed when I hit the mud at the bottom. Super slow motion wreck, but my left knee got wedged between some part of the frame and the ground. And my right brake shift lever had rotated around the handlebars so that it was up on top of the bar. Whatever caused that also hurt my wrist because it was hurting then and still sore today (Monday – more than 48 hours after the race has been over).
Brian came flying past me while I was on the ground and I had a good vantage point to see how it was supposed to be done. I was laughing a bit and frustrated b/c if you look at it and see someone else ride it, you realize that the whole thing should be incredibly easy to ride but when you are there in the moment looking at the rocks, the trees, the water, it doesn’t seem easy at all. I was able to twist the brake levers back around the bars and take off again – but Brian was long gone putting a lot of time into me on the quarry descent. I’m sure I made up some time on Johnson’s Mountain but I never saw him again until over halfway through the next lap.
Before that happened, I was surprised not to get caught by anybody on the rest of that lap or even through seven bridges and the next section of trail before the BMX track. But then when I got to the BMX track, I looked back and saw that Jacob Tubbs was catching up to me. I figured he would catch me on the singletrack after the BMX climb – but as it turns out he ended up crashing. I didn’t know he had crashed so I was getting a lot of confidence from not getting caught on one of the singletrack sections that had worried me the most before the race.
I popped out on the fire road again still in third place behind Scott who would be over 5 minutes ahead of me by Jekyll according to John Karrasch who was stationed there all day at a spot where the course intersected itself briefly. Brian on the other hand was much closer ahead. In fact, I had caught Brian just before the top of the fire road but decided not to pass him since I knew he would be faster through the next sections.
I stayed about 50 meters behind him and ate and drank across the top of the climb. During the fast descent on the fire road, I noticed that my Garmin mount had come loose and was dangling on the underside of the bars. Fortunately, my Garmin was still connected to the mount so I pushed the whole thing back on top of the bars and then tried to slide it up closer to the stem where the bars are thicker … tapered bars drive me crazy! But the mount straps naturally wanted to pull back down the “bar slope” and loosen again. I was fiddling with this trying to make a last minute adjustment right before the entrance to the bump connector when I hit some loose rocks and went down hard unexpectedly.
I was not even halfway through my second lap and already crashed hard twice. This crash was high enough speed that I slid on the ground a bit. Nothing hurt bad but I was too afraid to look at my arm b/c it felt like skin was hanging off of it. I rode the bump connector refusing to look at my arm just in case there was actually skin hanging off. Turns out it was a bunch of leaves that were mixed with blood and sticking to my skin. They eventually fell off – but I was pretty disheartened wondering how I was going to survive without breaking any bones.
The thing that kept me going, though, was knowing that I was in the lead. Both Scott and Brian were doing the 50 mile race. This kept me motivated not to give up. I think if Jeff had been in front of me at this point, I would have just given up, gotten more cautious, and not even bothered to try and chase him down. But with a shot at still winning the race I kept pushing on hard. I thought my confidence would be wrecked for Jekyll but I ended up clearing the entire top half of Jekyll and only dabbing once on the bottom half. This was a big confidence booster for me so I nailed it hard again and was still able to see Brian at a few points on the flowy part of Jekyll.
Climbing up the Peavine road, I looked back to see Randy Kerr (Team Momentum) catching me. Brian was just ahead and here I was in the middle. I was closing on Brian, and Randy was closing on me. My memory is a fading a bit now, and I can’t remember exactly where Randy caught me but I ended up catching Randy again with less than two miles to race. He was having some sort of mechanical but hopped back on the bike when I passed. I let him pass me again shortly before the family trail and tried to keep up with him but he dropped me like a bad habbit.
I was starting to feel tired on my third lap and had run out of food towards the end of my second lap. I decided to slow down a bit and focus on my lines more and try to eat and rest up some on this lap. I still ended up setting three PRs on that lap (garrett’s gulch, quarry mtn descent, and johnson’s mountain) which just goes to show you the importance of technique over raw power in mtb-ing. I managed to clear both the top and bottom of Jekyll with no dabs but still a few seconds short of my PR from the 9 hour race last fall (I really feel like the top part of Jekyll has gotten harder to ride over the past year). The bottom is the about the same possibly slightly easier, but the top seems like it is definitely trickier to get your lines right without having to dab once or twice.
Even having tried to take the third lap easy, I was starting to deteriorate by the end of the lap having run out of food again. I don’t know why I hadn’t grabbed more when I stopped at the end of the second lap! I got a psychological boost, though, because when I came out of the family trail onto the road – there was my son Josiah on his mountain bike ready to ride with me past the water fountain to the start/finish. Kristine helped me get organized with food/gatorade/lights for the final lap. Then Josiah took off beside me and made it all the way through the parking lot before I headed out on the main road back down to start my final lap.
I had drank a coke and gulped down two powerbar gels while stopped so I took off like a rocket along the road down to seven bridges. I also tried to hit seven bridges, garrett’s gulch, and the bmx single track as hard as possible thinking that whoever was behind me would be putting time into me on the last lap. I had taken three or four more powerbar gels with me for that final lap. So I had lots of sugar to propel me through the first half of the lap, but I had gone through all my nutrition by the top of the fire trail with all of Jekyll left, the peavine road climb, blood rock, and Johnson’s Mountain still to go. I started to fade pretty bad towards the end, desparately looking for the mile number plates, and also thinking about the stew that would be waiting at the end. I was pretty sure of winning by this point, and I was having a ton of fun on the singletrack feeling much more confident so that helped me get through quite the sugar crash with 10 miles to go.
Josiah was waiting for me when I popped out of the family trail onto the road, and he road that last bit into the finish with me crashing as he turned around to join me. He hopped right back up, though, and we made it to the finish together where Kristine was waiting. Pete Foret grabbed my bike as I was pretty exhausted and I started to recap how everything went down at the inaugural oak ass 100 mile mtb race!
