Category Archives: Adventure

Thanksgiving Adventure

Michigan! 706 miles from Hoover, Alabama to New Buffalo, Michigan in two days!Michigan! 706 miles from Hoover, Alabama to New Buffalo, Michigan in two days!

It has been a while since I’ve posted here, so I’m happy to be back with quite the adventure – a 706 mile ride from my home in Hoover, Alabama to New Buffalo, Michigan at the Northern Indiana border to meet my family for Thanksgiving in La Porte, Indiana. I started this post a few days after finishing the ride, but it has taken a while to fill in all the details given how busy life has gotten recently. Kristine and the kids drove up on Monday (11/19/16), but I had to teach on Monday and Tuesday. We decided that I could just ride up there after my classes on Tuesday and then drive back home with them after Thanksgiving. Little did I know how challenging that would turn out to be. Below the stats and videos, I give a state-by-state summary of the ride.

di2stats.com shift map - Alabama to Michigandi2stats.com – interactive shift map and data from the ride – https://di2stats.com/rides/view/21752

Timelapse video from first “day”:
Timelapse video from second “day” (no audio):

Vestavia Dr overlooking Samford University on my way into work.Vestavia Dr overlooking Samford University on my way into work.

Warm and sunny, Beautiful Alabama
I rode into work with all my clothes and supplies crammed into my backpack and taught my two classes. By about 12:30PM, I was on my way heading north. Most of campus was already deserted so I just rode right through campus and out one of the back bike/pedestrian only entrances straight into Homewood. It seemed surreal as I was riding familiar roads to think that I would be riding my bike for the next two days covering a drive that normally takes 11-12 hours. In fact, it seemed more overwhelming than any of the rides I’ve done recently. I didn’t have much time to think about that, though, as lunch time traffic was awful through Homewood and downtown Birmingham. I was taking AL-79, which I knew would be busy, but was the straightest, fastest way I could get to Huntsville. I had a nice tailwind and the road stayed 4 lanes until not too far from Locust Fork.

Riding to Kentucky tonight and just crossed the Swann Covered bridge..

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My original plan had been to take the low water bridge crossing outside Locust Fork, but I made the decision to alter the route and take the Swann Covered bridge instead. I had two reasons for this decision – 1) I was going to be crossing cool abandoned bridges later in the ride, so it would be good to throw in one of the more scenic Alabama bridges instead of the paved cement across the river (although that is pretty cool when it is flooded) and 2) I was making great time on AL-79 with its perfect pavement and tailwind. So at Cleveland, I detoured and crossed the Locust Fork of the Black Warrior River at the Swann covered bridge, one of three covered bridges in Blount County. This really didn’t add too much time, and it was nice to be on a nearly traffic-free road for a few miles before hitting Hwy 231 through Blountsville.

The simplest way to get to Huntsville from Birmingham is to take AL-79 up to Hwy 231 and follow Hwy 231 the rest of the way into Huntsville. There are literally zero turns as Hwy 231 joins AL-79 and then continues straight towards Huntsville whereas AL-79 veers right towards Guntersville near Cleveland. But AL-79 and Hwy 231 are both pretty busy roads with high speed limits and poor visibility in places due to all the hills. My preferred route is to take Co Rd 55 after Blountsville and head due north towards Holly Pond and Apple Grove Rd. The first time I road on Apple Grove Rd was during the Alabama state road race a few years ago. Nearly a year later, I ended up on the road again (by accident) as I was training for Race Across America 2015. I was 200 miles into a big loop up to the Tennessee border and coming back down from Huntsville when I suddenly recognized the road as the state road race course. Instead of turning to make a loop, I continued straight and after a couple miles encountered the “wall” – a 1/2 mile 15+% climb up to the Holly Pond plateau. Ever since then I’ve liked to incorporate this road into my route to/from Huntsville. Coming from Birmingham in the reverse direction, the Apple Grove wall is an incredibly fast and straight descent.

I was keeping up a good pace because of the tailwind and because of the desire to hit the Apple Grove Rd dropoff before sunset. As the sun dipped lower and the temperature started to drop, I started having a lot of negative thoughts realizing that the sun was going to set at 4:38PM and wouldn’t rise again until almost 6:30AM – that’s almost 14 hours of riding in the dark. I was wondering if I would have enough battery to last through the night on my front and rear lights. I was wondering if I had brought enough clothes (trying to save weight and anticipating rain, I had only brought my long sleeve rain jacket, a second pair of bibs, and a very lightweight wind vest). I was wondering if I was going to get rained on much earlier than anticipated. These thoughts and questions didn’t last too long, though, because 10-15 minutes after sunset I hit the Apple Grove dropoff, and a half minute / half mile 55 mph descent later I was feeling quite rejuvenated.

