Category Archives: Training

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.

Continue reading

Essom Hill Rd

Essom Hill Rd – here is classic good dirt. This can absolutely be crushed on a road bike. Frequently, this kind of dirt is faster than chip seal paved roads in rural areas. Visiting Cave Spring, Georgia to hit this dirt on my road bike was the motivation for the entire 252 mile ride.

Recap

This was my first cold ride of the season – 252 fast and cold miles from Birmingham, Alabama to Cave Spring, Georgia and back. The average temp for the ride was 39 degF, with a low hovering around 25-27 degF for several hours. I woke up at midnight and left the house by 1:15AM.

Very quiet roads with it taking nearly two hours for me to get passed by 10 cars. Keep in mind, I can get passed by 10 cars in just a few seconds on some of my busier commute routes during the week! Grand total, including busier Saturday afternoon roads was only 347 cars averaging out to about a car and a half per mile.

Clear and cold for a while, but as I got closer to the Coosa River valley, it became increasingly foggy. This was a bit problematic as it was getting later in the day (4AM), and I suspected correctly that a lot of fisherman would be on the roads heading to the lakes. No close calls and good drivers in the fog and LOTS of Calhoun County and St Clair County sheriffs patrolling the roads for drunk drivers led to a good ride through the local Interstate, AL-144, which locals use as an interstate. I am sure this is at least part of the reason for such a heavy police presence. Kudos to the St Clair County and Calhoun County police force!

By the time I hit the Chief Ladiga rails to trails, my feet were particularly cold. I was going to stop at the Jacksonsville gas station, but they must not have had anyone to work the night shift as it was still closed at 5:30AM. Bummed that I would have to suffer through cold feet for a while longer but thankful that I wouldn’t have to stop and waste time less than 100 miles into the ride, I continued onto Piedmont and took my first extended stop at the McDonald’s to warm up. I spent about 30 minutes inside eating and drinking coffee warming up.

I left before 7:30 and made it back onto the Chief Ladiga trail as they were setting up for a half marathon. The morning was cold but stunningly beautiful with sunlight falling between the leaves, cold white frost everywhere, and completely leaf colored trail. I couldn’t take very many pics though because with the leaf coverage you have to be careful that you don’t run into any larger tree branches that can put you on the ground before you know it!

Frosty chief ladiga trail.
Leafy chief ladiga trail.

Originally I had been planning on a 270 mile route that would take me in the reverse direction on Essom Hill Rd (from TNGA) and then make my way down to Cedartown, Heflin, and Mount Cheaha before working my way back to Birmingham via Talladega. With the cold weather, I decided to cut the ride a bit short and do more of an out/back to Cave Spring, which meant I could stay on the Silver Comet all the way to Chief Ladiga before turning left to do a counter-clockwise loop through Cave Spring and then eventually joining with the TNGA in the same direction that the TNGA finishes.

This was exciting to me because that meant I could experience the TNGA finish on my road bike. This turned out great except for the recent rain left Essom Hill Rd muddy in three spots. I rode through the first mud, but when seeing how soft it was I decided to hike the sides for the second two mud sections. In between was phenomenally fast, good dirt. That always strikes me when I’m finishing TNGA how good the dirt road is that takes you back to the Silver Comet and the finish at the Alabama state line. I’ve always suspected (correctly) that you could fly on this dirt road on a road bike … which I did!

By this point, it was getting quite warm (low 50s), so I dumped as many clothes as I could into my backpack, unzipped my jacket, and rode gloveless the rest of the ride. I altered my route on the way back to take as many of the side roads as possible around the interstate (AL-144) and rode by Janey Furnace and generally avoided the busy roads.

Also, I got to see a very large pot-bellied pig cross the road. It was very large.

I made it back to Hwy 78 and Leeds in the late afternoon and worked my way over to Karl Daly, where I ran into Mike Flowers … he turned around and rode with me on the reverse of the Tuesday worlds route into Mountain Brook. Will Sparks caught up to us on Mountain Brook parkway and I got to ride with him along a very, very busy lakeshore trail in the warm afternoon sun.

Home before sunset!

Thoughts

TNGA, Skyway Epic, and the Heart of the South 500 mile road race all traverse this area. The first time I crossed the Coosa River on the Neely Dam was during the 2014 Heart of the South race. That race crosses the Coosa River in four places in both Alabama and Georgia. While problematic for route navigation because of the lack of bridges, the Coosa River and the many, many rivers in Alabama make it the amazing state that it is. You just have to be smart about picking your route and your time of day knowing that people like to fish really early in the morning and that there are several third shift factories in the area. That’s all for now.

Glimpses from the ride

This is a stream of consciousness of all the things I remember that were significant when I saw/experienced them –

  • Warm climbing up Vesclub, thinking I had overdressed
  • Perfect line down Karl Daly in the dark, thought I had bumped my light up but it was still on its lowest setting
  • Hwy 78 was unusually deserted, there was just nobody out there, except for one very fast car on the hill into 78. He passed me in the other lane so it was fine … 85mph fine.
  • Missed shelby county completely in this ride … somehow … crazy.
  • Seeing the county sheriff at the dam was great.
  • Seeing a whole bunch of sheriffs at one of the gas stations on AL-144 was cool.
  • Have I mentioned how dangerous AL-144 is now? It was great to see so many sheriffs out there trying to make it safer (at least at night!)
  • Parade … stumbled into and rode in the back of a parade in Cedartown, Georgia.