Posts tagged ‘climbing’
Life has been busy and is about to get busier, but I’ve had some pretty crazy adventures I wanted to blog about. These are ordered below based on when they happened, so you can jump to any specific one with these links:
My all-time favorite cycling movie out of the two that I’ve seen is American Flyers. In the opening scene, the lead actor is racing a barge along the Mississippi River. Then he rides into his building and onto the elevator. I do the latter every day on my commute to work, but I’ve never gotten to race a barge on the Mississippi until my Rouge Roubaix pre-ride this year. The race itself was epic as always – read my race report, but man sometimes I think the pre-rides are more adventurous than the races themselves … see Hell of the South exception, though.
Racing a barge on the Mississippi River – I just “American Flyered” my ride.
One of the ironic things about the Rouge Roubaix race is how close the course is to the Mississippi River, but you can never see the river from any spot on the course unless it is in severe flood stage (see pic below)
Google street-view of the turn onto 2nd gravel. The Mississippi River was at flood stage when the streetview car drove by. During the race, you cannot normally see the river. For my pre-ride I parked at the store annotated in the picture.
This was my fifth year racing Rouge Roubaix, but I had never gone out of my way to see the river because my time spent there is usually so short. I wanted to include a trip out to the river in my pre-ride this year. I ended up picking a route onto Cat Island that veered off of the race course shortly after the third gravel section (Tunica Hills). My route plan was about 50 miles, which I thought would give me plenty of time to just cruise through the second and third gravel section. After a late start on the 7 hour drive from Birmingham plus a bit of a challenge figuring out where to park and not upset the locals (turns out I could have parked pretty much anywhere), I only had less than 3 hours of daylight left. Not exactly a lot of time to ride the 2nd and 3rd gravel sections plus the 2nd gravel section again on the return route.
I was enjoying a nice easy pre-ride, but as my brain ticked away at timing calculations I realized that there was no way I was going to finish before sunset. I picked up the pace and realized that I was probably going to be making it to the turn-around point of my ride sometime near sunset. Stubbornly, I decided that seeing the river this year was worth riding in the dark with no light. The next challenge was finding a way to the river. I knew that the road I picked out onto Cat Island swung close to the river, but not until pretty far into the island. The road kept getting muddier from rain and floods (pic below was from the early part of the road where it was still easily rideable … imagine entire short sections of road covered in thick mud), so I decided when I caught a glimpse of the river behind a gate with a short dirt road leading right up to the edge that I had found my entry spot.
Right after carefully climbing the fence and setting my bike over on the other side, a barge started to pass by on the river. That is when I knew I had to get a pic of the barge. Unsure whether I was going to stumble into a herd of bulls or cows, I took off like a rabbit down the double track to get to the river’s edge and get a pic. The pic at the top is what I was able to get. So in some sense the barge won because it made it past my access spot to the river, but in another sense I won because it was still close enough for me to get a pic!
As you can see from the lighting in the picture, it was near sunset by the time I had finally seen the river. I was taking a slightly different route back to skip the Tunica Hills dirt section, but I still had over 25 miles left to get back to my car parked at Fort Adams. Plus, the very last part of the ride would be the reverse direction of the 2nd gravel section (i.e., backwards down Blockhouse Hill).
Sunset happened before I even made it off Cat Island. By the time I made it out to LA-66, the main road to Angola Prison, it was dark and dangerous (from traffic). I spent most of the 5 mile stretch of road looking backwards ascertaining whether an approaching car was slowing down and/or moving over to pass me. Only twice did it look questionable and both of those happened to be near sections of the road where there was a shoulder so I moved over into the shoulder. When I finally made the turn off LA-66 onto Pinckneyville Rd, I was super relieved even though it was now way past sunset and very difficult to see. Pinckneyville Rd is an interesting chip/seal road that has some really nice sections interspersed with short rough “repaved” or “washed out” sections.
Ironically, the darker it got, the faster I went as I desperately tried to cover as much ground as possible while still able to see the rough sections with just enough time to grab the brakes and roll over them at a non-pinch flat inducing pace. When I made the turn onto the Blockhouse section, I had to rely entirely on the GPS and the fact that I could see a house up on the left to know that I had reached the turn! It was so dark that I could barely see the turn and could not even see the cattle guard. I was wondering if I had made a wrong turn when all of a sudden I bounced across the cattle guard … “yep, I’m good, this is the way”.
The Blockhouse gravel was in great condition, and I knew this from riding it on the way out at the start of my ride. Also, it was a brighter, lighter color because of the sand mixed in with the gravel. This meant that this section was a bit easier than Picneyville Rd to ride in the dark. I could see two things – black and slightly less black which I knew was the gravel road split into a double track. I tried to stay to the left side of the road hoping that I was judging the right spot to end up in the lefthand track. I stopped at one point to try to take a picture of the conditions. These are three pics that I got:
Top – Blockhouse in the dark (with flash). Middle – My iBike and Garmin on Blockhouse (with flash). Bottom – the road ahead without flash, not even enough light to make ANYTHING out. Although this is partially because my Nokia Lumia 1020 with great low light photography doesn't always auto-detect its settings correctly. If I had manually set the exposure to a couple seconds, you would have been able to see the blurry outline of the road.
By the bottom of the Blockhouse Hill, the road turns from gravel to a partial pavement – which was in really bad shape. Fortunately, this was in a small community that had street lights spaced just far enough apart that I could safely make out all the potholes and slowly ride through. They were having a big party at one of the houses, and some of the kids shouted “hey biker dude” or something like that as I biked by. Epic. Adventure. Life.
