Posts tagged ‘epic’

Winter Gridlock 2014 – a pictoral timeline

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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

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

Monday – Friday

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

Wrapping up the year with the Festive 500

Finishing the festive 500 in the cold and dark.Finished #festive500 yesterday in the dark with temp down to -22.4 degF. Not ashamed to admit some tears were shed towards the end… perhaps this is how Andy Hampsten felt on that epic day in the 1988 giro. I have finished atop the leaderboard in several Strava challenges, but I am more proud of finishing 4,992nd in this year’s Festive 500 than any of the ones I have finished 1st.

Each year for the past several years, Rapha has sponsored a challenge to ride 500km (310 miles) from December 24th – December 31st, inclusive. Since I normally ride close to 400 miles per week, this is well within my normal riding range. But our tradition is to leave Alabama on Christmas day and drive 1100 miles north to Shell Lake, Wisconsin to visit my wife’s family. This makes the Festive 500 especially challenging because of the winter weather in northwestern Wisconsin. Temperature and road conditions vary from year to year, so some years are easier than others. Here is the day-by-day adventure that was the 2013 Festive 500.

Day 1 – 12/24/2013 Birmingham, AL brick alley 2x plus climbing

12/24 - my two bikes after riding home from brick alley12/24 – my two bikes after riding home from brick alley

Summary – I wanted to scope out the S Cove Dr climb and try to hit 2.5 million feet of climbing for the year so I stayed close to home and did a bunch of repeats on the Green Valley roller coaster. I also needed to pick up my mtb from Craig at Brick Alley. He was putting some mineral oil brakes on my bike and changing out the tires to the widest tire he had in the shop (2.25″ Tiagos) to get ready for my trip to Wisconsin. I stopped by, picked up the bike, and pushed it the three miles home while riding my road bike.

12/24/2013 at 12:06pm Birmingham, AL brick alley 2x plus climbing
Average temp 36 degF Distance 45.9 mi
Moving time 3:29:31 Climbing 10,299 ft
Elapsed time 4:05:32 Speed (avg/max) 13.1/54.4 mph

Day 2 – 12/25/2013 Birmingham, AL strava shootout finale – s cove dr

12/25 - S Cove Dr - 25% max gradient12/25 – S Cove Dr – 25% max gradient

Summary – For the last three months of the year, some of us climbing addicts in Birmingham participate in the Strava Shootout, where we pick a climb each week and the fastest time up the climb that week wins that week. http://topocreator.com/shootout – the final climb of the year this year is the super steep s cove dr very close to my house. It climbs 222 feet in just 0.2 miles averaging just under 20% with a max gradient of 25%. I hyperventilated and couldn’t get enough air after the effort last year b/c it is so long at the intensity required to put in a good time … imagine a good solid 1’30” sprint at 600 watts. This year my legs were pretty dead from a really long ride two weeks prior and then a 508 mile week the following week. So my shootout effort was 5 seconds lower than my best time on the climb, and I could tell b/c I wasn’t hyperventilating as bad this year. I warmed up by heading out to Mountain Brook and doing some climbing.

12/25/2013 at 9:45am Birmingham, AL strava shootout finale – s cove dr
Average temp 39 degF Distance 30.1 mi
Moving time 2:07:05 Climbing 4,895 ft
Elapsed time 2:19:08 Speed (avg/max) 14.2/50.6 mph

Days 3 (12/26) and 4 (12/27) – Travel

1107 miles and 30 inches of snow later, we arrived in Wisconsin1107 miles and 30 inches of snow later, we arrived in Wisconsin
1107 miles from AL to WI1107 miles from AL to WI

We left Birmingham at about 2 in the afternoon and drove straight through the night 1107 miles north to Wisconsin. There was some nasty freezing fog on I-65 near La Fayette, Indiana so we got off the interstate and headed west ending up taking some dirt roads which were much easier to drive on. Nearly 23 hours later, we arrived in Shell Lake, WI at about 1 in the afternoon.

Day 5 – 12/28/2013 Shell Lake, WI heartwood snow riding

12/28 - shell lake to heartwood via slushy muddy roads12/28 – shell lake to heartwood via slushy muddy roads
Various road conditions on the route from Shell Lake to HeartwoodVarious road conditions on the route from Shell Lake to Heartwood

Summary – this was by far my warmest ride in Wisconsin, but it was so warm that there was a lot of water on the roads (salted/sanded). I ended up getting soaked, muddy, and cold by the time I made it from Shell Lake to Heartwood about 30 miles north where we were spending a couple nights in a rental cabin. I took a circuitous route on some new dirt roads I’d never ridden before. Most of the roads were wet or slushy, but the really rural dirt roads were still pretty good snow pack for riding. By the time I made it to the Heartwood resort cabin area, the snow was super soft and had been driven on a lot so it was nearly impossible to ride. I persisted at an average speed of about 5mph for the last 3 miles of the ride arriving at the cabin just after sunset.

12/28/2013 at 11:09am Shell Lake, WI heartwood snow riding
Average temp 30 degF Distance 63.7 mi
Moving time 4:46:08 Climbing 2,112 ft
Elapsed time 6:57:16 Speed (avg/max) 13.4/28.6 mph

Day 6 – 12/29/2013 Trego, WI long day in the cold

First cold ride, little did I know how much colder it was going to get.First cold ride, little did I know how much colder it was going to get.
Long day in the cold - very cold after sunset!Long day in the cold – very cold after sunset!

Summary – we woke up to really cold temps, and I figured I would go out early and then split my ride up into two rides. But by the time I made it to Minong, I was so cold I spent well over an hour warming up at a gas station and decided to do everything in one ride. Riding in the snow was much better this day because it was so cold that everything was frozen together into hard snow instead of slippery loose snow. Webb Creek road on the way over to Minong was awesome, a super fast snowy road with some good hills and a beautiful frozen lake. I stopped back by our cabin after 45 miles and watched the first quarter of the Packers game while warming back up. I wanted to head back out for at least 15 more miles in the dark, but my headlight wasn’t showing the snow clear enough to take good lines, and it got really really cold very quickly … almost -18 degF by the end of the ride.

12/29/2013 at 9:56am Trego, WI long day in the cold
Average temp -8 degF Distance 56.9 mi
Moving time 4:28:19 Climbing 3,510 ft
Elapsed time 7:14:30 Speed (avg/max) 12.7/28.0 mph

Day 7 – 12/30/2013 Trego, WI cold ride home to shell lake

Walrus tusk after a long day in the cold.Walrus tusk after a long day in the cold.
Scenes from the beginning of my ride in the cold - less than an hour into the ride and my phone died.Scenes from the beginning of my ride in the cold. Immediately after taking the leftmost pic, my phone gave me a “critical battery” warning and then cut off before I could even click OK. This was less than an hour into the ride, starting with a full charge! You could hear the snowplow coming from at least half a mile away. The right picture is an ice fishing road on a frozen lake. The day before there was a pickup truck out on the lake.

