Posts tagged ‘snow’

Winter Gridlock 2014 – a pictoral timeline

In this blog, I document the events of the surprise snowstorm that hit central Alabama on Tuesday, January 28th, 2014. I have selected several defining pictures to show full size here at the beginning to capture the chaos caused by the storm and its aftermath. Below the full-sized pictures, I have included small thumbnails of some of the videos I uploaded to youtube. Below the videos, I have organized a long pictoral gallery that covers the entire week. There are a ton of pictures, but I recommend that you click on the first one to open a full-size window and then click the arrows or click the picture to advance from photo to photo. If you do that, then when you make it to the end of the

People walk down a completely empty three lane highway about 3 hours after it first started to snow

Tues, 1/28 @ 1:07PM – US Hwy 280 abandoned top of pass. People walk down a deserted six lane highway about 3 hours after it first started to snow.

An ambulance spins out and struggles up the hill with a paramedic and a bystander helping to push it up the hill. People are abandoning their cars, while others try to get around. This is the spot where I started videoing my bike ride up the hill.

Tues, 1/28 @ 1:03PM – US Hwy 280 at Cherokee Rd. An ambulance spins out and struggles up the hill with a paramedic and a bystander helping to push it up the hill. People are abandoning their cars, while others try to get around. This is the spot where I started videoing my bike ride up the hill. http://youtu.be/ZlKTOy0J8WI

Tues, 1/28 @ 1:03PM – US Hwy 280 at Lakeshore Dr. This picture is taken from the same spot as the one above, except looking back down the hill. The highway is completely blocked. There are accidents along the side, and you can see the exact spot where the cars cannot make it any farther up the hill. At this point, the line of cars probably stretches all the way back into downtown several miles away assuming that Red Mountain isn’t blocked.

Tues 1/28 @ 6:08PM - icy blueberry lane. As I head out of the neighborhood, I encounter unrideable sections of Blueberry Lane coated in solid ice. To pass this section, I ride through the yard on the left where you can see all the footprints of people walking ... people unable and/or unwilling to walk anywhere near the crazy slippery road. I took this picture on my return trip after making it successfully to the grocery store to get milk.

Tues 1/28 @ 6:08PM – icy blueberry lane. As I head out of the neighborhood, I encounter unrideable sections of Blueberry Lane coated in solid ice. To pass this section, I ride through the yard on the left where you can see all the footprints of people walking … people unable and/or unwilling to walk anywhere near the crazy slippery road. I took this picture on my return trip after making it successfully to the grocery store to get milk.

Tues, 1/28 @ 9:42PM - city-wide sleepover. People sleep in their offices. Kids sleep at schools. At our house, we have a sleepover with stranded kids whose parents cannot make it to Rocky Ridge Elementary. Over 200 kids spend the night at Rocky Ridge as do 4300 other students across the entire Hoover school system.

Tues, 1/28 @ 9:42PM – city-wide sleepover. People sleep in their offices. Kids sleep at schools. At our house, we have a sleepover with stranded kids whose parents cannot make it to Rocky Ridge Elementary. Over 200 kids spend the night at Rocky Ridge as do 4300 other students in the entire Hoover school system.

Wed, 1/29 @ 8:03AM - first flipped car. I only have to ride 1/2 mile from my house to stumble (almost literally) upon the first flipped car. Rocky Ridge Rd was so icy that I walk stretches of it. I am trying to ride down the middle of the road where there is a little bit of snow (and traction), but graviity pulls me across to the side of the road onto the shoulder where I am completely shocked to be staring at this car in front of me. This moment is recorded 7 minutes and 50 seconds into this video: http://youtu.be/31u73UqPQ4A. I park my bike alongside the sign and run down to the car just to make sure nobody is still in the car (i.e., in case it had just happened while I was biking down the other side of the hill). Nobody is inside, but the contents of the car are strewn everywhere.

Wed, 1/29 @ 8:03AM – first flipped car. I only have to ride 1/2 mile from my house to stumble (almost literally) upon the first flipped car. Rocky Ridge Rd was so icy that I walk stretches of it. I am trying to ride down the middle of the road where there is a little bit of snow (and traction), but gravity pulls me across to the side of the road onto the shoulder where I am completely shocked to be staring at this car in front of me. This moment is recorded 7 minutes and 50 seconds into this video: http://youtu.be/31u73UqPQ4A. I park my bike alongside the sign and run down to the car just to make sure nobody is still in the car (i.e., in case it had just happened while I was biking down the other side of the hill). Nobody is inside, but the contents of the car are strewn everywhere.

Wed, 1/29 @ 9:12AM - ice skating. Boris and I decide to head south on I-65 all the way down to AL-119 to buy more water and food at the gas station to hand out to drivers stuck on I-65 north. When we exit the freeway, we discover rather quickly that the ramp is unrideable and head to the shoulder. Just how slippery is it? check out this video of Boris sliding on it - http://youtu.be/KqBRt_vA2z4

Wed, 1/29 @ 9:12AM – ice skating. Boris and I decide to head south on I-65 all the way down to AL-119 to buy more water and food at the gas station to hand out to drivers stuck on I-65 north. When we exit the freeway, we discover rather quickly that the ramp is unrideable and head to the shoulder. Just how slippery is it? check out this video of Boris sliding on it – http://youtu.be/KqBRt_vA2z4

Wed, 1/29 @ 11:05AM - welcome to the apocalypse! By this point, the roads are starting to melt and the middle two travel lanes are moving very, very slowly (0-1mph). But the melting ice makes what is left even more slippery. Instead of solid ice, you now have a thin layer of water on top of solid ice. Boris and I both pick are way very slowly between all of the abandoned cars in this picture and almost fall several times. Every car on the shoulder or in the right travel lane in this picture is abandoned all the way past the hill to the Hwy 31 exit out of sight. Our ride through this is recorded here: http://youtu.be/NDT8zeDPoMk

Wed, 1/29 @ 11:05AM – welcome to the apocalypse! By this point, the roads are starting to melt and the middle two travel lanes are moving very, very slowly (0-1mph). But the melting ice makes what is left even more slippery. Instead of solid ice, you now have a thin layer of water on top of solid ice. Boris and I both pick are way very slowly between all of the abandoned cars in this picture and almost fall several times. Every car on the shoulder or in the right travel lane in this picture is abandoned all the way past the hill to the Hwy 31 exit out of sight. Our ride through this is recorded here: http://youtu.be/NDT8zeDPoMk

Tues, 1/28 @ 1PM - US Hwy 280. http://youtu.be/ZlKTOy0J8WI

Tues, 1/28 @ 1PM – US Hwy 280. http://youtu.be/ZlKTOy0J8WI


Tues, 1/28 @ 2PM - US Hwy 31. http://youtu.be/y3BQokQ5Is0

Tues, 1/28 @ 2PM – US Hwy 31. http://youtu.be/y3BQokQ5Is0


Tues, 1/28 @ 10:45AM - Hwy 31 overlook. http://youtu.be/OgWEwn_UUg0

Tues, 1/28 @ 10:45AM – Hwy 31 overlook. http://youtu.be/OgWEwn_UUg0


Tues, 1/28 @ 2:45PM - Josiah skiing. http://youtu.be/RJAFvI-mSZ0

Tues, 1/28 @ 2:45PM – Josiah skiing. http://youtu.be/RJAFvI-mSZ0


Wed, 1/29 @ 8AM - Mountain biking to I-65. http://youtu.be/31u73UqPQ4A

Wed, 1/29 @ 8AM – Mountain biking to I-65. http://youtu.be/31u73UqPQ4A


Wed, 1/29 @ 8:30AM - I-65 southbound. http://youtu.be/IH3tKdXRqSU

Wed, 1/29 @ 8:30AM – I-65 southbound. http://youtu.be/IH3tKdXRqSU


Wed, 1/29 @ 9:15AM - Boris ice skating on the interstate. http://youtu.be/KqBRt_vA2z4

Wed, 1/29 @ 9:15AM – Boris ice skating on the interstate. http://youtu.be/KqBRt_vA2z4


Wed, 1/29 @ 10:30AM - dollar general truck. http://youtu.be/Ufsg825mdtM

Wed, 1/29 @ 10:30AM – dollar general truck. http://youtu.be/Ufsg825mdtM


Wed, 1/29 @ 10:45AM - Welcome to the Apocalypse! http://youtu.be/NDT8zeDPoMk

Wed, 1/29 @ 10:45AM – Welcome to the Apocalypse! http://youtu.be/NDT8zeDPoMk


Wed, 1/29 @ 10:30AM - I-65 northbound to I-459 overpass on-ramp. http://youtu.be/cxyB3h4TXzc

Wed, 1/29 @ 10:30AM – I-65 northbound to I-459 overpass on-ramp. http://youtu.be/cxyB3h4TXzc


Thurs, 1/30 @ 1:30PM - Hwy 280 to Co Rd 41 - http://youtu.be/E77FVMy1VrI

Thurs, 1/30 @ 1:30PM – Hwy 280 to Co Rd 41 – http://youtu.be/E77FVMy1VrI


Thurs, 1/30 @ 3:30PM - Hugh Daniel descent to Hwy 280 - http://youtu.be/8Vi_Z1DMcok

Thurs, 1/30 @ 3:30PM – Hugh Daniel descent to Hwy 280 – http://youtu.be/8Vi_Z1DMcok


Thurs, 1/30 @ 4:20PM - caldwell mill gulley. http://youtu.be/3iyUGP48X90

Thurs, 1/30 @ 4:20PM – caldwell mill gulley. http://youtu.be/3iyUGP48X90

Below I have created a pictoral timeline of events based on photo timestamps. I have combined what was originally two galleries into one large gallery. Click on the first picture in the gallery and you can advance through each picture at full-size with the captions displayed at the bottom.

Monday – Friday

February 11, 2014 at 9:56 pm Leave a comment

Wrapping up the year with the Festive 500

Finishing the festive 500 in the cold and dark.Finished #festive500 yesterday in the dark with temp down to -22.4 degF. Not ashamed to admit some tears were shed towards the end… perhaps this is how Andy Hampsten felt on that epic day in the 1988 giro. I have finished atop the leaderboard in several Strava challenges, but I am more proud of finishing 4,992nd in this year’s Festive 500 than any of the ones I have finished 1st.

Each year for the past several years, Rapha has sponsored a challenge to ride 500km (310 miles) from December 24th – December 31st, inclusive. Since I normally ride close to 400 miles per week, this is well within my normal riding range. But our tradition is to leave Alabama on Christmas day and drive 1100 miles north to Shell Lake, Wisconsin to visit my wife’s family. This makes the Festive 500 especially challenging because of the winter weather in northwestern Wisconsin. Temperature and road conditions vary from year to year, so some years are easier than others. Here is the day-by-day adventure that was the 2013 Festive 500.

Day 1 – 12/24/2013 Birmingham, AL brick alley 2x plus climbing

12/24 - my two bikes after riding home from brick alley12/24 – my two bikes after riding home from brick alley

Summary – I wanted to scope out the S Cove Dr climb and try to hit 2.5 million feet of climbing for the year so I stayed close to home and did a bunch of repeats on the Green Valley roller coaster. I also needed to pick up my mtb from Craig at Brick Alley. He was putting some mineral oil brakes on my bike and changing out the tires to the widest tire he had in the shop (2.25″ Tiagos) to get ready for my trip to Wisconsin. I stopped by, picked up the bike, and pushed it the three miles home while riding my road bike.

12/24/2013 at 12:06pm Birmingham, AL brick alley 2x plus climbing
Average temp 36 degF Distance 45.9 mi
Moving time 3:29:31 Climbing 10,299 ft
Elapsed time 4:05:32 Speed (avg/max) 13.1/54.4 mph

Day 2 – 12/25/2013 Birmingham, AL strava shootout finale – s cove dr

12/25 - S Cove Dr - 25% max gradient12/25 – S Cove Dr – 25% max gradient

Summary – For the last three months of the year, some of us climbing addicts in Birmingham participate in the Strava Shootout, where we pick a climb each week and the fastest time up the climb that week wins that week. http://topocreator.com/shootout – the final climb of the year this year is the super steep s cove dr very close to my house. It climbs 222 feet in just 0.2 miles averaging just under 20% with a max gradient of 25%. I hyperventilated and couldn’t get enough air after the effort last year b/c it is so long at the intensity required to put in a good time … imagine a good solid 1’30” sprint at 600 watts. This year my legs were pretty dead from a really long ride two weeks prior and then a 508 mile week the following week. So my shootout effort was 5 seconds lower than my best time on the climb, and I could tell b/c I wasn’t hyperventilating as bad this year. I warmed up by heading out to Mountain Brook and doing some climbing.

12/25/2013 at 9:45am Birmingham, AL strava shootout finale – s cove dr
Average temp 39 degF Distance 30.1 mi
Moving time 2:07:05 Climbing 4,895 ft
Elapsed time 2:19:08 Speed (avg/max) 14.2/50.6 mph

Days 3 (12/26) and 4 (12/27) – Travel

1107 miles and 30 inches of snow later, we arrived in Wisconsin1107 miles and 30 inches of snow later, we arrived in Wisconsin
1107 miles from AL to WI1107 miles from AL to WI

We left Birmingham at about 2 in the afternoon and drove straight through the night 1107 miles north to Wisconsin. There was some nasty freezing fog on I-65 near La Fayette, Indiana so we got off the interstate and headed west ending up taking some dirt roads which were much easier to drive on. Nearly 23 hours later, we arrived in Shell Lake, WI at about 1 in the afternoon.

Day 5 – 12/28/2013 Shell Lake, WI heartwood snow riding

12/28 - shell lake to heartwood via slushy muddy roads12/28 – shell lake to heartwood via slushy muddy roads
Various road conditions on the route from Shell Lake to HeartwoodVarious road conditions on the route from Shell Lake to Heartwood

Summary – this was by far my warmest ride in Wisconsin, but it was so warm that there was a lot of water on the roads (salted/sanded). I ended up getting soaked, muddy, and cold by the time I made it from Shell Lake to Heartwood about 30 miles north where we were spending a couple nights in a rental cabin. I took a circuitous route on some new dirt roads I’d never ridden before. Most of the roads were wet or slushy, but the really rural dirt roads were still pretty good snow pack for riding. By the time I made it to the Heartwood resort cabin area, the snow was super soft and had been driven on a lot so it was nearly impossible to ride. I persisted at an average speed of about 5mph for the last 3 miles of the ride arriving at the cabin just after sunset.

12/28/2013 at 11:09am Shell Lake, WI heartwood snow riding
Average temp 30 degF Distance 63.7 mi
Moving time 4:46:08 Climbing 2,112 ft
Elapsed time 6:57:16 Speed (avg/max) 13.4/28.6 mph

Day 6 – 12/29/2013 Trego, WI long day in the cold

First cold ride, little did I know how much colder it was going to get.First cold ride, little did I know how much colder it was going to get.
Long day in the cold - very cold after sunset!Long day in the cold – very cold after sunset!

Summary – we woke up to really cold temps, and I figured I would go out early and then split my ride up into two rides. But by the time I made it to Minong, I was so cold I spent well over an hour warming up at a gas station and decided to do everything in one ride. Riding in the snow was much better this day because it was so cold that everything was frozen together into hard snow instead of slippery loose snow. Webb Creek road on the way over to Minong was awesome, a super fast snowy road with some good hills and a beautiful frozen lake. I stopped back by our cabin after 45 miles and watched the first quarter of the Packers game while warming back up. I wanted to head back out for at least 15 more miles in the dark, but my headlight wasn’t showing the snow clear enough to take good lines, and it got really really cold very quickly … almost -18 degF by the end of the ride.

12/29/2013 at 9:56am Trego, WI long day in the cold
Average temp -8 degF Distance 56.9 mi
Moving time 4:28:19 Climbing 3,510 ft
Elapsed time 7:14:30 Speed (avg/max) 12.7/28.0 mph

Day 7 – 12/30/2013 Trego, WI cold ride home to shell lake

Walrus tusk after a long day in the cold.Walrus tusk after a long day in the cold.
Scenes from the beginning of my ride in the cold - less than an hour into the ride and my phone died.Scenes from the beginning of my ride in the cold. Immediately after taking the leftmost pic, my phone gave me a “critical battery” warning and then cut off before I could even click OK. This was less than an hour into the ride, starting with a full charge! You could hear the snowplow coming from at least half a mile away. The right picture is an ice fishing road on a frozen lake. The day before there was a pickup truck out on the lake.

Summary – at one point on this ride, I was on a heavily snowed logging road and got passed by three big logging trucks. My feet were so painfully cold, and I was counting down the miles to Trego – the first place I could stop to warm up. I was so out of it that I didn’t realize one of the trucks was behind me. He never blew his horn, but just sat there about 50 meters behind me until I realized that what I was hearing was not my tires in the snow but rather the engine of the truck. I immediately got out of the way so that he could get around me. Why was I so cold? The overnight temperature where we were near Minong was -36 degF. Yes, that is 36 degrees below zero air temperature. It did warm-up fairly quickly: -28 degF by sunrise, -20 degF for Kristine’s ski, and then -15 degF by the time I left to bike back to Shell Lake. Long before I made it to Trego (25 miles into the ride), my phone was completely dead, which was sad because I ate and warmed up at this really cool restaurant called the Dinner Bell. Since I couldn’t get any pictures, I saved it all to memory and then wrote it up here in a short picture-less blog here: A cold day in Wisconsin. Towards the end of this ride, as it started to get dark and snow on the really rural road I was on b/t spooner and shell lake, I wondered a few times if I had bit off more than I could chew. I wasn’t cold, per se, but my toes were killing me from the cold, and I was having a hard time seeing with the fading light and the light snow.

12/30/2013 at 11:14am Trego, WI cold ride home to shell lake
Average temp -9 degF Distance 49.6 mi
Moving time 3:44:56 Climbing 2,927 ft
Elapsed time 4:56:54 Speed (avg/max) 13.2/25.9 mph

Final Day – 12/31/2013 Trego, WI meteor hill epic

Three separate frozen beards for this final ride to finish the festive 500. Keep in mind that the ice was completely melted between warming stops, so those are new frozen beards each time! The first one was at my first warming stop 1 hour 47 minutes into the ride without stopping. The middle one has two walrus tusks! Kristine took the last one when I called her to come get me with only a few miles to make it back to the house.Three separate frozen beards for this final ride to finish the festive 500. Keep in mind that the ice was completely melted between warming stops, so those are new frozen beards each time! The first one was at my first warming stop 1 hour 47 minutes into the ride without stopping. The middle one has two walrus tusks! Kristine took the last one when I called her to come get me with only a few miles to make it back to the house.

Summary – without a doubt this was one of the toughest rides I’ve ever done. Not many rides have ever brought me to tears by the end, but this one did. I needed 104k to finish the 500km for the Festive 500 challenge so I knew it was going to be tough. I had originally figured I would split it up into two 33 mile rides, but it was so cold in the morning (-20 degF) that I wanted to let it warm up a bit before starting, which meant doing it all in one ride. The past few years I’ve included Meteor Hill (at 1800 ft, the highest point in northwestern wisconsin) in at least one ride and it would work out to be just under 70 miles roundtrip … so I thought “let’s go for it!”

The first place to stop on my route was Birchwood, 25 miles and 1:47 away from Shell Lake. The toe warmers I bought at the BP shown in the video below were complete duds and I was in some pain for the last 11 miles into Birchwood. Fortunately, there were two couples riding snowmobiles on the trail that paralleled Co Rd D. I raced them for a couple miles and this not only distracted me from the cold, but also warmed up my internal temp helping out my extremeties a bit. I ended up beating them to the spot where the trail left the road b/c they were going slow and their trail wound a bit. Also, I had a tailwind for much of the ride to Birchwood. But even with all that I was wondering if I was going to arrive at the gas station with some serious frostbite.

The small gas station was cold and very busy so after eating some pizza and drinking a little bit of coffee, I decided to try to find someplace warmer. Just down the street was the Birchwood Cafe, a really warm diner where I could relax. The manager (owner?), Sandy, thought I was with the 150 mile Tuscobia winter ultra adventure race/run/ski/ride that had started on Saturday. Just so you know, I’m not the only one riding a bike up here. Most of those people were on fat bikes going much slower so they didn’t have to deal quite as much with the windchill, but I’m not sure if they had as many places to stop and warm-up as I did. Plus, they were definitely working harder and kudos to all of them. I may have to try it next year, as it is a qualifier for the Iditarod Trail Race, and I ended up riding 240 miles over the same timeframe as the race (if there were still people riding it on New Year’s Eve).

The climb up meteor hill starts right outside of town. Last year I went up the paved state highway and came down the snowmobile trail. That is not very efficient b/c you have to go slower on the downhill than the uphill. So this year I decided to do the climb on the snowmobile trail and then come back down on the state highway. I knew this would be bitterly cold on the descent, but I also knew that raw time in the cold was a factor – so better to suck it up and get the ride back to the gas station done as quickly as possible. The snowmobile trail / road was beautiful and I got to follow some bunny tracks for a while, which are really fun to see the two sets of paw prints close together followed by another set at the next landing spot. My phone was still working, but I was way too cold to stop. I did stop once towards the bottom of the climb but this was before the bunny tracks, and I wasn’t going to stop again.

The descent back down from the top was long, gradual, and bitterly cold into a stiff headwind. I don’t even want to write about it. Fortunately, I knew that there was a gas station waiting at the bottom back in Birchwood. I was running out of daylight and knew that most of the ride back to Shell Lake would be into a headwind so I didn’t stop as long this time, but I did buy more toe warmers. I put two warmers in each foot (one on the top and one on the bottom), drank another cup of coffee, and took off barely 30 minutes after arriving.

I pushed the pace really hard leaving Birchwood with an average heartrate of 155bpm for 45 minutes all the way to Long Lake. I didn’t want to be out on the snowy/icy roads on New Year’s Eve. I relaxed a bit once I made it through Long Lake, where Co Rd D was a lot less icy, more wide open, and straighter. At this point the temperature, really started to plummet from about -14 in Long Lake to -20 a few miles later. Also, my Garmin battery switched over to the “yellow” low zone. In these temps, I didn’t know how much time that would give me so I just drilled it again as hard as I could. I watched the temp drop 0.1 degF every few seconds for several miles until it hit -20 right as the sun was setting. Even with the risk of time, battery, and cold, I had to stop and get a pic of the sunset and my Garmin.

Sunset on the final day, plus my Garmin showing -20 degF with my Nokia Lumia 1020 in the backgroundSunset on the final day, plus my Garmin showing -20 degF with my Nokia Lumia 1020 in the background.

Quick note about my equipment – you can see in the bottom pic my “mineral oil” brakes. They worked flawlessly in the cold the entire time. My Garmin held up for huge chunks of time in temps as low as 22 degF below zero. Towards the end of this final ride, the Garmin started ghosting. When I swiped between screens, it wasn’t as spontaneous as normal and the screen seemed to have two images on it for a fraction of a second. The total battery life looked like it would be about 7.5 hours which is at least 3 hours less than it owuld be in normal temps. My phone did not handle the cold as well. It lasted about an hour from a full charge before shutting off. My contour video camera lasted even less than an hour on the final day with only a few minutes of recording during that time. Shifting didn’t work up front, but worked fine in the back. The other big surprise for me was the cassette not engaging the freewheel, you had to do a really slow pedal revolution to give the clamps enough time to spring back up. This got really bad towards the end as it took a while to get it to engage.

Back to the ride, when I started up the long gradual hill from Co Rd D, it was still into a stiff headwind. The temperature was dropping fast. My Garmin battery was dying. I was getting tired but too cold to try to eat anything. And I had nothing to drink that was not frozen. I still had almost 9 miles to get to the 65 miles I needed to complete the challenge. Each new uphill into the wind, I thought you’ve got to be kidding me. There is no way I’m going to make it before either my legs or my Garmin gives out. My feet were really cold, and my hands were really cold but it didn’t matter. I just wanted to make it to 65 miles. Finally, I made it, stopped the Garmin and reset it (which saves the file), and called Kristine to come pick me up. I only had a few miles left to make it back to the house so I kept riding as she was driving towards me. By this point with the adrenaline gone from trying to make it to 65 miles and with the temp at -22 degF, I was cold – very cold. There was no way for me to get the wheels off the bike to get it into the car so we decided it would be better for me just to ride behind her slowly “heatpacing” at 15 mph which got me the final 2.7 miles of the way home for a total of 68.1 miles on the day.

12/31/2013 at 10:30am Trego, WI meteor hill epic
Average temp -11 degF Distance 68.1 mi
Moving time 4:41:54 Climbing 3,773 ft
Elapsed time 6:46:56 Speed (avg/max) 14.6/27.5 mph

Finally, here’s some videos I got on the final day before my contour camera died. And before that, here is the Garmin connect stats showing the temperature graph bottoming out at -22.4 degF after sunset.

Festive 500 finishing ride statsFestive 500 finishing ride stats

January 1, 2014 at 9:30 pm 1 comment

A little bit of arctic adventure in the deep south

About 3 hours into my attempt to ride from Nashville home to Birmingham, I took this picture while riding of my frozen beard. I was actually quite warm except for my feet.I took this picture of my frozen beard about 3 hours into my attempt to ride from Nashville home to Birmingham. I was actually quite warm except for my feet, which were very, very cold.

Everything was fitting together perfectly for me to attempt this epic ride from Nashville, TN back home to Birmingham, AL. Kristine and I had tickets to see Andrew Peterson’s “Behold the Lamb” Christmas concert at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville. We had a fun date night together and with my cousins Richard and Christy who live in Franklin. After the concert we hung out with our friends who had also driven up from Birmingham from the concert. By the time Kristine and I had made it back to our hotel, and by the time I got everything ready for my early departure in the morning it was 12:30AM.

Waiting for the Behold the Lamb concert to start at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, TNWaiting for the Behold the Lamb concert to start at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, TN

I toyed briefly with the idea of just starting my ride home right then rather than sleeping at all, but there were still a lot of cars on the road at midnight when we were driving to the hotel. I felt it was safer to let the streets clear out completely before departing so I ended up setting the alarm for 3:30AM to get exactly three hours of sleep. I was wide awake when the alarm went off, but despite having tried to get as much stuff together as possible before sleeping, it took me 30 minutes to get all my clothes on, eat, and get out the door at nearly exactly 4AM on what I was hoping would be a 14.5 hour, 250 mile ride home to Birmingham.

Annotated temperature graph pretty much tells the story of the ride.Annotated temperature graph pretty much tells the story of the ride.

I knew it was going to be cold for an extended period of time, but I was imagining temps closer to 20 degF than 10 degF! Even with the crazy temps (see the temperature graphs above), I was doing just fine everywhere except for my feet. I had thick insulated neoprene booties on, but even with loose shoes and as much blood circulation as possible, my feet just couldn’t stay warm. I had meant to grab some of the chemical warming packs to throw in my shoes but I had forgotten them at home, and I figured most gas stations in Tennessee are not going to carry them. If I had been in Wisconsin, I could have stopped at the next gas station and bought a couple of the chemical warmers for a dollar or two and been on my merry way.

Instead, I tried every trick of the trade to keep my feet warm – including the following:

  1. Following the old standby rule – “if you are cold, just ride harder”.
  2. Riding hard while standing and focusing on pulling my feet up rather than pushing them down – forces more blood down into your feet, the more inefficient and erratic the movement the better.
  3. Riding downhill with the brakes on while still pedaling hard – anything to minimize windchill and maximize blood circulation.
  4. Adding in as many steep hills as I could find – benefit of reducing windchill and increasing heartrate.

Even with all of those tricks, I was seriously contemplating calling Kristine to meet me in Lewisburg and abandon the ride after only 70 miles or so. But not too long after the sunrise, temps started to rise pretty rapidly all the way to the 20s by Lewisburg. The best thing was stumbling upon the donut shop with a heater I stood in front of for nearly an hour while drinking coffee and trying to warm up.

Lewisburg donut shopLewisburg donut shop – I spent an hour in here warming up after four hours of riding in the cold.

I had ridden in Lewisburg earlier this year, so I left the donut shop warmed up and on familiar roads. I made some great time between here and Fayetteville with some good climbs, warming temps, and a stiff north wind (tailwind). It was funny to be so cold before the donut shop and then to be sweating on a lot of the steep hills just a couple hours later. The section of US-64 was nice, but stressful even with a huge clean shoulder to ride on. On top of being stressfull, it was rather boring with very few turns and lots of long gradual climbs and descents. I struggled with “sleepy fatigue” through here as I was also probably crashing a bit from the caffeine and sugar from the donut shop.

I turned in Fayetteville and headed due south on a section of US-231 that was terrible with a very narrow shoulder and a lot of traffic. Fortunately, I turned off of it after a few miles and found some more beautiful backroads that gradually flattened until they were basically pancake flat by the time I hit the Alabama border. I had also ridden some of these roads once before so it was encouraging to be making great time and to be on somewhat familiar roads.

Unfortunately, my math brain was doing a lot of calculating through here and I had worked out a 10:30PM arrival in Birmingham at my current pace. This was somewhat discouraging as that was FOUR HOURS longer than I had planned. Kristine wanted to pick me up in Cullman, but I convinced her to let me ride to Cahaba Cycles Trussville, which would knock an hour and a half off the ride all the way back to our house in Hoover. That was the plan when I stopped at a waffle house off of US-72. Rejuvenated, I blazed through Huntsville at a decent clip but managed to hit a lot of school traffic and then by the time I made it all the way down to the Tennessee River bridge, I was picking up some early rush hour traffic. The road was really dangerous with stretches of nice shoulder followed inexplicably by long quarter mile sections of road with ZERO shoulder. The white line was right up against the grass. I spent a few miles trying to time the packs of cars coming up behind me (based on the traffic light before the bridge) perfectly with the shoulder. No close calls but I did bail off the road into the grass a couple of times when I didn’t get my timing right. I just did not trust the eighteen wheelers and the people driving 65+ mph. Definitely the most dangerous stretch of road for the trip and probably one of the top dangerous roads in Alabama in my opinion. (And I have ridden a LOT of roads in Alabama).

The climb itself was a good one with a nice fairly clean shoulder somewhat akin to the US-280 climb from Lee Branch heading east towards Chelsea for those of you in Birmingham who may have done that climb – except the US-231 climb is a bit steeper climbing an extra 150 feet compared to the US-280 climb. I turned at the top onto Apple Grove road and followed this forever … eventually hitting this year’s Alabama state road race course overlapping with it from the four way stop at the church all the way down past the steep descent. Instead of following the race course, I continued on through the descent and up the next hill continuing on this road for quite a while. There was one super steep cat 4 climb http://app.strava.com/activities/99939588#2138520004 that I was really thankful for after a stretch of flat roads. It had a section that was 0.3 miles long at 13% – I hit this at about 175 miles into my ride after sunset but before it got too dark to see without my light. At the top of this section, I decided to call Kristine and move up the “pick-up” spot from Cahaba Cycles Trussville to the bottom of Skyball. I was getting cold, the dogs were getting bad, and my recalculations had me arriving in Trussville closer to midnight as my pace started to slow.

This was the worst stretch of road as far as dogs went. It was one dog or group of dogs chasing me at what seemed like every house / trailer along the next set of county roads. I knew there would be some small roads and lots of potential dog problems along the entire route, but it really was just the county roads in southern Morgan County and Cullman County that were full of unchained, unfenced dogs. I tried being friendly with the dogs and most of them were fine, but then it started to get annoying. Fortunately, it was dark by this point and I kept my light on high-beam to blind the dogs. This was pretty effective as shining my light in the dogs’ eyes would without fail stop the dog dead in its track. My only guess is that the light is bright enough to temporarily blind/hurt/scare the dogs.

tour de cullman wooden plank bridgeTour de Cullman wooden plank bridge

Skyball kom line - tour de cullmanSkyball kom line – tour de cullman race finish

Passing east of Cullman I bee-lined it for the Tour de Cullman route arriving at this familiar bridge. I climbed sky ball at a snail’s pace, but I knew Kristine was waiting for me at the other side of the hill. Even though I was really disappointed not to make it all the way home, I was very happy to have climbed sky ball. At the top as I was taking pictures, my light died! Fortunately, there was a full moon so I’m 45% sure I could have ridden the rest of the way home in the dark as I ended up descending Skyball with no light at close to 30mph. That’s how bright the moon was! Still, I’m thankful that the light died as it gave me another great excuse to hop right in the car when I found Kristine at the blinky light intersection where I had directed her to meet me.

What an adventure! Next time I’m going to make it!!

Here’s all the pictures that I took during the ride.

December 15, 2013 at 11:03 pm Leave a comment

Wisconsin wrap-up

Long ice beard in Weyerhauser with Blue Hills I had just ridden through in the backgroundLong ice beard in Weyerhauser with Blue Hills I had just ridden through in the background. The beard is frozen breath, whereas the mustache is frozen snot (I had nasal congestion issues all week).
Kristine caught up to me near the very end of the ride and got this pic as we were pulling into Weyerhauser.Kristine caught up to me near the very end of the ride and got this pic as we were pulling into Weyerhauser.

We’ve been back in Alabama for a couple weeks now, but I still have photos and videos from one last ride in Wisconsin. Perfect timing for me to finish up this post as we are under a winter storm warning today for a couple inches of snow and ice here in Birmingham. Back up in Wisconsin on January 2nd, my first ride of 2013, I left Kristine’s parents’ house in Shell Lake and rode about 65 mile southeast down to Weyerhauser, Wisconsin through the Blue Hills outside of Rice Lake. This was the coldest ride of the trip with an average temperature of 10 degF. I started pretty early in the day, and it snowed the whole time with most of the ride into a stiff headwind. The snow was just beautiful as it was falling, and especially up on top of Meteor Hill – the high point in the Blue Hills. See this video I took of the snow shortly before descending off of Meteor Hill.

Even though the temp had warmed up a bit by the top of Meteor Hill — maybe 12 degrees or so – this was still the coldest part of the trip because I stopped for a while at the top and took too long of a video (the one above) with my gloves off. Then once I started again, I was on really deep, rutted snow on a long gradual downhill. This meant that I spent a lot of time braking instead of pedaling and generating body heat. Plus, the area was really rural so it would not have been good to have any kind of accident so I was especially slow and careful, which meant my heartrate stayed around 100bpm for 9 miles on the long gradual descent. This meant I was VERY, VERY cold by the bottom. Fortunately, this dumped me out onto a good hilly Co Rd F right through the heart of the Blue Hills where I could warm back up again by going hard. All-in-all I think this was the best ride of the trip.

Here are some of the bikecam videos I got — ordered with my favorite ones first.

January 17, 2013 at 9:19 am Leave a comment

Markville via lots of snowy roads and snowmobile trails

This was my longest and fastest ride so far this year up in Wisconsin. It needed to be fast because I got a late start after sleeping in a bit and then having fun out on the frozen lake with Josiah ice/snow astronaut skating and Analise snow skiing. After warming up a bit, I left by about 1:00 with an anticipated 4 hour loop over to Mankville, Minnesota. This ride was different than yesterday’s because I headed north for nearly an hour first before heading west. There was a strong tailwind from the south — presumably why the temp was about 5 degF warmer than yesterday even though there is a strong blast of arctic air moving in with low temps tonight heading down into the double digits below zero.

I got lots of bikecam videos sorted by the best first. The snowmobile video (the second video) is bookmarked on youtube if you want to jump straight to the interesting parts. The others are not bookmarked. The first is only about 2 minutes long and shows some good snow biking on perfect snow leaving the cabin.

December 31, 2012 at 11:44 am Leave a comment

Lake 26 road to Minnesota

Today’s ride was really great … lots of fast snow and rolling hills. Frog Lake Road was perhaps the most rural road with some long stretches of untouched snow. But the highlight road was Lake 26 road which basically paralleled WI-77 for a good 15 miles heading west towards Minnesota. There was a good steady light snowfall throughout the day, but only a couple sketchy spots where a layer of ice covered the road. I’m still learning how to use my new contour camera, but I got some videos that I was really happy with — only have time to post one … see it below the brief pic gallery.

December 30, 2012 at 1:32 pm Leave a comment

Quick ride report, pics, and videos – Heartwood

Yesterday’s ride from Shell Lake to Heartwood was much colder than I anticipated mainly because of the constant light snowfall that combined with salted county roads meant wet, cold, cold, cold feet. Fortunately, I had a chemical warmer pack and was able to put that into my shoe about halfway through the ride. Unfortunately, I also took the opportunity to drink about half of my gatorade bottle which had turned to slush by this point. Stopping and consuming that much frozen slush dropped my core body temp a ton and I never really got warm the rest of the ride. Still, in comparison to the Cullman ride in the rain where I could not stop shivering for a good solid ten minutes after the ride was over, this was like riding in short sleeves weather. I even had enough warmth to go “bike sledding” with the kids over on the frisbee golf course. These are the first two videos below. The third video is a cool one of frozen rapids and tunnel water on the Namekagon River. The fourth video I took while I was stopped and got really cold after I got the chemical warmer put into my shoe.

December 29, 2012 at 11:41 am Leave a comment

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Awesome fit session today with @johnfkarrasch. Long commute home Interesting time space thought - if you see this pic within a minute of me posting it, then I will be at the crest of the middle ridge.

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Brian Toone

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Quick reference stats

Anaerobic Threshold:
Power:315 watts
Heart rate:180 bpm
Maximums:
Power:1097 watts (5s)
Heart rate:198 bpm (5s)
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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