Posts tagged ‘photos’
Wrapping up a wonderful weekend of riding, racing, and climbing in the beautiful North Georgia mountains outside of Dahlonega that included the Southern Cross Ultracross race, I headed out for one last ride right after the nice breakfast provided by the awesome folks at the Hiker Hostel. My daughter’s church choir program was at 5PM back in Birmingham, and I really wanted to be back in time for it – so my original plan of 85 miles and 11-12,000 feet of climbing got scaled back to 65 miles and 9,000 feet of climbing.
Having thrown out my original route plan, I decided on a modified route that included 4 major climbs (Cat 2 or higher) and a few smaller climbs (Cat 3 or lower). I climbed Woody Gap from the R&R ranch and then proceeded backwards on the Six Gap century course climbing over Wolf Pen, then heading out to Jack’s Gap and taking the 180 spur all the way to the top of Brasstown, turning around at the top and reversing my course but this time heading up Neel’s Gap on US129. The final climb of the day back to the Hiker Hostel had the steepest gradients with a crazy steep driveway access road that climbs up and over a couple mini-ridges before turning into a dirt power-line trail with gradients well over the 30% that ended up getting recorded on my iBike.
While Kristine finished up her work yesterday at Fort McClellan, I biked home to Birmingham from our hotel in Oxford by way of Mount Cheaha. I climbed Cheaha three different ways — including a new Cat 2 climb starting at the low point on the Adam’s Gap side and climbing all the way to the lookout tower inside the state park. This brings Alabama’s Cat 2 climb total to 8 — including the two new climbs I discovered in my ride on Saturday. The eight climbs are labeled on the map below.
I am sure there are more out there to be found … I know that climbing Moorman Mountain from the west would also be a Cat 2 (I climbed it from Bain’s Gap on the east) — so if there is anybody adventurous out there who wants to get to it before me – have at it!
I left Oxford shortly after 7AM in a fog, very light rain mist all the way through Friendship Rd, up to AL-281 and the first ascent of Cheaha from AL-49. Everything went smoothly until my first descent from the lookout tower. I had been climbing for 7 miles in heavy fog – and since it is all uphill, I hadn’t touched my brakes AT ALL and forgotten about how much water would have accumulated on the rims. As I headed into the first switchback and applied the brakes, absolutely nothing happened except for an instant realization that there was no hope of making the turn so I simply straightened up and looked for an escape route that didn’t involve running into a cabin or cliff. Fortunately, the brakes dried off fast enough that even before I left the road, they had started to grab and I only ended up a few feet off the road next to a cabin.
This first bit of excitement on the ride led to the next bit of excitement less than a mile later. I continued down out of the park and turned right onto AL-281 to descend down the Adam’s Gap side of the mountain. I had only made it half a mile or so and had just reached max speed when I heard the sudden “psssssssss” of a tire puncture. I didn’t panic, but I knew I would be in big trouble if the air leaked out before I could slow down. The roads were wet so I couldn’t exactly slam on the brakes either. I just pressed as hard as I felt comfortable pressing on the brakes and slowed down to a stop. Fortunately, the puncture wasn’t a complete blow-out so I still had air left in the tire to keep the tire from rolling off. At this point, I’m only 29 miles or so with well over 100 miles left to ride so I took my time and made darn sure that whatever had caused the puncture wasn’t still in the tire. In fact, I think I spent more time running my finger around the tire and digging out a couple tiny pieces of glass than I actually spent changing and reinflating the tube. It was well worth the effort, though, as I was able to use my pump and CO2 cartridge to fill the tire up to maybe 80 psi and complete the rest of the ride with no more flats. It might have just been coincidence, but I’m thinking that I may have picked up the glass when I went off the road in the switchback previously.
After changing the tire, I finished the rest of the descent and after reaching 45 mph with no thumping or any other signs of a bad tire change, I felt pretty confident that all was good. I attacked the Adam’s Gap climb hard so I could get the KOM on it … my legs were definitely feeling the 400 miles that were already in them for the week up to that point — including the hard climbing ride from Saturday, but I was able to get the KOM. Adam’s Gap ends at the transition to a gravel “scenic road” that if you followed long enough would take you all the way over to Bull Gap and Brent’s new skyway epic course. Turning around, I snapped a few pics and then headed back up Cheaha also pushing it hard to try to get the KOM on this side. By this time, the fog had lifted significantly so that only the very top of the climb was still foggy/wet. At the top, I turned around and headed back down the Adam’s Gap side, but this time I turned at the road to Camp Mac and headed down to Lake Chinnabee to do the climb one last time stopping to take pictures of the mountain from Cheaha Lake (over 1000 ft below the summit).
At the top this time, all was sunny and beautiful so I snapped this panorama of the view from the Cheaha restaurant (which is about 250 ft below the true summit)
From there all the way back home was an awesome ride, which I could spend hours describing — but instead I’m going to just let the pictures tell the rest of the adventure.
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.
After riding out to see firsthand yesterday’s tornado damage, I decided to go climb my favorite spots on Red Mountain that have an elevation greater than 1200ft because I spent a lot of time yesterday looking at the topo maps of the far northern end of Red Mountain near Chalkville and Clay. I call all of these spots the “Red Mountain 1200s”, and I wrote about them just over a year ago when I climbed them in December 2010.
I pieced together these panorama photos I took on Shades Mountain looking towards Red Mountain. The labeled spots are all the places I crossed Red Mountain on my ride today. The 1200 ft spots are Ruffner Mountain (#5), St Vincents East Water Tower (#6), and Turncliff (#7). Ruffner and Turncliff each have two different 1200 ft summits for a total of 5 different 1200+ summits on the ride.
Part 1 – Red Mountain ridge crossings annotated – the 1200ft spots are #5, #6, and #7 on the northern end of the ridge which starts out from higher elevation (i.e, the whole valley is uplifted in that direction). This picture is taken from the Vestavia Dr high pt on Shades Mountain.
Part 2 – Red Mountain ridge crossings annotated – the 1200ft spots are #5, #6, and #7 on the northern end of the ridge which starts out from higher elevation (i.e, the whole valley is uplifted in that direction). This picture is taken from towards the bottom of Vestavia Dr on Shades Mountain.
So I wasn’t planning on going hard, but I knew that there were ton of steep climbs. As I got farther into the ride, I realized that trying to “go easy” was pretty much pointless because the terrain was either straight up or straight down pretty much the whole ride. I started out with a new climb up the Vestavia Forest ridge using the road that Jacob Tubbs had posted to Strava the other day. Then I took one of my favorite routes through Homewood to my first crossing of Red Mountain by the WBRC42 radio tower … this route involves climbing through a couple alleys, one driveway, a radio tower, two tree crossings and the Vulcan trail.
Then I headed down the mountain part of the way towards 5 points south before climbing back up towards the Vulcan before veering onto Warwick Dr to finish the second crossing of Red Mountain. I headed back down via a 49mph descent of Woodcrest before climbing back up via the 16th ave south alley with its super steep gradient including one section that might be close to 30% if you take the inside part of the switchback.
I descended again off the mountain over by Altamont before climbing back up again via Clairmont / 58th and then descending again at 49mph on Southcrest. I headed over to Oporto Madrid Blvd which could be better known as the “Ruffner Mountain” bikeway since it is the easiest way to get from Crestwood over to Ruffner Mountain. Technically, Oporto Madrid also crossed the Red Mountain ridge, but it is so low that I don’t really count it.
Finally, I made it to the first of the Red Mountain 1200s … Ruffner Mountain starts out with a gradual climb on Rugby before the grade really kicks up on 81st all the way to the Nature Center where you can hop a curb onto a somewhat paved trail up to the old firetower. From the nature center to the firetower averages 12% for 1/2 mile with a few short sections well over 20%. My original plan was to head back down the mountain past the nature center and take an alternate road in the valley to get back to the next crossing, but instead I decided to explore the trail across the top of the mountain, which I had never done before. It switches from paved to double track as soon as you turn right off the firetower. Then the double track turns into a dirt single track which takes you down very steeply to a saddle between the two 1200+ ft summits. The second ridge was way too steep (20-30%) and rutted for me to ride with the wet conditions from the rain from the thunderstorms yesterday morning so I just ran up the whole thing (maybe 1/10th of a mile). Once you make it to the water tower on top of the second ridge, there is a dirt / gravel access rd that descends very steeply to the Observatory Rd neighborhood.
From Observatory Rd, I descended down into South Roebuck before climbing back up to the St Vincents East hospital. There is a cement access ramp (see pics at the end) with a gradient well over 30% that leads onto a gravel rd which eventually turns into a leaf covered double track 16-18% climb to the water tower which at 1275 ft is the highest 1200+ ft summit that is accessible by bike (that I know of) on Red Mountain. Turning around at the top so as not to disturb the person working on the radio tower, I headed back down to the hospital and descended the other side towards Trussville. Just before you cross under the interstate, you can turn left into a really odd (but extremely cool) neighborhood called “Turncliff”. What makes this neighborhood really cool is that there are no houses until you get to the somewhat flattened summit of the climb. Along the way there are a few switchbacks and then a rolling section through a kudzu forest (i.e., kudzu has completely taken over). Towards the top, there is a very steep access road to the radio towers that is gated off. You can go around the gate, but you have to dismount and crawl through a narrow opening in the kudzu. Today, however, the gate was wide open so that made it much easier since I didn’t have to remount and start uphill on a 15% gradient. At the top, I turned around immediately and went back down to finish climbing the rest of the way up to the Turncliff neighborhood which is lower than the radio tower summit, but still just barely above 1200 ft. There are some cool 90 degree turns right before you get to the neighborhood … then you finally make it to the neighborhood and there are maybe 15 houses all on the summit of the mountain.
This was the “out” part of my out/back ride so from there I turned around and headed back home – bypassing all the summit side roads/trails but crossing back over the ridges. On the way back, I descended the Valley Hill climb which I think might be the steepest climb in Birmingham at 27% … the Google Maps streetview pictures below are the best I can do to illustrate how steep the climb is. I took some pictures, which are in the gallery but nothing ever looks as steep in a picture.
Google maps streetview image of the Valley Hill climb
Rotated version of the Google maps streetview image of the Valley Hill climb
On the way back home, I ran into Lennie’s friend Aaron and rode back with him from Ruffner Mountain all the way to Cherokee Rd in Mountain Brook … it was fun talking about Leadville with him (he did it in 2009). When I finally made it back, I had climbed over 10,000 ft in a 63 mile ride. Here are some of the pics I took along the way:
Wisconsin Divide, a set on Flickr.
We had an inch and a half of new snow last night so today’s ride was again on the mountain bike. The snow is perfect depth and texture for good riding as I discovered today since the road to the ski resort was completely covered all the way back out to Co Rd M. In northern Wisconsin, all the county roads get treated with salt and plowed on a regular basis so they remain relatively snow and ice free even with temps in the teens. Today I was riding through puddles and wet roads on Co Rd M and Co Rd D even with the temperature hovering around 20 degF.
The ride highlight for the day was on Co Rd D where I unexpected came across this large sign indicating the Great Divide of Northern Wisconsin. On the other side of the divide, was a long downhill. The internet connection here at the hotel is really spotty so I am waiting to upload the ride to see if it was an actual categorized climb. If you are ever wondering what I think about on long bike rides, I spent about 10 minutes of the climb working out in my head the vertical gain needed over a particular distance for it to count as a Strava Cat 4. I think to hit the 3% threshold, you need 158.4 feet of climbing per mile – I worked this out in my head making for a good distraction as I was trying to push the pace realizing that it was probably going to be pretty dark by the time I made it back to the lodge.
I pushed the pace really hard over the top of the climb and all the way back across Co Rd D to Co Rd M. I hit M just after sunset with about 12 miles left to get back to the lodge. With a cloudy, overcast sky it was already pretty dark. I could see fine even without a light, but I had to rely on my bright green neon vest for visibility. I got passed by about five or six cars on the mostly deserted road, but the last car was a local sheriff who put on his lights and told me to get in the truck that I couldn’t be out without a light. He was very nice and gave me a ride the last 3 miles back to the lodge. I apologized profusely for riding without a light as I had expected to be back well before sunset but had gotten delayed on my ride.
All in all, it was a great ride, and the pics at the top of this post are the ones I took along the way.
Yesterday, I did a shorter ride out/back on Co Rd M and also snapped a few pictures. Here they are on flickr enjoy!
Co Rd M – Mountain Bike, a set on Flickr.
Wow, what a great adventure yesterday was! We had tickets for the Andrew Peterson Christmas concert “Behold the Lamb” last night at the Ryman Center in Nashville and went on a fun double date with my cousins in Nashville. I left right after my daughter sang in a trio at Lakeside in the morning church service and rode north to Smoke Rise, AL where Kristine picked me up to drive the rest of the way to Nashville in time for the concert. The drive was highlighted by a u-turn on I-65 which had been blocked from an accident and then AWESOME rally car driving with Kristine as the navigator calling out distances to turns on very narrow country roads following my GPS set on bicycle directions. After a great dinner at Demos with Richard and Christy, an AMAZING concert, and a three hour drive back to Birmingham we were home by 2AM.
Analise was singing in a trio at the 10:30 church service at Lakeside so my original plans to ride from Birmingham to Huntsville and have Kristine pick me up got shortened to riding from Birmingham to Smoke Rise – a rural community south of Cullman atop the same ridge line as the finishing climb for the Tour de Cullman. I went ahead and rode to Lakeside so that I could leave straight from there after Analise finished singing and still make it to Smoke Rise in time for Kristine to pick me up to drive the rest of the way to Nashville.
The route was amazing. Check out the annotated topocreator maps of the route below the picture gallery. Low traffic, lots of great climbing, nearly half the route on roads I have never ridden before, and some fun adventure to boot! Adventure highlights from the bike ride include:
- Exploring a neighborhood abandoned years ago after the streets were built but before any houses were built
- Getting stung by a wasp or yellow jacket on my head just above my ear
- Exploring new roads
- The cool boat landing climb up from the Warrior river
- And finally the Smoke Rise climb and descent
Probably the most adventuresome thing that happened on our drive up to Nashville was an accident that blocked the interstate causing us to do some rally car driving through the rural Tennessee countryside between exit 22 and exit 27. What I mean by rally car driving is that I set my GPS to biking directions and asked it to give us directions to the next exit, which it did by taking us on these really small, sometimes gravel roads. There were lots of sudden turns so I put the GPS on the screen which shows distances to the next turn, and Kristine counted down the distance to the next turn, which means we could drive fast without worrying about missing a turn. It was absolutely awesome because the terrain was really steep and there were a bunch of turns. I was careful though to slow down at any blind spots in case there were any cyclists, horses, people, or cars just around the corner. We saw nobody!
There’s a lot more I could say about the ride, but I’ll just leave this post with a lot of pictures. Most of these were taken while riding, which is not easy with an iphone.
An annual tradition for me for the past three years (including this year) has been to incorporate some of the more busy roads around Birmingham into a Thanksgiving morning ride since there is relatively little traffic out on the roads on this holiday. This year I hit all four US highways that run through Birmingham (31, 11, 78, and 280) as part of a ride that climbed nearly 8000′ in just over 56 miles.
Topocreator ride map with lots of annotations Download huge version (4MB) here – http://toonecycling.files.wordpress.com/2011/11/tday11map.jpg
Downtown Birmingham – annotated Carraway Hospital closed in 2008 – http://www.al.com/news/birminghamnews/metro.ssf?/base/news/122457692457320.xml&coll=2
The last part of the climb up to the top of Vestavia Dr. A tornado leveled the trees here in April 2000, the trees that were planted have started to grow back (scroll down to the bottom of the church history page, righthand column to read about the tornado).
Complete interactive ride data on Strava: http://app.strava.com/rides/2444715