Summary – at one point on this ride, I was on a heavily snowed logging road and got passed by three big logging trucks. My feet were so painfully cold, and I was counting down the miles to Trego – the first place I could stop to warm up. I was so out of it that I didn’t realize one of the trucks was behind me. He never blew his horn, but just sat there about 50 meters behind me until I realized that what I was hearing was not my tires in the snow but rather the engine of the truck. I immediately got out of the way so that he could get around me. Why was I so cold? The overnight temperature where we were near Minong was -36 degF. Yes, that is 36 degrees below zero air temperature. It did warm-up fairly quickly: -28 degF by sunrise, -20 degF for Kristine’s ski, and then -15 degF by the time I left to bike back to Shell Lake. Long before I made it to Trego (25 miles into the ride), my phone was completely dead, which was sad because I ate and warmed up at this really cool restaurant called the Dinner Bell. Since I couldn’t get any pictures, I saved it all to memory and then wrote it up here in a short picture-less blog here: A cold day in Wisconsin. Towards the end of this ride, as it started to get dark and snow on the really rural road I was on b/t spooner and shell lake, I wondered a few times if I had bit off more than I could chew. I wasn’t cold, per se, but my toes were killing me from the cold, and I was having a hard time seeing with the fading light and the light snow.

12/30/2013 at 11:14am Trego, WI cold ride home to shell lake
Average temp -9 degF Distance 49.6 mi
Moving time 3:44:56 Climbing 2,927 ft
Elapsed time 4:56:54 Speed (avg/max) 13.2/25.9 mph

Final Day – 12/31/2013 Trego, WI meteor hill epic

Three separate frozen beards for this final ride to finish the festive 500. Keep in mind that the ice was completely melted between warming stops, so those are new frozen beards each time! The first one was at my first warming stop 1 hour 47 minutes into the ride without stopping. The middle one has two walrus tusks! Kristine took the last one when I called her to come get me with only a few miles to make it back to the house.Three separate frozen beards for this final ride to finish the festive 500. Keep in mind that the ice was completely melted between warming stops, so those are new frozen beards each time! The first one was at my first warming stop 1 hour 47 minutes into the ride without stopping. The middle one has two walrus tusks! Kristine took the last one when I called her to come get me with only a few miles to make it back to the house.

Summary – without a doubt this was one of the toughest rides I’ve ever done. Not many rides have ever brought me to tears by the end, but this one did. I needed 104k to finish the 500km for the Festive 500 challenge so I knew it was going to be tough. I had originally figured I would split it up into two 33 mile rides, but it was so cold in the morning (-20 degF) that I wanted to let it warm up a bit before starting, which meant doing it all in one ride. The past few years I’ve included Meteor Hill (at 1800 ft, the highest point in northwestern wisconsin) in at least one ride and it would work out to be just under 70 miles roundtrip … so I thought “let’s go for it!”

The first place to stop on my route was Birchwood, 25 miles and 1:47 away from Shell Lake. The toe warmers I bought at the BP shown in the video below were complete duds and I was in some pain for the last 11 miles into Birchwood. Fortunately, there were two couples riding snowmobiles on the trail that paralleled Co Rd D. I raced them for a couple miles and this not only distracted me from the cold, but also warmed up my internal temp helping out my extremeties a bit. I ended up beating them to the spot where the trail left the road b/c they were going slow and their trail wound a bit. Also, I had a tailwind for much of the ride to Birchwood. But even with all that I was wondering if I was going to arrive at the gas station with some serious frostbite.

The small gas station was cold and very busy so after eating some pizza and drinking a little bit of coffee, I decided to try to find someplace warmer. Just down the street was the Birchwood Cafe, a really warm diner where I could relax. The manager (owner?), Sandy, thought I was with the 150 mile Tuscobia winter ultra adventure race/run/ski/ride that had started on Saturday. Just so you know, I’m not the only one riding a bike up here. Most of those people were on fat bikes going much slower so they didn’t have to deal quite as much with the windchill, but I’m not sure if they had as many places to stop and warm-up as I did. Plus, they were definitely working harder and kudos to all of them. I may have to try it next year, as it is a qualifier for the Iditarod Trail Race, and I ended up riding 240 miles over the same timeframe as the race (if there were still people riding it on New Year’s Eve).

The climb up meteor hill starts right outside of town. Last year I went up the paved state highway and came down the snowmobile trail. That is not very efficient b/c you have to go slower on the downhill than the uphill. So this year I decided to do the climb on the snowmobile trail and then come back down on the state highway. I knew this would be bitterly cold on the descent, but I also knew that raw time in the cold was a factor – so better to suck it up and get the ride back to the gas station done as quickly as possible. The snowmobile trail / road was beautiful and I got to follow some bunny tracks for a while, which are really fun to see the two sets of paw prints close together followed by another set at the next landing spot. My phone was still working, but I was way too cold to stop. I did stop once towards the bottom of the climb but this was before the bunny tracks, and I wasn’t going to stop again.

The descent back down from the top was long, gradual, and bitterly cold into a stiff headwind. I don’t even want to write about it. Fortunately, I knew that there was a gas station waiting at the bottom back in Birchwood. I was running out of daylight and knew that most of the ride back to Shell Lake would be into a headwind so I didn’t stop as long this time, but I did buy more toe warmers. I put two warmers in each foot (one on the top and one on the bottom), drank another cup of coffee, and took off barely 30 minutes after arriving.

I pushed the pace really hard leaving Birchwood with an average heartrate of 155bpm for 45 minutes all the way to Long Lake. I didn’t want to be out on the snowy/icy roads on New Year’s Eve. I relaxed a bit once I made it through Long Lake, where Co Rd D was a lot less icy, more wide open, and straighter. At this point the temperature, really started to plummet from about -14 in Long Lake to -20 a few miles later. Also, my Garmin battery switched over to the “yellow” low zone. In these temps, I didn’t know how much time that would give me so I just drilled it again as hard as I could. I watched the temp drop 0.1 degF every few seconds for several miles until it hit -20 right as the sun was setting. Even with the risk of time, battery, and cold, I had to stop and get a pic of the sunset and my Garmin.

Sunset on the final day, plus my Garmin showing -20 degF with my Nokia Lumia 1020 in the backgroundSunset on the final day, plus my Garmin showing -20 degF with my Nokia Lumia 1020 in the background.

Quick note about my equipment – you can see in the bottom pic my “mineral oil” brakes. They worked flawlessly in the cold the entire time. My Garmin held up for huge chunks of time in temps as low as 22 degF below zero. Towards the end of this final ride, the Garmin started ghosting. When I swiped between screens, it wasn’t as spontaneous as normal and the screen seemed to have two images on it for a fraction of a second. The total battery life looked like it would be about 7.5 hours which is at least 3 hours less than it owuld be in normal temps. My phone did not handle the cold as well. It lasted about an hour from a full charge before shutting off. My contour video camera lasted even less than an hour on the final day with only a few minutes of recording during that time. Shifting didn’t work up front, but worked fine in the back. The other big surprise for me was the cassette not engaging the freewheel, you had to do a really slow pedal revolution to give the clamps enough time to spring back up. This got really bad towards the end as it took a while to get it to engage.

Back to the ride, when I started up the long gradual hill from Co Rd D, it was still into a stiff headwind. The temperature was dropping fast. My Garmin battery was dying. I was getting tired but too cold to try to eat anything. And I had nothing to drink that was not frozen. I still had almost 9 miles to get to the 65 miles I needed to complete the challenge. Each new uphill into the wind, I thought you’ve got to be kidding me. There is no way I’m going to make it before either my legs or my Garmin gives out. My feet were really cold, and my hands were really cold but it didn’t matter. I just wanted to make it to 65 miles. Finally, I made it, stopped the Garmin and reset it (which saves the file), and called Kristine to come pick me up. I only had a few miles left to make it back to the house so I kept riding as she was driving towards me. By this point with the adrenaline gone from trying to make it to 65 miles and with the temp at -22 degF, I was cold – very cold. There was no way for me to get the wheels off the bike to get it into the car so we decided it would be better for me just to ride behind her slowly “heatpacing” at 15 mph which got me the final 2.7 miles of the way home for a total of 68.1 miles on the day.

