Rouge Roubaix 2014

2014 Rouge Roubaix Pro/1/2 podium - Stefan Rothe (Elbowz), Heath Blackgrove (Boneshaker), Logan Hutchings (Boneshaker), left to right.2014 Rouge Roubaix Pro/1/2 podium – Stefan Rothe (Elbowz), Heath Blackgrove (Boneshaker), Logan Hutchings (Boneshaker), left to right. Wow! Strong podium!

One of these years I’m going to make it onto that podium, but even though it wasn’t this year I’m certainly happy to have raced well against such a strong field. Boneshaker brought a strong team, and it showed with four out of the seven riders in the final selection from their team. Elbowz brought a large, strong team leading to Stefan Rothe’s podium finish. Incycle Predator had a small, but strong, team with powerhouse riders Mike Olheiser, Emile Abraham, Calixto Bello, and Jonathan Atkins. Mike and Calixto made the final break but were outnumbered four against two by Boneshaker. Finish Strong brought a large team and controlled the race all the way to the second gravel section.

The race – start to first gravel

Brian Arne from Finish Strong took off early on a solo move eventually extending his lead to four minutes by the start of the first gravel section at about Mile 25 of the race. The rest of the field entered the first gravel together at a brisk but not insane pace. The conditions for the first gravel section were different than any other year I’ve raced here. The washboard and deep gravel typical of Woodstock Rd were replaced by mostly hard-packed dirt, a bit of gravel, and lots of potholes. This meant that if you could avoid the potholes, you could go really fast. It also meant that if you didn’t see a pothole in time, you either jumped it or hit it. Jumping was an option in some places, but in other places that would just land you in one of several more potholes all in a line. I had wanted to be at the front before the gravel, but when that didn’t work out I drifted to the back and kept as much of a line of sight as possible in front of me.

Ahead of me was a bit of chaos. With the fast conditions interspersed with some massive potholes, the group would be flying along when all of a sudden the front of the group would slow down causing those behind to slam on their brakes. On a downhill leading into a rough section, one guy in front of me locked up his rear brake and slid his rear tire all the way down to the bottom of the hill but managed to keep the bike upright and not run into the people in front of him. A few minutes later one of the most epic wrecks I’ve ever seen happened on a corner leading to a massive mud puddle taking up half the road. We were warned about it ahead of time, but it wasn’t enough to prevent the large group from producing a large crash at this bottleneck. I was far enough back to have time to slow down but I arrived at the wreck maybe a few seconds after the wreck with the following visual image:

One rider’s bike is still up in the air (must have been the last person making his way into the crash). Many riders are on the ground, but some are already trying to untangle bikes. The giant mud puddle is on the left side but the path on the right is completely blocked with wreckage. Some riders are in the bushes on the right trying to get around. Others are riding through the mud puddle or trying (unsuccessfully to ride around it on the left). I end up riding through the puddle on the right-hand side close to the wreckage. I nearly didn’t make it which would not have been good for my speedplay cleats having to unclip and put a foot down in the mud. I squeezed through, though, and was actually one of the first few caught up in the wreck to make it through and start chasing.

The lead riders were not too far ahead, maybe 20 seconds, but their group was smaller and hammering the last section. I helped our small chase group of maybe three or four riders, but I was holding back a bit gambling that we were going to catch the group which traditionally slows way down after the first gravel section. I didn’t want to waste too much energy in the process of chasing back on. Still, when we made it to the road, they had extended their lead a bit but we could still see them. As we continued chasing more people joined our group from behind so that by the time we finally caught back onto the group of 30 or so riders that had made it through the wreck unscathed, our group had probably swelled to 15-20 riders.

The long road section between the first gravel and second gravel

About 50 riders or so had merged, and our pace was slow. Periodic attacks livened the pace briefly, but for the most part nobody was actively chasing because Finish Strong went to the front to cover any chase moves. I stayed mostly at the back trying to conserve energy. When we were a few miles out from the second gravel, I started a long, patient attempt to move up the lefthand side to the front. I made it to within three riders of the front with less than a mile to go. But then I got boxed in when more riders came up the left and right and the middle slowed down. By the time all was said and done, I made the turn at the Ft Adams store in about 20th position. I ended up riding through the giant puddle with no ill consequences but then hit some large potholes and lost a lot of positions.

By the top of Blockhouse Hill, Brian’s lead was down to 1 minute, but it was enough for him to stay away for the KOM at the top of the climb. Meanwhile down at the bottom of the climb people were taking all kinds of risks given the road conditions leading into Blockhouse. I was more conservative and continued to slide back. There was one rider I came on who had crashed and was laying on the ground. Knowing that the medical truck was just behind me, I continued on. I paid for my conservativeness as I had to pass tons of people on the climb itself and yet this still only got me into the first chase group. I helped drive this group and at first it looked like we would catch the lead group. They were only 30 seconds ahead of us! But the lead group was smaller and stronger than our chase group which spelled doom for our group which at first worked really well together, but then as more people caught onto our group people stopped working.

The third gravel section

By the time we turned onto LA-66 with about four miles to the next gravel section, there were only a few of us still working at the front including Mark Hyatt (UHC), Derek Wilkerson (Elbowz), Caleb Fuchs (ThinkFinance), John Stowe (Cherry St. Cycles), and maybe one or two other people. I continued working knowing that the chase was somewhat futile at this point, but wanting to make sure that I was at the very front heading into the third gravel section. I led the turn and wanted to lead into the gravel, but Mark came around me. I got on his wheel, though, and hit the gravel in second position. By the top, there was just three of us left – me, Mark, and Derek.

