Northwest Alabama and a tri-state commute home via the highest point in Mississippi

ATV trail on the way to the top of Woodall Mountain, highest point in Mississippi.

A video posted by Brian Toone (@kartoone76) on

“Ok, google. Where is the highest point in Mississippi?” I asked my phone as I pedaled into a nasty headwind on the Natchez Trace Parkway. I knew the answer was somewhere in Northeast Mississippi, but I wasn’t sure how close it was to the parkway. When the answer came back “Woodall Mountain” with a link to the map, I saw it was about twenty miles west of the parkway from the spot where I was. This was a bit more than I wanted to add to my ride, but I also knew how rarely I get to ride in this part of Alabama with a round-trip ride from my house being well over 300 miles. So the opportunity to add Mississippi to the list of state high points I have reached by bike (in order by date – Alabama, South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, Arkansas, Florida, and now Mississippi) on a tri-state one way commute from Florence to Birmingham was too good to miss.

Topocreator county map showing my tri-state, eight county, 241 mile commute home from Florence, Alabama to Hoover, Alabama. (click to enlarge and see annotations)Topocreator county map showing my tri-state, eight county, 241 mile commute home from Florence, Alabama to Hoover, Alabama. (click to enlarge and see annotations).

Alabama Academy of Science
One of the professional organizations I am proud to be a member of is the Alabama Academy of Science. Major contributions of this organization are its annual meeting and research conference held in the spring, the Alabama Academy of Science journal publishing high quality research being conducted here in Alabama, along with mentoring of up and coming scientists through the Alabama Junior Academy of Science and the Gorgas Scholarship Competition. This year’s meeting was being held at the University of North Alabama in Florence. Having completed my tenure as President, I turned the position over to 1st Vice-President Dr. Akshaya Kumar from Tuskegee University at the awards banquet.

I had originally planned to bike up to the meeting leaving after my classes on Wednesday and biking home when the meeting finished up on Friday. But when my wife decided she wanted to come visit Northwest Alabama with me, this turned my bike ride into a one way trip home on Friday with Kristine leaving on Thursday to get back to Birmingham. Before leaving, I had a fun time showing Kristine the natural bridge picnic area in Bankhead along with a nice dinner at the 360 degree grille next to the Tennessee River.

Exploring northwest alabama with @ktoone

A photo posted by Brian Toone (@kartoone76) on

Sunset disappearing over the northwest alabama hills.

A photo posted by Brian Toone (@kartoone76) on

UNA wins the live mascot award – right on campus!

A photo posted by Brian Toone (@kartoone76) on

I headed out on Friday morning after a late night at the banquet with my Camelbak Alpine Explorer backpack stuffed so full with laptop, shoes, clothes, and gear that I didn’t have room for water in the reservoir (which led to a few problems later, running out of water twice in very rural MS and AL). I was giddy with anticipation of a three-state 200+ mile bike commute home as I biked past the on-campus lions and north of town with a massive tailwind. It wasn’t until I was battling a headwind across the Tennessee River that I thought about altering my route to add in the high point of Mississippi to the ride. That wasn’t my only route change as I eventually got so tired of the headwind coming from the southwest, that I decided to change directions and head east for a couple hours while the wind was strong hoping to find a route that was more southerly after the wind died down in the evening. This worked out perfectly as I eventually had calm conditions under a full moon for the last 111 miles of the ride. The complete ride ended up being 241 miles taking 16.5 hours with just under 15 hours of moving time. The rest of the time was spent by buying food and water at gas stations, stopping for pics, and hike-a-biking up the ATV trail at the Mississippi high point. I’ve created a gallery of photos below that tells the story in a bit more detail. But before that, I’ve created an annotated topocreator map of the tri-state portion of the ride with the Mississippi high point. I’ve also annotated the iBike data … check it out below, too!

Tri-state portion of my route home with the Mississippi high point annotated. Click to enlarge.Tri-state portion of my route home with the Mississippi high point annotated. Click to enlarge.

Annotated iBike data for the ride. Click to enlarge and see detail - interesting to see the headwind and tailwind data!Annotated iBike data for the ride. Click to enlarge and see detail – interesting to see the headwind and tailwind data!