12/31/2013 at 10:30am Trego, WI meteor hill epic
Average temp -11 degF Distance 68.1 mi
Moving time 4:41:54 Climbing 3,773 ft
Elapsed time 6:46:56 Speed (avg/max) 14.6/27.5 mph

Finally, here’s some videos I got on the final day before my contour camera died. And before that, here is the Garmin connect stats showing the temperature graph bottoming out at -22.4 degF after sunset.

Festive 500 finishing ride statsFestive 500 finishing ride stats

January 1, 2014 at 9:30 pm 1 comment

A little bit of arctic adventure in the deep south

About 3 hours into my attempt to ride from Nashville home to Birmingham, I took this picture while riding of my frozen beard. I was actually quite warm except for my feet.I took this picture of my frozen beard about 3 hours into my attempt to ride from Nashville home to Birmingham. I was actually quite warm except for my feet, which were very, very cold.

Everything was fitting together perfectly for me to attempt this epic ride from Nashville, TN back home to Birmingham, AL. Kristine and I had tickets to see Andrew Peterson’s “Behold the Lamb” Christmas concert at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville. We had a fun date night together and with my cousins Richard and Christy who live in Franklin. After the concert we hung out with our friends who had also driven up from Birmingham from the concert. By the time Kristine and I had made it back to our hotel, and by the time I got everything ready for my early departure in the morning it was 12:30AM.

Waiting for the Behold the Lamb concert to start at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, TNWaiting for the Behold the Lamb concert to start at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, TN

I toyed briefly with the idea of just starting my ride home right then rather than sleeping at all, but there were still a lot of cars on the road at midnight when we were driving to the hotel. I felt it was safer to let the streets clear out completely before departing so I ended up setting the alarm for 3:30AM to get exactly three hours of sleep. I was wide awake when the alarm went off, but despite having tried to get as much stuff together as possible before sleeping, it took me 30 minutes to get all my clothes on, eat, and get out the door at nearly exactly 4AM on what I was hoping would be a 14.5 hour, 250 mile ride home to Birmingham.

Annotated temperature graph pretty much tells the story of the ride.Annotated temperature graph pretty much tells the story of the ride.

I knew it was going to be cold for an extended period of time, but I was imagining temps closer to 20 degF than 10 degF! Even with the crazy temps (see the temperature graphs above), I was doing just fine everywhere except for my feet. I had thick insulated neoprene booties on, but even with loose shoes and as much blood circulation as possible, my feet just couldn’t stay warm. I had meant to grab some of the chemical warming packs to throw in my shoes but I had forgotten them at home, and I figured most gas stations in Tennessee are not going to carry them. If I had been in Wisconsin, I could have stopped at the next gas station and bought a couple of the chemical warmers for a dollar or two and been on my merry way.

Instead, I tried every trick of the trade to keep my feet warm – including the following:

  1. Following the old standby rule – “if you are cold, just ride harder”.
  2. Riding hard while standing and focusing on pulling my feet up rather than pushing them down – forces more blood down into your feet, the more inefficient and erratic the movement the better.
  3. Riding downhill with the brakes on while still pedaling hard – anything to minimize windchill and maximize blood circulation.
  4. Adding in as many steep hills as I could find – benefit of reducing windchill and increasing heartrate.

Even with all of those tricks, I was seriously contemplating calling Kristine to meet me in Lewisburg and abandon the ride after only 70 miles or so. But not too long after the sunrise, temps started to rise pretty rapidly all the way to the 20s by Lewisburg. The best thing was stumbling upon the donut shop with a heater I stood in front of for nearly an hour while drinking coffee and trying to warm up.

Lewisburg donut shopLewisburg donut shop – I spent an hour in here warming up after four hours of riding in the cold.

I had ridden in Lewisburg earlier this year, so I left the donut shop warmed up and on familiar roads. I made some great time between here and Fayetteville with some good climbs, warming temps, and a stiff north wind (tailwind). It was funny to be so cold before the donut shop and then to be sweating on a lot of the steep hills just a couple hours later. The section of US-64 was nice, but stressful even with a huge clean shoulder to ride on. On top of being stressfull, it was rather boring with very few turns and lots of long gradual climbs and descents. I struggled with “sleepy fatigue” through here as I was also probably crashing a bit from the caffeine and sugar from the donut shop.

I turned in Fayetteville and headed due south on a section of US-231 that was terrible with a very narrow shoulder and a lot of traffic. Fortunately, I turned off of it after a few miles and found some more beautiful backroads that gradually flattened until they were basically pancake flat by the time I hit the Alabama border. I had also ridden some of these roads once before so it was encouraging to be making great time and to be on somewhat familiar roads.

Unfortunately, my math brain was doing a lot of calculating through here and I had worked out a 10:30PM arrival in Birmingham at my current pace. This was somewhat discouraging as that was FOUR HOURS longer than I had planned. Kristine wanted to pick me up in Cullman, but I convinced her to let me ride to Cahaba Cycles Trussville, which would knock an hour and a half off the ride all the way back to our house in Hoover. That was the plan when I stopped at a waffle house off of US-72. Rejuvenated, I blazed through Huntsville at a decent clip but managed to hit a lot of school traffic and then by the time I made it all the way down to the Tennessee River bridge, I was picking up some early rush hour traffic. The road was really dangerous with stretches of nice shoulder followed inexplicably by long quarter mile sections of road with ZERO shoulder. The white line was right up against the grass. I spent a few miles trying to time the packs of cars coming up behind me (based on the traffic light before the bridge) perfectly with the shoulder. No close calls but I did bail off the road into the grass a couple of times when I didn’t get my timing right. I just did not trust the eighteen wheelers and the people driving 65+ mph. Definitely the most dangerous stretch of road for the trip and probably one of the top dangerous roads in Alabama in my opinion. (And I have ridden a LOT of roads in Alabama).

The climb itself was a good one with a nice fairly clean shoulder somewhat akin to the US-280 climb from Lee Branch heading east towards Chelsea for those of you in Birmingham who may have done that climb – except the US-231 climb is a bit steeper climbing an extra 150 feet compared to the US-280 climb. I turned at the top onto Apple Grove road and followed this forever … eventually hitting this year’s Alabama state road race course overlapping with it from the four way stop at the church all the way down past the steep descent. Instead of following the race course, I continued on through the descent and up the next hill continuing on this road for quite a while. There was one super steep cat 4 climb http://app.strava.com/activities/99939588#2138520004 that I was really thankful for after a stretch of flat roads. It had a section that was 0.3 miles long at 13% – I hit this at about 175 miles into my ride after sunset but before it got too dark to see without my light. At the top of this section, I decided to call Kristine and move up the “pick-up” spot from Cahaba Cycles Trussville to the bottom of Skyball. I was getting cold, the dogs were getting bad, and my recalculations had me arriving in Trussville closer to midnight as my pace started to slow.

