Today was quite the adventure – two flats and a KOM! The last week of the Strava Shoot-out competition was the Rocky Ridge – Vestavia Dr climb. With over 700 vertical feet of elevation difference and nearly 800 feet total gain (three small downhills), this is one of the biggest climbs you can do in the immediate Birmingham area (Double Oak and Pine Mountain both have more elevation gain, but they are both quite a ways out of town). This climb is really close to me, starting less than two miles from my front door!
So when Mark Fisher put in a spectacular effort to take the KOM from me for the last week of the Fall strava shoot-out competition, I knew immediately that I was going to take it back at some point. I expected that I would have to try several times, but I ended up getting it back on my first try today. The video below is a bikecam video of the entire KOM effort, including the Dashware overlay of power, heartrate, speed, and cadence (the colored bar that circles the power readings).
Shortly after the KOM effort ended, I tried to avoid a garbage truck by riding through some grass onto a sidewalk. The grass was deeper than it looked hiding quite a concrete lip on the edge of the sidewalk. So when I rode onto the sidewalk, I didn’t try to bunny hop onto it and I ended up pinch flatting my front wheel on the lip. I had left my phone, tools, tubes, and pump back at the house to save weight for the KOM effort. My only hope was to hitch a ride with somebody back down the mountain. Fortunately, Mike Davies from Richter Landscape Company happened to be driving by in his work truck, and he gave me a ride all the way back down to my house. Huge shout-out and thanks to him … if you live in Hoover, Vestavia, Mountain Brook, Homewood, or Birmingham give them a call at 205-942-1555 to come landscape your yard!!!
The KOM started out well with a bit of a light tailwind. My legs were burning fairly early in the ride as this was the first hard effort of the day, and it was still fairly early in the ride. But eventually I settled into what I thought was a good hard rhythm. Cresting the Veslub Lower part of the climb, I was pretty spent though and started to have lots of negative thoughts about how slow it felt like I was going. But then after I made up the steep part of Vesclub Upper, I saw that my time was just over 9 minutes. In my head at that point I was thinking that all I needed to do was finish the last part in less than 4 minutes and I would beat my old time of 13 minutes. This gave me a lot of motivation because I knew that would be easy. But then a few seconds later I realized that my old time was 11 minutes 13 seconds … not 13 minutes! So I only had a couple minutes left. But by this point I had already made it over to Vestavia Dr and had over a minute left to Mark’s KOM time. I knew I could fly up the last section in about a minute, so I was again motivated that I had a realistic chance to beat Mark’s time. Coming across the top, I hit the lap button showing a time of 11’03″, but Strava matched it up at 10’49″ because I must have hit the lap button way to early to start the climb. Also, I made this video analyzing my KOM effort in a bit more detail:
After changing out my front wheel and uploading my ride to strava to see if I had gotten the KOM, I headed back out still planning to do another 90 miles or so out to Emerald Lakes to explore the climbs that I had discovered on my way out to Cullman on Christmas. About 10 miles into that ride, I had another flat. This one was from a pretty worn spot on the rear tire – so I put in a $5 bill to boot the tire and limped home after changing the tube. By this point in the day, it was too late to try again to make it out to Emerald Lakes — so I decided to do some climbing in Mountain Brook. Along the way, I made this video of the European bypass road (Old Brook Trail) reflecting on April 27th when the tornadoes came through the area.
After climbing over in Mountain Brook, I headed home just in time to meet Kristine and the kids coming out of the woods on their walk home from school. Later in the day, Josiah and I had a boys’ night out at the Lego store monthly free lego night while Kristine took Analise to gymnastics. All around, it was a great day!
Yesterday was our last day at the cabin, so Kristine, Papa Dale, and the kids went for one last ski/skate on the lake. They were following a huge eagle around the lake, and I got pictures of his footprints later when I went out to check out the ice fishing with Kristine. I was planning on a good ride back home to Shell Lake, but first I wanted to do some more snow bike sled racing with the kids, and I also wanted to ride on the lake. Here’s a short bikecam video of me biking up the sled hill:
I’ve got another bikecam video riding across the frozen lake and then snow bike sled racing with the kids. It’s taking forever to upload so I will link to it here later.
