Posts filed under ‘Training’

Wrapping up the year with the Festive 500

Finishing the festive 500 in the cold and dark.Finished #festive500 yesterday in the dark with temp down to -22.4 degF. Not ashamed to admit some tears were shed towards the end… perhaps this is how Andy Hampsten felt on that epic day in the 1988 giro. I have finished atop the leaderboard in several Strava challenges, but I am more proud of finishing 4,992nd in this year’s Festive 500 than any of the ones I have finished 1st.

Each year for the past several years, Rapha has sponsored a challenge to ride 500km (310 miles) from December 24th – December 31st, inclusive. Since I normally ride close to 400 miles per week, this is well within my normal riding range. But our tradition is to leave Alabama on Christmas day and drive 1100 miles north to Shell Lake, Wisconsin to visit my wife’s family. This makes the Festive 500 especially challenging because of the winter weather in northwestern Wisconsin. Temperature and road conditions vary from year to year, so some years are easier than others. Here is the day-by-day adventure that was the 2013 Festive 500.

Day 1 – 12/24/2013 Birmingham, AL brick alley 2x plus climbing

12/24 - my two bikes after riding home from brick alley12/24 – my two bikes after riding home from brick alley

Summary – I wanted to scope out the S Cove Dr climb and try to hit 2.5 million feet of climbing for the year so I stayed close to home and did a bunch of repeats on the Green Valley roller coaster. I also needed to pick up my mtb from Craig at Brick Alley. He was putting some mineral oil brakes on my bike and changing out the tires to the widest tire he had in the shop (2.25″ Tiagos) to get ready for my trip to Wisconsin. I stopped by, picked up the bike, and pushed it the three miles home while riding my road bike.

12/24/2013 at 12:06pm Birmingham, AL brick alley 2x plus climbing
Average temp 36 degF Distance 45.9 mi
Moving time 3:29:31 Climbing 10,299 ft
Elapsed time 4:05:32 Speed (avg/max) 13.1/54.4 mph

Day 2 – 12/25/2013 Birmingham, AL strava shootout finale – s cove dr

12/25 - S Cove Dr - 25% max gradient12/25 – S Cove Dr – 25% max gradient

Summary – For the last three months of the year, some of us climbing addicts in Birmingham participate in the Strava Shootout, where we pick a climb each week and the fastest time up the climb that week wins that week. http://topocreator.com/shootout – the final climb of the year this year is the super steep s cove dr very close to my house. It climbs 222 feet in just 0.2 miles averaging just under 20% with a max gradient of 25%. I hyperventilated and couldn’t get enough air after the effort last year b/c it is so long at the intensity required to put in a good time … imagine a good solid 1’30” sprint at 600 watts. This year my legs were pretty dead from a really long ride two weeks prior and then a 508 mile week the following week. So my shootout effort was 5 seconds lower than my best time on the climb, and I could tell b/c I wasn’t hyperventilating as bad this year. I warmed up by heading out to Mountain Brook and doing some climbing.

12/25/2013 at 9:45am Birmingham, AL strava shootout finale – s cove dr
Average temp 39 degF Distance 30.1 mi
Moving time 2:07:05 Climbing 4,895 ft
Elapsed time 2:19:08 Speed (avg/max) 14.2/50.6 mph

Days 3 (12/26) and 4 (12/27) – Travel

1107 miles and 30 inches of snow later, we arrived in Wisconsin1107 miles and 30 inches of snow later, we arrived in Wisconsin
1107 miles from AL to WI1107 miles from AL to WI

We left Birmingham at about 2 in the afternoon and drove straight through the night 1107 miles north to Wisconsin. There was some nasty freezing fog on I-65 near La Fayette, Indiana so we got off the interstate and headed west ending up taking some dirt roads which were much easier to drive on. Nearly 23 hours later, we arrived in Shell Lake, WI at about 1 in the afternoon.

