Cheaha Challenge 2020




This has been quite the year to remember. Coronavirus has changed up everybody’s lives and plans. And now we are seeing and hopefully participating in a movement to bring change to the systems of racial inequality that have lingered on for far too long.

This year’s Cheaha Challenge got hit by the coronavirus with postponement until next year (Cheaha Challenge 2021 is going to be epic!!!). I started writing this blog on May 21st after getting back from my tenth Cheaha ride of 2020. Since I started writing, I’ve already added one more time up Cheaha to the list! Yesterday, Saturday 6/20, we completed a Father’s Day group ride from Birmingham to Cheaha and back. Check out the details at the end of the list. Each one had been such an adventure that I had wanted to write up a blog about each one, but could never find the time. So I then decided to expand that blog to relate some stories and thoughts from each of those adventures.

Setting my sights on the Tour Divide in 2021, I wanted to do a lot more mountain biking this year. So after an epic road biking adventure into the bayous of Mississippi, Louisiana, and Alabama early in the year, I switched over to my dual suspension Trek Fuel Ex and started adventuring!

It soon became clear to me that this bike was not going to be the optimal bike for the Tour Divide. The Fuel Ex handles all the really rough stuff well, but it is heavy, and with so much climbing I spent a lot of time with both suspensions locked out. So towards the middle of March, I bought the bike specifically made for the Tour Divide itself and bikepacking adventures that most of my riding/racing has switched over to after getting hit by too many cars.

Here’s a summary of all my 2020 Cheaha adventures with short summary after Strava link. Hover over each picture to see a caption for that picture.

Feb 22, 2020
Black Creek NICA pre-ride via Cheaha – First NICA race this year in Gadsden. Met family for pre-ride in afternoon by leaving at midnight. Super fun to run into Brad Cox leading the first Cheaha climbing camp ride. Average temp for the 16 hour ride was 34 degF. Cold. 167.32 miles
Mar 7, 2020 Fort McClellan pre-ride via vesclub, double oak, skyway, Cheaha, campingdon, and moorman – Second (and final) race of the year. This one wasn’t quite as far away from home so I got to explore a bit more riding the skyway and within Fort Mcllelan itself. Average temp still in the 30s for 17 hour ride. With four more races on the NICA calendar, we had no idea that this would be the last race of the season. 170.65 miles
Mar 9, 2020 Skyway-1, -2, and -3 on the way to Cheaha plus Sylaward singletrack – Little did I know how much was about to change because of Covid-19. This was a hard ride, felt more like training instead of adventuring. It was quite lonely. Besides the random truck I passed on skyway-1, I saw zero people and cars for nearly 65 miles from the Lake Howard singletrack to the top of Cheaha. Somewhat surprising given the time of day for that stretch was from about 330pm to 9pm. 201.08 miles
Mar 14, 2020 Skyway on the salsa with Josh and Jason – Epic adventure including a very long muddy hike-a-bike on my brand new Salsa Cutthroat through the woods alongside (and on) Wiregrass Rd on my way to meet Josh and Jason. It was so cold on the way over (50 degF in shorts and short sleeves for six hours) and then so hot on my way back home (90 degF). Spring in Alabama. We ran into a great epic group of riders training for the Cheaha Challenge – my third time running into the Cheaha climbing ride! 203.06 miles
Mar 21, 2020 White Gap plus home via Cheaha quick – This was a fun exploration of Rebecca Mountain. I’ve seen the sign for “White Gap” many times while riding by on AL-148 towards Bulls Gap, and wondered what the climb would be like. Super steep! This was another cold ride too (for Alabama in March) with the temp dropping down into the low 40s for the last 7 hours of the ride. I was in shorts and short sleeves. Fast ride, only stopped for 22 minutes total. 201.45 miles
Mar 28, 2020 Flagg night adventure plus lots of Rebecca and Skyway adventuring in an intricate loop – This was a fun one, climbing Flagg Mountain in the middle of the night and then making my way over to White Gap before climbing up Bull Gap from the backside from down in Hatchet Creek plus literally climbing partway up a tree at the end to reach the 1040 foot minimum for a Cat 2 climb. Unfortunately, Strava doesn’t use your elevation data if enough people have ridden in the area. So it didn’t count as a Cat 2! 207.68 miles
Apr 4, 2020 Rebecca mountain epic plus there and back again – This was the date the Skyway Epic was supposed to be held, but with the coronavirus postponing the race until the fall, we decided to do a modified version of the course to avoid the Sylaward trails which were also closed at the time. I routed us up and over Rebecca Mountain at White Gap before hitting the normal skyway course out to Cheaha and back. I also rode to the start from my house and back home afterward for 210 miles on the day with the middle 7.5 hours at “lights out” race pace. 209.58 miles
Apr 13, 2020 Skyway loop sans skyway – Brent Marshall sent a great route for me to try with new roads past Ohatchee I hadn’t ridden before. Lots of debris on Chief Ladiga and I hit a branch that stabbed through the tire leaving a 1cm wide hole. Miraculously, the sealant filled the hole, but I was already pushing timing enough to make it back to sleep and prep for class that any excuse to skip the skyway was all I needed to do the skyway bypasses (all three)… hence “sans skyway”. 244.53 miles
May 13, 2020 Cheaha via Noccalula Falls … and Georgia – First extended ride without my backpack … using my Salsa framebag instead getting ready for Tour Divide. Soooo cold without my backpack, but I did make it 257 miles without it. It was so nice later in the day when it got hot. I brought my neck gaiter to act like a lightweight easy to stuff vest but otherwise was in shorts and shortsleeves for close to 6 hours of temps in the mid to upper 40s. Chilly! Then almost hit 90 later, hot! 257.49 miles
May 21, 2020 Spontaneous Cheaha ride – this was a few days after the 2020 Cheaha Challenge was supposed to happen except for the society/life altering coronavirus. I had just done a big ride to Cheaha the week before, but then I got the new Cheaha Challenge kit in the mail and decided I wanted to do a big part of the ride in that kit. I didn’t have the time to do the whole course (almost 300 miles round trip from my house), but I rode some of my favorite parts including the climb from Chinnabee and both gravel sides of Bains Gap (Campington and Moorman). It was epic! 202.51 miles
June 20, 2020 Father’s Day Cheaha Epic – Stuart Roberts organized this Father’s Day ride on Facebook, and we had a great turnout. About 15 of us rode to Cheaha, and we took the “northerly” route which I don’t use often and had a few roads that I had only ridden once before. It was great to share lots of adventures from that ride and previous rides with all the dads on the ride. It was the longest ride ever for several riders, and the summer heat of the longest day of the year was epic climbing up Vandiver near the end of the ride. Kudos to everyone! 207.75 miles
Eleven 2020 rides on or near the Cheaha Challenge Ultra course.

While the Cheaha Challenge may not be happening this year, many, many riders have had adventures all over the mountain. Personally, I’ve ridden new routes to/from the mountain and used Cheaha as an intermediate point on destinations where in the past I would never dreamed of riding over Cheaha “along the way”. The 2021 challenge is less than 11 months away. Lots of adventures to be had between now and then plus the 2021 challenge is going to be epic!

About half the electronic equipment to power these adventures and bring home the data.


2 responses to “Cheaha Challenge 2020”

  1. Joe Randall Avatar
    Joe Randall

    Great write up. Inspiring adventures. Good riding with you on the Dad’s ride.

  2. Brooke Nelson Avatar

    Love your commitment to this sport, and of course to our ride, the Cheaha Challenge & ULTRA. And dang, our 2020 kit looks good on you! Thanks, Brian

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