Archive for January, 2012
Garmin elevation profile – 60 miles,
10,000+ ft of climbing
Garmin – max speed 57.5mph
(South Cove Dr)
Out of the three 10,000ft rides so far this week (Red Mountain 1200s on Tuesday, South Shades Crest climbs on Wednesday), today was definitely my favorite by far. These are the roads I ride all the time, but usually not all in the same day! The entire route was nearly 65 miles long, yet the farthest point was only 5.2 miles (as the crow flies) from my house with Sulphur Springs/Shades Crest the western boundary and US-280 the eastern boundary of the route. I was toying with the idea of very carefully creating a diabolical route that could climb 10,000 ft in this area without any backtracking or route intersections, but that would have taken some of the fun out of just riding. Instead, I opted not to duplicate any climb. I did end up duplicating the middle part of the Vesclub climb and the final push to the top on Vestavia Dr – but otherwise, these are all different climbs of Shades Mountain in Hoover and Vestavia Hills. I documented them with screen captures at the steepest sections of the climbs – as well as lots of photos (126 photos narrowed down to 61).
First, the topography in this area is just absolutely incredible. And it’s not just because the area is especially rugged, because it really isn’t. Instead, what makes the topography so interesting is the combination of valleys, ridges, AND roads that go up, across, down, sideways, over, under everything! Note that for my route today, all the climbs are either on Little Valley Mountain or Shades Mountain on the SOUTHERN side in either the Patton Creek valley or the Little Shades Creek valley … so notably missing are some local favorites: Smyer, Berry, Big Bertha (W Oxmoor), and Hwy 31, which all start on the Shades Creek valley (different from Little Shades Creek). On the side I did ride, I somehow missed the Patton Chapel climb past Simmons.
Hoover – Vestavia Hills topocreator map, annotated Click the map for a medium resolution version, or click here for a super hi-res version (10.2 MB)
Now, onto the climbs and the photos. I’m going to do a Garmin screenshot from a climb and then follow it up with one or more photos that were taken on that climb – but first…
|South Cove neighborhood (but not south cove). The Garmin screenshots are taken near each other, with the second one just past the skid marks in the photo.|
After the descent down Hackberry. It was time to really hit the climbing – starting with Jacobs Rd – Mountainwoods.
After these climbs, I did the crazy Vestavia Forest speed reflector dodging descent followed by a diversion across Hwy 31 to Little Valley Mountain where I climbed up and over via 20+% Gay Way, turned around and then came back up 25% South Cove Dr. Below the Garmin screenshots, I have included an annotated photo of the descent showing the approximate max speed spot and where you have to brake to keep from crashing. Also, I have a picture taken at the top which shows the blind curve where you have maybe 1/10th of a second to decide whether it’s a “go” or “no go” on the descent. Sometimes you just have a bad feeling and hit the brakes. Sometimes you see a car pulling out of a driveway or at the cross street and hit the brakes. Or sometimes you see cars parked alongside the road and you hit the brakes. But if it is completely clear, then you tuck and accelerate from about 40mph up to 60mph in only two or three seconds. It would be interesting to calculate what percentage of free-fall skydiving acceleration this descent is … my rough guess would be 25-50% … i.e, you are accelerating at a rate equivalent to 25-50% of simply jumping off a cliff. In other words, this is a really, really dangerous descent. CLICK EACH PICTURE TO ZOOM IN.
Panorama of the Vesclub roller coaster descent. While we are talking about descents – here is a panoramic photo showing a descent that causes an interesting Garmin phenomenon. This is the middle part of the Vesclub climb – but if you come back down at close to 50mph and then make the hard right turn up the 18-20% gradient where I was standing when I took the pictures that make the panorama, then you can achieve a 3 second vertical acceleration of greater than 10,000 ft/hour upwards simultaneously with a 30 second vertical acceleration of greater than 10,000 ft/hour downwards.
