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

So close … gravel grovel ultracx series finale

Wow, this will definitely be a season to remember. I battled hard in two season-long race series’ (is that the plural of series???) and ended up in 2nd place in both of them. On the road, the inaugural SRS (Southeastern Racing Series) was a phenomal series of five races spread across five states – Georgia, Alabama, North Carolina, Tennessee, and South Carolina. Fields were really large averaging maybe 75 riders or more in the Pro/1/2 fields.

On the mountain bike, I started off my season with a surprise win at the Southern Cross ultra cx kick-off event. I started to look a bit deeper into the series with the aim of seeing how well I could do in the whole series as I was planning out my season. The seven race series was scored based on your best four races with points assigned based on your placing (1 point for 1st, 2 points for 2nd, etc…) Lowest point total wins. Three out of the seven races conflicted with my road racing schedule — including two which fell on weekends of SRS races. I came very close to winning it but fell short in a somewhat spectacular fashion. Skipping straight to that moment in yesterday’s Gravel Grovel race in Indiana, I came into the final cyclocross barriers (shown in the pic below from my pre-ride on Wednesday) with a shot at winning the race and the series if I could only outsprint the rider with me. But the rider with me was a skilled cyclocross racer, Andrew Messer, who dismounted his cross bike, hopped both barriers, and was completely across the bridge by the time I was across the first barrier. With less than half a mile to race after the bridge, there was no way I could catch him.

Final cyclocross barriers - an abandoned bridge half-mile from the finishFinal cyclocross barriers – an abandoned bridge a half-mile from the finish

Finishing the race anywhere in the top 3 was still good enough to give me the series win as long as there was at least one rider between me and the current series leader, Mike Simonson. But it wasn’t to be – Mike was riding so strong and a couple minutes later he emerged around a bend in the road, crossed the final creek, and crossed the finish line exactly one place behind me giving him the series title by a single point. Had he been one place farther down, we would have been tied on points with me winning the tie-breaker of the placing in the series finale.

The outcome of an entire season of racing came down to the final moments of the final race. Both moments – my getting dropped at the barriers and Mike’s successful creek crossing on a cross bike – capture an essential part of the essence and beauty of the ultra-cx race series. Ultra-cx races are gaining popularity so rapidly because they represent the perfect marriage of all the core disciplines of cycling (road, cross, and mountain biking). Plus, the courses picked are epic — stretching the road racer’s technical handling on gravel and trails, stretching the mountain biker’s time trial and solo mentality with the strategy of drafting and stretching the cross racer with the endurance of a four hour event instead of a 60 minute event. I’m hooked.

The Details
We spent the night in one of the cabins right there at the Midwest Trail Ride hosting the start of the race. This was super convenient and a bonding experience for our family of four taking up the two bunk beds in the cabin as the temp dropped down into the upper teens early in the night before starting to rise throughout the night to the middle 20s by morning. By the start of the race the temp was in the 30s and rapidly rising. I realized within five minutes of the start of the race that I was way overdressed.

We took off out of the horse camp and out the paved road heading towards the first climb of the day up to the hickory ridge fire tower. The pace was much faster than I was expecting, but I managed to work my way to the very front by the time we hit the gravel. The field of 205 quickly dwindled down to a group of maybe 25 riders still contesting the race by the time we reached the fire tower. By the time we made it to the Story Inn checkpoint 1/3rd of the way through the race, there was only about 10 of us left in the lead group. We pacelined on a very flat road at speeds approaching 25mph. After we made the turnaround, we could see the entire race behind us as they passed us heading out to the checkpoint. There were two fast groups behind us. It was hard to see the composition of the groups as I was trying to make sure no gap opened to the rider in front of me as I was spinning out my 38×11 on the flat road.

I had gotten stuck behind a couple of the cyclocross riders on the first short section of singletrack so I wanted to try to get the holeshot for the second singletrack after the Story turnaround. Mike Simonson and Tim Proctor and just about everyone else in our group had the same idea so there was a bit of jockeying for position through the short parking lot leading into the singletrack. I entered third and had no problem keeping up. Tim dropped his chain and I went around content to just follow Mike up the trail. Tomasz Golas, who like me was also riding a mtb, was having none of it though and wanted to get around me even though I was keeping up just fine with Mike and going as fast as I wanted to go. The singletrack was quite narrow with only one good line which I was not going to give up to let him get around me. About halfway up the climb, though, there was a widening of the trail where it flattened out a bit and I let Tomasz around me. I believe he also went around Mike. When the singletrack kicked up again I took a bad line and ended up in a deep rut I couldn’t ride out of. I had to unclip and the rest of our group passed me before I could get going again.

