Archive for November, 2012
With Kristine taking the kids early in the week up to a big family Thanksgiving gettogether in northern Indiana, I stayed home to finish teaching my classes for the week and then take care of Jaggy the bunny. What a hoot the last day turned out to be as Jaggy ended up laying over on her back with all four paws and one ear in the air — sound asleep! I panicked shortly after taking this picture thinking that maybe she had choked on something so I ran over to check on her and ended up scaring her badly as she righted herself and bolted for the door before stopping and coming back.
My classes ended on Tuesday for the week so I had Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday to kick-start base training for the upcoming season. I ended up doing a ton of climbing with more than 10,000 feet of climbing each day for over 50,000 feet of climbing in just 5 days. The weather was absolutely fantastic all five days with shorts / short sleeve weather on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday … followed by cold but clear weather Saturday and Sunday.
Wednesday’s ride was mostly in Mountain brook – wandering over to Irondale to scope out the Karl Daly climb and get a video for this week’s Strava Shootout climb. 58.1 miles and 10,052 feet of climbing. Thursday’s ride was early Thanksgiving morning, and I put in my KOM attempt on the shootout climb early in the ride on my way over to Red Mountain to climb to some of the 1200 ft spots on the mountain — what is becoming a Thanksgiving tradition (see 2012 and 2011). 75.4 miles and 10,534 feet of climbing. For Friday, I wanted to do 10,000 feet of climbing just on Shades Mountain climbs in Hoover, Vestavia, and a little bit of Homewood. 63.6 miles and 10,394 feet of climbing. Saturday was a Thanksgiving weekend special edition of BBL. We had a great turnout despite temps below freezing to start the ride. I picked out a route to take us up Pine Mountain near Springville, but otherwise tried to stay to flatter valley roads getting us there. This meant I had to add on about 20 miles to get the climbing total up to 10,000 feet. 99.1 miles and 10,253 feet of climbing. Finally, today, I was happy to have Kristine and the kids home so I ended up trying to hit 10,000 feet of climbing in as short as possible time and distance. I tied a distance record but fell a few minutes short of a time record … distance to 10,000 feet 50.1 miles, time to 10,000 feet 3 hours 51 minutes. Total ride 55.4 miles and 10,398 feet of climbing – most of this in Mountain Brook.
Garmin screenshots from today’s ride below:
All told this five day block of training covered 351.6 miles and 51,631 feet of climbing. Great start to my training for 2013 … a bit of recovery early this week before some long slow rides later in the week.
It seems it has become an annual Thanksgiving Day tradition for me to head on over to Red Mountain and Ruffner Mountain to climb to the 1200ft summits. This year I did the route in the reverse direction so that I could put in my Strava Shoot-out effort on the Grants Mill – Karl Daly climb. It was a good effort on the climb, and I ended up beating my previous best time by 34 seconds … I made a video narrating my effort on the climb … if you watch it on youtube you can click on the time bookmarks in the description to jump to a specific part of the climb.
After climbing back up Karl Daly again to narrate the video, I headed on over to Red Mountain via John Rogers to get to US-11 to take me to Trussville. The first 1200 climb is the Turncliff radio tower climb. One of the unique features of this climb is the kudzu forest that you ride through. The other unique feature is the tiny neighborhood that is built almost entirely above 1200 ft on a very small saddle between two slightly higher 1200 ft points. There are some cool turns as well just to get to the neighborhood (see Garmin screenshot)
Turncliff kudzu forest
Turncliff neighborhood turns. The road to the lower left is the radio tower climb.
After descending back down from the Turncliff neighborhood, I headed back up again climbing up above the St Vincent’s East hospital to a cool water tower. This climb starts out with a 40% cement ramp out of the hospital parking lot, which then turns into a deep gravel road. I’m hit or miss on whether I can clear it on a given day … fall is particularly tough because of all the leaves, but I somehow managed to clear it today and not fall down on the way back down.
Descending back down from the hospital through the rollers took me to one of my favorite neighborhoods on the side of Red Mountain … don’t know the name of it, but it has this really cool climb up to a road called Observatory Road. Then you turn onto a one lane road that connects over to the outskirts of East Lake still on the side of the mountain. This neighborhood is home to the 27% Valley Hill Dr climb. I was coming from the other direction so I opted for a twisty descent that bypasses Valley Hill and takes you to some rollers to join up with the Ruffner Mountain climb near the entrance to the nature center. The last two Thanksgivings the nature center has been closed, but this year it was open. Making it to the top of the climb up to the fire tower, I made this video:
I took a new route through Gate City which has one of the coolest (and probably most dangerous) descents … I was flying down it when I saw a sign that said bump … so I hit the brakes not knowing what kind of bump it was, but it was actually a table-top ramp where the road kicks up to a table top where the road drops down 20% immediately, you go from a very small uphill to a 20% downhill with practically no transition … I’m sure you could catch air on a road bike if you take it at speed. That wouldn’t be too dangerous except for the 90 degree turn at the bottom less than two or three seconds after your tires land. I think if you apply the brakes gently while you are still in the air, then you might be able to make the turn at the bottom. I might try it next time I’m out there.
