Archive for February, 2012

Maps from Cheaha

I forgot to post the maps I made for the weekend of riding … if you are curious about the topography of the entire area, then download the super hires ultra resolution (20MB) map of my Cheaha ride (the last map).

Three days, just under 300 miles of riding

Read my ride recaps and see the photos I took for each day here –

Day 1 – 72.1 miles – commute into work and ride from samford to pell city
Day 2 – 81.1 miles – exploring the oxford – anniston – jacksonville ridge line
Day 3 – 141.6 miles – riding from oxford back home to hoover via mt cheaha

Really fun route from Oxford to Anniston to Jacksonville and back via Fort McClellan – includes two Cat 2 climbs

Oxford to Hoover via Mount Cheaha – mountains of eastern alabama annotated Or click here to download the super hi-res 20MB version of this map.

February 7, 2012 at 8:20 pm Leave a comment

Cheaha weekend wrap-up

While Kristine finished up her work yesterday at Fort McClellan, I biked home to Birmingham from our hotel in Oxford by way of Mount Cheaha. I climbed Cheaha three different ways — including a new Cat 2 climb starting at the low point on the Adam’s Gap side and climbing all the way to the lookout tower inside the state park. This brings Alabama’s Cat 2 climb total to 8 — including the two new climbs I discovered in my ride on Saturday. The eight climbs are labeled on the map below.

Annotated map of Alabama cat 2s from strava.com including the new Cat 2s from Saturday’s ride (“G” and “F”) and the new Cat 2 climb from yesterday’s ride (“H”).

I am sure there are more out there to be found … I know that climbing Moorman Mountain from the west would also be a Cat 2 (I climbed it from Bain’s Gap on the east) — so if there is anybody adventurous out there who wants to get to it before me – have at it!

I left Oxford shortly after 7AM in a fog, very light rain mist all the way through Friendship Rd, up to AL-281 and the first ascent of Cheaha from AL-49. Everything went smoothly until my first descent from the lookout tower. I had been climbing for 7 miles in heavy fog – and since it is all uphill, I hadn’t touched my brakes AT ALL and forgotten about how much water would have accumulated on the rims. As I headed into the first switchback and applied the brakes, absolutely nothing happened except for an instant realization that there was no hope of making the turn so I simply straightened up and looked for an escape route that didn’t involve running into a cabin or cliff. Fortunately, the brakes dried off fast enough that even before I left the road, they had started to grab and I only ended up a few feet off the road next to a cabin.

My approximate path in a switchback descending from the Cheaha lookout tower.

This first bit of excitement on the ride led to the next bit of excitement less than a mile later. I continued down out of the park and turned right onto AL-281 to descend down the Adam’s Gap side of the mountain. I had only made it half a mile or so and had just reached max speed when I heard the sudden “psssssssss” of a tire puncture. I didn’t panic, but I knew I would be in big trouble if the air leaked out before I could slow down. The roads were wet so I couldn’t exactly slam on the brakes either. I just pressed as hard as I felt comfortable pressing on the brakes and slowed down to a stop. Fortunately, the puncture wasn’t a complete blow-out so I still had air left in the tire to keep the tire from rolling off. At this point, I’m only 29 miles or so with well over 100 miles left to ride so I took my time and made darn sure that whatever had caused the puncture wasn’t still in the tire. In fact, I think I spent more time running my finger around the tire and digging out a couple tiny pieces of glass than I actually spent changing and reinflating the tube. It was well worth the effort, though, as I was able to use my pump and CO2 cartridge to fill the tire up to maybe 80 psi and complete the rest of the ride with no more flats. It might have just been coincidence, but I’m thinking that I may have picked up the glass when I went off the road in the switchback previously.

After changing the tire, I finished the rest of the descent and after reaching 45 mph with no thumping or any other signs of a bad tire change, I felt pretty confident that all was good. I attacked the Adam’s Gap climb hard so I could get the KOM on it … my legs were definitely feeling the 400 miles that were already in them for the week up to that point — including the hard climbing ride from Saturday, but I was able to get the KOM. Adam’s Gap ends at the transition to a gravel “scenic road” that if you followed long enough would take you all the way over to Bull Gap and Brent’s new skyway epic course. Turning around, I snapped a few pics and then headed back up Cheaha also pushing it hard to try to get the KOM on this side. By this time, the fog had lifted significantly so that only the very top of the climb was still foggy/wet. At the top, I turned around and headed back down the Adam’s Gap side, but this time I turned at the road to Camp Mac and headed down to Lake Chinnabee to do the climb one last time stopping to take pictures of the mountain from Cheaha Lake (over 1000 ft below the summit).

View of Mt Cheaha and the Cheaha restaurant -- the true summit is at the tall radio tower in the background towards the middle left of the picture

At the top this time, all was sunny and beautiful so I snapped this panorama of the view from the Cheaha restaurant (which is about 250 ft below the true summit)

Annotated view looking southwest from the Cheaha restaurant

From there all the way back home was an awesome ride, which I could spend hours describing — but instead I’m going to just let the pictures tell the rest of the adventure.