I knew that this was our chance to get away from the large group and form a cohesive, strong chase. I drilled it as hard as possible and led through most of the gravel. By the time we hit the road, we started to chase really well and entered a good rotation. Up ahead we could occasionally see riders coming off the lead group. This was motivating for the three of us chasing and I kept telling Derek and Mark and that the lead group might be playing games, and we might be able to capitalize on that to catch them. Unfortunately, the gap was just too large at this point and by the end of the race they had put six minutes into us!

By the time we approached the low-water bridge and Mahoney Hill, our chase group had solidified at 5 riders with us having picked up two more riders from the lead group that we were able to keep up with our pace. One of those riders, Colin Strickland (Elbowz), attacked and I went with him. Parker Kyzer (Finish Strong) was able to bring the two of us back. Mark (UHC) put in an attack at one point. Then, to start out the sprint for 8th place, Colin attacked again. Mark covered the move with me on his wheel. The two of us led side-by-side up the climbing to the finish line. When we reached about 150 meters to go, I gave it everything I had. I assumed that I would get passed by several people, but only Mark was able to come around right at the line to take 8th with me in 9th place. Great race, grand adventure (including the pre-ride which I will save for another post).

Annotated heartrate data
Annotated heartrate and power data - iBike plot (click to enlarge)Annotated heartrate and power data – iBike plot (click to enlarge)

Speed comparison
This was by far my fastest Rouge Roubaix ever. See the table below for a comparison to previous years:

Year Avg Speed Distance Time Place
2014 23.8mph 101.8 mi 4:15:53 9th
2013 22.4mph 105.1 mi 4:41:34 10th
2012 23.4mph 105.1 mi 4:30:02 4th
2011 22.0mph 105.1 mi 4:47:11 9th
2010 21.7mph 101.8 mi 4:41:59 18th

Update – based on Ed’s comment I wanted to check the 1st place finishing times. I don’t have the distances for years prior to 2010, so assuming they used the long course (105.1) I’ve calculated the average speeds in the list below:

2014 – 1st place – Heath Blackgrove 4:09:57 – 101.8mi @ 24.4mph
2013 – 1st place – Ty Magner 4:23:50 – 105.1mi @ 23.9mph
2012 – 1st place – Adam Koble 4:29:09 – 105.1mi @ 23.4mph
2011 – 1st place – Greg Krause 4:35:00 – 105.1mi @ 22.9mph
2010 – 1st place – Mat Davis 4:29:27 – 101.8mi @ 22.7mph
2009 – 1st place – Christian Helming 4:26:30 – 105.1mi (?) @ 23.7mph
2008 – 1st place – Aaron Boyleston 4:25:53 – 105.1mi (?) @ 23.7mph
2007 – 1st place – Mike Olheiser 4:21:09 – 105.1mi (?) @ 24.1mph
2006 – 1st place – Mike Olheiser 4:31:25 – 105.1mi (?) @ 23.2mph
2005 – 1st place – Jason Snow 4:22:50 – 105.1mi (?) @ 24.0mph
2004 – 1st place – Brice Jones 4:23:56 – 105.1mi (?) @ 23.9mph
2003 – Results link broken
2002 – 1st place – Stephen Viquerie 5:02:00 – 105.1mi (?) @ 20.9mph
2001 – Results link broken
2000 – Results link broken
1999 – Results link broken

March 12, 2014 at 6:50 pm 4 comments

Racing season kick-off 2014

Last year, I opened up my season with back-to-back wins at Southern Cross and the Camp Sumatanga training race the next day. This year, I’ve started off the season with a 3rd place time trial podium, 6th place at Southern Cross, and 1st place again this year at the Sumatanga Category A race. The win yesterday at Sumatanga helped ease the sting from Southern Cross where I just didn’t have it on that opening climb and watched the lead group of eight riders ride away from me less than halfway up the climb. Also easing the Southern Cross sting was the outstanding performances by Birmingham riders Chris Edmonds, Jerry Dufour (17), and Reid Richesin (15) who placed 3rd, 5th, and 12th!

SOUTHERN CROSS ULTRACX RACE #1

Montaluce Monster with Brick Alley (my home shop!) riders finishingThe final run-up and beer-up at Southern Cross – the “Montaluce Monster” with Brick Alley riders finishing. Brick Alley is my home shop in Birmingham!

So let’s start with Southern Cross – amazing again this year. I could finish dead last and while disappointed would still feel like the weekend was worth it. Race promoter and ultra-endurance racer Eddie O’Dea announced before the start that it was the biggest field yet for Southern Cross, and I would go one step farther to say it was also the strongest field as evidenced by the lead group of eight still together well into the Winding Stair climb. New this year was an additional dirt climb out of the winery instead of the traditional climb out via the road. I was really happy with my start able to ride almost everything, including the log drop and the new dirt climb out of the winery. The only thing I had to run was the main run-up, which given the heavy rains from a few days before the race was too wet to ride.

Leaving the winery, the lead group consisted of Thomas Turner (Jamis), Nick Van Winkle (Litespeed-BMW), Chris Edmonds (Infinity), Mike Simonson (616 Fabrications), Jerry Dufour (Team Momentum), Tim Proctor (The Bicycle Station), Gerry Pflug (Rare Disease Cycling), Eric Murphy (UHC/706 Project), Andy Scarano (UHC/706 Project), and me (Friends of the Great Smokies Cycling). There may have been a few more riders behind me, but I was glued to the wheels in front of me and never looked back. I felt OK at this point, but we seemed to be riding really, really fast.