Day 5 – 12/28/2013 Shell Lake, WI heartwood snow riding

12/28 - shell lake to heartwood via slushy muddy roads12/28 – shell lake to heartwood via slushy muddy roads
Various road conditions on the route from Shell Lake to HeartwoodVarious road conditions on the route from Shell Lake to Heartwood

Summary – this was by far my warmest ride in Wisconsin, but it was so warm that there was a lot of water on the roads (salted/sanded). I ended up getting soaked, muddy, and cold by the time I made it from Shell Lake to Heartwood about 30 miles north where we were spending a couple nights in a rental cabin. I took a circuitous route on some new dirt roads I’d never ridden before. Most of the roads were wet or slushy, but the really rural dirt roads were still pretty good snow pack for riding. By the time I made it to the Heartwood resort cabin area, the snow was super soft and had been driven on a lot so it was nearly impossible to ride. I persisted at an average speed of about 5mph for the last 3 miles of the ride arriving at the cabin just after sunset.

12/28/2013 at 11:09am Shell Lake, WI heartwood snow riding
Average temp 30 degF Distance 63.7 mi
Moving time 4:46:08 Climbing 2,112 ft
Elapsed time 6:57:16 Speed (avg/max) 13.4/28.6 mph

Day 6 – 12/29/2013 Trego, WI long day in the cold

First cold ride, little did I know how much colder it was going to get.First cold ride, little did I know how much colder it was going to get.
Long day in the cold - very cold after sunset!Long day in the cold – very cold after sunset!

Summary – we woke up to really cold temps, and I figured I would go out early and then split my ride up into two rides. But by the time I made it to Minong, I was so cold I spent well over an hour warming up at a gas station and decided to do everything in one ride. Riding in the snow was much better this day because it was so cold that everything was frozen together into hard snow instead of slippery loose snow. Webb Creek road on the way over to Minong was awesome, a super fast snowy road with some good hills and a beautiful frozen lake. I stopped back by our cabin after 45 miles and watched the first quarter of the Packers game while warming back up. I wanted to head back out for at least 15 more miles in the dark, but my headlight wasn’t showing the snow clear enough to take good lines, and it got really really cold very quickly … almost -18 degF by the end of the ride.

12/29/2013 at 9:56am Trego, WI long day in the cold
Average temp -8 degF Distance 56.9 mi
Moving time 4:28:19 Climbing 3,510 ft
Elapsed time 7:14:30 Speed (avg/max) 12.7/28.0 mph

Day 7 – 12/30/2013 Trego, WI cold ride home to shell lake

Walrus tusk after a long day in the cold.Walrus tusk after a long day in the cold.
Scenes from the beginning of my ride in the cold - less than an hour into the ride and my phone died.Scenes from the beginning of my ride in the cold. Immediately after taking the leftmost pic, my phone gave me a “critical battery” warning and then cut off before I could even click OK. This was less than an hour into the ride, starting with a full charge! You could hear the snowplow coming from at least half a mile away. The right picture is an ice fishing road on a frozen lake. The day before there was a pickup truck out on the lake.

Summary – at one point on this ride, I was on a heavily snowed logging road and got passed by three big logging trucks. My feet were so painfully cold, and I was counting down the miles to Trego – the first place I could stop to warm up. I was so out of it that I didn’t realize one of the trucks was behind me. He never blew his horn, but just sat there about 50 meters behind me until I realized that what I was hearing was not my tires in the snow but rather the engine of the truck. I immediately got out of the way so that he could get around me. Why was I so cold? The overnight temperature where we were near Minong was -36 degF. Yes, that is 36 degrees below zero air temperature. It did warm-up fairly quickly: -28 degF by sunrise, -20 degF for Kristine’s ski, and then -15 degF by the time I left to bike back to Shell Lake. Long before I made it to Trego (25 miles into the ride), my phone was completely dead, which was sad because I ate and warmed up at this really cool restaurant called the Dinner Bell. Since I couldn’t get any pictures, I saved it all to memory and then wrote it up here in a short picture-less blog here: A cold day in Wisconsin. Towards the end of this ride, as it started to get dark and snow on the really rural road I was on b/t spooner and shell lake, I wondered a few times if I had bit off more than I could chew. I wasn’t cold, per se, but my toes were killing me from the cold, and I was having a hard time seeing with the fading light and the light snow.