After the descent, I headed across to Dolly Ridge, climbed back up to Smyer Circle and Vestavia Dr via Caldwell Mill Rd (the portion of it that is north of I-459). On Caldwell Mill, I heard another hawk very loudly crying and I looked up and spotted him in the tree above me. When I made it up to Smyer Circle, I stopped at the Vestavia Hills Baptist Church overlook and got the Panorama shown at the very beginning of this extremely long post. Then I descended down stopping along the way at Vestavia Falls. So I’ll end this post with a thank you if you read all the way to here and these two pics (of the hawk and the waterfall)
Shades Mountain is one of my favorite mountains in Birmingham. After climbing 10,000 ft on Red Mountain yesterday (Tuesday), I didn’t want Shades Mountain to feel left out so today (Wednesday), I climbed 10,000 ft mostly on the southern portion of Shades Mountain out towards Bluff Ridge. I live at the bottom of Shades Mountain and commute over it every day to work (during the school year). The topography of the mountain is really intriguing. The part of it closest to where I live is a double-ridge mountain thanks to a creek that cuts down through the middle of Vestavia Hills and on over into Bluff Park. Plus it runs for about 60 miles starting a few miles south of Tannehill and running northeast to Springville where it ends in an interesting series of ridges (lots of them). All along the 60 mile length of the mountain, there are probably several hundred ways to climb the mountain.
Today, I headed to the southern portion of the mountain and did some climbing and photographing of the steep neighborhood access roads. The ridgeline is very narrow at its southern end dropping off steeply on either side with South Shades Crest road running along the top. Within the past 10 years, a number of neighborhoods have been built in the valleys on either side of the ridge. These neighborhoods all have steep access roads coming off the ridge down into the neighborhood. Plus, South Shades Crest road itself eventually turns into Bluff Ridge Rd and dives off the mountain towards Bessemer crossing two smaller ridges. If you turn around at the bottom and go back up to the main ridge, you traverse what is called the “Triple Climb”. At the top you can make a quick right left to hit Co Rd 1 which is a nice 50+mph descent … turn around at the bottom and you have a short steep 10% cat 4 climb back up the ridge.
Still tired from yesterday’s ride on Red Mountain, I had decided to go easy on all the climbs and get pictures of everything … but later in the ride I started feeling better so I decided to try and set a KOM back-to-back double (KOM on one side of the mountain, turn around and KOM coming back up the other side). I couldn’t quite do it, but I did hit a new power record on the Triple Climb (see screenshot below).
Here are the climbs annotated with Garmin Screenshot and photo for each climb (except for Triple climb which doesn’t have a photo) -
Ross bridge parkway
One more pic from the day – power line trails next to Ross Bridge parkway – I used to go mountain biking on these trails with friends while I was in high school. Fun times!
After riding out to see firsthand yesterday’s tornado damage, I decided to go climb my favorite spots on Red Mountain that have an elevation greater than 1200ft because I spent a lot of time yesterday looking at the topo maps of the far northern end of Red Mountain near Chalkville and Clay. I call all of these spots the “Red Mountain 1200s”, and I wrote about them just over a year ago when I climbed them in December 2010.
I pieced together these panorama photos I took on Shades Mountain looking towards Red Mountain. The labeled spots are all the places I crossed Red Mountain on my ride today. The 1200 ft spots are Ruffner Mountain (#5), St Vincents East Water Tower (#6), and Turncliff (#7). Ruffner and Turncliff each have two different 1200 ft summits for a total of 5 different 1200+ summits on the ride.
Part 1 – Red Mountain ridge crossings annotated – the 1200ft spots are #5, #6, and #7 on the northern end of the ridge which starts out from higher elevation (i.e, the whole valley is uplifted in that direction). This picture is taken from the Vestavia Dr high pt on Shades Mountain.
Part 2 – Red Mountain ridge crossings annotated – the 1200ft spots are #5, #6, and #7 on the northern end of the ridge which starts out from higher elevation (i.e, the whole valley is uplifted in that direction). This picture is taken from towards the bottom of Vestavia Dr on Shades Mountain.
