Posts filed under ‘Adventure’
This is going to be a picture-less post … for the TLDR (too long, didn’t read) crowd, here’s a quick summary: it was really cold last night at the cabin we were staying in near Minong, WI. -36 degF to be exact! Kristine went skiing in the morning when the temp warmed up to near -20 degF. I left to bike back to Shell Lake when the temp was up to about -15 degF. My phone died about an hour into the ride, even though I had started with a mostly full battery and left it in airplane mode. Inspiration for this post came while I was eating lunch at the Dinner Bell restaurant in Trego phoneless and unable to take any pictures of the numerous scenes and objects I wanted to remember. Continuing the ride after lunch, I finished just as it was getting dark and starting to snow a bit more heavily – five hours after I had started with an average temp of -9 degF making it truly a cold day in Wisconsin.
Here’s the longer version for those who want the details and word pictures substituing for the digital pictures I couldn’t take with my dead phone. At about 6 in the morning, Kristine nudged me awake to show me current conditions for Trego, WI which is about 15 miles south of where we were staying. It was -34.8 degF. This was shocking as the predicted overnight low was only in the low -20s. By the time, we got moving it was nearly 7:30AM and I threw on just a few clothes to run outside and get a picture of the sunrise. I was outside for three maybe four minutes max, and I came running back into the cabin chilled to the bones and with a frosty beard.
Just over an hour later, Kristine was out the door to go for a ski in what was about -20 degF temp by this point. She was gone for just over an hour and came back with her face and hair covered in frost, eyelashes, eyebrows, cheeks white with frost. After helping pack up the car, I took off on what I hoped would be a 60 mile ride back to the Cardwell house in Shell Lake, WI about 30 miles south of the cabin. It was cold with the wind coming out of the west. Whenever I was heading east, you could feel a noticeable rise in the perceived temperature. But as soon as I turned south or sometimes even west, the windchill was awfully cold and you could feel threw layers of clothing a drop in the temp.
I was trying new chemical warmers and they worked really well for about 45 minutes, but then they lose air circulation which is required to keep the chemical reaction happening. It’s too much of a hassle to try to take your shoes off to let some air into the warmers, but taking pictures helped keep air in my glove warmers. Then my phone died a dramatic “good-bye” windows phone death with a “critical battery” message flashing very briefly before the phone simply went blank. At this point, I was cold, not just my hands and feet which were painfully cold, but my core, my legs. The only body parts not cold were my arms for some reason. It was funny how one body part would start to ache and that would drown out pain messages from other body parts. I’d work on that part by wiggling my toes, stomping on the pedals, wiggling or clapping my hands, and then as that body part warmed, another one would take its place in sending the dominant pain signal.
The closest gas station on my route was in Trego, about 25 miles into my ride, and I knew that would be a stretch to make it there without any intermediate warmup spots. And it was. At one point, I was on a snow covered logging road thinking, “this is stupid cold”, “come on brian, get it together and pedal dammit”. I was on the road I had taken north just two days earlier when the temperature was an amazing 40 degrees warmer (about 30 degF), and I laughed as I went by some of the places I had stopped to take pictures. Even if my phone had been working, there was no way I would have stopped.
Finally making it to Trego, WI, I found a really cool restaurant called the Dinner Bell where I could warm-up for an hour and refuel. Here I was hoping I could plugin my phone to my solar battery pack and get it to cut back on to instagram some pictures, but the phone just sat there dead. I decided to take in as much as I could and write it later so here goes – first as you approached the restaurant there was a real well (but non-functional) outside with a dinner bell on top of the cross beam. It said “make a wish” at the dinner bell. I was thinking “I wish it was warmer”.
I parked my bike against the well and went inside. Once inside, I sat in a booth and stripped off gloves and shoes to let some blood flow back down into very cold appendages. The waitress gave me coffee immediately, and I ordered breakfast for lunch. I ordered biscuits and gravy and a second meal of pancakes. She brought out the two huge plates full of food and I told her “good thing I’m very hungry”. It was probably well over 1000 calories worth of a food, but I ate it all and then took off across the street to try to buy a little usb wall charger. For $5, I got a wall charger and plugged in my phone but after a few minutes of nothing, I decided to just try to head on as fast as I could back to Shell Lake so Kristine wouldn’t worry since I couldn’t call her.
In retrospect, I should have borrowed a phone and called anyway because it ended up being nearly two hours to finish the rest of the ride (I was imagining maybe just over an hour). Four hours after I made it back, I finally got the phone to turn back on doing a reset by holding all the buttons down for 10 seconds. I thought this would hard reset the phone, but fortunately it just cut it back on and all my data and pics from earlier were still there. Whew. It was a cold day in Wisconsin.
Everything was fitting together perfectly for me to attempt this epic ride from Nashville, TN back home to Birmingham, AL. Kristine and I had tickets to see Andrew Peterson’s “Behold the Lamb” Christmas concert at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville. We had a fun date night together and with my cousins Richard and Christy who live in Franklin. After the concert we hung out with our friends who had also driven up from Birmingham from the concert. By the time Kristine and I had made it back to our hotel, and by the time I got everything ready for my early departure in the morning it was 12:30AM.
I toyed briefly with the idea of just starting my ride home right then rather than sleeping at all, but there were still a lot of cars on the road at midnight when we were driving to the hotel. I felt it was safer to let the streets clear out completely before departing so I ended up setting the alarm for 3:30AM to get exactly three hours of sleep. I was wide awake when the alarm went off, but despite having tried to get as much stuff together as possible before sleeping, it took me 30 minutes to get all my clothes on, eat, and get out the door at nearly exactly 4AM on what I was hoping would be a 14.5 hour, 250 mile ride home to Birmingham.
I knew it was going to be cold for an extended period of time, but I was imagining temps closer to 20 degF than 10 degF! Even with the crazy temps (see the temperature graphs above), I was doing just fine everywhere except for my feet. I had thick insulated neoprene booties on, but even with loose shoes and as much blood circulation as possible, my feet just couldn’t stay warm. I had meant to grab some of the chemical warming packs to throw in my shoes but I had forgotten them at home, and I figured most gas stations in Tennessee are not going to carry them. If I had been in Wisconsin, I could have stopped at the next gas station and bought a couple of the chemical warmers for a dollar or two and been on my merry way.
Instead, I tried every trick of the trade to keep my feet warm – including the following:
- Following the old standby rule – “if you are cold, just ride harder”.
- Riding hard while standing and focusing on pulling my feet up rather than pushing them down – forces more blood down into your feet, the more inefficient and erratic the movement the better.
- Riding downhill with the brakes on while still pedaling hard – anything to minimize windchill and maximize blood circulation.
- Adding in as many steep hills as I could find – benefit of reducing windchill and increasing heartrate.
Even with all of those tricks, I was seriously contemplating calling Kristine to meet me in Lewisburg and abandon the ride after only 70 miles or so. But not too long after the sunrise, temps started to rise pretty rapidly all the way to the 20s by Lewisburg. The best thing was stumbling upon the donut shop with a heater I stood in front of for nearly an hour while drinking coffee and trying to warm up.
I had ridden in Lewisburg earlier this year, so I left the donut shop warmed up and on familiar roads. I made some great time between here and Fayetteville with some good climbs, warming temps, and a stiff north wind (tailwind). It was funny to be so cold before the donut shop and then to be sweating on a lot of the steep hills just a couple hours later. The section of US-64 was nice, but stressful even with a huge clean shoulder to ride on. On top of being stressfull, it was rather boring with very few turns and lots of long gradual climbs and descents. I struggled with “sleepy fatigue” through here as I was also probably crashing a bit from the caffeine and sugar from the donut shop.
I turned in Fayetteville and headed due south on a section of US-231 that was terrible with a very narrow shoulder and a lot of traffic. Fortunately, I turned off of it after a few miles and found some more beautiful backroads that gradually flattened until they were basically pancake flat by the time I hit the Alabama border. I had also ridden some of these roads once before so it was encouraging to be making great time and to be on somewhat familiar roads.
