This week’s Strava shoot-out climb is Belmont Rd over in Irondale. I was working on the computer this morning when Kristine mentioned that the high was going to be close to 70 today. After having frost in our yard and on our neighbhor’s roofs this morning, I immediately thought “updraft!!!” So I finished what I was working on, and got ready for a long ride. I started out on a somewhat direct route out to Belmont and sure enough there was a massive tailwind on the climb.
After dropping my stuff off behind the Overton Rd Church, I set out to tackle the climb. I had taken off my jersey since it was getting hot and I had all my stuff in my jersey pockets, and I still had my vest on. Made it simpler to dump stuff rather than having to empty all my pockets. So here I am heading up towards Belmont with a sleeveless vest on December 19th in nearly 70 degF sunshine — gotta love Alabama! I hit the lap button on Overton so it would hopefully auto-lap at just the right spot on my way back, turned around at the utility shed and then hit it hard to get some momentum going into the turn. But it was a bit too much momentum for the super sharp turn. I entered the turn at 25mph went straight across the road, slammed on the brakes as I’m about to enter the gutter and then straightening up and accelerating back out of the gutter up the 12% gradient. This led to a nice 646 watt power surge in the little chainring. It was good to be in the little chainring, though, for the opening part of the climb which stays consistently well above 10%.
Coming across the top, I shifted into the big chainring and then down into the 11 trying to grind a big gear while tucked in as aero position as possible for the 35mph downhill to the interstate bridge. I still had a lot of momentum entering the bridge thinking that I would try to stay in the big chainring the rest of the way up – but then by the end of the bridge, I was already struggling in my 21 in the back with my cadence rapidly decreasing down below 70rpm, so I dumped it back down into the little chainring and decided to go little chainring the rest of the way up the climb. There was a brief headwind section after the bridge, which was the first time I had thought about the wind since the climb began, so in my head I was thinking “oh no, where is my tailwind” – this was quite a bit demotivating but I was already committed, so the next thought was how hard can I push this gear? Then, not 50 meters later, the wind switched direction again, and it was the tailwind I was expecting (and which had been there the entire time except for that one stretch right after the bridge) so this gave me extra motivation to stand up again, mash the pedals really hard and be as un-aerodynamic as necessary to get as much power into the pedals to make it up to the top as quickly as possible.
By the end, my lap timer had 4:45, but I wasn’t sure where the auto lap had kicked in. I was thinking it might have been after the turn at the start of the climb, but in fact it had auto lapped back on Overton right before the turn. So my actual strava segment time was 4:44. And I still had nearly six hours left of riding to wait to find out if I had gotten the KOM! It was a couple watts short of a power record, though, so really it was the tailwind that got me up the climb fast enough to beat Mark’s time of 4:52, which had blown away my previous KOM time by 20 seconds!
The rest of the ride was fun, although a bit flatter in sections than I would normally like. A couple “adventure” notes include nasty traffic in Trussville which I avoided by riding through “cut kudzu” off the side of the road … check out this zoomed in satellite pic of my route … also, I created a new segment on Mountain View Rd heading back towards Margaret – a really long gradual climb. It was quite enjoyable b/c of the ruralness of the area despite me occasionally thinking “uggh, this is killing my total elevation gain”. This really nice Chinese family (mom, dad, 18 month old toddler) gave me some water at their restaurant in Margaret, which is a really cool rural community. I had been out of water for several miles so that was super nice. On the way back up Smyer and then Vestavia Dr, I ran into three other cyclists – Clint climbing Smyer and then Dusty and his daughter climbing Vestavia Dr. When I finally made it home, I met Kristine and the kids as they were heading out of the neighborhood for dinner before my brother’s Christmas special (see video at the end and pic of program). I had just enough time to get home, wash up a bit, upload the ride to strava, and then head back out with my lights on to get over to the church for dinner (steak!!!) and then the program. It was an all-round epic awesome day!
