It’s funny to look at the “referrers” section of my stats as you can trace back to links that people clicked on in various blogs and forums. I will respond simply by saying that it is definitely a balancing act to find as much time as I do to ride, but I look at that as part of the challenge as well. I do a lot of thinking while I ride, particularly about projects and life. That is valuable time. This post, though, is about maps. I’ve been doing this long before the Strava heatmaps, and I’d argue that their heatmaps are far better as interactive maps, but mine are better as static maps.
All of my riding and racing during 2013 – approx 20,500 miles in 11 states. I rode in Virginia and Pennsylvania this year for the first time in a long time. But noticeably missing are Illinois, Michigan, and Florida which somehow I missed in 2013! (click to enlarge and see additional detail)
I look forward to writing this post every year, and this year I’ve got a new tool to help me – the veloviewer charts which compare stats from year to year. The three charts above show a comparison of elevation, distance, and time from the past five years. Note that I only used a Garmin in 2008 from Thanksgiving until the end of the year. This is the graphical version of the tables that I’ve been accumulating at the end of every season and which I continue to use in the rest of the post below – although the veloviewer charts are based on calendar year instead of my training/racing year.
End of the season statistics
The statistics below all run from October 29, 2012 until October 27, 2013 – 364 days worth of riding and racing. I define my racing/training season from the Monday closest to Nov 1 of the previous year to the Sunday closest to Oct 31st of the current year for all of these statistics and reports. Normally, this would include all of my racing for the calendar year. This year included an extended foray into mountain bike racing, which has more fall races, so the date range does not include two 2013 races (the November 23rd Oak Ass 100 mile mtb race and the November 30th Gravel Grovel ultracx race) and the associated training leading up to those races.
October 29, 2012 – October 27, 2013
|Weekly training time (hours)||27:47||34:23||19:05||1445:04|
|Weekly distance (miles)||394.1||586.1||264.2||20,494|
|Ride distance (miles)||37.0||184.4||0.3||20,494|
|Workouts per week (#)||11||17||6||554|
|Weekly climbing (feet)||42,221||70,036||10,682||2,195,525|
For eagle-eyed observers who note that the climbing total is lower than that reported on Strava, I will give the same explanation that I gave last year: I am generating these reports from my Polar Protrainer software. I wrote a converter that converts Garmin .FIT files and .TCX files into the .HRM format that Polar expects. The Polar Protrainer software then applies a smoothing filter when it is calculating total ascent and other statistics, but I can’t figure out how to turn it off so that the statistics match up with Strava, which doesn’t apply any smoothing filters.
Comparison to past years
All years run from the Monday closest to November 1st to the Sunday closest to October 31st. This should result in about 365 days for each year give or take a day or two.
|HR avg (bpm)||137/165||139/161||136/176||131/178||123/156||122/162|
Racing Season Summary
The highlight for the racing season was winning my very first race of the year — the Southern Cross ultracx season opener in Dahlonega, GA. I knew I could do top 3 in the race, but I certainly wasn’t expecting to win, especially the way it all shook out. This win dictated my season a bit as I decided to pursue the ultracx series overall. Also, the new Southeastern Regional Series was on my radar from as soon as it was announced so I put all of those races on my calendar as well. By the time the season was all finished at the end of November, I managed to place 2nd in the overall for both series. The UltraCx series was really close, but it came down to a single point separating me from winner Mike “Simonster” Simonson. The SRS series was not quite as close with Winston David turning out a phenomenal year and me a distant 2nd. More fun was the KOM competition, which was my pre-season goal for the series, and I chased it hard but Andy Scarano was just too strong for me and I ended up starting out strong in the KOM points but fading to 3rd behind Andy and Winston. It looks like after checking the results I also ended up 3rd in the sprinter’s jersey competition as well!
Another highlight for the season was Tim Hall’s Nashville to Natchez ride. I think this really gave me the bug for ultra-endurance cycling, and I’m already planning on tackling a 500 mile race in 2014 as well as RAAM in 2015 and then possibly the Iditarod Trail Race in 2016. This led to a number of adventures this year documented in these blogs summarized below (click on each heading to go to a blog describing the adventure) -
NASHVILLE TO NATCHEZ (AND THEN ONTO BIRMINGHAM) – 444 miles on the Natchez Trace followed by another 418 miles home to Birmingham in the middle of summer. Tim Hall invited me on this fundraising ride for Team Red, White, and Blue – an organization helping veterans returning from deployment reconnect to communities through social and physical activity.
