Cahaba River Adventure

Kristine and the kids out on the shoals in the Cahaba River National Wildlife Refuge outside West Blocton.Kristine and the kids out on the shoals in the Cahaba River National Wildlife Refuge outside West Blocton. I met them there 150+ miles into the ride. It was great to cool off and swim with them in the river amongst all the Cahaba River Lilies!

The Cahaba River is the “longest free-flowing river in Alabama and is among the most scenic and biologically diverse rivers in the United States” according to Wikipedia. I grew up not too far from the Cahaba River, purchased my first bike from River Oaks Cycles in Riverchase, played golf on a golf course with several holes on the Cahaba River (Altadena Valley Country Club), went to the dentist in Cahaba Heights, and more recently have lived within a mile of the river for the past 11 years, with my son playing baseball and my daughter playing lacrosse at Hoover East on the banks of the Cahaba (and sometimes underneath the Cahaba during floods). All of that is to say, the Cahaba River has been part of my life for nearly my entire life. To be able to share it with my beautiful wife and kids is beyond amazing.

That’s my own personal connection to the Cahaba, but it isn’t just me. There are SIX high schools either located on or near the Cahaba River (Hewitt-Trussville, Mountain Brook, Hoover, Pelham, Helena, Centreville). Additionally, Vestavia Hills High School and Spain Park High School are split straight down the middle by the Cahaba River with each school located 2 miles away from the Cahaba (VHHS 2 miles northwest and SPHS 2 miles southeast). The reason why there are so many high schools located on or near the Cahaba River is because the upper part of the Cahaba river flows through the most populated part of Alabama. This is somewhat ironic, because the lower part of the Cahaba river flows through some of the more rural parts of the state. Here is the complete list of cities:

Clay (source on Cahaba Mountain)
Trussville
Leeds
Irondale
Mountain Brook
Homewood (2 miles west)
Vestavia Hills
Hoover
Pelham (1000 feet east)
Helena
Alabaster (2 miles east)
West Blockton (2 miles west)
Centreville
Brent
Heiberger
Sprott
Beloit
Selma (10 miles northeast)
Cahawba (ghost town, original capitol of Alabama territory, confluence with Alabama River)

I was inspired for this ride after riding the Old Howard which starts in Marion and eventually follows the Cahaba River flood plain down to Selma. When I was creating a map for my ride that day, I noticed where the Cahaba River empties into the Alabama River. That got me thinking: “Wouldn’t it be cool to do a ride that travels the entire length of the Cahaba and crosses every bridge over the Cahaba???”

It's easy to see why the Cahaba River is called the "Heart River" of Alabama as it starts and ends in the middle of the state, but not before traversing 194 miles and six counties.It’s easy to see why the Cahaba River is called the “Heart River” of Alabama as it starts and ends in the middle of the state, but not before traversing 194 miles and six counties. Click to enlarge and see detail. The Cahaba River is shown in blue below, and the 242 mile route I followed is shown in red.

As I plotted out a route that would do just that, I realized that the route distance would be almost exactly 400KM, which is a significant distance in the randoneurring and ultra cycling world. So this led to the idea of an adventure-type 400K ride. This would definitely be a non-standard ride as summarized by the following list of “adventure” items on the ride:

30-40 miles of dirt roads
several miles of ATV trails
5 abandoned bridges including one rail shimmy and the site of 1896 fatal train wreck
2 fordings of the river possibly up to waist deep depending on water level
2 fire towers to climb
1 ghost town at the end

In addition to all that, there is the potential to see the following animals: foxes, coyotes, rabbits, deer, raccoons, possums, armadillos, turkeys, snakes, alligators (unlikely but possible), fish (we ford the river twice), turtles, all kinds of birds including hawks and owls, dogs (although this route traverses some of the most “dog-free” parts of Alabama I’ve ridden in – the dog per mile ratio is pretty low – in other words, it ain’t no blount county).

Don’t let this list scare you, though, because the entire ride is either road-bikeable or hike-a-bikeable (speedplay pedals recommended only with the new walkable cleats and plugs) as long as you have good 25cm tires on your bike. The opening loop out of Trussville includes one of the steepest climbs in Alabama, so carbon wheels may be problematic on the descent. I tried to do the descent with rear brake only because my front brake was squealing really loudly and ended up damaging the wheel coming down Cahaba Mountain from excessive braking, so that is something to consider when making wheel selection. But other than that one descent, carbon wheels are fine for the entire ride as long as you are gentle on the gravel and pick good lines. I had no flats on my initial exploratory attempt at this ride – spoiler alert – I had to cut out bridges at the end because of wheel problems early on.