This was the only negative thing of the whole ride … while waiting for the train in the video to cross, I climbed up a hill into a project neighborhood where they were having a big outdoor community feast and somebody yelled “get out of my neighborhood” at me. I don’t know maybe they were just joking, but they certainly sounded serious. Not cool. Racial prejudice works both ways, folks.
After turning around and “getting out of their neighborhood” the train was gone and I was able to finish the climb up 58th street to the top of Southcrest, turn around and take Clairmont over to Altamont and the descend down the secret climb to five points heading over to the last climb of the day up Red Mountain – the Red Mountain water tower climb which starts on UAB’s campus. Got a video of it here:
I needed to stop by my house to pick up my backpack and change of clothes for Thanksgiving dinner … running a bit late on my ride so I had to drill it up Columbiana, down Columbiana, up Montreat, down S Cove, to my house and then over to my parent’s house. Guy in a red convertible offered to let me hold onto the side of his car up the Rocky Ridge road gradual climb, but knowing that it wouldn’t be fair for that Strava segment so I laughed and told him I’d have to pass on the offer.
One last video I got was the view of Oak Mountain view from top of Columbiana:
Other pictures and screenshots from the ride are captioned below:
Today’s ride may very well have been my toughest road ride ever (last week’s 9 hour mountain bike race at Oak Mountain may have been a smidge tougher). I’ve done rides that were much longer with twice the total climbing, but this one was particularly difficult because I was trying to go for some really long KOMs on top of the overall fast pace for the 135 mile ride. Plus, I was not quite adequately dressed for the first 4 hours of the ride in temps that varied constantly from mid 20s to lower 30s back to mid 20s to upper 30s back down below freezing again before FINALLY starting to climb up to the predicted high of lower 50s.
I got started at 6:40AM still before sunrise, and after a very short warm-up, I started out on a KOM attempt from Gatlinburg up to the top of the Clingman’s Dome tower. I set 275 watts as my power goal and ended up falling a couple watts short of that … I broke my old record by a few minutes, but it was only good enough for 5th place on Strava. When I made it to the Clingman’s Dome parking lot, there were only four cars and so I was able to ride up to the tower passing two couples along the way. I made it up to the top to enjoy the view very briefly before heading back down. I was super, super careful on the descent as I passed those same two couples still walking up. See video of the tower below:
From the top of Clingman’s I started to head back down the access road towards 441. I stopped to get a few pics on the way back down since I wasn’t going for any KOMs. I also got this video below of the icicle wall melting:
The Clingman’s dome access road is on the southeast side of the ridge line for the most part so it warms up pretty quickly, but as you descend on 441 towards Cherokee you enter a narrow river canyon that is shaded by an arm of the ridge line. This was the coldest part of the ride because I was sustaining an average speed of close to 40mph at temps below freezing. My “holey” long finger gloves, which I had brought with me because I knew that it was supposed to warm into the 50s, were no match for the windchill. I think it is probably in the top 5 of the coldest I’ve ever been on the bike … #1 still belongs to another ride in Gatlinburg from about 5 years ago where it was raining in the low 30s and I had short finger gloves on … oh my goodness just thinking about it makes me shudder. Also, ironically, these gloves were “holey” from a wreck a couple years ago where I slid out on some ice on the descent from Newfound Gap back down to Gatlinbug. I ripped both palms wide open sliding along the icy road … fortunately my hands were ok, but the gloves were now “holey”.
I made it down, stopped briefly at the national park info center hoping for some free coffee and after not finding any checked my Garmin and saw that a mini-mart convenience store was only 1 mile away in Cherokee, and headed out to refuel with something hot. I got a large coffee and also a large hoagie burger that had 650 calories and 31g of protein and who knows how many grams of fat. But it was awesome. After warming up in the gas station for a good 20 minutes, I headed back out to start the climb up the Blue Ridge Parkway towards Wolf Laurel Gap and eventually to the 6000ft overlook at Waterrock Knob.