View of the Belmont water tower – note the tailwind via the huge flag (it takes a bit of wind to get that moving at all) and also note that this is 150 feet up the Grants Mill climb so the Belmont climb starts out a bit lower from where this pic was taken. (click to zoom out and enlarge)
Lots of videos from the ride below … click the “watch on youtube” link to use the bookmarks (on the longer videos) to jump to interesting parts of the video.
The 2012 Bamacross series finale was held today at the historic Sloss Furnace abandoned steel mill. The course was epic for water, rain, mud, and location. I’m sure there will be some good pics up on facebook that people will post. I’m going to try to link to a couple of them here on this blog in the next day or two. The atmosphere at the race was just amazing — people grilling out under the highway underpass, music pumped up, people banging loudly on steel drums next to the course, cowbells ringing, people cheering, people heckling, people having lots of fun.
The course was just amazing … located right next to the abandoned steel mill, plus the start/finish stretch underneath the highway, plus active trains and train whistles on all three sides of the course during the race, and then the puddle lakes in the central part of the course and the muddy river that formed on the back stretch of the course from an inch of rain that started this morning and never let up through all the races. I did the race on my hard tail 29er running low pressure hoping to get some extra grip out of the wide tires. But in the mud, those wide tires just skidded across the top of the mud rather than digging into it.
In any case, I probably still would have finished DFL even if I had borrowed a cross bike. I started the race with old brake pads that needed replacing. So by the end of the second lap, I had no brake pads left at all … seriously no braking at all! Fortunately, the mud was thick enough that in most places you could just stop pedaling and the bike would slow down quick enough to make the turn. Still, there was a couple places where I had to unclip and dig my heel into the ground to slow down enough to make the turn.
Lots of mud – underneath the bridge next to the historic steel mill. (Click to zoom out and enlarge. Note that is not the bike I used in the background. Also, that is my backpack on the ground for the commute there and back.)
It was a really fun experience, especially since I got to cheer on all the other racers who lapped me (everyone from both the 1/2 field and the 3 field which started a couple minutes behind us). Afterwards, Craig Tamburello (Brick Alley) helped me a ton by switching out brake pads from Alan Barton’s dad’s mountain bike so I could safely ride home. Thanks tons Craig and Alan!! Here’s a picture of Alan riding through one of the lakes on the course:
What a fun experience, the atmosphere and the people are great. I don’t know if I’ll ever have the skills to corner in the mud, but I definitely want to try it again next year. A couple updates from this morning … I forgot to post my heartrate data (see below), and also Paul Roberts got some great pics from the race including one of my friend (and former teammate) Jacob Tubbs with Scott Staubach in the background in a pivotal part of the Masters 35+ race with them eventually taking 1st and 2nd.
So here is the backstory for this ride – I took Monday off, and on Tuesday my legs felt like a million bucks. So I decided during my ride on Tuesday that I would put in my Strava Shoot-out effort on my Wednesday ride. Tuesday night I was working on topocreator making a custom map of Vermont that somebody is going to use to build a set of custom skis, and I started to think about exploring some new roads up near Pine Mountain. Eventually, I mapped out a 100 mile route that morphed into the adventure below!