In fact, I was off the back a bit by the time I got back up to speed and just barely managed to chase back on by the end of the singletrack. The next section was a long road section that eventually turned into a gravel climb. We hit the bottom of this climb at exactly 30 miles into the race. Having pre-ridden the course on Wednesday, I discovered that the fast line up the climb was in the leaves off the side of the road. The gravel was so loose and bouncy, you were much better off riding over the leaves and sticks on the side. Surprisingly some people chose to ride right up the middle of the gravel road expending a lot more energy than I was over on the side. I took this as a confidence booster knowing that I was conserving energy while other people were wasting it.

At the top of the climb we made a turn and then headed straight back down a fast paved section. I had pre-ridden so I knew the turns and wanted to see if we could hit 50mph in the race … didn’t quite happen but we came close – 49.4 mph. Our group was down to just five riders by this point. We continued to rotate and work well together, although there were a few attacks here and there. Unlike a road race where that would just kill the cohesion of the group, we seemed to dive right back into rotating and working whenever one of these attacks failed. I led the way into that singletrack because it came at the top of a steep hill. I hit it as hard as I could not wanting the people behind to get antsy and want to come around and I ended up dropping everybody through the muddy descent back out onto the gravel road.

I certainly wasn’t trying to get away at this point knowing how strong everybody in the group was riding. So I took the moment to eat a powergel and wait for them to catch back up. Then there was an attack that saw Tim Proctor ride away from us. A panic set in and we all chased eventually catching him before the tiny two house community of Tennessee, Indiana. On the “Polk Patch” rolling descent, Andrew Messer drilled it hard and our entire group flew down the long, gradual, rolling descent. I was at the back and really suffering the entire descent in heartrate ZONE 5. At the bottom high speed point, I got a little off balance and was heading straight for a chair one of the volunteers helping to manage the intersection had setup. I managed to slow down and get back in control of the bike but in the process of doing so came off the back of the already extremely fast paceline.

Keep in mind that the entire descent was on large gravel rocks with very little firm ground. Across the flat road at the bottom of the descent, the gravel continued and I had to chase really hard to get in touch with the group. In fact, I was just barely onto the back of the group when we hit the next hill. It was super steep and surprisingly this was much easier for me. I really feel like my mountain bike disc brakes were rubbing hard whenver I was hitting bumps at speed on descents and even the flat roads. But on the climbs, the brakes weren’t rubbing so the climbs were so much easier for me than the fast, bumpy sections on the gravel where my rear wheel was just bouncing all over the place. Thankfully, there was one more large climb and even though I was already hurting pretty bad, I went to the front to try to set a fast pace that would discourage any attacks.

It almost worked. My pace up the final climb was fast enough to gap the other four riders in our group, but it wasn’t fast enough to discourage Tim Proctor from attacking. He came flying by me like a rocket. I thought “well, that’s the end of my race” because there was no way I was going to be able to catch onto the back of the group. After a second or two when no one else came by, I looked back and saw that I had a good 50 meter gap on the rest of the group. At this point I was confused because I was expecting to be dropped and instead had dropped everyone in the group except for Tim.

My legs were screaming bloody murder because the section where Tim came by was flat and I just felt like my bike wasn’t moving anywhere nearly as fast as the amount of effort I was putting into the pedals. Still, I hit it as hard as I could and looked back again to discover that only Andrew had bridged across to me leaving Mike and Tomasz chasing not far behind. I had renewed hope again that perhaps I could still win the series, but I had given up winning the race b/c Tim was clearly on another level. Little did I know that he was actually in the Male 40+ race so Andrew and I were still racing for first place in our race (Male Open).

There was still over 9 miles left in the race, and I tried to work with Andrew, but it wasn’t going well. I drafted him close on the downhills and flats but was still struggling on my mountain bike on the gravel. And then every time it kicked up I would come around him thinking I could pull and he would immediately go off the back of my wheel. Then later, he attacked me twice and I was able to catch back up thinking “ok, that’s it I’m done pulling”. But then I would remember that Mike was somewhere back there and I needed to make sure that we stayed away. When we made the final turn back out onto pavement heading for the bridge, Andrew put in one more attack and gapped me. It took about 30 seconds for me to close the gap back down, and then I put in a counter-attack. I didn’t fully commit to it, though, when I saw that he grabbed my wheel right away. So I sat up to strategize again but by this point we had made it to the bridge and I’ve already described how that went down. In retrospect, my last hope at winning the race would have been to fully commit to that final attack and reach the bridge first with just enough of a gap to get over at least the 1st barrier and then we would probably be coming neck and neck into the finish so who knows how that would have turned out. But I essentially lost the race at the moment I eased up after attacking. A moment’s indecisiveness really staining/ruining what otherwise was a great season.