Map showing my commute from Hoover, AL to Blairsville, GA in the North Georgia mountains. Click twice to enlarge and see all the annotations. The solid red line is an approximation of my route – the dashed red line at the end is the part that I didn’t finish due to being way slower than expected. These maps are on the wall in our basement next to where I do all my work from home. I get to see some of my favorite places in the country in a raised relief map, including the highest points in AL, GA, TN, SC, and NC!
Kristine bought a groupon for three nights at the Paradise Hills cabins just outside of Blairsville, GA almost a year ago. The plan was for the two of us to go up there sometime in January or February for me to do some pre-riding of the Southern Cross course. Well, life happened and we couldn’t schedule it, so we switched to a back-up plan of going over spring break and taking the whole family. With the Heart of the South 500 mile race coming up, I decided to ride what I thought would be 300 miles from Birmingham to the cabin as a “test ride”. The route looks like it would have been about 285 miles, but I called Kristine in East Elijay and got her to meet me in Blue Ridge, GA when I realized how far behind schedule I was. The plan was then for her to follow me the last 32 miles in order for her to practice her role as support crew chief for the 500 mile race. But when we met each other at the Arby’s in Blue Ridge, there was a much more traffic than I expected. Blue Ridge was hopping. The traffic combined with me feeling tired and the kids trying to stay up until I made it to the cabin made me decide to end the ride early, hop in the car, and drive the last bit with Kristine back to the cabin. The kids were still awake and I got to see them to bed, which was definitely worth cutting the ride short, seeing how excited they were to show me things in the cabin.
That is how the ride ended, but the adventure started about 18 hours earlier at 1:30AM after having gone to bed at 10:30PM the night before. I set my alarm for 3 hours after going to bed hoping to hit two of the magic 90 minute sleep cycles, which seems to fit well with my own personal sleep pattern. By leaving this early, I was hoping to make it to Blairsville before sunset or at least before the kids went to bed. Another benefit of leaving this early is that I would be able to make it through all of Birmingham and surrounding communities long before most people had even gotten out of bed.
I started out doing essentially my normal commute route, which includes the Vesclub climb (at just over 700 vertical feet diff, one of the biggest climbs in Birmingham) so that I could compare it to later climbs on the route. Doing that climb meant I would also be in good position to blast down Hwy 31, continue through Homewood, and climb over Red Mountain on the Red Mountain Expressway without any traffic on the roads. I had two Axiom 200 watt lights, one mounted to the handlebars, and the other mounted on my helmet. I barely needed them riding through Birmingham, but once I made it out towards Trussville/Leeds on Floyd Bradford and Blackjack, lights were essential. The helmet light is great for scaring dogs – perfect for the route I had picked through dog-infested Annie Lee and Blackjack road. Simply put the helmet on highest setting, turn and stare at a dog, and it will stop dead in its tracks completely blinded by the light. As soon as you stop looking, it will normally start chasing again, but it is still better than nothing.
Hwy 11 through Springville was awesome given that there was no traffic – so awesome that as I was flying along the valley I missed the turn to take Washington Valley road towards Walker Gap. I backtracked at the next major road to get over to Walker Gap because there was no way I was not going to do that climb. On top of Walker, traffic started to pick up a bit as the farmers and really far-out commuters had to start driving at about 5AM. I flew down the waterfall descent and when I made the turn in the valley to head over to Chandler Mountain, this was by far the coldest part of my ride. The temp bottomed out around 27 degF but felt much colder given that I was dressed for the entire day with highs expected in the 50s. As it turns out, I was way overdressed for most of the ride given that temps peaked in the mid 60s. At this point of the ride, I was freezing.
80 miles into the ride, I stopped for the first time in Gadsden and ate a full breakfast at McDonald’s. The police officer in line in front of me asked me where I was heading, and later a couple other guys who had eaten breakfast also wondered where I was heading. You could tell with all the equipment I was trying to recharge and all the food crammed into my backpack that I was heading a long distance. It was cold when I went into the McDonalds and already getting pretty hot by the time I left.
I did the very first new road for me about 82 or 83 miles into the ride climbing up onto Lookout Mountain via a rough chip/seal road called “Scenic Dr”. I followed this road all the way along the north edge of Lookout Mountain with two KOM goals in mind – Keener Gap and Flanders Gap. I didn’t know if these were already segments or not, but I was hoping Strava would auto-detect both as Cat 4 climbs. Both of these climbs are from the narrow US Hwy 11 valley floor back up to the Lookout Mountain ridge line. So to get to both of them, I had to first descend off the mountain to each of them.
Keener was paved and had some beautiful rock formations, one house, and a couple of dogs. I went down the descent way too fast for them to bother with me, but on the way back up as I was trying to put in an exactly threshold effort (not too hard, but not too easy either) here they come out of the house in the middle of the one switchback. Fortunately, they were friendly dogs and let me scoot on by. At the top of Keener Gap, I turned left to continue on Scenic Dr, which abruptly turns from chip/seal to dirt and gravel. The climb still continued on for another half mile or so. I really started to get excited about the ride as I was flying up the gravel road laughing giddily at how I’m trying to KOM a climb with miles and miles ahead of gravel in the middle of what I thought at the time would be a 300 mile ride. The road stayed Alabama dirt/gravel (graded and fast) for the next 5 miles to Flanders Gap. I flew down the gravel descent partly because it was really steep and I couldn’t go much slower and partly because it was easy to see good lines. At the bottom, the dirt gravel gave way to some other kind of large gravel that was not easy to ride. I slowed way down to make sure I didn’t pinch flat. I turned around at the train tracks (low spot in the valley) and headed back up to go for the KOM. I drilled it hard and the climb reminded me a lot of the Blockhouse Hill climb in the Rouge Roubaix race.
