All posts by Brian Toone

Cheaha and Skyway

Yesterday, I wanted to see how I would respond to back-to-back 200+ mile rides. My friend Michael Staley wanted to ride from Tuscaloosa to Mount Cheaha and back, but I convinced him to come join me on a ride with a ton more climbing on a shorter route leaving from Birmingham at around 1AM. My rough plan for RAAM is the following – ride for roughly 20 hours a day with 4 hours devoted to miscellaneous stops, eating, and sleeping. I want to stay on as regular a schedule as possible so I’m planning on riding until my normal bedtime of about 9PM, sleeping for 3 hours, and then starting to ride again by 1AM each day. If this plan goes exactly to schedule, then it will end up being a bit more sleep than the typical RAAM racer, but hopefully with enough energy to recoup the time with a faster moving average.

For this reason, I’ve been starting all my long training rides at about 1 in the morning after 3 hours of sleep. This ride with Michael was no exception. He drove over and parked out front of my house, and we left at 1AM as the neighbor dogs were barking at this unusual activity in the middle of the night. We knew it was going to be cold by the morning, but we didn’t realize how cold! The picture below is shortly after sunrise near Talladega after the temp had been down in the mid teens for several hours – cold enough for beardcicles … a little bit of Wisconsin all the way in the deep south in Alabama!

There were so many fun things in this ride, but one of the highlights was Horns Valley road snaking along the backside of the Alabama Skyway ridge line – probably Alabama’s longest narrowest ridge line extending from northeast of Mount Cheaha all the way down to Sylacauga. Lookout Mountain and Sand Mountain are both longer but they are so wide that you could almost just call them plateaus. The picture below is annotated on the topocreator map roughly halfway down the Horns Valley road.

Annotated topocreator map with the Cheaha and Skyway ridge lines visible in the east. (click to enlarge)Annotated topocreator map with the Cheaha and Skyway ridge lines visible in the east. (click to enlarge)

High resolution version

In addition to the really fun, smooth dirt road that dwindled to a fast, fun, smooth double track in a number of places – we ended up climbing the ridge line itself at several of the major gaps – Adams Gap, Clairmont Gap (2x – both sides), Porter Gap, and Bulls Gap. During this middle stretch of the ride, the temp climbed up into the 60s thanks to the strength of an Alabama sun, but by the end of the ride a few hours after sunset we were back down into the 40s. Overall, we saw a 45 degF swing in temperature from a low of 14.5 degF near the Coosa River on our way out to Cheaha up to high of 61 degF near a different section of the Coosa River on our way back home.

One final note about this ride – I knew when I was planning out the route that we would be covering the old Bulls Gap time trial late in the ride – but I was thinking at the time of the more recent iterations of the race in the 2000s. It wasn’t until I was riding with Michael and telling him about the course that I remembered that the Bulls Gap time trial was my very first time trial and road cycling event. Check out the pic from just before the start in 1993 when I had absolutely no clue that I was even wearing a world champions jersey let alone that you weren’t supposed to do that!

toone-bullsgap1993Me before the start of the 1993 Bulls Gap time trial.

Mount Cheaha

Mount Cheaha has been the destination for my long RAAM training rides. Yesterday, I rode 223 miles and climbed 26,5000 feet while taking a new route home from Cheaha. The roads were fantastic once you made it down the rough side of Adams Gap. I had a great tailwind for the entire southwesterly stretch to Childersburg and then ran into some problems with after school traffic. Looking back, I probably should have taken Shady Ln to Grist Mill and then over to state highway 235 … actually what I should have done is figured out a way to swim across the Coosa River and then I could take rural roads all the way back home. Maybe in late spring?!

The highlight of the very long day was the beautiful Alabama scenery, and I’ve included some pics I took along the route below:

Catching Up

One of the biggest challenges of RAAM is keeping everything organized. That is why it is so important as a rider to have a good solid crew behind you – people who think of all the details and can keep everything that needs to happen straight in their heads. My wife is amazing as she set up a Rally Me website (link coming soon) all by herself last night. My crew chief, Wes Bates, has also been on top of staying in touch with everyone on the crew and helping prepare them for what is to come. If you know me well, then you know that I am a very disorganized person. I believe this character trait has risen out of the sheer volume of things that I am trying to accomplish in life. RAAM is no different in that it is difficult to put in the hours of training while still maintaining things like a blog. So this blog has suffered a bit in the lack of posts. I’m going to get caught up here and then make a concerted effort to post shorter more frequent updates on my preparation for RAAM.