I wasn’t sure about the climb given that we were killing it on the rollers leading into it, but once we started I felt the pace was hard but manageable. Just before the first steep pitch I could no longer hold the pace. It happened somewhat suddenly as the lead group kept motoring and I was unable to stand up and match the pace. I had opted to take my camelbak explorer backpack to make sure I had adequate hydration and tools to combat any flats, but with the extra weight pressing down on my lower back I couldn’t stand up to get any extra torque out of the bars. If it had just been a couple riders left leaving me behind, I would have been OK mentally but as I watched them round a turn ahead of me I counted one, two, three, … eight riders! This was super de-motivating.

I continued on, but as you can see in my heartrate data below I was cracked and dropped back down into Zone 4 sub-threshold. Near the top, though, I looked back to see Gerry Pflug single-speed champ, killing it up a steep section of the climb. I knew that my best chance at getting any kind of result was to hop on when he came by. Sure enough, I dug as hard as I could when he came by with my HR skyrocketing well back into Zone 5. I stuck to his wheel like glue and then dug really deep again to try to hold on to make it to the true top of the climb. Once there, I knew I would be fine until the second climb.

I stayed tucked behind Gerry from that spot all the way until we hit the pavement at which point I took over to set the pace into the next climb. My plan was to simply hold onto Gerry’s wheel all the way up the second climb, but we caught Eric Murphy about 1/4 of the way up the climb. This climb rolls a bit and although I was content to rest, Eric wanted to push the pace a bit harder on the downhills where Gerry needed to coast (singlespeed) so we got into somewhat of a rotation. As we got farther up the climb I spent more time on the front. But as we neared the very top, Gerry came around forced to push the pace harder by his singlespeed gearing. I could barely hold on, but what really helped is that I had drank enough water that I could stand up again without all the weight from the camelbak pressing down right on my lower back.

Somewhere in the middle of the climb, Frank Marrs (Mission Source) came flying by us. No hope of our group latching onto him, and we let him ride away. Towards the top, we were starting to catch him again and then passed him when he had to stop at the aid station for water. A few minutes later, he came flying by us again. I was unable to hold his wheel and he rode away again but ended up flatting on the next fast descent. Gerry and I kept plugging along at a steady tempo and I related to him some highlights from last year’s race as we reached critical points from the previous year.

I led through the descent and onto the road with Gerry pulling up the hills on the road and me pushing the pace on the descents and flatter sections. When we finally made it back to the winery, we could see Jerry Dufour partway up the Montaluce Monster (100% grade beer run-up). This gave me some renewed hope of maybe catching one more rider to crack the top 5, but Jerry was too fast and ended up pulling away. Meanwhile when I was near the top of the run-up, I looked back and saw another racer (Brad Cobb) had already made it partway up the run-up. I was no longer even trying to catch Jerry, but I rode really hard to make sure I stayed away from Brad. It all worked out though with Jerry taking the last spot of the Open Male podium, Gerry winning the single-speed race, and me taking 6th. Brad was actually in the 40+ race where he ended up 2nd as Tim Proctor had already finished 5th overall to take the Masters 40+ race win.

After the race, I talked to Jerry and Chris to find out how the race had played out up front. Jerry was the only one who could match Thomas’s pace all the way up the Winding Stair climb. But across the top, Thomas put in some surges that eventually saw Jerry falling back to the chase group behind. The chase group got smaller as people flatted or dropped off the pace eventually leaving just Nick, Chris, Mike, Tim, and Jerry in the front group. Jerry came off this group on the road section while the rest of the group went into the finish together. The only reason why we saw Jerry at all is because he missed the turn back into the winery. Fortunately, he realized his mistake quickly enough so that he didn’t lose any places because of the mistake. Chris and Nick sprinted it out for 2nd place behind Thomas who had finished about 3 minutes earlier. Last year’s ulta-cx winner Mike Simonson raced strong and ended up 4th behind Chris and Nick in the winery course.

Very proud of the Birmingham results this year – Chris Edmonds (3rd), Jerry Dufour (5th), me in 6th place, and 15 year old Reid Richensin finishing 12th. Also, Pat Casey took 2nd place in the singlespeed division, and Hardwick Gregg took 4th in the Men’s 50+. Maybe next year we can aim for a podium sweep! I’m already looking forward to it.

Having won the race last year, I was interested in a side by side comparison of all the data from last year and this year. Basically I was 4 minutes slower this year with a heartrate average of 1 bpm lower. Given that it was really cold last year, I think that probably works out to 2-3 bpm lower than last year if the temperatures had been the same both years.

Southern Cross 2014 HRSouthern Cross 2014 – lower HR average overall but 10 additional minutes in Zone 5 Southern Cross 2013 HRSouthern Cross 2013 – higher HR average with quite a bit more time spent in Zone 4

2014 Southern Cross annotated heartrate data (click to enlarge)2014 Southern Cross annotated heartrate data (click to enlarge)

2013 Southern Cross annotated heartrate data (click to enlarge)2013 Southern Cross annotated heartrate data (click to enlarge)

CAMP SUMATANGA TRAINING RACE

Alan Laytham leads the combined fields.Alan Laytham leads the combined fields.

Me winning the final sprint from the breakMe winning the final sprint from the break.

A large strong field showed up for the first GSMR training race up at Camp Sumatanga. My former team Infinity Med-i-Spa had the largest team, but there were also two strong military team riders (Kurt Page and Chris Cundiff), as well as strong teams from Huntsville, Birmingham, Tuscaloosa, and a number of other fast riders without teammates. I figured given the strength of the field, that the strategy was to let Infinity do as much work as possible bringing back moves. They scored a major coup though getting two teammates (Wes Douglas and Kevin Pawlik) up the road by themselves! It was still early enough in the race, though, that people from other teams in the field were motivated to chase. After about a lap, we brought them back. In the meantime, it got confusing with the Cat B field catching the A field. The combined fields rode a lap together before the officials stopped us at the start/finish to separate the fields.

Will Hibberts (Infinity) had just rolled off the front so he was given a 10 second start. A couple of us attacked immediately upon restart and killed it all the way up the hill, but it all came back together. Shortly after this, Wes (Infinity) and Pat Casey (Team Momentum) got away. I tried to attack on the backside hill to bridge up to them, but there was enough people strung behind me to keep it all together. When we crossed the start/finish with two 10 mile laps to go, I knew that we had to try to get away on the front hill or Wes and Pat would have too much of a lead to close by the end of the race. Near the top I attacked hard and only Mark Fisher (Village VW) and Jamie Alexander (Infinity) were able to go with me. Towards the end of the next-to-last lap we finished the bridge up to Wes and Pat.

I was worried that the field would catch us because our pace was not very fast at all in the merged group (everybody was trying to save up for the finish). When I looked back and could see the field not too far behind us, I figured the best bet at staying away was to shrink the size of the group. I tried attacking three or four times, but I could not get our group to shrink at all. The good news, though, was that our pace did ramp up as people also counter-attacked. Eventually, though, we came into the last couple miles as a still in tact breakaway of five. Wes attacked with 2 miles to go, I covered it and Mark led the rest of the break back up to us. Mark kept right on going hard and ended up leading all the way into the start of the sprint.

The order coming into the start of the sprint was Mark, Pat, Jamie, me, and Wes. Pat started the sprint with maybe 300 meters to go. Jamie kept his wheel and I kept Jamie’s wheel. As we got to about 200 meters, Jamie started to go around Pat to the right and I started to go around on the left. Right as both of us pulled even with Pat, he gave it one more surge! Fortunately for me that was still with 100 meters to go and he couldn’t hold that surge to the line so at the very end I was able to continue on past to take the win. Pat held on for second with Jamie in third, Wes in fourth, and Mark having led our group for the last 2 miles of the race finished fifth.

Sunset cool-down ride Tumblin GapSunset cool-down ride Tumblin Gap

Annotated iBike data - note the blue graph which shows wind, you can tell when I'm drafting and when I'm not draftingAnnotated iBike data – note the blue graph which shows wind, you can tell when I’m drafting and when I’m not drafting (click to enlarge)

GSMR #1 2014 - power record for the sprintGSMR #1 2014 – power record for the sprint (click to enlarge)

UNION GROVE TIME TRIAL

Union Grove Time Trial Podium - (left to right) - Jason Brasel (4th), Kurt Page (2nd), Mike Olheiser (1st), Me (3rd), and Doug Robinson (5th).Union Grove Time Trial Podium – (left to right) – Jason Brasel (4th), Kurt Page (2nd), Mike Olheiser (1st), Me (3rd), and Doug Robinson (5th).

I headed up to Huntsville for a 20 mile time trial making the podium on pace for a 57 minute 40K TT, about two minutes faster than my previous best time trial. The key difference, though, is that my legs did not feel great for this race and instead I had a time trial bike, disc wheel, and aero equipment to shave two minutes off my time – even coming near the end of a 430 mile week on the bike. I’m looking forward to later time trials where my legs feel fresh, and I’m able to push the pace even faster! I paired one of my Martindale 6.0s with a Zipp disc wheel on Mike Olheiser’s old cervelo TT bike (see setup below – it was really, really fast, love those Martindale wheels!)

Snow / sleet on top of my car at the start/finish areaSnow / sleet on top of my car at the start/finish area

Snow on the course during a warm-up lapSnow on the course during a warm-up lap

Union Grove time trial heartrate data - annotated (click to enlarge)Union Grove time trial heartrate data – annotated (click to enlarge)

February 27, 2014 at 9:20 am 2 comments

Winter Gridlock 2014 – a pictoral timeline

In this blog, I document the events of the surprise snowstorm that hit central Alabama on Tuesday, January 28th, 2014. I have selected several defining pictures to show full size here at the beginning to capture the chaos caused by the storm and its aftermath. Below the full-sized pictures, I have included small thumbnails of some of the videos I uploaded to youtube. Below the videos, I have organized a long pictoral gallery that covers the entire week. There are a ton of pictures, but I recommend that you click on the first one to open a full-size window and then click the arrows or click the picture to advance from photo to photo. If you do that, then when you make it to the end of the

People walk down a completely empty three lane highway about 3 hours after it first started to snow

Tues, 1/28 @ 1:07PM – US Hwy 280 abandoned top of pass. People walk down a deserted six lane highway about 3 hours after it first started to snow.

An ambulance spins out and struggles up the hill with a paramedic and a bystander helping to push it up the hill. People are abandoning their cars, while others try to get around. This is the spot where I started videoing my bike ride up the hill.