Unfortunately, neither climb auto-detected even though they were both well within Cat 4 range. I went back and created the segments and after waiting a few days, it looks like only one other person has done the paved Keener Gap climb, and nobody else has done the Flanders Gap climb. I turned around at the top of Flanders and headed back down it again so that I could take Hwy 11 across the valley to Collinsville. I wanted to do the climb out of Collinsville because on the map it had a lot of switchbacks (somewhat rare for Alabama). I was completely surprised by what I saw when I approached the climb from the streets in downtown. The climb was a powerline cut! The paved road switchbacked across the cut 4 or 5 times, putting the grade at a fairly consistent 10% and closer to 15% in the switchbacks.
At this point I needed to cut across Lookout Mountain and down the other side to head into Georgia. If I headed any farther north on Lookout Mountain, I would have gotten back into some really cool roads I’ve ridden before – but the eastern crossing of Georgia becomes problematic as there aren’t as many roads that head across the many ridges that run north and south through that part of Georgia. So unfortunately I had to just barely brush by one of Alabama’s Hidden treasure – Little River Canyon. I ended up doing a super fun descent from a firetower down to the entrance to the canyon – a national monument called Canyon Mouth.
I took a short break here before heading on some really awesome valley roads (Co Rd 58 and Co Rd 41) northeast through Cherokee County. Somewhere through here I crossed over into Georgia and continued on a northeastern track eventually reaching Summerville, Georgia. After a quick lunch at Subway, I headed back out towards the Narrows Picnic Rd (Hammond Gap) knowing that this would be dirt – Google street view car turned around exactly at the transition to dirt. It turns out that this was the roughest road of the route. I didn’t have any problems on the climb, but on the long descent I had to go slow or run the very likely possibility of pinch flatting AND cutting my tires. We’re talking ruts and large granite rocks sticking out of the ground.
Up to this point in the ride I had felt great, but after going so slow for so long and letting my heartrate dip too low, I suddenly realized that I was tired. Looking back at my heartrate data, I never did get my heartrate back up to what it was before that descent. The route between the bottom of the descent to Dalton started to pick up some heavy traffic including after school traffic, so even though it was some beautiful scenery – being tired and dealing with a lot of cars doesn’t make for a fun ride. One highlight was a smaller road just before the start of the Pinhotti climb. That climb was very steep and VERY busy with traffic. Fortunately, there was a nice clean shoulder to ride to the top. I debated about just heading on down the mountain, but I couldn’t resist the opportunity to climb all the way up to the towers. This dirt climb is the final descent on the Snake Creek Gap mountain bike time trial course. It was a blast to climb (and clear!) on the road bike, and not too bad coming down either.
Dalton was a traffic disaster as I hit it during rush hour. Even with a stop for dinner at Arby’s, traffic was still bad at about 6PM as I made my way over to Fort Mountain on GA-52. What a nasty road. Drivers were all pretty courteous, no honking or throwing things, but they passed you close, definitely not 3 feet. As soon as I left the town of Chatsworth, the traffic immediately disappeared. The climb up Fort Mountain was beautiful and mostly deserted. There were a few fast motorcycles, but you could hear them coming from a long ways away. I stopped and chatted briefly with three of the riders I caught up to at the overlook near the top. I did the climb pretty slowly, but was surprised that at 215 miles into the ride not to be struggling with cramps or any other problems.
I was hoping for a long 35+mph downhill for miles and miles, but instead the descent was very punchy with half-mile climbs and only lasted a few miles. After bottoming out, the road started climbing again. The sun had set a while ago so I put my lights back on and called Kristine to let her know I was running way behind schedule. This takes us back to the beginning of the post where she met me in Blue Ridge and instead of following me for the last 32 miles, I decided to just call it a day and ride in the car back to our cabin for the next few days. 253 miles instead of 285, but I got everything I needed to get out of the ride in terms of prep for the 500 mile race, and I also had quite the adventure!
After this ride, I took Tuesday off and then had two more fun adventure rides Wednesday and Thursday. Here are a few pictures from those adventures.
As I mentioned earlier, this year’s Hell of the South was extra epic, but Mark Fisher and I tried to outdo it the next day by conquering all 11 ways up the Grant plateau plus 4 additional climbs on the way back including one of the steepest climbs in Alabama for a grand total of 15 Huntsville Cat 3 climbs. Some of the climbs are rated Cat 4 based on where the segment starts, but they all have enough vertical diff to be made into Cat 3 climbs using a slightly different starting or ending point along our route. Huntsville has the perfect topography for hard training – lots of flat roads punctuated by 2-3 mile super steep climbs. This also makes for some fun descending. Check out that amazing topography in the two maps below. Double-click (or click once to load the large image and then click again to zoom your browser into the image) to see all the details and mountain names.
11 ways up the Grant plateau plus the rest of our ride. All the climbs are numbered starting with the Green Mountain climb, then all 11 ways up Grant, followed by Blowing Cave, Tony Wilmur Trail, and finally Cecil Ashburne. Click to enlarge. After your browser downloads the image, click it again to zoom in and see the details.