I made it back up to the top of Apple Grove Rd by the time it was really dark and was trying to figure out what to do clothing-wise because the temperature was fluctuating quite a bit with pockets of cold air in any low spot and warm air at any elevated areas. At top of the Tennessee River dropoff, I merged back onto Hwy 231 at the tail end of rush hour. Thankfully most of the traffic was leaving Huntsville instead of heading into it, but it was still tricky crossing the road to get to the northbound side. I ended up setting a KOM trying (unsuccessfully) to stay ahead of traffic on the descent. Still, I made it to the Tennessee River and was rattled enough by the traffic to abandon Hwy 231 as quickly as possible and cross the old abandoned bridge over a side channel of the river after crossing the main channel on the Hwy 231 bridge. Also, from the other side of the bridge I was able to hop on one of Huntsville’s greenways and take it a few miles north before veering off of it to get to downtown Huntsville.

By this point I had been out of food for quite a while and stopped at a CVS next to a McDonald’s so I could buy a micro-usb cable (mine wasn’t working because it has gotten so worn down). Then I went over to the McDonald’s to eat and put on warmer clothes. I was cold from the descent so I put on all the clothes I had, but it was too hot and I sweated a lot and unzipped everything by the time I made it to Alabama A & M University on the north side of Huntsville. From here, I had to battle heavy traffic on Hwy 431 north until I turned onto the first road that takes you over to Butler Rd, home of many road races and time trials over the years … so many memories!

A night time crossing of Tennessee
I followed Butler Rd north pretty much to the border (one jog right on stateline road), and Kristine called me literally as I was crossing over to Tennessee. By this point, it was well past sunset, dark, and rural. Pretty much zero traffic until I got closer to Tullahoma where the traffic started to pick up for a little bit before dying again as soon as I made it to the other side of the city. I left the city on a 4 lane state highway that was long, flat, and very straight. Right about the time I was starting to struggle with sleepiness, I got a phone call from my 2017 RAAM crew chief, Jeffrey White, who wanted to check on my progress. This was perfect timing as talking to him for a few minutes helped wake me right back up.

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State high point adventure to Tybee Island, Georgia

825 mile ride to the coast via 60,000 feet of climbing in 5 states, including 4 state high points!825 mile ride to the coast via 60,000 feet of climbing in 5 states, including 4 state high points!

5 states, 4 state high points, 34 counties, lots of adventure!5 states, 4 state high points, 34 counties, lots of adventure! Click to enlarge and see detail.

Title Distance Climbing Moving Time Elapsed Time
Day 1 – AL to GA
Mt Cheaha (2407′)
184.6 mi 14,365 ft 11:37:05 (15.9 mph) 13:13:58 (14.0 mph)
Day 2 – GA to NC
Brasstown Bald (4783′)
185.5 mi 18,392 ft 13:57:51 (13.3 mph) 17:36:48 (10.5 mph)
Day 3 – NC to TN to NC
Clingman’s Dome (6644′)
124.6 mi 13,619 ft 10:27:10 (11.9 mph) 11:56:45 (10.4 mph)
Day 4 – NC to SC to GA
Sassafras Mtn (3570′)
329.5 mi 13,593 ft 21:13:49 (15.5 mph) 30:59:00 (10.6 mph)
TOTALS 824.2 mi 59,963 ft 2 days, 9 hours (14.4 mph) 4 days, 5 hours (8.15 mph)

This past Sunday, I completed a nearly 825 mile ride with 60,000 feet of climbing from my home in Hoover, Alabama to our family beach vacation destination of Tybee Island, Georgia. These two locations aren’t 825 miles apart, but I wanted to try to ride to the highest points of Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, North Carolina, and South Carolina along the way. I had some mechanical issues at the beginning of the ride as an old crank bolt snapped off as I was climbing out of the neighborhood. Craig Tamburello came over early the next morning to fix it by replacing the bolt that had snapped, and I was on my way again by 8:45AM. I stayed in hotels or airbnbs on the first three nights with a good 6 hours of sleep each night and then briefly in Augusta (5 hours stopped, 3 hours sleep) in the middle of the last “day” of riding. Day 4 includes this hotel stop in the elapsed time, but the other days do not. The TOTALS row includes all of the hotel stops in the elapsed time column. This is well behind my RAAM pace, but I was also self supported carrying a heavy backpack on the hottest days of the year across the south. Also, I really wanted to enjoy the adventure of this ride so I took it easy and also turned around numerous times to get pics of interesting things after I passed them.

My original challenge was to make it to the other side of Georgia without going through Georgia! I was going to climb the highest point in Alabama (Mount Cheaha) and then head due north within Alabama crossing over into Tennessee and spending the night north of Chattanooga. The next day I would head through Tennessee dipping down briefly to climb the highest point in Georgia — Brasstown Bald before spending the night in Cherokee, North Carolina. The next day I would climb the highest points in Tennessee (Clingman’s Dome) and North Carolina (Mount Mitchell) on what would have probably been a 10,000 meter day of climbing. On the final day, I would cross the entire state of South Carolina in one day starting out by climbing to its highest point (Sassafras Mountain) on the border of North Carolina.

While the nearly 8 hour delay wasn’t insurmountable, the fact that I would be starting and riding entirely in the heat of the day on the HOTTEST day of the year for Alabama, I knew that my original plan was unrealistic. So while I was waiting for Craig to fix my bike, I made some major route changes that would still include all 5 state high points and chop out about 100 miles of riding. This plan started out fine, but it was really hot. I used heat sleeves on my arms and legs and stopped frequently to get ice and dump water all over me. This worked well, but by the end of the first day I was starting to see the onset of heat exhaustion. So as I was struggling on over into Georgia, I was already unsure of completing the modified route.

Cheaha – 2nd 10 pound bag of ice for the day. A lot of rural gas stations don't have ice machines!

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To stay on schedule, I would need to have a very short stop at the hotel in Cartersville, Georgia and start riding again in the early morning. By the time I made it to the hotel, I knew that a 3 hour sleep was unrealistic, so I decided to sleep in a bit to recover and rehydrate from the previous day’s riding. I knew that this would push me into the heat of the day on the second day, but I also knew that I would be getting up into the mountains where there would likely be thunderstorms. This turned out to be the perfect decision because by the time it started to get really hot in Dahlonega, Georgia the thunderstorms rolled in and blocked out the heat from the sun. I climbed all of Neel’s Gap in an absolute downpour. Other than the frequent lightning, it felt really great and had stopped raining by the top where I refueled at the Appalachian Trail store (home of the shoe tree).

Panorama looking north from the Brasstown Bald tower with the thunderstorm that had passed over clearing everybody out visible off to the northwest. I was alone on top of the mountain!Panorama looking north from the Brasstown Bald tower with the thunderstorm that had passed over clearing everybody out visible off to the northwest. I was alone on top of the mountain!

There were many more storms in the area, and it was really cool to see them from the top of Brasstown Bald, which I was able to ride all the way to the top because the thunderstorms had closed the park and everybody had left! And I mean everybody. I had the entire top of the mountain and parking lot to myself and was treated to some amazing sunset thunderstorm views. I still had a long way to ride and got caught by an even bigger thunderstorm outside of Franklin, North Carolina. Fortunately, I was near a church with a big outdoor carport area. I was able to hang out under the carport, recharge devices in an outdoor electrical socket, call the family and say goodnight to them before soldiering on to Cherokee, North Carolina arriving at 1:30AM.

Waiting out a thunderstorm outside Franklin, North Carolina.

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Again with doubt about completing the route, I thought about skipping Clingman’s Dome and Mount Mitchell and heading straight to Rosman where I already had an AirBnB reserved. After seeing that it was only 75 miles, I decided to do a 50 mile out/back up to the top of Clingman’s Dome from the hotel where I could leave most of the extra stuff from my backpack (electronics, clothes, etc…) and take only the essential tools. This made a huge difference as I really enjoyed the climb up Clingman’s and didn’t struggle at all with pain in my neck. Unfortunately, though, I had to get all my stuff and throw it in my backpack again and do another 4000 ft HC climb up to the top of Waterrock Knob and then another big HC climb up to the highest point on the Blue Ridge Parkway in order to get to Rosman – all of this with my heavy backpack. By this point out of sheer necessity, I had figured out a better way of distributing the weight in my backpack that helped ease some of the neck pain. Even so, I knew that riding the extra 100+ miles roundtrip up to Mount Mitchell was out of the question, so I opted to have a more leisurely ride into Rosman and get there before dark to rest before tackling the entire state of South Carolina the next day.

Made it – 4th state and third state high point in 3 days. 5th state and 4th state high point tomorrow.

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On the final day, I had originally intended to ride all the way through the night and meet my family in Savannah early Sunday morning. But our family plans changed so it made more sense for me to stop in Augusta briefly and get some rest before riding the rest of the way down to Tybee Island. Still, it was a very short stop … checking in at 10:30pm and leaving the hotel by 3AM the next morning. No laundry facilities at the hotel, so I had to wash my clothes in the sink and dry my shorts with a hair dryer before heading out. I am glad I got an early start because it was ridiculously hot again by 9AM. I struggled through the heat though and made it to the beach by early afternoon before anyone else from my family had made it there!

Glad it has been a quiet hurricane season so far.

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1000 photos from my trip are posted on my pickuta.com website! I’m still working on it to make it easier to sift through all the photos, but in the meantime here are the links for each day of the trip:

Day 1 – https://pickuta.com/album/69
Day 2 – https://pickuta.com/album/71
Day 3 – https://pickuta.com/album/72
Day 4 – https://pickuta.com/album/73