Posts filed under ‘Adventure’
Quick summary – 1st place in a time of 31 hours and 48 minutes. I was hoping to break the record, but ended up about an hour and a half short of the record times of Chris MacDonald and Tinker Juarez who both had nearly identical times a year apart (2005 and 2006). Sleep issues late in the race were my downfall. I simply could not stay awake well enough to remember to pedal at the bottom of downhills. I’d concentrate just hard enough to make it down a hill safely, relax a bit and slow to a near stop. Just before losing enough momentum to fall over, I’d wake up and start pedaling again. This only happened a few times, but it gives you an idea of how much I was struggling with staying awake. Even so, I had a blast and learned a lot of important lessons during my first ultra-endurance race. My crew consisted of my wife Kristine and father-in-law Dale, who both had to endure sleep deprivation but without the physical exercise that helps keep you awake. They also had to endure me being very grumpy if they didn’t have exactly what I needed at the exact moment I needed. They did really, really well and as my friend Chris Shelton told me before the race – the hardest part of these ultra-endurance races is being a member of the crew. After having started at 8PM on Friday night with what I now realize was a completely unrealistic goal of being the first person to ever finish on Saturday, I rolled into the finish at the Colonnade at 3:48AM Sunday morning. I was discouraged after the finish thinking how much I was struggling with sleep after just 32 hours of racing — but then Kristine pointed out that I had been up since 6 Friday morning, biked to work, taught two classes, biked home, and then started getting ready for the race Friday afternoon with no naps. Altogether, I had been up for over 45 hours straight without sleep. That is really at the human limit of sleeplessness (I think!).
The maps and data
Even though this ride was only in two states, it did cross about half of each state twice. Along the way, I went through 16 different counties, hitting five counties twice for a grand total of 21 county line traversals (that’s a lot of sprint lines ;-))
ALABAMA counties outbound: Jefferson, St Clair, Calhoun, Cherokee, Dekalb. GEORGIA counties: Chattooga, Walker, Gordon, Murray, Gilmer, Gordon (again), Floyd, Polk. ALABAMA counties inbound: Cleburne, Calhoun (again), Clay, Cleburne (again), Talladega, St Clair (again), Shelby, Jefferson (again)
Annotated iBike data for the entire 500 mile route. You can see the trends of decreasing power and heartrate. You can also see exactly where I started to struggle with sleep b/c I basically stopped pedaling all the time creating a wall of cadence lines where it would drop to zero and then back up to a slow cadence.
I’ll save all the details for another post, but I wanted to get a somewhat quick post out here with the annotated data with a quick summary. I’ll leave the details and lessons learned for a post later this week as I work on piecing everything together. Thanks y’all for the support. Special thanks to Heather Hagan, Pat Casey, and Chris Shelton who all came out to see me off at the start. Also, huge thanks to Kristine and my father-in-law Dale who crewed for me and endured the same sleeplessness that I endured!
Life has been busy and is about to get busier, but I’ve had some pretty crazy adventures I wanted to blog about. These are ordered below based on when they happened, so you can jump to any specific one with these links:
My all-time favorite cycling movie out of the two that I’ve seen is American Flyers. In the opening scene, the lead actor is racing a barge along the Mississippi River. Then he rides into his building and onto the elevator. I do the latter every day on my commute to work, but I’ve never gotten to race a barge on the Mississippi until my Rouge Roubaix pre-ride this year. The race itself was epic as always – read my race report, but man sometimes I think the pre-rides are more adventurous than the races themselves … see Hell of the South exception, though.
Racing a barge on the Mississippi River – I just “American Flyered” my ride.
One of the ironic things about the Rouge Roubaix race is how close the course is to the Mississippi River, but you can never see the river from any spot on the course unless it is in severe flood stage (see pic below)
Google street-view of the turn onto 2nd gravel. The Mississippi River was at flood stage when the streetview car drove by. During the race, you cannot normally see the river. For my pre-ride I parked at the store annotated in the picture.
This was my fifth year racing Rouge Roubaix, but I had never gone out of my way to see the river because my time spent there is usually so short. I wanted to include a trip out to the river in my pre-ride this year. I ended up picking a route onto Cat Island that veered off of the race course shortly after the third gravel section (Tunica Hills). My route plan was about 50 miles, which I thought would give me plenty of time to just cruise through the second and third gravel section. After a late start on the 7 hour drive from Birmingham plus a bit of a challenge figuring out where to park and not upset the locals (turns out I could have parked pretty much anywhere), I only had less than 3 hours of daylight left. Not exactly a lot of time to ride the 2nd and 3rd gravel sections plus the 2nd gravel section again on the return route.
I was enjoying a nice easy pre-ride, but as my brain ticked away at timing calculations I realized that there was no way I was going to finish before sunset. I picked up the pace and realized that I was probably going to be making it to the turn-around point of my ride sometime near sunset. Stubbornly, I decided that seeing the river this year was worth riding in the dark with no light. The next challenge was finding a way to the river. I knew that the road I picked out onto Cat Island swung close to the river, but not until pretty far into the island. The road kept getting muddier from rain and floods (pic below was from the early part of the road where it was still easily rideable … imagine entire short sections of road covered in thick mud), so I decided when I caught a glimpse of the river behind a gate with a short dirt road leading right up to the edge that I had found my entry spot.
Right after carefully climbing the fence and setting my bike over on the other side, a barge started to pass by on the river. That is when I knew I had to get a pic of the barge. Unsure whether I was going to stumble into a herd of bulls or cows, I took off like a rabbit down the double track to get to the river’s edge and get a pic. The pic at the top is what I was able to get. So in some sense the barge won because it made it past my access spot to the river, but in another sense I won because it was still close enough for me to get a pic!
As you can see from the lighting in the picture, it was near sunset by the time I had finally seen the river. I was taking a slightly different route back to skip the Tunica Hills dirt section, but I still had over 25 miles left to get back to my car parked at Fort Adams. Plus, the very last part of the ride would be the reverse direction of the 2nd gravel section (i.e., backwards down Blockhouse Hill).
