Upon reaching my Biblical three-score and ten in February this year, I gave some thought to going on a bike ride of as many miles to celebrate. The press of work and adverse weather frustrated a couple of plans, but I finally found a time and place to do it.
Now, 70 miles is no step for a Tour de France competitor, but those guys ride professionally, have $25,000 custom lightweight bikes, and do little else but train all year round. And to boot, nearly all of them have fewer than half my years.
Martha wanted to visit the Smoky Mountains again this year. When we go there we generally fly to Atlanta and drive a rented car to Bryson City North Carolina, just outside the park. I found a convenient trail on the way. The Chief Ladiga Trail runs from Anniston, Alabama to connect with the Silver Comet Trail at the Georgia state line. The Silver Comet runs to the Atlanta suburbs. The 70 mile mark from Anniston is at, of all places, Dallas, Georgia. Being a Rails to Trails path, I figured it would not have any hills or climbs of over a 2% grade, so it should be an easy ride. I was partially wrong in that regardCmore on that later.
We reached Anniston late evening on Sunday, October 4. On Monday, I set out from the trail-head just north of the city on my bike (a Trek 7500 hybrid for those interested). The sky was overcast, temperature around 65, and a slight headwind. There were a few walkers and bikers sharing the trail. The scenery of Northeastern Alabama is lushCdensely wooded with leaves just beginning to turn at this time of year. There were birds galore, including so many cardinals you might think a Papal election conclave was near.
Around the 15 mile mark, the skies cleared and it was slightly warmer. The trail crossed several streams, including one in a deep gorge. The woods became denser as the trail entered the Talladega National Forest between Piedmont and Borden Springs. It looks every bit like an old growth southeastern forest.
The next feature is the Georgia state line, 32 miles from Anniston. It is the terminus of the Ladiga Trail and beginning (west to east) of Georgia=s Silver Comet Trail.
It is also the dividing line between the eastern and central time zones. I arrived there at 12 noon CST. It was time for a break, and there was a couple eating lunch at a picnic table. They were a friendly sort from Tennessee who biked on the Silver Comet from Cedartown, Georgia. I chatted with them during my stop. Turned out that they had a son-in-law who is a Dallas Police Officer and another daughter who lives in Lubbock, Texas, so there was a common connection. They are avid cyclists who ride for pleasure on the trails around the Southeast.
After around fifteen minutes I resumed my trek. The immediate goal was Cedartown depot, about ten miles from the state line, where Martha was to meet me for lunch at the 40 mile mark of the journey. I made that distance in about 45 minutes. As it happened, Martha arrived at the same time. The depot, like so many old railroad stations today, particularly in small towns that haven=t had passenger service in decades, is a museum and facility that caters to the cyclists and hikers on the Trail.
It was a little before 3:00 p.m. EDT when I headed east for the final 30 miles to Dallas, Georgia. I discovered that the railroad east was still active. The trail, while paralleling it, took its own path from Cedartown to Rockmart. The trail does not cut through the hilly countryside like the train tracks must to maintain the 2% grade. A mile so into this segment, I encountered several hills one after the other that had 9 B 10 percent grades. These were pretty challenging. Somewhat disconcerting was one stretch where the trail skirted a cemetery.
After surviving those steep grades, and a number of lesser ones, I reached Rockmart, Georgia. A pleasant park there was a good place for about a ten minute stop for water and a brief respite. There were a number of walkers and runners, mostly young women, some with strollers.
After Rockmart, the old, abandoned railbed veered off, and the trail was pretty much flat or had gentle grades for the remainder of the ride. About 13 miles from my goal was an 800 foot tunnel under the Brushy Mountain Road (on the Polk-Paulding County line) where you could see the smoke stained rocks from the steam locomotives from yesteryear. (Unlike a similar tunnel on the Caprock Canyons trail in west Texas, there were no bats in residence.)
As I emerged from the tunnel a light rain began to fall. I stopped to put on my Gor-Tex jacket, but that was all the extra gear I needed.
I arrived at the 70 mile mark just west of an overpass spanning a gorge on the outskirts of Dallas, and stopped to call Martha. She was waiting for me at a trail-head adjacent to a horticulture nursery. I arrived there about 6:20 p.m.(EDT). It was 71.24 miles and 7 hrs, 53 minutes from the ride=s beginning.
Well, I was a little tired, but as the James Brown song goes, I felt good. Went through downtown Dallas and took a few photos B these among them.
Here are some links to trail websites.