The cool thing about this long climb at the very end of the Blue Ridge Parkway is all of the tunnels (about 5 of them). At the very beginning the road is potmarked with rockfall from the super steep wall immediately right of the road. It’s easy enough to dodge the small holes when climbing, and then when descending you are on the opposite side of the road which doesn’t have as much damage. It’s also easy to get paranoid that a rock is going to fall and hit you … I looked up a couple times just to make sure everything looked stable.
After the long climb to Wolf Laurel Gap, there is a 2 mile descent down to the bridge which crosses US-19 before the 6 mile climb up to Waterrock Knob. The cool thing about the Waterrock Knob climb is that the trail to the overlook area is paved … it averages probably somewhere around 18% with sections close to 25%. The paved trail climbs all the way up to the steps to the overlook. You have to unclip at nearly a 20% gradient with a rock wall to your left and a steep drop-off to your right and only one chance at getting it right. It’s the one time I actually get nervous when trying to unclip because of the consequences of not getting unclipped. Fortunately it was no problem and I was able to lean forward to keep from tipping over backwards. But I remember last year when I rode to this same point being nervous about unclipping. You climb a short flight of stairs to this overlook (see video below).
My original plan after this climb was to descend down the other side down to Waynesville, turn around and go back skipping Clingman’s Dome … but I chickened out thinking that my legs wouldn’t be able to handle a FOURTH hors categorie (HC) climb in this ride so I opted to add on the additional Cat 2 climb from the top of Newfound Gap to the Clingman’s Dome tower. Next year, I’m going to try to plan it out better and do that extra HC climb and skip Clingman’s Dome especially after what happened this year …
First, I got these videos of the climb on 441 and then the access road to Clingman’s. I was really tired by this point. Then, when I finally made it to the parking lot, it was jammed pack with easily 100 or more cars. There were people everywhere. Naturally when I started to ride up the path, the forest ranger stopped me and told me that bikes were not allowed. I convinced him to let me walk with my bike so I took off my shoes and ended up walking/jogging all the way up the super steep trail to the top (about 0.3 miles / 300 feet vertical gain). I still had to weave around hoards of people as I was jogging up the mountain in my socks … and I couldn’t help but think of the irony of me being faster 110 miles into my difficult ride, running in my socks, pushing a bike up the steep trail than most of the people who were trying to hike 0.3 miles from the parking lot. Kudos to them, though, for attempting the strenuous activity rather than just sitting in the parking lot and enjoying the view from there. Here’s the video I got from the top the second time:
After walking back down to the parking lot (again in my socks), I put my shoes back on, hopped on the bike, and zipped back down to 441 where I ended up unfortunately getting stuck in a long caravan of cars stuck behind a slow driver. The cars were still going fast enough on the flatter sections of the climb that I would briefly get dropped before catching up in the next series of turns. This meant I got to enjoy at least a few of the many corners on the descent at speed.
Gatlinburg was a bit of a zoo by the time I made it back down at 4:15 in the afternoon. Fortunately, the turn to get up to our hotel is the first righthand turn you can make as you get back into town so I was able to make it back to the hotel without the Garmin battery running out … 9.5 hours after first starting … the rest of the pics, Garmin screenshots, and videos are below.
Do you know how much I love riding in the true mountains? We got in last night at 11:45PM, and I knew that my 700x23c racing tires would be no match for potentially slick icy roads up here so I spent another 30 minutes changing both tires and putting on some good 700x25c all-weather tires (gotta love the Strada-Ks) so that by the time I made it to bed it was 12:30AM. Nevertheless, I set my alarm for 5:30AM so I’d have a chance to do some riding before my computer conference began. Now during a quick break after lunch I just uploaded my ride and see that I ended up with the KOM on the motor trail descent … heartrate still racing a bit from ducking, diving, and sliding around corners in the half-light of dawn shaded by Mt Leconte. Here are some pics I took along the way:
I started this post earlier in the year when I decided to update my racing results dating all the way back to my first mountain bike race in 1993. My latest foray into mountain bike racing (winning the Chain Buster Battle at Oak Mountain 9 hour race on Saturday) has had me reminiscing into how I first got into mountain biking back in high school in 1993 so I thought I would go ahead and wrap up this post. Most of it centers around Oak Mountain. In fact, if you go back even earlier to the late 80s, my dad and I used to do road biking on a 10 speed (eventually 12 speed) with down tube shifters at Oak Mountain. We’d park outside the park at the info center and then ride in through the front entrance. I’d always start out fast and ride off ahead of him and his work friends, but then even before we made it to the golf course I’d be tired so my dad had to ride with me slowly the rest of the way to the spillway in the back of the park and then back to the car. Probably a couple hours for the 15 mile ride.
