Tag Archives: climbing

Strava Shootout plus Red Mountain 1200s

It seems it has become an annual Thanksgiving Day tradition for me to head on over to Red Mountain and Ruffner Mountain to climb to the 1200ft summits. This year I did the route in the reverse direction so that I could put in my Strava Shoot-out effort on the Grants Mill – Karl Daly climb. It was a good effort on the climb, and I ended up beating my previous best time by 34 seconds … I made a video narrating my effort on the climb … if you watch it on youtube you can click on the time bookmarks in the description to jump to a specific part of the climb.


Critical power curve for today’s ride – annotated to show my KOM effort on Grants Mill – Karl Daly
Power map for the Grants Mill – Karl Daly climb annotated at 30second power averages

After climbing back up Karl Daly again to narrate the video, I headed on over to Red Mountain via John Rogers to get to US-11 to take me to Trussville. The first 1200 climb is the Turncliff radio tower climb. One of the unique features of this climb is the kudzu forest that you ride through. The other unique feature is the tiny neighborhood that is built almost entirely above 1200 ft on a very small saddle between two slightly higher 1200 ft points. There are some cool turns as well just to get to the neighborhood (see Garmin screenshot)

Turncliff kudzu forest

Turncliff neighborhood turns. The road to the lower left is the radio tower climb.

After descending back down from the Turncliff neighborhood, I headed back up again climbing up above the St Vincent’s East hospital to a cool water tower. This climb starts out with a 40% cement ramp out of the hospital parking lot, which then turns into a deep gravel road. I’m hit or miss on whether I can clear it on a given day … fall is particularly tough because of all the leaves, but I somehow managed to clear it today and not fall down on the way back down.

Descending back down from the hospital through the rollers took me to one of my favorite neighborhoods on the side of Red Mountain … don’t know the name of it, but it has this really cool climb up to a road called Observatory Road. Then you turn onto a one lane road that connects over to the outskirts of East Lake still on the side of the mountain. This neighborhood is home to the 27% Valley Hill Dr climb. I was coming from the other direction so I opted for a twisty descent that bypasses Valley Hill and takes you to some rollers to join up with the Ruffner Mountain climb near the entrance to the nature center. The last two Thanksgivings the nature center has been closed, but this year it was open. Making it to the top of the climb up to the fire tower, I made this video:

I took a new route through Gate City which has one of the coolest (and probably most dangerous) descents … I was flying down it when I saw a sign that said bump … so I hit the brakes not knowing what kind of bump it was, but it was actually a table-top ramp where the road kicks up to a table top where the road drops down 20% immediately, you go from a very small uphill to a 20% downhill with practically no transition … I’m sure you could catch air on a road bike if you take it at speed. That wouldn’t be too dangerous except for the 90 degree turn at the bottom less than two or three seconds after your tires land. I think if you apply the brakes gently while you are still in the air, then you might be able to make the turn at the bottom. I might try it next time I’m out there.

This was the only negative thing of the whole ride … while waiting for the train in the video to cross, I climbed up a hill into a project neighborhood where they were having a big outdoor community feast and somebody yelled “get out of my neighborhood” at me. I don’t know maybe they were just joking, but they certainly sounded serious. Not cool. Racial prejudice works both ways, folks.

After turning around and “getting out of their neighborhood” the train was gone and I was able to finish the climb up 58th street to the top of Southcrest, turn around and take Clairmont over to Altamont and the descend down the secret climb to five points heading over to the last climb of the day up Red Mountain – the Red Mountain water tower climb which starts on UAB’s campus. Got a video of it here:

I needed to stop by my house to pick up my backpack and change of clothes for Thanksgiving dinner … running a bit late on my ride so I had to drill it up Columbiana, down Columbiana, up Montreat, down S Cove, to my house and then over to my parent’s house. Guy in a red convertible offered to let me hold onto the side of his car up the Rocky Ridge road gradual climb, but knowing that it wouldn’t be fair for that Strava segment so I laughed and told him I’d have to pass on the offer.