Jason Childre and Jeff Clayton would battle it out for 2nd and 3rd behind me never separated by more than a couple minutes. Kudos to everyone for lining up to tackle such an epic course – what an epic day!
Here’s my annotated heartrate data … there are so many speed spikes I decided to take them out of the graph so you can see the elevation data a bit better. You can see how hard I was pushing it for the KOM on that first lap.
The inaugural oak ass 100 mile mtb race podium. Left to right – Jason Childre (Yeti/Childre Nissan), Brian Toone (FGS Cycling), Jeff Clayton (Super Sport Athletic Wear), and Van Mixon (Super Sport Athletic Wear).
I was freezing cold and under-dressed – hence the hoodie. Here’s one without the hoodie while holding the giant trophy – triceps hurt so bad couldn’t even lift the thing all the way up in the air.
Oak Ass 100 mile mtb race – 1st place – with Kenny Griffin on the bullhorn
Once again, huge thanks and shout-out to BUMP for their amazing work creating world class singletrack right here in Birmingham. Also to John for not just dreaming up this race, but also hanging out for more than 9 hours in cold conditions at the Jekyll/Blood Rock split cheering everybody on, guiding people which way to go, AND giving time splits. Huge thanks to Lee Neal, too, who volunteered all day at the hot wheels smash spot where the course intersected itself. Plenty of visiblity though so no danger at all, but I’ve always wanted to race on a course that intersected itself at a 90 degree angle. I believe this is a first for me in 20 years of racing. And finally, thanks again Kenny for putting on another amazing race. Looking forward to the next one!
Gotten a bit behind on the blogs … this one I started last Saturday after the River Gorge race – and I think I’ll go ahead and try to finish it up before this afternoon’s race in Anderson, SC.
River Gorge Road Race
Wow, another epic race today at the River Gorge road race up in Chattanooga, TN. The race was going really well until it wasn’t. I missed the early move, but managed to escape the field with Dirk Polhman (Texas Roadhouse) before Sand Mountain. Looking at the strava data, we had about a 2 minute gap by the bottom of the climb. Across the top we caught Bryant Funston (Marx and Bensdorf) and Tim Henry (Litespeed-BMW) coming off the initial break. We worked well together across the top of Sand Mountain, but there was a huge group this year that made it up Sand Mountain together. And they were able to pull our chase group back shortly before we began the descent down Sand Mountain.
There was an attack immediately before the descent, so we absolutely flew down the mountain. At the bottom, I rolled off the front again when the pace slowed down – this time taking Mark Fisher (Village Volkswagon). The two of us worked well together to extend our lead all the way to the bottom of the stairstepper climb. But the chase behind was on, and we got caught by a flying field about halfway up the climb. I was struggling by this point and came off shortly before the top of the climb.
Me and Jacob Hill (Stan’s Notubes) chased back onto the back of the field on the long rolling downhill towards the river. The pace stayed relatively tame on the climb up to the TVA entrance before we divebombed all the way back down to the Tennessee River. I tried to move up across the short flat section before the Raccoon Mountain climb, but there were some attacks that strung out the field and I couldn’t even move up. I started the climb at the back having set my mind just to ride my own pace up the climb and hopefully catch a bunch of people who would ride too hard and blow up. Instead, I came almost immediately off the back of the group and was only able to push about 250 watts up the climb.
So I was disappointed with my result, but happy with another fun, hard, challenging strategic day at River Gorge. I think Jonathan Jacob, today’s winner, said it best “This race never gets any easier”. Mark Fisher did really well catching all but Jonathan from the original breakaway to take 3rd for the day. Stephen Bassett (Texas Roadhouse) also road really well and was able to beat Mark in a two-up sprint at the top of the climb for second place in the race.
At the front, here’s how the race played out: Chris Brown (Litespeed-BMW) and Bryant Funston (Marx and Bensdorf) got away really early (on US-11). Brendan Sullivan (Lupus) bridged across with a couple other riders – Dave Gearhart (Litespeed-BMW) and maybe one other rider. Then Tim Henry (Litespeed-BMW) and Jonathan Jacob (Bissell) bridged across. I ended up missing all of these moves and nearly tacked onto the last one getting caught in the middle for about half a mile but unable to close the gap. The original break of four worked well together, but when additional riders bridged across, the harmony in the break diminished and Brendan ended up soloing off the front of the break for a large portion of the race – only getting caught by the break towards the end of the race. The next group on the course was what was left of our main field (about 27 riders) – and we were given a time split of 1’20″ to the break at the bottom of the Raccoon Mountain climb.
Mark attacked early on the climb and caught everybody but Jonathan before the top of the first steep part of the climb. Our group was shattered at this point, but I was far enough back not to see clearly what was going on in front. Here’s all my heartrate data from the race:
River Gorge Road Race – heartrate zone summary
Alabama State Criterium
You can summarize pretty much the entire race in these two videos. In the first one, Mike Olheiser (Cashcall Mortgage) breaks away on the second lap after I let a tiny gap open coming out of the slippery turn 2. Mike takes one look back, sees the gap, and is gone. I chased flat out like it was the end of the race for the next lap and a half. Then Paul Tower (Tria Cycling) pulled super hard for a lap and yet Mike continued to slowly increase his gap. Eventually, I started to attack the group to try to get away to reduce the odds in my favor, but I couldn’t take the corners fast enough to make anything stick. In the end game, Mike had lapped us and was riding the front for several laps with me in second wheel when Will Fyfe (Brick Alley) attacked with three to go. I covered that and rode second wheel all the way until the start of the last lap when I attacked to make sure I made it through the slippery corners first. I kept on the gas, but it wasn’t enough to keep Paul Tower (Tria Cycling) from powering past me at the very end. Congrats to Mike on the win and to Paul and all of team tria for a smart tactical race!
Also, here is a video of when Mike laps the field and attacks – I was hoping this would blow up the field but we all stayed together this time all the way up until Will Fyfe’s attack. I think the reason it played out this way is because Mike had essentially already won the race so he didn’t want to take any more risks in the corners and took them slow enough for us to recover and hold his wheel on the straightaways.
