Posts tagged ‘epic’
Awesome ride. I was aiming for about 9 hours on this ride (wall-clock time), but I ended up flatting in the middle of a KOM attempt on Sassafras only 50 miles into the ride. I spent 30 minutes changing the tire trying to inflate with a tiny mini-pump and could only manage to get the tire to hold maybe 60psi. But amazingly, it held for the rest for the rest of the ride with no pinch flats. I was a little bit more cautious on the descents for fear of a sudden pinch-flat blow-out, or rolled tire so I ended up finishing the 163 mile ride in about 10 hours, 15 minutes.
Beautiful fall colors. There was one overlook near the top of the 215 climb where you could see straight down into the valley and could see the different levels of “color change” in the leaves based on elevation. It was awesome.
I saw lots and lots of wild turkeys on the Sassafras climb. With the tire change, I spent nearly two hours on the mountain and did not see a single other person/car. On the way back down, I ran into the back of a turkey, taking feathers to the face, after startling it on the side of the road. It flew into the road and up in front of me. For a split second, I thought for sure that I was going down, the turkey was soon to be dead, and the ride was done. Instead, the turkey just barely cleared me brushing my face and helmet with its tail feathers as it gained enough altitude for me to go under.
North Carolina has amazingly smooth roads. 215 was perfect. The bottom of 215 with its rolls and twists was probably the “road highlight” for me.
Extreme winds across the ridges on the parkway. I would guess that there were 40-50mph gusts across the ridges. I was lucky with my deep dish racing wheels not to go down. The last mile or two of the 215 climb plus all fourteen miles (round trip) that I spent on the parkway had a temp of 47-50degF with light drizzle, lots of fog (i.e., riding in the cloud layer), and amazing winds. I tried to push 225-250 watts on the uphills and over 200 watts on the downhills to stay warm in just shorts, short sleeves, and sleeveless rain vest.
$1.59 pizza/coke after school special at the Salem gas station. I was down to $2 so this worked out really well. 1 large slice of pepperoni/sausage pizza and 1 twelve oz can of coke was perfect to get me the last 20 miles home.
The final ride highlight was making it back to the farm having completed the ride that I thought was doomed when I hit the rock climbing Sassafras and pinch flatted my rear wheel. And then to have Kristine and Analise out on the deck of the cabin watching for me and then seeing Analise and Josiah playing with the horses … well, it was the perfect end to a great day.
What a way to end an over-the-top season – with an over-the top epic ride of 163 miles! I planned out this ride a few weeks ago thinking originally that I would combine the Sassafras climb with the Highlands route for over 130 miles. But while playing around with topocreator to make the route, I realized that I could substitute the 215 climb up to the Blue Ridge Parkway instead of Highlands and then continue climbing up to the highest point on the parkway (6053′). It would stretch the ride out over 160 miles, but I knew immediately that this was the ride I wanted to do. About 15 years ago while I was a student at Clemson, I tried twice to ride from Clemson out to the Blue Ridge parkway and back, but failed both times — once making it all the way to the 215 climb but having to turn around unable to complete the climb with my back giving out.
Fast forward fifteen years to Fall 2011, and we’ve had nearly two weeks of perfect weather across the Southeast so approaching Fall Break I knew that the odds of continuing the good weather streak were low. Sure enough, I felt the first rain drops as I was leaving the driveway of the Fieldstone Farm Bed and Breakfast (awesome horse farm we visit every fall break). Even with the overcast skies, it never really started to rain until I was on the 215 climb up to the Blue Ridge Parkway over four hours later.
We changed our plans last minute to stay for Josiah’s baseball game, so we didn’t end up leaving until sunday right after his game. This put us into Fieldstone Farm pretty late combined with the 1 hour timezone change meant that when it was still dark outside at 6:30 eastern, we kept right on sleeping. Still, I made it out the door by 7:30 or so with the kids set up to watch a movie.
