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.
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:
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.
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’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.
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.
Everything you've ever wanted to know about racing a bike across the entire country!