Also, this ride should be a family event. There is so much to explore on the route, you could actually beat your family down to the finish if they stop and explore everything. Or they could meet you at a few spots and you could hang out with them like we did on Friday. Here’s a run-down of how Friday went.

Midnight, Hoover
I set my alarm for 11:30PM and was out the door by 12:12AM with a tight schedule to try to make it down to Cahawba by sunset. Everything went well as I rode the 22 miles from my house north to Trussville on mostly deserted roads. I made it to the Trussville Cahaba Cycles by 1:30AM. This is where I’m thinking of staging the event, although I haven’t run anything by Cahaba Cycles yet since it’s a year away. I think 1:30AM is a good starting time for the opening 40 mile loop (Section 1) which takes us out to the source of the Cahaba on Cahaba Mountain. Even with my wheel problems, I made it back to Trussville by 4:30AM. Two of the bridges on this section were behind closed gates so unless we are very lucky I don’t think those will be accessible. This section included one spillway (echo lake), two brand new pedestrian bridges over the Cahaba, the rail shimmy bridge to get back to a third pedestrian bridge (abandoned) in Camp Coleman, as well as several regular road bridges.

4:30AM phone call
I called Kristine to let her know about my wheel problems as I left Camp Coleman. It was 4:30 in the morning, and we brainstormed options for resolving my wheel problems. We settled on her bringing me a replacement wheel along with the cassette tools so I could swap out the 32T cassette. My basement is a bit disorganized so in the process of collecting all the stuff I needed, she forgot the wheel itself. We didn’t discover this until she made it to the Waffle House where I was waiting for her. Undeterred, she drove me home where I swapped out everything for the wheel and then drove me all the way back out to Trussville so I could resume riding at the same spot. My wife is amazing, absolutely amazing. By this point, though, it was 6AM. I resumed the route and headed out on the second section of the ride.

Section 2 – Abandoned railroads and ATV trails
I left Trussville and headed out Roper Rd towards the St. Clair county portion of the Cahaba. There is one bridge, and a short 4 or 5 mile loop on Annie Lee and Acmar that takes you over a feeder river labeled “Cahaba River” on Google maps, but I’m pretty sure that is a mistake as it is not the main Cahaba River. Still, it is a major tributary so I’m including it on the Cahaba 400K route. After my wheel problems earlier, I decided to cut this whole loop out and regain 20-30 minutes of time lost earlier. One of the reasons I had called Kristine instead of trying to make it all the way back to my house with the broken wheel is that this next 40 mile section from Trussville to Mountain Brook is the most technically challenging of the entire ride with several miles of ATV trails, one fording of the river, one long abandoned road bridge, and one hike-a-bike through what I call “snake alley” although to be fair I haven’t seen any snakes there yet. It also has some railroad history that I would love to explore some day as there are not one, but two different abandoned (only the supports are left) railroad bridges side by side over the Cahaba on this section.

I was hoping to find the abandoned road that leads to the abandoned bridge, but it went through a dense forest with tons of treefall. Apparently the ATVs prefer the super steep powerline trail, so nobody has gotten back there to clear out the trees on the old road grade. I think this may have been US Hwy 78 many, many years ago. Evidence for this is the following 1959 USGS map which has been digitized and is available on store.usgs.gov – the historical maps are awesome, but for this section they only go back as far as 1959 and Hwy 78 had already been built. It does show three houses and a road at the spot where the abandoned Cahaba River bridge is. This is a substantial bridge costing a ton of money to build, so I imagine it had to have been a major road at one time.

Abandoned road bridge over the Cahaba. As far as I know, it's the only road bridge that is abandoned. All the other abandoned bridges are either pedestrian or railroad bridges.Abandoned road bridge over the Cahaba. As far as I know, it’s the only road bridge that is abandoned on the upper section of the Cahaba. All the other abandoned bridges are either pedestrian or railroad bridges. On the lower section of the Cahaba, the Co Rd 29 bridge appears to have been abandoned recently.