BLUE RIDGE PARKWAY AND CLEMSON FOOTBALL – I never did get a chance to write up a blog on this one, so I’ve linked to the strava activity. We had an awesome family weekend for the Clemson game against Boston College. This was my first Clemson game since graduating 15 years ago. It was my kids’ and Kristine’s first Clemson game. We tailgated, the whole 9 yards, and then Kristine and I stayed a couple extra days for me to get in a 184 mile ride from Clemson up to the Blue Ridge Parkway and take a new route across to Caesars Head. Found an awesome gravel road climb and descent a bazillion miles into the ride.
NASHVILLE TO BIRMINGHAM – a little bit of an arctic adventure in the deep south. I’ve always been fascinated with point to point rides so when the opportunity came for me to ride from Nashville back home to Birmingham after the Andrew Peterson concert, I jumped all over it. I wasn’t expecting temps hovering around 11 degF for an hour, though, and ended up having to cut the ride about 60 miles short. It still made for a 210 mile epic adventure. Technically this adventure will fall into next year’s training year but I will forget to write about it then so I’m including it in this calendar year.
RAPHA FESTIVE 500 – likewise, this adventure technically should go with next year’s season summary but since it happened this calendar year I’ll go ahead and include it. This was easily the hardest Strava challenge I’ve done and ended with one of the hardest bike rides I’ve ever done.
Finally, the graphs and charts!
CP curve – back down to 293 watts. Several efforts over the year caused Golden Cheetah to refit my data at a lower threshold. The black line in this pic is from my Whitewater Falls ride in October where I set the KOM on the Cat 2 climb (setting a 25 minute power record of 325 watts). (click to enlarge)
2013 – time spent in heartrate zones … I pay special attention to my heartrate … ideally I’d like to be in Zone 1 or 2 or Zone 5. It’s hard to put that into practice though. It is nice to see a significant drop in Zone 3 during the racing season and corresponding increase in Zone 3 during the off season. Explanation for this is that during the racing season, I spend a lot of time riding at very easy pace to recover from previous weekend’s races.
These three graphs are the ones that I pay the most attention to both during the season and afterwards during breakdown analysis. Also, the critical power curve is very helpful for KOM efforts and time trials where you can gauge the average power that you know you can sustain for a particular duration climb. Then, the next step becomes guessing what your time will be so you can know what wattage to target and weigh that against how tired your legs feel.
And finally many thank you’s
This is probably the first season in a long time that has not been my new “best season ever”, but it certainly wasn’t because of a lack of support. I owe so many people so many thank you’s far more than can fit here, but here goes – first to my amazing beautiful wife Kristine who has put up with many hours away from home on the bike and traveled to many races this year. Likewise, my kids are amazing and are quite adept at making an adventure out of what could be a lot of boring times on the side of a road in the middle of nowhere at a bike race. Plus, they have all put up with many miles in the car together as a family.
If you have ever wondered what kind of bike mechanic can deal with the crazy bike situations I find myself in, there are several in Birmingham from every shop in town who are certainly up to the task (what an amazing city we live in), but Craig Tamburello at Brick Alley opened up shop a couple years ago in Hoover just a couple miles from my house, and he has been amazing finding solutions to problems caused by all the insane rides my bike components have to deal with every year.
My new teammates from FGS Cycling, John Hart, Kurt Page, and Jeff McGrane welcomed me onto their team and helped me plunge into Tennessee racing including several new-to-me races this year (Hell of the South, Berry Peddlar, Rockabilly Classic, and Roan Groan). Awesome guys … thanks and I’m looking forward to next year!