Ridge to Ridge to Ridge

Ridge to ridge to ridge ride plus elevation profile - elevation data annotated, no satellite imagery. Click to enlarge. Depending on your browser, you may have to click a second time on the image to zoom in and see the detail.Ridge to ridge to ridge ride plus elevation profile – elevation data annotated, no satellite imagery. Click to enlarge. Depending on your browser, you may have to click a second time on the image to zoom in and see the detail.

My favorite geological feature in Birmingham is the long ridge lines that run northeast/southwest marking the end of the Appalachian Mountain chain. A long time ago, I hypothesized that if you selected a northwest/southeast route, you would maximize your climbing by crossing all the ridge lines. I discovered over the years, though, that this is incorrect because you also have to cross all the valleys. To maximize your climbing in Birmingham, you have to pick a single ridge and find all the roads that criss-cross it on both sides. Still, those northwest/southeast routes have the most overlooks and the most variety because you are seeing different areas from different heights. Plus, it becomes a challenge to find the route that minimizes the distance across the valley to get to the next hill.

View from Vestavia Dr, the highest pt on Shades Mountain at 1167'. Ridges annotated north towards Birmingham. Click to enlarge.View from Vestavia Dr, the highest pt on Shades Mountain at 1167′. Ridges annotated north towards Birmingham. Click to enlarge.

View from the Healthsouth Helicopter Hill with annotated ridges to the southeast - too low to see Double Oak beyond the Hugh Daniel ridge line. Click to enlarge.View from the Healthsouth Helicopter Hill with annotated ridges to the southeast – too low to see Double Oak beyond the Hugh Daniel ridge line. Click to enlarge.

View from the double oak cliffs at the turnaround point. Annotated ridges beyond Chelsea. Click to enlarge.View from the double oak cliffs at the turnaround point. Annotated ridges beyond Chelsea. Click to enlarge.

One day as I was riding on Dolly Ridge on my way back from riding out to Double Oak, I realized that there was a spot near the top where you can see all the ridges that you just crossed to get to double oak. It got me thinking about how many different ridges you can cross on one ride in Birmingham. I named that ride the “ridge-to-ridge” ride, and expanded it quickly to include all the ridges from Red Mountain on the southeast side of Birmingham to the Double Oak ridge lines at the edge of the Coosa River valley. The ride can be extended further to hit part of the Signal Mountain ridge line and several other ridges all the way to Flagpole Mountain on the other side of the Coosa River where you could then pick up the Sylacauga ridges and eventually make it to Georgia. That would be a nice 250+ mile round trip ride that I hope to do some day, especially if I could make it all the way over to the long Callaway Gardens / Woodbury ridge line which is such an interesting geological feature so far south in Georgia.

Perhaps what makes a ride like this the most interesting isn’t the 40 ridge crossings (numbered and labeled in red), but rather the 23 spots on the route (numbered and labeled black) that are non-traditional connectors between roads. These make for nice intermediate challenges (can you clear a section of trail without putting a foot down) on a long ride. I’ve also numbered and labeled the major creek and valley crossings in blue as well as a select number of locations around town in purple.

Ridge to ridge to ridge ride annotated with hires 2015 satellite data (USGS orthoimagery 1ft resolution). Click to enlarge and zoom. Red numbers are ridge crossings. Black numbers are non-car accessible points and trails. Blue numbers are creek and valley crossings. Purple unnumbered labels are other various points of interest. (Click to enlarge, depending on your browser you may have to click the loaded image to zoom)Ridge to ridge to ridge ride annotated with hires 2015 satellite data (USGS orthoimagery 1ft resolution). Click to enlarge and zoom. Red numbers are ridge crossings. Black numbers are non-car accessible points and trails. Blue numbers are creek and valley crossings. Purple unnumbered labels are other various points of interest. (Click to enlarge, depending on your browser you may have to click the loaded image to zoom)

Close to 30 different ridge crossings on this ride – will post annotated topocreator.com map soon to my blog.

A photo posted by Brian Toone (@kartoone76) on

Here’s a gallery of photos selected from the 64 pics I took during the ride yesterday.

Finally, just how hilly is a ride like this, check out the iBike data!

iBike data for the ridge-to-ridge-to-ridge ride. Click to enlarge.iBike data for the ridge-to-ridge-to-ridge ride. Click to enlarge.