One last video I got was the view of Oak Mountain view from top of Columbiana:

Other pictures and screenshots from the ride are captioned below:

End of the season epic 2012

Happy to make it up to the high point of the parkway


Ride Summary
176 miles and just under 20,000 feet of climbing on a cold, foggy, sometimes rainy beautiful October day in the mountains of upstate South Carolina and western North Carolina. My one goal for the ride was to get the Sassafras KOM on the Cat 1 climb from the Eastatoe Valley, but I ended up setting a few other KOMs along the way! Climbing up through the cloud layer and then riding above the clouds up on the Blue Ridge parkway was definitely the highlight of the ride. Ironically, turning around a few miles later and descending back through the cloud layer nearly crashing a few times and absolutely freezing in the mist was the low point of the ride. I’ve included a few of my favorite photos and videos below and then a detailed write-up – and then the rest of the photos, videos, and Garmin screenshots at the end of the post.



I used to end every season with a 200 mile ride that I would start at Tillman Hall – I’d ride over to North Georgia and climb Brasstown Bald at the 100 mile mark and then turn around and climb up to Highlands, NC on the way back to Clemson. Usually took 12-13 hours depending on how many pictures I took along the way.


After climbing Dug Mountain, you get your first good view of the high South Carolina mountains with Sassafras in the middle of this picture … elevation about 1100 ft here with Sassafras at 3560 ft.


If you are caught in cold, wet weather and woefully underdressed then plastic grocery bags worn like socks make for excellent wind-proof shoe covers inside the shoe. My feet were freezing before this stop and afterwards stayed toasty warm for the rest of the ride.


Beautiful fall colors on the parkway above 5000ft


Above the clouds at rough butt bald overlook

Ride Details
We left Birmingham right after Josiah’s baseball game so we could try to make it up to Talladega before the end of the big nascar race and the ensuing traffic nightmare – but we were also hoping to see if we could catch a glimpse of the cars high on the track visible from I20 as we drove past. We ended up arriving about 5 minutes after the end of the race, which we listened to on the radio so we were hoping to see smoke from the big crash on the last lap but we missed that too. Still, it was cool to see all the campers and all the people in the grandstands.

The rest of the drive up to South Carolina was relatively uneventful, and we arrived at the Fieldstone Farm Bed and Breakfast just outside of Seneca shortly before 10PM eastern. After an early breakfast the next morning, I was off on what I was hoping to be a 10 hour adventure (it turned out to be closer to 11 hours). It was cold, overcast, and windy on the way over to Clemson – but the clouds didn’t look thick enough for rain (I was wrong about that, too). Riding through campus, I ran into a guy with a backpack riding a nice Trek while I was taking a picture of Tillman Hall – we chatted for a minute or two and then I headed north out of Clemson up past the mountain bike trails of Issaqueena Forest towards my first goal of the day – the Sassafras Mountain KOM from the Eastatoe Valley.

I decided to target 275 watts for the climb, but my legs were feeling great so I ended up averaging close to 300 watts on the climb up to Beasley Gap. After the long downhill before the start of the final steep Cat 2 portion of the climb, I had dropped down below 280 watts. The Sassafras climb is super steep in parts with downhills in between – there is only one short section with a steady easy gradient. Everything else is either straight up or straight down. I was surprised at how quickly I made it up the last steep section to the short downhill before the final kick up to the top. Then after pushing my bike under the gate, I was able to blow through the last slippery wet steep leafy section with no problem. I ended up getting the KOM by 20 minutes.

The very top of Sassafras (elevation 3559ft) was at the bottom of the cloud layer so there was a light mist, and the air temp had dropped into the upper 30s. I wanted to get a short video at the top, but was having problems with my iPhone crashing so it took a few minutes to get the video. I was freezing by the time I was ready to head back down. Fortunately, I was out of the rain mist pretty quickly and was able to bomb most of the descent. By the time I hit the Chimneytop Gap descent, the roads were completely dry and I let it rip down the mountain pedaling hard at the top and never hitting my brakes. I ended up maxing out at 59.5 mph, but it felt much faster than S Cove because the distance traveled at that speed was far greater (close to a mile!)

Once I made it back to US178, I started the climb up into North Carolina that crosses the Eastern Continental Divide. As I got close to the divide I noticed that I was approaching the cloud layer again. Once I hit the cloud layer this time, it was a much heavier rain mist. This continued all the way across the top and then all the way down the long gradual descent to Rosman, NC. By the time I made it to Rosman, I was absolutely freezing. I had no rain booties on so my feet were freezing with the wind, rain, and cold. I spent a long time inside the gas station warming up – drinking a large cup of coffee and refilling my bottles with gatorade. I also got a couple plastic grocery bags I could use as rain/wind booties inside my shoes. They worked perfectly.

Leaving Rosman, I continued heading north (and up) towards the Blue Ridge parkway. The climb starts out very gradual on some really curvy fun roads on NC215 to reach Balsam Grove. After passing through Balsam Grove, I was starting to finally warm-up again because the rain mist had turned into mostly just fog climbing up through the cloud layer below the parkway. By the time I made it to the parkway, I had climbed up through the clouds and was rewarded with some spectacular views. After another 10 miles of rolling roads and climbing, I reached the high point of the parkway, which was again back in a layer of clouds. Cold and out of food, I stayed there for less than a minute before turning around to book it back to Balsam Grove as fast as possible.

Some of the best views on the way back were near the Rough Butt Bald overlook. Several mountains were peaking through the cloud layer and looked like tiny islands surrounded by a sea of white. Plus, there were some arms of the main ridge line extending down into the clouds that were lit up with the beautiful fall foliage. Leaving the parkway, I knew that the descent back down to Balsam Grove would be wet, but I didn’t realize how cold it would be. After nearly losing it in the first switchback I went really slow and my heart rate probably dipped down into the 60s or 70s which meant that my body was a frozen popsicle by the bottom.

Fortunately, I made it back to the gas station and warmed up again with hot food and more coffee. I was running really late by this point in the ride and I was starting to realize that I wasn’t going to make it back before dark — so I poured the coffee into a gatorade bottle and stuck it in my back pocket — perfect to warm up my body while I was letting it cool off enough to drink. By this point I was having lots of problems with my phone (it kept on locking up whenever I tried to do anything) so I didn’t end up getting any more pictures, so that was disappointing.

The highlight of the latter part of the ride was finding a really cool road that paralleled US64 for a while — Old Quebec Road — which came after all the switchbacks on Silverstein Road. These two roads are amazing low traffic roads. If I lived anywhere in the Cashiers/Sapphire/Rosman area, I’d spend a lot of time on those roads. With my phone not working, I was worried that Kristine would be worried — especially as I approached my original estimated return time of 6:30PM. I booked it down Whitewater, which again was somewhat disappointing because as soon as you cross back into SC the roads are so rutted and stacked up from heavy truck braking that it is pretty dangerous. It feels like the bike is going to break up underneath you.

When I finally made it to Salem, I saw a Dollar General employee outside taking a break and asked if I could borrow her phone. She kindly let me use it to call Kristine and tell her that I was about 15 miles out. It was 6:45PM with a sunset scheduled to happen at 7:07PM. I was going as fast as I could as I skirted around West Union via Burnt Mill Rd when I saw a “Road Closed Ahead” sign. I thought “you’ve got to be kidding me”. I chanced that I would still be able to get through on my bike, thinking that worst case there would be a bridge out and I would have to take my shoes off to cross a small creek. But fortunately, it was just a closed bridge that was still perfectly intact, but must have been declared unsafe for cars. Once past there it was less than 5 miles to home and I was running on a lot of adrenaline to be done as the sun had already set and it was getting quite dark. I ended up averaging well over 20mph for that last 15 miles of the ride making it back to our cabin by 7:25PM.

We piled the kids into the car as far as possible and drove to Clemson to enjoy our favorite Mexican restaurant and then 3 spoons yogurt afterwards … perfect ending to a perfect day!