12/30/2013 at 11:14am Trego, WI cold ride home to shell lake
Average temp -9 degF Distance 49.6 mi
Moving time 3:44:56 Climbing 2,927 ft
Elapsed time 4:56:54 Speed (avg/max) 13.2/25.9 mph

Final Day – 12/31/2013 Trego, WI meteor hill epic

Three separate frozen beards for this final ride to finish the festive 500. Keep in mind that the ice was completely melted between warming stops, so those are new frozen beards each time! The first one was at my first warming stop 1 hour 47 minutes into the ride without stopping. The middle one has two walrus tusks! Kristine took the last one when I called her to come get me with only a few miles to make it back to the house.Three separate frozen beards for this final ride to finish the festive 500. Keep in mind that the ice was completely melted between warming stops, so those are new frozen beards each time! The first one was at my first warming stop 1 hour 47 minutes into the ride without stopping. The middle one has two walrus tusks! Kristine took the last one when I called her to come get me with only a few miles to make it back to the house.

Summary – without a doubt this was one of the toughest rides I’ve ever done. Not many rides have ever brought me to tears by the end, but this one did. I needed 104k to finish the 500km for the Festive 500 challenge so I knew it was going to be tough. I had originally figured I would split it up into two 33 mile rides, but it was so cold in the morning (-20 degF) that I wanted to let it warm up a bit before starting, which meant doing it all in one ride. The past few years I’ve included Meteor Hill (at 1800 ft, the highest point in northwestern wisconsin) in at least one ride and it would work out to be just under 70 miles roundtrip … so I thought “let’s go for it!”

The first place to stop on my route was Birchwood, 25 miles and 1:47 away from Shell Lake. The toe warmers I bought at the BP shown in the video below were complete duds and I was in some pain for the last 11 miles into Birchwood. Fortunately, there were two couples riding snowmobiles on the trail that paralleled Co Rd D. I raced them for a couple miles and this not only distracted me from the cold, but also warmed up my internal temp helping out my extremeties a bit. I ended up beating them to the spot where the trail left the road b/c they were going slow and their trail wound a bit. Also, I had a tailwind for much of the ride to Birchwood. But even with all that I was wondering if I was going to arrive at the gas station with some serious frostbite.

The small gas station was cold and very busy so after eating some pizza and drinking a little bit of coffee, I decided to try to find someplace warmer. Just down the street was the Birchwood Cafe, a really warm diner where I could relax. The manager (owner?), Sandy, thought I was with the 150 mile Tuscobia winter ultra adventure race/run/ski/ride that had started on Saturday. Just so you know, I’m not the only one riding a bike up here. Most of those people were on fat bikes going much slower so they didn’t have to deal quite as much with the windchill, but I’m not sure if they had as many places to stop and warm-up as I did. Plus, they were definitely working harder and kudos to all of them. I may have to try it next year, as it is a qualifier for the Iditarod Trail Race, and I ended up riding 240 miles over the same timeframe as the race (if there were still people riding it on New Year’s Eve).

The climb up meteor hill starts right outside of town. Last year I went up the paved state highway and came down the snowmobile trail. That is not very efficient b/c you have to go slower on the downhill than the uphill. So this year I decided to do the climb on the snowmobile trail and then come back down on the state highway. I knew this would be bitterly cold on the descent, but I also knew that raw time in the cold was a factor – so better to suck it up and get the ride back to the gas station done as quickly as possible. The snowmobile trail / road was beautiful and I got to follow some bunny tracks for a while, which are really fun to see the two sets of paw prints close together followed by another set at the next landing spot. My phone was still working, but I was way too cold to stop. I did stop once towards the bottom of the climb but this was before the bunny tracks, and I wasn’t going to stop again.