This was the worst stretch of road as far as dogs went. It was one dog or group of dogs chasing me at what seemed like every house / trailer along the next set of county roads. I knew there would be some small roads and lots of potential dog problems along the entire route, but it really was just the county roads in southern Morgan County and Cullman County that were full of unchained, unfenced dogs. I tried being friendly with the dogs and most of them were fine, but then it started to get annoying. Fortunately, it was dark by this point and I kept my light on high-beam to blind the dogs. This was pretty effective as shining my light in the dogs’ eyes would without fail stop the dog dead in its track. My only guess is that the light is bright enough to temporarily blind/hurt/scare the dogs.

tour de cullman wooden plank bridgeTour de Cullman wooden plank bridge

Skyball kom line - tour de cullmanSkyball kom line – tour de cullman race finish

Passing east of Cullman I bee-lined it for the Tour de Cullman route arriving at this familiar bridge. I climbed sky ball at a snail’s pace, but I knew Kristine was waiting for me at the other side of the hill. Even though I was really disappointed not to make it all the way home, I was very happy to have climbed sky ball. At the top as I was taking pictures, my light died! Fortunately, there was a full moon so I’m 45% sure I could have ridden the rest of the way home in the dark as I ended up descending Skyball with no light at close to 30mph. That’s how bright the moon was! Still, I’m thankful that the light died as it gave me another great excuse to hop right in the car when I found Kristine at the blinky light intersection where I had directed her to meet me.

What an adventure! Next time I’m going to make it!!

Here’s all the pictures that I took during the ride.

December 15, 2013 at 11:03 pm Leave a comment

Gravel Grovel Pre-ride

View from the fire tower looking back down towards the start View from the hickory ridge fire tower looking back down the first big climb from the start

View from the firetower looking east towards some of the later climbs on the courseView from the firew tower looking east towards some of the later climbs on the course

Standing at the bottom looking up the 110 foot fire towerStanding at the bottom looking up the 110 foot fire tower

Snowing on the gravel road heading out towards the Story InnSnowing on the gravel road heading out towards the Story Inn

Trail climb with stone pile markersTrail climb with stone pile markers

Trail goes under this tree - rideable but watch out for the standing water just on the other sideTrail goes under this tree – rideable but watch out for the standing water just on the other side

You know a race is going to be epic if the pre-ride of the course is six hours long through amazing scenery like that shown in the pics above. We drove up from Birmingham late Tuesday night, and after sleeping in I set out to ride the whole course estimating it would be five hours at most. After getting lost in the national forest a couple times and bushwhacking a bit through what I’m 75% sure is part of the course, my pre-ride ended up being nearly six hours long. I ran out of food and water with nearly two hours left – so completely ravenous and bonked for the last climb and descent. The description for the race course is perfect – mix of road, mtb, and cross specific sections. This really is the perfect finale for the ultracx series. I mainly wanted to write a blog b/c I couldn’t instagram any of my pictures during the ride … too cold! Speaking of cold, the average temp for the ride was 25 degF starting out in the teens. This was a shock to my Alabama system as we really haven’t had any cold weather yet. 20 minutes in and my nose was burning from the cold wind. 20 minutes later though and I was climbing up a 15+% hill and fine for the rest of the day – except my second water bottle was drunk as a slushy four hours into the ride. Here are the rest of the pics I got:

November 28, 2013 at 11:36 am 2 comments

Winston-Salem Cycling Classic

Summary
Epic. Awesome. Classic. Wow. Whatever your favorite exclamation word is — this weekend was it! The criterium Saturday night had the feel of Athens Twilight with a fast course, lots of people lining the course, and a huge field. I ended up in OK position (top 20) for the start of the last lap, but got stuck behind a crash with three turns to go. After coming to a complete stop, I went around the crash and ended up 27th. Meanwhile, Team Predator Carbon Repair swept the podium. The road race was the highlight of the weekend for me, though, with a downtown circuit on a closed course (rolling enclosure) that featured a steep 16% climb towards the end of each lap and two separate 50mph descents. I rode conservatively, so I survived the race – but I also missed the key move. In fact, I watched it go away thinking that it was still too early (about halfway through the race). The move stuck, and a few laps later I ended up in a five-man chase group. We worked well together and stayed away from the field, but I was fighting off cramps and ended up last in the chase group for 14th in the race. Daniel Patten (Mountain Khakis/Smart Stop) attacked the break and ended up winning solo. Chris Uberti (Mountain Khakis/Smart Stop) also got away and soloed in for second.

The data
Normally I do a long write up of everyting I can remember from the race, but this time I’m starting with the data, which connected to at least part of my write-up anyway. The lap data for the criterium is messed up because the Garmin was struggling with keeping a satellite signal given how fast we were going underneath the skyscrapers in downtown Winston-Salem. So the autolap feature wasn’t kicking in every lap as shown below in the lap data:

Winston-Salem downtown criterium
Pro/1/2 27th place
GPS didn't handle skyscrapers well
Auto-lap wasn't correctly lapping every time
Lap(s)	Time	Miles	AvgPow	MaxPow	HR	RPM	MPH
1	2:15	0.91	350	946	166	81	24.8
2-4	5:42	2.71	307	979	178	82	28.5
5-8	7:39	3.75	272	996	181	81	29.4
9-10	4:00	1.87	252	1011	180	82	28
11-26	31:30	14.27	264	1026	180	82	27.2
27-28	3:58	1.84	263	894	180	83	27.9
29-30	3:59	1.76	254	894	179	80	26.4
31-33	5:58	2.62	263	932	181	82	26.4
34	1:52	0.84	269	939	181	80	27
35	1:58	0.89	270	954	181	82	27
36	1:48	0.83	271	1000	183	80	27.6
37	1:58	0.89	266	884	183	81	27.2
38	1:54	0.9	276	905	184	80	28.4
39	1:57	0.88	322	896	187	78	27.7

You can tell from the data that the course was about 0.9 miles long and laps were a bit under 2 minutes long. The start/finish stretch was straight with a very gradual downhill into turn 1. This led into a slight rise all the way through Turn 2, which was a brick covered turn — no issues since it wasn’t raining but would be a bit tricky in the rain. You continued climbing out of Turn 2 until you crested the hill right in front of the Mariott (race hotel). The road dipped down sharply (about 8%), and we hit about 40mph every lap. There was a bit of a flat run-out before Turn 3, but you still had a lot of momentum, which you wanted to carry through Turn 3 because this was straight back uphill to the high point on the course. Turn 4 should have been a fast turn, but it seemed like we always bunched up there. Turn 5 was a right turn, followed very quickly by a left and 100 meters left to the start/finish line.

Winston-Salem downtown criterium map (click to enlarge)Winston-Salem downtown criterium map (click to enlarge)

Perhaps the biggest surprise of this race for me was how high my heartrate was. I’ve known that my threshold heartrate is about 180, but I’ve always kept my Zone 5 starting at a heartrate of 175. In this race, I averaged 180 for well over 1 hour, 15 minutes so I’m guessing my threshold heartrate might even be a beat or two above 180. The problem with changing my HR zones at this point in my life is that it makes it impossible to do an apples-to-apples comparison of time spent in heartrate zones from all my previous years. I guess I’ll just leave it as is. Anybody have thoughts on this?

Winston-Salem downtown crit pro/1/2 - heartrate zone summaryWinston-Salem downtown crit pro/1/2 – heartrate zone summary

Winston-Salem downtown criterium - heartrate plot (click to enlarge)Winston-Salem downtown criterium – heartrate plot (click to enlarge)

Winston-Salem Downtown Road Race
Pro/1/2 - 14th
Lap(s)	Time	Miles	AvgPow	MaxPow	HR	RPM	MPH
1	16:50	7.19	248	853	160	88	25.7
2	17:12	7.18	240	813	162	88	25.1
3	17:28	7.18	223	817	162	82	24.7
4	17:23	7.16	233	747	160	81	24.7
5	18:05	7.17	200	749	155	81	23.8
6	19:25	7.23	191	682	145	79	22.4
7	18:49	7.21	196	718	148	78	23
8	18:02	7.2	237	714	159	82	23.9
9	19:17	7.18	212	631	151	78	22.3
10	18:33	7.15	223	649	160	79	23.1
11	19:28	7.13	211	731	154	76	22

You can tell from the lap data above that the road race course was around 7.2 miles long. The primary feature of the course was the fact that it went through so much of downtown Winston-Salem on a closed circuit (rolling enclosure). This was a hard race, but it was definitely one of the best courses I’ve raced this year. It was also quite hilly — with a steep 16% climb out of Hanes Park less than a mile from the finish.