1959 digitized historical USGS map annotated to show abandoned railroad bridges and abandoned road bridge over the Cahaba River.1959 digitized historical USGS map annotated to show abandoned railroad bridges and abandoned road bridge over the Cahaba River.

Section 3 – Suburbia
This next 27 mile section goes through Mountain Brook, Vestavia Hills, Hoover, Pelham, and Helena – hence the name “Suburbia”. Don’t let the name fool you, though, as some of the coolest features are on this section: three steep canoe landings, one crossing underneath three bridges over the Cahaba, one high pedestrian bridge (Hoover East), a 200 foot grassy dropoff that is rideable (Healthsouth Helicopter dropoff), a quarry, and finally riding out into Buck Creek. There is also a Cat 3 climb from river level. On this ride I did the Karl Daly climb and descended Grants Mill, but I would prefer to do the Grants Mill climb and descend Belmont for the Cahaba 400K next year as you can start the Grants Mill climb from literally in the river.

Section 4 – The Old Slab, the Cahaba National Wildlife Refuge, and the 1896 Fatal Train Wreck into the Cahaba
From Helena to West Blocton is where you spend the most time in the river with a long fording of the river at the Old Slab followed by swimming (optional) in the Cahaba at the National Wildlife Refuge to see the Cahaba River Lilies. After that, follow an abandoned rail-line to the remains of a 110 foot tall railroad trestle that was sabotaged in 1896 crashing a passenger train into the Cahaba killing more than 20 people. See 1896 Dallas morning news article (PDF) screenshot below:

Dec 28, 1896 Dallas Morning News frontpage coverage of the fatal Cahaba train wreck.Dec 28, 1896 Dallas Morning News frontpage coverage of the fatal Cahaba train wreck.

Michael Staley and I rode out to the Old Slab again on Memorial Day, and the place was pretty well packed with a lot of people enjoying the river from the surrounding communities of Pea Ridge and Green Pond.

Memorial Day at the Old Slab - pretty crowded!Memorial Day at the Old Slab – pretty crowded!

Past the Old Slab is the Cahaba National Wildlife Refuge. I had a blast swimming with the kids out to the lilies and cooling off in the river. Kristine later took the kids hiking to the lily overlook while I headed on towards Centreville and the next major attraction – the Cahaba Lookout firetower.

Swimming with the kids in the Cahaba River at the Cahaba River Naitonal Wildlife Refuge outside West Blocton.Swimming with the kids in the Cahaba River at the Cahaba River Naitonal Wildlife Refuge outside West Blocton.

Section 5 – Centreville and the Cahaba Lookout Tower

From West Blocton, the route turns south heading to AL-25 and Centreville crossing the Cahaba in two places – the US Hwy 82 bridge and the older bridge near Centreville high school. Centreville is significant for a number of reasons, but as far as the Cahaba goes, it is near the northern extent of alligator sightings. Closer down to the Alabama river, though, they are seen on a more regular basis. For me, the highlight of this section is the Cahaba Lookout tower, an abandoned (but still maintained) fire tower at the top of a ridge overlooking the Cahaba River valley and numerous other ridges and hills.

I had left Kristine at the NWR to go hiking with the kids, and so I reached the fire tower dirt road ahead of them and was giving her directions to find the tower. It essentially is “follow the main dirt road”, but there is one split where the main road looks like it goes to the right, when in fact the county road (CR 51) is the left split – see instagram pic above.

My family at the Cahaba Lookout Tower. Epic.My family at the Cahaba Lookout Tower. Epic.

Josiah at the top of the Cahaba Lookout Tower.Josiah at the top of the Cahaba Lookout Tower. The house with cleared area around it in the background is adjacent to Co Rd 51, which is the climb to get up to this tower. The gap in the ridge behind Josiah’s head is the Harrisberg Rd to get to the Harrisberg bridge over the Cahaba.