Still, huge shout-out to Mike for racing consistently throughout the season and especially yesterday at the Gravel Grovel. If he had faltered at all, then I would have taken the series from him. And he traveled to six out of the seven races placing really well with podium finishes in all but one of the events, whereas I only made it to the bare minimum of four races. So even though it felt like a lot of work, travel, and expense for this Alabama native to travel up to Indiana, Pennsylvania, and deep into the mountains of North Carolina (that drive was just as long as the Indiana drive!) Mike has put a lot more work and time into this so he truly is a deserving champion.

Here’s my heartrate data and the podium pictures -

Annotated heartrate data from the 2013 Gravel GrovelAnnotated heartrate data from the 2013 Gravel Grovel

Male open podiumMale open podium – left to right – Mike Simonson, Andrew Messer, Brian Toone, and Nathan Keck (also, not pictured Ryan Shannahan)

Male open series overallMale open ultracx series podium – left to right – Mike Simonson, Brian Toone, and Nathan Goates (not pictured)

December 1, 2013 at 11:04 pm 4 comments

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

Inaugural Oak Ass 100 mile mtb race

1993 - Before my first mountain bike race - the 1993 Cumberland Classic at Sewanee, TN. 6th in the juniors and 25th in the beginners (there were 100 people in the race!). The bike pictured is a rigid fork mongoose alta with reflectors still on the wheels.1993 – Before my first mountain bike race – the 1993 Cumberland Classic at Sewanee, TN. 6th in the juniors and 25th in the beginners (there were 100 people in the race!). The bike pictured is a rigid fork mongoose alta with reflectors still on the wheels.

Picture this – the year is 1993. Parked outside Berry High School in Hoover, Alabama is a 1984 red chrysler fifth avenue with a mountain bike crammed inside it. The 3:00 bell rings, and a crazy bike finatic teenager races out of school to be the first out of the parking lot before flying down I-65 to Oak Mountain state park to do a lap of the bump trail before it gets dark. That teenager was me 20 years ago, and back then the trail ended at the camp road at the end of seven bridges (although I never heard that name until this year … not sure if it had a name back then). That’s where I liked to park because I didn’t have to do the extra drive up to the picnic area all the way to the parking lot.

I’d have my bike out in just a few minutes and taking off backwards up the seven bridges singletrack, connecting on the road through the parking area to the start of the bump trail (Mr Toad’s and Foreplay – again I believe these were not named until more recently). I would fly through these sections and then up Johnson’s Mountain all the way to the park boundary before flying down through the pine forest through the steep drop-off back down to the road. After a short jaunt on peavine road, you hit the trail again and started up the quarry climb through blood rock eventually spilling out onto the fire road. You could take the fire road all the way across the top and then down out to the main park road where the north trailhead is now. I would ride the road back to the starting point, and that was the entire loop. The connecting trails wouldn’t be created until a year or two later.

Fast forward 20 years, and now there is a 16+ mile mostly singletrack loop and nearly twice that much trail in spurs and connectors hosting two national/international level biking events (Bump ‘n Grind and Xterra), as well as running races and an amazing six hour race put on by Chainbusters. Add to that list an epic 100 miler – the brainchild of John Karrasch who set out to create a 100 mile race that would showcase as much of the singletrack as possible. The original idea was three 33 mile loops, but in the end some of the spurs were cut out, and a 25 mile loop was designed allowing for both a 50 mile and a 100 mile race.

Huge thanks to years and years of work by BUMP (Birmingham Urban Mountain Pedalers) http://bump.org/ and to John Karrasch for the initiative to put this race into action, and to Kenny Griffin and the entire Chain Buster crew for putting on an amazing race — hopefully the first of many, many more to come!

As soon as the race was announced, I knew I wanted to do it. My singletrack skills have deteriorated quite a bit from what I used to do on a 26″ mountain bike so I also knew that I would need to get out there and ride the trails more and try to get some of that skill back if I wanted to have any shot at all of doing well in the race. That was several months ago and fast forward through a busy life and busier than normal racing schedule (I haven’t written a blog in almost three months!) to this past Saturday where nearly 100 people lined up to race the Oak Ass 50 and Oak Ass 100.