Winston-Salem Classic Pro/1/2 road race power map - click to enlargeWinston-Salem Classic Pro/1/2 road race power map – click to enlarge

Given how hot, long, and hard the road race course was I tried to be really conservative so you can see my heartrate data is much lower. You can also see why so many people didn’t finish the race — look how hard we started out before the times slipped down into something more reasonable.

Winston-Salem Cycling Classic - road race heartrate plot (click to enlarge)Winston-Salem Cycling Classic – road race heartrate plot (click to enlarge)

Winston-Salem Cycling Classic heartrate zone summaryWinston-Salem Cycling Classic heartrate zone summary

The Details
Kristine and I wanted to bring the kids, but their weekend was already full (Josiah was fishing with some friends) and Analise had something going on at church. So it was just me and Kristine making the 7.5 hour drive from Birmingham Saturday morning arriving about 3 hours before the start of the race. This gave me some time to warm up and explore Winston-Salem. I found some cool roads and some sort of boarding school (appeared to be closed for the summer) with a dirt road back to a farm. I also saw a few urban trails (you can also see on the road race map how many dedicated trails there are in Winston-Salem – the solid green lines). It wasn’t enough time to explore all the roads, though, and I’m already seriously thinking about an excuse to get back up there and ride some more!

I rolled back towards the course just in time to see Allison Powers take the crit win. I had already ridden the course a few times before the start of the women’s race, but I decided to spin around one more time before the start of our race. I think we ended up getting in a couple laps before people started to line up. I lucked out a bit because right as I finished a lap, they brought out the ribbon to block off our staging area. Almost instantly, there were more than 100 riders lined up behind it because everybody knew how difficult this course was going to be.

The start was fast, and the rider in front of me was unable to clip into his pedals. I ended up losing a bunch of positions immediately because of this and then continued to lose positions throughout the next few laps. I tend to start out way too conservatively. But it only took a couple laps to realize that it was time to either “move up” or “get gapped off”. I switched into Athens Twilight mode and made it my primary objective to pass riders wherever I could anywhere on the course. Still, it was tough to move around because the course was so fast. I never once made it to the very front of the race. It was a bit disheartening at the top of the backside downhill to work so hard passing people and then still see so many riders stretched out in front of you.

By the end of the race, though, I had moved all the way up to 19th (according to the chip timing) at the start of the last lap. A gap opened up in front of the rider in front of me at the top of the downhill, but I was able to hop on the wheel of a rider who came around from behind me. A third rider passed us both going into the last corner which turned out to be good for both me and the rider I was following because we could see him slam on his brakes to avoid people who had fallen just out of sight around the corner. I came to a complete stop, hunched over expecting people from behind to come plowing into me — but apparently there was a big enough gap that had opened up behind us that the other riders were able to slow down and pass us on the inside without stopping.

Unfortunately, it must have been about 12 or 13 people that made it around because I passed about 5 or 6 people after restarting and still ended up 27th having lost a net of 8 places on the final lap. Unfortunate ending to what otherwise was a great race. That’s the nature and excitement of crit racing – I could have just as easily been a couple riders farther back and been able to take advantage of the crash to move up a bunch of spots. Or I could have been a couple riders farther forward and gone down in the crash. One of the riders was hurt pretty bad and taken to the hospital. Does anyone have an update on him?

No start or finish videos from this race (yet) because I’m working with Gene to hopefully have my video integrated into the NBC/Universal sports coverage of the race that is going to air this Sunday at 3PM eastern time. I don’t think they would be interested in this video I got of Justin Williams (MRI Endurance) demonstrating some awesome cornerning and maneuvering skills on the downhill turn. Check it out -

We stayed at the race hotel — the downtown Mariott — and didn’t even have to move our car from the lot we were in. The hotel was awesome, and our room overlooked the start/finish for the Sunday road race. In fact, we were able to watch the women’s field roll out and come in for the finish of their first lap before checking out. Our race was scheduled to start as soon as the women finished, but the police needed to have a break (understandable considering how hot it was and how much work they were doing). So our race ended up starting about 30 minutes late, and we went through two separate scrums for the line.

I ended up in great position for both of them, but again started out too conservatively and lost a ton of positions in the first half lap of the course. By the time we hit the Hanes Park climb at the end of the course, I was probably 100 riders back from the front. Gaps were opening up ahead of me, but fortunately there were enough motivated people to chase back onto the group. During this time, a large break of maybe 10 or more riders escaped. I thought they were gone for good — especially when a secondary chase group of almost 10 riders formed. But there were a number of strong people left in the field (including me) who had missed the move and tried to get across. This happened enough times that we eventually brought the large 20 rider break back by about 30 miles into the race (the two groups had merged). This shocked me somewhat as I thought the race was pretty much over.

The merged field probably had less than 75 riders at this point, and the counterattacks that went eventually led to a break of 11. I still wasn’t in good position and found myself at one point as the very last rider in the field. I know this because I got squeezed out of one of the turns and had to take the long way around finding myself getting passed by the trailing motorcycle and having to catch back on. Each lap our field got smaller as people came off on the final climb and weren’t able to catch back onto the field as it flew through the start/finish, made a turn, and hit a head/sidewind through the feedzone.

With a few laps to go, there was maybe 20 of us left in the field. Andy Scarano (UHC/706) attacked and got away eventually joining his teammate Winston David who I believe was coming back from the break. I attacked up the first hill from what was left of the field, and Gavriel Epstein (Champion Systems) bridged up to me. The two of us bridged up to the UHC duo, and then the four of us eventually caught Curtis Winsor (Smartstop / Mountain Khakis) who was either coming off the break or had attacked earlier.

We worked well together, but still had a two plus minute gap to the break. With two laps to go, we were told that this would be our last lap. The police were ready for us to be off the course, and it didn’t seem realistic for us to catch the break. I had mixed feelings about it because I was fighting off cramps and ready to be done, but I was also still holding out hope we would catch some guys from the break which had dwindled down to 9 riders. With only one lap to go, though, our chase lost cohesion as we started to attack each other.

Eventually Winston got away and stayed away for 10th. Then on the final hill, Gavriel attacked and got away taking 11th. Then in the final sprint between me, Andy, and Curtis — well let’s just say I finished 14th in the race — you do the math. Less than 30 finishers out of close to 150 starters. What an epic race!

June 18, 2013 at 10:42 pm 1 comment

Skyway Epic 2013

2013-podium-sm2013 Skyway Epic – Men’s open podium – Me, Kyle Taylor, Jamie Alexander (L-R)

Epic. This year’s race was highlighted by the most epic course of the season and an epic battle for the win between me and Kyle Taylor. I ended up on the losing end of that battle, but I’m still really happy with the race. I gave it everything I had attacking Kyle eight times on the forest road and double-track knowing that he was going to ride the singletrack much faster than me. You can see the entire race (including the epic climbing) in the annotated heartrate plot below.

