Tag Archives: epic

Natural Bridge, Alabama

Natural bridge #alabama #teamtoone #raam2015

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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.
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Cheaha Challenge Ultra

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.

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Old Howard 1,000,000

Michael Staley, Pixie Hicks, and Me after this year's Old Howard 100Michael Staley, Pixie Hicks, and Me after this year’s Old Howard.

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:

Annotated satellite view of the black belt of Mississippi and Alabama.Annotated satellite view of the black belt of Mississippi and Alabama.

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.

Beautiful Spanish moss in Selma on the Old Howard century.

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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.

Map of my long (81+ mile) rides so far this year (click to enlarge)Map of my long (81+ mile) rides so far this year (click to enlarge)

Skyway Epic 2015

Skyway inaugural 100 mtb podium #raam, now to ride home (very slowly)

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The Skyway Epic 100 men’s podium – left to right – me, David Potter, and Eric Nelson.

The Skyway Epic 100 mountain bike race definitely lived up to its name on Saturday. I was happy to be racing again this year for the inaugural 100 mile (107.5 miles) version of the race having missed last year after crashing into the side of a car. Being in the final stages of training for the Race Across America, I need to make the most of every minute of bike-related activities. Therefore, I decided to ride my mountain bike down to the start of the race, do the race, and then ride home. This made for a very long 185 mile day on the bike that ended with Kristine driving down to Chelsea to rescue me at the base of the double oak climbs. Overall, it was excellent training for Race Across America, and the race itself was nothing short of epic and awesome.

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Racing Adventures

Back to Back Weekends
Back to back race weekends last weekend and this weekend. I won Friday’s Heart of the South 515 mile race just missing the course record only five days after placing 25th in a strong Pro/1/2 field at the inaugural Fort McClellan road race last weekend with lots of strong teams visiting Alabama from around the country as part of the national criterium calendar kickoff event (Sunny King) in Anniston. I raced that race RAAM-style meaning I left my house at 3AM and rode the 80 miles to the start of the race, raced the race, and then afterwards rode home a longer way going up and over Mount Cheaha for a grand total of 255 miles of racing and riding. There is so many great things I could say about that race — primarily getting to see a lot of friends from the racing community that I haven’t seen much this year because of my RAAM (Race Across America) training, but in the interest of time I’m going to skip straight to how the Heart of the South race went down this weekend.

Heart of the South – Start to Camp Comer
Tailwinds and thunderstorms
Friday was a beautiful day – I rode my bike to and from Samford to teach my Friday classes as usual (16.6 miles round trip). Later in the day, my awesome crew of Michael Staley and Payne Griffin drove over to my house so we could pack up everything for the race.

Side note – huge shout-out to my rookie crew of Michael and Payne. Those two guys did an amazing job of anticipating my needs for food, drink, and bike supplies. Plus, they did a good job of staying awake for a really long time as well as keeping me awake late in the race when I hit my sleep wall. Thanks guys!!!!

Side, side note – huge shout-out to my sponsors as well. Raymond James has been behind me financially and helping to get the word out to other companies and individuals who might be interested in joining our team. My Martindale wheelset was amazing again this year. I’m excited for the new Carbon Clincher wheels Philip will be getting me for RAAM – easily shave hours (if not at least half a day) off my total time!

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Rouge Roubaix 2015

Annotated topocreator.com map of Rouge Roubaix 2015 (click to enlarge)topocreator.com map of Rouge Roubaix 2015 (click to zoom)

Every year I look forward to Rouge Roubaix and coming down to this unique corner of Louisiana and Southwestern Mississippi. The race itself has everything you’d imagine in a spring classic like Paris-Roubaix or Ronde van Vlaanderen (Flanders) – from strung out fields barreling down dirt roads at 30mph to tactics of making a break, chasing a break, or figuring out the run-in to a tricky sprint at the end of the race. No matter how experienced you are, it’s impossible to come away from this race without having learned something new about bike racing and/or yourself. Each category (even beginner) races the full distance of 100+ miles covering about 15 miles of gravel/dirt roads and some paved roads that are significantly harder to find a good line than the dirt roads.

The unique topography of the river bluffs above the Missisippi River delta is just fascinating with two Category 4 climbs rising up from essentially sea level to 400 feet. Plus, everything is so wet that the dirt roads sink down under the trees. See the annotated topocreator.com map above and the elevation profile and instagram photo below:

Annotated rouge roubaix elevation profileAnnotated rouge roubaix elevation profile (click to zoom)

This spot best captures the beautiful wild adventure that is #rougeroubaix #raam

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How the race played out (P/1/2)
After the neutral section, there were a couple short-lived breaks. I was working my way to the front when I saw an opening and a rider about to attack. I hopped right on his wheel and we quickly got a gap. Three more riders bridged up to us, and our break of five quickly got a gap on the rest of the peloton. I thought this break had a good chance to survive all the way to (and possibly through) the first dirt section – but alas, we were chased down a few miles later after making the right-hand turn off of LA-66.

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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.

This road has just shot to the top of my list of best roads in Alabama. #epic #raam

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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.