Fast forward to 1993 – my junior year of high school, and two of my friends on the math team (Steve Montgomery and Jeff King) were into mountain biking. Steve said his dad had a mountain bike I could borrow, so the three of us set off to Oak Mountain one day after school in two cars. We parked Steve’s Bronco II at the picnic area parking lot and then piled into Jeff’s jeep and hauled ass up the Peavine Falls road (seriously don’t know how we didn’t roll that jeep) up to the overlook area near the end of the red trail. We took off up the red trail and then turned left into the BUMP downhill. I don’t remember my first experience with blood rock, but I assume we walked it. We flew down the trail past what is now the berm (I don’t think there was a berm back then) to the twisty section of the downhill, popped out onto Peavine Road followed it for a tenth of a mile or so to reach the Johnson’s Mountain climb. It started out with a tricky entrance with a short log bridge over a small creek crossing, and then the super steep trail with the rubber run-off protectors across the trail every few feet. I eventually could clear all that on a good day, but I definitely walked it that first time up.
From the top of the steep section, you had a nice pine-straw covered straight gradual climb until a couple twists at the steeper section near the very top of Johnson’s Mountain (super fast coming back the other way) at the park boundary. Then you came down through some tight small trees, small logs turns entering the rocky bumpy section (where I would sheer a seatpost off in a ride the next year) that is now the opening climb for Johnson’s Mountain (when coming from picnic area parking lot). My first big wreck was on the downhill after the giant log (the log is long gone and replaced with some rock steps now) where there are some wood trail run-off protectors now. There were no wood steps back then (unless we were going so fast through there I forgot about them), just a fast downhill with me going right off the side of the steep hill falling halfway down to the creek at a high rate of speed.
Then it was up the shallow switchbacks and the fast straight section (now called Foreplay) across the horse trail intersection into the long set of twisty turns (now called Mr. Toads) through the picnic area parking lot down to Steve’s Bronco II for the shuttle back up to the top. I think that was it that first day out, but eventually we got into good enough shape to not need the shuttle any more, and we would just start out in the parking lot head up the climb to the red trail, turn around at the top and then come all the way back down adding on the lower section of singletrack by the paddleboats. This section was an out/back trail that wasn’t finished. We would ride it through to the end and then just keep riding a ways through the woods before turning around and heading back up. After buying my first mountain bike from James at River Oaks Cycles in Hoover (the Mongoose Alta shown in the top pic), I made this trip pretty much an every day after school experience. The lower section of trail was finished shortly after all this began so eventually I started to park at the old boy scout road just past the golf course where the lower trail section ended. I would ride from there all the way up to the Bump trail, turn around and ride back.
By April of 1993, I raced my first mountain bike race — the Cumberland Classic in Sewanee, TN — where I finished 6th in the juniors and 25th in the beginners (our fields were combined). There was more than 100 people in the race (IT WAS HUGE!!!) and I still remember starting and climbing out of a gravel parking lot area, racing across some huge field by a barn or something, and then a double track road before making the left into the singletrack. Whenever I think of “hole shot”, I still have this mental image of the gravel hill, followed by a wide open field leading to a double track leading to a lefthand turn onto singletrack overlooking a valley far below that made me think I was in an airplane (which I had never been in before). Later in the year, during the start of my senior year I would see a flyer for the Bull’s Gap time trial and race that as my second race (see pic below), following that up with two more mountain bike races (the Maddog Mountain Bike Race in Springville, Alabama and the Suck Creek Classic up in Chattanooga, TN).
Eventually, I’m going to link these pictures onto my results page, but in the interim, I’ve included a gallery of pictures that I scanned in from 1993-1998. If you are wondering how I could remember these results from way back then, I still have my “bike racing photo journal” (see pic below) that I kept which included a description of the race, the number of people in the race, my result in the race, as well as two or three 35mm snapshots. When I started college at Clemson, I kept track of everything in a Microsoft Access database (see other pic below).
My first experience in timed endurance mountain bike racing went really well – I came away with a win in the solo expert class. But more importantly I think the switch flipped on during the first lap of the race, and I discovered how to ride a mountain bike over technical terrain. I still have a long ways to go with a mental battle to trust the tires on tight turns, but I have much more confidence rolling the 29er over rocky and rooty terrain. I got the hole shot into Mr Toad’s after nearly running into the back of the lead vehicle. I got passed by one rider (a 6 hour solo rider) in the tight switchback turns at the end of Mr Toad’s, but I had no problem catching back up on Johnson’s Mountain. I decided not to pass, though, because I knew he would be fast down the descent, and I wanted a firsthand view of how to ride the Johnson Mountain descents fast. It was awesome. I kept up through most of the descent, but lost him in the tight turns just before crossing Peavine. Also, Eddie O’Dea and one other rider had caught up to us at the road so I slowed for a second to let them by on the road rather than entering the next twisty section and having to let them by there.