Tues, 1/28 @ 1:03PM – US Hwy 280 at Cherokee Rd. An ambulance spins out and struggles up the hill with a paramedic and a bystander helping to push it up the hill. People are abandoning their cars, while others try to get around. This is the spot where I started videoing my bike ride up the hill. http://youtu.be/ZlKTOy0J8WI

Tues, 1/28 @ 1:03PM – US Hwy 280 at Lakeshore Dr. This picture is taken from the same spot as the one above, except looking back down the hill. The highway is completely blocked. There are accidents along the side, and you can see the exact spot where the cars cannot make it any farther up the hill. At this point, the line of cars probably stretches all the way back into downtown several miles away assuming that Red Mountain isn’t blocked.

Tues 1/28 @ 6:08PM - icy blueberry lane. As I head out of the neighborhood, I encounter unrideable sections of Blueberry Lane coated in solid ice. To pass this section, I ride through the yard on the left where you can see all the footprints of people walking ... people unable and/or unwilling to walk anywhere near the crazy slippery road. I took this picture on my return trip after making it successfully to the grocery store to get milk.

Tues 1/28 @ 6:08PM – icy blueberry lane. As I head out of the neighborhood, I encounter unrideable sections of Blueberry Lane coated in solid ice. To pass this section, I ride through the yard on the left where you can see all the footprints of people walking … people unable and/or unwilling to walk anywhere near the crazy slippery road. I took this picture on my return trip after making it successfully to the grocery store to get milk.

Tues, 1/28 @ 9:42PM - city-wide sleepover. People sleep in their offices. Kids sleep at schools. At our house, we have a sleepover with stranded kids whose parents cannot make it to Rocky Ridge Elementary. Over 200 kids spend the night at Rocky Ridge as do 4300 other students across the entire Hoover school system.

Tues, 1/28 @ 9:42PM – city-wide sleepover. People sleep in their offices. Kids sleep at schools. At our house, we have a sleepover with stranded kids whose parents cannot make it to Rocky Ridge Elementary. Over 200 kids spend the night at Rocky Ridge as do 4300 other students in the entire Hoover school system.

Wed, 1/29 @ 8:03AM - first flipped car. I only have to ride 1/2 mile from my house to stumble (almost literally) upon the first flipped car. Rocky Ridge Rd was so icy that I walk stretches of it. I am trying to ride down the middle of the road where there is a little bit of snow (and traction), but graviity pulls me across to the side of the road onto the shoulder where I am completely shocked to be staring at this car in front of me. This moment is recorded 7 minutes and 50 seconds into this video: http://youtu.be/31u73UqPQ4A. I park my bike alongside the sign and run down to the car just to make sure nobody is still in the car (i.e., in case it had just happened while I was biking down the other side of the hill). Nobody is inside, but the contents of the car are strewn everywhere.

Wed, 1/29 @ 8:03AM – first flipped car. I only have to ride 1/2 mile from my house to stumble (almost literally) upon the first flipped car. Rocky Ridge Rd was so icy that I walk stretches of it. I am trying to ride down the middle of the road where there is a little bit of snow (and traction), but gravity pulls me across to the side of the road onto the shoulder where I am completely shocked to be staring at this car in front of me. This moment is recorded 7 minutes and 50 seconds into this video: http://youtu.be/31u73UqPQ4A. I park my bike alongside the sign and run down to the car just to make sure nobody is still in the car (i.e., in case it had just happened while I was biking down the other side of the hill). Nobody is inside, but the contents of the car are strewn everywhere.

Wed, 1/29 @ 9:12AM - ice skating. Boris and I decide to head south on I-65 all the way down to AL-119 to buy more water and food at the gas station to hand out to drivers stuck on I-65 north. When we exit the freeway, we discover rather quickly that the ramp is unrideable and head to the shoulder. Just how slippery is it? check out this video of Boris sliding on it - http://youtu.be/KqBRt_vA2z4

Wed, 1/29 @ 9:12AM – ice skating. Boris and I decide to head south on I-65 all the way down to AL-119 to buy more water and food at the gas station to hand out to drivers stuck on I-65 north. When we exit the freeway, we discover rather quickly that the ramp is unrideable and head to the shoulder. Just how slippery is it? check out this video of Boris sliding on it – http://youtu.be/KqBRt_vA2z4

Wed, 1/29 @ 11:05AM - welcome to the apocalypse! By this point, the roads are starting to melt and the middle two travel lanes are moving very, very slowly (0-1mph). But the melting ice makes what is left even more slippery. Instead of solid ice, you now have a thin layer of water on top of solid ice. Boris and I both pick are way very slowly between all of the abandoned cars in this picture and almost fall several times. Every car on the shoulder or in the right travel lane in this picture is abandoned all the way past the hill to the Hwy 31 exit out of sight. Our ride through this is recorded here: http://youtu.be/NDT8zeDPoMk

Wed, 1/29 @ 11:05AM – welcome to the apocalypse! By this point, the roads are starting to melt and the middle two travel lanes are moving very, very slowly (0-1mph). But the melting ice makes what is left even more slippery. Instead of solid ice, you now have a thin layer of water on top of solid ice. Boris and I both pick are way very slowly between all of the abandoned cars in this picture and almost fall several times. Every car on the shoulder or in the right travel lane in this picture is abandoned all the way past the hill to the Hwy 31 exit out of sight. Our ride through this is recorded here: http://youtu.be/NDT8zeDPoMk