After the race, a whole bunch of us got together and had an awesome birthday / state crit celebration dinner at Rosie’s Mexican Cantina near the race course. Fun times rehashing the race and catching up with everybody. Awesome birthday – bike racing, podium, and friends!
2013 Alabama State Criterium Pro/1/2 Huntsville, AL 3rd place Lap Time AvgPow MaxPow HR RPM MPH 1 1:28 307 866 150 78 25.2 2 1:17 360 911 164 79 27.4 3 1:17 340 737 175 75 27.3 4 1:20 297 745 172 79 26.7 5 1:20 288 812 174 77 26.4 6 1:25 260 663 171 80 25.4 7 1:26 260 558 167 80 24.6 8 1:29 218 716 166 75 24.2 9 1:24 212 850 160 77 25.2 10 1:21 232 744 160 77 26.2 11 1:24 280 669 166 79 25.6 12 1:24 307 887 169 80 25.6 13 1:24 252 509 173 84 25.6 14 1:27 251 582 163 83 24.8 15 1:20 308 911 160 78 27.2 16 1:27 226 532 172 83 25 17 1:28 255 581 156 83 24.4 18 1:35 199 341 157 83 23.6 19 1:36 210 374 149 81 22.8 20 1:24 331 883 153 83 25.8 21 1:26 243 467 171 83 25.6 22 1:24 311 876 162 82 25.9 23 1:34 194 410 162 81 23.1 24 1:29 240 881 147 83 24.5 25 1:22 238 771 160 77 26.2 26 1:28 229 546 157 82 24.8 27 1:33 187 955 149 80 23.6 28 1:18 363 858 168 80 27.6 29 1:40 182 451 160 79 22 30 1:41 172 384 143 81 21.3 31 1:41 166 998 138 79 21.6 32 1:22 307 916 161 78 26.5 33 1:23 261 838 161 73 25.9 34 1:24 206 644 159 73 25.3 35 1:25 240 605 154 76 25.3 36 1:25 211 712 155 74 25.1 37 1:24 214 627 155 76 25.3 38 1:21 231 1036 165 79 26.6 39 1:28 196 611 152 81 24.1 40 1:24 235 809 153 83 24.9 41 1:13 485 958 177 78 29.7
Heartrate zone summary – lots of time in zones 3 and 4 b/c of the rain.
LP Field Criterium Series Finale
This was a really fun race put on by Tim Hall to close out the 2013 LP Field crit series. I wasn’t in the overall hunt for the points so me, Tim Henry (Litespeed BMW), Travis Werts (Sonic) and a few other riders managed to escape after lots of attacks early in the race. Travis Werts was closest to the overall for the series so he was motivated to do well. But it ended up being me leading out the sprint with three turns to go and only Tim able to come around at the end. Travis took 3rd. It was a hard, strategic, fun race! Perhaps the best part of the day was the mix of racing and celebration as people were cooking out and having fun. Two podium pics because I was wanting to get the MongoHQ logo in one of them.
LP Field Criterium Lap Data 2nd place Lap Time AvgPow MaxPow HR RPM MPH 1 1:38 223 574 146 79 21.7 2 1:20 234 600 154 86 25.5 3 1:16 233 475 154 90 27.1 4 1:14 347 927 160 82 27.8 5 1:13 380 990 178 85 28.1 6 1:16 296 870 177 86 27 7 1:18 275 715 169 84 26.5 8 1:18 313 979 165 86 26.4 9 1:15 274 818 176 84 27.3 10 1:19 336 929 171 83 26.5 11 1:19 269 1049 170 83 26 12 1:23 233 644 173 81 24.9 13 1:35 186 501 158 82 22 14 1:35 207 746 155 83 21.8 15 1:24 228 646 159 85 24.7 16 1:16 287 733 171 82 26.9 17 1:17 345 1003 171 87 26.6 18 1:16 328 541 179 86 26.5 19 1:20 316 566 177 86 25.3 20 1:16 262 536 172 88 26.8 21 1:18 248 544 168 85 26.2 22 1:18 231 707 165 84 25.8 23 1:21 245 433 160 86 25.5 24 1:18 217 457 162 86 26 25 1:18 322 968 172 84 26.1 26 1:21 220 473 164 87 25 27 2:43 108 667 154 76 20.2 28 1:27 211 760 158 84 23.7 29 1:09 520 996 174 84 29.8 30 1:19 251 515 182 81 25.6 31 1:26 206 721 169 82 23.9 32 1:22 158 548 152 82 25.1 33 1:19 219 657 150 81 26.3 34 1:15 213 691 157 82 27.3 35 1:14 313 865 163 81 27.7 36 1:21 221 660 172 80 25.4 37 1:19 226 854 167 80 26.2 38 1:08 527 982 180 86 29.7
Heartrate zone summary
3rd place behind Mike Olheiser (Cashcall Mortgage) and Payne Griffin (Marx and Bensdorf). I read recently that you weren’t supposed to start your posts with podium pictures, but I’m really, really proud of this one so please excuse the blogging faux pas.
I finished up my ride for Team Red, White, and Blue on Tuesday and didn’t touch my bike until Friday with Craig from Brick Alley giving it a thorough overhaul after 862 miles of pavement, dirt, and gravel and my legs getting a much, much needed rest. Josiah and I biked over to the bikeshop (on my old Scott), Josiah’s first “commute” on somewhat busier roads. I came home with the Litespeed, and Kristine stopped by on her way home from work to pick up the Scott.
I wasn’t sure how such an intense effort as a not-quite 40K time trial would be on my legs, and as it turns out it really hurt. I ended up doing the time trial mostly in Zone 4 heartrate because the pain in my quads was really bad. I focused on trying to keep good aerodynamic form on the downhills and across the top of the uphills but stood up on most of the smaller hills to give my legs a bit of a break as I torqued hard on the bars. Initially I was targetting a 315 watt average, but that became unreasonable after a few minutes so I basically continued to target that as a maximum for the flat sections and then running 250-275 watts on the downhills and 350 watts on the steeper uphills.