Sunset happened before I even made it off Cat Island. By the time I made it out to LA-66, the main road to Angola Prison, it was dark and dangerous (from traffic). I spent most of the 5 mile stretch of road looking backwards ascertaining whether an approaching car was slowing down and/or moving over to pass me. Only twice did it look questionable and both of those happened to be near sections of the road where there was a shoulder so I moved over into the shoulder. When I finally made the turn off LA-66 onto Pinckneyville Rd, I was super relieved even though it was now way past sunset and very difficult to see. Pinckneyville Rd is an interesting chip/seal road that has some really nice sections interspersed with short rough “repaved” or “washed out” sections.
Ironically, the darker it got, the faster I went as I desperately tried to cover as much ground as possible while still able to see the rough sections with just enough time to grab the brakes and roll over them at a non-pinch flat inducing pace. When I made the turn onto the Blockhouse section, I had to rely entirely on the GPS and the fact that I could see a house up on the left to know that I had reached the turn! It was so dark that I could barely see the turn and could not even see the cattle guard. I was wondering if I had made a wrong turn when all of a sudden I bounced across the cattle guard … “yep, I’m good, this is the way”.
The Blockhouse gravel was in great condition, and I knew this from riding it on the way out at the start of my ride. Also, it was a brighter, lighter color because of the sand mixed in with the gravel. This meant that this section was a bit easier than Picneyville Rd to ride in the dark. I could see two things – black and slightly less black which I knew was the gravel road split into a double track. I tried to stay to the left side of the road hoping that I was judging the right spot to end up in the lefthand track. I stopped at one point to try to take a picture of the conditions. These are three pics that I got:
Top – Blockhouse in the dark (with flash). Middle – My iBike and Garmin on Blockhouse (with flash). Bottom – the road ahead without flash, not even enough light to make ANYTHING out. Although this is partially because my Nokia Lumia 1020 with great low light photography doesn't always auto-detect its settings correctly. If I had manually set the exposure to a couple seconds, you would have been able to see the blurry outline of the road.
By the bottom of the Blockhouse Hill, the road turns from gravel to a partial pavement – which was in really bad shape. Fortunately, this was in a small community that had street lights spaced just far enough apart that I could safely make out all the potholes and slowly ride through. They were having a big party at one of the houses, and some of the kids shouted “hey biker dude” or something like that as I biked by. Epic. Adventure. Life.
Map showing my commute from Hoover, AL to Blairsville, GA in the North Georgia mountains. Click twice to enlarge and see all the annotations. The solid red line is an approximation of my route – the dashed red line at the end is the part that I didn’t finish due to being way slower than expected. These maps are on the wall in our basement next to where I do all my work from home. I get to see some of my favorite places in the country in a raised relief map, including the highest points in AL, GA, TN, SC, and NC!
Kristine bought a groupon for three nights at the Paradise Hills cabins just outside of Blairsville, GA almost a year ago. The plan was for the two of us to go up there sometime in January or February for me to do some pre-riding of the Southern Cross course. Well, life happened and we couldn’t schedule it, so we switched to a back-up plan of going over spring break and taking the whole family. With the Heart of the South 500 mile race coming up, I decided to ride what I thought would be 300 miles from Birmingham to the cabin as a “test ride”. The route looks like it would have been about 285 miles, but I called Kristine in East Elijay and got her to meet me in Blue Ridge, GA when I realized how far behind schedule I was. The plan was then for her to follow me the last 32 miles in order for her to practice her role as support crew chief for the 500 mile race. But when we met each other at the Arby’s in Blue Ridge, there was a much more traffic than I expected. Blue Ridge was hopping. The traffic combined with me feeling tired and the kids trying to stay up until I made it to the cabin made me decide to end the ride early, hop in the car, and drive the last bit with Kristine back to the cabin. The kids were still awake and I got to see them to bed, which was definitely worth cutting the ride short, seeing how excited they were to show me things in the cabin.
That is how the ride ended, but the adventure started about 18 hours earlier at 1:30AM after having gone to bed at 10:30PM the night before. I set my alarm for 3 hours after going to bed hoping to hit two of the magic 90 minute sleep cycles, which seems to fit well with my own personal sleep pattern. By leaving this early, I was hoping to make it to Blairsville before sunset or at least before the kids went to bed. Another benefit of leaving this early is that I would be able to make it through all of Birmingham and surrounding communities long before most people had even gotten out of bed.
I started out doing essentially my normal commute route, which includes the Vesclub climb (at just over 700 vertical feet diff, one of the biggest climbs in Birmingham) so that I could compare it to later climbs on the route. Doing that climb meant I would also be in good position to blast down Hwy 31, continue through Homewood, and climb over Red Mountain on the Red Mountain Expressway without any traffic on the roads. I had two Axiom 200 watt lights, one mounted to the handlebars, and the other mounted on my helmet. I barely needed them riding through Birmingham, but once I made it out towards Trussville/Leeds on Floyd Bradford and Blackjack, lights were essential. The helmet light is great for scaring dogs – perfect for the route I had picked through dog-infested Annie Lee and Blackjack road. Simply put the helmet on highest setting, turn and stare at a dog, and it will stop dead in its tracks completely blinded by the light. As soon as you stop looking, it will normally start chasing again, but it is still better than nothing.
Hwy 11 through Springville was awesome given that there was no traffic – so awesome that as I was flying along the valley I missed the turn to take Washington Valley road towards Walker Gap. I backtracked at the next major road to get over to Walker Gap because there was no way I was not going to do that climb. On top of Walker, traffic started to pick up a bit as the farmers and really far-out commuters had to start driving at about 5AM. I flew down the waterfall descent and when I made the turn in the valley to head over to Chandler Mountain, this was by far the coldest part of my ride. The temp bottomed out around 27 degF but felt much colder given that I was dressed for the entire day with highs expected in the 50s. As it turns out, I was way overdressed for most of the ride given that temps peaked in the mid 60s. At this point of the ride, I was freezing.