I lost some ground on the initial technical part of the Bump climb, but then caught up to Eddie and the other rider by the big berm before the bumpy steep part of the climb. They let me by and I flew up the climb. I wanted to try to have a big enough gap so as not to get in the way on Jekyll. I ran up Blood Rock and continued running through the switchbacks where I had fallen and hurt myself last Wednesday. Plus, for me it’s actually faster to run that section than ride it … especially if you don’t clear the switchbacks. I entered Jekyll nervous but fast which turned out to be key to riding that section (thanks John Karrasch). I rolled over stuff that I had to walk previously. And other stuff that I wanted to walk I came onto too quickly to stop so I had to ride it. And after not falling through each tricky drop or rock section, I got more and more confidence. Then shortly after the switchback that separates the two technical sections of Jekyll, I bobbled and unclipped right as Eddie was catching up to me. So I let him by and then tried to follow his line. I had to unclip two more times, but I was close enough to see some of the lines he took and also see that he was riding everything which gave me the confidence to try everything. This was hugely important for me eventually winning the race. If I had done all of Jekyll on my own then I may have not even attempted some of the trickier sections, let alone seen the lines to take. Huge thanks to Eddie!
Also, while I’m thinking about it – huge shout-out to Jacob who convinced me on Thursday night during our practice run on the course to run much lower tire pressure than I have been running. I ended up with 25PSI front and back for the race instead of my normal 30PSI. Also, thanks to Boris Simmonds for showing me the fast lines at night down the Hyde portion of Jekyll and Hyde and also for teaming up to share resources in the pit. I loved the sign he made “Borat & Toone” and wish I had gotten a picture of it. And thanks to Lennie Moon for coming out and cheering with his family. Also, a big thanks to John for the advice about just tackling Jekyll one section at a time and not looking too far ahead, this was hugely important later after I got more comfortable so that I stayed focus on the immediate section. I basically learned that the bottom portion of Jekyll only has three sections which are tricky and knowing that meant I could roll the stuff in between faster and use each of the tricky sections as benchmarks for the descent. Also, thanks to Roger Byrd from Bob’s Bikes for loaning me his awesome headlight.
I crossed the line in third after the first lap, but the two riders in front of me were a six hour solo expert rider and Eddie from the Eddie/Namrita six hour team. So that meant that I basically led the 9 hour solo expert race from start to finish! I ate a powerbar each lap and drank a full bottle of gatorade each lap. So I felt like I stayed on top of my nutrition better than I have in previous long mountain bike races (Leadville and Fool’s Gold, particularly). Still, I was really struggling on the 7th lap and by the time it got dark I got nervous that I was going to see Jeff Clayton’s lights approaching me. But when I made it up Blood Rock and could look down the entire bump climb and not see any lights I knew that barring a mechanical or bad fall I was going to win! That last time down Hyde was a bit tricky because I got into the mode of thinking “don’t fall, don’t fall” rather than just flowing with the descent.
Here’s my data from the race.
Annotated heartrate zone summary
Analise and Josiah got to participate in the racing action as well. The day started out with a kids race at 8:30. This was the first time for my kids to ride on real trails apart from the 0.2 mile section of woods on the way to school, which is pretty much a straight shot downhill. So this time they got to ride uphill, around corners, over bridges, around logs, and roll over small roots on a mile long portion of the family trail. They loved it!
Finally a couple frantic (me being the frantic one) videos from the pit and gallery of pics from the day:
Beautiful overcast fall day today for my commute home from work. I wanted to head up to Bluff Park instead of my normal commute through Vestavia Hills. A little more than an hour into my ride, I found myself exploring the Lover’s Leap rocks up in Bluff Park with the cool inscription shown below (and narrated in the video above):
Here’s the rest of the pics from the day, plus one more video — the somewhat crazy descent from Crest Lane all the way down through the Green Valley roller coaster. I’ve put some bookmarks into the description on youtube so you can jump to specific spots of the video if you watch it on you tube and then click the timestamps in the description.
Tho W. Farrar Seraphine F. Farrar ------------------- To sit on rock ... head and fell To slowly trace the forest's shady scene Where things that own not in one dominion dwell And mortal feet ... rarely been August 20th 1827
“…” means I have no clue what that part of the poem says.