Posts tagged ‘long’

To the beach (and back)!

We just got back from a really fun beach vacation … definitely the best beach vacation we’ve ever had. As long distance training, I decided to ride down to the beach via a route that would take me over Alabama and Florida’s highest points in a single, long ride. Kristine suggested that I also ride back home, so that meant no need to ride at all during the week, which meant we really got to enjoy a beach vacation without trying to work in rides. I’ve included a write-up of my “there and back again” rides after the screenshots of instagram pics from the beach. These aren’t clickable so just scroll and squint!

Beach cruising with the family

Some swamp forest trail riding

Fun times at the beach with my family

We brought the kids’ bikes down with us, but Kristine and I rented beach cruisers from Big Fish. I took Josiah on some fun exploring rides through some cool single track in Deer Lake and Point Washington state forests. We had a blast at the beach spending most of our time on boogie boards trying to ride waves. I went on a solo beach cruiser ride through Point Washington late one evening and ended up nearly getting lost, running into lots of spiders, scootering myself through some giant mud puddles after throwing sticks and rocks into the water and along the side to check for snakes, and finding some flowy singletrack (the greenway trail) – in other words, it was all kinds of awesome!

To the beach – 309 miles via AL and FL highest spots

I wanted to ride to the beach, but I also wanted to try to find the hilliest route possible. Then I thought, why not ride over to Mount Cheaha and take AL-49 south. I knew that AL-49 came into the back of Cheaha, but I wasn’t sure how far south it went. Sure enough, that single state highway covers about 85 miles of the southward bound journey going through mostly rural areas of Alabama (with the exception of Dadeville and Lake Martin, which was just a mess). See route map below:

To the beach - 309 miles, 14 counties via Alabama and Florida's high pointsTo the beach – 309 miles, 14 counties via Alabama and Florida high points

My plan was to leave at midnight Saturday morning and try to make it to the beach by about 10PM Saturday evening. Complicating this plan was two things: rain and a bee sting. The bee sting happened earlier in the day on Friday when I was going for an easy ride around town. I reacted immediately to it (see pic below), but I expected that it would calm down by the time I needed to leave to ride to the beach.

“Bee sting about a minute afterwards (top) and then 10 minutes later (bottom).”

Instead of calming down, it got slightly worse. I kept it elevated horizontally with ice on it most of the rest of the day as I worked on the couch with my laptop. By midnight, it wasn’t any better, but it wasn’t necessarily that much worse either … until I started to ride in the rain. If it was raining, I was going to wait until later to leave, but there was a large break in the storm system according to the radar. So even though there was a heavy rain mist, I decided to head out anyway. I got completely soaked by the time I left my neighborhood, but then there was a nice 75 mile break in the rain all the way to the base of Cheaha at which point I got hit by the first of several rain showers that would hit me over the rest of the ride. Even though the rain was annoying, I would say I spent a good 60% of the day dry and only 40% wet. Not too bad a trade-off considering how cool the temps stayed (in the 60s and 70s all day).

The problem with the rain and the bee sting is that I think my leg got infected either from the sting or from road grime getting into the hole where the stinger was. My initial route included a lot of major roads that were really well paved. But once I started to make my way over to Talladega and Mount Cheaha, I started to pick up some rougher roads. Each bump reverberated in my right leg and increased the swelling. By the time I had made it to the top of Cheaha, my leg was really swollen and sore from my knee all the way down into my ankle.

“Off to a rainy start, but it’s stopped for a few minutes now.” Saturday at 12:43AM, Vestavia Dr view of Homewood and Birmingham

My first stop of the day came at the top of Mt Cheaha shortly before sunrise. It was raining, cloudy, and very windy, but I had made it to the top of the highest point in Alabama with lots of energy and a long downhill section ahead. At this point, I was still optimistic of making it all the way to the beach on schedule. I only stopped for a few minutes to take pictures and instagram my progress.

“Alabama’s highest point – cheaha lookout tower. The wind is roaring up here.” Saturday at 5:22AM, Mount Cheaha, highest point in Alabama at 2407′.

My second stop of the day was for breakfast at Jack’s in Lineville, Alabama where I could see in the full light of day how much my leg had swollen. Plus, the first 15 miles of AL-49 had some rough chip and seal to make things worse.

“Lineville, AL for breakfast 100 miles in … my bee sting from yesterday has completely swollen my lower leg.” Saturday at 6:27AM, Lineville, AL, Jack’s

After an excellent breakfast and a chance to prop up my leg, I was ready to go again … although standing on my leg with all the blood rushing back into it felt like a bunch of pins and needles. Complicating my departure from Lineville, was a long five mile graded section of AL-49 that had not been paved. It was really rough, but not so rough that you couldn’t go fast – which meant that I either went fast quite painfully over the gravel or put on the brakes on the downhills. With just under 300 miles still left to ride, I wasn’t going to brake on any of the downhills. Eventually, I reached a section where the wrong side of the road had already been paved. There wasn’t great visibility, but where it was long enough to see whether cars were coming ahead or behind me I would hop over to the wrong side and ride the smooth road until either the visibility dropped off or I could see a car coming. This lasted a few more miles until the next state highway intersection.

I kept going on AL-49 south, but now both sides of the road were good pavement. The next 30 miles were awesome … beautiful rolling roads across the Tallapoosa River at the Horsehoe Bend National Military Park … all the way until I hit US-280 again in Dadeville. Then a lot of things happened at once … first, it started pouring down rain. Second, the traffic on 280 was awful even for the mile I had to ride on it. I stopped at a Rite-Aid and recharged devices while I went back into the pharmacy and talked to a very nice pharmacist who said I should get a topical cortisone cream for my leg and some non-drowsy claritin to try to help with the bee sting. I rubbed a LOT of the cream on my leg, and that helped the itching completely but didn’t do much for the internal pain.