The descent back down from the top was long, gradual, and bitterly cold into a stiff headwind. I don’t even want to write about it. Fortunately, I knew that there was a gas station waiting at the bottom back in Birchwood. I was running out of daylight and knew that most of the ride back to Shell Lake would be into a headwind so I didn’t stop as long this time, but I did buy more toe warmers. I put two warmers in each foot (one on the top and one on the bottom), drank another cup of coffee, and took off barely 30 minutes after arriving.

I pushed the pace really hard leaving Birchwood with an average heartrate of 155bpm for 45 minutes all the way to Long Lake. I didn’t want to be out on the snowy/icy roads on New Year’s Eve. I relaxed a bit once I made it through Long Lake, where Co Rd D was a lot less icy, more wide open, and straighter. At this point the temperature, really started to plummet from about -14 in Long Lake to -20 a few miles later. Also, my Garmin battery switched over to the “yellow” low zone. In these temps, I didn’t know how much time that would give me so I just drilled it again as hard as I could. I watched the temp drop 0.1 degF every few seconds for several miles until it hit -20 right as the sun was setting. Even with the risk of time, battery, and cold, I had to stop and get a pic of the sunset and my Garmin.

Sunset on the final day, plus my Garmin showing -20 degF with my Nokia Lumia 1020 in the backgroundSunset on the final day, plus my Garmin showing -20 degF with my Nokia Lumia 1020 in the background.

Quick note about my equipment – you can see in the bottom pic my “mineral oil” brakes. They worked flawlessly in the cold the entire time. My Garmin held up for huge chunks of time in temps as low as 22 degF below zero. Towards the end of this final ride, the Garmin started ghosting. When I swiped between screens, it wasn’t as spontaneous as normal and the screen seemed to have two images on it for a fraction of a second. The total battery life looked like it would be about 7.5 hours which is at least 3 hours less than it owuld be in normal temps. My phone did not handle the cold as well. It lasted about an hour from a full charge before shutting off. My contour video camera lasted even less than an hour on the final day with only a few minutes of recording during that time. Shifting didn’t work up front, but worked fine in the back. The other big surprise for me was the cassette not engaging the freewheel, you had to do a really slow pedal revolution to give the clamps enough time to spring back up. This got really bad towards the end as it took a while to get it to engage.

Back to the ride, when I started up the long gradual hill from Co Rd D, it was still into a stiff headwind. The temperature was dropping fast. My Garmin battery was dying. I was getting tired but too cold to try to eat anything. And I had nothing to drink that was not frozen. I still had almost 9 miles to get to the 65 miles I needed to complete the challenge. Each new uphill into the wind, I thought you’ve got to be kidding me. There is no way I’m going to make it before either my legs or my Garmin gives out. My feet were really cold, and my hands were really cold but it didn’t matter. I just wanted to make it to 65 miles. Finally, I made it, stopped the Garmin and reset it (which saves the file), and called Kristine to come pick me up. I only had a few miles left to make it back to the house so I kept riding as she was driving towards me. By this point with the adrenaline gone from trying to make it to 65 miles and with the temp at -22 degF, I was cold – very cold. There was no way for me to get the wheels off the bike to get it into the car so we decided it would be better for me just to ride behind her slowly “heatpacing” at 15 mph which got me the final 2.7 miles of the way home for a total of 68.1 miles on the day.

12/31/2013 at 10:30am Trego, WI meteor hill epic
Average temp -11 degF Distance 68.1 mi
Moving time 4:41:54 Climbing 3,773 ft
Elapsed time 6:46:56 Speed (avg/max) 14.6/27.5 mph

Finally, here’s some videos I got on the final day before my contour camera died. And before that, here is the Garmin connect stats showing the temperature graph bottoming out at -22.4 degF after sunset.