Tues, 1/28 @ 1PM - US Hwy 280. http://youtu.be/ZlKTOy0J8WI

Tues, 1/28 @ 1PM – US Hwy 280. http://youtu.be/ZlKTOy0J8WI


Tues, 1/28 @ 2PM - US Hwy 31. http://youtu.be/y3BQokQ5Is0

Tues, 1/28 @ 2PM – US Hwy 31. http://youtu.be/y3BQokQ5Is0


Tues, 1/28 @ 10:45AM - Hwy 31 overlook. http://youtu.be/OgWEwn_UUg0

Tues, 1/28 @ 10:45AM – Hwy 31 overlook. http://youtu.be/OgWEwn_UUg0


Tues, 1/28 @ 2:45PM - Josiah skiing. http://youtu.be/RJAFvI-mSZ0

Tues, 1/28 @ 2:45PM – Josiah skiing. http://youtu.be/RJAFvI-mSZ0


Wed, 1/29 @ 8AM - Mountain biking to I-65. http://youtu.be/31u73UqPQ4A

Wed, 1/29 @ 8AM – Mountain biking to I-65. http://youtu.be/31u73UqPQ4A


Wed, 1/29 @ 8:30AM - I-65 southbound. http://youtu.be/IH3tKdXRqSU

Wed, 1/29 @ 8:30AM – I-65 southbound. http://youtu.be/IH3tKdXRqSU


Wed, 1/29 @ 9:15AM - Boris ice skating on the interstate. http://youtu.be/KqBRt_vA2z4

Wed, 1/29 @ 9:15AM – Boris ice skating on the interstate. http://youtu.be/KqBRt_vA2z4


Wed, 1/29 @ 10:30AM - dollar general truck. http://youtu.be/Ufsg825mdtM

Wed, 1/29 @ 10:30AM – dollar general truck. http://youtu.be/Ufsg825mdtM


Wed, 1/29 @ 10:45AM - Welcome to the Apocalypse! http://youtu.be/NDT8zeDPoMk

Wed, 1/29 @ 10:45AM – Welcome to the Apocalypse! http://youtu.be/NDT8zeDPoMk


Wed, 1/29 @ 10:30AM - I-65 northbound to I-459 overpass on-ramp. http://youtu.be/cxyB3h4TXzc

Wed, 1/29 @ 10:30AM – I-65 northbound to I-459 overpass on-ramp. http://youtu.be/cxyB3h4TXzc


Thurs, 1/30 @ 1:30PM - Hwy 280 to Co Rd 41 - http://youtu.be/E77FVMy1VrI

Thurs, 1/30 @ 1:30PM – Hwy 280 to Co Rd 41 – http://youtu.be/E77FVMy1VrI


Thurs, 1/30 @ 3:30PM - Hugh Daniel descent to Hwy 280 - http://youtu.be/8Vi_Z1DMcok

Thurs, 1/30 @ 3:30PM – Hugh Daniel descent to Hwy 280 – http://youtu.be/8Vi_Z1DMcok


Thurs, 1/30 @ 4:20PM - caldwell mill gulley. http://youtu.be/3iyUGP48X90

Thurs, 1/30 @ 4:20PM – caldwell mill gulley. http://youtu.be/3iyUGP48X90

Below I have created a pictoral timeline of events based on photo timestamps. I have combined what was originally two galleries into one large gallery. Click on the first picture in the gallery and you can advance through each picture at full-size with the captions displayed at the bottom.

Monday – Friday

February 11, 2014 at 9:56 pm Leave a comment

2013 Season Maps

It’s funny to look at the “referrers” section of my stats as you can trace back to links that people clicked on in various blogs and forums. I will respond simply by saying that it is definitely a balancing act to find as much time as I do to ride, but I look at that as part of the challenge as well. I do a lot of thinking while I ride, particularly about projects and life. That is valuable time. This post, though, is about maps. I’ve been doing this long before the Strava heatmaps, and I’d argue that their heatmaps are far better as interactive maps, but mine are better as static maps.

All of my riding during 2013 - approx 20,500 miles in 11 states. I rode in Virginia and Pennsylvania this year for the first time in a long time. But noticeably missing are Illinois, Michigan, and Florida which somehow I didn't ride in at all in 2013! (click to enlarge)All of my riding and racing during 2013 – approx 20,500 miles in 11 states. I rode in Virginia and Pennsylvania this year for the first time in a long time. But noticeably missing are Illinois, Michigan, and Florida which somehow I missed in 2013! (click to enlarge and see additional detail)

All of my races for 2013 - 10 states and 55 days of racing (click to enlarge and see additional detail)All of my races for 2013 – 10 states and 55 days of racing (click to enlarge and see additional detail)

Road trips for racing and / or training (2013) - click to enlargeRoad trips for racing and / or training (2013) – click to enlarge

All of my riding and racing in Birmingham area in 2013 (click to enlarge)All of my riding and racing in Birmingham area in 2013 (click to enlarge)

All of my riding and racing in the South in 2013 (click to enlarge and see additional detail)All of my riding and racing in the South in 2013 (click to enlarge and see additional detail)

Finally, all my riding and racing in Wisconsin in 2013 (click to enlarge)Finally, all my riding and racing in Wisconsin in 2013 (click to enlarge)

January 14, 2014 at 10:36 am Leave a comment

2013 Season Summary

Veloviewer.com - 20,485 miles ridden in 2013 compared to 20,744 miles ridden in 2012 calendar year.Veloviewer.com – 20,485 miles ridden in 2013 compared to 20,744 miles ridden in the 2012 calendar year.