80 miles into the ride, I stopped for the first time in Gadsden and ate a full breakfast at McDonald’s. The police officer in line in front of me asked me where I was heading, and later a couple other guys who had eaten breakfast also wondered where I was heading. You could tell with all the equipment I was trying to recharge and all the food crammed into my backpack that I was heading a long distance. It was cold when I went into the McDonalds and already getting pretty hot by the time I left.
I did the very first new road for me about 82 or 83 miles into the ride climbing up onto Lookout Mountain via a rough chip/seal road called “Scenic Dr”. I followed this road all the way along the north edge of Lookout Mountain with two KOM goals in mind – Keener Gap and Flanders Gap. I didn’t know if these were already segments or not, but I was hoping Strava would auto-detect both as Cat 4 climbs. Both of these climbs are from the narrow US Hwy 11 valley floor back up to the Lookout Mountain ridge line. So to get to both of them, I had to first descend off the mountain to each of them.
Keener was paved and had some beautiful rock formations, one house, and a couple of dogs. I went down the descent way too fast for them to bother with me, but on the way back up as I was trying to put in an exactly threshold effort (not too hard, but not too easy either) here they come out of the house in the middle of the one switchback. Fortunately, they were friendly dogs and let me scoot on by. At the top of Keener Gap, I turned left to continue on Scenic Dr, which abruptly turns from chip/seal to dirt and gravel. The climb still continued on for another half mile or so. I really started to get excited about the ride as I was flying up the gravel road laughing giddily at how I’m trying to KOM a climb with miles and miles ahead of gravel in the middle of what I thought at the time would be a 300 mile ride. The road stayed Alabama dirt/gravel (graded and fast) for the next 5 miles to Flanders Gap. I flew down the gravel descent partly because it was really steep and I couldn’t go much slower and partly because it was easy to see good lines. At the bottom, the dirt gravel gave way to some other kind of large gravel that was not easy to ride. I slowed way down to make sure I didn’t pinch flat. I turned around at the train tracks (low spot in the valley) and headed back up to go for the KOM. I drilled it hard and the climb reminded me a lot of the Blockhouse Hill climb in the Rouge Roubaix race.
Unfortunately, neither climb auto-detected even though they were both well within Cat 4 range. I went back and created the segments and after waiting a few days, it looks like only one other person has done the paved Keener Gap climb, and nobody else has done the Flanders Gap climb. I turned around at the top of Flanders and headed back down it again so that I could take Hwy 11 across the valley to Collinsville. I wanted to do the climb out of Collinsville because on the map it had a lot of switchbacks (somewhat rare for Alabama). I was completely surprised by what I saw when I approached the climb from the streets in downtown. The climb was a powerline cut! The paved road switchbacked across the cut 4 or 5 times, putting the grade at a fairly consistent 10% and closer to 15% in the switchbacks.
At this point I needed to cut across Lookout Mountain and down the other side to head into Georgia. If I headed any farther north on Lookout Mountain, I would have gotten back into some really cool roads I’ve ridden before – but the eastern crossing of Georgia becomes problematic as there aren’t as many roads that head across the many ridges that run north and south through that part of Georgia. So unfortunately I had to just barely brush by one of Alabama’s Hidden treasure – Little River Canyon. I ended up doing a super fun descent from a firetower down to the entrance to the canyon – a national monument called Canyon Mouth.
I took a short break here before heading on some really awesome valley roads (Co Rd 58 and Co Rd 41) northeast through Cherokee County. Somewhere through here I crossed over into Georgia and continued on a northeastern track eventually reaching Summerville, Georgia. After a quick lunch at Subway, I headed back out towards the Narrows Picnic Rd (Hammond Gap) knowing that this would be dirt – Google street view car turned around exactly at the transition to dirt. It turns out that this was the roughest road of the route. I didn’t have any problems on the climb, but on the long descent I had to go slow or run the very likely possibility of pinch flatting AND cutting my tires. We’re talking ruts and large granite rocks sticking out of the ground.
Up to this point in the ride I had felt great, but after going so slow for so long and letting my heartrate dip too low, I suddenly realized that I was tired. Looking back at my heartrate data, I never did get my heartrate back up to what it was before that descent. The route between the bottom of the descent to Dalton started to pick up some heavy traffic including after school traffic, so even though it was some beautiful scenery – being tired and dealing with a lot of cars doesn’t make for a fun ride. One highlight was a smaller road just before the start of the Pinhotti climb. That climb was very steep and VERY busy with traffic. Fortunately, there was a nice clean shoulder to ride to the top. I debated about just heading on down the mountain, but I couldn’t resist the opportunity to climb all the way up to the towers. This dirt climb is the final descent on the Snake Creek Gap mountain bike time trial course. It was a blast to climb (and clear!) on the road bike, and not too bad coming down either.
Dalton was a traffic disaster as I hit it during rush hour. Even with a stop for dinner at Arby’s, traffic was still bad at about 6PM as I made my way over to Fort Mountain on GA-52. What a nasty road. Drivers were all pretty courteous, no honking or throwing things, but they passed you close, definitely not 3 feet. As soon as I left the town of Chatsworth, the traffic immediately disappeared. The climb up Fort Mountain was beautiful and mostly deserted. There were a few fast motorcycles, but you could hear them coming from a long ways away. I stopped and chatted briefly with three of the riders I caught up to at the overlook near the top. I did the climb pretty slowly, but was surprised that at 215 miles into the ride not to be struggling with cramps or any other problems.
I was hoping for a long 35+mph downhill for miles and miles, but instead the descent was very punchy with half-mile climbs and only lasted a few miles. After bottoming out, the road started climbing again. The sun had set a while ago so I put my lights back on and called Kristine to let her know I was running way behind schedule. This takes us back to the beginning of the post where she met me in Blue Ridge and instead of following me for the last 32 miles, I decided to just call it a day and ride in the car back to our cabin for the next few days. 253 miles instead of 285, but I got everything I needed to get out of the ride in terms of prep for the 500 mile race, and I also had quite the adventure!