So I wasn’t planning on going hard, but I knew that there were ton of steep climbs. As I got farther into the ride, I realized that trying to “go easy” was pretty much pointless because the terrain was either straight up or straight down pretty much the whole ride. I started out with a new climb up the Vestavia Forest ridge using the road that Jacob Tubbs had posted to Strava the other day. Then I took one of my favorite routes through Homewood to my first crossing of Red Mountain by the WBRC42 radio tower … this route involves climbing through a couple alleys, one driveway, a radio tower, two tree crossings and the Vulcan trail.
Then I headed down the mountain part of the way towards 5 points south before climbing back up towards the Vulcan before veering onto Warwick Dr to finish the second crossing of Red Mountain. I headed back down via a 49mph descent of Woodcrest before climbing back up via the 16th ave south alley with its super steep gradient including one section that might be close to 30% if you take the inside part of the switchback.
I descended again off the mountain over by Altamont before climbing back up again via Clairmont / 58th and then descending again at 49mph on Southcrest. I headed over to Oporto Madrid Blvd which could be better known as the “Ruffner Mountain” bikeway since it is the easiest way to get from Crestwood over to Ruffner Mountain. Technically, Oporto Madrid also crossed the Red Mountain ridge, but it is so low that I don’t really count it.
Finally, I made it to the first of the Red Mountain 1200s … Ruffner Mountain starts out with a gradual climb on Rugby before the grade really kicks up on 81st all the way to the Nature Center where you can hop a curb onto a somewhat paved trail up to the old firetower. From the nature center to the firetower averages 12% for 1/2 mile with a few short sections well over 20%. My original plan was to head back down the mountain past the nature center and take an alternate road in the valley to get back to the next crossing, but instead I decided to explore the trail across the top of the mountain, which I had never done before. It switches from paved to double track as soon as you turn right off the firetower. Then the double track turns into a dirt single track which takes you down very steeply to a saddle between the two 1200+ ft summits. The second ridge was way too steep (20-30%) and rutted for me to ride with the wet conditions from the rain from the thunderstorms yesterday morning so I just ran up the whole thing (maybe 1/10th of a mile). Once you make it to the water tower on top of the second ridge, there is a dirt / gravel access rd that descends very steeply to the Observatory Rd neighborhood.
From Observatory Rd, I descended down into South Roebuck before climbing back up to the St Vincents East hospital. There is a cement access ramp (see pics at the end) with a gradient well over 30% that leads onto a gravel rd which eventually turns into a leaf covered double track 16-18% climb to the water tower which at 1275 ft is the highest 1200+ ft summit that is accessible by bike (that I know of) on Red Mountain. Turning around at the top so as not to disturb the person working on the radio tower, I headed back down to the hospital and descended the other side towards Trussville. Just before you cross under the interstate, you can turn left into a really odd (but extremely cool) neighborhood called “Turncliff”. What makes this neighborhood really cool is that there are no houses until you get to the somewhat flattened summit of the climb. Along the way there are a few switchbacks and then a rolling section through a kudzu forest (i.e., kudzu has completely taken over). Towards the top, there is a very steep access road to the radio towers that is gated off. You can go around the gate, but you have to dismount and crawl through a narrow opening in the kudzu. Today, however, the gate was wide open so that made it much easier since I didn’t have to remount and start uphill on a 15% gradient. At the top, I turned around immediately and went back down to finish climbing the rest of the way up to the Turncliff neighborhood which is lower than the radio tower summit, but still just barely above 1200 ft. There are some cool 90 degree turns right before you get to the neighborhood … then you finally make it to the neighborhood and there are maybe 15 houses all on the summit of the mountain.
This was the “out” part of my out/back ride so from there I turned around and headed back home – bypassing all the summit side roads/trails but crossing back over the ridges. On the way back, I descended the Valley Hill climb which I think might be the steepest climb in Birmingham at 27% … the Google Maps streetview pictures below are the best I can do to illustrate how steep the climb is. I took some pictures, which are in the gallery but nothing ever looks as steep in a picture.
Google maps streetview image of the Valley Hill climb
Rotated version of the Google maps streetview image of the Valley Hill climb
On the way back home, I ran into Lennie’s friend Aaron and rode back with him from Ruffner Mountain all the way to Cherokee Rd in Mountain Brook … it was fun talking about Leadville with him (he did it in 2009). When I finally made it back, I had climbed over 10,000 ft in a 63 mile ride. Here are some of the pics I took along the way:
Red cross shelter information here: http://newsroom.redcross.org/2012/01/23/press-release-red-cross-assessing-damage-from-severe-weather-overnight/
Donate through the red cross “donate now”
Or I saw a drop-off location for donations in the K-Mart located just off I-59, exit 141, turn left, K-mart parking lot on the right as you are climbing the hill on Chalkville Rd
Tornado sirens went off at 3:30AM this morning … tornado north of us and tornado south of us. By the time I had made a spot in the basement for Kristine and the kids, it was pretty clear that the tornadoes were going to go around us — although the one that I rode out to today veered farther south than the original warning polygon had indicated. I was hoping that I could see the damage path from the ridges annotated in the map because I didn’t want to get in anyone’s way trying to help clean up … but there were too many houses and the valley where the tornado went through was too deep to see anything so I ended up cautiously just riding onto Old Springville Rd which was closed after asking a sheriff if I could make it through without bothering anyone. He said to watch out for the power lines and that it shouldn’t be a problem. Well, I was pretty much bunny hopping power lines for about 1/4 mile. Here is an annotated map showing where I took pictures and my best guess at the tornado path based on the damage I could see on the ground … This is the tornado that went north of Birmingham passing through parts of Fultondale, Center Point, Chalkville, Clay.
Tornado path map annotated You can view my complete ride and then zoom in on the northern end to see streetview and detailed satellite pictures of the area before the tornado by going here: http://app.strava.com/rides/3557123
UPDATE: a better description of the tornado path is listed here – http://www.alabamawx.com/?p=56602 Scroll down to – TORNADO #5 – CENTER POINT TORNADO (JEFFERSON AND ST CLAIR) Based on the description there, I have updated the tornado path to the following:
After looking at the streetview and satellite pictures, the damage is much worse than I had originally thought – the first houses have been pushed completely off their foundations. See the comparison photos below which are taken at slightly different angles which I tried to indicate as best as possible.
These are the rest of the pictures I took…
This picture from January 2010 is one of my favorite pictures of my kids. They were 3 and 5 years old and BOTH of them would learn to ride without training wheels by spring break of that same year a couple months later … Anyway, we have a giant canvas print of this picture hanging on the entryway to our house. When we picked our house, we knew it was close to school, but we didn’t know that there was a trail through the woods that made it even easier to walk/bike our kids to school. In Davis, California where Analise was born and where I went to grad school there are miles and miles of trails enough to connect every school in the city from just about anywhere in the city.
Yesterday, when I rode out towards Helena I noticed a trail and tunnel near the Helena Middle School – but I was pressed for time to be back in time to meet the kids to walk home from school – so today I went back to explore this cool looking bike trail in more detail (after checking out the satellite photos to see not 1, not 2, not 3, but FOUR tunnels on the trail). And what I discovered is the trail is long enough to connect the Helena Middle School to the Helena Elementary school via the Hillsborough neighborhood – 2.5 miles of trail and low traffic neighborhood streets.
I was inspired to post this after reading about the cool stuff that bicicoop is doing in Birmingham and happy to report on a new route for kids to bike to school in Helena. It’s definitely not Davis, but it’s a start! You can see my entire route here and zoom into very good detailed satellite view of the four tunnels here (switch to satellite view) – http://app.strava.com/rides/3482902