February 6, 2012 at 6:47 pm Leave a comment

Exploring, climbing, riding the Oxford-Jacksonville ridge line

Riding today was easily the most fun I’ve had on the bike in four or five years. Considering how much I love to ride all the time, that really is saying a lot about my ride today. I guess the thing that strikes me the most is how many times I was just flat out surprised on the ride – not just “oh I didn’t see that coming”, but more like “are you kidding me? are you for real?” in a really good way. I summarized the ride in terms of 10 surprises, listed below. I also took a bunch of pictures and Garmin screenshots I will post later.

A few things to set the background for this ride: Kristine and I are in Oxford for her work this weekend, and the kids had separate sleepovers last night at friends’ houses and again tonight at my parents house. Kristine had the idea last week that maybe I could come up here with her and enjoy some riding while she worked and a weekend getaway when she wasn’t working. Some of Alabama’s tallest mountains are right out the door of our hotel, so I thought – “sure!”

Surprise #1 – no rain!
The original plan was for me to leave work on Friday and ride part of the way over here where Kristine would pick me up along I-20. I documented yesterday’s ride, which also included a surprise climb up to a radio tower that I hadn’t planned on doing. Then today I was going to bike back home via a long 150 mile climbing route over Mt Cheaha (the highest pt in Alabama). But the weather forecast all week long indicated that most of today would be spent with heavy rain showers and even thunderstorms. So I changed my plan to do a shorter ride (60-70 miles) today and then do the longer ride tomorrow when the rain was supposed to have cleared out. I woke up expecting to find rain and was instead greeted with partly cloudy skies and no rain.

Surprise #2 – an empty interstate-like climb
The route I had created ahead of time had me climbing up Henry Rd and then into some neighborhoods that looked ultra-steep on the map (and a little bit later in the ride when I did get to the neighborhoods, they were even steeper than I had imagined). So I’m following the route and then I realize that I’ve ended up on a divided highway not on the map that for all intents and purposes is a full-blown interstate that looks like it may climb up higher than the neighborhood route. There was practically no traffic, so even though I could see where I needed to turn, I wanted to just keep on going and see how far the climb went. You could tell where they had dynamited through the mountain and there were some killer concrete drainage ditches with 40-60% gradient that I really, really wanted to try but there were concrete blocks at alternating angles to slow the flow of water. I’m 20% sure you could ride it on a mountain bike with a 1-1 gear ratio while dodging the blocks, but I wasn’t going to try it on my road bike with a 39×28. I crested the mountain and of course there is still this tall divider for the interstate so i’ve got to figure out where/how to turn around.

So I’m on the descent on the other side when I suddenly I realized that the whole thing is still under construction and the road ends at a spot in a valley before another mountain climb where the road hasn’t been finished yet. For whatever reason, I just found this all to be hilarious … I guess I was giddy with excitement for the ride to begin with, and then to be only a few miles into my ride on a four-lane divided interstate-like road that is still under construction with no cars in the middle of a beautiful mountain valley was just so awesome that I couldn’t stop laughing until I had to focus on the 180 deg turnaround at the bottom. I went back up and over the mountain and halfway down to take the original route I had planned which fairly quickly led to surprise #3.

Surprise #3 – GPS “fail” bigtime
My Garmin worked great as I picked back up my original route, which had all kinds of turns in it as I was looking for contour lines closest together when planning the route — which often means making a bunch of turns from street to street through a neighborhood. I was surprise by how steep the Lynn Rd climb was — the first of maybe thirty or more 20+% gradients for the day (I tried to take a screenshot of all of them so I could count them later – and I know of at least three or four that I missed because I couldn’t take my hands off the handlebars to hit the button to take the screenshot).

So anyway I make it back across Henry Rd after the Lynn Rd climb, and I’m diving down hills (53×11), climbing back up 20% gradients (39×28), and then I get to a spot where I’m supposed to make a turn and I see a sign that says “Dead End” … interesting. I pulled up the map screen on Garmin and saw another way to get around, but when I got to the next “road”, it was a steep grassy descent behind a curb and a gate. It looked rideable so I hopped the curb and rode around the gate, but after a tenth of a mile or so, the access road ended at a water tank that was gated off. I couldn’t see any path beyond it through the woods, so rather than risking poison oak so early in the ride, I turned around and headed back up the grassy climb. I looked at my map again and found another way around, headed down a steep descent and came to another dead end. This was getting to be laughable at this point. This turnaround involved a steep Cat 4 climb back up to the top of the mountain. I revisited the original dead end sign that my route was trying to take me on, and sure enough it really was a dead end – complete with a basketball goal in the road. Another steep climb back up to the top of the mountain, and I tried a third way off the mountain leading to surprise #4.