I was running late but squeezed in on the front row next to Jacob Tubbs (Infinity Med-I-Spa). Kenny was driving the pick-up for the dash to the singletrack. We flew around the paved picnic area, and I tucked in close behind Jacob. We hit a hill and Jacob started to slow a bit given that he had been in the wind the whole time. I decided to hit it hard to get a few seconds advantage going into the single track. I looked back after a few seconds and both Jeff Clayton (Super Sport Athletic Wear) and Brian Roggeveen (Momentum Racing) had come with me. I swung out to the side right before the single track to let them around and then try to keep up with them through Seven Bridges. This worked GREAT as I followed Jeff and watched all his lines.

I had come off Jeff’s wheel and let another rider around towards the bottom of Seven Bridges but when we popped out on the Boy Scout road, I nailed it and was able to bridge back up to the small group. Entering the singletrack in fourth position behind Brian, Jeff, and one other rider I drilled it hard and was able to hold Jeff’s wheel through the rest of the single track. The rider I had let around crashed on one of the descents so that put me in third through the section of single track which climbs past the BMX track. I was nervous about the next section of singletrack after the climb, but I had Jeff’s line to follow and ended up holding his wheel all the way to the red trail.

Once we hit the red trail, I told Jeff I was going for the KOM and took off up the red trail. Brian was initially out of sight, but after a minute or so I could see him up ahead. The red trail is hard to go hard on not because it is steep but because there are medium sized unavoidable rocks diabollically placed at the exact spot where you have just gotten up to speed. These rocks bounce you up in the air and you lose all that momentum you worked so hard to create. I knew I was digging really deep and wasting lots of energy but I really wanted the KOM so I hit it hard finally catching Brian just before the steep section to the bridge. I didn’t want to take any chances with a dirt sprint so I hit it hard going past him and was hoping to get enough of a gap holding it to the top. I was pretty much blown with a quarter mile left to climb, but I had enough of a gap to hold on for the KOM.

I had originally told people after the race that Brian caught me across the top, but now that I think about it I also remember being the first into the bump connector with so many leaves covering all the rocks thinking that I was at a bit of a disadvantage not being able to see the trail clearly and wondering after 100 racers passed through if the lines would be easier to pick out. So I guess Brian caught me somewhere in Jekyll or right before the turn onto Jekyll. I don’t remember exactly where but I think it was early because Scott Staubach (Team Momentum) also caught me in Jekyll when I goofed up one of the large rocks before the rock shelf drop-off and that was after Brian had already passed me.

Scott was flying, though, because when I exited the technical section of Jekyll I could still see Brian but Scott had already passed Brian and was nowhere to be seen. I rode fast down the flowy part of Jekyll keeping Brian just barely ahead in my sights and thought I would catch him towards the bottom of the Peavine road. Brian was riding super well, though, and it wan’t until near the top of the second step that I finally caught him. I drilled it really hard again wanting to put as much distance between me and everybody else before the CCC singletrack and blood rock. I flew through CCC and was surpised to still have a lead heading into Blood Rock.

There were several people there so I tried to ride the whole thing not wanting to be a wuss and walk it. I made it past the blood rock and the tree, but decided to unclip and go down with one foot off for stability and then endoed when I hit the mud at the bottom. Super slow motion wreck, but my left knee got wedged between some part of the frame and the ground. And my right brake shift lever had rotated around the handlebars so that it was up on top of the bar. Whatever caused that also hurt my wrist because it was hurting then and still sore today (Monday – more than 48 hours after the race has been over).

Brian came flying past me while I was on the ground and I had a good vantage point to see how it was supposed to be done. I was laughing a bit and frustrated b/c if you look at it and see someone else ride it, you realize that the whole thing should be incredibly easy to ride but when you are there in the moment looking at the rocks, the trees, the water, it doesn’t seem easy at all. I was able to twist the brake levers back around the bars and take off again – but Brian was long gone putting a lot of time into me on the quarry descent. I’m sure I made up some time on Johnson’s Mountain but I never saw him again until over halfway through the next lap.

Before that happened, I was surprised not to get caught by anybody on the rest of that lap or even through seven bridges and the next section of trail before the BMX track. But then when I got to the BMX track, I looked back and saw that Jacob Tubbs was catching up to me. I figured he would catch me on the singletrack after the BMX climb – but as it turns out he ended up crashing. I didn’t know he had crashed so I was getting a lot of confidence from not getting caught on one of the singletrack sections that had worried me the most before the race.

I popped out on the fire road again still in third place behind Scott who would be over 5 minutes ahead of me by Jekyll according to John Karrasch who was stationed there all day at a spot where the course intersected itself briefly. Brian on the other hand was much closer ahead. In fact, I had caught Brian just before the top of the fire road but decided not to pass him since I knew he would be faster through the next sections.

I stayed about 50 meters behind him and ate and drank across the top of the climb. During the fast descent on the fire road, I noticed that my Garmin mount had come loose and was dangling on the underside of the bars. Fortunately, my Garmin was still connected to the mount so I pushed the whole thing back on top of the bars and then tried to slide it up closer to the stem where the bars are thicker … tapered bars drive me crazy! But the mount straps naturally wanted to pull back down the “bar slope” and loosen again. I was fiddling with this trying to make a last minute adjustment right before the entrance to the bump connector when I hit some loose rocks and went down hard unexpectedly.

I was not even halfway through my second lap and already crashed hard twice. This crash was high enough speed that I slid on the ground a bit. Nothing hurt bad but I was too afraid to look at my arm b/c it felt like skin was hanging off of it. I rode the bump connector refusing to look at my arm just in case there was actually skin hanging off. Turns out it was a bunch of leaves that were mixed with blood and sticking to my skin. They eventually fell off – but I was pretty disheartened wondering how I was going to survive without breaking any bones.

The thing that kept me going, though, was knowing that I was in the lead. Both Scott and Brian were doing the 50 mile race. This kept me motivated not to give up. I think if Jeff had been in front of me at this point, I would have just given up, gotten more cautious, and not even bothered to try and chase him down. But with a shot at still winning the race I kept pushing on hard. I thought my confidence would be wrecked for Jekyll but I ended up clearing the entire top half of Jekyll and only dabbing once on the bottom half. This was a big confidence booster for me so I nailed it hard again and was still able to see Brian at a few points on the flowy part of Jekyll.

Climbing up the Peavine road, I looked back to see Randy Kerr (Team Momentum) catching me. Brian was just ahead and here I was in the middle. I was closing on Brian, and Randy was closing on me. My memory is a fading a bit now, and I can’t remember exactly where Randy caught me but I ended up catching Randy again with less than two miles to race. He was having some sort of mechanical but hopped back on the bike when I passed. I let him pass me again shortly before the family trail and tried to keep up with him but he dropped me like a bad habbit.

I was starting to feel tired on my third lap and had run out of food towards the end of my second lap. I decided to slow down a bit and focus on my lines more and try to eat and rest up some on this lap. I still ended up setting three PRs on that lap (garrett’s gulch, quarry mtn descent, and johnson’s mountain) which just goes to show you the importance of technique over raw power in mtb-ing. I managed to clear both the top and bottom of Jekyll with no dabs but still a few seconds short of my PR from the 9 hour race last fall (I really feel like the top part of Jekyll has gotten harder to ride over the past year). The bottom is the about the same possibly slightly easier, but the top seems like it is definitely trickier to get your lines right without having to dab once or twice.

Even having tried to take the third lap easy, I was starting to deteriorate by the end of the lap having run out of food again. I don’t know why I hadn’t grabbed more when I stopped at the end of the second lap! I got a psychological boost, though, because when I came out of the family trail onto the road – there was my son Josiah on his mountain bike ready to ride with me past the water fountain to the start/finish. Kristine helped me get organized with food/gatorade/lights for the final lap. Then Josiah took off beside me and made it all the way through the parking lot before I headed out on the main road back down to start my final lap.

I had drank a coke and gulped down two powerbar gels while stopped so I took off like a rocket along the road down to seven bridges. I also tried to hit seven bridges, garrett’s gulch, and the bmx single track as hard as possible thinking that whoever was behind me would be putting time into me on the last lap. I had taken three or four more powerbar gels with me for that final lap. So I had lots of sugar to propel me through the first half of the lap, but I had gone through all my nutrition by the top of the fire trail with all of Jekyll left, the peavine road climb, blood rock, and Johnson’s Mountain still to go. I started to fade pretty bad towards the end, desparately looking for the mile number plates, and also thinking about the stew that would be waiting at the end. I was pretty sure of winning by this point, and I was having a ton of fun on the singletrack feeling much more confident so that helped me get through quite the sugar crash with 10 miles to go.