After this ride, I took Tuesday off and then had two more fun adventure rides Wednesday and Thursday. Here are a few pictures from those adventures.
As I mentioned earlier, this year’s Hell of the South was extra epic, but Mark Fisher and I tried to outdo it the next day by conquering all 11 ways up the Grant plateau plus 4 additional climbs on the way back including one of the steepest climbs in Alabama for a grand total of 15 Huntsville Cat 3 climbs. Some of the climbs are rated Cat 4 based on where the segment starts, but they all have enough vertical diff to be made into Cat 3 climbs using a slightly different starting or ending point along our route. Huntsville has the perfect topography for hard training – lots of flat roads punctuated by 2-3 mile super steep climbs. This also makes for some fun descending. Check out that amazing topography in the two maps below. Double-click (or click once to load the large image and then click again to zoom your browser into the image) to see all the details and mountain names.
11 ways up the Grant plateau plus the rest of our ride. All the climbs are numbered starting with the Green Mountain climb, then all 11 ways up Grant, followed by Blowing Cave, Tony Wilmur Trail, and finally Cecil Ashburne. Click to enlarge. After your browser downloads the image, click it again to zoom in and see the details.
I am working on a separate blog with a catalog of the 11 ways up grant plus the bonus climbs of Green, Blowing Cave, Tony Wilmur, and Cecil Ashburne, but I have a feeling it might be a while before I can finish it. So I’m just going to put in a teaser here with the Green Mountain front-side climb, the Swearengin climb, and the Blowing Cave climb (quite possibly one of the steepest paved climbs of measurable category in Alabama).
GREEN MOUNTAIN - FRONT SIDE Dist: 1.87 mi (0:14:36) Climbing: 886 ft Min Avg Max DFPM Pow 81 270.6 391 W Gravity -16 231.2 354 W Speed 5.2 7.7 13.7 mi/h Elev 578 1026 1468 ft Slope -0.4 9.04 19.2 % Caden 49 67.1 109 rpm HR 95 143.5 158 bpm NP:288W IF:0.98 TSS:24 VI:1.06 3/30/2014 8:06 AM 40 degF; 1022 mbar
SWEARENGIN CLIMB Dist: 1.61 mi (0:12:17) Climbing: 640 ft Min Avg Max DFPM Pow 19 246.9 385 W Gravity -48 201.2 372 W Speed 4.9 7.9 14.3 mi/h Wind 0.0 8.1 24.0 mi/h Elev 591 887 1244 ft Slope -1.0 7.70 19.4 % Caden 30 66.0 99 rpm HR 112 142.1 157 bpm NP:267W IF:0.91 TSS:17 VI:1.08 3/30/2014 11:41 AM 62 degF; 1020 mbar
BLOWING CAVE (COMPLETE CLIMB) Note: I was super tired and weaved up the climb. Dist: 1.73 mi (0:14:04) Climbing: 751 ft Min Avg Max DFPM Pow 0 251.5 451 W Gravity -387 202.8 417 W Speed 3.3 7.4 19.4 mi/h Wind 0.0 6.5 25.9 mi/h Elev 725 1122 1470 ft Slope -7.3 8.28 23.6 % Caden 34 60.2 112 rpm HR 120 141.2 157 bpm NP:282W IF:0.96 TSS:22 VI:1.12 3/30/2014 3:06 PM 65 degF; 1019 mbar
BLOWING CAVE - STEEP CAT 4 section only From a 2013 ride when I went straight up the climb. Dist: 0.29 mi (0:04:06) Energy: 74.7 kJ Cals Burn: 71.4 kcal Climbing: 300 ft Min Avg Max Power 187 303.6 398 W Gravity 189 284.2 372 W Speed 3.1 4.3 6.8 mi/h Wind 0.0 2.4 7.1 mi/h Elev 27 187 329 ft Slope 13.2 20.23 26.8 % HR 141 149.0 155 bpm NP:311W IF:1.05 TSS:8 VI:1.02 2/10/2013 10:03 AM 51 degF; 990 mbar
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
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
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.
Since our ride originated in Nashville, I solved the transportation problem back to Birmingham by deciding to ride home to Birmingham starting Sunday and finishing late Tuesday night with the help of Boris Simmonds and Nathan Pocus who both rode way out to West Blockton and helped me crawl the last 35 miles home in the dark. Also, Trey Pounds hosted me in Brookhaven on that first day and rode out to find me out on Zetus Rd with a full bottle of gatorade that I desperately needed. We rode the 15 miles back to his house together and then 30 miles together leaving Brookhaven the next day.
Here’s a recount of the day-by-day including the LP Field criterium in Nashville the night before the big ride.
RACE Day 0 – LP Field Criterium, Nashville
24 racing miles in the 1/2/3/ crit followed by a short cooldown with the kids exploring the Nashville pedestrian bridge over the Cumberland River. Kristine, the kids, and I drove up from Birmingham to Nashville Wednesday afternoon where we met our cousins in Franklin for dinner at a local Mexican restaurant. I was planning on riding from there over to LP Field for the crit as part of my warm-up, but we were running so far behind schedule when we left Birmingham that there was no way I would make it to the crit in time. In fact, driving over we only made it there about 15 minutes before the start. By the time I had the kids bikes unpacked and my bike put together, I had about 8 minutes to warm-up for the crit. Fortunately, Jimmy Grant took a solo flyer and people were content to ride easy for the first several laps giving me an additional few minutes of warm-up before the attacks and counter-attacks began. It was insanely fast for a bit and eventually our field went from 30 or so riders down to about 15 left in the main field. A small group of three got away with a few laps to go and Tim Henry (Litespeed-BMW) went to the front and drilled it hard bringing the break back. With one lap to go, the break was just a couple seconds still in front of us. Ryan Sullivan (UHC/706) launched his sprint first with almost the entire last lap still left to go. Andy Reardon (Cumberland Transit) covered the attack, and then I bridged up to the two of them.