I am working on a separate blog with a catalog of the 11 ways up grant plus the bonus climbs of Green, Blowing Cave, Tony Wilmur, and Cecil Ashburne, but I have a feeling it might be a while before I can finish it. So I’m just going to put in a teaser here with the Green Mountain front-side climb, the Swearengin climb, and the Blowing Cave climb (quite possibly one of the steepest paved climbs of measurable category in Alabama).
GREEN MOUNTAIN - FRONT SIDE Dist: 1.87 mi (0:14:36) Climbing: 886 ft Min Avg Max DFPM Pow 81 270.6 391 W Gravity -16 231.2 354 W Speed 5.2 7.7 13.7 mi/h Elev 578 1026 1468 ft Slope -0.4 9.04 19.2 % Caden 49 67.1 109 rpm HR 95 143.5 158 bpm NP:288W IF:0.98 TSS:24 VI:1.06 3/30/2014 8:06 AM 40 degF; 1022 mbar
SWEARENGIN CLIMB Dist: 1.61 mi (0:12:17) Climbing: 640 ft Min Avg Max DFPM Pow 19 246.9 385 W Gravity -48 201.2 372 W Speed 4.9 7.9 14.3 mi/h Wind 0.0 8.1 24.0 mi/h Elev 591 887 1244 ft Slope -1.0 7.70 19.4 % Caden 30 66.0 99 rpm HR 112 142.1 157 bpm NP:267W IF:0.91 TSS:17 VI:1.08 3/30/2014 11:41 AM 62 degF; 1020 mbar
BLOWING CAVE (COMPLETE CLIMB) Note: I was super tired and weaved up the climb. Dist: 1.73 mi (0:14:04) Climbing: 751 ft Min Avg Max DFPM Pow 0 251.5 451 W Gravity -387 202.8 417 W Speed 3.3 7.4 19.4 mi/h Wind 0.0 6.5 25.9 mi/h Elev 725 1122 1470 ft Slope -7.3 8.28 23.6 % Caden 34 60.2 112 rpm HR 120 141.2 157 bpm NP:282W IF:0.96 TSS:22 VI:1.12 3/30/2014 3:06 PM 65 degF; 1019 mbar
BLOWING CAVE - STEEP CAT 4 section only From a 2013 ride when I went straight up the climb. Dist: 0.29 mi (0:04:06) Energy: 74.7 kJ Cals Burn: 71.4 kcal Climbing: 300 ft Min Avg Max Power 187 303.6 398 W Gravity 189 284.2 372 W Speed 3.1 4.3 6.8 mi/h Wind 0.0 2.4 7.1 mi/h Elev 27 187 329 ft Slope 13.2 20.23 26.8 % HR 141 149.0 155 bpm NP:311W IF:1.05 TSS:8 VI:1.02 2/10/2013 10:03 AM 51 degF; 990 mbar
This weekend was quite the kicker of a way to end the training season and dive headlong into racing season … starting next weekend with the southern cross race. Here’s a quick look at what I believe I’ll be racing the next few weeks:
Feb 16 - southern cross (mtb) Feb 17 - gsmr training race #1 Feb 24 - gsmr training race #2 Mar 3 - gsmr training race #3 Mar 10 - rouge roubaix Mar 16-17 - union city (crit, rr) Mar 23 - hell of the south
Yesterday was an epic 102 mile day with BBL with four attack zones and koms, adventuresome climb up bass pro cement road (close to 35% gradient), and followed up by more climbing with Mark through Mountain Brook and Vestavia. Today, Kristine was working up in Huntsville so I tagged along to do some riding/climbing up in Huntsville.
First, the scoop on today’s ride up in Huntsville … Kristine was working her admin assistant job for the army reserve center up in Huntsville, so I decided to tag along to try to get a good long climbing ride exploring some new climbs and putting in a couple hard KOM efforts on others. I ended up falling a few seconds short on the Monte Sano climb (kudos Mark) but taking the Hawk’s Nest one. Here’s a view from the top of monte sano looking back down torwards Huntsville with the space and rocket center visible in the background (look for the tall white rocket).
At this point in the ride, the temp had climbed into the mid 50s with a few clouds and even a little bit of sun. After exploring another Cat 3 climb on the Monte Sano ridge line, I headed down 431 towards Keel and the super steep Blowing Cave climb. As I approached Keel, it started to rain a bit off and on but nothing heavy or steady. By the top of the Blowing Cave climb, though, it was starting to rain a little more frequently so that by the time I had turned around and climbed Keel from the backside and then descend on the frontside it was pouring … and the temp was down into the 40s … and I had shorts and short finger gloves on. I immediately decided to cut out a huge chunk of the ride … Woodville to Skyline (Cat 2) … and trade it for an additional climb up Keel. This worked out well because the additional climbs up Keel kept me warm enough so that I wasn’t hypothermic for the descent down Blowing Cave.