Section 6 – Tower to Tower
This 27 mile section goes from the fire tower to the birding tower. It veers north first on some dirt roads to reach the Jericho bridge and then back south to hit the birding tower. From the fire tower to the end, there aren’t as many bridges over the Cahaba because of how wide the river has grown and how wide the marshy areas extend on either side of the river. Since I was running really far behind schedule and still wanted to make it to the end, I decided to cut out the Jericho bridge and head straight down to Sprott (downhill and fast) to pick up the Cahaba at its big flood plain next to AL-14. I stopped my Garmin there and hopped in the car with Kristine and the kids to cross the Cahaba on the AL-14 bridge and head back north to the birding tower on the opposite side of the Cahaba from Sprott. Since this section would have been 10 miles there and 10 miles back again, this saved us close to an hour. The birding tower is pretty cool, but the access to it is just as cool. You head down this gravel road with cool side trails such as “Devil’s Walking Stick Trail” until you reach the Secret Lake trail. One of the reasons it is a “Secret Lake” is because it is actually a swamp with huge trees growing up out of the water making it practically invisible from satellite or plane. The first bridge you cross on the hike is a covered suspension bridge. Then you take a bridge out over the edge of the swamp to reach the birding tower itself. Even from 100 feet up, you are not above the highest trees but you do have a good view. Also, there aren’t birds – but that could be because of the time of day and how much noise we were making.

Josiah and I at the top of the 100 ft tall birding tower. Note how the tree behind us is even taller!Josiah and I at the top of the 100 ft tall birding tower. Note how the tree behind us is even taller!

Section 7 – the Cahaba River flood plain to the Alabama River
This last section is flat and fast for the first half, but then quite hilly towards the end as you hit bluffs from both the Cahaba River and the Alabama River. I stayed on AL-14 skipping the Co Rd 6 bridge over the Cahaba and the abandoned Co Rd 29 bridge. I took the US-80 bridge and then headed south on Co Rd 45 to Co Rd 189, a fun road that starts out as dirt and then turns into this really fun pavement to ride because it has ruts and jumps, but the pavement itself is still very smooth. At the end of this road is short jaunt over the final Cahaba River bridge on AL-22 just outside of Selma and then the newly repaved Co Rd 9 to take you down to Cahaba Rd and the finish at the ghost town of Cahawba (the original capital of Alabama).

Finally, I took 403 pictures and videos along the route. Check out the pics on this new website I created called “pickuta.com” which is an interactive photo mapping website. https://pickuta.com/album/27

pickuta.com interactive album of photos for this ride. Check it out at https://pickuta.com/album/27pickuta.com interactive album of photos for this ride. Check it out at https://pickuta.com/album/27

Skyway Epic and Tour de Tuscaloosa Double Header

Skyway 2016 Men's 100 podium. Left-to-right: Jeff Clayton, Brian Toone, and Hefin JonesSkyway 2016 100 mile podium. Left-to-right: Jeff Clayton, Brian Toone, and Hefin Jones. I was freezing cold after the race so I donned a skull cap and my winter jacket thinking I’d take it off right before the podium but then my zipper was stuck and I couldn’t get the jacket off. Oh well!!! Shout out to my team Friends of the Great Smokies.

Skyway Epic 2016 100 miler
I’m happy to report a win – my first win in a long time – at the 2016 Skyway Epic 100 mile mtb race. Race director Brent Marshall introduced a new format this year where the 100 milers got a 2 hour headstart on the 60 milers so that we could all finish at the same time. This was super helpful to me as I caught 60 milers later in the race which gave me motivation to push it hard since I was no longer alone out there on the trail. Unusually cold weather saw us start with steam rising off Lake Howard and temps dipping all the way down to freezing at the start.

Chilly 32 degF at the start of the 2016 Skyway Epic 100 mile race.Chilly 32 degF at the start of the 2016 Skyway Epic 100 mile race.

At the start, I took off like a rabbit getting the holeshot with Jeff close on my wheel. I rode as fast as I could on the singletrack, but he wanted to go a bit faster so after the goat trail he came around and put a little bit of time into me on the remaining singletrack. I could see him up ahead any time the trail went uphill and I would close a bit by crushing the hill as hard as possible before he would put more time into me on the downhills and turns. I was still within shouting distance and quickly caught up on the doubletrack so that we entered the creek crossing together.

Behind us came the lead singlespeeder who went flying by us on the steep hill on the other side of the creek as we spun up it in easier gears. Jeff and I took turns rotating on the front as we flew up and down the hills of Wiregrass road eventually catching the singlespeeder near the start of the long cat 2 climb to the top of Bull’s Gap. I pushed the pace really hard through here hoping to get as much of a lead on the climb as possible to be able to hold onto it on some of the tricky descents across the top. Immediately after the 1830′ high point on the skyway is a short, fast steep descent with large rocks and ruts. You have to find a good line, and I did not. I just plowed over everything. I didn’t take this as a good sign, or perhaps it worked out to be a good wake-up call as I took really good lines the rest of the day.

