Category Archives: Training

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.

Adventure in the Bayou

913 mile loop from my house to the Mississippi River on day 1 (RED – 353 miles), from Vicksburg down to St Francisville and across to Columbia on day 2 (YELLOW – 247 miles), and the final leg home from Columbia to Hoover (BLUE -313 miles). Click map above to see a zoomed-in, higher resolution version.

Rouge Roubaix

My first ride in the bayous of Louisiana was this amazing race in 2010. Before the race, I had dreams of winning. By the end of the race, I was happy just to have finished. My best shot at winning the race came in 2012 where I won the $100 KOM (you physically grab the $100 bill) by being the first up Blockhouse Hill. But two flat tires later, I saw myself sprinting for second place against two teammates from another team. Instead of strategizing for third place, I tried (and failed) to beat them both finishing one spot off the podium in fourth place … somehow both my best AND most disappointing finish.

Let’s go back to Blockhouse Hill and fast forward a couple years to 2014. Even by this point, the lure of the early season race wasn’t just the race itself but also the chance to ride in such a uniquely beautiful and mysterious area. In 2014, I “American Flyered” my ride by finding and racing a barge on the Mississippi River on Cat Island. My pre-ride took longer than planned, so I ended up riding down Blockhouse Hill in almost pitch-black dark without a light.

Finally, let’s look at 2016, the last year that I was able to do the race. That race report has a selfie of me with an alligator (taxidermied at a gas station), and I was wanting to stop at that same gas station on this ride … but I couldn’t remember which one it was, and I ended up picking the wrong gas station. Still, I got to talk to this cool local who was hanging out at the gas station and recounted a story of having to walk from Natchez to Woodville (it’s about 50 miles) and sleeping on the side of the road. I would use this story as motivation later for when I was desperately sleepy outside of Maplesville … more on that later.

Counties

There are about 3,250 counties in the USA and its territories. One day, I’m pretty sure I would like to ride in them all. I’m not sure how realistic that is, but I’ve ridden in over 500 counties already … so maybe? While I still determine the feasibility of the larger task, I’m working on riding all the counties in Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, Georgia, and Florida. I noticed a nearby “hole” in Mississippi (see annotated map below) which I could reach on a 350 mile round-trip ride from home in Birmingham, and set out a couple Tuesday’s ago on said ride. Unfortunately, I got a flat tire fairly early in the ride, which I also realized would have me riding into the sunset on the way out AND into the sunrise on the way back in.

The four-county hole in Mississippi I tried to ride to a couple weeks ago and failed, which then morphed into a much longer adventure, traversing 20 new counties in Mississippi and 2 in Louisiana, plus riding all the way to the Rouge Roubaix course.

The flat tire was all I needed to cut short the ride and head home. This was a great decision as it led to this 913 mile adventure a couple weeks later that I wouldn’t have otherwise done! I had named the route I was following on the abandoned ride “mscounties”, but as I planned out this more extensive adventure I named the three routes (instead of 1) to “rouge1”, “rouge2”, and “rouge3” – which also indicates the change in motivation for the ride. Instead of just filling in some missing counties, I was now going to fulfill a long predicted dream of riding to St Francisville, the start of Rouge Roubaix. The longer adventure helped with the Mississippi counties, too. Instead of four new counties, I ended up riding in twenty new counties in Mississippi alone, two new counties in Louisiana and zero new counties in Alabama since I’ve already ridden in them all!

It was a dark and stormy night … and day … and another night

We’ve had rather unsettled weather in the South over the past couple weeks with round after round of storms. The most recent was a series of tornados in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama on Saturday. I had a hard time figuring out the timing for this ride because of the storm systems and other obligations, but one of the plans was to leave Saturday night after the storms. That didn’t work out because of a work meeting I had on Tuesday, which I wouldn’t have made it back in time for.

This meant the earliest I could leave was Tuesday because of the meeting, but it was going to be close on the timing with the Bakers Dozen race coming up on Saturday. Also, the problem with Tuesday is that it marked the arrival of the next round of storms. It looked like if I left during the storms on Tuesday night, I could make it to Vicksburg right about the time the next storms arrived there, but I would need to leave early enough on Tuesday evening to make it, which made it tricky with the Birmingham / Tuscaloosa traffic on roads I had been planning to ride much later in the night.

So that’s what I did … left Tuesday night at about 8:30PM in dry weather for the climb up to the top of Vestavia Drive. It was quite foggy at the top, and by the time I made it the half-mile over to Highway 31 it had started to rain pretty hard and continued raining for about 20 miles into Bessemer. Then it stopped and didn’t rain again literally until I got my first flat tire just outside of Durant, Mississippi about 225 miles later, but more on that later. First, we need to talk about parties, chickens, and tornados.

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