It started out with an easy somewhat direct route over to Red Mountain so that I could put in a max effort while my legs were still fresh. The video above has a brief analysis of how the climb went. I started out strong on the gradual opening Highlands section, and when it kicked up steep I felt strong enough to decide to stay in the big chain ring through the steep sections of the climb. This was a good decision, although I felt like I bogged down a bit shortly after the turn onto Cliff Road which averages 10% (max 13-14%) for a tenth of a mile. I got some extra motivation at the right turn onto the cement switchback road as I had to cut in front of a car that started to pull out from the left at the stop sign (I had the right-of-way with no stop sign from my direction). I dropped the car on the u-turn switchback and decided to take a really tight line on the inside of the potholes. The left onto Altamont was no problem, but the car I had dropped then passed me back when I was going 25mph on the flat section of the climb shortly before the house construction with all the cars parked on the left side of the road. There was a near-miss wreck as a utility van pulled out from the construction zone right after the car was passing me. The van then proceeded to drive really slow so I had to pass him on the right side shortly before making the turn onto Redmont. The extra shot of adrenaline there plus perhaps not digging quite deep enough earlier on the climb meant that I absolutely flew up the last part – raised my average power for the climb by 6 watts on the last 25 seconds of the climb. Data for the climb is below:
Strava shoot-out power map – wattages are 30 second averages
After the shoot-out, I headed over towards Ruffner Mountain via the reverse of the route I did on Thanksgiving. I wanted to get a picture of the launch ramp coming off the Gate City hill. I also got a video of the Ruffner Mountain climb to the fire tower. If you watch these videos on Youtube, then you can click on video bookmarks in the description to jump to a specific interesting point of the video.
After Ruffner Mountain, I climbed up the super steep Valley Hill Dr (27% max) on the way over to St Vincents East and Turncliff. Then I took Brewster road which is a nice hilly road up to Chalkville. From there, I took Tyler Loop up to Sweeney Hollow road. The tornado damage on Tyler was amazing to see 11 months after it happened. From there, I took Dewey Heights to Faucett to Faucett Circle, which were all new roads to me. Nice pavement, steep hills, and only two bad dogs.
From that point until the start of the Pine Mountain backside climb were all new roads to me. I was fearing a lot of dogs since I hadn’t ridden through there before, but I only saw a few before the start of the Pine Mountain backside climb. That climb was littered with dogs – especially across the top to the elbow road up to the 1440′ high pt. See video below (watch on youtube and click on the video bookmarks in the description to jump directly to the dogs)
Coming back through Clay, I got stuck behind after-school bus and car traffic. Then after climbing up Pineview Rd to the really cool isolated hill neighborhood in the middle of Trussville, I started down the descent and the road was being resurfaced. Nasty fresh tar balls, plus grated pavement, plus lots of crap on the roads I was lucky not to get a flat. It was getting late by this point, but I had brought my lights knowing that I would probably be getting home after dark. I booked it home sacrificing climbing for speed by taking Old Leeds. Traffic was a nightmare on 280 but I avoided it by some creative underpass riding. The sunset views across the top of Smyer Circle and Vestavia Dr were amazing. See below and see the gallery. I was disappointed not to hit 50 on the Vesclub lower descent (must have been a bit of an updraft) so I added on the climb up Little Valley Mountain so I could go down S Cove making sure that a 6.5 hour, 102 mile ride had at least one 50mph section. Guided home by the Christmas lights, I arrived well after dark to end a long, fun day on the bike.
With Kristine taking the kids early in the week up to a big family Thanksgiving gettogether in northern Indiana, I stayed home to finish teaching my classes for the week and then take care of Jaggy the bunny. What a hoot the last day turned out to be as Jaggy ended up laying over on her back with all four paws and one ear in the air — sound asleep! I panicked shortly after taking this picture thinking that maybe she had choked on something so I ran over to check on her and ended up scaring her badly as she righted herself and bolted for the door before stopping and coming back.
My classes ended on Tuesday for the week so I had Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday to kick-start base training for the upcoming season. I ended up doing a ton of climbing with more than 10,000 feet of climbing each day for over 50,000 feet of climbing in just 5 days. The weather was absolutely fantastic all five days with shorts / short sleeve weather on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday … followed by cold but clear weather Saturday and Sunday.