Annotated heartrate plot ... epic ... (click to enlarge)Annotated heartrate plot … epic … (click to enlarge)

How awesome is the course? Let’s start with the starting area — a giant boat launch area with room for maybe 25 or more riders on the front row! After a short mad dash up the hill, you enter the sylaward trail system which is very fast singletrack with hardly any roots (woo-hoo!) I entered the singletrack fifth. Kyle got the hole shot and was gone. Behind him two other riders quickly separated themselves from the next group — which consisted of Jayfer Bezier, me, Jamie, and Will Fyfe in that order. Jayfer was riding the singletrack at just the right speed – so I was content to follow him … until Mike Lackey tacked onto our group. I knew he was fast in the single track, so I was nervous that people were going to start trying to pass so at the next opportunity I went ahead and passed Jayfer so I could attack the uphills faster even if I wasn’t taking the corners or downhills quite as fast as him.

I led through the singletrack for the next few miles and we eventually caught one of the riders who had been ahead. When we finally made it through all the singletrack, we started to paceline it and got distracted missing the turn onto the new double-track that Brent had cut this week. Kyle had also missed the turn. We had ridden the singletrack much faster than expected so we made it to the tricky turn before the volunteers.

This cost Kyle more than the rest of us because the lead he had built in the singletrack was gone. Brent got us straightened out though and our group of about eight riders entered the double-track together with me in second position behind Jamie. I was nervous about the new doubletrack, but in the end was able to ride everything including the epic eight foot high entrance ramp which descended down into a huge mud puddle (hidden from view on the other side). In fact this double track was one of my favorite parts of the course because it was completely rideable and yet super challenging with some muddy steep gradients.

After crossing the creek, we climbed a steep hill and this is where Jamie, Kyle, and I separated ourselves from the rest of the group. The top of this hill dumped us out onto the forest road where the three of us pace-lined it and were gone. I was a bit uncertain at this point about strategy because I had been planning for a long chase thinking that at least one or two people would have a huge lead coming out of the singletrack and doubletrack. Jamie came off our group towards the bottom of the Cat 2 climb up to the Skyway. Kyle and I settled into a hard steady tempo, and I debated about attacking once or twice but I remembered how absolutely spent I was last year after attacking at the bottom of the climb to get the KOM. Kyle, too, was wanting to pace for the long race so we decided to split the KOM money but sprint for it anyway — the best of both worlds, neither of us has to blow up going for the KOM from the bottom of the climb — and yet we still had the competitive aspect of sprinting for it to see who could be the KOM. It was really foggy by this point as we had basically climbed from the valley right up into the cloud layer. It turns out that we started sprinting at about 500 meters (1/2 K) from the line which is a long way on a rocky climb, and then we both thought when the 200 meter marker appeared out of the mist that we were at the finish. Quickly realizing our mistake, Kyle attacked again and I couldn’t quite catch him before he reached Anna with the $100 bill at the top.

Making it to the top of the Cat 2 climb, you might think the next part would be easy – but I’d say the most epic part of the course is the skyway itself … epic ruts, epic puddles, and epic views (not today, though) with epic rollers some of which make it all the way into the Cat 4 climb category on Strava. Bike racing is such an interesting combination of camraderie, strategy, passion, endurance, skill, and strength – and that really played out in this race. Kyle and I worked together throughout the skyway with Kyle pushing the pace on the descents (faster than I would normally take them) and me pushing the pace on the rollers.

Both of us wanted to win the race, though, so Kyle tried to dislodge me on the long descent, and then I ended up attacking him eight times on the forest service road and double-track – but I couldn’t shake him. He probably would have distanced himself from me earlier in the double-track except for an epic crash. He had pulled ahead of me and was heading fast down the double track when he came to one of the large puddles — catching his wheel on a rut he wiped out landing in the puddle sending water/mud high into the air. I had a front row seat to watch it – epic. I made it through the puddle opting to ride through on the left since he had wiped out in the middle.

Across the first dam, I attacked again and tried to shake him on the next steep hill, but it just wasn’t happening. I let him by right at the entrance to the singletrack knowing that the game was over, and all I could do was ride fast hoping to hold on for second. I’m glad I did because Jamie was approaching fast and ended up finishing less than a minute after me.

hrsummHeartrate zone summary.

Epic race. Epic course
The photo below is taken from just south of Birmingham on one of my training rides last Sunday. Click to enlarge – you can see the annotated ridges with Skyway rising high above the surrounding valley. There is over 6000 feet of climbing in the race with over 1200 of that coming on the main climb from the valley to the top of the Skyway – one of about a dozen Cat 2 climbs in the entire state of Alabama. The Skyway ridge line is a single ridge line rising high and then dropping down into valleys on either side of it. And it is very long – snaking its way from just southeast of Sylacauga all the way up to Mt Cheaha – the highest point in Alabama. You can see how prominence of the ridge line in both the photo and the topocreator map below it.

annotated-mountains-ridgesAnnotated view of the Skyway epic ridge line (click to enlarge)

The course traverses about 12.5 miles (25 miles roundtrip) of this long ridge line. The jeep road is rocky and rutted in spots (particuarly the descents and climbs) so you have to pick your line carefully – even at high speeds on the descent. It was great following Kyle on the descents because I could follow his line and watch how he handled tricky sections. Even with the rocks and the ruts, the skyway is fast and relentless – constantly rolling so that it is hard to settle into a good rhythm. At the bottom of each roller is a large mud puddle (width of the road) so that you have to snake around on the outside. There is just enough room to make it around if you brush into the bushes right next to the puddle … unless you end up trying to go on the wrong side. On one of the puddles on the way back, it looked like the line was on the left so I headed left and then realized that the puddle extended all the way out to the edge of the road so I had to ride through it — and it was DEEP! I had enough momentum to clear it, though, and catch back up to Kyle who had seen my mistake and taken the correct side.

With good tires and good brakes you can hit nearly 40 mph on the long descent back down from the skyway. The rollers across the valley are also steep so you can pick up some good speed to carry you into the next hill as long as you pick the right line heading around the corners. We only had one oncoming car the entire race and it was easily passed.

Finally, there is the Sylaward singletrack itself. I think Brent has described it as some of the most “grin-inducing” singletrack in the south … and even as someone who is not a big fan of singletrack, I would totally agree. I could go much faster on the singletrack then I normally would risk because the turns are banked and the penalty for failure is not severe (i.e., no huge drop-offs along the side). Part of the reason is that there is a good bit of climbing on the singletrack … there is some contour following (which usually means there is a drop-off to your left or right depending on the direction of the trail), but a contour bend around a ridge is usually followed by a drop-off from the ridge or climb back up the other side of the ridge – meaning that there is a place for me to make up time that I lose when delicately handling the bend around the ridge.

Really finally, the topography of the area is epic. I already described it, but here is some maps I made including a zoomed in view of the singletrack and doubletrack, a map of the entire course, and a zoomed out map showing the course and the ridge line extending all the way up to Cheaha. There is lots of good potential to make this a 100 mile race over to Adam’s Gap and back. I’m planning on doing a 120+ mile ride of an out/back to cheaha some time later in the summer. Will report on some course options then! Already looking forward to next year!!!

Skyway Epic singletrack annotated - click to enlargeSkyway Epic singletrack annotated – click to enlarge

Skyway Epic course and ridge line annotated all the way to Mt Cheaha (click to enlarge)Skyway Epic course and ridge line annotated all the way to Mt Cheaha (click to enlarge)

May 20, 2013 at 10:10 am 4 comments

Hell of the South 2013

Hell of the South 2013 Pro/1/2 podium - Me, AJ Meyer, Tommy SchubertHell of the South 2013 Pro/1/2 podium – Me, AJ Meyer, Tommy Schubert. Photo credit – Tim Hall – I love that he got the Berlin Community Fire Department sign in the photo. You can see the registration tables in the background. Bike wheels on the inside … perfect for this race.