Josiah was waiting for me when I popped out of the family trail onto the road, and he road that last bit into the finish with me crashing as he turned around to join me. He hopped right back up, though, and we made it to the finish together where Kristine was waiting. Pete Foret grabbed my bike as I was pretty exhausted and I started to recap how everything went down at the inaugural oak ass 100 mile mtb race!

Jason Childre and Jeff Clayton would battle it out for 2nd and 3rd behind me never separated by more than a couple minutes. Kudos to everyone for lining up to tackle such an epic course – what an epic day!

Here’s my annotated heartrate data … there are so many speed spikes I decided to take them out of the graph so you can see the elevation data a bit better. You can see how hard I was pushing it for the KOM on that first lap.

2013 oak ass 100 mile mtb race hr data annotated2013 oak ass 100 mile mtb race hr data annotated

The inaugural oak ass 100 mile mtb race podiumThe inaugural oak ass 100 mile mtb race podium. Left to right – Jason Childre (Yeti/Childre Nissan), Brian Toone (FGS Cycling), Jeff Clayton (Super Sport Athletic Wear), and Van Mixon (Super Sport Athletic Wear).

I was freezing cold and under-dressed – hence the hoodie. Here’s one without the hoodie while holding the giant trophy – triceps hurt so bad couldn’t even lift the thing all the way up in the air.
Oak Ass 100 mile mtb race - 1st place - with Kenny Griffin on the bullhornOak Ass 100 mile mtb race – 1st place – with Kenny Griffin on the bullhorn

Once again, huge thanks and shout-out to BUMP for their amazing work creating world class singletrack right here in Birmingham. Also to John for not just dreaming up this race, but also hanging out for more than 9 hours in cold conditions at the Jekyll/Blood Rock split cheering everybody on, guiding people which way to go, AND giving time splits. Huge thanks to Lee Neal, too, who volunteered all day at the hot wheels smash spot where the course intersected itself. Plenty of visiblity though so no danger at all, but I’ve always wanted to race on a course that intersected itself at a 90 degree angle. I believe this is a first for me in 20 years of racing. And finally, thanks again Kenny for putting on another amazing race. Looking forward to the next one!

November 25, 2013 at 11:27 pm 1 comment

River Gorge Road Race

Gotten a bit behind on the blogs … this one I started last Saturday after the River Gorge race – and I think I’ll go ahead and try to finish it up before this afternoon’s race in Anderson, SC.

River Gorge Road Race
Wow, another epic race today at the River Gorge road race up in Chattanooga, TN. The race was going really well until it wasn’t. I missed the early move, but managed to escape the field with Dirk Polhman (Texas Roadhouse) before Sand Mountain. Looking at the strava data, we had about a 2 minute gap by the bottom of the climb. Across the top we caught Bryant Funston (Marx and Bensdorf) and Tim Henry (Litespeed-BMW) coming off the initial break. We worked well together across the top of Sand Mountain, but there was a huge group this year that made it up Sand Mountain together. And they were able to pull our chase group back shortly before we began the descent down Sand Mountain.

There was an attack immediately before the descent, so we absolutely flew down the mountain. At the bottom, I rolled off the front again when the pace slowed down – this time taking Mark Fisher (Village Volkswagon). The two of us worked well together to extend our lead all the way to the bottom of the stairstepper climb. But the chase behind was on, and we got caught by a flying field about halfway up the climb. I was struggling by this point and came off shortly before the top of the climb.

Me and Jacob Hill (Stan’s Notubes) chased back onto the back of the field on the long rolling downhill towards the river. The pace stayed relatively tame on the climb up to the TVA entrance before we divebombed all the way back down to the Tennessee River. I tried to move up across the short flat section before the Raccoon Mountain climb, but there were some attacks that strung out the field and I couldn’t even move up. I started the climb at the back having set my mind just to ride my own pace up the climb and hopefully catch a bunch of people who would ride too hard and blow up. Instead, I came almost immediately off the back of the group and was only able to push about 250 watts up the climb.

So I was disappointed with my result, but happy with another fun, hard, challenging strategic day at River Gorge. I think Jonathan Jacob, today’s winner, said it best “This race never gets any easier”. Mark Fisher did really well catching all but Jonathan from the original breakaway to take 3rd for the day. Stephen Bassett (Texas Roadhouse) also road really well and was able to beat Mark in a two-up sprint at the top of the climb for second place in the race.

At the front, here’s how the race played out: Chris Brown (Litespeed-BMW) and Bryant Funston (Marx and Bensdorf) got away really early (on US-11). Brendan Sullivan (Lupus) bridged across with a couple other riders – Dave Gearhart (Litespeed-BMW) and maybe one other rider. Then Tim Henry (Litespeed-BMW) and Jonathan Jacob (Bissell) bridged across. I ended up missing all of these moves and nearly tacked onto the last one getting caught in the middle for about half a mile but unable to close the gap. The original break of four worked well together, but when additional riders bridged across, the harmony in the break diminished and Brendan ended up soloing off the front of the break for a large portion of the race – only getting caught by the break towards the end of the race. The next group on the course was what was left of our main field (about 27 riders) – and we were given a time split of 1’20” to the break at the bottom of the Raccoon Mountain climb.

Mark attacked early on the climb and caught everybody but Jonathan before the top of the first steep part of the climb. Our group was shattered at this point, but I was far enough back not to see clearly what was going on in front. Here’s all my heartrate data from the race:

River Gorge Road Race - heartrate zone summaryRiver Gorge Road Race – heartrate zone summary

River Gorge road race - annotated heartrate/power plot (click to enlarge)River Gorge road race – annotated heartrate/power plot (click to enlarge)

August 31, 2013 at 11:40 am Leave a comment

2013 Alabama State Criterium plus LP Field Finale

Alabama State Criterium
You can summarize pretty much the entire race in these two videos. In the first one, Mike Olheiser (Cashcall Mortgage) breaks away on the second lap after I let a tiny gap open coming out of the slippery turn 2. Mike takes one look back, sees the gap, and is gone. I chased flat out like it was the end of the race for the next lap and a half. Then Paul Tower (Tria Cycling) pulled super hard for a lap and yet Mike continued to slowly increase his gap. Eventually, I started to attack the group to try to get away to reduce the odds in my favor, but I couldn’t take the corners fast enough to make anything stick. In the end game, Mike had lapped us and was riding the front for several laps with me in second wheel when Will Fyfe (Brick Alley) attacked with three to go. I covered that and rode second wheel all the way until the start of the last lap when I attacked to make sure I made it through the slippery corners first. I kept on the gas, but it wasn’t enough to keep Paul Tower (Tria Cycling) from powering past me at the very end. Congrats to Mike on the win and to Paul and all of team tria for a smart tactical race!

Also, here is a video of when Mike laps the field and attacks – I was hoping this would blow up the field but we all stayed together this time all the way up until Will Fyfe’s attack. I think the reason it played out this way is because Mike had essentially already won the race so he didn’t want to take any more risks in the corners and took them slow enough for us to recover and hold his wheel on the straightaways.

Alabama State Criterium Pro/1/2 podium (Left to Right) - Paul Tower, Mike Olheiser, and Brian TooneAlabama State Criterium Pro/1/2 podium (Left to Right) – Paul Tower, Mike Olheiser, and Brian Toone

After the race, a whole bunch of us got together and had an awesome birthday / state crit celebration dinner at Rosie’s Mexican Cantina near the race course. Fun times rehashing the race and catching up with everybody. Awesome birthday – bike racing, podium, and friends!

2013 Alabama State Criterium Pro/1/2
Huntsville, AL
3rd place
Lap	Time	AvgPow	MaxPow	HR	RPM	MPH
1	1:28	307	866	150	78	25.2
2	1:17	360	911	164	79	27.4
3	1:17	340	737	175	75	27.3
4	1:20	297	745	172	79	26.7
5	1:20	288	812	174	77	26.4
6	1:25	260	663	171	80	25.4
7	1:26	260	558	167	80	24.6
8	1:29	218	716	166	75	24.2
9	1:24	212	850	160	77	25.2
10	1:21	232	744	160	77	26.2
11	1:24	280	669	166	79	25.6
12	1:24	307	887	169	80	25.6
13	1:24	252	509	173	84	25.6
14	1:27	251	582	163	83	24.8
15	1:20	308	911	160	78	27.2
16	1:27	226	532	172	83	25
17	1:28	255	581	156	83	24.4
18	1:35	199	341	157	83	23.6
19	1:36	210	374	149	81	22.8
20	1:24	331	883	153	83	25.8
21	1:26	243	467	171	83	25.6
22	1:24	311	876	162	82	25.9
23	1:34	194	410	162	81	23.1
24	1:29	240	881	147	83	24.5
25	1:22	238	771	160	77	26.2
26	1:28	229	546	157	82	24.8
27	1:33	187	955	149	80	23.6
28	1:18	363	858	168	80	27.6
29	1:40	182	451	160	79	22
30	1:41	172	384	143	81	21.3
31	1:41	166	998	138	79	21.6
32	1:22	307	916	161	78	26.5
33	1:23	261	838	161	73	25.9
34	1:24	206	644	159	73	25.3
35	1:25	240	605	154	76	25.3
36	1:25	211	712	155	74	25.1
37	1:24	214	627	155	76	25.3
38	1:21	231	1036	165	79	26.6
39	1:28	196	611	152	81	24.1
40	1:24	235	809	153	83	24.9
41	1:13	485	958	177	78	29.7

Heartrate zone summaryHeartrate zone summary – lots of time in zones 3 and 4 b/c of the rain.

Heartrate power plot annotated (click to enlarge)Heartrate power plot annotated (click to enlarge)

Annotated power map (click to enlarge)Annotated power map (click to enlarge)

LP Field Criterium Series Finale
This was a really fun race put on by Tim Hall to close out the 2013 LP Field crit series. I wasn’t in the overall hunt for the points so me, Tim Henry (Litespeed BMW), Travis Werts (Sonic) and a few other riders managed to escape after lots of attacks early in the race. Travis Werts was closest to the overall for the series so he was motivated to do well. But it ended up being me leading out the sprint with three turns to go and only Tim able to come around at the end. Travis took 3rd. It was a hard, strategic, fun race! Perhaps the best part of the day was the mix of racing and celebration as people were cooking out and having fun. Two podium pics because I was wanting to get the MongoHQ logo in one of them.

LP Field Criterium Lap Data
2nd place
Lap	Time	AvgPow	MaxPow	HR	RPM	MPH
1	1:38	223	574	146	79	21.7
2	1:20	234	600	154	86	25.5
3	1:16	233	475	154	90	27.1
4	1:14	347	927	160	82	27.8
5	1:13	380	990	178	85	28.1
6	1:16	296	870	177	86	27
7	1:18	275	715	169	84	26.5
8	1:18	313	979	165	86	26.4
9	1:15	274	818	176	84	27.3
10	1:19	336	929	171	83	26.5
11	1:19	269	1049	170	83	26
12	1:23	233	644	173	81	24.9
13	1:35	186	501	158	82	22
14	1:35	207	746	155	83	21.8
15	1:24	228	646	159	85	24.7
16	1:16	287	733	171	82	26.9
17	1:17	345	1003	171	87	26.6
18	1:16	328	541	179	86	26.5
19	1:20	316	566	177	86	25.3
20	1:16	262	536	172	88	26.8
21	1:18	248	544	168	85	26.2
22	1:18	231	707	165	84	25.8
23	1:21	245	433	160	86	25.5
24	1:18	217	457	162	86	26
25	1:18	322	968	172	84	26.1
26	1:21	220	473	164	87	25
27	2:43	108	667	154	76	20.2
28	1:27	211	760	158	84	23.7
29	1:09	520	996	174	84	29.8
30	1:19	251	515	182	81	25.6
31	1:26	206	721	169	82	23.9
32	1:22	158	548	152	82	25.1
33	1:19	219	657	150	81	26.3
34	1:15	213	691	157	82	27.3
35	1:14	313	865	163	81	27.7
36	1:21	221	660	172	80	25.4
37	1:19	226	854	167	80	26.2
38	1:08	527	982	180	86	29.7

Podium picture plus pics from my warmup around LP FieldPodium picture plus pics from my warmup around LP Field

Podium pic 2 with MongoHQ t-shirtPodium pic 2 with MongoHQ t-shirt

Heartrate zone summaryHeartrate zone summary

Annotated heartrate plot (click to enlarge)Annotated heartrate plot (click to enlarge)

Power map showing the flexibility Tim has in designing the course in the giant parking lot for the Tennessee TitansPower map showing the flexibility Tim has in designing the course in the giant parking lot for the Tennessee Titans

August 12, 2013 at 2:44 pm 1 comment

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Forgot to take a pic on my 2nd crossing of Vestavia Dr, but here is the elevation profile of my direct commute home. 1st of 4 times up and over the Vestavia Dr high point today. Ride stats

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Quick reference stats

Anaerobic Threshold:
Power:315 watts
Heart rate:180 bpm
Maximums:
Power:1097 watts (5s)
Heart rate:198 bpm (5s)
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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