Shortly after bridging, I was ready to attack and swung out to go on the outside, but we were just now catching the break and so there wasn’t enough room to get around the riders from the break who were taking up the middle of the road with Ryan and Andy on the inside. I resigned myself to try to come around after the final turn knowing that the finish line was probably too close to get by anybody when Andy clipped Ryan’s wheel coming out of the turn. He didn’t go down immediately but it hit his front wheel hard enough to start a high speed wobble that saw him go into the curb and smash into it with enough force to scare the crap out of me and make me think that when we came around after the finish he would be lying on the ground seriously hurt. I heard afterwards, though, that he had immediately gotten up and grabbed his bike and started to run towards the finish! Wow, Andy is one tough dude!
I barely held on for second as I lost some momentum slamming on the brakes giving Travis Werts a chance to make it a photo finish at the line behind Ryan. Travis ended up third followed by Mark Miller and David Carpenter … full results here – http://www.usacycling.org/results/?year=2013&id=2301&info_id=67000
FAST Day 1 – Mile Marker 442 to Mile Marker 320
123 fast miles with the additional mile to get onto the trace from the Loveless Cafe. We started out the day at the Loveless Cafe. Kristine and the kids were there to send us off after we enjoyed a nice leisurely breakfast at the Loveless Cafe followed by interviews with Channel 4 News in Nashville. The kids rode their bikes with me for just over a mile along TN-100 from the cafe up and around the long entrance ramp to get to the official start of the Trace. Waving goodbye to Kristine and the kids, I took off after the group after getting a couple last pictures and hugs from Analise and Josiah.
Starting out with breakfast at the historic Loveless Cafe near the Nashville terminus of the Natchez Trace.
Ben Day from United Healthcare Pro Cycling, joining us for the first two days of our trip, helped turn our 7 man team into an 8 man powerhouse. We got a great paceline going, especially with team captain Tim Hall pulling alongside Ben for 20 minute pulls when it was their turn at the front. I tucked onto the back of the group next to Rick Harris, who had also dropped back to take pictures as we rolled off.
We were absolutely flying, and when we stopped for water 40 miles into the ride we barely stopped for a couple minutes before rolling again. We established a two-by-two paceline that we kept for the entire trip. Except with each rest stop, we would inevitably roll-out with a different paceline partner so that kept the conversation engaging and helped us get to know each other a little better.
Our first night was spent near Tuscumbia, AL where we went out to eat at a classic restaurant – the Sweet Magnolia Cafe – and were surprisingly serenaded by the cafe owner who sang Frank Sinatra songs for quite a while. It was entertaining!
HARD Day 2 – Mile Marker 320 to Mile Marker 204
116 hard miles. Our starting point for the second day was Buzzard Roost Spring – a really cool, large spring bubbling up from an underground cave. We also started up quite an incline at a quite a pace. I was really struggling at the beginning of the ride wondering how on earth I would be able to finish that ride and the rest of the journey! As it turns out, everyone was struggling that morning including Ben Day who later commented that whoever was pulling that first pull was really putting the hurt on!
Even with as hard as our start was, we also added in a state line sprint less than 20 miles into the ride as we crossed from Alabama into Missisippi. Check it out in the video below.
Later in the day as we flew through Tupelo with a bit of crosswinds picking up, the ride continued to be hard and I would rate this day as the hardest of the four days on the Natchez Trace. Probably the most meaningful part of the day for me was the April 27th, 2011 tornado damage along the Natchez Trace.
Day 2 – riding through five miles of tornado damage from the April 27th, 2011 tornadoes. These large tornadoes really impacted a lot of Alabama, including the big ones in Tuscaloosa, Birmingham, Cullman, and Decatur. For my own family, Kristine was working in Huntsville and had to thread her way between the morning and afternoon Cullman tornadoes to get home. I was with the kids in the basement when one of the smaller EF-2 tornadoes came over our house. I rolled off the bed on top of the kids and pulled the mattress over top of us because the wind got so severe but thankfully for us it touched down a mile away. One big tree came down in our neighborhood right through somebody’s house – you could see their kitchen from the street. But Cahaba Heights where the tornado touched down got hit really hard with a bunch of trees (a vast majority of the larger trees) in the community knocked over. It would be more than a week before power was restored and some roads were re-opened.
That night, we spent the night in Starkville, MS home of Mississippi State University and ate a cool bar Bin 692 which was walking distance from the hotel.
RAIN Day 3 – Mile Marker 204 to Mile Marker 89
115 rainy miles. The next morning we woke up to really light rain and a cool coffee shop attached to a gas station instead of a convenience store. It was an interesting coffee shop, cold stone creamery, and gas station all rolled into one place. I found my coffee twin.
Even with the light rain, it was still a beautiful ride and scenery. The only part that got kinda miserable was after the roads got wet enough that you were riding in the spray of the rider in front of you. In fact, there was a little bit of an internal battle to be at the front to get out of the spray! After the rain stopped, we absolutely drilled it averaging 25mph for over an hour stopping 90 miles into our ride at our final rest stop of the day alongside the huge Ross R. Barnett reservoir. After the rest stop, we split up into two groups which helped us negotiate the busier Jackson-area roads in the second downpour of the day.
I was in the second group and we made it to the end of the day’s ride in Clinton, MS outside of Jackson, the first group (Tim, Travis, and Patrick) was on the ground doing push-ups as penance for leaving us behind!
EPIC Day 4, part 1 – Mile Marker 89 to Mile Marker 0
90 epic miles with the addition of the exit ramp and return to trailer. 444 miles total on the Natchez Trace Parkway! We knew that this day would be shorter than the previous days, so we weren’t necessarily trying to lay down a new land speed record, but we still had a pretty good pace going. As we got into the rolling hills near Natchez, I realized that this was by far my favorite part of the entire trace. There was beautiful huge oak trees covered in Spanish hanging moss lining the roads providing shade. Plus, there was some good hills, and also we were almost finished!