That descent was insane in the heavy rain and cold. I knew I couldn’t get up too much speed because there would be no way to brake hard enough and turn without sliding out. Still, the super steep section towards the bottom (20% avg for 0.3 miles) I outran my brakes and had to negotiate some of the turns at much higher speed than I felt comfortable doing. By the bottom, I was frigid but thankful I hadn’t fallen and that I could start hammering again to try to generate body heat. Fortunately, I had a nice tailwind for a large part of the next ride so I was able to crush the 53×11 to a gas station near 4 mile post rd (east side of cecil ashburn). I spent a while warming up in the gas station drinking $1.09 ($1.18 with tax) 20 oz cappuccino before braving the cold rain again. Absolutely freezing and even with a tailwind and a Cat 3 climb, I still almost crashed coming down Cecil Ashburne with speed wobble because I was shivering so badly! Fortunately, once I made it to the bottom again, there was an awesome tailwind, a lot of open road, and a lot of green lights. I arrived back at the armory sooner than expected. As soon as I stopped riding, though, and my heartrate dropped I got so cold that I was shivering again uncontrollably for a good 5 minutes until I had warmed up in the car in the parking lot with the seat warmer on and heat blasting at 90 degF. Here’s pic of the conditions (it had been raining hard for the last 35 miles of my ride) at the armory after I had stopped shivering enough to get a picture:
Here’s the iBike data from the ride and from some of the popular Huntsville climbs…
Summary of all climbs listed below Dist Avg% Max% Gain Bankhead 4-way stop (Monte Sano) 3.63 mi 4.98 12.0 990 ft Big Cove - Governor's Bend 2.07 mi 6.57 23.3 786 ft Blowing Cave Wall (Keel Mtn) 0.30 mi 19.91 26.8 309 ft Blowing Cave Complete (Keel Mtn) 3.83 mi 4.49 26.8 1050 ft Keel Backside (north) (Keel Mtn) 1.55 mi 11.20 17.4 895 ft Keel Frontside (south) (Keel Mtn) 1.88 mi 9.39 25.2 897 ft Cecil Ashburne (east) 2.02 mi 5.47 12.6 582 ft
Bankhead from 4-way stop (Monte Sano) Dist: 3.63 mi (0:15:38) Climbing: 990 ft Min Avg Max Power 46 326.4 684 W Speed 9.5 14.0 27.4 mi/h Slope -4.0 4.98 12.0 % HR 142 170.0 182 bpm NP:332W IF:1.13 TSS:33 VI:1.02 168 lbs; 2/10/2013 7:59 AM 48 degF; 990 mbar
Big Cove - Governor's Bend (Monte Sano) Dist: 2.07 mi (0:14:21) Climbing: 786 ft Min Avg Max Power 0 243.1 420 W Speed 3.9 8.7 23.6 mi/h Slope -6.0 6.57 23.3 % HR 119 139.1 150 bpm NP:261W IF:0.88 TSS:19 VI:1.07 168 lbs; 2/10/2013 8:52 AM 50 degF; 990 mbar
Blowing Cave Wall (Keel Mtn) Dist: 0.30 mi (0:04:11) Climbing: 309 ft Min Avg Max Power 187 304.0 409 W Speed 3.1 4.4 8.6 mi/h Slope 8.6 19.91 26.8 % HR 141 148.9 155 bpm NP:311W IF:1.05 TSS:8 VI:1.02 168 lbs; 2/10/2013 10:03 AM 51 degF; 990 mbar
Blowing Cave Complete (Keel Mtn) Dist: 3.83 mi (0:19:59) Climbing: 1050 ft Min Avg Max Power 0 256.1 496 W Speed 3.1 11.5 35.1 mi/h Slope -10.7 4.49 26.8 % HR 126 141.7 155 bpm NP:273W IF:0.92 TSS:28 VI:1.07 168 lbs; 2/10/2013 10:02 AM 51 degF; 990 mbar
Keel Backside (Keel Mtn - North) Dist: 1.55 mi (0:14:57) Climbing: 895 ft Min Avg Max Power 0 254.0 427 W Speed 4.6 6.2 21.3 mi/h Slope 1.7 11.20 17.4 % HR 121 137.0 142 bpm NP:257W IF:0.87 TSS:19 VI:1.01 168 lbs; 2/10/2013 10:27 AM 52 degF; 990 mbar
Keel Frontside (Keel Mtn - South) Dist: 1.88 mi (0:16:00) Climbing: 897 ft Min Avg Max Power 0 248.6 449 W Speed 3.9 7.1 23.4 mi/h Slope -4.2 9.39 25.2 % HR 123 134.0 142 bpm NP:253W IF:0.85 TSS:19 VI:1.02 168 lbs; 2/10/2013 11:05 AM 45 degF; 990 mbar COLD AND RAINING HARD
Cecil Ashburne from Hwy 431 (east side) Dist: 2.02 mi (0:10:47) Climbing: 582 ft Min Avg Max Power 0 276.4 604 W Speed 0.0 11.3 24.1 mi/h Slope -0.6 5.47 12.6 % HR 111 138.5 146 bpm NP:287W IF:0.97 TSS:17 VI:1.04 168 lbs; 2/10/2013 12:25 PM 44 degF; 990 mbar COLD AND RAINING VERY HARD
Now, the BBL videos from the attack zones and the climbs – in reverse order starting with the Bass Pro climb.
Bass pro climb Dist: 0.22 mi (0:02:31) Climbing: 218 ft Min Avg Max Power 124 349.7 582 W Gravity 100 316.0 448 W Speed 3.4 5.4 11.2 mi/h Slope 3.1 18.05 33.2 % Cadence 32 49.1 102 rpm HR 133 164.7 178 bpm NP:374W IF:1.27 TSS:7 VI:1.07 168 lbs; 2/9/2013 12:11 PM 58 degF; 990 mbar
This adventure started out on Christmas day when we began our annual trek north to Wisconsin to visit Kristine’s family and enjoy the winter wonderland of the northwoods of Wisconsin. For the past two years, I have left our house in the morning and biked north towards Wisconsin. About six hours later, Kristine has picked me up somewhere north of Cullman, and then we have finished the rest of the 18 hour drive overnight to arrive in Shell Lake by the next morning.