Quick summary
An epic race deserves an epic race report … so here is the quick summary for those who don’t have time to read the novella that follows. I managed to snag a podium spot (3rd place) from a rather large 10 man break that formed as the result of three smaller groups merging near the end of the race. At the beginning of the last lap, I rolled off the front with Tommy Schubert (Cumberland Univeristy Cycling Team) and Brian Baker (Texas Roadhouse). We didn’t attack, per se, but when the field didn’t respond and our gap grew to a few seconds, we put the hammer down and got out of sight fairly quickly. We joined a solo rider, David Worth (Cumberland Transit/Swiftwick), who had already rolled off the front a few miles before us. We worked well together, but AJ Meyer (Village Volkswagon) was able to bridge up to us, pulling Tommy’s CU Cycling teammate Ryan Sullivan with him. Ryan put in an immediate attack, which I thought I had bridged up to but in fact had pulled the rest of the break with me. This new larger group of 6 riders rolled OK but with so many people it was hard to get everyone to commit. Eventually, my teammate, Jeff McGrane bridged up with Dirk Polhman (Texas Roadhouse) and two other riders making for a break of 10. This group had no cohesion, but there were several attacks that kept the pace high enough to keep us from getting caught by the field. In the closing miles, Jeff drove the pace so that I could just sit in the group and position myself for the finishing sprint. I positioned myself well, but the sprint opened up at 500 meters to go — much farther out than I had expected so I misjudged when to try to come around the people in front of me. I started my sprint so far out that the people who came around me as I slowed down ALSO went too far out. So I was in good position to recover for a few seconds and come around them again just before the line to take third. That doesn’t happen very often in a sprint … an epic sprint for an epic race. AJ timed his sprint perfectly for the win.

The details – Friday preride
I was excited about this race the moment I saw where it was on the calendar, and that I would be able to race it. I have never ridden that far south in Tennessee before, but I have driven that stretch of I-65 between Nashville and Birmingham probably 50 times and have always been fascinated with the topography and ruralness of the area. A couple years ago, Kristine and I were driving up to Franklin to see a concert with our cousins when the interstate was blocked by a wreck. With traffic at a complete standstill, we made a u-turn and headed back to the previous exit. I dropped a pin onto the next exit north hoping it would be past the accident, set the Garmin on bicycling directions, handed the Garmin to Kristine and we proceeded to rally car drive through the hills south of Lewisburg. The hills were incredible, the roads were tiny, and the views amazing. That experience made me want to ride in that part of TN even more, but the opportunity never came — until I saw that the 3rd annual Hell of the South would be held there.

This past week was spring break for Samford University, so theoretically I should have had a nice restful week with lots of riding. Instead, I spent the week working well over 40 hours on a couple side projects, in addition to several long, fun rides out to Double Oak mountain on some gravel roads to make sure that my wheel/tire setup would be able to survive the Hell of the South. Friday morning arrived with a cold rain here in Birmingham. Analise’s teacher had asked for parent volunteers to help with video book reviews her class was doing, so I hopped on my mountain bike and zipped over there in the rain to surprise Analise and help with the videos. I zipped back home, but then realized my wallet was still in Kristine’s purse so we decided to have an impromptu lunch date at Taziki’s on my way out of town so she could give me back my wallet.

After lunch I headed north up Hwy 31 stopping by Brick Alley to drop off my Reynolds race wheel for Craig to true for my next non-roubaix style race and also stopped by Starbucks to grab a coffee for the road. It rained pretty much all the way up to Huntsville, but then stopped. By the time I made it up to Lewisburg, TN the streets were dry and it was considerably warmer (over 50 degF) than the cold 45 deg rain I left in Birmingham. I drove right to the middle of town, parked in the city hall parking lot next to the square, and then set out to explore the hills where Kristine and I had rally car drove, and also to do a pre-ride of the course which is a little farther north in the Duck River valley.

The hills outside of Lewisburg are amazing … some super steep climbs on really rural country roads with only a few farm houses scattered across huge areas. I saw two separate wedding parties taking pictures on the front steps of huge farmhouses … on a FRIDAY afternoon! It was quite picturesque. I wanted to ride super easy to rest my legs, but it was hard not to get excited just riding someplace new in such a beautiful area. This was the first climb – 22.4% max gradient up Collins Hollow road -

Then after three good climbs and a very cool switchback descent that I really wanted to turn around at the bottom and climb back the other way (but didn’t), I headed north to join the course a few miles in on New Cut road … along the way I got this gem of a video (caution: profanity) … it is kinda funny b/c when I was planning out my route I saw the massive junkyard in the satellite view and wondered if there would be any junkyard dogs. I didn’t anticipate a teenager hanging halfway out the window of his truck yelling “pedal m/f”

I knew that the course would be rough, but I had been on rough roads for a while by the time I joined up with the course so the only difference I saw is that the course had a lot of potholes that you had to constantly be on the lookout for. Perhaps the most exciting thing about the course for me was the two interstate crossings … I’ll always be able to remember this ride and the race whenever we drive under the two bridges … and the two crossings of the Duck River — one of the most biodiverse rivers in the country (I remember reading this National Geographic article back in 2010. So whenever we cross the Duck River on the interstate, I always remind Kristine and the kids that it is one of the most biodiverse rivers in the country. Now I will also be able to point out the two bridge crossings for the Hell of the South race course on our drives from Birmingham up to Nashville, Indiana, or Wisconsin.

I cannot remember a single car once I hit the course. There were definitely some cars on the surrounding roads near Lewisburg, but once I picked up the course route I kept wondering where all the cars were! I do not think I got passed by ANY cars on the 23 mile course … that’s how rural the area is. I stumbled upon a herd of deer IN the road and managed to get my camera out to take a picture of the last one as it lept off into the woods. We are talking VERY rural … ah, now that I think about it there was one car on the 2nd Duck River crossing – but I spent something like 10 minutes there getting pictures of the bridge and riding down the access ramp to explore under the bridge. I ended up riding about 55 miles in just over 3.5 hours making it back to Lewisburg not too long after sunset, a nice leisurely exploratory recovery adventure ride.

It was nice to take in the scenery and enjoy the area on Friday – because there was no time for any of that on Saturday during the race.

The details – Hell of the South 2013
We stayed with my teammate Kurt up in Murfreesboro the night before, and he had last Sunday’s Milano San Remo on DVR so I fell asleep watching the classics riders slog it out in the miserable weather thinking that it would inspire me to face the weather in the morning for our race. But in the morning, it was chilly and dry with temps in the 40s. The start of the race was at the Berlin Community Fire Department a few miles outside of Lewisburg so we had about a 45 minute drive down to the start.

Having seen all the potholes on my pre-ride of the course the day before, I knew that I wanted to stay towards the front. I got a good start and after a mile or two decided to attack to see if people were cold enough to just let me go. That wasn’t happening, though, as the field strung out. When they caught me, there were counter attacks and the pace didn’t slow down so I quickly drifted way back in the group. By the time it bunched up again I was near the middle back of the group thinking how on earth am I going to move up. That’s when we hit the first bad section of potholes, Paul flatted, and I realized that I was in trouble so far back in the group unable to see the potholes ahead. I decided my best bet was to leave a little bit of a gap in front of me to have as best vision as possible – but then people kept passing me b/c there was a hole in front of me. So pretty soon I found myself towards the back of the group.

After we crossed the interstate and got closer to the downhill before the gravel, I started to panic a bit and moved up on the far righthand side. This worked a little and I had made about mid pack by the start of the downhill. This was still way too far back so after the downhill on the next set of rollers I moved up on the left. People were still leary about using the whole road (too narrow for a yellow line) so there was just enough room for me to squeeze by all the way to the very front. I entered the gravel in second wheel knowing that the best line was to stay completely left through the gravel. I pushed the pace hard to try to be at the front in case there was attacks, but there only ended up being one attack through the gravel and I was able to catch back up on the downhill. The gravel section was much shorter than any of the Rouge Roubaix gravel sections so I didn’t expect much would come out of the gravel (i.e., field split, break, etc…) but I had never done the race before so I wanted to be sure to be there if anything did happen.

After the gravel, you have a rolling downhill and a sharp turn taking you down to the Duck River. Since I did my pre-ride really slow with lots of breaks for pictures, I didn’t realize that once you cross the river you are starting a long climb. This proved NOT to be decisive for this year’s race, but it almost was decisive on all three laps. On this first lap, there were attacks immediately after the bridge. I covered one with Ryan and Tommy (both from CU Cycling) and we had a tiny gap, but everyone was still too fresh in the field so we were reeled in fairly quickly. Coming across the top of the long hill, we had a good break with good representation (2 CU and 2 Texas Roadhouse) but we didn’t have quite enough of a gap over the field so that on the next steep downhill, the field was able to roll back up to us before we could get a break established. [I'm omitting details from the rest of the 1st lap, let's just say there were a ton of attacks, but they all ended up being too big so were always chased down].

On the second lap at the exact same spot shortly after the gravel and almost immediately after crossing the Duck River bridge, I got into a good move with Tommy again, and a Texas Roadhouse rider, and one other rider. We got into a good rhythm and our gap grew, but it never got far enough to get out of sight. So coming across the top of the long gradual rolling hill (maybe 3 or 4 miles later?) we were reeled in. There were a bunch more attacks that ensued and my teammates Jeff and Kurt were in several moves, but everything was getting brought back. Towards the end of that second lap, David Worth (Columbia Transit / Swiftwick) launched a solo move that nobody responded to. He quickly got a good gap as the field was tired of chasing everything down. As we started the third lap (last lap), I was towards the middle of the group when I saw a Texas Roadhouse rider roll of the front. My teammate Kurt had just been on the front and was coming back from covering a small chase group. So I went across to him just to make sure that we didn’t have to chase it down later. As soon as we started rolling, Tommy from CU cycling came roling up to us. It turns out that we had a good gap by this point as the pace and the group had gone down just as we had picked up our pace. Here’s a video of how our 3-man chase group was formed. David was so far up the road by this point that you can’t even see him in the video. You can hear me say about 1’40” into the video “we’ve got the teams and the gap, let’s go”

It took us about 8 or 9 miles to catch David … on the hill leading up to the switchback downhill before the gravel. I led through the downhill, and that was really fun although it did end up splitting our four man group in half. We made it through the gravel section and then settled into a good rhythm. Unfortunately, by the time we made it to the last part of the climb, we could see some cars and riders behind us. I thought it was the main group, but apparently it was just AJ Meyer (Village Volkswagon) and Tommy’s teammate Ryan bridging across to us. Ryan, knowing how strong AJ is, was getting the free ride across since he had a teammate in our break already. AJ finished the bridge right before the last finishing part of the climb. Ryan launched on an attack, and I killed it to bridge back up to him thinking how this was it … it’s either bridge up to him now or the race is over … so I’m drilling it up the hill closing in on Ryan thinking “sweet, we’re gonna two-man team time trial this thing to the end” when I look back and everybody in the break was still there!!! Here’s a video of Ryan’s attack, my chase, my realization that everybody was still there, and then me asking (begging) Ryan to work with us.

The smooth machine, which was our four-man break, was now a less than smooth six-man break. We still basically worked together for a while, but people would skip pulls every now and then — understandable given the composition of the break. This could have spelled doom for our break, but fortunately a small four-man group had gotten away from the field, including my teammate Jeff McGrane along for the free ride, Dirk Polhman (Texas Roadhouse), Andy Reardon (Cumberland Transit / Swiftwick), and Austin Ulich (Prima Tappa). Still we had enough of a gap as a six-man break that it took a while for the 4-man chase to catch up with us. Once the groups merged, I again thought our break was doomed b/c our pace slowed to a crawl. I attacked once (or twice), my teammate Jeff attacked a couple times and covered a couple other moves, some other people attacked too — and this was enough to keep us rolling along ahead of the field. Eventually we got close enough to the finish that it became apparent we were going to stay away. About 2.5 miles from the end I was marking Ryan when he put in a hard attack, I covered it fine but failed to pull through knowing how far we had left. Looking back, I regret not working with Ryan to try to stay away — my instinct was that there were too many people who would be able to close the gap and then I would be too cooked to try to do anything in the end and Jeff who had been doing a lot of work keeping the break moving and covering moves would also be too tired. So I hedged my bets hoping that Ryan would continue to pull hard for a while longer or if that didn’t happen then regroup to go with the next attack a bit closer to the finish. Ryan wisely sat up instead of pulling me to the finish, and that was pretty much the last attack because Jeff came back to the front of the group and set a high enough pace to discourage any attacks.

This gave me plenty of time to maneuver into position marking Ryan again. Unfortunately, my camera battery died at about this point with maybe 1-1.5 miles left in the race. I was in what turned out to be pretty good position maybe (6th or 7th wheel) going into the sprint b/c people started the sprint from so far out. I think the first person to open up their sprint was maybe 500-600 meters from the line. The entire group strung out, and I ended up on Tommy’s wheel when there was a bit of hesitation after the first guy was caught. I opened up my sprint, but immediately saw that it was way too far out, so I swung back into line behind the people who counterattacked my jump … since we were still 300 meters from the line, there was just enough room for me to come around some people as they started to fade to end up with a third place finish. AJ had taken the win and when I rolled up to him, he stopped and pretty much laid down on the ground – having bridged up to our group and then taken the sprint. Tommy was just in front of me for second.

Here is the last 19 minutes of the race … including Ryan’s attack with 2.5 miles to go at 14’40” seconds into the video … I think the camera battery dies with about 1 mile left in the race.

Finally, here is all my data from the race:

Hell of the South Pro/1/2 - 3rd place
Dist:       70.48 mi (2:57:25)
Energy:    2729.2 kJ
          Min   Avg    Max
DFPM Pow    0  256.4  1025  W
Speed     8.6   23.8  41.0  mi/h
Wind      0.0   20.7  45.9  mi/h
Slope   -13.2  -0.01  14.7  %
Caden      30   81.7   117  rpm
HR        123  162.5   188  bpm
NP:297W IF:1.01 TSS:299 VI:0.98
3/23/2013 9:32 AM
48 degF; 991 mbar

Heartrate zone summaryHeartrate zone summary

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

March 25, 2013 at 4:52 pm 2 comments

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Ian @cahabacycles was able to salvage my crashed frame from Trek (only had to send back the bottom bracket area). Any suggestions on how I can preserve the memory of the bike? Mount it on the wall? Or is there something more creative I can do? Traffic backed up 1/2 mile both directions to get into Vestavia elementary. This is what happens when you don't have a bus system. Shadows walking to dinner.

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Quick reference stats

Anaerobic Threshold:
Power:315 watts
Heart rate:180 bpm
Maximums:
Power:1097 watts (5s)
Heart rate:198 bpm (5s)
AT power estimated by critical power curve in Golden Cheetah, which predicts I should be able to maintain 315 watts for 1 hour.

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