After the kids were ready to go, I headed out the back way out of the resort area and ended up on Co Rd F. Good hills on the way out to F and then on F itself. I took F to Co Rd K, which also had some good long hills. Down at Co Rd A, I turned right to climb up and over the Spooner High School hill. On my way back over the hill, I saw a huge eagle glide across the road up in the distance. Later in the ride, I saw two more eagles and wild turkeys.
I ended the ride reversing a route I took back in 2005 when I got lost in the fog on the lake. That was quite an adventure, although even on a perfectly clear cold day with foot thick ice and pick-up trucks driving out onto the ice, it is still disconcerting to ride across sections of bare ice looking into deep dark frozen water so far from the shore. Check out the map zoomed in of my route up at the cabin and then also across Shell Lake.
Here’s a short iphone video from the middle of the lake:
This was my longest and fastest ride so far this year up in Wisconsin. It needed to be fast because I got a late start after sleeping in a bit and then having fun out on the frozen lake with Josiah ice/snow astronaut skating and Analise snow skiing. After warming up a bit, I left by about 1:00 with an anticipated 4 hour loop over to Mankville, Minnesota. This ride was different than yesterday’s because I headed north for nearly an hour first before heading west. There was a strong tailwind from the south — presumably why the temp was about 5 degF warmer than yesterday even though there is a strong blast of arctic air moving in with low temps tonight heading down into the double digits below zero.
I got lots of bikecam videos sorted by the best first. The snowmobile video (the second video) is bookmarked on youtube if you want to jump straight to the interesting parts. The others are not bookmarked. The first is only about 2 minutes long and shows some good snow biking on perfect snow leaving the cabin.
Today’s ride was really great … lots of fast snow and rolling hills. Frog Lake Road was perhaps the most rural road with some long stretches of untouched snow. But the highlight road was Lake 26 road which basically paralleled WI-77 for a good 15 miles heading west towards Minnesota. There was a good steady light snowfall throughout the day, but only a couple sketchy spots where a layer of ice covered the road. I’m still learning how to use my new contour camera, but I got some videos that I was really happy with — only have time to post one … see it below the brief pic gallery.
Yesterday’s ride from Shell Lake to Heartwood was much colder than I anticipated mainly because of the constant light snowfall that combined with salted county roads meant wet, cold, cold, cold feet. Fortunately, I had a chemical warmer pack and was able to put that into my shoe about halfway through the ride. Unfortunately, I also took the opportunity to drink about half of my gatorade bottle which had turned to slush by this point. Stopping and consuming that much frozen slush dropped my core body temp a ton and I never really got warm the rest of the ride. Still, in comparison to the Cullman ride in the rain where I could not stop shivering for a good solid ten minutes after the ride was over, this was like riding in short sleeves weather. I even had enough warmth to go “bike sledding” with the kids over on the frisbee golf course. These are the first two videos below. The third video is a cool one of frozen rapids and tunnel water on the Namekagon River. The fourth video I took while I was stopped and got really cold after I got the chemical warmer put into my shoe.
So I mainly just wanted to upload a video of my kids in their first ski race yesterday, but I thought I would compare and contrast cross-country skiing and cycling as part of the post. First, the video:
Josiah is the boy taking off running without any ski poles. Analise is skiing next to my wife at the back. One of the things that my wife and I connected on when we first met each other back in 2001 was the similarities between her cross-country ski racing and my bike racing. Kristine first started to ski when she was only 2 or 3 years old. And she would ride in a backpack with her father skiing even earlier than that. Through elementary, middle, and high school, Kristine ski raced in the winter eventually earning a full scholarship to the University of Wisconsin, Green Bay to ski collegiately. I didn’t start bike racing until high school and college, but I dove right into it so that I experienced many of the same things she did: from the travel with a small group of guys usually to a very rural area, parking in fields (snow covered fields for her), and then taking your body to the limit racing against others. Also, the training – most skiers run or bike in the off-season to maintain the aerobic fitness required to excel in the sport. Up here in Wisconsin, many serious bike racers (Greg Lemond for example) switch to cross country skiing and ski racing to maintain aerobic fitness for biking when it finally thaws out late into spring. In Alabama, I’m fortunate to be able to ride year-round. Part of the adventure of biking for me is the ability to travel from point to point and explore new places so much more efficiently than if you were running. Skiing has the same allure because you are able to travel through the woods and explore trails much more efficiently than snow shoeing.
