Tag Archives: epic

Cahaba River Adventure

Kristine and the kids out on the shoals in the Cahaba River National Wildlife Refuge outside West Blocton.Kristine and the kids out on the shoals in the Cahaba River National Wildlife Refuge outside West Blocton. I met them there 150+ miles into the ride. It was great to cool off and swim with them in the river amongst all the Cahaba River Lilies!

The Cahaba River is the “longest free-flowing river in Alabama and is among the most scenic and biologically diverse rivers in the United States” according to Wikipedia. I grew up not too far from the Cahaba River, purchased my first bike from River Oaks Cycles in Riverchase, played golf on a golf course with several holes on the Cahaba River (Altadena Valley Country Club), went to the dentist in Cahaba Heights, and more recently have lived within a mile of the river for the past 11 years, with my son playing baseball and my daughter playing lacrosse at Hoover East on the banks of the Cahaba (and sometimes underneath the Cahaba during floods). All of that is to say, the Cahaba River has been part of my life for nearly my entire life. To be able to share it with my beautiful wife and kids is beyond amazing.

That’s my own personal connection to the Cahaba, but it isn’t just me. There are SIX high schools either located on or near the Cahaba River (Hewitt-Trussville, Mountain Brook, Hoover, Pelham, Helena, Centreville). Additionally, Vestavia Hills High School and Spain Park High School are split straight down the middle by the Cahaba River with each school located 2 miles away from the Cahaba (VHHS 2 miles northwest and SPHS 2 miles southeast). The reason why there are so many high schools located on or near the Cahaba River is because the upper part of the Cahaba river flows through the most populated part of Alabama. This is somewhat ironic, because the lower part of the Cahaba river flows through some of the more rural parts of the state. Here is the complete list of cities:

Clay (source on Cahaba Mountain)
Trussville
Leeds
Irondale
Mountain Brook
Homewood (2 miles west)
Vestavia Hills
Hoover
Pelham (1000 feet east)
Helena
Alabaster (2 miles east)
West Blockton (2 miles west)
Centreville
Brent
Heiberger
Sprott
Beloit
Selma (10 miles northeast)
Cahawba (ghost town, original capitol of Alabama territory, confluence with Alabama River)

I was inspired for this ride after riding the Old Howard which starts in Marion and eventually follows the Cahaba River flood plain down to Selma. When I was creating a map for my ride that day, I noticed where the Cahaba River empties into the Alabama River. That got me thinking: “Wouldn’t it be cool to do a ride that travels the entire length of the Cahaba and crosses every bridge over the Cahaba???”

It's easy to see why the Cahaba River is called the "Heart River" of Alabama as it starts and ends in the middle of the state, but not before traversing 194 miles and six counties.It’s easy to see why the Cahaba River is called the “Heart River” of Alabama as it starts and ends in the middle of the state, but not before traversing 194 miles and six counties. Click to enlarge and see detail. The Cahaba River is shown in blue below, and the 242 mile route I followed is shown in red.

As I plotted out a route that would do just that, I realized that the route distance would be almost exactly 400KM, which is a significant distance in the randoneurring and ultra cycling world. So this led to the idea of an adventure-type 400K ride. This would definitely be a non-standard ride as summarized by the following list of “adventure” items on the ride:

30-40 miles of dirt roads
several miles of ATV trails
5 abandoned bridges including one rail shimmy and the site of 1896 fatal train wreck
2 fordings of the river possibly up to waist deep depending on water level
2 fire towers to climb
1 ghost town at the end

In addition to all that, there is the potential to see the following animals: foxes, coyotes, rabbits, deer, raccoons, possums, armadillos, turkeys, snakes, alligators (unlikely but possible), fish (we ford the river twice), turtles, all kinds of birds including hawks and owls, dogs (although this route traverses some of the most “dog-free” parts of Alabama I’ve ridden in – the dog per mile ratio is pretty low – in other words, it ain’t no blount county).