The ride out to the mountains was great. Even with a few rain drops and threatening skies, it was still clear enough to see the dark blue outline of the blue ridge mountains. I made it out to the Eastatoe Valley and hit the Dug Mountain climb at 275 watts to try to set the KOM on it without digging too deep. I went easy up the climb out of the Eastatoe Valley and all the way to the top of Beasley Gap on 178. I had my eyes on the Sassafras Mountain KOM. I knew that I still had well over 100 miles left in the ride, so I was aiming for the 280-290 watt range for the nearly 5 mile climb. I was over halfway up it and enjoying chasing the turkeys out of the road on the climbs … they would fly up the road and then land again 1/2 mile ahead. It was a good distraction because I was pushing it hard with a 290 watt average 3 miles into the climb when I was looking down at my GPS to see my current wattage for the climb when I came across some large gravel rocks washed onto the road. I hit one of them hard and immediately pinch flatted. Doh!!!! I realized a couple things very quickly – 1) my attempt at the KOM was done 2) if I didn’t get the tire changed I was in for a long walk back to civilization. I had everything I needed to change the tire, except for the cO2 cartridge that goes with my mini-pump. Without the CO2 cartridge, I wasn’t sure if I would be able to get enough air into the tires having to send the air through the valve extender through the deep dish rim. Fortunately, it worked, albeit very slowly. At one point, I laid down on the road with my helmet still on and pushed back as a head rest, with the tire propped up on my knees and pumping on the tiny pump for several minutes. I would count to 100, rest, and then try some more. I think I eventually got somewhere between 60-70 psi into the tire.
After finishing the climb to the top, I took a couple quick pictures and then headed back down somewhat slowly to make sure I didn’t have a pinch-flat blowout. It was on one of the steep pitches that I startled a group of turkeys nearly taking out one (see ride highlight section). The bottom part of Sassafras has been repaved so starting to get a little bit more trust in the tire, I went ahead and let go of the brakes hitting 54 on the steep section below Chimney Top gap. Oh and I forgot that I almost hit a squirrel through here going 54. That would not have been good for me, the squirrel, or my squishy rear tire.
Once I made it down to the bottom, I was faced with a choice – turn left to head back and finish up a nice 9000+ ft 85 mile ride and be back way earlier than Kristine was expecting me, or turn right and try to finish the ride even with the squishy rear tire. I turned right reasoning that Rosman, NC probably had a bike shop where I could borrow a floor pump to finishing pumping up my rear tire. When I made it to Rosman, I couldn’t find a bike shop, but my rear tire seemed to be holding the air that I had it in it. I pushed on reasoning that it was mostly uphill to the Blue Ridge Parkway and that I was going to make it there and then I could repump up my tire with my mini-pump once I made it to the top and before I started back down the mountain. As I started to gain altitude, the weather started to head south because I was climbing into the cloud layer. The light drizzle became a heavier rain mist / fog and the temp dropped below 50 degF by the time I made it to the parkway
The Garmin was really helpful as it counted down the miles to my next turn, which I knew would be the parkway. This helped me make it up the long steep 215 climb. Then, once I was on the parkway, my Garmin counted down the miles to my turnaround spot at the high point on the parkway. I had to keep pushing hard to stay warm, but my legs were getting tired. Eventually, I made it. I asked a motorcycle rider to take my picture at the top. I took one picture looking off the side, and then I started back down.
Squishy rear tire, high winds be damned as I was now tired, hungry, and cold. I drilled it on the descents on the parkway and made great time back to 215. My philosophy has always been this — if you are cold, then you need to ride faster! This didn’t work well on 215 though as it was raining heavier there and the road was twisty with LOTS of leaves on the road from the high winds. I had to brake a lot and would have gotten dangerously cold, except it was amazing how you could feel the temperature increase on the descent. It was well into the upper 50s by the time I made it back to Balsam Grove for a very important refueling stop. I chatted with the gas station clerk, who was also a mountain bike rider, as I ate a sausage, egg, and cheese biscuit and loaded my bottles with a 24oz coke and 20 oz gatorade.
By now, it was 3:30PM with Kristine expecting me back by 4:00. I still had over 50 miles to ride and no cellphone reception. But on the top of one of the climbs on 281, I had enough reception to call her and leave a message that I wouldn’t be home until 6. She got through to me a little later once I made it over to Sapphire and helped talk me through a couple of the climbs leading into the Whitewater Falls descent. The Whitewater descent was supposed to be a late-ride highlight, but the road was really crappy immediately after you hit the South Carolina border and I couldn’t just bomb over everything with the threat of a rear tire blow-out. So I would say that this was the ride “low point”. It was over soon enough, though, and I made it to Salem where I found a gas station with an after-school special of pizza and coke. This was just what I needed to get me home the last 20 miles. I pushed it hard and had a nice tailwind making it home 10 minutes before 6PM. Done!