This year, there was a major storm system moving in from the Gulf of Mexico promising lots of rain for Alabama and a huge blizzard for Indiana. We were racing this storm. Everything looked perfect for us to stick to our plan since the system wasn’t supposed to be arriving until later in the evening — at which point we would have already made it to Chicago. My ride started out great with over 3 hours of overcast skies and upper 30s lower 40s temp. Then shortly after discovering the Emerald Lakes climbs and making it to the bottom of Skyball Mountain, it started to pour down rain and thunderstorm. My Garmin cut off unexpectedly as my power meter died and the Garmin struggled to find a signal. I lost all of the data except for the first 15 miles of the ride. Sounds crazy, but I’m pretty sure that the source of the problem is when the power meter starts to give off goofy power meter readings, which confuses the Garmin and then causes it to crash. This has happened several times — all related to goofy (or missing) power meter readings. I’m pretty sure about that since I rode a long time in the rain yesterday but turned off the power meter on the Garmin, and the Garmin had no problems recording the entire 8 hour ride – so it’s not a problem with the Garmin and the rain. It’s a problem with bogus (or missing) power meter signal while the Garmin still is looking for a power meter.
Anyway, back to the ride at Christmas, I ended up riding the rest of the way to Cullman (about 2 hours) including the climb up Skyball Mountain in the pouring down rain and temp in the upper 30s. I was freezing, but I rode really, really hard to stay warm. Then in the process of coordinating the pick-up with Kristine at First Baptist Church Cullman (heavily damaged by April 27th tornado) well short (30 miles) of our original pick-up spot, I stopped and waited for Kristine. It only took her a few minutes because she had earlier started to back track on the route. Those few minutes were enough to make me so cold that I couldn’t stop shivering until I had dried off, changed clothes, heater blasting in the car, and driving up to the original gas station in Falkville where we were supposed to meet.
During this amazing awesome time of warming up, I tethered Kristine’s laptop to her phone and uploaded the ride to Strava discovering that all but the first 15 miles were lost. Initially, I was pretty upset — but then a few minutes later I resolved to do the ride again as an out/back ride from my house. The thought of that adventure was exciting enough to quash the sick feeling in my stomach of losing about 60 miles of data from an epic ride with new climbs and probably a few KOMs.
Yesterday was the culmination, two and a half weeks after the original ride, of that excitement/anticipation. The weather forecast called for fog in the morning and slight chance of rain in the afternoon. Instead, it stayed heavy wet fog all day (misty light rain) and then rained hard by the end of the ride after sunset. Fortunately, I turned off my power meter on my Garmin so that the same problem wouldn’t happen again with the Garmin unexpectedly powering off and losing ride data. But that means I only have power meter data for the first hour or so of the ride, and the latter part of that data is bogus as the power meter starting giving off much too high power readings for the effort I was putting out. That is when I decided to turn the power meter off. Unfortunately, I had to keep a ziplock bag over the Garmin for most of the ride, which kills the total elevation gain as the Garmin is slower in responding to elevation change — which doesn’t make too much of a difference when you are crawling up a climb, but it does affect how it reads the descents … meaning that smaller hills get flattened because the Garmin never records the negative change before you’ve already started up (or completely finished) the next hill.
There were two key things that I was anticipating on this ride: 1) the adventure of an out/back ride from Birmingham up and over Skyball 2) The emerald lakes climbs which I feel could be the steepest paved climbs in Alabama. The top video on this post is from that “steepest climb” on the return portion of the trip after climbing Skyball, changing a flat tire, and lots of other adventures about 95 miles into my ride. The next video below is the climb up the same ridge line near Emerald Lakes, but from the opposite side on the way out to Skyball. It also has some extended 20-25+% sections, but is more of a stair-stepper than the backside climb. Both videos are long, but if you click the “watch on youtube” button then you can click on the video bookmarks in the description to jump directly to interesting spots.
The driest part of the ride was climbing up Skyball on the way out as the clouds had lifted a bit, but by the time I had turned around in the valley on the other side to climb back up, it had started to rain again. Here’s a short video heading down towards the Warrior river with a view of the skyball ridgeline.
After climbing Skyball, I passed a hunter hunting from the roadside (I don’t think you’re supposed to do that). I also got a flat tire climbing back up Skyball Mountain, so I changed it at the top right next to the Tour de Cullman Skyball KOM finish line. The video below is me narrating the last part of the climb back up Skyball telling about my favorite Tour de Cullman finish (2011) and also discovering that I had a flat tire. Also, the two pictures are from the flat tire change.
I spent a lot of time on changing the flat tire making sure I cleaned out all the debris that accumulated in the tire because I still had almost 70 miles left to get home. Fortunately, the single tire change held all the way home (although it had developed another slow leak so I had to change it again last night after I got home). I stopped at Locust Fork to refuel, and got two 20 oz Pepsi’s and one 32 oz gatorade for a total of $3.50. That was a LOT of liquid sugar for not too much money! I ended up with the nutritional equivalent of a perfect tweet – consuming that plus 7 powergels plus 3 cliff bars for a total of about 2300 calories during the ride arriving home without bonking and having eaten everything I had taken with me.
Shortly after the Locust Fork stop, I turned around on AL-79 to head down to the Warrior River bridge to see if the climb from there to the top of Tucker Mountain would cross the Cat 3 threshold (it did). I also went hard to try to get the Tucker Mountain KOM (I did – but just barely – taking it from somebody named “No One” who had ridden from Huntsville to Birmingham … that ride was only 111 miles compared to my 135 mile out/back ride).
