Tag Archives: epic

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.

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.

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


[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

Rouge Roubaix 2016

Low water bridge ... under water! Flooding caused a few route changes this year.Low water bridge … under water! Flooding caused a few route changes this year.

I was prepared for the flooding, though, as I practiced fording a river on my Thursday ride back in Alabama. I found all the dirt roads and gravel roads I could find that I felt were good simulation for the Rouge Roubaix course. Also, there is a stretch of the Cahaba River I’ve always wanted to try to cross in the middle of the ride. See pic below.

Rouge Roubaix prep - fording the Cahaba River on Thursday.Rouge Roubaix prep – fording the Cahaba River on Thursday in the middle of a 103 mile ride with 5 flats. Video in the middle of the crossing here: https://youtu.be/vMqPOqUr2hE

This was my 7th roubaix having raced it every year now since 2010. This was the first time that flooding caused a major reroute. Every year it was always questionable whether we would need to bypass part of the first gravel section, but there has always been three (or four … 2013!!!) gravel sections and the low water bridge near the end of the race. But this year, the first and third gravel sections were unrideable, and the low water bridge was impassable. The second gravel section, including the Blockhouse Hill, was rideable and quite fast with the sandy bottom after the climb packed down from the rain. Did that lessen the “epicness” of the race? Not one bit! As I write this blog, I am pulling together data from previous years. I believe this will shake out as more difficult than most years. It’s a little hard to make a fair comparison personally because I raced this year’s race a few pounds heavier than previous years and also with close to 400 miles in my legs for the week even before the start of the race and over 500 by the end of the race.

How the race played out
We staged at a new park this year closer to the finish and downtown St Francisville. Rolling out from there, we eventually hit US-61 north and took it all the way to the left on LA-66 (the road to Angola). This marked the end of the neutral section, and as always our pace skyrocketed to 40+mph (42.1mph this year). With many strong teams in the race, nothing emerged with the right composition and the race saw a continuous stream of attacks that saw us averaging 29.4 mph from the turn onto LA-66 to the right turn onto Sligo.

The twists and turns and hills and hit-or-miss pavement of Sligo usually sees a small break emerge with the field maintaining a fast but easily manageable pace that leaves you cringing that the break is “getting away”. This year was quite different as our pace was insane through Sligo without anyone trying to conserve energy for the first gravel section. We averaged 27.3 mph for the entire 12 mile stretch of roads taking us back to LA-66. I really struggled through here because I found myself near the back, and there was quite the slinky effect — basically felt like tail-gunning a criterium which can be much more difficult than riding the front!

There was a lull in the pace after we made it back to LA-66, and I worked my way up to the very front and even put in one attack shortly after what is normally the turn onto the first gravel. This move didn’t work, but I was well-positioned at the front to see the real break emerge on the rolling hills before the feedzone. After the feedzone, I was also in a good position to see a chase group emerge. I was in good position to go with it as I saw Frank Travieso about to attack, but we were near the top of a hill and my legs were dying so I hesitated and just watched him go instead. At this point, the break quickly got a minute and a half on the field.

I also lost a full bottle of gatorade that popped out when I hit a pothole at full speed (no flat though, +1 for Martindale 25mm rims and brand new tires). Thankfully, the field was still flying as this meant I had to last the entire first 68 miles of the race on a single small bottle of gatorade. We averaged 27.4 mph from the end of the neutral section all the way to the bottom of the blockhouse meaning the first 68 miles took well under 2.5 hours. Our pace was so fast in the field that we had started to catch the break again and could see them make the turn onto the rough road at the bottom of Blockhouse. I attacked shortly before the turn and was near the front going into the turn. I was on the left, so I rode through the puddle lake hoping that it was smooth underneath (which it was).

Fearing a flat, I tried to leave enough room to see ahead but people just kept passing me until the start of the climb. I passed a bunch of people on the climb and eventually caught back up to the front of the field. By this point there were only a few of us left. As we established a rotation, several other people from the field caught up to us. As we continued pushing the pace, we eventually caught a few people who had come off the lead group. All told, there were about 15 of us in the group which was too big for any cohesive effort. I was hoping that there would be a bunch of attacks that would eventually lead to the establishment of a new smaller chase group so I hopped onto John Stowe’s wheel when he attacked a couple times. Unfortunately, there were enough people who wanted to see the group work that there was always somebody chasing to bring it back.

