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Weekend Adventures

Auburn Adventure
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 (click to enlarge)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)

27 rides of 300km (186 miles) or longer from 2015. Note that the primary difference is the lack of a solid mass in the Birmingham area where all my shorter rides stay. Click to enlarge.27 rides of 300km (186 miles) or longer from 2015. Note that the primary difference is the lack of a solid mass in the Birmingham area where all my shorter rides stay. Click to enlarge.

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.

Continue reading Weekend Adventures

Alabama Training

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.

2015 training and race in Alabama. 42 of 67 Alabama counties covered, plus nearly 11,000 miles and 1,100,000 feet of climbing. (click to enlarge)2015 training and race in Alabama. 42 of 67 Alabama counties covered, plus nearly 11,000 miles and 1,100,000 feet of climbing. (click to enlarge)

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.

Four rides covering 30 different Alabama counties  (click to enlarge)Four rides covering 30 different Alabama counties (click to enlarge)

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.

Toone Rd!!! I like the up arrow. Perfect. #teamtoone #raam2015

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3. Sunday, April 26th – Mississippi Fun – 9 counties, 263 miles, 20,164 feet of climbing. Rural western Alabama.

New county for my AL #raam2015 training – Fayette county.

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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.

Cheaha in the background near Georgia border. #raam2015

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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)

Heart of the South Topography

One of the things that makes the Heart of the South 500 mile race one of the most difficult 500 mile races in the country is the enormous amount of climbing over the course of the race. The major topographical features include the three main climbs – Lookout Mountain, Fort Mountain, and Mount Cheaha – as well as four crossings of the Coosa River. I’ve annotated a topocreator.com map of the course below. Click to enlarge and then click again to zoom in on your web browser to see maximum detail.

topocreator.com - annotated map of the heart of the south race (click to enlarge)topocreator.com – annotated map of the heart of the south race (click to enlarge)

I especially like that the entire course fits on the raised relief maps I have mounted on the wall next to my home office. This is the pic and overlay I made for last year’s race.

Raised relief map with overlay of the Heart of the South 500 race.Raised relief map with overlay of the Heart of the South 500 race.

Alabama Geography

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.

23 rides of 100 miles or longer in 2015 (click to enlarge)
23 rides of 100 miles or longer in 2015 (click to enlarge)

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.

Well that's a problem. #raam #toomanymiles

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Continue reading Alabama Geography

Two more epics

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.

Annotated topocreator map of the race and the route there and back again (click to enlarge).Annotated topocreator map of the race and the route there and back again (click to enlarge).

Continue reading Two more epics

Updated RAAM elevation profile

I’ve updated the topocreator.com elevation profile using a higher resolution dataset to get the full 3005 miles of the course. Plus, I turned on the box gradient feature. The box gradients are drawn into the profile and show ALL climbs and descents of at least 1 mile in length and a 5% average grade. Inside the box is the exact length of the 5% section of the climb, the exact grade, and the vertical difference between the start and end of the climb (or descent). Click on the image below for a 8500 pixel version of the profile. Your browser will probably load the image in a window by itself and then scale it down to fit on the screen. You may need to click on the image itself again to zoom in to see full detail.

Full 3005 mile RAAM 2015 elevation profile with box gradients (click to enlarge)Full 3005 mile RAAM 2015 elevation profile with box gradients (click to enlarge)

To get this to work, I rewrote the entire algorithm in Java so that it could run on a real machine rather than the virtual machine hosting the web server. The profile creation took only a matter of a couple of minutes … most of which was transferring the megabytes of data back and forth between the web server and my home system.

2015 RAAM Elevation Profile from Topocreator.com

UPDATE: I’ve uploaded a new profile with box gradients on this post: Updated RAAM elevation profile

Wow, it took a lot of computing power, but this morning the elevation profile I had started for RAAM yesterday finished. Part of the reason it took so long is that my algorithm scans for the highest and lowest point as well as all gradients along the route greater than 5%. This may not sound too difficult, but finding the exact starting and ending points of a hill allowing for smaller downhills to be included in the hill if the general slope is still up … is very difficult. To make it feasible, I had to filter the entire route down to 5000 data points or roughly one data point every km which is why the total length is shortened by almost 45 miles. So it looks like the total climbing for RAAM will be somewhere in the neighborhood of 150,000 feet of climbing for the 3005 mile route or roughly 4 times flatter than my normal riding. The profile below doesn’t show the gradients because I thought it would be too hard to see them so I checked “hide gradients”, which still does the calculations but doesn’t draw them on the map. Hopefully, I’ll have an updated version by tomorrow that has what I call “box gradients” — i.e., a box drawn around the climb with the vertical diff and average gradient.

topocreator.com - raam elevation profile (click to enlarge)topocreator.com – raam elevation profile (click to enlarge)