All of this meant that I was slow on the way out. Mike started 30 seconds behind me and passed me within the first 2 or 3 minutes of the race. Payne started right in front of me and was long out of sight. Travis Sherman had started one minute in front of me and was also long out of sight. At the turnaround, it looked like Travis was still about a minute ahead of me but my legs started to feel better (i.e., less pain) the farther I got into the ride so I cranked it up a bit on the way back and ended up catching Travis across the top of the Firetower climb. I’m thinking that with the freshest possible legs I could have cut maybe another minute from my time but that still wouldn’t have put me anywhere in the ballpark of the TT crushers Mike and Payne.
Afterwards, it was fun to chat with all the riders from across the state and several from out of state including Greg Miller from Knoxville came down to partner with Larry Gunter to win the BVI tandem state crown. Also, Ryan Boyle came over from Georgia and raced strong in the T2 Para category (see photos below).
Finally, here’s all my heartrate data from the race -
Heartrate zone summary (click to enlarge)
Critical power curve – note that I had my all-time best for this time duration last year when I went back out to the course and re-rode the time trial after being sick the week before during the actual time trial. (click to enlarge)
1 minute power data for time trial Interval Miles AvgPow MaxPow HR RPM MPH 0-1min 0.39 353 751 141 91 23.9 1-2min 0.36 389 531 164 79 21.4 2-3min 0.44 280 389 165 82 26.4 3-4min 0.52 275 344 169 84 31.4 4-5min 0.4 302 404 166 84 24 5-6min 0.33 290 485 166 78 19.9 6-7min 0.54 284 404 161 88 32.4 7-8min 0.43 272 426 164 83 25.9 8-9min 0.31 316 510 166 79 18.8 9-10min 0.43 286 385 168 85 25.5 10-11min 0.41 272 358 163 88 24.8 11-12min 0.29 318 498 165 83 17.4 12-13min 0.42 281 432 169 81 25 13-14min 0.41 322 477 164 78 24.9 14-15min 0.37 284 375 166 81 22.3 15-16min 0.29 306 403 166 75 17.6 16-17min 0.49 251 389 163 84 29.2 17-18min 0.29 307 543 164 82 17.1 18-19min 0.22 345 538 169 80 13.1 19-20min 0.32 271 411 171 82 19 20-21min 0.32 289 410 166 77 19.4 21-22min 0.41 267 386 166 75 24.5 22-23min 0.37 295 425 163 78 22.2 23-24min 0.39 284 388 165 76 23.2 24-25min 0.51 219 393 162 82 30.5 25-26min 0.58 203 416 153 92 35.1 26-27min 0.45 302 554 164 83 27 27-28min 0.5 243 369 164 86 30.3 28-29min 0.39 328 411 164 85 23.7 29-30min 0.41 266 486 171 77 24.8 30-31min 0.4 330 494 168 83 24.2 31-32min 0.33 303 469 175 80 20 32-33min 0.34 335 567 173 84 20.4 33-34min 0.38 315 507 174 82 22.9 34-35min 0.18 365 550 180 76 11.1 35-36min 0.31 306 472 180 80 18.7 36-37min 0.3 326 472 181 78 18.1 37-38min 0.4 267 388 176 77 24.1 38-39min 0.46 280 436 170 83 27.6 39-40min 0.38 284 497 174 79 22.7 40-41min 0.48 232 354 167 77 28.6 41-42min 0.5 144 452 162 72 30.3 42-43min 0.5 313 438 163 85 30 43-44min 0.35 323 573 174 79 20.8 44-45min 0.51 255 354 171 86 30.9 45-46min 0.43 295 408 168 85 25.8 46-47min 0.36 302 512 175 82 21.7 47-48min 0.54 264 341 172 86 32.5 48-49min 0.44 302 437 172 80 26.6 49-50min 0.48 271 412 173 83 28.8 50-51min 0.44 286 378 172 83 26.7 51-52min 0.36 316 484 174 86 21.3 52-53min 0.3 331 486 178 77 18 53-54min 0.5 265 394 175 85 29.7 54-55min 0.4 316 406 173 82 24.1 55-56min 0.33 340 430 177 81 19.6 56-57min 0.45 296 416 180 81 27.1
Since our ride originated in Nashville, I solved the transportation problem back to Birmingham by deciding to ride home to Birmingham starting Sunday and finishing late Tuesday night with the help of Boris Simmonds and Nathan Pocus who both rode way out to West Blockton and helped me crawl the last 35 miles home in the dark. Also, Trey Pounds hosted me in Brookhaven on that first day and rode out to find me out on Zetus Rd with a full bottle of gatorade that I desperately needed. We rode the 15 miles back to his house together and then 30 miles together leaving Brookhaven the next day.
Here’s a recount of the day-by-day including the LP Field criterium in Nashville the night before the big ride.
RACE Day 0 – LP Field Criterium, Nashville
24 racing miles in the 1/2/3/ crit followed by a short cooldown with the kids exploring the Nashville pedestrian bridge over the Cumberland River. Kristine, the kids, and I drove up from Birmingham to Nashville Wednesday afternoon where we met our cousins in Franklin for dinner at a local Mexican restaurant. I was planning on riding from there over to LP Field for the crit as part of my warm-up, but we were running so far behind schedule when we left Birmingham that there was no way I would make it to the crit in time. In fact, driving over we only made it there about 15 minutes before the start. By the time I had the kids bikes unpacked and my bike put together, I had about 8 minutes to warm-up for the crit. Fortunately, Jimmy Grant took a solo flyer and people were content to ride easy for the first several laps giving me an additional few minutes of warm-up before the attacks and counter-attacks began. It was insanely fast for a bit and eventually our field went from 30 or so riders down to about 15 left in the main field. A small group of three got away with a few laps to go and Tim Henry (Litespeed-BMW) went to the front and drilled it hard bringing the break back. With one lap to go, the break was just a couple seconds still in front of us. Ryan Sullivan (UHC/706) launched his sprint first with almost the entire last lap still left to go. Andy Reardon (Cumberland Transit) covered the attack, and then I bridged up to the two of them.