Good Lines
This stood out to me as one of the best parts of the race — the tricky uphill climbs with rocks and ruts where you normally dread bouncing over the smaller rocks and losing momentum. Normally, I weave all over the place trying to find the perfect line. But this year I decided to take a more direct approach. Sometimes it was clear that the best line was on the side of the trail. But other places, the best line was right through the middle of the rocks where I discovered that many times there would be a small gap where you could ride between rocks or the rocks would be smooth enough that it was less energy to ride over them than to try to maneuver across to the other side of the trail.

Also, I tried to make good use of the updrafts on some of the climbs. If the climb was smooth enough, I would lock out the fork, stand up, and do the top of the climb standing up to maximize surface area from the wind blowing up the climbs. Then as soon as I reached either a bumpier section of the climb or the top, I would unlock the fork so that I could have the security and efficiency of the front tire staying on the ground instead of bouncing up in the air. I was happy with a few of the descents, but it is tough with a hard tail to feel secure enough to rail the corners knowing that your wheels could bounce up and wash out.

USGS map (2014) showing the second section of the skyway up Talladega Mountain from the RR crossing in the bottom left to the Gunterstown Rd crossing at Clairmont Gap in the upper right of the map. Click to enlarge and find cemeteries on the map.USGS map (2014) showing the second section of the skyway up Talladega Mountain from the RR crossing in the bottom left to the Gunterstown Rd crossing at Clairmont Gap in the upper right of the map. Click to enlarge and find cemeteries on the map.

Talladega Mountain
Talladega Mountain is not in the USGS summit database (probably an accidental omission), but it is labeled on the USGS printed maps – both the old ones and the new ones. But because it isn’t in the USGS summit database, the label doesn’t show up on Google Maps terrain view, Openstreetmap terrain view, or my topocreator maps. But when Brent posted the map of the race course outlined on a scanned USGS printed map, I saw the name of it plastered right there on the map over the entire ridgeline making up the Skyway-2 section of the race. This entire stretch of the skyway is a 4 mile climb up Talladega Mountain followed by a shorter 1.5 mile descent down to Clairmont Gap. This section of the skyway is not quite as well maintained. Others may be able to speak to this better than I, but I imagine the reason why the first section is better maintained is that there is a lookout tower and abandoned picnic area at the top of Horn Mountain on the first section of the skyway. I imagine 20, 30, 40, or 50 years ago it was probably a popular outing from Talladega or Sylacauga or even Birmingham to drive down and then drive up the dirt road to the tower. Talladega Mountain, on the other hand, doesn’t have anything at the top. This section of the skyway simply serves as a rugged shortcut to get over to Gunterstown, but there is a paved road through the valley that is much faster so there is no real reason to maintain this section of the skyway other than as a fire road for the national forest and the Pinhotti trail, which crosses it a couple times.

The end result is these awesome, massive ruts right down the middle of the road. These are not ruts from vehicles, but rather a single rain channel rut. It is deep enough in places that if you get stuck on the wrong side of the rut, you have to climb off and hop over to the other side. This happened to David Potter and I last year during the race. This year I was able to guess the correct side and correct place to cross the ruts and didn’t have to hop off, although I think there was one place that was really tight that I squeezed through barely. Also, on the climb up Talladega Mountain, which starts immediately after the RR track crossing, I heard the train horn and was hoping that I was far enough ahead that everyone else would be caught behind it and have to wait. I think I had been on the climb for 5-10 minutes, though, so it’s likely that Jeff was already on the climb. It must have been a close call, though, as my gap was 6 minutes at the next aid station a few miles later at the Gunterstown crossing.

Skyway Section 3
The third section of the skyway is really well maintained as there is some private property in the middle of it not too far from Burgess Point. I imagine there was a clause written into the law which created the Cheaha Wilderness and Talladega National Forest that existing property owners could keep their land. There were “for sale” signs along the skyway. The entire section is road bikeable and makes for some great Rouge Roubaix training. On a mountain bike, you can absolutely fly through here although there is some loose gravel that is just deep enough to offer extra resistance but not enough to cause fishtailing on a mountain bike. On a road bike, be prepared to take good lines and avoid the deeper gravel or you are going down!