Don’t let this list scare you, though, because the entire ride is either road-bikeable or hike-a-bikeable (speedplay pedals recommended only with the new walkable cleats and plugs) as long as you have good 25cm tires on your bike. The opening loop out of Trussville includes one of the steepest climbs in Alabama, so carbon wheels may be problematic on the descent. I tried to do the descent with rear brake only because my front brake was squealing really loudly and ended up damaging the wheel coming down Cahaba Mountain from excessive braking, so that is something to consider when making wheel selection. But other than that one descent, carbon wheels are fine for the entire ride as long as you are gentle on the gravel and pick good lines. I had no flats on my initial exploratory attempt at this ride – spoiler alert – I had to cut out bridges at the end because of wheel problems early on.

Also, this ride should be a family event. There is so much to explore on the route, you could actually beat your family down to the finish if they stop and explore everything. Or they could meet you at a few spots and you could hang out with them like we did on Friday. Here’s a run-down of how Friday went.

Midnight, Hoover
I set my alarm for 11:30PM and was out the door by 12:12AM with a tight schedule to try to make it down to Cahawba by sunset. Everything went well as I rode the 22 miles from my house north to Trussville on mostly deserted roads. I made it to the Trussville Cahaba Cycles by 1:30AM. This is where I’m thinking of staging the event, although I haven’t run anything by Cahaba Cycles yet since it’s a year away. I think 1:30AM is a good starting time for the opening 40 mile loop (Section 1) which takes us out to the source of the Cahaba on Cahaba Mountain. Even with my wheel problems, I made it back to Trussville by 4:30AM. Two of the bridges on this section were behind closed gates so unless we are very lucky I don’t think those will be accessible. This section included one spillway (echo lake), two brand new pedestrian bridges over the Cahaba, the rail shimmy bridge to get back to a third pedestrian bridge (abandoned) in Camp Coleman, as well as several regular road bridges.

4:30AM phone call
I called Kristine to let her know about my wheel problems as I left Camp Coleman. It was 4:30 in the morning, and we brainstormed options for resolving my wheel problems. We settled on her bringing me a replacement wheel along with the cassette tools so I could swap out the 32T cassette. My basement is a bit disorganized so in the process of collecting all the stuff I needed, she forgot the wheel itself. We didn’t discover this until she made it to the Waffle House where I was waiting for her. Undeterred, she drove me home where I swapped out everything for the wheel and then drove me all the way back out to Trussville so I could resume riding at the same spot. My wife is amazing, absolutely amazing. By this point, though, it was 6AM. I resumed the route and headed out on the second section of the ride.

Section 2 – Abandoned railroads and ATV trails
I left Trussville and headed out Roper Rd towards the St. Clair county portion of the Cahaba. There is one bridge, and a short 4 or 5 mile loop on Annie Lee and Acmar that takes you over a feeder river labeled “Cahaba River” on Google maps, but I’m pretty sure that is a mistake as it is not the main Cahaba River. Still, it is a major tributary so I’m including it on the Cahaba 400K route. After my wheel problems earlier, I decided to cut this whole loop out and regain 20-30 minutes of time lost earlier. One of the reasons I had called Kristine instead of trying to make it all the way back to my house with the broken wheel is that this next 40 mile section from Trussville to Mountain Brook is the most technically challenging of the entire ride with several miles of ATV trails, one fording of the river, one long abandoned road bridge, and one hike-a-bike through what I call “snake alley” although to be fair I haven’t seen any snakes there yet. It also has some railroad history that I would love to explore some day as there are not one, but two different abandoned (only the supports are left) railroad bridges side by side over the Cahaba on this section.

I was hoping to find the abandoned road that leads to the abandoned bridge, but it went through a dense forest with tons of treefall. Apparently the ATVs prefer the super steep powerline trail, so nobody has gotten back there to clear out the trees on the old road grade. I think this may have been US Hwy 78 many, many years ago. Evidence for this is the following 1959 USGS map which has been digitized and is available on store.usgs.gov – the historical maps are awesome, but for this section they only go back as far as 1959 and Hwy 78 had already been built. It does show three houses and a road at the spot where the abandoned Cahaba River bridge is. This is a substantial bridge costing a ton of money to build, so I imagine it had to have been a major road at one time.

