Category Archives: Training

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.

Low to high point fat bike fun in Minnesota

Ice beard less than halfway through the ride.
Fun adventure in the north woods of Northern Minnesota today. I rode from the lowest point in Minnesota (Lake Superior, 603′) to the highest point in Minnesota (Eagle Mountain, 2301′). It was a tough ride with lots of uncertainty. I had attempted this same ride in 2016, but failed. In 2017, I was hit by a car a month before our Christmas trip and was still on crutches while the rest of the family went skiing. This year, I had set aside a day to forgo skiing and try this same ride again, but this time a bad winter storm was bearing down supposed to hit about the time I made it back to the cabin. Lots of uncertainty – the only thing in my favor this year was warm temps in the teens, but that was actually a problem as I sweated a ton and had one water bottle for an 8 hour ride.

Highs and Lows
I have been on some fun adventures on the bike over the years. Here’s all the state high points I have climbed on my bike in reverse order of when I climbed them.

  • Minnesota – 2018
  • Virginia (second highest point, haven’t climbed highest yet) – 2017
  • Mississippi – 2016
  • Florida – 2014
  • Arkansas – 2012
  • Tennessee – 2009
  • Georgia – 1997
  • North Carolina – 1995
  • South Carolina – 1995
  • Alabama – 1994

Minnesota and Florida are special, though, in that I have now ridden in both of them from the lowest point to the highest point of the state in a single ride. South Carolina is interesting, too, in that I rode from the highest point to the lowest point in the state in a single ride, but not the other direction. Ok, let’s get back to this Minnesota adventure.

2016 failed attempt
In 2016, I was thwarted by lots of snow and a late start after skiing half a day. I made it to the start of the trail at sunset (without a light) only to find the trail covered in half a foot of new snow from the day before plus who knows how many feet of snow under that. I tried to ride the first few feet and slid out and decided it just wasn’t going to happen. I made it home well after dark (almost 7pm). I vowed to come back the next year and start earlier in the day and take a light. Here’s a timelapse video of the first 9 miles of the ride before my battery died in the cold.

2017 crutches
In 2017, I was recovering from surgery on my foot after being hit by a car traveling 45-50+mph on a county road south of Birmingham. I was going 13mph up a hill at the time of impact. Very, very thankful that my worst injury was a torn-up foot. I impacted the car’s windshield which acted like a cushion and saved my life. The damage to my foot came afterwards sliding alongside the road after the driver slammed on his brakes. I have no memory of the collision or aftermath. My memory from before is spotty, too, the only thing I specifically remember is stopping at the gas station in Sterrett to buy gatorade about 10 miles before impact. I was on crutches while the family went skiing.

2018, success!!!
Our plan for this year included three days of skiing, but we only bought a two-day pass for me so I could try this ride again. The weather forecast for Lutsen down on the lake was for a temp in the low teens rising to the 20s by the afternoon with a big winter storm coming. 12-18inches of snow predicted with wind gusts blowing to 35mph starting by about 4:30PM. My worst case scenario would have me back to the cabin by about 4PM, so I thought I was safe.

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