Other random pics
I lived in this trailer for about 4 months while I was at Clemson. It looks like it might be abandoned now. Rent was only $65 / week!!! I passed this on 188 by Lake Keowee near the start and finish of the ride
The Samford student chapter of the ACM organized a ride today leaving from Chelsea High School and climbing up one of my favorite climbs – Double Oak Way. Three brave students and one crazy professor (me) met at 1:00 to complete the ride. We were waiting on one person before the start of the ride, so we found a 30+% gradient grassy downhill to have a little fun on before the start of the real ride. I’ve told the story of the ride in pictures below. At the bottom of the post, I explain about Strava and my position on the leaderboards after today’s rides.
It was definitely cold with the temperature below freezing for the entire ride. Note the min, max, and average temp for the four hour ride.
I finished the week atop three Strava leaderboards – best climber, best commuter, most rides – plus 3rd overall. I climbed over 34,000ft for the week, commuted 214 miles or even more if you count my commute today from church back to my house, plus 14 different rides this week totaling 348 miles
Two days, 75 miles, one high speed crash, and over 12,000 feet of climbing! Read all about it below…
Day 1 – Cherokee Orchard Climb and Gatlinburg Bypass Loop
I just posted a few days ago about the awesome Double Oak Way 1500ft climb in Birmingham, and it is definitely an awesome climb. But if the Double Oak Way climb is awesome (which it is), then the Cherokee Orchard climb here in Gatlinburg, TN is beyond awesome.
Before I dig into my recap, here is my word stream of thoughts on the climb:
And as the climb reached its crest, and the narrow two-lane road turned into a one-way paved path through the woods and eventually plunging back down the mountain, here are the next words that come to mind:
Those were the word summaries. Here is the recap …
We had a long adventuresome drive from Birmingham to Gatlinburg arriving late at night so we didn’t have the grand majestic view of the mountains as we drove into town. Instead, we arrived after midnight to beautiful Christmas lights, cold temps, and a hotel room that had accidentally been double-booked with another guest. So when the security guard gave us our key, there was somebody already in the room! After a few phone calls, the guard was able to get in touch with the hotel owners and find us another room. By 1:30AM, we were settled into our room and I began working on a few last minute things for the computer conference the next morning.
At 2:30, I set my alarm for 5:45 to get up and go for a short ride before the start of the conference. Even though it was only three hours of sleep, I was wide awake as soon as the alarm went off because I knew what was waiting – a nearly 2000ft climb up Cherokee Orchard Rd and a first-time descent of a one-lane, one-way scenic drive through the woods just outside Gatlinburg! This was a route I had planned out over a month in advance, and it turned out to be a really nice selection of roads around Gatlinburg with the centerpiece being the Cherokee Orchard climb and the one-way descent through the woods all in a loop less than 20 miles long with over 3000 feet of climbing.
I was out the door by 6AM. It was still very dark, and as I turned onto Cherokee Orchard road and headed up the initial slopes of the climb, I kept wondering if I would stumble upon a bear rooting around for food before daybreak. My small headlight that I was carrying didn’t shine very far. But I made it up the 3 mile initial part of the climb without seeing much of anything. It was cold and quiet (except for the creaking of my bottom bracket). By this point, I was 20 minutes into my ride and the pre-dawn sky was brightening a bit. I turned onto the one-way, one lane scenic drive road (speed limit 10mph) and continued climbing for another couple miles before reaching the high point at just under 3200ft (1900 ft of vertical gain from the starting point at 1300ft).
I started down the descent excited, but hesitant because of the steep drop-offs, trees, and sudden twists and turns. I decided that it was bright enough by this point to stuff my headlight into my back pocket since I might need both hands for hard braking and cornering. The descent was so much fun. I couldn’t let it completely out because this was my first time down the descent, and because I couldn’t see very well. In fact there were several times where I thought the road went one way and in fact it went the other way so I kept my speed in the mid to upper 20s. Because of the poor lighting, though, it felt like I was going twice that fast. And with so many twists and turns, it was just amazing. You literally were dipping and diving between trees on a paved path through the woods about the same width as the Lakeshore trail in Homewood.
Here is a picture of the paved path that I took the next day with a bit more daylight. Note that this is looking down a gradient of nearly 15%. You’ve got to be sure to lean the right way – no room for errors!