Abandoned road bridge over the Cahaba. As far as I know, it's the only road bridge that is abandoned. All the other abandoned bridges are either pedestrian or railroad bridges.Abandoned road bridge over the Cahaba. As far as I know, it’s the only road bridge that is abandoned on the upper section of the Cahaba. All the other abandoned bridges are either pedestrian or railroad bridges. On the lower section of the Cahaba, the Co Rd 29 bridge appears to have been abandoned recently.

1959 digitized historical USGS map annotated to show abandoned railroad bridges and abandoned road bridge over the Cahaba River.1959 digitized historical USGS map annotated to show abandoned railroad bridges and abandoned road bridge over the Cahaba River.

Section 3 – Suburbia
This next 27 mile section goes through Mountain Brook, Vestavia Hills, Hoover, Pelham, and Helena – hence the name “Suburbia”. Don’t let the name fool you, though, as some of the coolest features are on this section: three steep canoe landings, one crossing underneath three bridges over the Cahaba, one high pedestrian bridge (Hoover East), a 200 foot grassy dropoff that is rideable (Healthsouth Helicopter dropoff), a quarry, and finally riding out into Buck Creek. There is also a Cat 3 climb from river level. On this ride I did the Karl Daly climb and descended Grants Mill, but I would prefer to do the Grants Mill climb and descend Belmont for the Cahaba 400K next year as you can start the Grants Mill climb from literally in the river.

Section 4 – The Old Slab, the Cahaba National Wildlife Refuge, and the 1896 Fatal Train Wreck into the Cahaba
From Helena to West Blocton is where you spend the most time in the river with a long fording of the river at the Old Slab followed by swimming (optional) in the Cahaba at the National Wildlife Refuge to see the Cahaba River Lilies. After that, follow an abandoned rail-line to the remains of a 110 foot tall railroad trestle that was sabotaged in 1896 crashing a passenger train into the Cahaba killing more than 20 people. See 1896 Dallas morning news article (PDF) screenshot below:

Dec 28, 1896 Dallas Morning News frontpage coverage of the fatal Cahaba train wreck.Dec 28, 1896 Dallas Morning News frontpage coverage of the fatal Cahaba train wreck.

Michael Staley and I rode out to the Old Slab again on Memorial Day, and the place was pretty well packed with a lot of people enjoying the river from the surrounding communities of Pea Ridge and Green Pond.

Memorial Day at the Old Slab - pretty crowded!Memorial Day at the Old Slab – pretty crowded!

Past the Old Slab is the Cahaba National Wildlife Refuge. I had a blast swimming with the kids out to the lilies and cooling off in the river. Kristine later took the kids hiking to the lily overlook while I headed on towards Centreville and the next major attraction – the Cahaba Lookout firetower.

Swimming with the kids in the Cahaba River at the Cahaba River Naitonal Wildlife Refuge outside West Blocton.Swimming with the kids in the Cahaba River at the Cahaba River Naitonal Wildlife Refuge outside West Blocton.

Section 5 – Centreville and the Cahaba Lookout Tower

From West Blocton, the route turns south heading to AL-25 and Centreville crossing the Cahaba in two places – the US Hwy 82 bridge and the older bridge near Centreville high school. Centreville is significant for a number of reasons, but as far as the Cahaba goes, it is near the northern extent of alligator sightings. Closer down to the Alabama river, though, they are seen on a more regular basis. For me, the highlight of this section is the Cahaba Lookout tower, an abandoned (but still maintained) fire tower at the top of a ridge overlooking the Cahaba River valley and numerous other ridges and hills.

I had left Kristine at the NWR to go hiking with the kids, and so I reached the fire tower dirt road ahead of them and was giving her directions to find the tower. It essentially is “follow the main dirt road”, but there is one split where the main road looks like it goes to the right, when in fact the county road (CR 51) is the left split – see instagram pic above.

My family at the Cahaba Lookout Tower. Epic.My family at the Cahaba Lookout Tower. Epic.