Festive 500 finishing ride statsFestive 500 finishing ride stats

January 1, 2014 at 9:30 pm 1 comment

A cold day in Wisconsin

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.

December 31, 2013 at 12:56 am Leave a comment

A little bit of arctic adventure in the deep south

About 3 hours into my attempt to ride from Nashville home to Birmingham, I took this picture while riding of my frozen beard. I was actually quite warm except for my feet.I took this picture of my frozen beard about 3 hours into my attempt to ride from Nashville home to Birmingham. I was actually quite warm except for my feet, which were very, very cold.

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.

Waiting for the Behold the Lamb concert to start at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, TNWaiting for the Behold the Lamb concert to start at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, TN

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.

Annotated temperature graph pretty much tells the story of the ride.Annotated temperature graph pretty much tells the story of the ride.

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:

  1. Following the old standby rule – “if you are cold, just ride harder”.
  2. 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.
  3. Riding downhill with the brakes on while still pedaling hard – anything to minimize windchill and maximize blood circulation.
  4. 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.

Lewisburg donut shopLewisburg donut shop – I spent an hour in here warming up after four hours of riding in the cold.

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.

tour de cullman wooden plank bridgeTour de Cullman wooden plank bridge

Skyball kom line - tour de cullmanSkyball kom line – tour de cullman race finish

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.

December 15, 2013 at 11:03 pm Leave a comment

Gravel Grovel Pre-ride

View from the fire tower looking back down towards the start View from the hickory ridge fire tower looking back down the first big climb from the start

View from the firetower looking east towards some of the later climbs on the courseView from the firew tower looking east towards some of the later climbs on the course

Standing at the bottom looking up the 110 foot fire towerStanding at the bottom looking up the 110 foot fire tower

Snowing on the gravel road heading out towards the Story InnSnowing on the gravel road heading out towards the Story Inn

Trail climb with stone pile markersTrail climb with stone pile markers

Trail goes under this tree - rideable but watch out for the standing water just on the other sideTrail goes under this tree – rideable but watch out for the standing water just on the other side

You know a race is going to be epic if the pre-ride of the course is six hours long through amazing scenery like that shown in the pics above. We drove up from Birmingham late Tuesday night, and after sleeping in I set out to ride the whole course estimating it would be five hours at most. After getting lost in the national forest a couple times and bushwhacking a bit through what I’m 75% sure is part of the course, my pre-ride ended up being nearly six hours long. I ran out of food and water with nearly two hours left – so completely ravenous and bonked for the last climb and descent. The description for the race course is perfect – mix of road, mtb, and cross specific sections. This really is the perfect finale for the ultracx series. I mainly wanted to write a blog b/c I couldn’t instagram any of my pictures during the ride … too cold! Speaking of cold, the average temp for the ride was 25 degF starting out in the teens. This was a shock to my Alabama system as we really haven’t had any cold weather yet. 20 minutes in and my nose was burning from the cold wind. 20 minutes later though and I was climbing up a 15+% hill and fine for the rest of the day – except my second water bottle was drunk as a slushy four hours into the ride. Here are the rest of the pics I got:

November 28, 2013 at 11:36 am 2 comments

Cycling and Don Quixote

Windmills and the setting sunWindmills and the setting sun

Two years ago, I raced all of the Tour of America’s Dairyland including the Fond du Lac criterium. I raced well and crossed the line in first at the start of the last lap trying to maintain good position. Unfortunately, I managed to get passed by 20 people during the last lap to finish just out of the money. I was quite distraught after the race having blown such good position to end up outside of the top 20. I was hoping to redeem that performance with a top 20 finish this year, but with huge thunderstorms and rain showers all across the sky and approaching Fond du Lac before the start I was not very optimistic. We managed to start the first few laps dry, but then it started to rain, and I drifted to the back, off the back, and then expecting to be pulled was told that I could continue to race. I am never going to willingly pull out of a race again after a disasterous race in West Virginia in 1996, so I raced for another 20 minutes or so getting lapped 3 or 4 more times by the field. I used the opportunity to continue racing to work on my rainy cornering skills, as I have had several recent rainy slideouts losing a lot of confidence in the rain.

