I’m back to blogging over on my pre-RAAM website. Check out the latest post about my long ride to meet the family in Kentucky to explore Mammoth Cave.
On Friday, I decided to head out on one final long 300+ mile adventure before the start of the Race Across America in just over two weeks. Having visited the University of Alabama a few times during my training I thought it was only fair that I also make the journey down to Auburn University. Plus, I would be able to add four new counties to my 2015 training tally – Chambers, Lee, Russell, and Macon counties. Check out my updated maps. The first shows elevation data only from the 50 Alabama counties I’ve ridden in this year. The second is a map of the 27 rides longer than 186 miles (~300km) I have completed this year showing the elevation data for the entire state.
Alabama map showing elevation for the counties I have entered during my 2015 training for the Race Across America. I have a one-way ride planned to pick up the rental van RAAM follow vehicle in Florence, Alabama arranged by my good buddy Justin Lowe at 1st Choice Collision in Dover, TN that will include entering Lauderdale and Colbert counties. (Click to enlarge the map)
Exploring Alabama has been one of the biggest surprises of my training for the Race Across America. I knew that I would be increasing my mileage this year as training, but what I didn’t realize fully ahead of time was the freedom that a 200+ mile ride gives you to explore all parts of the state all the way out to the borders. There is something really special and hard to describe about leaving the house at 1 in the morning, riding hundreds of miles during the night, all day, and into the night again, and yet returning through the same door and parking the bike in the same spot from 20 hours earlier. There is a laughable moment of “holy crap, I just rode my bike to Tennessee and back” that cannot be described – only experienced.
They don’t call it Alabama the Beautiful for nothing. This was an amazing find on my ride up to Northwest Alabama to ride in four new counties for 2015 – Winston, Lawrence, Franklin, and Marion. Along the way, I rode through an amazing series of roads and bridges crossing Smith Lake four different times. When I finally made it up into Bankhead National Forest, once of the first places I saw was the Natural Bridge national recreation area entrance and decided to investigate.
Continue reading Natural Bridge, Alabama
Toughest organized century ride in the south, probably the whole country – the new Cheaha Challenge Ultra 200 km ride showcases some of the best terrain Alabama has to offer, which in my opinion is some of the best on the planet. I decided to make it “extra” ultra by riding to the start and then back home for a grand total of 293 miles and over 20,000 feet of climbing. Absolutely amazing day despite the occasional rain. I left the house at 2:30AM and rode over to meet Chris Shelton at the back of Liberty Park while Pete Foret, one of my RAAM crew followed behind to get more practice as a driver for RAAM.
One of my passions related to cycling is sharing with other people how great Alabama is for cycling. Even though Alabama recently got ranked DFL (dead last) in the country for states friendly to cycling, there is beauty to be found everywhere in the state if you are willing to brave the messiness. So as I’ve been structuring my really long training rides, I’ve been intentional in trying to explore new roads and new portions of the state. One way to keep track of that is by the number of different counties I’ve ridden in. The first map below shows all of my 2015 training rides and races.
It’s a bit much to claim to be an ambassador of the entire state of Alabama when I race the Race Across America, but I think it is fairly safe to say that I’ve biked in more parts of the state than most people! Keep in mind this is just my 2015 rides – not quite four and a half months of riding. As far as lifetime riding goes, I’ve ridden in every county in the state except for the following counties – Washington, Choctaw, and Clarke in southwestern Alabama as well as Barbour, Dale, Russell, and Henry in southeastern Alabama.
I’m at nearly 11,000 miles of training and racing this year almost entirely within the state of Alabama. Those rides have covered 42 of the 67 counties in Alabama. Nearly all of these rides have started and ended at my house in Hoover, a suburb of Birmingham. The exceptions are two rides in western Alabama I did during the annual meeting of the Alabama Academy of Science, one ride in Huntsville I did in conjunction with my first race of the year – the Union Grove time trial, and one ride I did in conjunction with the first training race of the year at Camp Sumatanga near Gadsden.
Additionally, one misconception about Alabama that a lot of people from other parts of the country have is that Alabama is flat. Dispelling that notion, I’ve climbed well over 1,100,000 feet of hills and mountains since January 1st of this year with a goal to reach 3,000,000 feet by the end of the year. This elevation total doesn’t include two “everestings” where you ride the same hill over and over again in the same ride until you have accumulated 29,030 feet of climbing (i.e., the height of Mount Everest). This has to be done all in one ride, preferably within 24 hours. I everested a popular local climb here in Birmingham called Karl Daly as well as the west side of Mount Cheaha. Both of these everestings were at the end of 2014 so they aren’t included in the 1,100,000 foot total.
This next map shows four individual rides to reach Mississippi, Tennessee, Georgia, and South Alabama via long 250-315 mile loops. The minimal one-way distance for me to reach Florida is 193 miles, which means a round trip of well over 400 miles if I try to make some sort of loop out of it. I still might try to do that, but I’m running out of time to work that in before RAAM.