“At rite aid to try to do something about the swelling in my leg. Crazy bee sting from yesterday!” Saturday at 9:22AM, Dadeville, AL, Rite-aid

The next 10 miles of AL-49 from Dadeville down past Lake Martin were fast, but awful. Traffic was bad, the road was rutted with bumps. Eventually, though, the traffic turned off on AL-50 and AL-14, and the pavement got a lot better. The rain had stopped; the roads were smooth; and there were lots of steep hills leading to another crossing of the Tallapoosa River. I was having a blast again all the way across I-85, which is the official end of AL-49 and the beginning of Co Rd 49 for another few miles before dead ending into US-80 (which has lots of sentimental value I won’t get into here).

I took US-80 for a couple miles with no problems, but then the County Road I was going to take south (US-80 is an east/west highway) had a bridge out. I asked a guy in a really large pick-up truck who pulled off the highway at the county road intersection if the bridge was really out, and he said yes. He also suggested I try the next county road east on highway 80 which he thought could get me south. I took his suggestion, which was a good route option except that it was rough chip and seal, and that at the very end of it was another bridge out. Fortunately, this one involved only a short detour (one or two miles instead of miles and miles).

“Bridge out of course.” Saturday at 12:26PM, South of Tuskegee, AL, County Road

At this point, I only had about 15 miles to get to Union Springs, Alabama where I planned to have lunch. I thought I was out of food, but I had just eaten a powerbar not too long ago so I figured I could make it the rest of the way and refuel there. I started down US-29 south on perfectly smooth pavement with light traffic (but very fast traffic) and proceeded to get slower and slower. I was bonking and only made it halfway there when I had flashbacks to a ride several years ago in Indiana in November when I bonked in the middle of a heavy cold downpour. This time, the sun was out a bit with temps having risen maybe into the upper 70s. But the feeling of no energy was identical. In Indiana, I had just stopped pedaling and coasted to a stop unsure how I was going to get home. I tried to hitch a ride with two cars that passed, but neither stopped. Eventually, I guess the standing there and resting was enough to let my muscles/mental strength rebuild and I was able to ride home. Here, I was at that same feeling when I reached back one more time to check my backpack and found not only a powerbar but also a powergel. I stopped and ate both of them and was able to make it the rest of the way to Union Springs.

In fact, I was feeling pretty good again by Union Springs. I stopped at Subway and had a nice lunch and a chance to ice my leg which was still getting worse. I really was out of food now, though, with 175+ miles left to ride, so I bought 8 subway cookies to take with me.

“200 miles in, union springs alabama – lunch break, my calf is swollen almost to the same size as my quad!” Saturday at 1:45PM, Union Springs, AL, Subway

Re-energized I headed south on AL-223, which was an amazing road with rolling hills, great pavement, and practically no traffic. It twisted its way south and fooled me into thinking I was going to make it around a huge thunderstorm, before the road ended up turning almost diabolically straight into it.

“It’s about to get very wet!” Saturday at 4:01PM, North of Banks, AL, AL-223

Fortunately, it didn’t rain for very long, and I made it to US-29 north, which was confusing since I was heading south, but that took me over to AL-93 through Brundidge, AL to a county road which I took over to US-231 where the county road turned into AL-87 and where I encountered some beach traffic. There wasn’t much of it, because this was still a really rural part of Alabama, but you could see the cars loaded up with bikes and beach stuff – maybe one every five minutes or so. Other than the sporadic beach traffic, AL-87 was really amazing and reminded me a lot of the rolling hills outside of Madison, Wisconsin.

My leg started to really hurt during this stretch of road, and I was desperate to stop anywhere that had some smooth concrete where I could take my shoes off without worrying about ants or gravel. I saw up ahead something I recognized from similar sights in rural Mississippi – a tiny post office building. I pulled over the road thankful for the front porch stoop at the closed post office.

“Taking a much needed break, right leg feels like it is on fire. Subway cookies smashed together – I’m contemplating eating the whole thing, paper and all.” Saturday at 6:00PM, Jack, AL, Post office

After this break, I continued on AL-87 all the way down to Elba, AL where I stopped at Burger King to refuel my camelbak with water. The restaurant was very busy, and lots of people wanted to know where I was going. I called Kristine from outside the Burger King to tell her that there was no way I was going to make it to the beach in any reasonable timeframe, so I asked her to come pick me up at the Florida high point just south of the Alabama border.

We tried to time it perfectly so that we would get there at the same time, but I ended up on a rough chip/seal road that went basically through a swamp. I thought the frogs/crickets/snakes were going to jump up out of the swamp grass beside the road when I stopped to call Kristine and update her on my progress. This rough chip/seal road went straight into a dirt road that I needed to take to get to the high point less than five miles away. My toes and leg were so sore by this point that I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to handle the dirt road and took another detour on a different chip/seal road heading straight for US-331. Each cross street was dirt, so there was no option but to ride on US-331 until Kristine protested via a phone call when she saw where I was heading that she didn’t want me riding on that road (having just driven it herself several hours earlier). I turned around and headed a few miles back to the dirt road intersection where I waited for her to navigate the dirt road back from the high point where she could follow me to the end. If I was unable to continue I could just hop in the car.

The dirt road was like pristine pavement compared to the chip/seal I had been on, so I had been worried for nothing. Kristine followed along behind as I navigated the dirt roads all the way to AL-52 for about half a mile, another dirt road, and finally Co Rd 285 which takes you to Lakeland Park, the highest point in Florida. I hopped in the car, and was asleep long before we made it to the beach — not even waking up until we made it to the beach house where we were staying for the week. The end!

“Why take the paved route when 5 miles of dirt is an option to get to the Florida high point.” Saturday at 9:46PM, somewhere near the AL/FL border, dirt road

“Didn’t make it all the way to the beach but very happy to have conquered two state high points in the same ride.” Saturday at 10:30PM, Lakeland Park, FL, Highest point in Florida

Beach vacation day 1 – the emergency room

I woke up on Sunday with my leg still swollen just as much as the day before and on the advice of a number of friends decided I should head to urgent care and get my leg checked out. Kristine and I headed down to Panama City Beach, which was the closest urgent care facility. After waiting an hour, we saw the doctor who took one look at my leg and said I should head to the emergency room to check for DVT (blood clots) since they didn’t have the equipment there to check for them. He saw us for less than a minute, and said he would refund our copay. I asked if we could stop for lunch first, and he said no – go to the hospital immediately.

“@kartoone76 knows how to kick off a beach vacation. Urgent care to the ER bc of his bee-sting swollen leg. Just have to rule out a blood clot (DVT) after his accident. Never a dull moment, I tell ya!” Sunday at 2PM, Panama City Beach, FL, Hospital

So we hopped back in the car and headed to Panama City (not the beach) where we were seen fairly quickly – the ultrasound came back negative for blood clots. That is a very interesting test. The technician will put the ultrasound device high up on your leg, and then squeeze the lower part of your leg. You could then audibly hear the change in blood flow in response to the squeezing. If there were clots, then you wouldn’t have been able to hear the change in blood flow because they would have been blocking the passage.

The only other two possibilities for my leg were an allergic reaction to the bee sting or cellulitis — an infection of the soft tissue. There was no way to tell for sure which it was, so the doctor treated for the cellulitis with a prescription for antibiotics and for possible allergic reaction to the bee sting with a prescription for prednisone, a corticosteroid. By the next day, the swelling had gone down and everything was back to normal.

Homeward – 333 miles via FL and AL highest spots

This write-up won’t be quite as long … I originally had planned to do a shorter 300 mile route back to Birmingham through Selma and the old state time trial course near Sprott. But when I had to cut my ride short on the way to the beach because of the bee sting, I thought I would try and do the entire 380+ mile route in reverse on the way back. This was going well until it got really hot (temps in the mid 90s for most of the day with a ton of humidity). I ended up overheating south of Dadeville, but with some extended stops and iced drinks I recovered fine. On the climb up Cheaha, I called Kristine and asked her to come pick me up in Talladega about 50 miles from home. I could have made it, but I was really sleepy having a bit of dehydration throughout the day. I’ll focus my write-up on the first part of the ride, which was all of Florida in the dark under a million stars.

I left Seagrove Beach shortly after midnight and headed down 30A straight through Seaside and Grayton Beach before turning onto Co Rd 285, US-98, and then US-331 to take the bridge over the bay. There was a lot of traffic out, and I was concerned about drunk people returning home from dinner/partying. Fortunately, everything was fine and nobody appeared to be drunk. I got off US-331 as soon as possible though and took the Black Creek shortcut over to FL-20. I was motoring with an average speed well over 21mph despite carrying nearly 100 oz of water in my camelbak plus all the tools, battery packs, cords, etc… that I would need for a 385 mile ride. I routed myself on FL-20 so that I could get to FL-81, which I knew from previous trips to Florida was quite hilly and would connect me up with Knox Hill (a 150 foot climb) where I tried to win last year’s Rapha Rising with a bazillion hill repeats.

I took several county roads north of US-90 that put me into really rural parts of Florida. The pavement was perfect, though, which meant that I could fly down some of the hills at close to 35mph. With my little headlight on its lowest setting to save battery, I kept thinking “if the bridge is out at the bottom of this hill, i’m just going to fly into the creek with the alligators”. But the bridge was never out, and the miles just ticked away. I made it 83 miles to the high point of Florida in just over 4 hours.

“At the Florida high point!” Saturday at 4:09AM, Lakeland Park, Florida high pt

Shortly after crossing the border into Alabama, I ran into my first obstacle of the day – a sign that said “road closed, 7 miles ahead, local traffic only”. What do you do in that situation? Do you gamble that you can make it across the bridge or road construction anyway? Or do you try to find a detour. Fortunately, they had put this sign at a spot where I could detour in the same general direction but several miles too far east (which would then have to be returned as well). I took the detour, which ended up being another rural road that was beautifully paved with no lights, no houses, just darkness. Through here I saw a large black animal (possibly a bear) cross the road in front of me.

“Sometimes I feel like we live in 3rd world country.” Saturday at 4:20AM, North of the AL/FL border, AL-52

Eventually, I made it back to my intended route and on northwards. There was heavy, heavy fog through most of southern Alabama — but fortunately, there was nobody out on the roads at 5AM on a Saturday morning. I made it to Elba by 6AM with an average speed of still nearly 21mph. I stopped at the same Burger King I had stopped at on the way down to Florida. By the time I left and started heading north on AL-125, the fog had started to lift and it had started to get hot. I made it to Union Springs just as the temperature really started to spike. I ended up stopping at Subway first for a breakfast sandwich, then McDonald’s to fill up my camelbak with powerade, and Dollar General to buy some suntan lotion.

Leaving Union Springs was crazy hot, and even though I was on some county roads, there was practically no shade. I stopped at a gas station at the I-85 intersection to get some iced drinks to cool off and take with me.

“One way to try to beat the heat.” Saturday at 1:09PM, I-85 intersection, AL-49

From this spot, it was a battle against the heat essentially stopping at each gas station I saw (often separated by 30 miles or more) along AL-49. I would spend 10-15 minutes cooling off and drinking cold drinks before heading north. This eventually took me far enough along in the day that the shadows started to creep across the road so that I would finally have a break from the direct sunlight.

I was worried about the unpaved portion of AL-49 that I had ridden on my southward journey a week earlier, but lo and behold they had finished paving both sides during the week while we were at the beach. So I only had a short half mile section right outside of Lineville that was still unpaved. The long climb from Lineville up to Cheaha was fine until I got to Cheaha at which point I was just out of energy. I zig-zagged my way up the mountain and called Kristine to meet me in Talladega. There were lots of people camping up on top of the mountain, plus a few miles later on the descent in Camp Mac. I kept going and made it to Talladega 333 miles and 22 hours after starting. I was ready to be done!

“Cheaha” Saturday at 8:38PM, Mt Cheaha, Highest point in Alabama

“@ktoone bailed me out in Talladega, but I am happy with the ride, two state high points again!” Saturday at 10:11PM, Talladega, McDonald’s

Here’s a topocreator map of my 12 county return trip … zoom to see lots of detail.

333 miles, 12 counties, home from the beach via Florida and Alabama high points333 miles, 12 counties, home from the beach via Florida and Alabama high points

July 28, 2014 at 2:01 pm Leave a comment

Catching up on some epic adventures

Life has been busy and is about to get busier, but I’ve had some pretty crazy adventures I wanted to blog about. These are ordered below based on when they happened, so you can jump to any specific one with these links:

American Flyers | Just a little commute | Grant ups and downs

March 8-9th – American Flyers – Rouge Roubaix

My all-time favorite cycling movie out of the two that I’ve seen is American Flyers. In the opening scene, the lead actor is racing a barge along the Mississippi River. Then he rides into his building and onto the elevator. I do the latter every day on my commute to work, but I’ve never gotten to race a barge on the Mississippi until my Rouge Roubaix pre-ride this year. The race itself was epic as always – read my race report, but man sometimes I think the pre-rides are more adventurous than the races themselves … see Hell of the South exception, though.

Racing a barge on the Mississippi River - I just "American Flyered" my ride.Racing a barge on the Mississippi River – I just “American Flyered” my ride.

One of the ironic things about the Rouge Roubaix race is how close the course is to the Mississippi River, but you can never see the river from any spot on the course unless it is in severe flood stage (see pic below)

Google street-view of the turn onto 2nd gravel. The Mississippi River was at flood stage when the streetview car drove by. During the race, you cannot normally see the river.Google street-view of the turn onto 2nd gravel. The Mississippi River was at flood stage when the streetview car drove by. During the race, you cannot normally see the river. For my pre-ride I parked at the store annotated in the picture.

This was my fifth year racing Rouge Roubaix, but I had never gone out of my way to see the river because my time spent there is usually so short. I wanted to include a trip out to the river in my pre-ride this year. I ended up picking a route onto Cat Island that veered off of the race course shortly after the third gravel section (Tunica Hills). My route plan was about 50 miles, which I thought would give me plenty of time to just cruise through the second and third gravel section. After a late start on the 7 hour drive from Birmingham plus a bit of a challenge figuring out where to park and not upset the locals (turns out I could have parked pretty much anywhere), I only had less than 3 hours of daylight left. Not exactly a lot of time to ride the 2nd and 3rd gravel sections plus the 2nd gravel section again on the return route.

I was enjoying a nice easy pre-ride, but as my brain ticked away at timing calculations I realized that there was no way I was going to finish before sunset. I picked up the pace and realized that I was probably going to be making it to the turn-around point of my ride sometime near sunset. Stubbornly, I decided that seeing the river this year was worth riding in the dark with no light. The next challenge was finding a way to the river. I knew that the road I picked out onto Cat Island swung close to the river, but not until pretty far into the island. The road kept getting muddier from rain and floods (pic below was from the early part of the road where it was still easily rideable … imagine entire short sections of road covered in thick mud), so I decided when I caught a glimpse of the river behind a gate with a short dirt road leading right up to the edge that I had found my entry spot.

Cat Island road - good practice for finding a good line for the rouge roubaix raceCat Island road – good practice for finding a good line for the rouge roubaix race

Dirt double track to the river - barge visible in the riverDirt double track to the river – barge visible in the river

Right after carefully climbing the fence and setting my bike over on the other side, a barge started to pass by on the river. That is when I knew I had to get a pic of the barge. Unsure whether I was going to stumble into a herd of bulls or cows, I took off like a rabbit down the double track to get to the river’s edge and get a pic. The pic at the top is what I was able to get. So in some sense the barge won because it made it past my access spot to the river, but in another sense I won because it was still close enough for me to get a pic!

As you can see from the lighting in the picture, it was near sunset by the time I had finally seen the river. I was taking a slightly different route back to skip the Tunica Hills dirt section, but I still had over 25 miles left to get back to my car parked at Fort Adams. Plus, the very last part of the ride would be the reverse direction of the 2nd gravel section (i.e., backwards down Blockhouse Hill).

Sunset happened before I even made it off Cat Island. By the time I made it out to LA-66, the main road to Angola Prison, it was dark and dangerous (from traffic). I spent most of the 5 mile stretch of road looking backwards ascertaining whether an approaching car was slowing down and/or moving over to pass me. Only twice did it look questionable and both of those happened to be near sections of the road where there was a shoulder so I moved over into the shoulder. When I finally made the turn off LA-66 onto Pinckneyville Rd, I was super relieved even though it was now way past sunset and very difficult to see. Pinckneyville Rd is an interesting chip/seal road that has some really nice sections interspersed with short rough “repaved” or “washed out” sections.

Ironically, the darker it got, the faster I went as I desperately tried to cover as much ground as possible while still able to see the rough sections with just enough time to grab the brakes and roll over them at a non-pinch flat inducing pace. When I made the turn onto the Blockhouse section, I had to rely entirely on the GPS and the fact that I could see a house up on the left to know that I had reached the turn! It was so dark that I could barely see the turn and could not even see the cattle guard. I was wondering if I had made a wrong turn when all of a sudden I bounced across the cattle guard … “yep, I’m good, this is the way”.

The Blockhouse gravel was in great condition, and I knew this from riding it on the way out at the start of my ride. Also, it was a brighter, lighter color because of the sand mixed in with the gravel. This meant that this section was a bit easier than Picneyville Rd to ride in the dark. I could see two things – black and slightly less black which I knew was the gravel road split into a double track. I tried to stay to the left side of the road hoping that I was judging the right spot to end up in the lefthand track. I stopped at one point to try to take a picture of the conditions. These are three pics that I got:

Blockhouse in the dark (with flash)
My iBike and Garmin on Blockhouse (with flash)
Without flash - not even enough light to make ANYTHING out - although my Nokia Lumia 1020 with great low light photography doesn't always auto-detect its settings correctly. If I had manually set the exposure to a couple seconds, this would have been a much better picture.Top – Blockhouse in the dark (with flash). Middle – My iBike and Garmin on Blockhouse (with flash). Bottom – the road ahead without flash, not even enough light to make ANYTHING out. Although this is partially because my Nokia Lumia 1020 with great low light photography doesn't always auto-detect its settings correctly. If I had manually set the exposure to a couple seconds, you would have been able to see the blurry outline of the road.

By the bottom of the Blockhouse Hill, the road turns from gravel to a partial pavement – which was in really bad shape. Fortunately, this was in a small community that had street lights spaced just far enough apart that I could safely make out all the potholes and slowly ride through. They were having a big party at one of the houses, and some of the kids shouted “hey biker dude” or something like that as I biked by. Epic. Adventure. Life.

March 24th – Short commute to North Georgia

Map showing my commute from Hoover, AL to Blairsville, GA in the North Georgia mountains. Click to enlarge and see all the annotations. This is the wall in our basement next to where I do all my work from home. I get to see some of my favorite places in the country in a raised relief map, including the highest points in AL, GA, TN, SC, and NC!Map showing my commute from Hoover, AL to Blairsville, GA in the North Georgia mountains. Click twice to enlarge and see all the annotations. The solid red line is an approximation of my route – the dashed red line at the end is the part that I didn’t finish due to being way slower than expected. These maps are on the wall in our basement next to where I do all my work from home. I get to see some of my favorite places in the country in a raised relief map, including the highest points in AL, GA, TN, SC, and NC!

Kristine bought a groupon for three nights at the Paradise Hills cabins just outside of Blairsville, GA almost a year ago. The plan was for the two of us to go up there sometime in January or February for me to do some pre-riding of the Southern Cross course. Well, life happened and we couldn’t schedule it, so we switched to a back-up plan of going over spring break and taking the whole family. With the Heart of the South 500 mile race coming up, I decided to ride what I thought would be 300 miles from Birmingham to the cabin as a “test ride”. The route looks like it would have been about 285 miles, but I called Kristine in East Elijay and got her to meet me in Blue Ridge, GA when I realized how far behind schedule I was. The plan was then for her to follow me the last 32 miles in order for her to practice her role as support crew chief for the 500 mile race. But when we met each other at the Arby’s in Blue Ridge, there was a much more traffic than I expected. Blue Ridge was hopping. The traffic combined with me feeling tired and the kids trying to stay up until I made it to the cabin made me decide to end the ride early, hop in the car, and drive the last bit with Kristine back to the cabin. The kids were still awake and I got to see them to bed, which was definitely worth cutting the ride short, seeing how excited they were to show me things in the cabin.

That is how the ride ended, but the adventure started about 18 hours earlier at 1:30AM after having gone to bed at 10:30PM the night before. I set my alarm for 3 hours after going to bed hoping to hit two of the magic 90 minute sleep cycles, which seems to fit well with my own personal sleep pattern. By leaving this early, I was hoping to make it to Blairsville before sunset or at least before the kids went to bed. Another benefit of leaving this early is that I would be able to make it through all of Birmingham and surrounding communities long before most people had even gotten out of bed.

I started out doing essentially my normal commute route, which includes the Vesclub climb (at just over 700 vertical feet diff, one of the biggest climbs in Birmingham) so that I could compare it to later climbs on the route. Doing that climb meant I would also be in good position to blast down Hwy 31, continue through Homewood, and climb over Red Mountain on the Red Mountain Expressway without any traffic on the roads. I had two Axiom 200 watt lights, one mounted to the handlebars, and the other mounted on my helmet. I barely needed them riding through Birmingham, but once I made it out towards Trussville/Leeds on Floyd Bradford and Blackjack, lights were essential. The helmet light is great for scaring dogs – perfect for the route I had picked through dog-infested Annie Lee and Blackjack road. Simply put the helmet on highest setting, turn and stare at a dog, and it will stop dead in its tracks completely blinded by the light. As soon as you stop looking, it will normally start chasing again, but it is still better than nothing.

Hwy 11 through Springville was awesome given that there was no traffic – so awesome that as I was flying along the valley I missed the turn to take Washington Valley road towards Walker Gap. I backtracked at the next major road to get over to Walker Gap because there was no way I was not going to do that climb. On top of Walker, traffic started to pick up a bit as the farmers and really far-out commuters had to start driving at about 5AM. I flew down the waterfall descent and when I made the turn in the valley to head over to Chandler Mountain, this was by far the coldest part of my ride. The temp bottomed out around 27 degF but felt much colder given that I was dressed for the entire day with highs expected in the 50s. As it turns out, I was way overdressed for most of the ride given that temps peaked in the mid 60s. At this point of the ride, I was freezing.

80 miles into the ride, I stopped for the first time in Gadsden and ate a full breakfast at McDonald’s. The police officer in line in front of me asked me where I was heading, and later a couple other guys who had eaten breakfast also wondered where I was heading. You could tell with all the equipment I was trying to recharge and all the food crammed into my backpack that I was heading a long distance. It was cold when I went into the McDonalds and already getting pretty hot by the time I left.

I did the very first new road for me about 82 or 83 miles into the ride climbing up onto Lookout Mountain via a rough chip/seal road called “Scenic Dr”. I followed this road all the way along the north edge of Lookout Mountain with two KOM goals in mind – Keener Gap and Flanders Gap. I didn’t know if these were already segments or not, but I was hoping Strava would auto-detect both as Cat 4 climbs. Both of these climbs are from the narrow US Hwy 11 valley floor back up to the Lookout Mountain ridge line. So to get to both of them, I had to first descend off the mountain to each of them.

Keener was paved and had some beautiful rock formations, one house, and a couple of dogs. I went down the descent way too fast for them to bother with me, but on the way back up as I was trying to put in an exactly threshold effort (not too hard, but not too easy either) here they come out of the house in the middle of the one switchback. Fortunately, they were friendly dogs and let me scoot on by. At the top of Keener Gap, I turned left to continue on Scenic Dr, which abruptly turns from chip/seal to dirt and gravel. The climb still continued on for another half mile or so. I really started to get excited about the ride as I was flying up the gravel road laughing giddily at how I’m trying to KOM a climb with miles and miles ahead of gravel in the middle of what I thought at the time would be a 300 mile ride. The road stayed Alabama dirt/gravel (graded and fast) for the next 5 miles to Flanders Gap. I flew down the gravel descent partly because it was really steep and I couldn’t go much slower and partly because it was easy to see good lines. At the bottom, the dirt gravel gave way to some other kind of large gravel that was not easy to ride. I slowed way down to make sure I didn’t pinch flat. I turned around at the train tracks (low spot in the valley) and headed back up to go for the KOM. I drilled it hard and the climb reminded me a lot of the Blockhouse Hill climb in the Rouge Roubaix race.

Unfortunately, neither climb auto-detected even though they were both well within Cat 4 range. I went back and created the segments and after waiting a few days, it looks like only one other person has done the paved Keener Gap climb, and nobody else has done the Flanders Gap climb. I turned around at the top of Flanders and headed back down it again so that I could take Hwy 11 across the valley to Collinsville. I wanted to do the climb out of Collinsville because on the map it had a lot of switchbacks (somewhat rare for Alabama). I was completely surprised by what I saw when I approached the climb from the streets in downtown. The climb was a powerline cut! The paved road switchbacked across the cut 4 or 5 times, putting the grade at a fairly consistent 10% and closer to 15% in the switchbacks.

At this point I needed to cut across Lookout Mountain and down the other side to head into Georgia. If I headed any farther north on Lookout Mountain, I would have gotten back into some really cool roads I’ve ridden before – but the eastern crossing of Georgia becomes problematic as there aren’t as many roads that head across the many ridges that run north and south through that part of Georgia. So unfortunately I had to just barely brush by one of Alabama’s Hidden treasure – Little River Canyon. I ended up doing a super fun descent from a firetower down to the entrance to the canyon – a national monument called Canyon Mouth.

I took a short break here before heading on some really awesome valley roads (Co Rd 58 and Co Rd 41) northeast through Cherokee County. Somewhere through here I crossed over into Georgia and continued on a northeastern track eventually reaching Summerville, Georgia. After a quick lunch at Subway, I headed back out towards the Narrows Picnic Rd (Hammond Gap) knowing that this would be dirt – Google street view car turned around exactly at the transition to dirt. It turns out that this was the roughest road of the route. I didn’t have any problems on the climb, but on the long descent I had to go slow or run the very likely possibility of pinch flatting AND cutting my tires. We’re talking ruts and large granite rocks sticking out of the ground.

Up to this point in the ride I had felt great, but after going so slow for so long and letting my heartrate dip too low, I suddenly realized that I was tired. Looking back at my heartrate data, I never did get my heartrate back up to what it was before that descent. The route between the bottom of the descent to Dalton started to pick up some heavy traffic including after school traffic, so even though it was some beautiful scenery – being tired and dealing with a lot of cars doesn’t make for a fun ride. One highlight was a smaller road just before the start of the Pinhotti climb. That climb was very steep and VERY busy with traffic. Fortunately, there was a nice clean shoulder to ride to the top. I debated about just heading on down the mountain, but I couldn’t resist the opportunity to climb all the way up to the towers. This dirt climb is the final descent on the Snake Creek Gap mountain bike time trial course. It was a blast to climb (and clear!) on the road bike, and not too bad coming down either.

Dalton was a traffic disaster as I hit it during rush hour. Even with a stop for dinner at Arby’s, traffic was still bad at about 6PM as I made my way over to Fort Mountain on GA-52. What a nasty road. Drivers were all pretty courteous, no honking or throwing things, but they passed you close, definitely not 3 feet. As soon as I left the town of Chatsworth, the traffic immediately disappeared. The climb up Fort Mountain was beautiful and mostly deserted. There were a few fast motorcycles, but you could hear them coming from a long ways away. I stopped and chatted briefly with three of the riders I caught up to at the overlook near the top. I did the climb pretty slowly, but was surprised that at 215 miles into the ride not to be struggling with cramps or any other problems.

I was hoping for a long 35+mph downhill for miles and miles, but instead the descent was very punchy with half-mile climbs and only lasted a few miles. After bottoming out, the road started climbing again. The sun had set a while ago so I put my lights back on and called Kristine to let her know I was running way behind schedule. This takes us back to the beginning of the post where she met me in Blue Ridge and instead of following me for the last 32 miles, I decided to just call it a day and ride in the car back to our cabin for the next few days. 253 miles instead of 285, but I got everything I needed to get out of the ride in terms of prep for the 500 mile race, and I also had quite the adventure!

After this ride, I took Tuesday off and then had two more fun adventure rides Wednesday and Thursday. Here are a few pictures from those adventures.

Family atop the Brasstown Bald lookout tower. I beat them to the top, but I did have a 3.5 hour head start.Family atop the Brasstown Bald lookout tower. I beat them to the top, but I did have a 3.5 hour head start. Wednesday.

View of the Woody Gap climb from standing below the firetower at the very top of the mountain. Click to enlarge.View of the Woody Gap climb from standing below the firetower at the very top of the mountain. Click to enlarge.

March 29-30th – Grant ups and downs – Hell of the South weekend

As I mentioned earlier, this year’s Hell of the South was extra epic, but Mark Fisher and I tried to outdo it the next day by conquering all 11 ways up the Grant plateau plus 4 additional climbs on the way back including one of the steepest climbs in Alabama for a grand total of 15 Huntsville Cat 3 climbs. Some of the climbs are rated Cat 4 based on where the segment starts, but they all have enough vertical diff to be made into Cat 3 climbs using a slightly different starting or ending point along our route. Huntsville has the perfect topography for hard training – lots of flat roads punctuated by 2-3 mile super steep climbs. This also makes for some fun descending. Check out that amazing topography in the two maps below. Double-click (or click once to load the large image and then click again to zoom your browser into the image) to see all the details and mountain names.

11 ways to climb the Grant plateau (click to enlarge, click twice to zoom really far in)11 ways to climb the Grant plateau (click to enlarge, click twice to zoom really far in). The climbs up Grant are numbered.

11 ways up the Grant plateau plus the rest of our ride11 ways up the Grant plateau plus the rest of our ride. All the climbs are numbered starting with the Green Mountain climb, then all 11 ways up Grant, followed by Blowing Cave, Tony Wilmur Trail, and finally Cecil Ashburne. Click to enlarge. After your browser downloads the image, click it again to zoom in and see the details.

I am working on a separate blog with a catalog of the 11 ways up grant plus the bonus climbs of Green, Blowing Cave, Tony Wilmur, and Cecil Ashburne, but I have a feeling it might be a while before I can finish it. So I’m just going to put in a teaser here with the Green Mountain front-side climb, the Swearengin climb, and the Blowing Cave climb (quite possibly one of the steepest paved climbs of measurable category in Alabama).

GREEN MOUNTAIN - FRONT SIDE
Dist:        1.87 mi (0:14:36)
Climbing:     886 ft
          Min   Avg    Max
DFPM Pow   81  270.6   391  W
Gravity   -16  231.2   354  W
Speed     5.2    7.7  13.7  mi/h
Elev      578   1026  1468  ft
Slope    -0.4   9.04  19.2  %
Caden      49   67.1   109  rpm
HR         95  143.5   158  bpm
NP:288W IF:0.98 TSS:24 VI:1.06
3/30/2014 8:06 AM 40 degF; 1022 mbar
SWEARENGIN CLIMB
Dist:        1.61 mi (0:12:17)
Climbing:     640 ft
          Min   Avg    Max
DFPM Pow   19  246.9   385  W
Gravity   -48  201.2   372  W
Speed     4.9    7.9  14.3  mi/h
Wind      0.0    8.1  24.0  mi/h
Elev      591    887  1244  ft
Slope    -1.0   7.70  19.4  %
Caden      30   66.0    99  rpm
HR        112  142.1   157  bpm
NP:267W IF:0.91 TSS:17 VI:1.08
3/30/2014 11:41 AM 62 degF; 1020 mbar
BLOWING CAVE (COMPLETE CLIMB)
Note: I was super tired and weaved up the climb.
Dist:        1.73 mi (0:14:04)
Climbing:     751 ft
          Min   Avg    Max
DFPM Pow    0  251.5   451  W
Gravity  -387  202.8   417  W
Speed     3.3    7.4  19.4  mi/h
Wind      0.0    6.5  25.9  mi/h
Elev      725   1122  1470  ft
Slope    -7.3   8.28  23.6  %
Caden      34   60.2   112  rpm
HR        120  141.2   157  bpm
NP:282W IF:0.96 TSS:22 VI:1.12
3/30/2014 3:06 PM 65 degF; 1019 mbar
BLOWING CAVE - STEEP CAT 4 section only
From a 2013 ride when I went straight up the climb.
Dist:        0.29 mi (0:04:06)
Energy:      74.7 kJ
Cals Burn:   71.4 kcal
Climbing:     300 ft
          Min   Avg    Max
Power     187  303.6   398  W
Gravity   189  284.2   372  W
Speed     3.1    4.3   6.8  mi/h
Wind      0.0    2.4   7.1  mi/h
Elev       27    187   329  ft
Slope    13.2  20.23  26.8  %
HR        141  149.0   155  bpm
NP:311W IF:1.05 TSS:8 VI:1.02
2/10/2013 10:03 AM 51 degF; 990 mbar

iBike data for the Green Mountain front side climb (click to enlarge)iBike data for the Green Mountain front side climb (click to enlarge)

iBike data for possibly Alabama's steepest Cat 4 climb - note the >20% average slope (click to enlarge)iBike data for possibly Alabama’s steepest Cat 4 climb – note the >20% average slope (click to enlarge)

iBike data for the Swearengin climb up to the Grant plateau (click to enlarge)iBike data for the Swearengin climb up to the Grant plateau (click to enlarge)

April 2, 2014 at 6:29 pm Leave a comment

Tornado anniversary and return of the iBike

A lot going on in the cockpit ... video camera, iBike, and Garmin.A lot going on in the cockpit … camera, iBike, and Garmin.

This is my last week off before the start of the spring semester at Samford, so I wanted to get in at least one more long ride. I’m riding my Scott Addict right now because the Trek is down for the count with a crack in the frame. Because I switched bikes to my Scott, I could re-mount the iBike again (the Bontrager stem on my Trek is far too thick for the iBike mount to fit). The only problem is that when I went to mount the iBike, I discovered I was missing a screw for the mounting bracket … a quick trip to the local hardware store with the iBike and a screwdriver in my back pocket and I was able to find the right screw.

In my opinion, the absolute best thing about the iBike is its ability to measure gradients quite accurately — much more so than the barometric pressure calculated gradient from the Garmin. The iBike has an internal gyrometer/accelerometer which can calculate gradient based on immediate changes in pitch, unlike the Garmin which requires motion and change in air pressure to calculate gradient based on the change of elevation over time. The ability of the iBike to measure power is a secondary benefit … and not too bad either compared to all the other power meters I’ve owned. You do have to get it calibrated correctly, but that is a one-time setup step which is supposedly eliminated on the new iBike Newton.

Excited about the iBike, I wanted to measure the gradients on the Emerald Lakes climbs which I discovered over Christmas and rode again a couple weeks ago on the way out to Skyball. I’ve posted videos below where I am calling out a small selection of the iBike gradient readings (it updates itself about every second, but I’m only calling out readings every few seconds). The front side climb Cat 4 climb (from the Lake) has the steepest pitch topping out at 30.4%, but the 20+% section is much shorter than the 20+% section on the backside Cat 3 climb. The descent back down the 30% section is dangerous. I was trying to be conservative and still hit 53mph (last video). I’m glad I was trying to be conservative because any faster, and I might very well have ended up IN Emerald Lake.

Red tailed hawk flying above its nest in tornado damaged neighborhood.Red tailed hawk flying above its nest in tornado damaged neighborhood.

When I was planning out the return route, I noticed that the climb up to the top of the Summit Pointe neighborhood off of Tyler Loop road would probably be an auto-detected Strava cat 4 climb. The picture of the hawk above is just below the summit of the climb. I was trying to maximize climbing on the ride so I created a route through that neighborhood up the climb not realizing that I would be doing the ride on the 1 year anniversary of the Chalkville EF-3 tornado (just under EF-4) which went through a corner of the neighborhood. I came to the realization that it was the 1 year anniversary late in the video below as I was narrating the damage still visible a year later. Click the “youtube” button to watch this on youtube, and you can jump to specific parts of the video using the video bookmarks in the description area below the video.

Finally, here is a photoshop – annotated view of the iBike data from the ride. I was concerned with the cold weather that the iBike battery might not make it the entire ride so I cut it off after the Vesclub climb and didn’t turn it back on again until I got up to Trussville.

ibike graph annotated for the emerald lakes rideibike graph annotated for the emerald lakes ride (click to enlarge and read the annotations)

iBike statistics - Emerald lakes ride (partial)
Dist:       77.57 mi (5:12:38)
Energy:    3691.5 kJ
Cals Burn: 3529.1 kcal
Climbing:    8806 ft
Braking:   -609.4 kJ (-16.5%)
          Min   Avg    Max
Power       0  196.8   692  W
Aero        0  120.6  2982  W
Rolling     0   19.2    68  W
Gravity -4009    4.0   548  W
Speed     0.0   14.9  53.1  mi/h
Wind      0.0   15.3  55.9  mi/h
Elev      -14    454   865  ft
Slope   -24.0   0.08  30.4  %
Caden       0   72.8   126  rpm
HR         79  131.3   165  bpm
NP:226W IF:0.81 TSS:345 VI:1.15
CdA: 0.342 m^2; Crr: 0.0039
168 lbs; 8/14/2011 2:25 PM
52 degF; 1013 mbar

A few notes about the data … the climbing total is quite a bit lower because it’s missing 23 miles of the ride and the iBike is applying smoothing (either in the software or via how the barometric elevation sensor is recording) and doesn’t pick up all the rollers in its climbing total that the Garmin does. Also, the distance is short because I turned off the iBike to save battery after the Vesclub climb and didn’t turn it back on again until Trussville. Also, the “168 lbs” in the statistics at the bottom is my weight plus the weight of the bike plus weight of clothing, etc…

January 24, 2013 at 12:19 pm 2 comments

Kicking off a winter adventure with an epic

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.

Abandoned road near Airport HighlandsSunrise over dolly ridgeSteepMountain goatsRed mountain ridge and trussville mountainsHomewood, Red Mountain, and the Vulcan
Samford UniversityDowntown Birmingham, St Vincents Hospital and Sloss FurnaceLooking towards the airport and along the Red Mountain ridgeGate City / East Lake hillSteep narrow road up Gate City hillSouthern museum of flight
Historic blackbird bomberProp plane and torpedoesCrane helicopterAirplane landing at the airportAirport rd, Red MountainIndian Valley Rollers
Large rockMore rollersTrain tracks near TraffordGrafitti on the bridge over the tracksRoad leading to wooden bridgeWooden bridge

Trip to Wisconsin 2012, a set on Flickr.

http://www.flickr.com/apps/slideshow/show.swf?v=109615

December 29, 2011 at 9:33 am Leave a comment


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Long day, Wednesday 12,5 gran fondo. Looking towards double oak from bluff park - hopefully heading out there tomorrow on my mtb. Long day on the bike, but the days are getting shorter - quite dark by the end of this ride.

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Brian Toone

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Anaerobic Threshold:
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Heart rate:180 bpm
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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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