Paved path, one-way, one-lane descent off the Cherokee Orchard climb. This wasn’t even the narrowest or coolest part of the descent, but rather towards the very top. I wasn’t going to ruin the descent to stop and take pictures!
The rest of the ride was great, either up or down with very little flat sections. I made it back in time to get ready for the conference and help staff the registration table (I was on the organizing committee). The conference went great, and I was very busy all day so I didn’t get a chance to debrief the ride until that evening when I talked Kristine’s ear off about it at the Bubba Gump shrimp factory.
Day 2 – Clingman’s Dome and Cherokee Orchard Remixed in the Daylight
The 22.5 mile Clingman’s Dome climb is as epic as Cherokee Orchard is awesome. The sheer scale of the climb makes it difficult even though the average gradient is only 5%. The climb starts at an elevation of just under 1,300ft in Gatlinburg, TN before climbing up to a final elevation of 6,643ft at the top of Clingman’s Dome. The average gradient of 5% is a bit misleading though because it includes a steep mile long descent and several flat sections. So that means that the “uphill” portions are a bit more than 5%, more like 7%. The descent is also epic because of its length, even though there aren’t very many technical sections. I ended up wiping out on one of the more technical corners at the top because the corner had a sheet of ice on it only on the downhill side! In other words, it was dry on the uphill side of the road so I was caught completely by surprise on the descent when my rear wheel started to skid and down I went at 30mph, sliding across the ice on the road, across the ice on the shoulder of the road, and into a snow bank.
But before we get to that, let me take you through the day’s adventure. I set the alarm for 5:45AM again, because the traffic in the Great Smoky Mountains on a weekend is horrible. I was warned about this ahead of time a few years ago, and so whenever I have done the Clingman’s Dome climb, I have always tried to be out the door by 6AM. This year, I was out by 6:20AM and a little concerned about traffic. My concerns were misdirected though, as I should have been more concerned about ice and keeping my bike upright. There was actually less traffic this year than normal on the 2 hour climb. I’m not sure why, though, because when I came back down the mountain there was tons of traffic coming back up the mountain. I guess everybody must have decided to sleep in this year!
Let me step you through the climb. As soon as you leave Gatlinburg on Hwy 441, you begin climbing — pretty gradually for the first couple miles until you pass the intersection with Little River Rd. At this point, the gradient kicks up to 6-8% which it stays at pretty consistently for much of the climb. There are a couple sections that are flatter in the 2-3% range bringing the overall average gradient down to 5.1% for the first 15 miles of the climb reaching an elevation of just over 5000 ft at the Newfound Gap scenic overlook on the border of TN/NC. After a short flat section, you leave Hwy 441 and head onto the Clingman’s Dome spur and begin the final 7 miles of climbing (22.5 miles total).
The Clingman’s Dome section of the climb starts out pretty gradual, and you are totally pumped from having made it up to Newfound Gap. So your average speed kicks up a bit, but pretty soon the road angles up more sharply into the 6-7% range for about 2.5 miles before cresting on the backside of Mt Collins. It is not until this point nearly 20 miles into the climb that you can see your first glimpse of the top! Just as you finally see the top, the “climb” turns into a one mile descent in the 6-7% range. Keep in mind that this entire road is twisty with no straight sections. Very fun!
For the final push, you have to regain the elevation that you just lost on the fun descent. This is a pretty steady 6-7% two mile climb with amazing views to the east, and icicle covered cliff walls above to the right. Coming around a corner, you suddenly enter the massive parking lot for the top. When I did the climb Saturday morning, the parking lot was pretty much deserted which is another reason to start the climb so early. The final 300 vertical feet of climbing is compressed into about 1/2 mile making for an average gradient of 12.5% with stretches in the 17% range. Steep – but not as steep as South Cove Dr in Vestavia (220 feet in 0.2 miles) or stretches of the Double Oak Way climb! Of course those climbs here in Birmingham don’t come at the very end of a 22.5 mile climb!
As I made it to the very cool tower at the top with its circular wheelchair accessible ramp, I noticed that the tower was pretty full of people! I was surprised because I hadn’t seen very many people up until that point. It turns out that it was a boy scout troop starting out on a hike on part of the Appalachian Trail to mark spots that need maintenance. They cheered me on the final stretch as I raced up the ramp. The view is breathtaking, and I have included a few of the pictures below that I took with my cellphone camera and a few pictures that I took when we drove with the kids back up to the top at sunset.
