Category Archives: Adventure

Everesting Smyer

It may have taken over 25 miles longer than we had planned, but Luke Caldwell and I successfully completed an everesting of what may arguably be the most scenic and iconic climb in the Birmingham area – Smyer Road. Here’s a quick look at the numbers:

Distance:250.0 mi
Total elevation gain:30,102 ft
Total elapsed time:19:20:35
Total moving time:17:32:48
Total stopped time:1:47:47
Number of laps:87
Elevation gain per lap:346 ft
Distance per lap:2.87 mi
Average time per lap:12′ 6″
Fastest lap:11′ 05″
Slowest lap:14′ 40″
Friends who rode laps with us:TOO MANY TO COUNT!
Statistics from our everesting of Smyer Road on 9/4/2020

Thanks so much to everyone who came out and rode with us. We started out at midnight by ourselves and rode for 5 hours without seeing a single soul. Then starting from about 5am, we started seeing cyclists, walkers, joggers, and a few cars. It wasn’t until much later in the morning that the number of cars we saw started to catch up with the number of people, but I’m not sure if it ever did fully catch up. In other words, we saw either the same or more people on bikes or walking than cars driving during our entire everesting! Our Strava “fly-by” list has 170 people on it. Not all of those people rode with us, but I’d guesstimate we saw 150 people and rode with maybe 75 or more?

Thank you again to each and EVERY person who came out to see us and support us and bring us food and drinks. So awesome!!!! I cannot possibly thank or remember every single person who came out, but I did want to thank some people specifically with big shout outs – Greg Caldwell (Luke’s dad) rode with us for exactly half of the laps completing his first half-everesting – 14,600 feet! And he also supported us with food and sausage, egg, and cheese mcgriddle hand-ups.

Stuart Roberts came out super early and was the first person to join us for quite a few laps. Then he came back later and brought us some much needed Starbucks drinks. Also, joining us early were my TNGA / Skyway brothers (and sister) Josh Waldrop, Jason Bierley, and Audrey Tangey riding with us for a few early morning laps with Jason coming back later for a couple more laps. Then we had group after group rolling through on their way to different morning group rides … it was soooo awesome. But I don’t know about Luke, but I was really struggling by late afternoon as it was getting hotter and there weren’t many cyclists out at all. There weren’t any specific pains for me, but my legs were just tired. I think the weight of the Salsa Cutthroat and the rolling resistance of 2.2″ tires was really starting to catch up to me.

So big shout out to the last two people who joined us and turned what would have been two hours of miserable slogging into a much quicker two hours of chatting and joking and having fun again. First, Rick Swagler surprised us catching up to us from behind after we passed his driveway. He and his family had been out on their porch almost all morning ringing cowbells and cheering at us from 75 feet above the road (it’s a VERY steep hill – thankfully our road snaked up it instead of going straight up it). We joked with him that we were thinking he was waiting until he saw us walking our bikes by his house (instead of riding) to join us. And he did in fact join us at just the right time when we were going quite a bit slower compared to the earlier laps when we were flying by. We were fading quickly so that was a great boost.

And then maybe three or four laps later, William Seitz came flying down the descent and immediately turned around to join us for many laps. It was great talking about racing and bikes and remembering back to specific races that we’ve all done. Plus, William can fly down descents like no other so we stepped it up a notch on the descents. And going fast always makes everything better. William had to head out on our next-to-last lap though as the sun had set a lap earlier. So Luke and I started out together in the dark and we finished in the dark after sunset … it was a full sunrise-sunset ride…it was epic!!!

A big kudos to Luke completing his first everesting having come so close once before!

Smyer Road in context of my life … I was born in Montclair Hospital a long time ago, live at the other end of the map in Hoover, work in the middle at Samford University, with my son also born in the middle at Brookwood Baptist, and Smyer Road climbing up to the long ridge line overlooking it all … now everested completely for the first time. To put the everesting in perspective, the tracking markers on this website are only recorded once every 10 minutes. That means that in order to get that many tracking markers to completely line the entire road we everested, we had to spend a LOT of time on that road!!! It was worth it. It was epic. View and zoom in on an interactive map here: https://pickuta.com/album/191

“We ride at midnight” – TNGA and CRAAM 2020

One of my favorite songs on the Hamilton soundtrack is “Right Hand Man”, which introduces General George Washington. In that song it talks about the long odds the Americans face in revolution and how Washington needs someone to help him organize and strategize, which ends up being Hamilton. There is an off-beat line towards the middle of the song that says “We ride at midnight”. Well, that struck a chord with me because on this most recent cycling adventure, I started several rides close to midnight. And on top of that, the undertaking of riding close to 1500 miles in a week ending with a very tough unsupported race to get back home seemed like long odds indeed [it ended up being a bit less than that … but I didn’t know as I was leaving my house at midnight that there would be a few of our CRAAM rides cut short due to severe weather].