Also, a big shout out to Mark Fisher who has challenged my climbing records and pushed me to dig deeper than anyone else has ever pushed me. Indeed, he has already passed me, and this year’s state road race was quite perfect. The two of us broke away on the second lap, and then Mark dropped me a little more than halfway up the climb on the final lap. I stayed with him longer than I expected I could, but as he rode away from me I was already thinking “this is fine, I’m happy to pass the torch of ‘Alabama’s fastest climber’” onto Mark. It’s cool, though, that we are still close enough that I can give him a run for his money in the end-of-the year strava shootout. We almost tied again this year … only 1 second separating us on the final climb!
And finally, to the entire Birmingham cycling community, wow. If you were to rank cycling communities the way they do football polls, there would be at least one #1 besides Birmingham. There is very little infrastructure (but not none, e.g., CommuteSmart has done some good work) to support cycling here, but my goodness there are a lot of amazing and dedicated riders who brave the car craziness and the hills and make it fun to ride to Birmingham. It is the riders themselves who have stepped up to replace what cities and communities have not done — made Birmingham a great place to ride.
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
This is going to be a picture-less post … for the TLDR (too long, didn’t read) crowd, here’s a quick summary: it was really cold last night at the cabin we were staying in near Minong, WI. -36 degF to be exact! Kristine went skiing in the morning when the temp warmed up to near -20 degF. I left to bike back to Shell Lake when the temp was up to about -15 degF. My phone died about an hour into the ride, even though I had started with a mostly full battery and left it in airplane mode. Inspiration for this post came while I was eating lunch at the Dinner Bell restaurant in Trego phoneless and unable to take any pictures of the numerous scenes and objects I wanted to remember. Continuing the ride after lunch, I finished just as it was getting dark and starting to snow a bit more heavily – five hours after I had started with an average temp of -9 degF making it truly a cold day in Wisconsin.
Here’s the longer version for those who want the details and word pictures substituing for the digital pictures I couldn’t take with my dead phone. At about 6 in the morning, Kristine nudged me awake to show me current conditions for Trego, WI which is about 15 miles south of where we were staying. It was -34.8 degF. This was shocking as the predicted overnight low was only in the low -20s. By the time, we got moving it was nearly 7:30AM and I threw on just a few clothes to run outside and get a picture of the sunrise. I was outside for three maybe four minutes max, and I came running back into the cabin chilled to the bones and with a frosty beard.
Just over an hour later, Kristine was out the door to go for a ski in what was about -20 degF temp by this point. She was gone for just over an hour and came back with her face and hair covered in frost, eyelashes, eyebrows, cheeks white with frost. After helping pack up the car, I took off on what I hoped would be a 60 mile ride back to the Cardwell house in Shell Lake, WI about 30 miles south of the cabin. It was cold with the wind coming out of the west. Whenever I was heading east, you could feel a noticeable rise in the perceived temperature. But as soon as I turned south or sometimes even west, the windchill was awfully cold and you could feel threw layers of clothing a drop in the temp.
I was trying new chemical warmers and they worked really well for about 45 minutes, but then they lose air circulation which is required to keep the chemical reaction happening. It’s too much of a hassle to try to take your shoes off to let some air into the warmers, but taking pictures helped keep air in my glove warmers. Then my phone died a dramatic “good-bye” windows phone death with a “critical battery” message flashing very briefly before the phone simply went blank. At this point, I was cold, not just my hands and feet which were painfully cold, but my core, my legs. The only body parts not cold were my arms for some reason. It was funny how one body part would start to ache and that would drown out pain messages from other body parts. I’d work on that part by wiggling my toes, stomping on the pedals, wiggling or clapping my hands, and then as that body part warmed, another one would take its place in sending the dominant pain signal.
The closest gas station on my route was in Trego, about 25 miles into my ride, and I knew that would be a stretch to make it there without any intermediate warmup spots. And it was. At one point, I was on a snow covered logging road thinking, “this is stupid cold”, “come on brian, get it together and pedal dammit”. I was on the road I had taken north just two days earlier when the temperature was an amazing 40 degrees warmer (about 30 degF), and I laughed as I went by some of the places I had stopped to take pictures. Even if my phone had been working, there was no way I would have stopped.