One of the ways that I trained for Race Across America was to ride out to Cheaha and back. Visible at several spots along my normal routes out to Cheaha is the skyway epic ridge line, which I would almost always cross at either Gunterstown or Adams Gap or both. The shortest possible distance for any of these rides from my house in Hoover is 180+ miles. Gunterstown and Adams Gap and the main Cheaha highway (AL-281) are all on those routes and also on the Skyway Epic race course, but sections 1 and 2 are not road bikeable so my only association with the first two sections of the skyway are with the race itself. This third section of the skyway and the Cheaha parkway are deeply ingrained with memories from super long road rides. This can be both a blessing and a curse. The blessing is that it makes for some fun memories and distraction from the pain during the race. The curse is that I’ve been on those roads when I’ve been way past the point of exhaustion so during a race on the same roads you do have some negative reinforcement as you are trying to dig even deeper into the pain cave.

The turnaround and the way back
The turnaround was at the Pinhotti trail parking area near the turnipseed primitive campground entrance. This is where I parked my car when I everested Mount Cheaha from the west back in December 2014. At the turnaround aid station, I dumped my trash and ate my first powergel and hammer gel. I didn’t get any water as I still had a full bottle of gatorade. I figured I would drink this until Aid Station #3 on the way back up Horn Mountain. This was a bit of a mistake as it had gotten hotter and I ran out of gatorade before making it to the aid station. Still, it wasn’t long that I had to ration and I was able to refill at Aid #3. Altogether because of the cooler than normal temperatures, I only drank three bottles – 60 oz total – of fluid during the 7 hour 24 minute race.

At the turnaround, I hit my lap button so I could time how long it was back to Jeff. My timer hit 4’45” when I passed him heading the other way. I kid you not – I spent at least 20, maybe 30, minutes trying to figure out what that translated into in terms of an actual time gap based on the terrain he was traversing (mostly downhill) vs the terrain I was traversing (mostly uphill). My estimate of the time gap was 6-7 minutes, which I think was pretty close based on the splits Stewart Miller had written down at aid station #4. I was starting to feel more confident that I was pulling away, but there is no real way to know for sure so I just kept on it as hard as I could. I was encouraged every time I saw my heartrate make it back up into the 160s on a climb. Also, once I hit the 65 mile course turnaround I started seeing and passing racers again. This was encouraging and motivating as many of them shouted encouragement as I passed.

Final singletrack and flat tire
My goal was to bury it as much as possible before the singletrack knowing that even if I was exhausted I would still be able to ride the singletrack at about the same speed because of all the turns. I also wanted to have as much of a gap as possible so I could take the singletrack at a safe speed and not crash and make things worse. I also wanted to pick good lines on the singletrack to avoid the sharp tire-slicing rocks. Still, I was coming around a corner and hit something, and I immediately I heard the “psffffft” of air leaking from my rear tire. Also, I felt tire sealant splashing on my back. I kept riding hoping that the tire would seal itself, and it did! I was low on air in the rear tire so I rode even slower on the singletrack to make sure that I didn’t get a second puncture or cut on the tire. Finally, after an hour of singletrack, I made it back to the start in first place!!!!!!!!!

Wildlife
I saw two different small herds of deer on the way out … one of them was in the trail when I was coming around a corner on a descent. I thought it was a 4wd vehicle, and since I was cutting the corner pretty bad I slammed on the brakes and nearly lost control as I tried to get back on the right side of the road before I realized it was deer jumping off the trail. I didn’t see any hunters this year, as I guess it’s not peak turkey season yet. I don’t remember any birds specifically, but I have a vague recollection of seeing a few. I also didn’t see any turtles unlike the year when there was a giant one in the middle of the singletrack at the start of the race … “turtle!”

Summary data 2012-2016
Click on past years to see the race report for that year. Also, last year’s temp swing is correct as measured by my Garmin in the full sun on the climb back up Horn Mountain since there is no shade. Actual air temp was probably in the 80s degF. Last year’s race was by far the hardest because of the heat and distance and having ridden to the start from Birmingham and then attempting to ride home afterwards for 185 miles on the bike that day!