As we approached the end, I could tell that my legs were just completely spent. I could keep up with the group, but I didn’t have anything left for the sprint. So in a vain attempt to sneak away, I attacked a bunch of times. The first attack was probably the best as I quickly got a good gap on the field but when we passed the 10K to go sign, I was disheartened and eased up knowing that I couldn’t hold that pace for the next 6 miles. The group caught back up, and I expected a counter-attack. But when the counter-attack didn’t come, I attacked again. This time my legs were pretty much done and I didn’t get very far. Finally, going into the setup for the sprint on US-61N, there was a lull in the pace and I launched one final attack. Nothing was getting away, but Joey Bacala and Jacob White countered that one and got away cleanly. I was done attacking/chasing and spent the rest of the race just holding on. I figured I would pass a few people on the final hill from people who cramped, but as it turns out there was only a couple people who sat up so I finished third from the end of our group, which was sprinting for 16th place. Joey and Jacob held on just barely ahead of the sprint to take 16th and 17th. I ended up 27th.

All-in-all, it was another great race and a fun day on the bike. I would like to redo the race and make a couple different decisions, but that is what next year is for!!!

Up ahead, Mike Olheiser and Andrew Dalheim were battling the Hincapie team who managed to get all 5 of their riders into the break. The Hincapie guys are not just super strong, though, they are also very smart and worked it to perfection to take a podium sweep this year with Travis McCabe taking the win followed by two riders I’ve not met before – Andzs Flaksis (Latvia) and Mac Brennan from Greenville. Andrew and Mike took 4th and 5th followed by Oscar Clark in 6th.

Rouge Roubaix over the years
This was by far my fastest Rouge Roubaix ever mainly because riders rode much more aggressively knowing that there was only one gravel section. Here is a year-by-year comparison of some of the key data from the race:

Year/Place Spd/Dist/Time Avg/Max HR Avg/NP Pow Suffer Winner
2016/27th 25.5 mph/100.7 mi/3:56:38 156/185 bpm 252/299 watts 318 Travis McCabe/26.6 mph
2015/17th 23.8 mph/101.8 mi/4:16:43 152/185 bpm 208/254 watts 296 Winston David/24.4 mph
2014/9th 23.8mph/101.8 mi/4:15:53 148/188 bpm N/A 266 Heath Blackgrove/24.4 mph
2013/10th 22.4mph/105.1 mi/4:41:34 163/192 bpm 242/274 watts 430 Ty Magner/23.9 mph
2012/4th 23.4mph/105.1 mi/4:30:02 162/192 bpm 242/280 watts 227 Adam Koble/23.4 mph
2011/9th 22.0mph/105.1 mi/4:47:11 159/192 bpm N/A 245 Greg Krause/22.9 mph
2010/18th 21.7mph/101.8 mi/4:41:59 160/194 bpm N/A 224 Mat Davis/22.7 mph

My first time racing Rouge Roubaix was 2010. Here is what I could find for previous years. Distances aren’t recorded in the results, so I’m calculating average speed assuming they used the long course (105.1 mi) below:

2009 – 1st place – Christian Helming 4:26:30 – 105.1mi (?) @ 23.7mph
2008 – 1st place – Aaron Boyleston 4:25:53 – 105.1mi (?) @ 23.7mph
2007 – 1st place – Mike Olheiser 4:21:09 – 105.1mi (?) @ 24.1mph
2006 – 1st place – Mike Olheiser 4:31:25 – 105.1mi (?) @ 23.2mph
2005 – 1st place – Jason Snow 4:22:50 – 105.1mi (?) @ 24.0mph
2004 – 1st place – Brice Jones 4:23:56 – 105.1mi (?) @ 23.9mph
2003 – Results link broken
2002 – 1st place – Stephen Viquerie 5:02:00 – 105.1mi (?) @ 20.9mph
2001 – Results link broken
2000 – Results link broken
1999 – Results link broken

2016 Rouge Roubaix race data
One of the things I wanted to investigate this year was how much time was spent in my 53×11. Given how fast the first 2.5 hours of the race were, I thought it would be at least 30 minutes in the 53×11. It didn’t turn out to be that much, but I spent over 50% of the race in just four gears – 53×11, 53×12, 53×13, and 53×14 – and over 75% of the race total time if you tack on the 53×16 and 53×18. Click the pie chart below to see interactive data.

2016 Rouge Roubaix shifting data. Click for interactive version.2016 Rouge Roubaix shifting data. Click for interactive version. https://di2stats.com/rides/lapview/11560/3

Interesting w'bal data in Golden Cheetah. When my legs felt the most dead, which is what prompted me to attack, my w'bal indicates I should have been feeling fine! Click to enlarge and see detail.Interesting w’bal data in Golden Cheetah. When my legs felt the most dead, which is what prompted me to attack, my w’bal indicates I should have been feeling fine! Click to enlarge and see detail.

One final note – I was hoping the flooding would bring out the alligators earlier in the year than normal which might lead to my dream for this race – rounding the corner in the lead with the choice of whether or not to bunny hop an alligator in the middle of the road or even on the low-water bridge. What would you do in that situation??? In any case, I had promised Kristine a selfie with an alligator, but the closest I could get was a taxidermied one in a gas station on our way down to the race.

Selfie with an alligator for @ktoone.