What does Hamilton have to do with anything? The soundtrack got me through several sections of the TNGA course and even that first night riding up to meet CRAAM in Hamilton, Alabama where I was unexpectedly sleepy towards sunrise having only slept an hour before leaving at midnight. It is 2 hours 23 minutes long. I started measuring parts of the course in terms of Hamiltons. The opening section is just a single Hamilton (started somewhere on the long opening Overflow Creek climb). Tray Mountain was surprisingly only one Hamilton as well. From Helen all the way over to Coopers Creek it was getting very hot so I was shade navigating and needed quiet to hear cars approaching from ahead or behind with a lot of advance notice. After Coopers Creek, the next obstacle is Stanley Gap which ended up being less than a single Hamilton. That was nuts to me given that I normally hit that section very tired, very sleepy in the middle of the night. It was still daytime approaching sunset and it was a million times faster (specifically 34 minutes faster on the climb and 22 minutes faster on the descent … plus it was actually fun instead of torture). This was a big psychological boost for me and I made it all the way to the Cohutta climb with enough light to ride without lights to the vending machine right before the gravel part of the climb. Cohutta itself was a little bit more than one Hamilton as I ended up doing a good part of the descent in silence. No more Hamilton after that until the Snake, which ended up being two complete Hamiltons (I was expecting three). And then the last Hamilton ended up being quite a bit later after sneaking by the German Shepherd on Simms Mountain Trail. Prior to that I Book of Mormon’d the Taylor’s Ridge climb accidentally blaring it riding right through somebody’s campsite where the trail dumps out onto the dirt road before the descent on top of the ridge … it was midnight.

Enough about Hamilton, how did I get there? When my good friend Stephen Peters from Tour De Bicycling told me that he and Seana Hogan were planning a Cruise Across America (CRAAM) this summer since Race Across America was canceled, I knew that I couldn’t do the whole thing with them but wanted to join for the Alabama and Georgia sections. I wasn’t sure how much I could ride with them, though, with the logistics of racing Trans North Georgia (TNGA) and a camp for my son in Colorado.

But then my son broke two of his fingers in a bike race, which meant the Colorado camp and my corresponding training on the Tour Divide trail wasn’t going to happen. I switched over to a backup plan to ride a lot of the gravel forest roads in the Southeast. This meant that I would have a little more free time since I wouldn’t have to travel out to Colorado and back. So when the time came for CRAAM to make it through Alabama, I jumped at the chance to ride up and meet and ride with them all the way to the end in Savannah. Plus, since I could do TNGA as an ITT (individual time trial) this year, I decided I could ride straight up to the start of TNGA from Savannah, and then do TNGA to make my way back home.

This meant that most of my riding in July came in two big trips as summarized below:

July 6-10 Mini-tour of the Gravel Southeast: 1058 miles
July 21-30 Joining CRAAM for Alabama and Georgia followed by TNGA+: 1309 miles

You can read all about the first trip here: Mini Tour of the Southeast. But first, since logistics were such an integral part to this adventure, I have summarized day-by-day the timing of everything as well as included maps showing this most recent trip (note that this is just the 1309 miles of this adventure and doesn’t include the 1058 mile long minitour which overlapped a lot of the same areas).

Maps

The first map below is all the routes on a regular Google Map. Here is the color coding for the routes:

CRAAM Bianchi Teal
Commute to TNGA Yellow
TNGA Red
Home from TNGA Blue

Color coded map of this 1309 mile trip. The gaps during CRAAM are not included in the mileage as that would have taken it up over 1500 miles.

The second map is the same as the first, but showing counties instead. This is my fifth try at the map as it was missing a couple counties on the first few tries.

County topo maps of all the routes. Same color scheme for the routes as previous map.

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