Veloviewer.com - total climbing elevation gain  2,594,511 ft  ... compared to 2,686,811 ft climbed last yearVeloviewer.com – 2,594,511 ft climbed in 2013 … compared to 2,686,811 ft climbed in the 2012 calendar year.

Veloviewer.com -  59days and 33 minutes spent riding my bike in 2013 ... compared to 59 days and 11 hours and 2 minutes in the 2012 calendar yearVeloviewer.com – 59 days and 33 minutes spent riding my bike in 2013 … compared to 59 days and 11 hours and 2 minutes in the 2012 calendar year

I look forward to writing this post every year, and this year I’ve got a new tool to help me – the veloviewer charts which compare stats from year to year. The three charts above show a comparison of elevation, distance, and time from the past five years. Note that I only used a Garmin in 2008 from Thanksgiving until the end of the year. This is the graphical version of the tables that I’ve been accumulating at the end of every season and which I continue to use in the rest of the post below – although the veloviewer charts are based on calendar year instead of my training/racing year.

End of the season statistics
The statistics below all run from October 29, 2012 until October 27, 2013 – 364 days worth of riding and racing. I define my racing/training season from the Monday closest to Nov 1 of the previous year to the Sunday closest to Oct 31st of the current year for all of these statistics and reports. Normally, this would include all of my racing for the calendar year. This year included an extended foray into mountain bike racing, which has more fall races, so the date range does not include two 2013 races (the November 23rd Oak Ass 100 mile mtb race and the November 30th Gravel Grovel ultracx race) and the associated training leading up to those races.

Statistics Summary
October 29, 2012 – October 27, 2013

Statistic Avg Max Min Total
Weekly training time (hours) 27:47 34:23 19:05 1445:04
Weekly distance (miles) 394.1 586.1 264.2 20,494
Ride distance (miles) 37.0 184.4 0.3 20,494
Workouts per week (#) 11 17 6 554
Weekly climbing (feet) 42,221 70,036 10,682 2,195,525

For eagle-eyed observers who note that the climbing total is lower than that reported on Strava, I will give the same explanation that I gave last year: I am generating these reports from my Polar Protrainer software. I wrote a converter that converts Garmin .FIT files and .TCX files into the .HRM format that Polar expects. The Polar Protrainer software then applies a smoothing filter when it is calculating total ascent and other statistics, but I can’t figure out how to turn it off so that the statistics match up with Strava, which doesn’t apply any smoothing filters.

Comparison to past years
All years run from the Monday closest to November 1st to the Sunday closest to October 31st. This should result in about 365 days for each year give or take a day or two.

Statistic
(per week)
2008
Avg/Max
2009
Avg/Max
2010
Avg/Max
2011
Avg/Max
2012
Avg/Max
2013
Avg/Max
Time (hours) 14.0/20.2 13.4/20.8 15.4/20.9 22.4/33.0 25.7/40.9 27.8/34.3
Dist (miles) 238/337 242/369 266/380 338/503 390/649 394/586
HR avg (bpm) 137/165 139/161 136/176 131/178 123/156 122/162
Workouts (#) 11/15 9/14 11/14 11/17 12/19 11/17
Climb (feet) 13k/20k 14k/29k 14k/23k 31k/52k 44k/89k 42k/70k
Statistic
(yearly total)
2008
Total
2009
Total
2010
Total
2011
Total
2012
Total
2013
Total
Training (hours) 726 698 798 1,167 1,336 1,445
Distance (miles) 12.4k 12.6k 13.8k 17.6k 20.3k 20.5k
Workouts (#) 560 445 546 580 632 554
Climbing (feet) 661k 677k 750k 1,598k 2,298k 2,196k

Racing Season Summary
The highlight for the racing season was winning my very first race of the year — the Southern Cross ultracx season opener in Dahlonega, GA. I knew I could do top 3 in the race, but I certainly wasn’t expecting to win, especially the way it all shook out. This win dictated my season a bit as I decided to pursue the ultracx series overall. Also, the new Southeastern Regional Series was on my radar from as soon as it was announced so I put all of those races on my calendar as well. By the time the season was all finished at the end of November, I managed to place 2nd in the overall for both series. The UltraCx series was really close, but it came down to a single point separating me from winner Mike “Simonster” Simonson. The SRS series was not quite as close with Winston David turning out a phenomenal year and me a distant 2nd. More fun was the KOM competition, which was my pre-season goal for the series, and I chased it hard but Andy Scarano was just too strong for me and I ended up starting out strong in the KOM points but fading to 3rd behind Andy and Winston. It looks like after checking the results I also ended up 3rd in the sprinter’s jersey competition as well!

Another highlight for the season was Tim Hall’s Nashville to Natchez ride. I think this really gave me the bug for ultra-endurance cycling, and I’m already planning on tackling a 500 mile race in 2014 as well as RAAM in 2015 and then possibly the Iditarod Trail Race in 2016. This led to a number of adventures this year documented in these blogs summarized below (click on each heading to go to a blog describing the adventure) -

NASHVILLE TO NATCHEZ (AND THEN ONTO BIRMINGHAM) – 444 miles on the Natchez Trace followed by another 418 miles home to Birmingham in the middle of summer. Tim Hall invited me on this fundraising ride for Team Red, White, and Blue – an organization helping veterans returning from deployment reconnect to communities through social and physical activity.