By the time I made it back down into more familiar territory, it was past sunset and pretty dark given the rain. I did get a couple more videos below that are somewhat interesting (tornado damage from a tornado on January 23rd, 2012. And also a video starting the climb back up red mountain (including near miss with car towards the beginning). The audio is really muddled on these because I think water got in the microphone port. After climbing Red Mountain, I put my blinky lights on and rode the rest of the way home in the dark, climbing up to the top of Vestavia Dr just as started to rain pretty hard. The last 6 miles or so were in pretty heavy rain as documented by the last video (iphone)
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:
176 miles and just under 20,000 feet of climbing on a cold, foggy, sometimes rainy beautiful October day in the mountains of upstate South Carolina and western North Carolina. My one goal for the ride was to get the Sassafras KOM on the Cat 1 climb from the Eastatoe Valley, but I ended up setting a few other KOMs along the way! Climbing up through the cloud layer and then riding above the clouds up on the Blue Ridge parkway was definitely the highlight of the ride. Ironically, turning around a few miles later and descending back through the cloud layer nearly crashing a few times and absolutely freezing in the mist was the low point of the ride. I’ve included a few of my favorite photos and videos below and then a detailed write-up – and then the rest of the photos, videos, and Garmin screenshots at the end of the post.
We left Birmingham right after Josiah’s baseball game so we could try to make it up to Talladega before the end of the big nascar race and the ensuing traffic nightmare – but we were also hoping to see if we could catch a glimpse of the cars high on the track visible from I20 as we drove past. We ended up arriving about 5 minutes after the end of the race, which we listened to on the radio so we were hoping to see smoke from the big crash on the last lap but we missed that too. Still, it was cool to see all the campers and all the people in the grandstands.
The rest of the drive up to South Carolina was relatively uneventful, and we arrived at the Fieldstone Farm Bed and Breakfast just outside of Seneca shortly before 10PM eastern. After an early breakfast the next morning, I was off on what I was hoping to be a 10 hour adventure (it turned out to be closer to 11 hours). It was cold, overcast, and windy on the way over to Clemson – but the clouds didn’t look thick enough for rain (I was wrong about that, too). Riding through campus, I ran into a guy with a backpack riding a nice Trek while I was taking a picture of Tillman Hall – we chatted for a minute or two and then I headed north out of Clemson up past the mountain bike trails of Issaqueena Forest towards my first goal of the day – the Sassafras Mountain KOM from the Eastatoe Valley.
I decided to target 275 watts for the climb, but my legs were feeling great so I ended up averaging close to 300 watts on the climb up to Beasley Gap. After the long downhill before the start of the final steep Cat 2 portion of the climb, I had dropped down below 280 watts. The Sassafras climb is super steep in parts with downhills in between – there is only one short section with a steady easy gradient. Everything else is either straight up or straight down. I was surprised at how quickly I made it up the last steep section to the short downhill before the final kick up to the top. Then after pushing my bike under the gate, I was able to blow through the last slippery wet steep leafy section with no problem. I ended up getting the KOM by 20 minutes.
The very top of Sassafras (elevation 3559ft) was at the bottom of the cloud layer so there was a light mist, and the air temp had dropped into the upper 30s. I wanted to get a short video at the top, but was having problems with my iPhone crashing so it took a few minutes to get the video. I was freezing by the time I was ready to head back down. Fortunately, I was out of the rain mist pretty quickly and was able to bomb most of the descent. By the time I hit the Chimneytop Gap descent, the roads were completely dry and I let it rip down the mountain pedaling hard at the top and never hitting my brakes. I ended up maxing out at 59.5 mph, but it felt much faster than S Cove because the distance traveled at that speed was far greater (close to a mile!)
Once I made it back to US178, I started the climb up into North Carolina that crosses the Eastern Continental Divide. As I got close to the divide I noticed that I was approaching the cloud layer again. Once I hit the cloud layer this time, it was a much heavier rain mist. This continued all the way across the top and then all the way down the long gradual descent to Rosman, NC. By the time I made it to Rosman, I was absolutely freezing. I had no rain booties on so my feet were freezing with the wind, rain, and cold. I spent a long time inside the gas station warming up – drinking a large cup of coffee and refilling my bottles with gatorade. I also got a couple plastic grocery bags I could use as rain/wind booties inside my shoes. They worked perfectly.
Leaving Rosman, I continued heading north (and up) towards the Blue Ridge parkway. The climb starts out very gradual on some really curvy fun roads on NC215 to reach Balsam Grove. After passing through Balsam Grove, I was starting to finally warm-up again because the rain mist had turned into mostly just fog climbing up through the cloud layer below the parkway. By the time I made it to the parkway, I had climbed up through the clouds and was rewarded with some spectacular views. After another 10 miles of rolling roads and climbing, I reached the high point of the parkway, which was again back in a layer of clouds. Cold and out of food, I stayed there for less than a minute before turning around to book it back to Balsam Grove as fast as possible.
Some of the best views on the way back were near the Rough Butt Bald overlook. Several mountains were peaking through the cloud layer and looked like tiny islands surrounded by a sea of white. Plus, there were some arms of the main ridge line extending down into the clouds that were lit up with the beautiful fall foliage. Leaving the parkway, I knew that the descent back down to Balsam Grove would be wet, but I didn’t realize how cold it would be. After nearly losing it in the first switchback I went really slow and my heart rate probably dipped down into the 60s or 70s which meant that my body was a frozen popsicle by the bottom.