With exactly 5 miles to go, Rick and I were at the front and decided to pull for just 1 mile since we knew there would be a big sprint at the end. When we pulled off, the group strung out single file with Travis Werts in the front I believe. Then with about 2 miles to go, Philip put in a hard attack which I covered. When he started to slow down, I countered his move hoping to get a jump and hold it to the line. But even with an 1100+ watt jump (new power record) I couldn’t get a good gap on the group. So when the group rolled back up to me, I soft pedaled the front. That’s when Scott put in his perfectly timed attack. I wasn’t going to chase since I had just jumped, and everybody else looked at each other so Scott rolled away with the epic sprint win. The rest of us sprinted it out for second behind him with us all basically finishing as a group, but sprinting instead of rolling across the line in some sort of procession. Loved it. Perfect way to end such an epic ride for such a great cause!
Jeff Rossini and Austin Bauman were as much a part of the team as the riders. They drove behind us the entire length of the trace providing us with rolling rest stops and lots of positive energy. Best support crew ever! Here they are with Tim Hall at the end (Jeff on the left and Austin on the right)
EPIC Day 4, part 2 – Vidalia, LA to Brookhaven, MS
87 epic miles. While the guys were getting ready for the long drive back to Nashville, I was prepping for the second part of an epic day – a ride to Brookhaven on the first leg of my journey home to Alabama. I was so pumped and excited after the finish of our Natchez ride that I think I underestimated a bit how hard the second part of this day would be. I started it out by riding across the Missisippi River into Vidalia, Louisiana so I could add a state to my ride and also get some good pics of the Mississippi River and the bridge across. Plus, this ride was a walk back in time as I had raced the Natchez Cycling Classic stage race back in 1994 as a junior and then again in 1998 as a cat 2 with my teammate from Clemson, Bert Hull. I rode the prologue portion of the course down to the Isle of Capri casino and then the steep climb back up the river bank. Tim Hall got this picture of me as I was getting ready to pull out – the backpack weighed about 10 pounds with my laptop, all kinds of cords and chargers (power, usb, etc…). This would be fine for the first day, but by the end of day 2 I was ready to be done with the backpack.
Day 4b – Tim Hall snapped this picture of me as I was just getting ready to pull out on my ride across the Mississippi River for a very short foray into Louisiana before returning back across again through Natchez all the way to Brookhaven, MS for a grand total of just under 176.8 miles for the day.
Once I left Natchez, I started back out on the Natchez Trace parkway to head to Selma Rd which I knew crossed over the trace and put me on a direct route over to US-84. There was no exit here, so I had to scale the embankment through the tall grass. After checking myself thoroughly for ticks, I continued on over to US-84. My original plan had me taking all the Old US-84 offshoots weaving around US-84, but the shoulder was so nice, the road was so smooth, and the traffic so light that I decided to just drill it on US-84 east towards Brookhaven. I averaged 21.5 mph for the 7.5 miles
I was on US-84 before turning onto Log Cabin Rd, which was really rough chip/seal plus sections of gravel where the road was gone. You had to pick your line a bit through here, but there was also a couple nicer short sections that had been repaved. I ran out of water through here, and given how hot it was and how dehydrated I was by this point in the day I knew that I needed to find water from somebody. I had planned on finding water in Hamburg, but there was nothing there. Most of the houses were abandoned or empty. Or because it was the hot part of the day, nobody was outside and I didn’t want to risk dogs and time going up to knock on houses. This was the only public structure I saw in Hamburg to give you an idea of how rural this place was.
Finally, I found a man at the top of his gravel driveway and hollered out to him to see if they had any water. The man’s mother came out as I was riding up the gravel driveway, and she gave me lots of 1/2 liter bottles of water – enough to fill up both my bottles (44 oz) plus drink some right there. I told them I was ready to drink from the next creek I saw I was so desperate. We talked for a bit and when she found out about my ride, she said they were honored to have me stop by and get water from them. She grew up in Natchez and then moved out with her family to the country to raise some cattle and other farm animals.
Refreshed and still full of energy I headed out on the next road (Oldenburg Rd) which was probably one of my favorite paved roads. Lots of short rolling hills and good pavement. At the end of this road, I turned onto Hospital Rd for a few miles north before hitting one of my favorite dirt roads of the trip – 15 mile creek rd. It was very rouge-roubaix like with hills (but not as steep as rouge-roubaix) and good gravel lines you could take around the turns.
I had planned my route around how to get across one of the particular rivers that I noticed had very few bridges across it. I ended up selecting Wright Rd, and sure enough as soon as I turned onto the road, I saw “bridge out” signs. Fortunately, I stopped an oncoming vehicle and asked them if you could wade across the river, and the lady and her husband said it was no problem that 4-wheelers drive across it all the time. When I got to the bridge, however, I realized that it was still intact and rideable if you were careful – one thin guard wire to keep you from falling into the river. This road was one of the bumpiest of the entire trip – see the bottom left picture of the instagram photo below.
About a mile or so across the bridge on brutally rough pavement, I intersected with Choctaw Rd that was perfect dirt – far easier to ride than the Wright Rd pavement. I was actually quite a bit ahead of schedule because my GPS had routed me to Wright Rd and then u-turned before the bridge before routing back to the other side of the bridge adding 10 miles to the trip. When I crossed the closed bridge, this chopped 10 miles off my route. Trey had texted that he wanted to ride in with me, and we ended up meeting on Choctaw shortly after it turned from dirt back into pavement. I was out of water AGAIN when we met, and he had a full 24 oz cold/iced bottle of gatorade for me. It was perfect.
We rode together through Brookhaven back to his house where we jumped in his pool to cool off and then ate BBQ paninis that his wife and mother-in-law had made for us. I ate SIX paninis.