I’ve posted tons of instagram pictures from these rides, but I’ve narrowed it down to my top 4 below (one from each of the four rides). What an amazing journey this has been as I’ve been discovering new places throughout this great state!
1. Monday, May 11th – South Alabama – 14 counties, 313.5 miles, 15,184 feet of climbing. The caption speaks for itself, but to emphasize the two things that I almost immediately think of when I think of riding in South Alabama is rolling hills and Spanish moss.
2. Thursday, May 7th – Tennessee loop – 8 counties, 294.5 miles, 18,373 feet of climbing. I stumbled upon this Alabama road near the border of Tennessee when I was planning out my route. I wanted to go by the state road race course and work my way north from there. As I was scanning the satellite imagery near the border, I saw a label that said “Toone Rd” and knew that I needed to include it on my route.
3. Sunday, April 26th – Mississippi Fun – 9 counties, 263 miles, 20,164 feet of climbing. Rural western Alabama.
4. Tuesday, April 21st – (Georgia) the walking dead – 7 counties, 244 miles, 21,499 feet of climbing. I named this one the Walking Dead because I rode to western Georgia within 50 miles of where they are filming the TV series of the same name. Randolph County was an awesome discovery with sweeping views of the surrounding area and lots of farmland that reminded me of Wisconsin. I’ve chosen the pic below as my favorite in order to put the distance of the ride into perspective. I started out so far west of Cheaha that it is not visible. Then I rode for an hour or so until you can see Cheaha. Then I rode all the way over Cheaha to about the same distance away on the east side of the mountain. Then I turned around and rode all the way back home.
The longer I ride bikes, the more fascinated I am with the history of the places that I ride. The Old Howard 100 has fun personal history for me as I was fortunate to start teaching at Samford University in the Spring of 2005 when the Howard College of Arts and Sciences at Samford put on the inaugural Old Howard ride. Living the dream for me means that I got to start my position mid-year as an assistant professor at probably the only university in the country that happened to be launching a 100 mile bike ride at the same time I was graduating with my PhD.
The ride is called the Old Howard because Samford University used to be named Howard College and located in Marion, Alabama in Perry County in the middle of the Black Belt – a geological feature consisting of very rich black topsoil extending from Tupelo, Mississippi all the way across to Montgomery, Alabama as annotated in the satellite picture below:
I decided to ride down to the start, ride the century, and then ride back home for a grand total of 303 miles. My friend Michael Staley decided to ride from Tuscaloosa and meet me halfway to join me on the rest of the ride down to the start and then the century before heading our separate ways back to Tuscaloosa and Birmingham. We rendezvoused in Woodstock in the dark in the rain and rode a cool route that included Crystal Lake Rd and Haysap Church Rd (a 5 mile dirt road that goes by a 185 year old church I found on a 2013 adventure).
I was honored to be the ride leader leaving Judson College, and it was great to be in a large group visiting Greensboro, Alabama first. Then, as we came back through some hills towards Marion, our group shrank in size until it was about 10-15 of us taking the long flat road along the Cahaba River down to Selma. Along the way, there was beautiful farmland, rivers, and forests culminating in a ride underneath huge Live Oak trees covered in Spanish Moss in Selma.
Thankfully, we had a nice tail crosswind for the last stretch back to Marion and our group flew the rest of the way averaging 22.1 mph for the entire century. After some great hot dogs and lemonade, Michael and I needed to get on the road so that we could try to make it back before the storms. We rode together for a couple blocks until he turned right to go north, and I turned left to go south to hit the corner of Autauga county before turning due north to make it back to Birmingham just ahead of the storms.
In addition to everything else that was great about the Old Howard ride and my adventure getting down there and back, I added two new counties to the list of counties I’ve ridden in this year – Hale and Autauga. That brings my total up to 35 counties in 6 states since the beginning of the year. Also, from the beginning of the year I’ve increased the number of long rides that I’ve been doing. This has led to 41 rides that qualify for the Strava gran fondo distance of 130 km (81 miles) or longer. These rides together have totaled 6,596 miles with 721,000 feet of climbing for an average distance of 161 miles with 17,585 feet of climbing per ride.
I called this post the Old Howard 1,000,000 because the ride took me up to 991,000 feet of climbing for the year, and today on my commute to and from work I took that total up and over 1,000,000 feet. Including all my rides this year (not just the ones over 81 miles), I’ve ridden 8,511 miles and climbed 1,000,348 feet. Since we are only 110 days into the year, that works out to an average of 77 miles and 9,100 feet of climbing per day. But since I have been taking more days off this year to recover from some crazy epic rides, I’ve only ridden 90 times this year which takes that average up to 95 miles and 11,114 feet of climbing per ride.