Fortunately, I made it back to the gas station and warmed up again with hot food and more coffee. I was running really late by this point in the ride and I was starting to realize that I wasn’t going to make it back before dark — so I poured the coffee into a gatorade bottle and stuck it in my back pocket — perfect to warm up my body while I was letting it cool off enough to drink. By this point I was having lots of problems with my phone (it kept on locking up whenever I tried to do anything) so I didn’t end up getting any more pictures, so that was disappointing.
The highlight of the latter part of the ride was finding a really cool road that paralleled US64 for a while — Old Quebec Road — which came after all the switchbacks on Silverstein Road. These two roads are amazing low traffic roads. If I lived anywhere in the Cashiers/Sapphire/Rosman area, I’d spend a lot of time on those roads. With my phone not working, I was worried that Kristine would be worried — especially as I approached my original estimated return time of 6:30PM. I booked it down Whitewater, which again was somewhat disappointing because as soon as you cross back into SC the roads are so rutted and stacked up from heavy truck braking that it is pretty dangerous. It feels like the bike is going to break up underneath you.
When I finally made it to Salem, I saw a Dollar General employee outside taking a break and asked if I could borrow her phone. She kindly let me use it to call Kristine and tell her that I was about 15 miles out. It was 6:45PM with a sunset scheduled to happen at 7:07PM. I was going as fast as I could as I skirted around West Union via Burnt Mill Rd when I saw a “Road Closed Ahead” sign. I thought “you’ve got to be kidding me”. I chanced that I would still be able to get through on my bike, thinking that worst case there would be a bridge out and I would have to take my shoes off to cross a small creek. But fortunately, it was just a closed bridge that was still perfectly intact, but must have been declared unsafe for cars. Once past there it was less than 5 miles to home and I was running on a lot of adrenaline to be done as the sun had already set and it was getting quite dark. I ended up averaging well over 20mph for that last 15 miles of the ride making it back to our cabin by 7:25PM.
We piled the kids into the car as far as possible and drove to Clemson to enjoy our favorite Mexican restaurant and then 3 spoons yogurt afterwards … perfect ending to a perfect day!
Nothing like a trip somewhere else to make you see your own backyard in a whole new light. I recently returned from Leadville, Colorado and have been drawing comparisons between the climbing in the high mountains of Colorado vs the climbing in the really low mountains of Alabama. I came back to Alabama to find the prizes I won on the queen stage of the Rapha Rising competition (Read my ride report here – Rapha Rising Wednesday Mega-ride). I’ve been thinking about this topic for quite a while – so I’m going to let my annotated screenshots illustrate some conclusions I’ve reached from a quantitative perspective, but from a qualitative perspective I have to conclude that neither is better than the other. Climbing big mountains is just so radically different than climbing smaller hills that it really is like comparing apples to oranges. Fortunately for me, I like them both.
My friend and teammate Jacob Tubbs sent me this link to a Fat Cyclist post from earlier this week: http://www.fatcyclist.com/2012/07/30/how-climby-is-your-climbiest-ride/. Even though it was a contest with a specific set of rules, what I got out of the post was that the Fat Cyclist really loves riding where he lives and was wondering if other people had cooler places to ride. My personal thought on this is that a person who really loves cycling will adapt their interests so that wherever they live is the BEST place in the world to ride. I’ve lived and ridden in several places all around the country, and each has been my favorite place to ride during whatever phase of life I was in at the time.
So without a doubt, Birmingham, Alabama is the best place to ride – especially if you like the trifecta of climbing, descending, and cornering. The appeal to me is summed up in these two screenshots from Strava. The first one illustrates how many times your speed changes in a single ride. The second one has the ride map demonstrating the amount of cornering in a single ride plus the elevation profile. Those are just the quantifiable aspects of the ride that are appealing to me … the qualitative aspects go on and on, but the top of the list has to be the scenery with everything from ridges stacked on top of ridges to beautiful trees, gardens, neighborhoods. Plus, since there are so many neighborhoods to ride through, you see a bit of the everyday life of people from all walks of life.
Ride highlights today alone included seeing (again) the mountain goat statues on Monterey Pl setup for the olympics as if they were in a high diving event (see pic at the end), seeing all kinds of clouds and cloud patterns from the thunderstorms firing up all around, scaring a wild turkey as it was crossing the road at the top of Shook Hill (never seen one this close into town before), and just the usual fast descents and steep climbs. Today was extra special, though, because I really felt the entire ride was a fun “dance” … very delicately balancing the maximum amount of climbing I could do without repeating the same road twice (in the same direction) while still trying to hit the highlights of some of my favorite roads – AND while avoiding huge thunderstorms moving through the area. I was successful in avoiding the thunderstorms, but ended up getting a flat tire, then flatting again on the spare. Luckily I was right next to Cahaba Cycles when I flatted the second time.
So I set out to do a “climby” ride and ended up on one of the best training rides of the year covering 73.9 miles and climbing 12,327ft, exploring part of Cahaba Heights that I haven’t ridden in a while. Plus, one more thing about how much variety and selection there is in the roads to ride around Birmingham … this ride is probably less than 10% of the available roads in the area – including entire sections of town I had to avoid because of the thunderstorms. Bluff Park, Georgetown, Hoover, Homewood, Birmingham proper including Red Mountain and Ruffner Mountain, the Double Oak area including Leeds – none of these made it into this ride. This ride traverses parts of just three suburbs of Birmingham: Vestavia Hills, Mountain Brook, and a small portion of Irondale.
I didn’t have a camera with me today, but I’ve dug up a selection of photos I’ve taken from spots on the route I covered today.