HOT Day 5 – Brookhaven, MS to Meridian, MS
153 hot miles. This day was the shortest, but probably involved the longest combination of rural roads. I spent the day tagging all my instagram photos #huntforwater because that’s what I spent a lot of time thinking about! Trey and I started out together leaving his house on the MS Gran Prix TT course, heading to the old MS Gran Prix RR course and riding Heucks Retreat road backwards on the course for a few miles before it turned into Bahalia Rd (dirt) for a couple miles. Then we wandered over on a nice, hilly (a few 12% max hills) road which eventually dumped us out onto MS-27 which Trey could take south back towards his house. I was continuing on east so we split up at that point with me heading east over the Pearl River.
When I planned out my route a couple weeks ago, I had just assumed I would be able to find water whenever I needed it. This was a partially correct assumption. Just about every time I needed water, I would come across a gas station or country store. The only problem, however, is that those gas stations or stores would be closed, boarded up, and abandoned. One town (Pinola) had two gas stations. One was closed permanently. The other was closed for remodeling. The nice lady at the post office though had cold bottled water she gave me – filling up both my water bottles (44 oz). The gas station that was closed for remodeling kept its large tanks above ground permanently – one labeled “REG UNL” and the other “HWY DSL”. First time, I’ve ever seen that.
Still, the roads were absolutely amazing – some of them were really smooth chip/seal, others were a bit rougher, but all of them were crazy rural with maybe one or two hunting cabins dotting the entire road. I remember one stretch of road shortly after Pinola, which was perfectly smooth chip/seal and lots of rolling hills twisting and diving with lots of curves. It was a blast of a road to ride.
Much later in the ride, when I made it closer into Meridian, it became easier to find water as the area was much more heavily populated. I did find a cool two-combo stretch of dirt roads (Graham Harrison and Cedar Grove) which were a couple of my favorites on the trip. Here’s a video:
Kristine booked me a hotel in Meridian while I was riding, and here’s a collage of my arrival at the Baymont Inn. (the astro motel was NOT where I stayed)
HC Day 6 – Meridian, MS to Hoover, AL
170 HC (hors categorie) miles. It’s hard to describe how hard this day was. I’ve ridden 250 miles in a single day before with 42,000+ feet of climbing. But that ride for the rapha rising competition in 2012 was “cake” compared to this ride. This ride was easily the hardest ride I’ve ever done. It was also the closest I’ve come to riding myself to hospital-level exhaustion. I laid down in the road twice, laid down on the stoop of a church once, begged for water twice, and involuntarily stopped riding twice. To give you an idea of how rural some of the roads were, I was probably laying in the road with my head resting on my helmet on Haysop Cemetery road for about 10 minutes. No cars. Just me and the flies, mosquitoes, and ants and I didn’t care if any of them bit me. Same thing just a few miles later at the historic Haysop Church (183 years old). Just laid on the front stoop thinking how beautiful the sky was and how pretty the cemetery looked and how on earth would I ever get moving again. I ate a payday candy bar when I first laid down at the church, and I think by the time I got up that had started to make it through my digestive system with some energy. Plus, somewhat miraculously as I was taking a picture of the Haysop Baptist Church historical sign, my daughter’s music started playing on my iphone … peaceful worship music from Christy Nockell’s Ever Lifting album. It was the sweetest music I’ve ever heard. This helped me get going again — plus a couple strangers gave me water along the road, which was very rough. My rolling average on Haysop Church dirt road was 11.5 mph (not including my stops) and then on the even rougher chip/seal torture road (Crystal Lake) I only averaged 9.5mph not including one stop along the road. The video below shows me begging for water from one car that rolled up beside me and stopped I was going so slow.
Exhausted from the previous days riding I had slept in a bit (although fitfully waking up every time the air conditioner kicked on starting at 6 in the morning). I wish when I had first woken up at 6 that I had just gotten ready and left at that time b/c it would have saved me at least some of the heat-related problems I would have later in the day. As it turns out, I slept in until 7:30, ate breakfast at the hotel, and was rolling out of the hotel shortly after 8AM. The ride started out really well with lots of shade through a cool Meridian neighborhood on a road with some good hills and a switchback descent that crossed a major highway and immediately turned into really rough, rutted dirt/gravel. That only lasted about 200 meters before it turned into much nicer dirt and eventually into good pavement again after it crossed underneath I-20.
The day turned bad, however, once I hit the US-11 / US-80 combo road about a mile later. This road was FILLED with logging trucks. No exaggeration, I probably saw 50 or more of them over the next 50 miles of the ride. But the problem wasn’t necessarily the logging trucks, it was the Wisconsin-style lateral cracks that ran the length of the road every 10 meters. Unlike Wisconsin where these cracks form due to the extreme cold, these were heat cracks caused by the expansion of the road under hot sun and then compression when it cools off at night. The 15 miles or so I had on this road until Alabama were really rough because of those cracks. But as soon as I hit the Alabama border, the road was beautifully paved with a perfect shoulder with a rumble strip about 18 inches of the white line so that I could safely ride to the right of the white line on a debris-free shoulder and still be left of the rumble strip.
It was so hot and humid by this point that I couldn’t take iphone pictures without first stopping and pulling my tshirt out of my backpack to wipe the phone and my hands. Just constant streams of sweat pouring off of me and/or just rolling around on my skin. Not much shade on Hwy 11, but I made some really good time averaging well over 20mph. Then I detoured off of Hwy 11 at Livingston and headed over to Co Rd 21 which had some amazing views of the Tenn-Tom waterway from a couple hundred feet higher in the hills.
After Co Rd 21, I was back on Hwy 11 and almost out of water and the one gas station at the crossroads was abandoned. This, combined with a severe lack of shade, had me adjusting my speed to match any clouds that happened to be heading in my direction (fortunate). So sometimes I would slow down or even stop to make sure I didn’t outrun the shade provided by some of the thicker clouds. I’ve got some fun video of that if I can ever sift through it all and find it.