It was barely halfway through the race by the time that the officials decided I had raced enough and pulled me from the race. I just checked the results, and I was rewarded for my efforts by being placed in the results instead of a DNF — 59th out of 105 starters. Afterwards, wanting to get some kind of training in, I started wandering towards the hills, first looking for some good climbs, and then seeing windmills in the distance riding to try to get a good picture. The windmills are huge so that they appear closer than they really are. And then even when you start to get close to one, you find that the road is gated off or unrideable in the mud or the windmill you were heading towards was actually on a different ridge beside a different road. Eventually, as it was getting dark and as I was getting farther and farther away from Fond du Lac, I started to feel like Don Quixote chasing windmills, and I began to suspect that somehow for many people including me such is the lot of the bike racer. Finally, I found a cool valley with a bunch of windmills with a farm gravel road that was not only rideable but also quite pictureesque. It was amazing to be standing underneath something so gigantic and hearing the whoosh of the three blades as the passed overhead. Standing directly underneath it as the blades headed towards you was a bit disconcerting as you wondered unreasonably that you might have misjudged the length of the the blade and it would suddenly hit you standing there on the ground.

So, anyway, even as I was chasing the windmills I thought of Don Quixote. I don’t know the story all that well, but I believe the basic idea is that poor Don thought that the windmills he was chasing and trying to defeat were actual enemies that needed to be defeated. He continued to pursue these windmills never realizing that they were unbeatable. Comparing this to bicycle racing, the idea is that we as bike racers try so hard to win or at least do as well as possible romanticizing that one good result to the point that it lures us back for more even after a series of really bad results. Often the level of competition is so far above and beyond our own capability that it is truly like Don Quixote chasing windmills – an impossible and illogical vain pursuit.

Again, I don’t know the story all that well, but Don Quixote must have been fulfilled, fully alive, full of purpose as he chased after those windmills even if it made no sense to anyone else. The danger though is the damage that Don was doing to those around him as he sought after those windmills even as he tried to do good and help/rescue/save the world. I am fortunate that my family is supportive of my windmill chasing, and I do everything I can to turn bike races into family trips and family experiences, and I think the good far outweighs the bad, but the very real danger is pursuing too far without putting everything into context.

As I was trying to find a windmill I could ride right up to and set my bike against on my 10 year anniversary with my wife 100 miles away camping with her family in Door County, I realized both the beauty and the danger of bike racing. I had spent the night before camping with them and the morning of our anniversay was awesome with a nice trail run/ride with Kristine and the kids finding a cool boat landing and then a climb up to a tower overlooking Sturgeon Bay and the entrance to Green Bay followed by a little bit of caving with Josiah and then more trail riding and finally capped off joining Kristine’s dad as he finished 1100 miles of hiking the entire Ice Age trail which ends at the tower we had found earlier in the day. All of this before leaving my family to go get dropped in a bike race, but then finding beautiful rolling hills, picturesque farms with barns, cows, and fields of corn, big sky with clouds from various storms on all sides aglow with lightning and the setting sun — surreal, almost perfect, forgetting that an hour or so earlier I had just gotten dropped and pulled from a bike race – I was content realizing that bike racing in the context of life is so small, but in the moment if you look in the right places you can still find something worth pursuing even if it looks like windmills to everyone else.

Pictures from earlier in the day camping with Kristine and the kids -

June 30, 2013 at 12:05 pm Leave a comment

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Jefferson county. Most of this ride was reasonable, but the last 2 hours were like an inferno. Beautiful view from the cliffs.

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Anaerobic Threshold:
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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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