Posts tagged ‘epic’
Riding today was easily the most fun I’ve had on the bike in four or five years. Considering how much I love to ride all the time, that really is saying a lot about my ride today. I guess the thing that strikes me the most is how many times I was just flat out surprised on the ride – not just “oh I didn’t see that coming”, but more like “are you kidding me? are you for real?” in a really good way. I summarized the ride in terms of 10 surprises, listed below. I also took a bunch of pictures and Garmin screenshots I will post later.
A few things to set the background for this ride: Kristine and I are in Oxford for her work this weekend, and the kids had separate sleepovers last night at friends’ houses and again tonight at my parents house. Kristine had the idea last week that maybe I could come up here with her and enjoy some riding while she worked and a weekend getaway when she wasn’t working. Some of Alabama’s tallest mountains are right out the door of our hotel, so I thought – “sure!”
Surprise #1 – no rain!
The original plan was for me to leave work on Friday and ride part of the way over here where Kristine would pick me up along I-20. I documented yesterday’s ride, which also included a surprise climb up to a radio tower that I hadn’t planned on doing. Then today I was going to bike back home via a long 150 mile climbing route over Mt Cheaha (the highest pt in Alabama). But the weather forecast all week long indicated that most of today would be spent with heavy rain showers and even thunderstorms. So I changed my plan to do a shorter ride (60-70 miles) today and then do the longer ride tomorrow when the rain was supposed to have cleared out. I woke up expecting to find rain and was instead greeted with partly cloudy skies and no rain.
Surprise #2 – an empty interstate-like climb
The route I had created ahead of time had me climbing up Henry Rd and then into some neighborhoods that looked ultra-steep on the map (and a little bit later in the ride when I did get to the neighborhoods, they were even steeper than I had imagined). So I’m following the route and then I realize that I’ve ended up on a divided highway not on the map that for all intents and purposes is a full-blown interstate that looks like it may climb up higher than the neighborhood route. There was practically no traffic, so even though I could see where I needed to turn, I wanted to just keep on going and see how far the climb went. You could tell where they had dynamited through the mountain and there were some killer concrete drainage ditches with 40-60% gradient that I really, really wanted to try but there were concrete blocks at alternating angles to slow the flow of water. I’m 20% sure you could ride it on a mountain bike with a 1-1 gear ratio while dodging the blocks, but I wasn’t going to try it on my road bike with a 39×28. I crested the mountain and of course there is still this tall divider for the interstate so i’ve got to figure out where/how to turn around.
So I’m on the descent on the other side when I suddenly I realized that the whole thing is still under construction and the road ends at a spot in a valley before another mountain climb where the road hasn’t been finished yet. For whatever reason, I just found this all to be hilarious … I guess I was giddy with excitement for the ride to begin with, and then to be only a few miles into my ride on a four-lane divided interstate-like road that is still under construction with no cars in the middle of a beautiful mountain valley was just so awesome that I couldn’t stop laughing until I had to focus on the 180 deg turnaround at the bottom. I went back up and over the mountain and halfway down to take the original route I had planned which fairly quickly led to surprise #3.
Surprise #3 – GPS “fail” bigtime
My Garmin worked great as I picked back up my original route, which had all kinds of turns in it as I was looking for contour lines closest together when planning the route — which often means making a bunch of turns from street to street through a neighborhood. I was surprise by how steep the Lynn Rd climb was — the first of maybe thirty or more 20+% gradients for the day (I tried to take a screenshot of all of them so I could count them later – and I know of at least three or four that I missed because I couldn’t take my hands off the handlebars to hit the button to take the screenshot).
So anyway I make it back across Henry Rd after the Lynn Rd climb, and I’m diving down hills (53×11), climbing back up 20% gradients (39×28), and then I get to a spot where I’m supposed to make a turn and I see a sign that says “Dead End” … interesting. I pulled up the map screen on Garmin and saw another way to get around, but when I got to the next “road”, it was a steep grassy descent behind a curb and a gate. It looked rideable so I hopped the curb and rode around the gate, but after a tenth of a mile or so, the access road ended at a water tank that was gated off. I couldn’t see any path beyond it through the woods, so rather than risking poison oak so early in the ride, I turned around and headed back up the grassy climb. I looked at my map again and found another way around, headed down a steep descent and came to another dead end. This was getting to be laughable at this point. This turnaround involved a steep Cat 4 climb back up to the top of the mountain. I revisited the original dead end sign that my route was trying to take me on, and sure enough it really was a dead end – complete with a basketball goal in the road. Another steep climb back up to the top of the mountain, and I tried a third way off the mountain leading to surprise #4.
Surprise #4 – Awesome descent/climb with three different kinds of pavement
This was a mini-surprise, so I won’t spend much time describing it – but the descent that finally worked to take me off the mountain transitioned through three different kinds of pavement (chip/seal, tarmac, cement) with some cool switchbacks through a neighborhood into a city golf course. The descent was so cool, that I had to turn around do the climb. Hitting the top of this mountain on a road called “Hillyer Rd” (probably pronounced “hilly-er” road) for a fourth time (maybe fifth? i lost count), I turned around and came back down and hit my original route plan to head through a VERY hilly part of anniston.
Surprise #5 – upper 20% gradient in Anniston
I went through this really hilly neighborhood on the outskirts of Anniston and hit one section that was cemented b/c of the gradient which was probably approaching 30% … I wouldn’t know though b/c my speed dropped too low and the Garmin switched over to –% gradient. Easily steeper than Woodcrest in Birmingham which is in the upper 20s. Probably even steeper than Valley Hill, but much shorter (maybe only 1/10th of a mile).
Surprise #6 – Steep Cat 3 climb to radio tower in Anniston
Immediately after leaving the neighborhood with surprise #5, I started a climb that I had seen on the satellite to some radio towers just on the edge of the Fort McClellan boundary. I wasn’t sure the status of the road, whether it was gated, or what. It turned out to be a very steep gravel road with even more 20% gradients. Gates were open all the way to the top, and I was able to summit at just over 1500′, which I had not been expecting.
Surprise #7 – Woodland Park
On my way up towards Jacksonville, I road right past the starting spot of the very first century I ever did back in high school (the Woodland-Calhoun century). This was not planned at all, and was therefore quite a surprise that brought back tons of memories.
Surprise #8 – Cat 2 climb in Jacksonville
I had scouted this climb out, and knew that the current segment on Strava was on the upper end of the Cat 3 range but stopped well short of the actual crest of the climb. I knew that if you started the segment a little bit lower and went all the way up to the towers at the top, then it would probably be a Cat 2. So I scouted out the starting point and started on the climb. It starts out very gradually, but then gets steeper as you start to leave town. At the bottom were three college-aged girls (maybe from JSU) all decked out for running – and they were walking up the very steep hill. One of them shouted “good luck”, which kinda tells you how steep and long this climb is. It started out steep, flattened out a bit in the middle, then got really steep at what I thought was the end, but as you come around the corner, you see the road skyrocket up for the last 200 feet of climbing and a rather large fence with razor wire across the top blocking access to the towers. But, I was very lucky today in that the gate was wide open. So I was able to ride the climb all the way to the top – where there is an observatory, fire tower, lots of radio towers, and a beautiful view of the valley.
Surprise #9 – Mt Laurel neighborhood
On the Cottaquilla climb, which is on the Foothills Road Race course, there is a neighborhood off to the left called Mt Laurel that was surprisingly steep (I saw 26% at one point), plus a bunch of roller coaster like climbs/descents I wasn’t expecting inside the neighborhood.
Surprise #10 – stumbling upon a Cat 2 climb!
The last surprise was the best of all. I had seen a climb called Bain’s Gap, which was on the Fort McClellan property, that I assumed would be inaccessible because of the military. So when I passed the turn-off for the road and didn’t see a gate, I decided to just turn and see how far I could make it up the climb before encountering a gate, or road block. Instead of a gate, I found a national wildlife refuge, amazing waterfall, more 20% gradients, a nearly unrideable gravel road that I was able to ride (barely) and a friendly local at the top who was able to tell me a shortcut to get back home – oh and it worked out to be a climb with over 1200′ of gain putting it well into the Strava cat 2 category.