Eventually, I made it across the flat river floodplain and into Boligee. There I stopped and refreshed at the Boligee Cafe, where another customer asked me where I was going and when I told him he asked me what I thought about on long rides. I told him that about half the time was spent thinking / wondering / worrying about where I would find water next. I should have ordered a BBQ sandwich at the cafe but I wasn’t hungry. It wasn’t until about 20 miles down the road when I was hungry that I realized I didn’t have any bars or gels left in my backpack! At this point in the day, I was hot, starting to overheat, and out of food. Fortunately, I ran into a Dollar General at a crossroads where I got some ice cream and food and spent a few minutes in the air conditioning to cool off. I’m really fortunate because the Google satellite imagery shows me rummaging around in a forest where there was actually a Dollar General. I got pictures of the whole thing otherwise I think I might have second guessed that I was hallucinating and who knows what I was actually eating! My bike computer registered 101 degF by the time I started riding again in the sun.
Day 6 – proof that there actually was a dollar general there! I got the ice cream to cool off, but I made a mistake with the pecan log roll – i thought it was solid pecans, but it actually was mostly sugar and led to a sugar-related crash later in the day
This was probably the first time I started to question whether I could make it all the way as I still had more than 90 miles to ride in what I knew would be hillier and hillier terrain. Sure enough, when I got to the Talladega National Forest outside Greensboro, the terrain started to get substantially more hilly. The problem was that it was early afternoon, and there wasn’t much shade. Plus, with a 10 pound backpack, I had a hard time making it up the hills at anything more than a snail’s pace so I wasn’t even getting a consistent wind from moving blowing to cool me down.
Fortunately, at the Pleasant Valley crossroads, there was a thriving country store that was not abandoned. That store literally could have been a life-saver. And this was ALL before I got to the even harder parts of the ride where I had to lay down in the road, etc… I hung out in the store for 30 minutes downing a cold coke and some water. The store also had 3G phone service so I instagrammed and facebooked a bit while I let my body cool down and let the sun get farther down in the sky.
After about 30 minutes when I was actually starting to feel pretty cold/chilled, I decided to pack up and head on. I left the store, and headed north on perfect pavement of AL-25 … perfect until I hit the Bibb County border at which point the road became a very rough chip/seal for about five miles before I turned onto a county road which was perfectly paved again. Wonder if it was some kind of dispute between the county and the state over whose responsibility it was to maintain that stretch of AL-25. In any case, I was very glad to get off of it onto a nice county road. The warm sun felt really good through here, but I could tell that I was not doing well. I contemplated stopping at the bottom of one of the hills to rest before tackling the hill. That is not something I normally do. I opted instead to crawl up the climb at 5mph – a climb I could easily have done at 15+ mph without a backpack, without severe dehydration, and without 750+ miles in my legs from the previous days of riding.
This beautiful county road crossed US-82 and turned into the Haysop Rd which started out with a long climb. It was across the top of this climb that I laid down in the road the first time. I think I was pretty close to passing out because I didn’t intend to stop. I just went from feeling not great to feeling light-headed really quickly so I just coasted to a stop, unclipped, laid the bike down in the road, laid myself down in the road and rested for about 10 minutes. No cars. Nothing. Ironically, I could hear cars on US-82 probably 1/2 mile away through the woods. After I started riding again, I stopped again with another few minutes (maybe less than a mile) when I came across the Haysop Baptist Church. My thought was to spray myself with water, but before I tried to find a hose or faucet I decided to rest again on the front stoop. Then when I found a hose, I traced it back to the faucet which was located underneath the church and would involve crawling through a crawlspace to reach it. I was a bit afraid of passing out doing that so I decided to take a little bit of water left in my bottle and dump it on my head and then beg for water next person I saw. That turned out to be the two people in the car in the video earlier in this post. Here’s an instagram I posted from West Blockton at the next store I came to while I was resting (10 agonizing miles later)
Through here I got an encouraging text from Boris saying that he was riding out to meet me on South Shades Crest. Then a little bit later when he and Nathan made it to County Road 1 and I was nowhere in site, he called and I told him that I was about 20 miles behind schedule. That was no problem for them, they just continued backwards on the route I had given them and eventually found me on Bishop Ridge Rd. This was after a stop in West Blockton where I got one last drink refueling – probably 300+ oz of fluid for the nearly 13 hour day.
I gave my heavy backpack to Nathan and we started riding again. I was painfully slow on the uphills, but still able to drill the downhills … basically I could sustain about 150-175 watts and nothing more. On one of the longer downhills on Bishop Ridge, I was at the front drilling it down when I noticed a rough section of road. I pulled my big toes up (they were killing me) to relieve some of the pressure from the bumps, but in doing so I managed to lock up most of the muscle groups in my legs with cramps. Fortunately there was enough downhill left that I didn’t need to pedal and I was able to coast to a stop at the bottom where my legs had relaxed enough that I could unclip. I dropped the bike on the ground and fell over laying on the road (2nd time). I told Boris to call Kristine and tell her to come get me. A nice lady who came up behind us shortly after that stopped and asked if she could help or give me a ride to Green Pond. After a few minutes while Boris was still on the phone with Kristine, I decided to give it one more try. We were almost through the rough Bishop Ridge rd and onto the smoother, relatively flat Co Rd 12/13.
We went slow enough at this point with Boris in the front, Nathan in the back, and me in the middle that I never felt any more cramps coming on. We even were able to make it up the Cat 4 Co Rd 52 climb to South Shades Crest where Nathan left us for his house. Boris and I continued on up to Hwy 150, left through the Preserve, and then through Green Valley finally making it back to the Krispy Kreme in Hoover located where the old Putt-Putt used to be right next to my old elementary school. Boris had arranged for his wife Hahn to meet him there to take him back to his house. This was a great place to end the ride. Definitely would not have been able to make it wihout Boris and Nathan. It started to rain as we were driving the three miles back to my house.