2014 Training and Racing Highlights
September was busy with racing with back-to-back wins at the Alabama state road race followed the next day by the Asheville Gran Fondo. After a trip to the beach (this time in a car) to race the Pensacola Cycling Classic, I switched into mountain biking and ultra cross racing mode, racing the Fool’s Gold 100, Oak Ass 100, and Gravel Grovel. In the middle of all that, I won a couple of really cool Gran Fondos (Asheville and Roswell), and the Tour de Cullman. This year I rode up from Birmingham to Cullman, won the race, and then rode back home – a 209 mile adventure with a race in the middle!

One final addition to the 2014 training and racing season was a pair of everestings – riding repeats on a single hill enough time to climb the height of Mount Everest on a single ride. Strava put out a climbing challenge in November, and the Hells 500 guys upped the ante by offering a special medallion for those who completed an everesting during the climbing challenge. Scott Cole from up in Vermont completed THREE everestings during the competition, whereas I was only able to complete one everesting – karl daly. Even so, I was able to place 3rd in the world for the climbing challenge and 1st in the US based on many, many, many, many repeats of the double oak roller coaster.

Towards the beginning of December after the climbing challenge was over, I looked at my stats on veloviewer and realized I could possibly hit 2.75 million feet of climbing for the year if I climbed a lot in December — which is tricky because of our annual trip up to Wisconsin for the last week of December. I created a spreadsheet to help me track my progress which eventually led to the creation of a new website ( The picture below is after I completed the goal via everesting Mount Cheaha climbing 33,330 feet (over 10,000 meters) the night before and into the day we left for Wisconsin. - 2014 elevation goal 2.75 million – 2014 elevation goal 2.75 million feet

2015 Epics
2015 is off to a strong start with a number of epic rides and races in preparation for RAAM. First was the inaugural Bakers Dozen race ride that Eddie Freyer put on as a fund raiser for the Alabama High School mountain bike league. Mark Fisher and I helped plan the route picking 13 of the steepest climbs on Red Mountain. A few days later I rode 250 miles from Birmingham to Anniston and back home via Mount Cheaha for a planning meeting for the upcoming Cheaha Challenge Gran Fondo Ultra. Four days later I rode 190 miles out and back to Mount Cheaha with my friend Michael Staley.

Less than a week after that, I found myself lost and found in the amazing hills of San Mateo and San Francisco as we traveled to the west coast for a RAAM crewing seminar. The riding was spectacular with back-to-back 120+ mile days and over 16,000 feet of climbing both days (the picture above is from Mt Tam on the second day of riding). The crewing seminar was really informative as we learned what to expect during the race in terms of potential problems and solutions as well as the logistics of the start of the race, time stations, the finish of the race. Being in Sacramento gave us a chance to catch up with friends from my graduate school days at UC Davis.

Back home in Birmingham, I started teaching the Spring semester where I am teaching only Monday, Wednesday, and Friday’s this semester. Last Thursday, I rode to Anniston again using a different route and climbing six category 2 climbs along the way for a total of 247 miles and 26,000+ feet of climbing. Today (in the next few minutes – it is 2AM now, and I’ve been up since 1AM), I am heading out for a similar ride but this time just to Mount Cheaha where I will then do 6 repeats (over 25% of an everesting) before turning around and heading back home. Tomorrow night, I will do a similar ride (without the repeats) to simulate what it will feel like with back to back days on little sleep.

That’s all for now, but bookmark this website as I’m going to be adding things to it more frequently to keep everyone updated on my progress towards the goal of crushing RAAM.

RAAM 2015 here we come!

I qualified for Race Across America at  the 24 hour time trial in Washington, NC riding 444 miles in 24 hours. I am beyond excited to have made the first step towards RAAM. Come be a part of our journey!

Left to right – me (3rd place), Brian Jastrebsky (1st place), and Ray Brown (2nd place) after the race.
Left to right – me (3rd place), Brian Jastrebsky (1st place), and Ray Brown (2nd place) after the race. I am wearing my signed Strava shirt that the awesome folks at Strava sent me after my bad accident in April.