The topocreator map shows my long rides (81 miles or longer) for Alabama. Missing are the Rouge Roubaix race in Louisiana and Mississippi as well as back-to-back epic days in San Francisco back in January when we were out there for the RAAM crewing seminar.
No matter how the Race Across America turns out this summer, I will have gotten a chance to explore some absolutely amazing parts of Alabama. Since January, I’ve ridden 24 rides of at least 100 miles (23 Alabama ones shown in the map below). I wanted to create this map because of my ride on Tuesday where I found myself unexpectedly riding in a new county – Coosa County – for the first time. These rides have been in three different states and 29 different counties.
Here’s a quick recap of my three most recent epics.
The Baseball to Baseball Ride
Last Friday, I rode to the start of my son’s baseball game, watched the game, and then rode all the way out to Cheaha and back (218 miles and 17,000 feet of climbing) to make it back just in time for the start of my son’s Saturday morning baseball game, watched the game, and then rode 10 more miles to practice having to start riding again after a long break. Along the way I broke my speedplay pedal and had to be rescued by my lovely wife Kristine. I swapped out the pedal and finished the ride.
It’s no secret that I think Alabama is the most beautiful place on earth. Other places are nice to visit, but when it comes to sheer diversity, variety, and accessibility Alabama is the perfect compromise between the ruggedness of western states (i.e., inaccessible) and busy-ness of the eastern states (i.e., roads everywhere) and a climate with four very distinct seasons that still allows for year-round riding. Everywhere you look in Alabama there is some hidden beauty to be found – and riding a bicycle is the perfect way to find it. Birmingham itself is a microcosm with steep ridges covered with roads where one can easily ride 100 miles within a 10 mile radius of your house only reusing one or two roads on the entire route.
The history of Alabama, though, isn’t quite as pretty. The city I live in (Hoover) was founded as white people left Birmingham in droves during the Civil Rights movement of the 60s fleeing “over the mountain” and founding the suburbs of Homewood, Mountain Brook, Vestavia Hills, and Hoover. Today I’m happy to report that Hoover itself has become more diversified with my kids’ school consisting of 50% white, 37% black, and 13% hispanic (source – AL dept of education 2014-2015 school year).
The people of Selma, Alabama played a key role in the Civil Rights movement, but it is one of the few cities in Alabama I had never been to — that is until Tuesday when I decided to do a 310 mile (500 KM) loop that included Selma at its southernmost point. Along the way, I routed myself through several personal history spots key to racing RAAM this year – including one spot two summers ago where I laid down on the stoop of a 185 year old church severely dehydrated and out of water and thought that it wouldn’t be a bad place to die even though I knew I wasn’t quite that bad off … yet. Here’s a pic collage from the church and a video of me begging water off of strangers a couple miles later after I got moving again.
Racing Camp Sumatanga RAAM-style, redux
This past Sunday was the training race series finale with a 100KM race ending with a steep 1 mile cat 3 climb to the top of Chandler Mountain. I had a four day block from the end of last week until Tuesday of this past week where I rode 586.9 miles with 73,087 feet of climbing. I had a pretty light load the rest of the week, and I wondered if I would be recovered enough for the race. It didn’t really matter, though, because the weather was absolutely beautiful and I was able to enjoy a shorts / short sleeved jersey ride all the way to the start of the race.
I’m happy to report my first win of 2015, and it was quite the epic! I rode from Birmingham to the training race up near Gadsden, won the 50 mile A race, and then rode back home to Birmingham for a grand total of over 200 miles and just under 20,000 feet of climbing on the day. This was in the middle of a very heavy block of training with the following rides:
|Sat||155.6 mi.||32,618 ft||February climbing challenge|
|Sun||203.9 mi.||19,377 ft||Camp Sumatanga training race|
|Mon||18 mi.||2,700 ft||Short commute recovery|
|Tue||209.4 mi.||18,392 ft||Tuscaloosa locks touring adventure|
|4 days||586.9 mi.||73,087 ft||4 day block totals|
The Camp Sumatanga training race series put on by GS Montagna Rossa of Birmingham has been a stalwart of early season racing for the Alabama cycling community for many years. Bill Seitz and his crew of GSMR teammates do an excellent job putting on this race year after year. For the second week in a row, the weather was not very cooperative with an annoying light misty rain for most of the day. At least this week, though, it wasn’t quite as cold with temps hovering around the upper 40s most of the day (and night).
I timed my ride to the start pretty well picking a 75 mile route that included Walker Gap and Chandler Mountain (if time allowed). I was running a little bit ahead of schedule so I went ahead and climbed Chandler Mountain at a very easy pace to kill some time before the race and to see the climb one more time before we race it for real at the finish of next week’s training race. By the time I finished the climb and headed back down to the camp for the race, I had just enough time to pay for the race, sign the waiver, and roll to the start line.