Annotated picture of a portion of the Clingman’s Dome climb
Great Smoky Mountains National Park – Clingman’s Dome route
(Download huge version 6.8MB)
Descending off Clingman’s Dome
The descent begins with the steep paved trail back to the parking lot. I was fortunate because there was only one family on the entire trail. That meant I could go a bit faster than other times of the day when the path is completely overcrowded and overrun with people. You still can’t go that fast though because somebody might dart out. Once you make it back to the road, you get to descend on a twisty, beautifully paved road with slightly banked corners. Very fun. After 7 miles, you make it back to Hwy 441 and continue for another 15 miles down the mountain back into Gatlinburg. Towards the top on one of the shaded north-facing side of the mountain, I ran into my problem with the ice. Besides the immediate pain of falling hard, I was very distraught that I might not get to finish the rest of the ride. After picking myself up and seeing that I wasn’t hurt and my bike appeared to still work, I took off again. I was hoping to catch up to the pick-up truck that I had been drafting at the time I fell.
The truck had gotten too far ahead, but I still enjoyed the rest of the descent slowing down at the only other spot which could have had ice. Once I made it past that point, I pushed my 53×11 the rest of the way down averaging 37mph for 6.5 miles! The descent is fun because of the novelty of its length, but for a speed freak like me it’s disappointing to max out at 43mph.
Cherokee Orchard Remixed
Once I made it back into Gatlinburg, I turned onto Cherokee Orchard Road and immediately began the Cherokee Orchard climb that I had done the day before early in the morning. I wanted to do the descent again in the full daylight. I knew that there would be more traffic. I ended up having to wait behind two cars at the very bottom, but all the other cars I came upon moved out of the way just enough for me to pass. This was sorta tricky because the road was only just wide enough to fit a single car through between the trees. I’ve posted a few pictures below from when I drove Kristine and the kids through after I finally finished the ride and we had breakfast. If you could find a time with enough daylight and few cars, that would be the optimal time.
Ober Gatlinburg and Home
Tired and exhausted I made it back over the final hills to our hotel to pack up, head to the nearby Glenstone Lodge for brunch, and then head up to Ober Gatlinburg to enjoy the day with Kristine and the kids ice skating, mini-golfing, alpine sledding, and chairlift riding before beginning our drive back home to Birmingham with a quick drive up the mountain, quick hike up to the top of Clingman’s Dome from the parking lot, and a beautiful sunset. All the pictures below are from that portion of our trip. Check them out!
It has been an annual tradition for me for the past 15 years to end the season with a truly epic ride. During my college days, that would involve a 200+ mile ride in the mountains of North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia. In my older and busier days now, I have shortened the ride down to about 100 miles, but still with awesome climbing in my college playground of the NC/SC/GA tristate area. This year’s ride included two major climbs — Whitewater Falls and Sassafras Mountain — with countless smaller hills in between adding up to over 11,000 feet of climbing. And at 108 miles, it was a few miles longer than the past few years as well.
Check out my power and heartrate stats below: I love that my highest heartrates are on the crazy awesome descents!!! Leading into the long descent from Sapphire down to Rosman, I saw a big truck coming up behind me on US64, so I hammered the last 200 meters or so to just stay ahead of it before the start. Then he didn’t catch me until 15 miles later just before I turned onto US178 to head into Rosman! Plus for Sassafras Mountain, there is only one section where it is safe to really let it out, but that section happens to start with a 20% ramp before settling down to a nice 10-15% downhill gradient. I maxed out at 59.4mph staying above 50mph for almost 30 seconds! It definitely felt like the fastest I’ve ever been on a bike – especially since the road is rough. The bike feels like it is going to break up underneath you.
I traditionally close out my seasons with an epic ride. This year’s ride was a beautiful ride in the mountains of South Carolina, North Carolina, and Georgia. From my time racing and riding at Clemson University, I spent a lot of time in those mountains. One of my favorite descents is the descent out of Highlands on what eventually becomes SC 28. I still have one more race left this coming weekend (Greenville Fall Cycling Extravaganza), so I didn’t push the pace on this nearly 100 mile ride to make sure that I still have a little bit left for one more weekend of racing. Here’s my topocreator map for the ride.