Shortly after bridging, I was ready to attack and swung out to go on the outside, but we were just now catching the break and so there wasn’t enough room to get around the riders from the break who were taking up the middle of the road with Ryan and Andy on the inside. I resigned myself to try to come around after the final turn knowing that the finish line was probably too close to get by anybody when Andy clipped Ryan’s wheel coming out of the turn. He didn’t go down immediately but it hit his front wheel hard enough to start a high speed wobble that saw him go into the curb and smash into it with enough force to scare the crap out of me and make me think that when we came around after the finish he would be lying on the ground seriously hurt. I heard afterwards, though, that he had immediately gotten up and grabbed his bike and started to run towards the finish! Wow, Andy is one tough dude!
I barely held on for second as I lost some momentum slamming on the brakes giving Travis Werts a chance to make it a photo finish at the line behind Ryan. Travis ended up third followed by Mark Miller and David Carpenter … full results here – http://www.usacycling.org/results/?year=2013&id=2301&info_id=67000
FAST Day 1 – Mile Marker 442 to Mile Marker 320
123 fast miles with the additional mile to get onto the trace from the Loveless Cafe. We started out the day at the Loveless Cafe. Kristine and the kids were there to send us off after we enjoyed a nice leisurely breakfast at the Loveless Cafe followed by interviews with Channel 4 News in Nashville. The kids rode their bikes with me for just over a mile along TN-100 from the cafe up and around the long entrance ramp to get to the official start of the Trace. Waving goodbye to Kristine and the kids, I took off after the group after getting a couple last pictures and hugs from Analise and Josiah.
Starting out with breakfast at the historic Loveless Cafe near the Nashville terminus of the Natchez Trace.
Ben Day from United Healthcare Pro Cycling, joining us for the first two days of our trip, helped turn our 7 man team into an 8 man powerhouse. We got a great paceline going, especially with team captain Tim Hall pulling alongside Ben for 20 minute pulls when it was their turn at the front. I tucked onto the back of the group next to Rick Harris, who had also dropped back to take pictures as we rolled off.
We were absolutely flying, and when we stopped for water 40 miles into the ride we barely stopped for a couple minutes before rolling again. We established a two-by-two paceline that we kept for the entire trip. Except with each rest stop, we would inevitably roll-out with a different paceline partner so that kept the conversation engaging and helped us get to know each other a little better.
Our first night was spent near Tuscumbia, AL where we went out to eat at a classic restaurant – the Sweet Magnolia Cafe – and were surprisingly serenaded by the cafe owner who sang Frank Sinatra songs for quite a while. It was entertaining!
HARD Day 2 – Mile Marker 320 to Mile Marker 204
116 hard miles. Our starting point for the second day was Buzzard Roost Spring – a really cool, large spring bubbling up from an underground cave. We also started up quite an incline at a quite a pace. I was really struggling at the beginning of the ride wondering how on earth I would be able to finish that ride and the rest of the journey! As it turns out, everyone was struggling that morning including Ben Day who later commented that whoever was pulling that first pull was really putting the hurt on!
Even with as hard as our start was, we also added in a state line sprint less than 20 miles into the ride as we crossed from Alabama into Missisippi. Check it out in the video below.
Later in the day as we flew through Tupelo with a bit of crosswinds picking up, the ride continued to be hard and I would rate this day as the hardest of the four days on the Natchez Trace. Probably the most meaningful part of the day for me was the April 27th, 2011 tornado damage along the Natchez Trace.
Day 2 – riding through five miles of tornado damage from the April 27th, 2011 tornadoes. These large tornadoes really impacted a lot of Alabama, including the big ones in Tuscaloosa, Birmingham, Cullman, and Decatur. For my own family, Kristine was working in Huntsville and had to thread her way between the morning and afternoon Cullman tornadoes to get home. I was with the kids in the basement when one of the smaller EF-2 tornadoes came over our house. I rolled off the bed on top of the kids and pulled the mattress over top of us because the wind got so severe but thankfully for us it touched down a mile away. One big tree came down in our neighborhood right through somebody’s house – you could see their kitchen from the street. But Cahaba Heights where the tornado touched down got hit really hard with a bunch of trees (a vast majority of the larger trees) in the community knocked over. It would be more than a week before power was restored and some roads were re-opened.
That night, we spent the night in Starkville, MS home of Mississippi State University and ate a cool bar Bin 692 which was walking distance from the hotel.
RAIN Day 3 – Mile Marker 204 to Mile Marker 89
115 rainy miles. The next morning we woke up to really light rain and a cool coffee shop attached to a gas station instead of a convenience store. It was an interesting coffee shop, cold stone creamery, and gas station all rolled into one place. I found my coffee twin.
Even with the light rain, it was still a beautiful ride and scenery. The only part that got kinda miserable was after the roads got wet enough that you were riding in the spray of the rider in front of you. In fact, there was a little bit of an internal battle to be at the front to get out of the spray! After the rain stopped, we absolutely drilled it averaging 25mph for over an hour stopping 90 miles into our ride at our final rest stop of the day alongside the huge Ross R. Barnett reservoir. After the rest stop, we split up into two groups which helped us negotiate the busier Jackson-area roads in the second downpour of the day.
I was in the second group and we made it to the end of the day’s ride in Clinton, MS outside of Jackson, the first group (Tim, Travis, and Patrick) was on the ground doing push-ups as penance for leaving us behind!
EPIC Day 4, part 1 – Mile Marker 89 to Mile Marker 0
90 epic miles with the addition of the exit ramp and return to trailer. 444 miles total on the Natchez Trace Parkway! We knew that this day would be shorter than the previous days, so we weren’t necessarily trying to lay down a new land speed record, but we still had a pretty good pace going. As we got into the rolling hills near Natchez, I realized that this was by far my favorite part of the entire trace. There was beautiful huge oak trees covered in Spanish hanging moss lining the roads providing shade. Plus, there was some good hills, and also we were almost finished!