BLUE RIDGE PARKWAY AND CLEMSON FOOTBALL – I never did get a chance to write up a blog on this one, so I’ve linked to the strava activity. We had an awesome family weekend for the Clemson game against Boston College. This was my first Clemson game since graduating 15 years ago. It was my kids’ and Kristine’s first Clemson game. We tailgated, the whole 9 yards, and then Kristine and I stayed a couple extra days for me to get in a 184 mile ride from Clemson up to the Blue Ridge Parkway and take a new route across to Caesars Head. Found an awesome gravel road climb and descent a bazillion miles into the ride.

NASHVILLE TO BIRMINGHAM – a little bit of an arctic adventure in the deep south. I’ve always been fascinated with point to point rides so when the opportunity came for me to ride from Nashville back home to Birmingham after the Andrew Peterson concert, I jumped all over it. I wasn’t expecting temps hovering around 11 degF for an hour, though, and ended up having to cut the ride about 60 miles short. It still made for a 210 mile epic adventure. Technically this adventure will fall into next year’s training year but I will forget to write about it then so I’m including it in this calendar year.

RAPHA FESTIVE 500 – likewise, this adventure technically should go with next year’s season summary but since it happened this calendar year I’ll go ahead and include it. This was easily the hardest Strava challenge I’ve done and ended with one of the hardest bike rides I’ve ever done.

Finally, the graphs and charts!
CP curve - back down to 293 wattsCP curve – back down to 293 watts. Several efforts over the year caused Golden Cheetah to refit my data at a lower threshold. The black line in this pic is from my Whitewater Falls ride in October where I set the KOM on the Cat 2 climb (setting a 25 minute power record of 325 watts). (click to enlarge)

2013 - Much of my training is "distance-based" in that I aim for a particular weekly mileage. (click to enlarge)2013 – Much of my training is “distance-based” in that I aim for a particular weekly mileage. (click to enlarge)

2013 - time spent in heartrate zones ... I pay special attention to my heartrate ... ideally I'd like to be in Zone 1 or 2 or Zone 5. It's hard to put that into practice though. It is nice to see a significant drop in Zone 3 during the racing season and corresponding increase in Zone 3 during the off season. Explanation for this is that during the racing season, I spend a lot of time riding at very easy pace to recover from previous weekend's races.2013 – time spent in heartrate zones … I pay special attention to my heartrate … ideally I’d like to be in Zone 1 or 2 or Zone 5. It’s hard to put that into practice though. It is nice to see a significant drop in Zone 3 during the racing season and corresponding increase in Zone 3 during the off season. Explanation for this is that during the racing season, I spend a lot of time riding at very easy pace to recover from previous weekend’s races.

These three graphs are the ones that I pay the most attention to both during the season and afterwards during breakdown analysis. Also, the critical power curve is very helpful for KOM efforts and time trials where you can gauge the average power that you know you can sustain for a particular duration climb. Then, the next step becomes guessing what your time will be so you can know what wattage to target and weigh that against how tired your legs feel.

And finally many thank you’s
This is probably the first season in a long time that has not been my new “best season ever”, but it certainly wasn’t because of a lack of support. I owe so many people so many thank you’s far more than can fit here, but here goes – first to my amazing beautiful wife Kristine who has put up with many hours away from home on the bike and traveled to many races this year. Likewise, my kids are amazing and are quite adept at making an adventure out of what could be a lot of boring times on the side of a road in the middle of nowhere at a bike race. Plus, they have all put up with many miles in the car together as a family.

If you have ever wondered what kind of bike mechanic can deal with the crazy bike situations I find myself in, there are several in Birmingham from every shop in town who are certainly up to the task (what an amazing city we live in), but Craig Tamburello at Brick Alley opened up shop a couple years ago in Hoover just a couple miles from my house, and he has been amazing finding solutions to problems caused by all the insane rides my bike components have to deal with every year.

My new teammates from FGS Cycling, John Hart, Kurt Page, and Jeff McGrane welcomed me onto their team and helped me plunge into Tennessee racing including several new-to-me races this year (Hell of the South, Berry Peddlar, Rockabilly Classic, and Roan Groan). Awesome guys … thanks and I’m looking forward to next year!

Also, a big shout out to Mark Fisher who has challenged my climbing records and pushed me to dig deeper than anyone else has ever pushed me. Indeed, he has already passed me, and this year’s state road race was quite perfect. The two of us broke away on the second lap, and then Mark dropped me a little more than halfway up the climb on the final lap. I stayed with him longer than I expected I could, but as he rode away from me I was already thinking “this is fine, I’m happy to pass the torch of ‘Alabama’s fastest climber'” onto Mark. It’s cool, though, that we are still close enough that I can give him a run for his money in the end-of-the year strava shootout. We almost tied again this year … only 1 second separating us on the final climb!

And finally, to the entire Birmingham cycling community, wow. If you were to rank cycling communities the way they do football polls, there would be at least one #1 besides Birmingham. There is very little infrastructure (but not none, e.g., CommuteSmart has done some good work) to support cycling here, but my goodness there are a lot of amazing and dedicated riders who brave the car craziness and the hills and make it fun to ride to Birmingham. It is the riders themselves who have stepped up to replace what cities and communities have not done — made Birmingham a great place to ride.

January 9, 2014 at 5:32 pm 2 comments

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

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Such a good name for this neighborhood sitting above Green Valley. Replacement Garmin 1000 is back, lost all my old records. Long day, Wednesday 12,5 gran fondo.

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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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