As far as the racing goes, I’d compare the ski racing more to mountain bike racing or cyclocross racing on non-technical courses with more of a notion of “getting the hole shot” and pushing yourself mostly alone or chasing one or two skiers just up the trail without as much drafting as in road racing. Still, there is a drafting component particularly at the elite end of the sport where the speeds are much closer to 20mph than 10mph, and there tend to be large groups of skiers able to maintain the same speed throughout the race. The tactics are different because of this, but you still see skiers attack each other and change pace to try to drop the others. Cross-country skiing at the winter olympics is by far my favorite winter sport to watch … not the least because of the way the skiers push themselves to the absolute limit. In any close cross country ski race finish, the skiers will fall over as soon as they cross the line because there is not enough energy left in their muscles to support their body weight. Cyclists push themselves similarly to that extreme, but because we aren’t standing up we can usually manage to keep the bike upright as it coasts to a stop. Although in one close finish this past year, three of us sprinting at the end of the 105 mile Rouge Roubaix race all fell over on the side of the road into a grassy yard … completely spent, utterly exhausted, but also undefinably happy – and we were only sprinting for 2nd place!
Of course, I buck the trend a bit when I visit from Alabama … bringing my mountain bike and enduring the cold weather for a week in some truly epic rides rather than cross country skiing. Today I’m traveling point to point to Heartwood cabins where Kristine and I had our wedding reception back in the summer of 2003. We’re going to spend a few days up there so Kristine and her dad can do some good cross-country skiing on the trails up there … while the kids enjoy ice skating, sledding, and a little bit of skiing. I’ve got a three hour ride planned to get there today, and then a couple four to five hour rides planned for the next couple days taking me through the snow mobile capital of this area (Danbury, WI), and across the St Croix into Minnesota. Heartwood looks completely different in the winter covered in snow, but that’s the beauty of the northwoods – each of the seasons up here transforms the land into a completely different amazing world.
We are in cold, snowy Wisconsin after twenty hours of driving. The temperature fell from 50s degF in Alabama when we left to -2 degF by the time we arrived in Shell Lake. But the coldest I felt all day was at the end of my six hour ride to Cullman where Kristine was picking me up on our way to Wisconsin. It had started to rain hard at the bottom of Skyball Mountain and never let up in the final 26 miles of the nearly 100 mile route I took from my house to downtown Cullman. When Kristine met me, I was shivering uncontrollably and huddled behind a pillar to block the wind, which had fortunately been mostly a tailwind while I was still riding but immediately sent my core body temp plummeting as soon as I stopped riding.
My day started out early leaving my house shortly after 7AM to put in my Strava Shoot-out KOM effort on Vestavia Dr. After a long week of riding and only one day of rest, I didn’t know how it would go, but I ended up setting a new power record in the process of setting the KOM. I held just under 360 watts for the 11.5 minute climb (see graph below).
The ride highlight for me, though, was discovering a super steep climb (possibly the steepest in Alabama) back in the Emerald Lakes neighborhood. It’s one of the only times I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to make it up a climb due to the severity of the gradient. Unfortunately, the GPS data from my Garmin was erased in the monsoon thunderstorm that hit at the bottom of Skyball mountain. The first video below documents one of the steep sections of the Emerald lake backside climb. The second video documents the status of my Garmin after it had unexpectedly powered down. I was able to power it back up, but the GPS data was gone for a majority of the ride.
Despite the GPS fail and the hypothermia at the end, it was still a great ride, and I’m super motivated to repeat the first part of the ride out to Skyball and back as soon as we make it back to Alabama so I can get the data on the Emerald Lakes backside climb. The kids were already skiing around the house this afternoon after we got a little bit of sleep, and they have a 1K kids ski race tomorrow in Spooner. Should be fun!