With exactly 5 miles to go, Rick and I were at the front and decided to pull for just 1 mile since we knew there would be a big sprint at the end. When we pulled off, the group strung out single file with Travis Werts in the front I believe. Then with about 2 miles to go, Philip put in a hard attack which I covered. When he started to slow down, I countered his move hoping to get a jump and hold it to the line. But even with an 1100+ watt jump (new power record) I couldn’t get a good gap on the group. So when the group rolled back up to me, I soft pedaled the front. That’s when Scott put in his perfectly timed attack. I wasn’t going to chase since I had just jumped, and everybody else looked at each other so Scott rolled away with the epic sprint win. The rest of us sprinted it out for second behind him with us all basically finishing as a group, but sprinting instead of rolling across the line in some sort of procession. Loved it. Perfect way to end such an epic ride for such a great cause!
Jeff Rossini and Austin Bauman were as much a part of the team as the riders. They drove behind us the entire length of the trace providing us with rolling rest stops and lots of positive energy. Best support crew ever! Here they are with Tim Hall at the end (Jeff on the left and Austin on the right)
EPIC Day 4, part 2 – Vidalia, LA to Brookhaven, MS
87 epic miles. While the guys were getting ready for the long drive back to Nashville, I was prepping for the second part of an epic day – a ride to Brookhaven on the first leg of my journey home to Alabama. I was so pumped and excited after the finish of our Natchez ride that I think I underestimated a bit how hard the second part of this day would be. I started it out by riding across the Missisippi River into Vidalia, Louisiana so I could add a state to my ride and also get some good pics of the Mississippi River and the bridge across. Plus, this ride was a walk back in time as I had raced the Natchez Cycling Classic stage race back in 1994 as a junior and then again in 1998 as a cat 2 with my teammate from Clemson, Bert Hull. I rode the prologue portion of the course down to the Isle of Capri casino and then the steep climb back up the river bank. Tim Hall got this picture of me as I was getting ready to pull out – the backpack weighed about 10 pounds with my laptop, all kinds of cords and chargers (power, usb, etc…). This would be fine for the first day, but by the end of day 2 I was ready to be done with the backpack.
Day 4b – Tim Hall snapped this picture of me as I was just getting ready to pull out on my ride across the Mississippi River for a very short foray into Louisiana before returning back across again through Natchez all the way to Brookhaven, MS for a grand total of just under 176.8 miles for the day.
Once I left Natchez, I started back out on the Natchez Trace parkway to head to Selma Rd which I knew crossed over the trace and put me on a direct route over to US-84. There was no exit here, so I had to scale the embankment through the tall grass. After checking myself thoroughly for ticks, I continued on over to US-84. My original plan had me taking all the Old US-84 offshoots weaving around US-84, but the shoulder was so nice, the road was so smooth, and the traffic so light that I decided to just drill it on US-84 east towards Brookhaven. I averaged 21.5 mph for the 7.5 miles
I was on US-84 before turning onto Log Cabin Rd, which was really rough chip/seal plus sections of gravel where the road was gone. You had to pick your line a bit through here, but there was also a couple nicer short sections that had been repaved. I ran out of water through here, and given how hot it was and how dehydrated I was by this point in the day I knew that I needed to find water from somebody. I had planned on finding water in Hamburg, but there was nothing there. Most of the houses were abandoned or empty. Or because it was the hot part of the day, nobody was outside and I didn’t want to risk dogs and time going up to knock on houses. This was the only public structure I saw in Hamburg to give you an idea of how rural this place was.
Finally, I found a man at the top of his gravel driveway and hollered out to him to see if they had any water. The man’s mother came out as I was riding up the gravel driveway, and she gave me lots of 1/2 liter bottles of water – enough to fill up both my bottles (44 oz) plus drink some right there. I told them I was ready to drink from the next creek I saw I was so desperate. We talked for a bit and when she found out about my ride, she said they were honored to have me stop by and get water from them. She grew up in Natchez and then moved out with her family to the country to raise some cattle and other farm animals.
Refreshed and still full of energy I headed out on the next road (Oldenburg Rd) which was probably one of my favorite paved roads. Lots of short rolling hills and good pavement. At the end of this road, I turned onto Hospital Rd for a few miles north before hitting one of my favorite dirt roads of the trip – 15 mile creek rd. It was very rouge-roubaix like with hills (but not as steep as rouge-roubaix) and good gravel lines you could take around the turns.
I had planned my route around how to get across one of the particular rivers that I noticed had very few bridges across it. I ended up selecting Wright Rd, and sure enough as soon as I turned onto the road, I saw “bridge out” signs. Fortunately, I stopped an oncoming vehicle and asked them if you could wade across the river, and the lady and her husband said it was no problem that 4-wheelers drive across it all the time. When I got to the bridge, however, I realized that it was still intact and rideable if you were careful – one thin guard wire to keep you from falling into the river. This road was one of the bumpiest of the entire trip – see the bottom left picture of the instagram photo below.
About a mile or so across the bridge on brutally rough pavement, I intersected with Choctaw Rd that was perfect dirt – far easier to ride than the Wright Rd pavement. I was actually quite a bit ahead of schedule because my GPS had routed me to Wright Rd and then u-turned before the bridge before routing back to the other side of the bridge adding 10 miles to the trip. When I crossed the closed bridge, this chopped 10 miles off my route. Trey had texted that he wanted to ride in with me, and we ended up meeting on Choctaw shortly after it turned from dirt back into pavement. I was out of water AGAIN when we met, and he had a full 24 oz cold/iced bottle of gatorade for me. It was perfect.
We rode together through Brookhaven back to his house where we jumped in his pool to cool off and then ate BBQ paninis that his wife and mother-in-law had made for us. I ate SIX paninis.
HOT Day 5 – Brookhaven, MS to Meridian, MS
153 hot miles. This day was the shortest, but probably involved the longest combination of rural roads. I spent the day tagging all my instagram photos #huntforwater because that’s what I spent a lot of time thinking about! Trey and I started out together leaving his house on the MS Gran Prix TT course, heading to the old MS Gran Prix RR course and riding Heucks Retreat road backwards on the course for a few miles before it turned into Bahalia Rd (dirt) for a couple miles. Then we wandered over on a nice, hilly (a few 12% max hills) road which eventually dumped us out onto MS-27 which Trey could take south back towards his house. I was continuing on east so we split up at that point with me heading east over the Pearl River.
When I planned out my route a couple weeks ago, I had just assumed I would be able to find water whenever I needed it. This was a partially correct assumption. Just about every time I needed water, I would come across a gas station or country store. The only problem, however, is that those gas stations or stores would be closed, boarded up, and abandoned. One town (Pinola) had two gas stations. One was closed permanently. The other was closed for remodeling. The nice lady at the post office though had cold bottled water she gave me – filling up both my water bottles (44 oz). The gas station that was closed for remodeling kept its large tanks above ground permanently – one labeled “REG UNL” and the other “HWY DSL”. First time, I’ve ever seen that.
Still, the roads were absolutely amazing – some of them were really smooth chip/seal, others were a bit rougher, but all of them were crazy rural with maybe one or two hunting cabins dotting the entire road. I remember one stretch of road shortly after Pinola, which was perfectly smooth chip/seal and lots of rolling hills twisting and diving with lots of curves. It was a blast of a road to ride.
Much later in the ride, when I made it closer into Meridian, it became easier to find water as the area was much more heavily populated. I did find a cool two-combo stretch of dirt roads (Graham Harrison and Cedar Grove) which were a couple of my favorites on the trip. Here’s a video:
Kristine booked me a hotel in Meridian while I was riding, and here’s a collage of my arrival at the Baymont Inn. (the astro motel was NOT where I stayed)
HC Day 6 – Meridian, MS to Hoover, AL
170 HC (hors categorie) miles. It’s hard to describe how hard this day was. I’ve ridden 250 miles in a single day before with 42,000+ feet of climbing. But that ride for the rapha rising competition in 2012 was “cake” compared to this ride. This ride was easily the hardest ride I’ve ever done. It was also the closest I’ve come to riding myself to hospital-level exhaustion. I laid down in the road twice, laid down on the stoop of a church once, begged for water twice, and involuntarily stopped riding twice. To give you an idea of how rural some of the roads were, I was probably laying in the road with my head resting on my helmet on Haysop Cemetery road for about 10 minutes. No cars. Just me and the flies, mosquitoes, and ants and I didn’t care if any of them bit me. Same thing just a few miles later at the historic Haysop Church (183 years old). Just laid on the front stoop thinking how beautiful the sky was and how pretty the cemetery looked and how on earth would I ever get moving again. I ate a payday candy bar when I first laid down at the church, and I think by the time I got up that had started to make it through my digestive system with some energy. Plus, somewhat miraculously as I was taking a picture of the Haysop Baptist Church historical sign, my daughter’s music started playing on my iphone … peaceful worship music from Christy Nockell’s Ever Lifting album. It was the sweetest music I’ve ever heard. This helped me get going again — plus a couple strangers gave me water along the road, which was very rough. My rolling average on Haysop Church dirt road was 11.5 mph (not including my stops) and then on the even rougher chip/seal torture road (Crystal Lake) I only averaged 9.5mph not including one stop along the road. The video below shows me begging for water from one car that rolled up beside me and stopped I was going so slow.
Exhausted from the previous days riding I had slept in a bit (although fitfully waking up every time the air conditioner kicked on starting at 6 in the morning). I wish when I had first woken up at 6 that I had just gotten ready and left at that time b/c it would have saved me at least some of the heat-related problems I would have later in the day. As it turns out, I slept in until 7:30, ate breakfast at the hotel, and was rolling out of the hotel shortly after 8AM. The ride started out really well with lots of shade through a cool Meridian neighborhood on a road with some good hills and a switchback descent that crossed a major highway and immediately turned into really rough, rutted dirt/gravel. That only lasted about 200 meters before it turned into much nicer dirt and eventually into good pavement again after it crossed underneath I-20.
The day turned bad, however, once I hit the US-11 / US-80 combo road about a mile later. This road was FILLED with logging trucks. No exaggeration, I probably saw 50 or more of them over the next 50 miles of the ride. But the problem wasn’t necessarily the logging trucks, it was the Wisconsin-style lateral cracks that ran the length of the road every 10 meters. Unlike Wisconsin where these cracks form due to the extreme cold, these were heat cracks caused by the expansion of the road under hot sun and then compression when it cools off at night. The 15 miles or so I had on this road until Alabama were really rough because of those cracks. But as soon as I hit the Alabama border, the road was beautifully paved with a perfect shoulder with a rumble strip about 18 inches of the white line so that I could safely ride to the right of the white line on a debris-free shoulder and still be left of the rumble strip.
It was so hot and humid by this point that I couldn’t take iphone pictures without first stopping and pulling my tshirt out of my backpack to wipe the phone and my hands. Just constant streams of sweat pouring off of me and/or just rolling around on my skin. Not much shade on Hwy 11, but I made some really good time averaging well over 20mph. Then I detoured off of Hwy 11 at Livingston and headed over to Co Rd 21 which had some amazing views of the Tenn-Tom waterway from a couple hundred feet higher in the hills.
After Co Rd 21, I was back on Hwy 11 and almost out of water and the one gas station at the crossroads was abandoned. This, combined with a severe lack of shade, had me adjusting my speed to match any clouds that happened to be heading in my direction (fortunate). So sometimes I would slow down or even stop to make sure I didn’t outrun the shade provided by some of the thicker clouds. I’ve got some fun video of that if I can ever sift through it all and find it.
Eventually, I made it across the flat river floodplain and into Boligee. There I stopped and refreshed at the Boligee Cafe, where another customer asked me where I was going and when I told him he asked me what I thought about on long rides. I told him that about half the time was spent thinking / wondering / worrying about where I would find water next. I should have ordered a BBQ sandwich at the cafe but I wasn’t hungry. It wasn’t until about 20 miles down the road when I was hungry that I realized I didn’t have any bars or gels left in my backpack! At this point in the day, I was hot, starting to overheat, and out of food. Fortunately, I ran into a Dollar General at a crossroads where I got some ice cream and food and spent a few minutes in the air conditioning to cool off. I’m really fortunate because the Google satellite imagery shows me rummaging around in a forest where there was actually a Dollar General. I got pictures of the whole thing otherwise I think I might have second guessed that I was hallucinating and who knows what I was actually eating! My bike computer registered 101 degF by the time I started riding again in the sun.
Day 6 – proof that there actually was a dollar general there! I got the ice cream to cool off, but I made a mistake with the pecan log roll – i thought it was solid pecans, but it actually was mostly sugar and led to a sugar-related crash later in the day
This was probably the first time I started to question whether I could make it all the way as I still had more than 90 miles to ride in what I knew would be hillier and hillier terrain. Sure enough, when I got to the Talladega National Forest outside Greensboro, the terrain started to get substantially more hilly. The problem was that it was early afternoon, and there wasn’t much shade. Plus, with a 10 pound backpack, I had a hard time making it up the hills at anything more than a snail’s pace so I wasn’t even getting a consistent wind from moving blowing to cool me down.
Fortunately, at the Pleasant Valley crossroads, there was a thriving country store that was not abandoned. That store literally could have been a life-saver. And this was ALL before I got to the even harder parts of the ride where I had to lay down in the road, etc… I hung out in the store for 30 minutes downing a cold coke and some water. The store also had 3G phone service so I instagrammed and facebooked a bit while I let my body cool down and let the sun get farther down in the sky.
After about 30 minutes when I was actually starting to feel pretty cold/chilled, I decided to pack up and head on. I left the store, and headed north on perfect pavement of AL-25 … perfect until I hit the Bibb County border at which point the road became a very rough chip/seal for about five miles before I turned onto a county road which was perfectly paved again. Wonder if it was some kind of dispute between the county and the state over whose responsibility it was to maintain that stretch of AL-25. In any case, I was very glad to get off of it onto a nice county road. The warm sun felt really good through here, but I could tell that I was not doing well. I contemplated stopping at the bottom of one of the hills to rest before tackling the hill. That is not something I normally do. I opted instead to crawl up the climb at 5mph – a climb I could easily have done at 15+ mph without a backpack, without severe dehydration, and without 750+ miles in my legs from the previous days of riding.
This beautiful county road crossed US-82 and turned into the Haysop Rd which started out with a long climb. It was across the top of this climb that I laid down in the road the first time. I think I was pretty close to passing out because I didn’t intend to stop. I just went from feeling not great to feeling light-headed really quickly so I just coasted to a stop, unclipped, laid the bike down in the road, laid myself down in the road and rested for about 10 minutes. No cars. Nothing. Ironically, I could hear cars on US-82 probably 1/2 mile away through the woods. After I started riding again, I stopped again with another few minutes (maybe less than a mile) when I came across the Haysop Baptist Church. My thought was to spray myself with water, but before I tried to find a hose or faucet I decided to rest again on the front stoop. Then when I found a hose, I traced it back to the faucet which was located underneath the church and would involve crawling through a crawlspace to reach it. I was a bit afraid of passing out doing that so I decided to take a little bit of water left in my bottle and dump it on my head and then beg for water next person I saw. That turned out to be the two people in the car in the video earlier in this post. Here’s an instagram I posted from West Blockton at the next store I came to while I was resting (10 agonizing miles later)
Through here I got an encouraging text from Boris saying that he was riding out to meet me on South Shades Crest. Then a little bit later when he and Nathan made it to County Road 1 and I was nowhere in site, he called and I told him that I was about 20 miles behind schedule. That was no problem for them, they just continued backwards on the route I had given them and eventually found me on Bishop Ridge Rd. This was after a stop in West Blockton where I got one last drink refueling – probably 300+ oz of fluid for the nearly 13 hour day.
I gave my heavy backpack to Nathan and we started riding again. I was painfully slow on the uphills, but still able to drill the downhills … basically I could sustain about 150-175 watts and nothing more. On one of the longer downhills on Bishop Ridge, I was at the front drilling it down when I noticed a rough section of road. I pulled my big toes up (they were killing me) to relieve some of the pressure from the bumps, but in doing so I managed to lock up most of the muscle groups in my legs with cramps. Fortunately there was enough downhill left that I didn’t need to pedal and I was able to coast to a stop at the bottom where my legs had relaxed enough that I could unclip. I dropped the bike on the ground and fell over laying on the road (2nd time). I told Boris to call Kristine and tell her to come get me. A nice lady who came up behind us shortly after that stopped and asked if she could help or give me a ride to Green Pond. After a few minutes while Boris was still on the phone with Kristine, I decided to give it one more try. We were almost through the rough Bishop Ridge rd and onto the smoother, relatively flat Co Rd 12/13.
We went slow enough at this point with Boris in the front, Nathan in the back, and me in the middle that I never felt any more cramps coming on. We even were able to make it up the Cat 4 Co Rd 52 climb to South Shades Crest where Nathan left us for his house. Boris and I continued on up to Hwy 150, left through the Preserve, and then through Green Valley finally making it back to the Krispy Kreme in Hoover located where the old Putt-Putt used to be right next to my old elementary school. Boris had arranged for his wife Hahn to meet him there to take him back to his house. This was a great place to end the ride. Definitely would not have been able to make it wihout Boris and Nathan. It started to rain as we were driving the three miles back to my house.