Unfortunately, my math brain was doing a lot of calculating through here and I had worked out a 10:30PM arrival in Birmingham at my current pace. This was somewhat discouraging as that was FOUR HOURS longer than I had planned. Kristine wanted to pick me up in Cullman, but I convinced her to let me ride to Cahaba Cycles Trussville, which would knock an hour and a half off the ride all the way back to our house in Hoover. That was the plan when I stopped at a waffle house off of US-72. Rejuvenated, I blazed through Huntsville at a decent clip but managed to hit a lot of school traffic and then by the time I made it all the way down to the Tennessee River bridge, I was picking up some early rush hour traffic. The road was really dangerous with stretches of nice shoulder followed inexplicably by long quarter mile sections of road with ZERO shoulder. The white line was right up against the grass. I spent a few miles trying to time the packs of cars coming up behind me (based on the traffic light before the bridge) perfectly with the shoulder. No close calls but I did bail off the road into the grass a couple of times when I didn’t get my timing right. I just did not trust the eighteen wheelers and the people driving 65+ mph. Definitely the most dangerous stretch of road for the trip and probably one of the top dangerous roads in Alabama in my opinion. (And I have ridden a LOT of roads in Alabama).
The climb itself was a good one with a nice fairly clean shoulder somewhat akin to the US-280 climb from Lee Branch heading east towards Chelsea for those of you in Birmingham who may have done that climb – except the US-231 climb is a bit steeper climbing an extra 150 feet compared to the US-280 climb. I turned at the top onto Apple Grove road and followed this forever … eventually hitting this year’s Alabama state road race course overlapping with it from the four way stop at the church all the way down past the steep descent. Instead of following the race course, I continued on through the descent and up the next hill continuing on this road for quite a while. There was one super steep cat 4 climb http://app.strava.com/activities/99939588#2138520004 that I was really thankful for after a stretch of flat roads. It had a section that was 0.3 miles long at 13% – I hit this at about 175 miles into my ride after sunset but before it got too dark to see without my light. At the top of this section, I decided to call Kristine and move up the “pick-up” spot from Cahaba Cycles Trussville to the bottom of Skyball. I was getting cold, the dogs were getting bad, and my recalculations had me arriving in Trussville closer to midnight as my pace started to slow.
This was the worst stretch of road as far as dogs went. It was one dog or group of dogs chasing me at what seemed like every house / trailer along the next set of county roads. I knew there would be some small roads and lots of potential dog problems along the entire route, but it really was just the county roads in southern Morgan County and Cullman County that were full of unchained, unfenced dogs. I tried being friendly with the dogs and most of them were fine, but then it started to get annoying. Fortunately, it was dark by this point and I kept my light on high-beam to blind the dogs. This was pretty effective as shining my light in the dogs’ eyes would without fail stop the dog dead in its track. My only guess is that the light is bright enough to temporarily blind/hurt/scare the dogs.
Passing east of Cullman I bee-lined it for the Tour de Cullman route arriving at this familiar bridge. I climbed sky ball at a snail’s pace, but I knew Kristine was waiting for me at the other side of the hill. Even though I was really disappointed not to make it all the way home, I was very happy to have climbed sky ball. At the top as I was taking pictures, my light died! Fortunately, there was a full moon so I’m 45% sure I could have ridden the rest of the way home in the dark as I ended up descending Skyball with no light at close to 30mph. That’s how bright the moon was! Still, I’m thankful that the light died as it gave me another great excuse to hop right in the car when I found Kristine at the blinky light intersection where I had directed her to meet me.
What an adventure! Next time I’m going to make it!!
Here’s all the pictures that I took during the ride.
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.
444 miles. #epic444 – the entire Natchez Trace – a challenge with a cause. I’m riding the trace to support Team Red, White, and Blue – a cool organization which supports veterans as they return home from war and integrate back into society. One of the things that I treasure about cycling is the freedom that it gives me – freedom to explore, freedom to travel, freedom to experience life. This is just one of many freedoms I enjoy because of the sacrifice that many soldiers have made for this country. Please join me in supporting this cause by donating a small amount for each mile that I ride or any amount at all would be fantastic!
1 penny per mile – $4.44
1 nickel per mile – $22.20
1 dime per mile – $44.40
1 quarter per mile – $111.00
1 dollar per mile – $444.00
Use the link below and donate right now before you forget!
Follow along as I’ll be updating our progress here throughout the challenge. Thanks!