Finally making it to Trego, WI, I found a really cool restaurant called the Dinner Bell where I could warm-up for an hour and refuel. Here I was hoping I could plugin my phone to my solar battery pack and get it to cut back on to instagram some pictures, but the phone just sat there dead. I decided to take in as much as I could and write it later so here goes – first as you approached the restaurant there was a real well (but non-functional) outside with a dinner bell on top of the cross beam. It said “make a wish” at the dinner bell. I was thinking “I wish it was warmer”.
I parked my bike against the well and went inside. Once inside, I sat in a booth and stripped off gloves and shoes to let some blood flow back down into very cold appendages. The waitress gave me coffee immediately, and I ordered breakfast for lunch. I ordered biscuits and gravy and a second meal of pancakes. She brought out the two huge plates full of food and I told her “good thing I’m very hungry”. It was probably well over 1000 calories worth of a food, but I ate it all and then took off across the street to try to buy a little usb wall charger. For $5, I got a wall charger and plugged in my phone but after a few minutes of nothing, I decided to just try to head on as fast as I could back to Shell Lake so Kristine wouldn’t worry since I couldn’t call her.
In retrospect, I should have borrowed a phone and called anyway because it ended up being nearly two hours to finish the rest of the ride (I was imagining maybe just over an hour). Four hours after I made it back, I finally got the phone to turn back on doing a reset by holding all the buttons down for 10 seconds. I thought this would hard reset the phone, but fortunately it just cut it back on and all my data and pics from earlier were still there. Whew. It was a cold day in Wisconsin.
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.
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.
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:
- Following the old standby rule – “if you are cold, just ride harder”.
- 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.
- Riding downhill with the brakes on while still pedaling hard – anything to minimize windchill and maximize blood circulation.
- 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.
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.
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.
Wow, this will definitely be a season to remember. I battled hard in two season-long race series’ (is that the plural of series???) and ended up in 2nd place in both of them. On the road, the inaugural SRS (Southeastern Racing Series) was a phenomal series of five races spread across five states – Georgia, Alabama, North Carolina, Tennessee, and South Carolina. Fields were really large averaging maybe 75 riders or more in the Pro/1/2 fields.
On the mountain bike, I started off my season with a surprise win at the Southern Cross ultra cx kick-off event. I started to look a bit deeper into the series with the aim of seeing how well I could do in the whole series as I was planning out my season. The seven race series was scored based on your best four races with points assigned based on your placing (1 point for 1st, 2 points for 2nd, etc…) Lowest point total wins. Three out of the seven races conflicted with my road racing schedule — including two which fell on weekends of SRS races. I came very close to winning it but fell short in a somewhat spectacular fashion. Skipping straight to that moment in yesterday’s Gravel Grovel race in Indiana, I came into the final cyclocross barriers (shown in the pic below from my pre-ride on Wednesday) with a shot at winning the race and the series if I could only outsprint the rider with me. But the rider with me was a skilled cyclocross racer, Andrew Messer, who dismounted his cross bike, hopped both barriers, and was completely across the bridge by the time I was across the first barrier. With less than half a mile to race after the bridge, there was no way I could catch him.
Finishing the race anywhere in the top 3 was still good enough to give me the series win as long as there was at least one rider between me and the current series leader, Mike Simonson. But it wasn’t to be – Mike was riding so strong and a couple minutes later he emerged around a bend in the road, crossed the final creek, and crossed the finish line exactly one place behind me giving him the series title by a single point. Had he been one place farther down, we would have been tied on points with me winning the tie-breaker of the placing in the series finale.
The outcome of an entire season of racing came down to the final moments of the final race. Both moments – my getting dropped at the barriers and Mike’s successful creek crossing on a cross bike – capture an essential part of the essence and beauty of the ultra-cx race series. Ultra-cx races are gaining popularity so rapidly because they represent the perfect marriage of all the core disciplines of cycling (road, cross, and mountain biking). Plus, the courses picked are epic — stretching the road racer’s technical handling on gravel and trails, stretching the mountain biker’s time trial and solo mentality with the strategy of drafting and stretching the cross racer with the endurance of a four hour event instead of a 60 minute event. I’m hooked.