Wednesday’s ride was mostly in Mountain brook – wandering over to Irondale to scope out the Karl Daly climb and get a video for this week’s Strava Shootout climb. 58.1 miles and 10,052 feet of climbing. Thursday’s ride was early Thanksgiving morning, and I put in my KOM attempt on the shootout climb early in the ride on my way over to Red Mountain to climb to some of the 1200 ft spots on the mountain — what is becoming a Thanksgiving tradition (see 2012 and 2011). 75.4 miles and 10,534 feet of climbing. For Friday, I wanted to do 10,000 feet of climbing just on Shades Mountain climbs in Hoover, Vestavia, and a little bit of Homewood. 63.6 miles and 10,394 feet of climbing. Saturday was a Thanksgiving weekend special edition of BBL. We had a great turnout despite temps below freezing to start the ride. I picked out a route to take us up Pine Mountain near Springville, but otherwise tried to stay to flatter valley roads getting us there. This meant I had to add on about 20 miles to get the climbing total up to 10,000 feet. 99.1 miles and 10,253 feet of climbing. Finally, today, I was happy to have Kristine and the kids home so I ended up trying to hit 10,000 feet of climbing in as short as possible time and distance. I tied a distance record but fell a few minutes short of a time record … distance to 10,000 feet 50.1 miles, time to 10,000 feet 3 hours 51 minutes. Total ride 55.4 miles and 10,398 feet of climbing – most of this in Mountain Brook.
Garmin screenshots from today’s ride below:
All told this five day block of training covered 351.6 miles and 51,631 feet of climbing. Great start to my training for 2013 … a bit of recovery early this week before some long slow rides later in the week.
It seems it has become an annual Thanksgiving Day tradition for me to head on over to Red Mountain and Ruffner Mountain to climb to the 1200ft summits. This year I did the route in the reverse direction so that I could put in my Strava Shoot-out effort on the Grants Mill – Karl Daly climb. It was a good effort on the climb, and I ended up beating my previous best time by 34 seconds … I made a video narrating my effort on the climb … if you watch it on youtube you can click on the time bookmarks in the description to jump to a specific part of the climb.
After climbing back up Karl Daly again to narrate the video, I headed on over to Red Mountain via John Rogers to get to US-11 to take me to Trussville. The first 1200 climb is the Turncliff radio tower climb. One of the unique features of this climb is the kudzu forest that you ride through. The other unique feature is the tiny neighborhood that is built almost entirely above 1200 ft on a very small saddle between two slightly higher 1200 ft points. There are some cool turns as well just to get to the neighborhood (see Garmin screenshot)
Turncliff kudzu forest
Turncliff neighborhood turns. The road to the lower left is the radio tower climb.
After descending back down from the Turncliff neighborhood, I headed back up again climbing up above the St Vincent’s East hospital to a cool water tower. This climb starts out with a 40% cement ramp out of the hospital parking lot, which then turns into a deep gravel road. I’m hit or miss on whether I can clear it on a given day … fall is particularly tough because of all the leaves, but I somehow managed to clear it today and not fall down on the way back down.
Descending back down from the hospital through the rollers took me to one of my favorite neighborhoods on the side of Red Mountain … don’t know the name of it, but it has this really cool climb up to a road called Observatory Road. Then you turn onto a one lane road that connects over to the outskirts of East Lake still on the side of the mountain. This neighborhood is home to the 27% Valley Hill Dr climb. I was coming from the other direction so I opted for a twisty descent that bypasses Valley Hill and takes you to some rollers to join up with the Ruffner Mountain climb near the entrance to the nature center. The last two Thanksgivings the nature center has been closed, but this year it was open. Making it to the top of the climb up to the fire tower, I made this video:
I took a new route through Gate City which has one of the coolest (and probably most dangerous) descents … I was flying down it when I saw a sign that said bump … so I hit the brakes not knowing what kind of bump it was, but it was actually a table-top ramp where the road kicks up to a table top where the road drops down 20% immediately, you go from a very small uphill to a 20% downhill with practically no transition … I’m sure you could catch air on a road bike if you take it at speed. That wouldn’t be too dangerous except for the 90 degree turn at the bottom less than two or three seconds after your tires land. I think if you apply the brakes gently while you are still in the air, then you might be able to make the turn at the bottom. I might try it next time I’m out there.
