Archive for December, 2010

Some cross-training and riding in the Wisconsin – Minnesota river valleys

We are on a mini-vacation within our vacation staying in a remote part of northwestern Wisconsin, where the nearest traffic light is about 50 miles away, and even then, that’s the only traffic light within about 100 miles of here! Anyway, today’s ride involved shuttling out the two miles of unplowed road from our cabin to the main highway, parking and riding from there. No real way to ride the road bike on an unplowed road. Warmer temps today just above freezing, but still cold with a stiff south wind blowing. I rode through the snowmobile capital of northwestern Wisconsin, and saw maybe 75-100 snowmobiles and even had a chance to race one!

Ride map

Ride data



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December 29, 2010 at 8:58 pm Leave a comment

Mountain biking in the rural northwoods

Seven and a half years ago today, Kristine and I got married in a beautiful little town called Shell Lake followed by our wedding reception about 45 minutes away even further north into the northwoods of rural Wisconsin at a retreat center called the Schwan Center. Today, I biked from Shell Lake 32 miles up through the snowy backroads and snowmobile trails arriving to meet Kristine, her parents, and our kids for a short mini-vacation at a cabin in the same conference center where we had our reception. Here’s a recap of today’s adventure mountain biking on snowy roads and trails in very rural parts of Wisconsin.

The basic story of the ride is that the roads got snowier and snowier as they became more rural. My Garmin worked great, but the route I had planned ahead of time didn’t upload correctly to the device so I had to stop every now and then at an intersection to figure out which way to go. I just generally had to head north though, so it was fairly easy to navigate by the setting sun. Some of the roads were really easy to ride on because the snow was hard packed, but other roads which saw a lot of snowmobile and car traffic had really loose snow that was hard to ride on. I think you can tell by the graphs below the location of the most difficult roads by the spots where my speed and heartrate are lowest.

The graphs below are all screenshots from my Garmin data: http://bit.ly/hPSb0r

Route map – aerial view – look at all the lakes!

Garmin speed data – note the lowest speeds on the second half of the ride

Garmin heartrate data – low sections corresponding to low speeds

Garmin temperature data – much warmer today than Sunday – still below freezing pretty much the entire ride!


County Rd N north of Spooner


Lots of deer tracks in a field next to County Rd N


Beyond County Rd N, road getting snowier


Garmin bike navigation on the mountain bike in the snow


Frozen lake with beaver or river otter holes in the ice


Snowy roads, some good snow, some loose snow, the trick is finding the right snow


Looking the other way on the same road.


Pear lake – frozen with ice fishing house, snowmobile trails


Our cabin in the woods


Snowy access road to the cabin – this was the best road of the whole ride because the snow was hard packed and fast!


Up close view of my mountain bike after the ride

Lastly, here is a video I took towards the end of the ride crossing the Namakogen River on State Hwy 77. If you easily get motion sickness, you may not want to watch!

December 28, 2010 at 11:29 pm Leave a comment

Into the winter wonderland for some winter training

We left Birmingham on Christmas Day just before noon and arrived in Wisconsin a little bit before 11AM on Sunday – 23 hours total trip, out of which almost 20 was me driving. Instead of sleeping once we got here, I went ahead and decided to push through the training and enjoy the beautiful winter wonderland with a long ride. The temperature started out at maybe 21 degrees and eventually ended up at 18 degrees by the end of the ride. Here’s my before/after video for my ride complete with lots of icicles on the beard! The music is playing from the church “bells” up the street. That’s the church where Kristine and I got married 7.5 years ago.

Temperature graph

Check out the route map, too. You can tell it’s pretty flat based on the topography color scale, which only varies from just below 1000ft to not quite 1400ft as opposed to my maps from Birmingham which usually vary from just below 400ft all the way to 1500-1600ft.

Shell Lake and Spooner annotated route map

Elevation profile for the Shell Lake, WI and Spooner, WI loop

And here is a small gallery of cell phone photos from the ride:

Snow cover at our location (and also back down in Birmingham!)

This ride capped off five weeks of hard training from just before Thanksgiving until just after Christmas. Check out the stats in the graph (from Stava) and table below. Can you tell which week was spent riding in Indiana based on the total elevation gain for each week?

Nov 22 – 28, 2010 304 miles 17 hours 15 minutes 13,722 feet
Nov 29 – Dec 5, 2010 318 miles 18 hours 03 minutes 27,348 feet
Dec 6 – 12, 2010 348 miles 21 hours 21 minutes 34,103 feet
Dec 13 – 19, 2010 376 miles 21 hours 20 minutes 31,324 feet
Dec 20 – 26, 2010 307 miles 18 hours 01 minutes 27,575 feet

Weekly mileage annotated (from strava.com)

For the four weeks that I was riding in Birmingham, I led the Strava “Climber” competition each week by several thousand feet. This is even competing against all the riders in the Bay Area of San Francisco with endless climbing at their disposal!

December 27, 2010 at 5:24 pm 1 comment

Red Mountain 1200s

Awesome training rides today. Two rides totaling 65.5 miles and 7,360′ of climbing. First, I did a quick commute into O’Henrys on Lakeshore for a progress meeting on a collaborative research project for Samford. I wanted a lot of climbing so I picked out a route that climbed over Little Valley Mountain part of the way up Shades Mountain then back down before climbing the rest of the way up to the Vestavia Drive high point before a quick descent down to OHenry’s on Lakeshore. Just over 10 miles long and almost 1600 feet of climbing!

After a very productive meeting, I headed out on a ride I’ve wanted to do for at least the past two years. Even back when I first plotted out the route, I was thinking of calling it the “Red Mountain 1200s” as it climbs several of the Red Mountain peaks that top out at over 1200′. Today, I did three of the climbs. There are at least 6 total 1200′ points, but a couple of them on Ruffner Mountain are branches of the same climb and another two look like private driveways. Here’s an annotated profile of the route with the climbs labeled including power and VAM data. For those of you who are data junkies like myself and are somewhat unimpressed by the VAM numbers – keep in mind that there are downhills on a lot of the climbs which totally destroys your VAM plus I was riding steady hard tempo today on the climbs.

1200′ #1 – Ruffner Mountain
This climb starts out when you turn off of Oporto-Madrid Blvd onto Rugby Avenue. You immediately start to climb before a short steep downhill takes you to the 90degree righthand turn onto 81st St to climb all the way to the Ruffner Mountain nature center where you should stay to the left on the roundabout (assuming no cars are coming), carefully go around the gate of the narrow paved path leaving the parking lot heading to the top. Bikes are not permitted on the trails so you have to avoid any park workers who can’t seem to see the difference between a paved road to a firetower and a dirt hiking trail, so be especially courteous to any hikers using the paved road to get up to the firetower or any of the adjacent trails to the abandoned mines, don’t leave the paved road, and be very careful and slow on the descent back down to the parking lot. It’s pretty much a straight shot, so it’s extremely steep with a gradient nearing 20% for over a quarter mile. There is one small switchback towards right before the road flattens out at the top where the old, rusty firetower will be visible in front of you. The views are good in the winter, but during the rest of the year I’m pretty sure you can’t see anything because there are so many trees along the ridge.

1200′ #2 – St Vincent’s East Water Tower
This is a tricky climb, which starts when you turn onto US11 from Shadywood Ln. This is a very busy road, but you are only on it for about half a mile. Turn left at the light with the blue “H” sign for the hospital and tackle the steepest part of the climb. A couple small rollers later and you reach the hospital. Go to the last entrance and turn left. Stay straight on that road until you see the 30+% gradient cement ramp between two parking lots. There is no gate so if you swing a little wide you can ride straight up it before it settles down into a nicer 10-15% gradient on a mostly gravel and dirt road. Then as you enter the woods, the path steepens into the 15-20% range, so you have to stay seated to keep from losing traction on the rear wheel. It gets steeper all the way to the top. Have fun on the descent, but don’t crash.

1200′ #3 – Turncliff Rd Radio Towers
This road is somewhat a novelty for Birmingham. It is a one-way dead-end road that climbs very steeply through an amazing amount of kudzu that dead-ends into a mountain-top community with no side streets at all. The community itself sits at just over 1200′, but if you turn early up the clearly visible road to the radio tower, you can get closer to 1225′. There is a gate with an easy walkaround entryway, but it is too narrow to ride. Then once you make it past the gate, you have to remount at nearly the steepest part of the climb to make it the rest of the way. The road is well paved, straight, and narrow all the way to the top. There are some major communication relays at the top with surveillance cameras so I wouldn’t (and didn’t) linger at all at the top. Just turn yourself right around and go straight back down. Don’t forget about the gate as you need to brake well in advance of it to stop in time. The descent on Turncliff Rd is really fun and potentially dangerous. There are several sweeping turns – don’t overcook any of them!

Hover over each of the images below for a caption. These are the same images that appear in the slideshow at the end of this post. Detailed topocreator maps are linked after the slideshow.


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Commute to OHenrys with nearly 1600' of climbing

Red Mountain 1200s route – annotated

December 24, 2010 at 12:50 am Leave a comment

A very rainy Pine Mountain climbing loop

I explored three new climbs today on a somewhat epic 103 mile ride in the rain with nearly 8500′ of climbing. Classes ended last week, and my students finished up their finals online today. With the icy roads and a very busy day of grading yesterday, I decided to take yesterday completely off. That opened up the opportunity in my training schedule to go for a super long ride today. The only thing that didn’t cooperate completely was the weather. Today was much warmer than yesterday with temps in the mid to upper 50s, but it was still quite wet. It wasn’t raining when I left my house, but within 1/2 mile it had started to rain, and another mile later it was a veritable rain shower. Unfortunately, the rain shower was tracking the same direction as the route I had planned out. So I ended up riding in the rain for almost 10 miles straight before it let up. Then it was nice, cloudy, and nearly 60 degrees for the next 40 miles. Then right about the halfway mark of the ride, the rain picked back up again and didn’t stop all the way home.

About the ride – awesome – well, except for all the dogs and the rain. Seriously, as one set of dogs chased, you could hear dogs barking at the next house up the road. The dogs were heavily concentrated in the Annie Lee, Blackjack, Mountain View area. Two of the new climbs were on Pine Mountain just outside of Springville. I had done part of one of the climbs, but never turned to continue climbing the rest of the way to the top. Also, I descended off the backside of Pine Mountain into the valley containing Alabama Hwy 75 near Remlap, and then climbed the backside of Pine Mountain all the way to the Pineview Rd towers. Also, near Clay I climbed Goodner Mountain for the first time. Great view on a nearly bald exposed top (unusual for Birmingham) looking back towards Pine Mountain and Cedar Mountain.

The view from Mountain View Rd near Springville looking south towards Bald Rock Mountain. Kelly Creek Rd would be in the valley in front of the highest ridge in the distance.

Heartrate data annotated with road names

Arriving back home – wet, tired, and reflective

December 16, 2010 at 9:57 pm Leave a comment

Epic ride finishing week atop three Strava leaderboards

The Samford student chapter of the ACM organized a ride today leaving from Chelsea High School and climbing up one of my favorite climbs – Double Oak Way. Three brave students and one crazy professor (me) met at 1:00 to complete the ride. We were waiting on one person before the start of the ride, so we found a 30+% gradient grassy downhill to have a little fun on before the start of the real ride. I’ve told the story of the ride in pictures below. At the bottom of the post, I explain about Strava and my position on the leaderboards after today’s rides.

It was definitely cold with the temperature below freezing for the entire ride. Note the min, max, and average temp for the four hour ride.

Samford computer science students John, Adam, and Greg brave the conditions AND the Double Oak Way climb up Double Oak Mountain

Me along with two of my students – John and Adam – on the top of Double Oak Mountain

Adam descending grassy hill with a few snowflakes visible.

Greg descending grassy hill – taken from slightly different angle more edge on – check out that slope!

Me descending grassy hill – view from front

Watch a video of John descending the hill after the ride

I finished the week atop three Strava leaderboards – best climber, best commuter, most rides – plus 3rd overall. I climbed over 34,000ft for the week, commuted 214 miles or even more if you count my commute today from church back to my house, plus 14 different rides this week totaling 348 miles

December 13, 2010 at 1:50 am Leave a comment

Gotta love the commute

Double Oak Commute
What do a midterm exam, excellent students, and a beautiful day all equate to? Answer: a 55 mile commute with nearly 5000 ft of climbing. In the map above, I have numbered and labeled the six major climbs on the route. Also my ride crossed four different river valleys – Shades Valley, Cahaba Valley (2x), Little Cahaba Valley (2x), and Shoal Creek!

My computer architecture students have done really well this semester and are way ahead of schedule, so when I gave them their second take-home exam yesterday, I also decided to give them the day off from class. This meant I had the opportunity to go for a long ride on the way in to work, how long? My longest “commute” yet at 55 miles and over 5000 ft of climbing. I did one of my favorite climbs in Birmingham (Double Oak Way), and I also discovered a cool addition to the Grants Mill climb from the Cahaba River.

Contents of my jersey pockets for the 55 mile commute: 2 powergels, 1 chocolate milk, 2 powerbars, 1 set of keys, 1 wallet in a grocery bag, 1 saddle bag with holes.

The ride was awesome, and my legs felt good so I attacked the hills pretty hard. I had ridden all these roads before with one exception – the cement path down into the Cahaba River (literally) for the Grants Mill climb. There is a cement path that leads from a parking area on Grants Mill Rd down a 24% gradient to the Cahaba River. Near the river, there is a ramp leading to a canoe/kayak landing with a gradient of at least 35% maybe even 40%.

Annotated Grants Mill / Cahaba River bridge area.

The ramp down to the landing is pretty short as shown in the satellite image above at about 15-20 ft long and leads to a 6′ by 6′ landing. So when you are heading toward a flooding river with your brakes completely engaged and the bike not stopping, you contemplate life a bit right before you roll to a stop at the edge. Then you get to turn your bike around and attempt a standing start climb of a 35+% gradient ramp. It might not work so well, and you might tumble back down the ramp onto the landing again. Or if you are lucky like me, you manage to clip both feet out of the pedals and catch the bike as it starts to wheely over backwards onto you. Then you might reasonably decide to walk the bike back up the ramp and remount to tackle the 24% gradient back up to the road to begin the 2.8 mile climb up Grants Mill onto Old Leeds Rd with 665′ of climbing and a vertical elevation difference of 540′ (a lot for Birmingham).

Lastly, here is a picture of the Double Oak Way ridge and my iBike elevation data for the ride … the climb looks much bigger in person when you are at the bottom of it.

Double Oak ridge with neighborhood off of Co Rd 41 in foreground.

Double Oak Commute iBike elevation data

December 2, 2010 at 10:41 pm 2 comments


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Very long day today, a bunch of disrespectful, selfish drivers didn't help make a bad day any better. 4th time over Vestavia Dr ... handlebar getting crowded and shadows getting long. Third time up and over Vestavia Dr - the nearly seven mile endless vestavia version of the climb.

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Quick reference stats

Anaerobic Threshold:
Power:315 watts
Heart rate:180 bpm
Maximums:
Power:1097 watts (5s)
Heart rate:198 bpm (5s)
AT power estimated by critical power curve in Golden Cheetah, which predicts I should be able to maintain 315 watts for 1 hour.

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