We spent the night in one of the cabins right there at the Midwest Trail Ride hosting the start of the race. This was super convenient and a bonding experience for our family of four taking up the two bunk beds in the cabin as the temp dropped down into the upper teens early in the night before starting to rise throughout the night to the middle 20s by morning. By the start of the race the temp was in the 30s and rapidly rising. I realized within five minutes of the start of the race that I was way overdressed.
We took off out of the horse camp and out the paved road heading towards the first climb of the day up to the hickory ridge fire tower. The pace was much faster than I was expecting, but I managed to work my way to the very front by the time we hit the gravel. The field of 205 quickly dwindled down to a group of maybe 25 riders still contesting the race by the time we reached the fire tower. By the time we made it to the Story Inn checkpoint 1/3rd of the way through the race, there was only about 10 of us left in the lead group. We pacelined on a very flat road at speeds approaching 25mph. After we made the turnaround, we could see the entire race behind us as they passed us heading out to the checkpoint. There were two fast groups behind us. It was hard to see the composition of the groups as I was trying to make sure no gap opened to the rider in front of me as I was spinning out my 38×11 on the flat road.
I had gotten stuck behind a couple of the cyclocross riders on the first short section of singletrack so I wanted to try to get the holeshot for the second singletrack after the Story turnaround. Mike Simonson and Tim Proctor and just about everyone else in our group had the same idea so there was a bit of jockeying for position through the short parking lot leading into the singletrack. I entered third and had no problem keeping up. Tim dropped his chain and I went around content to just follow Mike up the trail. Tomasz Golas, who like me was also riding a mtb, was having none of it though and wanted to get around me even though I was keeping up just fine with Mike and going as fast as I wanted to go. The singletrack was quite narrow with only one good line which I was not going to give up to let him get around me. About halfway up the climb, though, there was a widening of the trail where it flattened out a bit and I let Tomasz around me. I believe he also went around Mike. When the singletrack kicked up again I took a bad line and ended up in a deep rut I couldn’t ride out of. I had to unclip and the rest of our group passed me before I could get going again.
In fact, I was off the back a bit by the time I got back up to speed and just barely managed to chase back on by the end of the singletrack. The next section was a long road section that eventually turned into a gravel climb. We hit the bottom of this climb at exactly 30 miles into the race. Having pre-ridden the course on Wednesday, I discovered that the fast line up the climb was in the leaves off the side of the road. The gravel was so loose and bouncy, you were much better off riding over the leaves and sticks on the side. Surprisingly some people chose to ride right up the middle of the gravel road expending a lot more energy than I was over on the side. I took this as a confidence booster knowing that I was conserving energy while other people were wasting it.
At the top of the climb we made a turn and then headed straight back down a fast paved section. I had pre-ridden so I knew the turns and wanted to see if we could hit 50mph in the race … didn’t quite happen but we came close – 49.4 mph. Our group was down to just five riders by this point. We continued to rotate and work well together, although there were a few attacks here and there. Unlike a road race where that would just kill the cohesion of the group, we seemed to dive right back into rotating and working whenever one of these attacks failed. I led the way into that singletrack because it came at the top of a steep hill. I hit it as hard as I could not wanting the people behind to get antsy and want to come around and I ended up dropping everybody through the muddy descent back out onto the gravel road.
I certainly wasn’t trying to get away at this point knowing how strong everybody in the group was riding. So I took the moment to eat a powergel and wait for them to catch back up. Then there was an attack that saw Tim Proctor ride away from us. A panic set in and we all chased eventually catching him before the tiny two house community of Tennessee, Indiana. On the “Polk Patch” rolling descent, Andrew Messer drilled it hard and our entire group flew down the long, gradual, rolling descent. I was at the back and really suffering the entire descent in heartrate ZONE 5. At the bottom high speed point, I got a little off balance and was heading straight for a chair one of the volunteers helping to manage the intersection had setup. I managed to slow down and get back in control of the bike but in the process of doing so came off the back of the already extremely fast paceline.