This was the only negative thing of the whole ride … while waiting for the train in the video to cross, I climbed up a hill into a project neighborhood where they were having a big outdoor community feast and somebody yelled “get out of my neighborhood” at me. I don’t know maybe they were just joking, but they certainly sounded serious. Not cool. Racial prejudice works both ways, folks.
After turning around and “getting out of their neighborhood” the train was gone and I was able to finish the climb up 58th street to the top of Southcrest, turn around and take Clairmont over to Altamont and the descend down the secret climb to five points heading over to the last climb of the day up Red Mountain – the Red Mountain water tower climb which starts on UAB’s campus. Got a video of it here:
I needed to stop by my house to pick up my backpack and change of clothes for Thanksgiving dinner … running a bit late on my ride so I had to drill it up Columbiana, down Columbiana, up Montreat, down S Cove, to my house and then over to my parent’s house. Guy in a red convertible offered to let me hold onto the side of his car up the Rocky Ridge road gradual climb, but knowing that it wouldn’t be fair for that Strava segment so I laughed and told him I’d have to pass on the offer.
One last video I got was the view of Oak Mountain view from top of Columbiana:
Other pictures and screenshots from the ride are captioned below:
Today’s ride may very well have been my toughest road ride ever (last week’s 9 hour mountain bike race at Oak Mountain may have been a smidge tougher). I’ve done rides that were much longer with twice the total climbing, but this one was particularly difficult because I was trying to go for some really long KOMs on top of the overall fast pace for the 135 mile ride. Plus, I was not quite adequately dressed for the first 4 hours of the ride in temps that varied constantly from mid 20s to lower 30s back to mid 20s to upper 30s back down below freezing again before FINALLY starting to climb up to the predicted high of lower 50s.
I got started at 6:40AM still before sunrise, and after a very short warm-up, I started out on a KOM attempt from Gatlinburg up to the top of the Clingman’s Dome tower. I set 275 watts as my power goal and ended up falling a couple watts short of that … I broke my old record by a few minutes, but it was only good enough for 5th place on Strava. When I made it to the Clingman’s Dome parking lot, there were only four cars and so I was able to ride up to the tower passing two couples along the way. I made it up to the top to enjoy the view very briefly before heading back down. I was super, super careful on the descent as I passed those same two couples still walking up. See video of the tower below:
From the top of Clingman’s I started to head back down the access road towards 441. I stopped to get a few pics on the way back down since I wasn’t going for any KOMs. I also got this video below of the icicle wall melting:
The Clingman’s dome access road is on the southeast side of the ridge line for the most part so it warms up pretty quickly, but as you descend on 441 towards Cherokee you enter a narrow river canyon that is shaded by an arm of the ridge line. This was the coldest part of the ride because I was sustaining an average speed of close to 40mph at temps below freezing. My “holey” long finger gloves, which I had brought with me because I knew that it was supposed to warm into the 50s, were no match for the windchill. I think it is probably in the top 5 of the coldest I’ve ever been on the bike … #1 still belongs to another ride in Gatlinburg from about 5 years ago where it was raining in the low 30s and I had short finger gloves on … oh my goodness just thinking about it makes me shudder. Also, ironically, these gloves were “holey” from a wreck a couple years ago where I slid out on some ice on the descent from Newfound Gap back down to Gatlinbug. I ripped both palms wide open sliding along the icy road … fortunately my hands were ok, but the gloves were now “holey”.
I made it down, stopped briefly at the national park info center hoping for some free coffee and after not finding any checked my Garmin and saw that a mini-mart convenience store was only 1 mile away in Cherokee, and headed out to refuel with something hot. I got a large coffee and also a large hoagie burger that had 650 calories and 31g of protein and who knows how many grams of fat. But it was awesome. After warming up in the gas station for a good 20 minutes, I headed back out to start the climb up the Blue Ridge Parkway towards Wolf Laurel Gap and eventually to the 6000ft overlook at Waterrock Knob.
The cool thing about this long climb at the very end of the Blue Ridge Parkway is all of the tunnels (about 5 of them). At the very beginning the road is potmarked with rockfall from the super steep wall immediately right of the road. It’s easy enough to dodge the small holes when climbing, and then when descending you are on the opposite side of the road which doesn’t have as much damage. It’s also easy to get paranoid that a rock is going to fall and hit you … I looked up a couple times just to make sure everything looked stable.
After the long climb to Wolf Laurel Gap, there is a 2 mile descent down to the bridge which crosses US-19 before the 6 mile climb up to Waterrock Knob. The cool thing about the Waterrock Knob climb is that the trail to the overlook area is paved … it averages probably somewhere around 18% with sections close to 25%. The paved trail climbs all the way up to the steps to the overlook. You have to unclip at nearly a 20% gradient with a rock wall to your left and a steep drop-off to your right and only one chance at getting it right. It’s the one time I actually get nervous when trying to unclip because of the consequences of not getting unclipped. Fortunately it was no problem and I was able to lean forward to keep from tipping over backwards. But I remember last year when I rode to this same point being nervous about unclipping. You climb a short flight of stairs to this overlook (see video below).
My original plan after this climb was to descend down the other side down to Waynesville, turn around and go back skipping Clingman’s Dome … but I chickened out thinking that my legs wouldn’t be able to handle a FOURTH hors categorie (HC) climb in this ride so I opted to add on the additional Cat 2 climb from the top of Newfound Gap to the Clingman’s Dome tower. Next year, I’m going to try to plan it out better and do that extra HC climb and skip Clingman’s Dome especially after what happened this year …
First, I got these videos of the climb on 441 and then the access road to Clingman’s. I was really tired by this point. Then, when I finally made it to the parking lot, it was jammed pack with easily 100 or more cars. There were people everywhere. Naturally when I started to ride up the path, the forest ranger stopped me and told me that bikes were not allowed. I convinced him to let me walk with my bike so I took off my shoes and ended up walking/jogging all the way up the super steep trail to the top (about 0.3 miles / 300 feet vertical gain). I still had to weave around hoards of people as I was jogging up the mountain in my socks … and I couldn’t help but think of the irony of me being faster 110 miles into my difficult ride, running in my socks, pushing a bike up the steep trail than most of the people who were trying to hike 0.3 miles from the parking lot. Kudos to them, though, for attempting the strenuous activity rather than just sitting in the parking lot and enjoying the view from there. Here’s the video I got from the top the second time:
After walking back down to the parking lot (again in my socks), I put my shoes back on, hopped on the bike, and zipped back down to 441 where I ended up unfortunately getting stuck in a long caravan of cars stuck behind a slow driver. The cars were still going fast enough on the flatter sections of the climb that I would briefly get dropped before catching up in the next series of turns. This meant I got to enjoy at least a few of the many corners on the descent at speed.
Gatlinburg was a bit of a zoo by the time I made it back down at 4:15 in the afternoon. Fortunately, the turn to get up to our hotel is the first righthand turn you can make as you get back into town so I was able to make it back to the hotel without the Garmin battery running out … 9.5 hours after first starting … the rest of the pics, Garmin screenshots, and videos are below.
Do you know how much I love riding in the true mountains? We got in last night at 11:45PM, and I knew that my 700x23c racing tires would be no match for potentially slick icy roads up here so I spent another 30 minutes changing both tires and putting on some good 700x25c all-weather tires (gotta love the Strada-Ks) so that by the time I made it to bed it was 12:30AM. Nevertheless, I set my alarm for 5:30AM so I’d have a chance to do some riding before my computer conference began. Now during a quick break after lunch I just uploaded my ride and see that I ended up with the KOM on the motor trail descent … heartrate still racing a bit from ducking, diving, and sliding around corners in the half-light of dawn shaded by Mt Leconte. Here are some pics I took along the way: