Posts tagged ‘epic’
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.
I had my longest training ride of the year today. Kristine was meeting some friends in Chattanooga for a lunch get-together, and my parents had volunteered to take the kids for the night – sooo what’s a crazy cyclist to do … bike to Chattanooga!!! That was the plan, and it went pretty well but I ran out of time and daylight and only made it to Rising Fawn, Georgia about 20 miles short of the goal! I had a tailwind for much of the ride and averaged close to 22 mph for the first 4 hours. Here’s a map of the route, some pictures I took along the way, and my HR/Power data.
To put everything in perspective, I had a tailwind for a good part of the ride and I still didn’t even make it the distance that they race in Paris-Roubaix! And I didn’t have cobblestones to deal with, although there was one part of US 11 in Dekalb County that was pretty rough.
Here is the map from the Sassafras ride I did this past Monday to officially end my racing season. This was definitely an epic ride that I think is the best way to end a season of hard training and racing. The ride was 98.3 miles and nearly 8500′ of climbing. This was a little longer than last year with the loop through Clemson, but it also had slightly less total climbing. Below the map, I have included a detailed list of points along the route and other fun tidbits of information about the area:
- Fieldstone Farm Inn Bed and Breakfast – this has been our fall break getaway spot for the past three years. There were eight horses in the large field right outside our modular cabin on the farm. The kids loved them and had a great time while I went on my nearly six hour epic ride (it was only supposed to be 5 hours!)
- This is Seneca, South Carolina. On Sunday night before my Monday morning ride, we drove through Seneca on one of my old cycling routes and got to watch a long, fast train pass right in front of us. The kids (especially Josiah) were fascinated as it was only a few feet away!
- The turn here takes you onto a very scenic road past the Oconee County airport. It is up on a high area with a magnificent view of the mountains.
- Sunday night and then again on Monday night, we took the kids on “Roller Coaster Road” which is a road right off the airport road with three consecutive short steep hill/valley combos where you can actually feel the g-force when the car bottoms out in the valley and starts the climb up the next hill. I told the kids to put their hands in the air and Josiah just kept his hands in the air for a long time after we made it through the roller coaster hills. They absolutely loved it!
- I rode right through Clemson University during my ride. I went right by Death Valley (the football field) and turned left to go up the hill by my first dorm on campus — Holmes Hall. Very sentimental as I used to end the season with a 200 mile epic that I would officially start and end in front of another building on campus — Tillman Hall.
- This long stretch of road (from 5 all the way past 7) is state highway 133 which goes from Clemson to pickens and then all the way up to state highway 11. This is the very first road that I rode on when I was at Clemson – and that one ride cured me of the homesickness I was feeling as a 17 year old starting college!
- Here is the town of Six Mile at the base of Six Mile mountain. I only climbed it once while I was at Clemson, but it was definitely a memorable climb. First, the road is a dirt road with lots of “do not enter”, “private property” signs – but hey, it’s on the USGS map and it is a completely irresistible road since it winds around the mountain completely circling it like you would see on a cartoon map or cartoon show. When I finally made it to the top, it looked like Fort Knox with fences, radio equipment, radio towers, small utility buildings everywhere. There was also a tall fire tower behind a tall fence with the top spikes unbent. I tried to climb it to be able to make it up to the top of the fire tower to see the view, but I made it to the top and realized that I was going to cut myself pretty bad if I tried to go over so I started to climb back down. I made it a few feet from the bottom and decided to jump the rest of the way forgetting that with bike cleats on the bottom of my shoes when I landed all my weight would be pushed back to my heels. So when I landed I promptly fell straight onto my back and head hitting my head very hard on a rock — fortunately I still had my helmet on so it just dented the helmet and didn’t knock me unconscious. Then I felt kinda silly because I realized the lock gate was loose enough (and I was skinny enough) to simply pull the two sides of the gate apart as far as they would go and squeeze behind them. By this time the sun was about to set so I rushed up the tower and then waited and watched the sunset. It was so absolutely beautiful. The only problem, of course, was that Six Mile is about an hour away from Clemson by bike! So I got to ride that in the dark without lights or reflectors. But before that I had to get back down the mountain and one of the houses I passed by safely on the way up had a rather large dog come chase me on the way back down. I stood up and sprinted on a dirt, rocky, windy road down the mountain with the dog chasing me. If I had fallen, it wouldn’t have been pretty. Anyway all that is to say that it was definitely an epic ride. On Monday, though, I just rode by the road that takes you to the top. I didn’t have time to include it on my ride.
It has been a longstanding tradition dating back to my college days at Clemson to end the season the week after the Michellin Classic (now called the Greenville Cycling Classic) with an epic solo ride. While I was at Clemson, I had a 200 mile loop from Clemson with an insane amount of climbing including Brasstown Bald – the highest point in Georgia – and the climb up to Highlands, North Carolina. The ride would take me about 12 hours (7am to 7pm).
Well, I moved away to grad school and stopped racing for several years. I still managed to squeeze in a few epic rides out in California (e.g., Mix Canyon), which were even more epic since I wasn’t training as much and there was always a real possibility of not being able to finish a 4 or 5 hours ride. I picked up racing again in 2005 and at the same time began teaching at Samford University. Along with that came a 2 day fall break right at the end of the season so for the past three years, we have been heading back to Clemson in the middle of October and I have been able to continue the old tradition of an epic ride while Kristine graciously watches the kids for 5 (or sometimes 6) hours.
For the past three years we have been staying at the Fieldstone Farm Bed and Breakfast which is on one of the roads I used in my 200 mile ride! It is also a great launching point for a number of other rides. And it is a very cool farm, too. When we first stayed here, I did a 90 mile loop through Highlands, North Carolina. For the past couple years, I have headed out to Sassafras Mountain instead. Last year, I did an out and back ride that ended up being about 92 miles and over 9200′ feet of climbing (http://www.toonesalive.com/cycling/maps/Richland-Sassafras.pdf).
This year I wanted to ride to Sassafras again, but I wanted to turn it into a loop through Clemson. It ended up being close to 100 miles taking 5 hours 45 minutes. The ride was awesome. I took roads that made up cycling routes from my days at Clemson and the reminiscing of long ago rides was nearly as awesome as the ride itself. I wound my way over to Clemson through Seneca remembering sprints for stop ahead signs, county line, and city limits signs – through the university passing dorms that I lived in when I was a student – then taking the traditional route (map to be posted soon) up 133 through Six Mile passing Six Mile Mountain and Woodall Mountain before making it to the first real obstacle – Beasley Gap (13 minutes of hard climbing in zone 5), a short rest during a 1 mile switchback descent to Rocky Bottom and finally a 35 minute climb up beautiful Sassafras Mountain finally making it to some real fall colors in the higher elevations. It almost doesn’t do the ride justice to try and describe it so I’ll leave it at that, post a detailed annotated map, and encourage everyone to go try it some day. You won’t regret it (if you can make it)!
Quick summary: not dead last (127th out of 145 if you count the people who didn’t start), thunderstorm, “the river”, “the lake”, epic.
The details: I had a great warm-up and was feeling very good with my TT position on my road bike. My TT bars were far enough out that I could stand comfortably without hitting my knees. One downside is that I had to slide very far forward on my seat in order to have my arms at the right angle. Still, I felt great and felt like I was putting a lot of power into the pedals on the hills as I was warming up.
As I rolled up to the start line, I could see the storm clouds slowly moving in. I was one of the last starters so it was quite a disadvantage since a good majority of the field got to ride it in dry conditions. Five, four, three, two, one and right as I took off the thunderstorm hit with a torrential downpour, a little thunder and lightning, too. This normally wouldn’t have been so bad, except that the heavy rains obscured the cracks, uneven pavement, and potholes. A few times I almost fell and each time I scrubbed speed to make sure that I didn’t fall.
Even with all of that, I was having a bad TT but it wasn’t the worst in the world until I tracked right into “the river”. Yes, the rain was so hard that it had created a virtual river running down the righthand side of the road on one of the steeper climbs. I didn’t see it in time and ended up riding straight into it, nearly falling, and having to slow way down in order to get out of it and back onto the part of the road that didn’t have a river in it. Then at the bottom of the next downhill was “the lake” where enough water had pooled on top of a narrow bridge that it formed a lake that you came flying into at 30mph, huge splash, but kept it upright. Finally, a very sketchy 35mph downhill to the finish line, with potholes, uneven pavement. Nasty, cold, epic. Here’s my HR and power data for the ride:
- Going out way too hard
- Paying dearly for going out way too hard
- OK on the steeper hills, nothing left for flats or downhills
- Better here on the steepest climb
- Very sketchy downhill
In summary, I went out way, way too hard averaging almost 580 watts for the first minute, dropping to 421 watts for the next minute, 381 watts for the third minute, 324 watts for the fourth minute, and then averaging only 342 watts for the rest of the TT. Even then, the only reason I was able to manage an overall average of 363 watts is because I was still able to crank out some wattage on the steeper climbs. Hopefully, that means good things for tomorrow’s 104 mile road race.