Keep in mind that the entire descent was on large gravel rocks with very little firm ground. Across the flat road at the bottom of the descent, the gravel continued and I had to chase really hard to get in touch with the group. In fact, I was just barely onto the back of the group when we hit the next hill. It was super steep and surprisingly this was much easier for me. I really feel like my mountain bike disc brakes were rubbing hard whenver I was hitting bumps at speed on descents and even the flat roads. But on the climbs, the brakes weren’t rubbing so the climbs were so much easier for me than the fast, bumpy sections on the gravel where my rear wheel was just bouncing all over the place. Thankfully, there was one more large climb and even though I was already hurting pretty bad, I went to the front to try to set a fast pace that would discourage any attacks.
It almost worked. My pace up the final climb was fast enough to gap the other four riders in our group, but it wasn’t fast enough to discourage Tim Proctor from attacking. He came flying by me like a rocket. I thought “well, that’s the end of my race” because there was no way I was going to be able to catch onto the back of the group. After a second or two when no one else came by, I looked back and saw that I had a good 50 meter gap on the rest of the group. At this point I was confused because I was expecting to be dropped and instead had dropped everyone in the group except for Tim.
My legs were screaming bloody murder because the section where Tim came by was flat and I just felt like my bike wasn’t moving anywhere nearly as fast as the amount of effort I was putting into the pedals. Still, I hit it as hard as I could and looked back again to discover that only Andrew had bridged across to me leaving Mike and Tomasz chasing not far behind. I had renewed hope again that perhaps I could still win the series, but I had given up winning the race b/c Tim was clearly on another level. Little did I know that he was actually in the Male 40+ race so Andrew and I were still racing for first place in our race (Male Open).
There was still over 9 miles left in the race, and I tried to work with Andrew, but it wasn’t going well. I drafted him close on the downhills and flats but was still struggling on my mountain bike on the gravel. And then every time it kicked up I would come around him thinking I could pull and he would immediately go off the back of my wheel. Then later, he attacked me twice and I was able to catch back up thinking “ok, that’s it I’m done pulling”. But then I would remember that Mike was somewhere back there and I needed to make sure that we stayed away. When we made the final turn back out onto pavement heading for the bridge, Andrew put in one more attack and gapped me. It took about 30 seconds for me to close the gap back down, and then I put in a counter-attack. I didn’t fully commit to it, though, when I saw that he grabbed my wheel right away. So I sat up to strategize again but by this point we had made it to the bridge and I’ve already described how that went down. In retrospect, my last hope at winning the race would have been to fully commit to that final attack and reach the bridge first with just enough of a gap to get over at least the 1st barrier and then we would probably be coming neck and neck into the finish so who knows how that would have turned out. But I essentially lost the race at the moment I eased up after attacking. A moment’s indecisiveness really staining/ruining what otherwise was a great season.
Still, huge shout-out to Mike for racing consistently throughout the season and especially yesterday at the Gravel Grovel. If he had faltered at all, then I would have taken the series from him. And he traveled to six out of the seven races placing really well with podium finishes in all but one of the events, whereas I only made it to the bare minimum of four races. So even though it felt like a lot of work, travel, and expense for this Alabama native to travel up to Indiana, Pennsylvania, and deep into the mountains of North Carolina (that drive was just as long as the Indiana drive!) Mike has put a lot more work and time into this so he truly is a deserving champion.
Here’s my heartrate data and the podium pictures -
You know a race is going to be epic if the pre-ride of the course is six hours long through amazing scenery like that shown in the pics above. We drove up from Birmingham late Tuesday night, and after sleeping in I set out to ride the whole course estimating it would be five hours at most. After getting lost in the national forest a couple times and bushwhacking a bit through what I’m 75% sure is part of the course, my pre-ride ended up being nearly six hours long. I ran out of food and water with nearly two hours left – so completely ravenous and bonked for the last climb and descent. The description for the race course is perfect – mix of road, mtb, and cross specific sections. This really is the perfect finale for the ultracx series. I mainly wanted to write a blog b/c I couldn’t instagram any of my pictures during the ride … too cold! Speaking of cold, the average temp for the ride was 25 degF starting out in the teens. This was a shock to my Alabama system as we really haven’t had any cold weather yet. 20 minutes in and my nose was burning from the cold wind. 20 minutes later though and I was climbing up a 15+% hill and fine for the rest of the day – except my second water bottle was drunk as a slushy four hours into the ride. Here are the rest of the pics I got: