Category Archives: Training

Completing the 2020 Rapha Festive 500 in a single ride!

TLDR stats – look at the difference between elapsed time (20:40) and moving time (19:54). That means I was only stopped for 46 minutes total with two gas stations and a few micro stops to take off / put on clothes or take pics.

An unusual opportunity

Our annual winter vacation visiting family up in Northern Wisconsin/Minnesota got scrapped this year due to covid. This opened up an unusual opportunity for me to tackle the Rapha Festive 500 in one ultra long ride in the “warm weather” down here in the South instead of using every single day of the challenge to rack up the required 500 km (310.7 mi) slogging it out on a fat bike in the snow and extreme cold.

Click the image to read about my 2013 Festive 500 adventure in temps that bottomed out at -22.4 degF.

I decided, almost spontaneously, that I should take advantage of this unusual opportunity to knock out the entire Festive 500 in a single ride. Plus, when I checked the counties I am missing in neighboring Mississippi, I realized I could hit all the southern counties in a 310 mile ride if I started from Laurel, Mississippi – which would minimize my driving distance from home (200 miles) while putting me close enough to the missing counties to make it manageable to hit them all in a Festive 500 ride. route creation tool I used to create a 500km route through missing counties (6 in MS and 2 in LA).

Missing counties?

My long term goal is to ride in all the counties in the South starting with my home state of Alabama (completed in just one year – 2016) plus its four immediate neighbors: Mississippi, Florida, Georgia, and Tennessee. After completing those states, I plan to wrap up the rest of the South in roughly this order: South Carolina, Louisiana, Kentucky, and North Carolina. Bonus states might be Wisconsin, Minnesota, Arkansas, and possibly Indiana (I’ve already ridden in more than half the counties there). Also, out west, the counties are so huge it would be relatively easy to add Arizona and New Mexico in a couple days each with a long drive in between the first ride and second ride.

All my rides in the Southeast highlighting the target counties in Mississippi and Louisiana for this ride.

Hot Coffee, Mississippi

I was cold when I stopped for gas on the 200 mile drive from my house in Hoover, Alabama to the place I picked to start in Laurel, Mississippi. I picked Laurel because it was right on the interstate and would minimize my drive time [side note: I dislike driving to ride, but I’ve ridden so much around here that to ride somewhere new, it now takes a really long time to ride to get there]. Because I was cold, I put on most of the clothes I had brought with me. I started out my ride and regretted within a few minutes at having overdressed … especially since I didn’t want to play the “take off / put back on” game with clothing to deal with temps. So I unzipped everything and eventually rode with no gloves at all and no head covering to try and ventilate excess heat every way I could without having to stop and take off layers.

Still, there were cold pockets of air down in the bottoms of all the hills. One of those cold pockets was right after crossing the Leaf River when I noticed the green city directional sign below:

Yes, Hot Coffee, Mississippi is a real place!

I thought how nice it would be to go get some “Hot Coffee” but knew that nothing would be open at 4am.

Thinking that I would be starting the ride in the middle of the night, I opted for a major US Highway (Hwy 84) for the first 60 miles of the ride heading west straight through three of the “new-to-me” counties. Unfortunately, I was running a little late and didn’t start until a couple hours before sunrise. This pushed me into a bit heavier traffic than I would have liked, but Hwy 84 was a big enough highway that there was a large shoulder on it with plenty of room for me to ride to the right of the rumble strip. I would find out / remember later that Mississippi state highways don’t have this same feature. Instead, you were greeted by a long, continuous rumble strip covering all but a few inches of the already narrow shoulder.

No worries, though, as I turned off Hwy 84 in Monticello after crossing the Pearl River for the first of two times and started heading south towards Louisiana on a couple state highways mixed with a number of immaculate chip/seal roads that Google bicycling directions had given me when I clicked on the edge of Pike County from Monticello. I was laughing as I chuckled at the intricacy of the route and how in the old days you would have needed quite a few notecards with road names and turns or a bunch of county maps on a ride like this. I might have to do a “gps-record-only” adventure soon where I bring along the GPS to record the ride data, but refrain from using it to look at the map or do any kind of navigation at all. I will just set the GPS screen to show distance, current speed, average speed, and timer and obsessively refrain from switching screens even once. I will report back on that adventure sometime soon.

Deep into Pike County, I rode through the tiny town of Holmesville, which was the original county seat in 1816 before it was moved to Magnolia in 1876, which is the county seat to this day… despite McComb being the largest city in the county by a long shot.

A few county roads later and I would find myself crossing over into Louisiana on a major state highway, but the Bienvenue en Louisiane sign at the border that I had been looking forward to for many miles – ever since turning south – was gone!

So I took these two pics above, which now I’m thankful for, as one highlights the way all state and US highways should be designed, and the other is a really cool Louisiana barn shortly after crossing the border. Kudos to Louisiana, Florida, and Tennessee for getting it right.

I was only on this state highway for a few miles before turning back east to head back towards the Gulf Coast portion of Mississippi. I enjoyed a lot of nice riding but ended up on LA-10 at the very end leaving Bogalusa, LA. This was an extremely busy highway with logging trucks galore as well as processed paper trucks, too, I think. I’m sure they were all bee-lining it to I-59 in Mississippi. Thankfully, there was a nice shoulder … which disappeared exactly at the Mississippi border where the road name changes to MS-26. Cyclists note: avoid this road. Looking back at my route, I can see several parallel roads I could have taken that would have added on a few miles (which I needed to add on at the end anyway). As it turns out, I was on MS-26 through three counties. Yuck. Drivers were courteous and careful though, which surprised me. I think it was the first time they had probably seen a cyclist on that road as all the local cyclists would know to avoid it like the plague I’m sure, and they probably had pity on me trying to negotiate a rumble strip filled tiny shoulder trying to stay out of the way. And who knows, maybe it was just Christmas spirit. In Alabama, multiple drivers would have been laying on their horns and cursing at me and maybe even throwing things at me.

De Soto National Forest

From many cars to zero cars. It was amazing. After dealing with a rumble strip busy road for many miles (60 miles to be exact… 20% of the entire ride), I made a left turn and finally started to head north back towards Laurel after crossing all three of the counties I was missing in the section of Mississippi that juts down into the Gulf of Mexico. This took me straight into the many miles of dirt roads in the De Soto National Forest.

The dirt roads were fast and hard packed for many miles (25 miles) until somehow I managed to route myself onto one particularly nasty mud bog section that reminded me of a tamer version of the Wiregrass Rd fiasco in the Talladega National Forest from earlier this year where it took me nearly 30 minutes to hike-a-bike a half mile section of road that the locals had turned into a complete mudfest – mud from edge to edge of the forest on either side thick enough to strip your shoe off if you stepped in the wrong place. It was so nasty.

This was nowhere near that bad as I was able to ride through all the bogs as there was always one good rut that was slick and mud covered but not deep enough to stop the bike – so you could make it through and then sling the mud off while riding slowly.

The Home Stretch (and Blue Light special?)

After the awesome (even with the mud) stretch of De Soto National Forest with literally zero cars for 25 miles, it was back to an incredibly busy (10pm on a Monday night) small shoulder section of US Hwy 98. This had a slightly wider shoulder (18 inches total with about half of that devoted to the rumble strip instead of 9 inches with only 2 or 3 inches of non-rumble strip) so I was actually able to ride to the right of the rumble strip for long stretches even though it required a LOT of concentration to watch out for any debris.

Still, though, a friendly state trooper pulled me over outside New Augusta because he wanted to warn me that while I was highly visible, the road I was on was extremely dangerous with 65mph speed limit and “no shoulder”. I agreed with him and explained where I was going and that I had “looped down” to the national forest from Laurel which was only about 40 miles away and would be getting off the road at the first available opportunity (which was in New Augusta just a couple miles ahead). Little did he know that my loop was actually 270 miles by this point and veered way over into Louisiana before making it to that spot with only 40 miles to go!

I thanked him, and he told me to “be careful” (just like both checkout clerks at the two gas stations I stopped at and a friendly person in Wiggins outside one of the gas stations and one other person as they drove by somewhere else on the ride that I have now long forgotten). While well meaning and much appreciated, and there are indeed lots of things I can do to be as visible as possible, choose quiet roads (although I was hit at 55 mph on a practically deserted road far out in the country … so does a quiet road really matter either?), I am still 100% at the mercy of people driving while I’m riding. It ultimately doesn’t matter what I do, but yes, I will be careful.

Home, Sweet, Home

I made it back to Laurel, MS shortly before midnight but still had about 5 miles I needed to add onto my route to make it up to 311. I needed to add on miles because I had cut off an out/back to White Sands beach which looked really cool on satellite. But I just wasn’t feeling it at the time and knew that I’d have more fun exploring deserted city streets back in Laurel at midnight.

I was wide awake and pumped after getting back to the car and having accomplished what I had set out to do … but that didn’t last long on the three hour drive home … so I decided that not wanting to be a hypocritical “sleepy driver” I should pull over at the next gas station and sleep … and so that’s what I did. I was only asleep for an hour, but that did the trick and I woke up wide awake to drive the rest of the way home.

It was getting close to sunrise by the time I made it back home, roughly 28 hours after having left the house at around midnight, including the six hour drive, 21 hour bike ride, and 1 hour gas station nap!

Epic catch-up: Nuevas Esperanzas 15km vertical, Eddington 250, County progress, goals, and more!

It has been quite busy with 16 weeks compressed down to 13 weeks so we can end the semester before Thanksgiving. I’ve still been riding because that takes priority over blogging, but between riding and work, I haven’t had a lot of time for anything else!

15km vertical for Nuevas Esperanzas 15th birthday celebration

It was hard. Very hard. Nuevas Esperanzas is an amazing organization whose tagline says it all: “building foundations, releasing potential, and transforming communities”. What this means in practice is that Nuevas Esperanzas provides technical assistance on a number of projects (clean water, infrastructure, farming, ecotourism) to help the people of Nicaragua find ways to thrive in sometimes harsh conditions … speaking of which … Nicaragua was hit by back-to-back hurricanes (Eta and Iota) starting the week after I finished my 15km vertical. Thanks so much to all who gave money to support this work! If you were still thinking about it, it’s not too late. Support their work now!

Back to the task at hand … I decided to mark the 15th anniversary celebration by climbing 15km vertical … no other number really made sense or felt challenging enough. 15,000 feet is not much of a stretch beyond a normal long ride for me. 1,500 meters would be even shorter. 30,000 feet and/or 300km of riding would also be fairly easy for me and well within the range of what I have done before.

But 15km of climbing (a tad bit under 50,000 feet of climbing). This would break into new territory for me. I’ve done several rides in the mid 40,000 feet of climbing, but those were all targeted local rides in extremely hilly terrain where downhills roll straight into steep uphills taking advantage of lots of momentum to accelerate the climbing.

I wanted to do this one differently. I wanted to ride out to Mount Cheaha (the highest point in Alabama), located 85 miles from my house. Then I wanted to do an everesting by repeating the climb 23 times accumulating elevation higher than Mount Everest. Then I wanted to ride back home to finish out the 15km vertical. Cheaha is perfect for this kind of climbing. It’s just the right steepness to get a lot of climbing done quickly. But it’s also not too steep that you can continue climbing at speed for a long time.

The problem with my plan was the very large, relatively flat Coosa Valley that you have to cross each way to get to the mountain. Even with a hilly route leaving town and returning back to town, you end up with 170 miles of riding and barely 15,000 feet of climbing. That would work out well with an additional 200 miles (23 laps) of climbing cheaha and nearly 33,000 feet of climbing. But ultimately, the problem I ran into was not enough sleep ahead of time. I got too sleepy to continue and hadn’t brought anything for laying down on the side of the road to take a nap.

So I decided to bail on the everesting and head back home. This all worked out well in the end, because the next day as I set out to finish the 15km vertical, I was able to include a memorial ride and a memorial to my friend Chris Shelton as part of this adventure. Chris was an amazing man and friend who influenced so many people and who loved to climb mountains on his bike … all over Birmingham … all over Europe. I took this picture of the picture of a collage of pictures of Chris and wanted to leave it here to remember him any time I think about and remember back to this ride.

What an amazing photo collage tribute to Chris Shelton … let this be an inspiration to me and to everyone that our lives are made up of all the moments we live and share with others.

Eddington 250

Originally I had set my lifetime goal for my Eddington Number to be 200. In case you are not familiar with the Eddington Number, check out this website I created that goes a bit into the history of it. I thought that was going to take many more years to reach, but as I’m currently at 195 with only 14 more rides left to make it to 200, I should be able to hit that sometime next year (hopefully early).

I have now updated my goal to 250, which is insane (by the way). This means I will have ridden 250 miles or longer in a single day 250 separate times! I’m thinking it would be a new world record, but I don’t know for sure and it may not last long if I do end up being the first to make it there (unlikely). Still, I’ve never been one for setting realistic goals, so let’s go!

Later in life who knows what may happen, but for now I really don’t see myself pushing beyond 250 and even then, that number is going to be quite a stretch no matter what others may be able to do.

In any case, I knocked out another Eddington 250 last Saturday riding with my friend Jason Bierley up into Northeast Alabama and back home to Birmingham via some fun climbing up to Cherokee Rock Village.

County progress

Lastly, in this catchup post, I’d like to share some maps and progress on my goal to ride in all the counties in the Southeast. As it turns out, I’m up to 638 counties out of 3007 counties in the whole country (21%). This surprised me the other day when I checked. For now I’ve been focusing so much on just riding in all the counties in my neighborhood – Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Tennessee, and Florida … but the whole country seems tantalizing possible although realistically it’s probably not.

638 counties out of 3,007. Note that this includes a few routes that I rode all the time in California, South Carolina, and Virginia that I could recreate from memory having ridden them numerous times prior to owning GPS. It doesn’t include anything I couldn’t remember exact routes for … e.g., I rode from Myrtle Beach up into North Carolina one summer prior to having a GPS but I didn’t include that route b/c I couldn’t remember how far into North Carolina I went.

It looks like either Florida or Mississippi will be the next state I complete … especially with my upcoming “Vuelta de Florida” (see map below) during which I will compete in this year’s Cross-Florida ITT (the Spanish All-Saints 515 mile route from St. Petersburg to St. Augustine tracing a good chunk of what is thought to have been Hernando Desoto’s path through the state during early explorations).

1250 miles of Florida … red – all saints, green – back to start. Lots of adventure upcoming December 7th – 12th.

After the race, I will head back south towards Miami before veering west to get back to my car, which I will be leaving in St. Petersburg. Total mileage is looking like it will be around 1250 miles, leaving one small chunk of the Florida panhandle where I will be missing counties.