Surprise #4 – Awesome descent/climb with three different kinds of pavement
This was a mini-surprise, so I won’t spend much time describing it – but the descent that finally worked to take me off the mountain transitioned through three different kinds of pavement (chip/seal, tarmac, cement) with some cool switchbacks through a neighborhood into a city golf course. The descent was so cool, that I had to turn around do the climb. Hitting the top of this mountain on a road called “Hillyer Rd” (probably pronounced “hilly-er” road) for a fourth time (maybe fifth? i lost count), I turned around and came back down and hit my original route plan to head through a VERY hilly part of anniston.

Surprise #5 – upper 20% gradient in Anniston
I went through this really hilly neighborhood on the outskirts of Anniston and hit one section that was cemented b/c of the gradient which was probably approaching 30% … I wouldn’t know though b/c my speed dropped too low and the Garmin switched over to –% gradient. Easily steeper than Woodcrest in Birmingham which is in the upper 20s. Probably even steeper than Valley Hill, but much shorter (maybe only 1/10th of a mile).

Surprise #6 – Steep Cat 3 climb to radio tower in Anniston
Immediately after leaving the neighborhood with surprise #5, I started a climb that I had seen on the satellite to some radio towers just on the edge of the Fort McClellan boundary. I wasn’t sure the status of the road, whether it was gated, or what. It turned out to be a very steep gravel road with even more 20% gradients. Gates were open all the way to the top, and I was able to summit at just over 1500′, which I had not been expecting.

Surprise #7 – Woodland Park
On my way up towards Jacksonville, I road right past the starting spot of the very first century I ever did back in high school (the Woodland-Calhoun century). This was not planned at all, and was therefore quite a surprise that brought back tons of memories.

Surprise #8 – Cat 2 climb in Jacksonville
I had scouted this climb out, and knew that the current segment on Strava was on the upper end of the Cat 3 range but stopped well short of the actual crest of the climb. I knew that if you started the segment a little bit lower and went all the way up to the towers at the top, then it would probably be a Cat 2. So I scouted out the starting point and started on the climb. It starts out very gradually, but then gets steeper as you start to leave town. At the bottom were three college-aged girls (maybe from JSU) all decked out for running – and they were walking up the very steep hill. One of them shouted “good luck”, which kinda tells you how steep and long this climb is. It started out steep, flattened out a bit in the middle, then got really steep at what I thought was the end, but as you come around the corner, you see the road skyrocket up for the last 200 feet of climbing and a rather large fence with razor wire across the top blocking access to the towers. But, I was very lucky today in that the gate was wide open. So I was able to ride the climb all the way to the top – where there is an observatory, fire tower, lots of radio towers, and a beautiful view of the valley.

Surprise #9 – Mt Laurel neighborhood
On the Cottaquilla climb, which is on the Foothills Road Race course, there is a neighborhood off to the left called Mt Laurel that was surprisingly steep (I saw 26% at one point), plus a bunch of roller coaster like climbs/descents I wasn’t expecting inside the neighborhood.

Surprise #10 – stumbling upon a Cat 2 climb!
The last surprise was the best of all. I had seen a climb called Bain’s Gap, which was on the Fort McClellan property, that I assumed would be inaccessible because of the military. So when I passed the turn-off for the road and didn’t see a gate, I decided to just turn and see how far I could make it up the climb before encountering a gate, or road block. Instead of a gate, I found a national wildlife refuge, amazing waterfall, more 20% gradients, a nearly unrideable gravel road that I was able to ride (barely) and a friendly local at the top who was able to tell me a shortcut to get back home – oh and it worked out to be a climb with over 1200′ of gain putting it well into the Strava cat 2 category.

February 4, 2012 at 8:12 pm Leave a comment

Cheaha Weekend Kickoff

Kristine is working this weekend in Anniston, and the kids both have sleepover tonight and tomorrow night – so that makes for the perfect getaway weekend for some training in the mountains of east Alabama. After class today, I headed on a climbing route along the Shades Mountain ridge northeast of Birmingham all the way out to Margaret before heading east over the Bald Rock ridge down to Pell City. AL-174 climbs over the Bald Rock ridge at Elbow Gap and on the smaller peak there is a radio tower access road that climbs up over 1200′ – I’ve seen it before, but never had a chance to do the climb until today. Nice gradual climb on paved double track rewarded with a beautiful view from the cliffs at the top. The first panorama below is the view. You can see the Bald Rock ridge on the left side of the picture, and you can also see the rain clouds moving in. It started to rain on me when I started my descent from the top.

View from the mountain tower summit on the bald rock ridge looking southwest with the rest of the ridge on the left

Panoramic view of Bald Rock Mountain from Margaret ridge

February 3, 2012 at 11:53 pm Leave a comment

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Anaerobic Threshold:
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Heart rate:180 bpm
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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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