Another amazing day of riding up here. This time I braved the snow-covered roads leaving the Telemark resort having gained confidence riding in the snow yesterday for a mile or so. It was well worth it to be in such a remote location on winding, hilly, beautiful roads and trails that pretty much paralleled the Birkie trail all the way to Hayward. If I had done the Seely fire tower climb, then I might have even crossed part of the trail. But, unfortunately, I had to turn around shortly into my ride because I had forgotten to upload the course to my Garmin. So, I turned around and headed back to meet Kristine just as she and the kids were driving out to head back to Shell Lake. Right there on the side of the Telemark entrance road, I connected my Garmin to the laptop and transferred the file. Then I set off again on what was an 83 mile, 5+ hour, mountain bike adventure.
I spent most of the morning with a good internet connection while the kids went skiing again with Kristine and Poppa Dale. I plotted out a course that would take me from Telemark back to the Cardwell house in Shell Lake over an hour away by car. The course took me onto 9 miles of untreated snow covered roads and trails behind Telemark that were just amazing and fun to ride. Spider Lake Fire Lane started out well packed from cars driving out to cabins along the road. But eventually, once I made it past the last cabin, the snow got really deep and loose since not very many cars had driven over it. Still, it was possible to go slow on the downhills with minimal fishtailing and then crush the uphills. I would imagine that my speed on some of the uphills was faster than the downhills. It’s amazing what the extra traction of a spinning tire will do. Theoretically, I suppose you could hammer the downhills and achieve the same effect but the consequences of a fall at 30+mph make me choose the more saner option of riding the rear brake gently down the hill at a comfortable 10-15mph.
For those of you who have ridden through sand, but never ridden through snow, think of packed snow the same way you would think of packed/wet sand. Loose snow, however, is just like riding through loose sand with the same fishtailing effects. The only difference is that you are expecting the fishtailing in the sand, but not on the snow when it has been hard packed and suddenly transitions to loose or when you lose the car track you were following. Also, turning on the snow is tricky. On one downhill, I was running out of room for the turn and ended up all the way on the side of the road – but it was pretty heavily banked and I ended up sliding through the turn with my wheel still pointed off to the side. This got to me to a straighter section where I could straighten out the wheel.
I only had one bike problem on the ride, when I couldn’t shift back into the big chainring. I spent a few minutes about an hour into my ride trying to figure out what was wrong and eventually just cranked the inside limiting screw until it would shift back up and that worked for the rest of the ride although I had quite a bit of chain rub on the front derailleur so that was a little annoying to have to put up with for four hours.
Here’s the ride map and interactive data from Strava -
And here is the super hi-res topocreator map -
Finally, enjoy the pics and Garmin screenshots that I took on the ride –
I left Birmingham, Alabama yesterday at 6:30AM and a little over 32 hours later we arrived at the Telemark ski resort in Cable, WI. To get here from Alabama involved an epic 123 mile bike ride and over 1000 miles of driving. Kristine started about 6 hours behind me in the car and caught up to me just south of Faulkville, AL north of Cullman. I started out doing a normal climbing route through Rocky Ridge, Vestavia Hills, Homewood, and Birmingham before merging in Gate City with the route that I had tried out last week on my way up to Smoke Rise.
This time I wanted to try out more climbs on the same ridge as Smoke Rise and Skyball so I diverted my route near Kimberly to head up through Trafford towards AL-160 and all the climbs that start on 160 and climb up the ridge. I had intended to do 4 different climbs and 4 different descents off the ridge, but on the way over on ??? rd which turned into ??? rd I was chased by numerous dogs. I decided since I was also running a bit behind to skip one of the climbs and only ended up doing Graves Gap, Co Rd 45, and Skyball.
I’ll let the pictures (and captions) tell the rest of the story. Clicking on a picture will take you to flickr where you can flip through all the pictures.
Trip to Wisconsin 2012, a set on Flickr.
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