Josiah at the top of the Cahaba Lookout Tower.Josiah at the top of the Cahaba Lookout Tower. The house with cleared area around it in the background is adjacent to Co Rd 51, which is the climb to get up to this tower. The gap in the ridge behind Josiah’s head is the Harrisberg Rd to get to the Harrisberg bridge over the Cahaba.

Section 6 – Tower to Tower
This 27 mile section goes from the fire tower to the birding tower. It veers north first on some dirt roads to reach the Jericho bridge and then back south to hit the birding tower. From the fire tower to the end, there aren’t as many bridges over the Cahaba because of how wide the river has grown and how wide the marshy areas extend on either side of the river. Since I was running really far behind schedule and still wanted to make it to the end, I decided to cut out the Jericho bridge and head straight down to Sprott (downhill and fast) to pick up the Cahaba at its big flood plain next to AL-14. I stopped my Garmin there and hopped in the car with Kristine and the kids to cross the Cahaba on the AL-14 bridge and head back north to the birding tower on the opposite side of the Cahaba from Sprott. Since this section would have been 10 miles there and 10 miles back again, this saved us close to an hour. The birding tower is pretty cool, but the access to it is just as cool. You head down this gravel road with cool side trails such as “Devil’s Walking Stick Trail” until you reach the Secret Lake trail. One of the reasons it is a “Secret Lake” is because it is actually a swamp with huge trees growing up out of the water making it practically invisible from satellite or plane. The first bridge you cross on the hike is a covered suspension bridge. Then you take a bridge out over the edge of the swamp to reach the birding tower itself. Even from 100 feet up, you are not above the highest trees but you do have a good view. Also, there aren’t birds – but that could be because of the time of day and how much noise we were making.

Josiah and I at the top of the 100 ft tall birding tower. Note how the tree behind us is even taller!Josiah and I at the top of the 100 ft tall birding tower. Note how the tree behind us is even taller!

Section 7 – the Cahaba River flood plain to the Alabama River
This last section is flat and fast for the first half, but then quite hilly towards the end as you hit bluffs from both the Cahaba River and the Alabama River. I stayed on AL-14 skipping the Co Rd 6 bridge over the Cahaba and the abandoned Co Rd 29 bridge. I took the US-80 bridge and then headed south on Co Rd 45 to Co Rd 189, a fun road that starts out as dirt and then turns into this really fun pavement to ride because it has ruts and jumps, but the pavement itself is still very smooth. At the end of this road is short jaunt over the final Cahaba River bridge on AL-22 just outside of Selma and then the newly repaved Co Rd 9 to take you down to Cahaba Rd and the finish at the ghost town of Cahawba (the original capital of Alabama).

Finally, I took 403 pictures and videos along the route. Check out the pics on this new website I created called “pickuta.com” which is an interactive photo mapping website. https://pickuta.com/album/27

pickuta.com interactive album of photos for this ride. Check it out at https://pickuta.com/album/27pickuta.com interactive album of photos for this ride. Check it out at https://pickuta.com/album/27

Southern-style Paris-Brest-Paris – there and back again

There and back again - topocreator county map showing my outbound route to Clemson in blue and my return route to Birmingham in red. 17 counties traversed on the outbound route, 18 counties traversed on the return route. Click to enlarge and see detail and annotations.There and back again – topocreator county map showing my outbound route to Clemson in blue and my return route to Birmingham in red. 17 counties traversed on the outbound route, 18 counties traversed on the return route. Click to enlarge and see detail and annotations.

I just finished reading the Lord of the Rings trilogy for the umpteenth time [1] as I write this blog. Frodo’s comments on Bilbo’s poem at the beginning of the series pretty much sums up my cycling adventures:

He used often to say there was only one road; that it was like a great river: its springs were at every doorstep, and every path was its tributary. “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out of your door,” he used to say. “You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there is no knowing where you might be swept off to.”

Bilbo’s poem itself captures some of the essence of my adventures as well:

The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.

I was close to finishing the series (40 more pages of the Return of the King) before leaving out my door on Friday for a 756 mile adventure to Clemson and back hitting the highest points in Alabama and Georgia on the way there and the highest point in Alabama again on the way back. I arrived back home through the same door just under 71 hours later. That’s over 1200km (the distance of the Paris-Brest-Paris randonneuring event held once every four years in France) in under the time cut-off of 90 hours for PBP. Along the way, I climbed nearly 60,000 feet of my favorite terrain – hills, hills, and more hills.

Disney World and Mount Cheaha
I dropped Kristine and the kids off for their adventure down to Disney World on Friday afternoon after driving down to Alabaster in Friday-before-spring-break rush hour traffic. Two hours later, I made it back home and took off with my friend Michael Staley to ride up and over Cheaha together. We left Birmingham around sunset and made it to Cheaha just past midnight. Michael had brought a portable sleeping hammock so he decided to call it a night at the end of 281. I continued on wanting to hit the Alabama, Georgia, AND South Carolina state high points in a single ride and still make it to Clemson for my hotel reservation Saturday night. I was wide awake and ready to continue but running low on battery for my lights, so I rode without a light at all for many, many miles on beautifully paved Hwy 78 through Heflin and then even after turning onto a county road, the full moon was bright enough to see any obstacles in the road (of which there were very few). I saw two cars the entire time, and both of them came up from behind me so they could see my reflective clothing and blinking taillight. It wasn’t until I crossed over into Georgia, and the pavement went downhill pretty quickly that I turned my front light back on. I had to keep it on for the section of the Silver Comet that I rode from Rockmart to Dallas, which is quite dark and tricky at night. The big tunnel outside of Braswell was cool, although I was hoping for pitch black and spooky – instead it was very well lit.

Michael Staley and I leaving my house in Birmingham and about 5 hours later on top of Mount Cheaha.Michael Staley and I leaving my house in Birmingham and about 5 hours later on top of Mount Cheaha.

Georgia
By morning I had made it to the Kennesaw area northwest of Atlanta. Unfortunately, there was a lot of Saturday morning traffic from Kennesaw all the way until I hit 9 to head north to Dawsonville. Traffic died down a bit there, but was still busy. I’m sure there were better routes, but I was trying to find a somewhat direct route and ended up on quite busy roads. I noticed one of the segments on Strava was called “Try not to get hit”. The stretch from Dawsonville to Dahlonega was pretty much deserted, which surprised me as I thought that would be pretty busy, too. And, I was running so far behind and with the weather and rain moving in, the stretch of US-19 and GA-60 from Dahlonega up to the top of Woody’s Gap was quieter than when I rode it after Southern Cross a few weeks ago. I had my first extended stop 254 miles into the ride at the Dahlonega Dunkin Donuts, where I ate a bunch and charged up all my devices using wall chargers. I met Adam Heiser from Atlanta who had driven up with his team to train in the mountains. That’s what so cool about Dahlonega – it is a true cycling destination – people come from all over to train and ride. Although, I’d like to think I’m the first person who has ever ridden there from Birmingham on a single ride!

Brasstown Bald – the highest point in Georgia
It was getting dark and quite cool in the high mountain valley between Woody’s Gap and Hogpen Gap so I had to put on my long sleeve rain vest to keep warm. But by the time I made it to the valley at the foot of Brasstown, it had gotten quite warm again and I had to stop and take off all the extra clothes. The temp dropped as I rode up into the clouds and rain so that it was down into the 40s by the top. I made it to the top about 15 minutes too soon, as the park rangers were in the process of leaving. They were still there, though, and they told me I couldn’t ride my bike to the top so I took off hiking up to the top (1k up and 1k back down) in my speedplay cleats. They were gone by the time I made it back down. I’ve ridden to the top of Brasstown many times, but always in weird off hours when the park is deserted and there are no park rangers up there. I understand their concern as it is against the rules, and it is a dangerous climb when the shuttle busses are running because of how steep and sharp that first switchback is, but when everything is deserted and there aren’t any shuttle busses, I don’t see what the problem is all about. Rules are rules, I guess, and some people don’t understand that there is a purpose behind every rule and when conditions invalidate the purpose for the rule, the rule itself should not be enforced. Still, since the park ranger said the park was closed, I was grateful he let me in at all so I could hike to the top. Although I don’t really understand the concept of closing or restricting access to public lands.

Clemson
I took the Owl Creek cutoff from the Jack’s Gap descent to make my way over to US-76. Descending down out of the rain, it got warm and eventually sunny as I hit the climbs on US-76 back up to the Appalachian Trail. The sun was setting right about the time I crossed the trail itself, and more clouds were moving in. By the time I made it to Clayton, it was dark and drizzling and 8PM on a Saturday night. I was dreading two things at this point – the super long climb up to Highlands, North Carolina and then close to 50 miles on a very windy, dangerous stretch of US-64 at night in the rain and fog. This was more than enough for me to decide to cut off the northward chunk of the ride that would take me through North Carolina and then back down to the South Carolina high point – Sassafras Mountain. I was disappointed and relieved at the same time. I was happy that I was going to make it into Clemson at a more decent hour and actually get some sleep before having to set out on my return trip. I was also happy to ride some roads I had never ridden before in the Long Creek area. There was one killer climb with a sustained 15% section that was at least half a mile long, straight as an arrow. If I wasn’t so tired and sleepy at that point, I would have for sure turned around and done the descent and hit well over 50mph. As it was, though, I was falling asleep having been up at this point for more than 40 hours from 6:30AM on Friday morning until 11:30PM on Saturday night. I still had 30 miles to ride, but I hit some roads that have tons of memories from when I was a student at Clemson, which helped wake me up as I rolled in around 12:30 and eventually to the hotel by about 1AM after taking pictures around campus. Checking into the hotel was awesome – especially filling out the part with make, model, and license plate of car!:-)

At this point, I was planning on instagramming some of the pics I had been taking and then using the hotel computer to upload my ride to strava. But I fell asleep holding my phone after showering and didn’t wake up for four or five hours later. At which point, I said forget it and just slept for another three hours getting up about 8:30AM eastern time, 7:30 central time (which is the timezone my body stayed on the entire ride). Thankfully, I had plugged in a number of my devices into wall chargers, but I still needed to charge my lights so I did that during breakfast and while I uploaded my ride to strava from the hotel computer. I had brought my Di2 charger with me, knowing that my Di2 battery wouldn’t last the full 750 miles with the D-fly attachment which drains the battery fast. But I hadn’t connected it right and it only charged back up to 50% by the time I left. This barely got me back to Atlanta the next day, where I thought I would have to spend the night but thankfully I got it charged during an extended stop at Starbucks at the Vinings exit on 285.

The return trip home
I was expecting rain on the way back, and the weather didn’t disappoint. Fortunately, I made it almost all the way to Gainesville, Georgia (90ish miles into the ride back) before it started to rain. Then it rained pretty much all the way down to Atlanta where it had stopped by the north side of town. The sun came out a bit right as it was sunsetting. Then it was dark and I followed a lot of cool greenways to make it to the Starbucks in Vinings which I had been thinking about for the past 130 miles on the way there. I had two of their new Spicy Chorizo breakfast sandwiches, a venti caramel macchiato, and a venti coffee. I needed to charge both my garmins, my Di2, and my lights. I stayed there for close to an hour and a half getting caught up on instagram pics and waiting for things to charge. Then I took off hitting the Silver Comet and riding it and the Chief Ladiga trail for the next 96 miles to Weaver, Alabama. This was fun, but I would definitely like to experience it again when it isn’t full of huge puddles, debris, and very dark.

I made it to Weaver by about 5 in the morning about an hour and a half before sunrise when my last light died. So I crossed 431 and headed to the gate and was stopped by a nice soldier, who I told I was trying to make it to the Anniston bypass. He said I needed to head one gate farther down, so I turned around and took 431 south for a mile or so to the next gate which is unmanned and rode through Fort McClellan with no light until I remembered I still had a little bit of charge on one of my battery packs. I plugged it into my light and that gave me about 10 minutes of riding until it died too just as I made it to the Anniston bypass. The new section of the bypass is open now, and it is heavily used even before 5:30 in the morning [2].

Weaving up cheaha - not ashamed - brings back memories of when we used to do the cheaha challenge with an 11x23 cassette.Weaving up cheaha – not ashamed – brings back memories of when we used to do the cheaha challenge with an 11×23 cassette.

Traffic dropped to pretty much zero as soon as I crossed I-20 and hit the friendship road climb up to the parkway. I made it to Cheaha mid-morning and weaved my way up the entire climb (see pic above). I was pretty exhausted by this point but I wasn’t the least bit sleepy. Another issue at this point was saddle sores. Because of all the rain, I had some pretty nasty saddle sores and raw areas even applying lots of the Vitamin A&D ointment at every extended stop. I should have taken one of the men’s adult diapers. I had thought about it, and regretted it for about 12 hours from the middle of Georgia until home. Plus, they don’t sell small versions of those things – you have to buy a 12 pack or larger so I was stubbornly not going to buy any since I only needed one. Oh well, I’m still paying for it several days after the ride.

Both my Garmins were about dead by the time I made it to Talladega, so I ran into the Walmart and bought a FOURTH powerbank that was precharged so I didn’t have to wait for devices to charge before heading back to Birmingham. Still, I ran out of charge on my Garmin 800 by Chelsea after draining the powerbank charging up my phone and Garmin 1000 too much (it charged quickly). So I had to stop AGAIN and charge my Garmin 800 in an electric outlet on the back of a gas station. I would have charged at the Chelsea sonic which has been an oasis for many of an adventure but I couldn’t find any electric outlets at all so I kept on riding until I got to a gas station where I found one.

Double Oak
The last big challenge of the ride was convincing myself to do the Double Oak climb. If I had been able to climb Sassafras on the ride on the way to Clemson, there is absolutely no way I would have done the 7 mile detour and 1000 foot climb to the top of double oak from chelsea. I would have ridden as straight home as possible, but given that I missed Sassafras I wanted to at least put double oak on the elevation profile for comparison with the other big climbs on the ride. I was running an 11×32 cassette with a 39 small chainring so I could just spin up the climb and weave up the steeper parts. I was in no hurry as my family was all in Disney World and I just needed to get back eventually so I just took my time. By this time it was quite hot and I was getting sunburned. It was amazing to me that I could experience dry cold, wet cold, wet hot, and dry hot all on the same ride. That puts the scope of the ride into perspective for me. The other thing that puts it into perspective is this view below looking off the double oak cliffs back in the direction from which I had come from Clemson … about 250 miles as the crow flies, 360 miles as the bike rides far, far, far, far beyond the horizon.

View looking back in the general direction of Clemson beyond Signal Mountain - far beyond the horizon visible in this pic.View looking back in the general direction of Clemson beyond Signal Mountain – far beyond the horizon visible in this pic.

I took 285 pictures during the ride, and I’m currently working on a way to display them all on my interactive topocreator maps. In the meantime, check out a selection of the pics separated into two galleries – “there” and “back again”. Also, I have lots of data and analysis to post and lots of comparisons to RAAM that I want to comment on, but I will save that for another post. Thanks for reading!

“There” – Hoover, Alabama to Clemson, South Carolina

“Back again” – Clemson, South Carolina to Hoover, Alabama

Footnotes

[1] The way it works, the only time I read for fun is when we put up the Christmas tree each December. Then I enjoy reading by the light of the Christmas tree at night after every one has gone to bed, or in the morning before everyone else has woken up. But then once I start reading, I can’t stop until I finish the entire series. It’s usually a race to see if I can finish the series before we take down the Christmas tree sometime in February or March. The Christmas tree won this year, as we took it down several weeks ago while I was still in the second book. return

[2] It was ridiculous the number of cars and trucks that passed me, but thankfully there was a wide shoulder where I could pick and choose a path through lots of rocks and debris.return