Year Place Distance Climbing Avg/MaxHR Zone5 AvgSpd TempSwing Suffer
2016 1st !!! 100.4 mi 10,325 ft 154/177 00:04:13 13.5 mph 32-68degF 522
2015 2nd (David Potter) 107.6 mi 11,483 ft 151/179 00:04:56 13.1 mph 46-104degF 629
2014 Did not race – bad crash into side of car – week of race spent in hospital
2013 2nd (Kyle Taylor) 58.3 mi ~5,500 ft 167/189 01:19:17 14.0 mph 68-77degF 420
2012 2nd (Adam Gaubert) 59.4 mi ~5,500 ft 165/193 00:45:41 14.4 mph 64-86degF 218

One of the takeaways from this data is that I’m getting old, and ultra endurance riding has dramatically lowered my heartrate. Perhaps because ultra endurance riding changes your muscles so that it doesn’t have to beat as fast to pump out the same volume of blood? In any case, to think of spending nearly 1 hour 20 minutes in zone 5 is nuts right now. Here is my annotated heartrate data from this year’s race:

hrsummary-skyway2016Annotated heartrate zone summary from the 2016 Skyway Epic 100 mile mtb race. I hit my lap timer at the halfway point so I could time my gap to Jeff. The side effect of this is that I’ve got my exact outbound vs inbound times for the race – 3:46:58 (13.2 mph) on the way out and 3:37:38 (13.9 mph) on the way back in.

Annotated HR plot from the 2016 Skyway Epic 100 mile mtb race. Click to enlarge and see detail.Annotated HR plot from the 2016 Skyway Epic 100 mile mtb race. Click to enlarge and see detail.

Finally, here is an annotated topocreator map of the entire Skyway Epic ridge line up to Mount Cheaha. Click to enlarge and see detail.Finally, here is an annotated topocreator map of the entire Skyway Epic ridge line up to Mount Cheaha. Click to enlarge and see detail.

Tour de Tuscaloosa Double Header
Having gotten up early to get to the 7AM start on time, I went to bed pretty early Saturday night and set my alarm for 2:30AM so I could ride the 71 miles from Birmingham to Romulus (west of Tuscaloosa) for the Tour de Tuscaloosa road race. I was very slow getting everything ready and didn’t make it out the door until 3:48AM. I had to book it to make it there in time but fortunately there was a southeasterly wind blowing which was a crosswind at the beginning and cross-tailwind by the end. I averaged close to 17 mph on the way there and was going to be there in plenty of time, except I got confused about where the registration was. I thought it was at a church near the intersection of 5 mile Dirt Rd and Romulus Rd. So I panicked and eventually just started riding around like a chicken with its head cut off in all three possible directions from that intersection. With no cellphone coverage I couldn’t look anything up either so I gambled after briefly checking the two options I thought were least likely and committed to the third option which I knew took you into the main part of town. I made it to the registration desk by 8:16AM for the 8:30AM start. I was preregistered so all I had to do was pin two numbers onto my jersey. By the time I got my numbers on and took all my extra lights off my helmet and bike, I rode straight up to the start where Stuart Lamp helped me ziptie the timing chip to my seatpost immediately before another official gave us our final instructions and sent us on our way. Perfect timing!

I put in the first attack after the neutral zone hoping that people wouldn’t take it seriously and I would be long up the road by the time the real break went and caught up to me. Unfortunately, that didn’t work so well and I drifted to the back missing the real break when it eventually went. There was a great chance to bridge up on this hill near a church, but nobody attacked and I was blocked in. In fact, I almost had a clear shot at it but I would have had to cross the yellow line to clear one rider who was just a fraction too far to the left for me to squeeze between him and the yellow line. Ugh. Probably for the best, though, because I felt terrible later in the race and I think it would have been even more depressing to get dropped from the winning break rather than miss the break altogether. All-in-all, it was a fun race and really great to see racers I haven’t seen in a while. One really special reunion was chatting with Trey Pounds who I had met and stayed with on my ride back from Natchez, MS to Birmingham, AL as a test run to test the feasibility of me racing RAAM.

Annotated heartrate from the Tour de Tuscaloosa road race plus the ride there from Hoover.Annotated heartrate from the Tour de Tuscaloosa road race plus the ride there from Hoover.